There was one more thing Paige had to do. It was self-indulgent, but no one had protested and she couldn’t resist. No, deep down in the darkest part of her, she had to admit that she wasn’t sure if she was going to make back.
“Hello, Davin.” She knelt down by the bed, knees falling on the soft rug. One hand brushed his hair back, then began to stroke his curls. His eyes remained closed, and she found herself yearning for that golden gaze one more time.
“I miss you.” Nothing she said seemed sufficient, but she tried anyway. “I know you can’t hear me but I’m going to go get you back from Anna now, okay?” She shook her head again, unsure what she was trying to say. “I don’t know what will happen, but I’ll make sure Dante comes back with you if I can’t.” Her voice broke with the last two words and she rubbed her eyes. “If...if I don’t make it, don’t blame yourself okay? Everything I’m doing, I’m doing because I want to...because...because I love you too.”
She rubbed at her cheeks with the heel of her palm and gave a small broken laugh. “I guess it’s easier to admit when no one’s listening. I’ll be going now. It’s my turn to save you. Wish me luck Shade, like you always do.”
Only Dante and Maeve waited for her downstairs. She had already said her words to Ainsley and Lillian and no one wanted lingering goodbyes. Unlike her, they had convinced themselves that she was coming back. Paige appreciated the vote of confidence, confidence she didn’t feel.
Dante placed a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll see them again. Come on.”
They took the one jeep, with Dante providing directions to Maeve. It was the longest drive in her life as she watched the suburbs thin out to farmland, which ceded to denser forests. By the time the jeep hit the service roads, the anxiety building up in Paige threatened to explode.
“How do we know...oh.” Dante’s eyes widened and Paige swallowed hard.
Seth wasn’t kidding about the land being sucked dry of life energies. As they arrived at a break along the treeline, they left the jeep to scan along the shores of the lake. Properties dotted along the lake, spaced far apart but on the other side, one stood out in particular, surrounded by dead grass and trees that looked as though they would topple over any minute. Paige regarded the devastation with a sinking feeling in her stomach.
They got back in the car, grim silence hanging in the heavy air. Maeve parked a bit ways away from the property and as they clambered out once more, each of them adjusted their own personal arsenal.
“Seth mentioned wards and I doubt Anna would leave her base unprotected. Follow me and keep about ten paces behind.” Maeve kept her hand on the hilt of the sword but did not draw. Instead, she tugged a crystal pendant that hung from a long chain out from beneath her top and held it up. A soft light emanated from the rock.
They moved ahead as a unit, stopping several times as soon as the light from the crystal flared up. Then they would tread with care sideways until the brightness would die down again.
Paige’s skin prickled as a breeze picked up. Her eyes cast about back and forth as Maeve called for another stop. The fog gathered.
Beside her, Dante drew a blade, widened his stance, and lowered his body. “Get ready,” he murmured under his breath.
She drew the long iron dagger than had served her so well thus far.
The first one came just as the breeze transitioned to wind. The air whipped into a frenzy but did naught to clear visibility. A disembodied head with long stringy hair, burning eyes and wings on either side in place of ears came at them, jaws opened wide exposing rows of sharp-pointed teeth. It stopped low in its flight path, aiming for Paige. She sucked and Dante sliced into the air.
It shrieked as the blade cut through its hair but it took off and disappeared into the mist again.
“Flying heads,” Maeve called out from the front. In the fog that blanketed them, the light from Maeve’s sword of light remained muted but still served as a beacon. With a nod to Dante, they ran to join her and soon they were standing back to back.
“They mean to eat us. Undead spirits of humans that indulged in cannibalism. Don’t let them latch on to you.” Maeve eyed the mist.
“I think it’s safe to say we don’t have to worry about tripping a ward anymore.”
“Here they come.” Dante shifted the grip on his sword.
That one must have been a scout. Now the entire flock came screeching through the air. It was near impossible to see as Paige lost count with how many tried to attack then. All thoughts fled as she focuses on hacking at their attackers mindless with hunger. In a way, they reminded her of the inugami. Great, a flying inugami. Herds of them.
“There’re too many of them,” Maeve called out.
“Get Paige to safety. I’ll hold them off.”
“Wait, Dante, no!” Paige screamed, even as Maeve’s strong arm wrapped around her midsection.
Dante spared a glance back at her. “I’ll be fine. Eyes on the goal. Get my brother back.”
Still, with misgivings on her mind, Paige nodded up towards Maeve who let her go. With Dante drawing the flock’s attention to him, they sprinted until they entered the cabin, slamming the back door shut behind them.
The sudden eerie quiet chilled Paige’s bones they stood there panting, catching their breaths. Gradually, she became aware of the ticking of an antique clock somewhere. It did not help with the atmosphere.
“Dante…” Paige looked towards the direction they came
“He’ll be okay. He hasn’t even started using his powers yet.”
That was right. She recalled the way Davin’s features would sharpen, how the air would crackle when his incubus rose to the surface and his powers unfurled. Dante remained as cool as a cucumber, fighting with his martial skills alone just now. If...when...she gets back, she’s signing up to his classes.
Dante’s buying them time. They better not waste it. “Let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on here first.”
Maeve nodded at that and together they snuck through the house with care, weapons sheathed once more for stealth. Every time a floorboard creaked, Paige winced and awaited discovery.
Turned out, she didn’t need to worry. As they came to the basement, descending the stairs to what must be a storage area, they found Anna resting in a neat of those black shadowy hands. But rather than pulling her into the portal, they seemed only to be holding and caressing her, leaving curling wisps of shadows wrapped around her body.
At least she’s clothed. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
With Anna’s eyes closed and seeming to not notice them, they crept along the wall until they could hide behind a large shelf holding various tools. Maeve nudged and nodded towards the other end of the room where something glittered from a small table in the corner.
“Protection ward.” Maeve mouthed silently, drawing a circle on her palm with one finger.
Understanding dawned on Paige. Anna must have been absorbing more energy from the eldritch creature and not wanting to risk it getting greedy and devouring Davin’s essence, had set the necklace aside. Or she hoped that’s what it was.
She tapped Maeve at the shoulder and made a pointing motion from her eyes to Anna and the portal. And then, she pointed to herself, to the table and made a walking motion. Doubt clouded Maeve’s face, but she nodded, albeit reluctant. Paige let out a sigh of relief. There was no time to debate strategies here.
Paige hugged the wall, grateful for the shadow’s various furniture and even piping cast. At least she felt less exposed this way. Almost. Her heart pounded in her ears and she wished she believed in some greater deity so she could pray to someone for good luck. Shit. Do gods exist? She scolded herself. Not now! Focus!
And then she was there.
The thing looked like a miniature version of a test tube completed with a cork stopper, with silver twisted to hold and attach it to a silver chain. Amber and gold shimmered and swirled within the glass. This was Davin and his essence was beautiful.
The circle appeared to lay dormant. With shaky hands, Paige crouched down to pull out the iron knife tucked in her boot. A small thing, it would do for this purpose. But when she held her knife up, her hand wouldn’t stop shaking.
Brave. She had to be brave. Ugh. After this, she would not have any qualms writing about werewolves, vampires and witches. That genre made way more money, anyway.
Paige drew deep gulps of air into her lungs and closed her eyes to steady herself. There was nothing, only the task ahead. She would do this. There was no other choice.
When her eyes open one more, Paige switched her grip to hold the knife, the tip pointing downwards. One swift stroke, she cut the protection circle. Her flesh burned with the heat of its last flare of light before it died. It worked!
So focused she was on the task, Paige missed seeing Anna’s eyes snap open on the opposite side of the room. But no one could miss the scream of fury that tore from the witch’s throat.
The hands from the creature set Anna down, gentle like a loving partner, then parted though did not retreat to the portal. Anna took a step towards Paige and the table, her appearance a far cry from the well-manicured doll she had seen the last time. Hair matted and stuck to her clammy, pale skin. Black veins were crawling up from her bare shoulder, up along her neck, drawing odd unflattering patterns across her cheek. Her sleeveless shift was dirty and clung to her thin body. The iron poisoning was doing a number on her.
Without missing a beat, Paige snatched the necklace in her free hand, dropped the knife and drew her long dagger out. It didn’t fail her last time. The only want Anna was going to get the vial back was over her dead body.
Maeve emerged from her hiding place, the sword of light already drawn. But before she could approach, Anna muttered a quick incantation flicked her hand and Maeve went flying, slamming against the shelf and crumpled to the floor. Paige watched in horror as one of the black hands braved the light and wrapped its fingers around Maeve’s ankle.
But her guardian was made of tougher stuff than this. Maeve maintained her consciousness and sliced her sword at the hand and the creature screamed in rage and pain. Yet, only more hands surged forward as if determined this time to exact revenge on the one that deprived it of its prey before.
A faint pain on her right knee drew her attention back to herself. A pressure pressed against her knee but there was little else. The obsidian necklace, however, began to grow warmer and warmer until Paige yanked it out from underneath her shirt. Davin’s gift was protecting her, even now.
With a snarl, Anna ripped the ragged doll in her hand apart. There was a flash of pain at her midsection and the stone burned hot for a moment before both sensations faded. Voodoo doll? Really?
“I’ve had enough of you, bitch. Where. Is. Davin?” Anna stalked towards her. Paige had no illusions that she was any less dangerous. Belatedly, she berated herself for not clarifying what powers witches had besides spells, wards and hexes.
As Anna drew closer, their eyes met. There was a new madness dancing in the witch’s, her lips twisted into a permanent rictus of pain.
And in those glowing orbs of sickly green, Paige saw her own death.