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By the time they reached the school, it was nearly six in the morning. Though the morning sun hadn’t yet begun to scale the horizon, there was a burgeoning pallor already creeping into the dark sky. On any other day, staff would have been arriving to open up campus and prepare for the influx of student bodies, but it just so happened that this Halloween had fallen on a Saturday. The parking lot stood empty.
If there was one night that was good for performing freaky rituals at the school, this was it.
Most of the pack had chosen to run rather than walk, given that they could outpace a car on foot. Meanwhile, Angela and Julian were shuttled into a familiar vehicle…
Leo had finally gotten the Mustang up and running.
He’d pulled it up out of the woods with a satisfied sort of smile, but he’d stayed pretty quiet for the duration of the drive. He’d also handed over Walter’s papers to Angela for perusal, on the condition that she share them again later. His eyes stayed on the road ahead, his responses monosyllabic when he was addressed. He parked a little ways down the road and let the engine idle.
“So,” he finally spoke up. “Let’s go over the plan one more time.”
Angela sat in the front seat, still going over Walter’s papers hoping to find something that might actually be useful. Not that it mattered. Julian sat in the back staring out the window looking grim, as if she were already dead. Meanwhile Leo, though finally no longer in a strangled silence, wasn’t exactly mister chatterbox either.
She was glad to go over the plan again.
“Sit pretty until our wolfie friends scout out where those cultist douchebags are to work around it, Angela should stay in the car, blah blah blah.” The blond responded, glancing up from the paper she was reading. She glanced at Julian in the rear view mirror, then cast Leo a look. The plan was missing one vital tidbit. They really needed to discuss what to do about HER, but with Caleb’s wolves all lurking around at the farmstead and Julian being present, they never got the chance. Why couldn’t vampires have something useful like telepathy?
Julian shifted in the backseat, her brow furrowing when her foot tapped against something on the floorboard. She leaned forward and wrapped her fingers around the slightly tarnished brass. She knew leaving this stupid candlestick in Leo’s car would come in handy. Julian tested the weight by doing a fake test swing at the back of Leo’s headrest. They all refused to give her Walter’s knife back, so this and her rose pepperspray were now her only weapons.
“You could just let me walk in and deal with it.”
Angela scowled at the rear view mirror. “That worked great for Walter. You know, before a bunch assholes jumped him. No, we have to be more subtle with this.” she paused suddenly, turning to glance over her shoulder. “What the fuck is that thing?”
“It’s my Julian’s Rules Enforcement stick. David needs it.”
“You getting anything on Michael or David?” Leo asked, shooting Angela a grimace even as he addressed Julian. His knuckles were still white on the wheel. “There’s got to be some workaround to this whole psychic block he’s working. Nothing’s airtight.”
He watched the shadow of a wolf dart across the road. It slunk along the fence that ringed the parking lot, casting strange and scattered shadows through the chain links. He tried not to think about which room that might be if he were here a hundred years or so earlier.
“Don’t try getting anything current,” he said, inspiration striking. “He’s expecting you trying to get a fix on where they are and what they’re doing. If you can worm your way in, it’ll be through the past.”
It hadn’t even occurred to Julian to consider thinking about the past. Looking backwards was a great deal easier than focusing on the present, where trying to see things stretched her brain thin, or divining the the future where everything had a dozen different outcomes depending on what was altered. The past never changed. It was like watching a movie.
She fell silent, twisting her candlestick in her hands and staring out the window without her eyes focusing on anything in particular. Knowing more about David was a good start.
Angela started folding up papers to hide in the glove compartment. “With or without it, we need a good idea of what to do when we’re inside.” she said, tilting her head to gesture towards the backseat and choosing her words carefully. “We have to pay attention to where certain people are. There might be enough wolves to take care of brainless idiots. But David is going to require more than what a bunch of fangs and brute muscle can do. And we’ll still need to be able to grab-n-dash with Walter and Michael. You know, if one or both aren’t already sacrifice kabobs.”
“You know what, this is one of those situations where a gun would be really fucking handy.” she muttered. “They sure as hell wouldn’t expect to get shot in the face.”
As Julian contemplated the scenery- and David Hightower- the rest of the world faded out into little more than a dull buzzing of awareness. Something twisted, just under her navel, not unlike the turning of a key in a lock.
“I’ve got this nagging feeling like we’ve missed something important…” Leo’s voice grew muffled, then tuned out altogether.
The boy sat at the back of the church the whole time.
She might have thought he wasn’t supposed to be there, if he hadn’t been wearing a suit. He was tall, with brown hair and eyes like hers. He was too old to be a kid but too young to be an adult, and he didn’t seem to be with any of the other families because he didn’t talk to anyone, not even after the bride and groom kissed and everyone was allowed to leave. But she saw him again when they got back to the big house, slipping out of sight through a door that she was pretty sure guests weren’t supposed to go into, because it was closed.
“Is he alright?” asked a voice. Mum’s voice.
“That’s Suzie’s boy,” explained a lady with blond hair and a pink dress. She didn’t know who Suzie was, but she was pretty sure this was the groom’s mom. “Cut him a little slack, won’t you? He’s been having a rough year.”
“We are. I wish we could take all this shit back to my room, we could connect the dots if we had a little more time.” Angela grumbled. Then she was leaning sideways, turning her head just a fraction to whisper to Leo.
Julian was definitely not listening.
In her hands, she twist the clunky piece of brass. It was a nice solid tether to remind her where she was. For the first time in hours, this actually felt like something that mattered. Not just jumbled nonsense.
So she pushed. Biting in to her lip as her eyes focused on a tiny little smudge on the backseat window. Julian lift her hand to press a finger to it, as it that were the magical button that would urge her vision forward.
“Who’s there?” There was a frantic scuffling sound. As she peered around the door frame, she saw him shove something underneath a floral-print couch. He looked up with startled eyes; when they fell on her, though, his shoulders sagged.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” he told her. “Go away.”
He didn’t really look mad, though. His eyes were wide and dark, his face pale.
The room was full of books piled two-deep on shelves that reached all the way up to the ceiling. So high that there was a ladder next to the shelves. There was an oaken desk in the corner, with a matching pair of armchairs- one in front and one behind.
Julian knew that room.
She didn’t remember ever seeing that room before – but she did. This was a house she was in. With it’s familiar style and that faint scent of old furniture. Recently even, because everything about it was so distinctly Hightower.
But this moment wasn’t recent. This was years ago. And this wasn’t something she drew out of the ether. It was hers.
“Hallo.” she said carefully, as if she were approaching a very skittish dog. He seemed skittish. She really shouldn’t have followed him, but he had been alone all day. Lonely? No. Lost. He was lost. Julian was always finding lost things.
Thus, even when he said she shouldn’t be there, and even though he told her to go away, Julian stepped inside. Her hands smoothed over the soft satin of the dress her Mom picked out for her. She didn’t particularly like the lace, the ruffles or the color, but it had hidden pockets that her Daddy so generously stashed several pieces of candy in to.
One of the piece of caramel she pulled out right then, offering it to the boy.
“This is for you! Do you need help? I’m good at helping.”
“Not from you,” he said. He didn’t move to take the candy, but he also didn’t shout or tell her to leave anymore. He looked at her from his cross-legged position on the old carpet, his hands patting down the creases in his black slacks.
But he did need help, she could tell, because he was trying to find something. Someone?
“You’re a Hollinger,” he said slowly. “Aren’t you. Juliet?”
Julian wrinkled up her nose. “My name is Joo-lee-EN.” she responded with a huff, stressing each syllable carefully. People were always getting her name wrong or saying it was a boy’s name.
Still with candy in hand and holding it out, she inched closer. Candy always helped make things better. She didn’t stop until she was close enough that he could take it without having to get up off the floor. She wouldn’t force him to take it, but she would definitely pout.
Julian cast a look around the room curiously. “I like books. My friend likes them more though. Are you looking for a book to read?”
“…I already have one,” he answered, finally reaching up to take the caramel. He twirled it between his fingers by either end of the wrapper, making soft crinkling sounds. “Can you keep a secret?”
Scooting ever so slightly forward, he slipped one hand under the couch to retrieve a leather-bound volume. Unlike most of the books on the shelves, this one didn’t have a title on the spine. It also had a latch holding it shut. Like a diary, only it didn’t lock.
Gently, he placed it on the floor between them.
“This was my father’s,” he said. “It was written by someone in our family a long time ago. And it’s about our family, and about magic.”
Her mouth went in to a little ‘O’ shape and her eyes blinked wide. Instantly she plopped down on the floor, sitting mostly on her knees with her feet wiggling behind her.
“I know about Magic. My daddy says magic is all over the place, but I haven’t seen any yet.” Julian reached out to poke at the book with a finger, but something told her not to. Her mouth twisted to the side in a thoughtful way, then she retracted her hand to fold in neatly in her lap with the other.
“You can see magic, though. I can tell. Is it pretty?”
For the first time since she’d spotted him, he made something sort of like a smile, his eyes lightening up.
“I could show you,” he said. Lifting his hand with the caramel flat in the center of his open palm, he stared down at the candy. At first, nothing happened. But after a few silent seconds, the wrapper rustled and peeled away from the caramel chew like shed snakeskin. The candy itself melted into goo and then reformed, petal by petal, into a caramel-colored rose.
He handed the candy back to her.
“My family’s always been magic,” he said, lowering his hand to rest on the book’s hard cover. “Most people can’t even do magic without saying a spell, but I can do it in my head.”
It took all the willpower in the entire world for Julian not to squeal. This was a secret! If she squealed people would come. She kept her hands over her mouth so it stayed contained. Up until he offered her the tiny little caramel rose.
This was the neatest thing she had ever seen. And she had seen a LOT of neat things.
The candy rose got popped in to her mouth, and she tilted her head with a strangely thoughtful amount of chewing for someone so young.
“It tastes like magic even!” That was a fun realization. But Julian decided she wasn’t going to go licking things to see what else tasted magical, that’s just silliness.
“You must be really really good. My daddy says people who do special things can help lots of people but they get lonely cause it’s hard. Is that why you’re all by yourself?”
The light went out of his eyes as if she’d flipped a switch.
“No,” he said. He pursed his lips. “I’m alone because the people I love were taken from me.”
He sat back, pulling the book into his lap, and drummed his fingers on its surface. It looked like he was thinking very hard. Eventually, he must have made a decision about it, because his hand stilled and he looked at Julian with an intensity that was almost frightening.
“You probably like stories,” he began, quietly. “I did when I was your age. This is a story my father told me, that he got from this book.
“Once upon a time, there was a spoiled prince.” He rubbed his thumb along the book’s spine. “The prince had all the riches and books and candy he could ever want, everything in the world but for one thing: power. And he so desperately wanted power, was so jealous of those who had it, that he set out to steal it for himself. But what the prince didn’t realize or didn’t care was that his scheme would ruin everything. For you see, the power that he stole came from a special ceremony. And that special ceremony was something that everyone needed to keep the land protected from evil. So when he stole it, no one could finish the ceremony… and so everyone was punished for the prince’s wrongdoing.”
By the end of his story, the boy’s voice had gone flatter, sharper. Now he was angry.
“That,” he finished, “is why I’m alone. Like so many others are, or will be. Maybe even you.”
“Just don’t panic if it looks bad, okay?” Angela was whispering softly. “I won’t be in there to slap sense in to you.”
It was then Angela realized that Julian hadn’t said a peep for an unusual amount of time. Normally Julian did all kinds of fussing if someone was secret-whispering without her, and even more fussing when it was about her. She was annoyingly good at picking up on that.
Angela turned in her seat, casting Julian a worried glance. She nudged Leo’s shoulder. The girl was still sitting there, silent as the dead, staring unfocused in to god knew where with her finger still pressed against the window glass.
“He’s really angry. I don’t know if he’ll come back.” she said so softly it almost wasn’t audible.
“Honey, I don’t want to work with Tangina Barrens.”
“What?” That snapped her out of it. Julian scowled. “Are you calling me a creepy old psychic?”
Angela flashed a grin.
“It worked, didn’t it,” said Leo, as calmly as he could muster. He shifted around in his seat to look at her- look but not touch. He didn’t trust his hands right now, or possibly ever again. “You got something.”
That worried him, although it should have been reassuring. Because even though it meant they might have another piece of the puzzle, Leo was afraid that the whole picture was one where Julian didn’t make it through the night. Bottom line, it didn’t matter how many fucking werewolves they had or whether he was back at full juice; none of them were any sort of match for David’s magic. It was Julian who was going to decide how this night turned out, one way or another.
And then there was a secondary surge of fear because she looked so lost this time. Had it always been like that? Was he imagining things, or was she zoning out for longer and longer?
What are you? David’s question echoed in his head.
“So. Spill. Get any juicy high school gossip?”
“I don’t know.” Julian answered honestly. It was pretty clear by the look on her face that she didn’t know what it was.
“Tell us anyway, babe. Even if it’s not useful now, it might be later.” encouraged Angela.
Julian was dubious, twisting in her seat and chewing on the inside of her cheek. When she finally spoke, the confusion was still written all over her features.
“I met David before. I mean, I knew I must have at least a couple of times because Mum was always dragging us to social events. But I never really remembered him specifically, and that’s kind of weird, isn’t it? There’s all these gaps in stuff I remember and it’s not even just stuff about David.”
When Angela didn’t do or say anything beyond giving her the Go on eyebrows, Julian frowned and crossed her arms.
“…anyway, it was a wedding. Or after the wedding, actually. I remember hating my dress and the candy Dad gave me. Dancing at the reception with Margrit’s brother because his mom made him do it. I didn’t remember David though, and David is memorable.”
“Julian, you gotta babble less and get to the point so Fangs Snarlington and I can keep up.”
Julian let out a breath, making sort of a fishy face as she slid lower in her seat. Her head tilted back so she could glare at the ceiling. It was the best way to try and sort through her thoughts.
“He looked lost so I followed him. I think he was in a library or an office or a study. Michael’s maybe, it just kinda felt like Michael’s. I offered him a piece of candy and he showed me a book, saying it belonged to his family and it was all about their history and about magic. It – I didn’t want to touch it, it gave me weird vibes.”
Something must’ve went whirling in Angela’s head, because her expression shifted. She didn’t say a word though.
“He showed me a little magic because I was curious. He didn’t have to say a spell or do anything fancy. He just DID it. Effortlessly. Then he told me a story.”
The story, Julian relayed word for word. Just the way David told it.
“What even the fuck does that mean,” Leo wondered aloud. It wasn’t even a question; more like an objection.
It was no story that Leo had ever heard. And if Michael had, well, he hadn’t told Leo about it. Maybe it was after their time.
Still, something about it ate away at him. A spoiled prince. Power. A special ceremony…
“Well, one thing’s obvious.” He grimaced. “He’s got it in his head that he’s in the right somehow. Which is bad. It’s always worse if they think they’re doing something for the greater good, not just being selfish. This spell has to be related to that ceremony in the story, I’m betting. Fucking fantastic.”
The worst part was that Leo could almost relate to the guy. And he didn’t particularly like relating to a guy who’d nearly burned and beat him to death a few hours ago.
Leo’s cell phone buzzed, breaking into his whirling thoughts. He fished it out of his pocket to check the text.
School’s locked. Voices from inside at all the entrances. Ready to go in.
“It’s Michael. He thinks Michael is the one that screwed everything up, I’m pretty sure.” said Angela. That sounded like the best bet based on the crap that went down in the mausoleum. “And Walter thought it was a bunch of horseshit, didn’t he? If David’s acting on only partial info that’s gonna be a real bitch. He may not listen to common sense.”
Angela gave a pointed look to Julian. “You get that, right? He might not listen. He believes in what he’s doing so much that he’s going full on crazytown. You may not be able to share candy and get this one to be your friend.”
Julian let out an annoyed breath. “You think I shouldn’t even try. Are you going to tell me we should just kill him, too?”
“I’m just saying you need to be realistic. If you aren’t, you could get hurt.”
“Maybe everyone should stop fussing about me when Walter and Michael are the ones in trouble.” snapped Julian, shoving open her door, climbing out of the car and slamming the door behind her. She marched her way towards the school fence.
Angela sighed, clonking her head against the headrest.
“Remind me again why I’m not going too? Oh right, murder and mayhem.”
Leo shot Angela one last look.
“Lock the doors,” he instructed, before he was spilling out of the car and hot on Julian’s heels. He caught up with her in under a minute, slowing to match her pace.
“You’re mad,” he observed, in his all-business voice. He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his leather jacket. “Good. Stay mad.”
“I’m frustrated.” Julian clarified. She didn’t pause or even steal a glance at him, even though she really wanted to. She was just afraid if she looked at him, she’d realize how freaking terrified she actually was. If she looked at him, he’d know what she was thinking and he’d try to do that stupid thing he did where he made everything sound okay.
And things were not going to be okay.
“I don’t know why everybody has to solve their problems with killing each other. This wouldn’t even be a thing.” she muttered, slipping her way through an opening in the fence. Julian didn’t even try to be wary of her surroundings. Those jerks probably already knew they’d show up.
Julian finally stopped just for a second, frowning and holding up a finger. She pointed first at one of the doors. Doors would be too easy, wouldn’t it? The ones not locked would probably be watched. Then she shifted to point in a different direction.
“Science lab window?” she questioned, testing the idea.
“Sounds like a plan,” he agreed, already shifting his steps to head that way. “Caleb and the boys are going to go for something a little more… distracting, I think.”
At least, that was the idea they’d discussed. If Michael was performing sacrificial rites somewhere inside the school, they needed to keep any and all extra help he had away from that area. David was dangerous enough on his own.
He tried not to think about where he was stepping, which room’s ghost he was setting foot on now. Maybe Leo was turning psychic, because he could see faint outlines of furniture and hear the creak of a floorboard when he closed his eyes.
“You’ve got a way in,” he said, blinking hard and fast. “More metaphysically speaking, that is. Think we can do Round Two of Hide and Seek at School? Or, I guess, maybe you have some idea of where in the school an evil witch might cast an evil spell.”
It was kind of funny how their first round of hide and seek was now the practice round for the real thing. Julian didn’t doubt it would be a piece of cake to start hunting for people once she got in there. She just wasn’t sure what she was going to do when she got there.
“You already have an idea of where.” she answered. “Where in your house does it hurt the worst?”
As always, the science lab window was cracked open. She vaguely wondered how often people used this window to break in. Julian hopped up trying to grab the window sill, but unlike last time it wasn’t so easy. Her hand ached so gripping was a pain in the ass. She might have just powered through the pain, but she was running on near twenty hours without sleep and blood loss probably didn’t aid things. There wasn’t the strength to pull herself up so high.
“I need help.” she huffed, glaring up at the window.
Watching her favor and wince over hand made Leo feel like he was the one who got the sharp edge of a knife. Or maybe just the pointy end, somewhere in the vicinity of his chest cavity. Yeah, that seemed about right.
Her comment about how he should know where to go didn’t ease that jabbing sensation one bit, either.
I am the worst piece of shit.
Schooling his features, he slipped around her and hopped up onto the sill. His fingers curled around the ledge. A moment later he leaned down and snatched her off the ground to haul her up beside him- carefully avoiding her injured hand in the process.
For a few seconds, they were nose-to-nose with her practically in his lap. Welp. That was familiar. Kicking himself, Leo shoved open the window and pulled them both inside (because he wasn’t about to let her land on her own, not when he remembered her complete lack of stealth last time).
The science lab was dark and silent but for their own breathing.
“Okay,” he muttered, pulling his phone back out. “I’m telling Caleb we’re in. Or… Caleb’s phone, anyway. He’s probably wolfed out by now, passed it off. We’ll go when he gives us the all-clear.”
Once she was on her feet she put some distance between them. An arm’s length. Wait, that was still too close. Julian took an extra few steps away under the guise of tip-toeing towards the door and peeking out the little window to see if anyone was in the hall.
Why was it, that all it took was a bit of touching for her to think about kissing him again. Not even romantic touching. Not even suggestive touching. And in the middle of crazy cultist central. If she was going to be thinking about kissing anybody it should have been Michael, and then only AFTER he was squirreled away safe and sound somewhere. She was a terrible, terrible person!
Julian leaned her shoulder against the door, and then she did the worst possible thing. She looked at him. And even though it was dark as hell and at best she could only see his outline back lit by the window, it was enough. There was an annoying lump in her throat that didn’t want to get swallowed. What if this was the last time she could see his stupid face? Why did it even matter?
She rubbed the back of her hand against her eyes as casually as possible.
“I don’t want to wait. I just want to go and get this done.”
Yeah. No. That was a terrible idea.
“Jules,” he began, “We can’t just-”
A piercing howl ripped through the window. Leo’s words died on his lips. He might have found them again, had not a second howl joined the first- and then another, and another, until there was a cacophony of sound spilling in from outside. And then, muffled, from somewhere inside, seeping in under the classroom door.
Well shit. That was not part of the plan.
“Never mind,” Leo told her. “Something’s wrong. Come on.”
Shouldering open the door, he looked both ways before hurrying down the graciously empty hallway, always conscious of the distance between himself and Julian.
Oh hell. Julian liked the silence better. It could have been the surprise, or maybe the tone of it, but all that howling sent a chill down her spine. Suddenly, it was getting harder and harder to keep that look of horror buried and out of sight.
Once they were moving, it wasn’t as easy to tune in as she thought. Julian had a vague awareness of where others were. Wolves and weirdos. It seemed that tuning in to David, Michael or Walter was just coming up with blank spots.
When she realized blank spots was exactly the sort of thing she should be looking for, it got a lot more clear. Every room had something in it, be old memories or lurking impressions. Anywhere that was unusually empty or void meant it was being concealed.
Julian grasped Leo’s jacket sleeve and tugged gently, pointing down the hall at the right place to turn.
Leo just shook his head at her. Not that she was wrong.
Like Julian had said, he already knew where to go.
The halls echoed with voices, human and canine mixing together, punctuated by clattering and other sounds of struggle. From down one hallway, Leo saw a flash of eerie green. He tried to shut it out, to follow memories he’d rather not have summoned back up in his mind’s eye.
His hand brushed Julian’s, and if he’d been in any good state of mind, he might have known better than to touch her at such a time.
A long, dark corridor twisted through the house. A shadow slid past the old grandfather clock, obscuring the hands for only a moment. When they were clear again, Julian could see that they lay just past one-fifty-five. The shadow slipped further down the hall, and she could see that it was a teenage boy dressed in what looked like a white button-up shirt with loose sleeves and a pair of white pants that were fitted at the ankles.
Not any teenage boy. Leo.
He was traveling the hall more by feel than by sight, moving with care rather than speed. He seemed wary, his eyes darting around in the dark and lingering over shapes and corners.
He opened a door at the end of the hall and started to step inside, but he froze halfway through.
“Leo,” another familiar voice crooned. There was an odd note in that voice, like its owner had been starved of human contact for years only to suddenly discover another being again.
“Michael?” answered Leo. He backed away, and Julian could see how pale and drawn his face had turned. “What have you done? You can’t be here.”
“But I am.” Footsteps drew closer. Julian heard the floorboards creaking. “Leo, please. Please, you have to help me.”
“I saw your body, Michael!” Leo slid away further, his back up against the wall. “Whatever this is, I can’t reverse it. You died.”
“No, no, you don’t understand.” There was a wheedling note in Michael’s voice. He finally came into view, silhouetted in the doorway. Unlike Leo, he was dressed in a formal suit, but it looked dirty and disheveled. Julian could just barely make out his face. His eyes had a wild light to them that she’d never seen, and they were glued to Leo’s every move. He reached out a hand. “I’m not dead. I’m strong. It’s amazing the things I can see now, the things I can do…”
“M-” Leo made a sound like he’d been stepped on. “Is that blood?”
Michael lifted his hand to his face and swiped a thumb over his mouth. When he drew it away and looked at it- almost wonderingly- it was stained with something dark that shed a thick drop onto the floor.
“I didn’t mean to,” he said, in a small voice. “I can stop it, Leo, I know I can, but- You need to help me. Please, Leo. You always help me. I know you can help me keep from doing it again.”
“Michael, what did you do?”
They stared at each other, alone together in the dark. The only noise was Leo’s breathing, Leo’s heartbeat.
“I can be better,” Michael said. “You make me better. But first, I’ll make you better.”
The moment that he stepped forward, hand outstretched again, Leo flinched.
“No,” he growled. “Stay away from me.”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” promised Michael, his eyebrows rising. As if the very idea were far-fetched. “I’m just going to make you like me.”
“No,” Leo spat. “I’d rather die.”
Michael took a step back, his head tilting so hard and so fast that his neck ought to be broken.
“You don’t mean that,” he argued.
“Yes,” said Leo, his hands balling into fists. “I do.”
Julian stumbled, as if she stepped on a rock and lost her balance, and grabbing on to his hand to keep herself from tripping from any further, then immediately wishing she hadn’t. It only made it worse. She gave a soft noise, something akin to getting socked in the stomach. That’s almost exactly what it felt like, but it wasn’t even the vision itself that did it or the emotion of the two in it. It was all hers. A gut-wrenching sorrow over a time and place she could see but couldn’t change.
She let out a hiss of breath, squeezing his hand tighter. This was bad for him. Epic levels of not cool. There was nothing she could do about then, but there was plenty she could do about now. She couldn’t be scared about what would happen. They needed her to be here.
“I’m not going to let anything happen to you.” she muttered softly, only taking the quickest of glances in his direction. “Or to Michael.”
“I’ll be fine,” he told her, impatiently. “And so will you.”
That was a promise. That was why, when they rounded a corner only to come face-to-face with a figure in a dark robe, Leo let go of her hand and put himself in front of her in a flash.
“You want to live, you can clear out of here,” he informed the witch with a grin that showed off all his teeth.
In answer, the witch began to chant.
Leo bodyslammed her into the nearest row of lockers with a resounding clang.
At the clang, Julian jumped, kind of cursing herself for doing it. Some cool psychic hero she was turning out to be. She made sure to scoot several paces away, but not so far enough where she couldn’t jump and leap on that witch if she managed to cast some spell and break away from Leo. Julian was now VERY aware of how easy it was for any witch to fling out damage.
“I was going to say don’t kill anybody, but I’m losing patience for that pretty quick.” she said flippantly. But even so, she wasn’t watching and instead took a look around to make sure no one else was lurking and ready to pop out of a classroom.
Then there was that feeling. The strange, subtle twinge that felt like a string was being tugged. Pulling her towards somewhere she was supposed to be. Had she felt that before? It seemed familiar and foreign all at the same time. She squinted down the hall curiously before taking a few steps.
She didn’t get far before an arm looped around her neck.
“Gotcha,” a voice growled. Julian recognized that voice; she’d listened to it lecture on and on about logarithms and polynomials for the past couple of months. That probably answered how they’d gotten into the school so easily; her math teacher was a witch.
“Jules!” Leo still had a hold on the struggling woman, but he was clearly prepared to drop her and jump to Julian’s rescue- that is, until his captive tore open one of the lockers and a book dropped on his head. He reeled back, hissing through his teeth. Julian caught a flash of fang.
Great, detention again!
It probably wasn’t the brightest thought in the world, but for a split second Julian froze. The horror of another awkward week talking to a teacher in detention about her vampire boyfriends and doing obnoxious amounts of extra math homework was the first thing that filled her head.
Wait a second. She hated this teacher and his stupid class. And he was a cultist asshole.
Oh hell, she might actually enjoy this.
Julian twisted her head until she could bite his arm as hard as she could, while her hand shot up to grab the hood of his cloak and tug it down over his face. When his hold loosened on her enough to break free, she whirled around and rammed her knee into his crotch.
“I’m still right here.” she reassured Leo with a rush of breath, midway through preparing to kick her least favorite teacher in the face.
“Well shit, Jules, that was actually all kinds of hot.” Leo, meanwhile, rammed his witch’s head against a closed locker; she went slack and slumped to the floor. “Watch out though.”
Mr. Cragg uttered something throaty and unintelligible, then thrust a hand toward Julian’s face. The tips of his fingers glowed like heated coals.
Completely against all of her sense, Julian could already feel the smirk trying to creep it’s way across her face.
“You would think that’s h- hrrgph!”
Her snappy comeback got cut short by a squeak as she stumbled to the side to avoid whatever glowing-doom was going to fly at her. Squeezing her eyes shut and waiting for that memory of Leo’s stinging burns to become her next injury of the night, she jerked her tiny canister of rosepepper spray our of her pocket, aimed, and liberally fired.
Cragg gave a hoarse cry and tripped, his arms pinwheeling as he went down. Leo leapfrogged over his fallen form, taking Julian by the hand again and immediately putting some distance between them.
“Less snark, more action,” he advised, wheezing a little. “Rose oil in pepper spray? I’m proud.”
He was still looking a little long in the teeth, and he wasn’t quite looking her in the eye. He kept his gaze leveled on the hallway ahead.
“I should have warned you.” Crap. She forgot that stuff was super bad for vampires. Which was pretty stupid considering that’s why she mixed it in the first place. The canister got shoved back in to her pocket, even as she glanced over her shoulder to see if Mr. Cragg was going to haul ass and follow them.
“You should have let me keep Walter’s knife! But there’s other things in my pockets.” At this point she was babbling, even knowing shutting her mouth would’ve been the smarter thing to do. Julian was not good at stealthy even on a good day. Now she was jumpy as hell and every open door or dark corner could mean someone popping out.
“You’re all toothy again.” she commented, not sure why she let that observation slip out. It was kind of funny in a dark and hysterical sort of way.
“Yeah, that tends to happen when I want to bite things,” he replied drily. His fingers threaded through hers a little tighter. “Come on, he’s not going to stay down forever.”
Leo ducked down another hallway. It was a good thing they’d played hide-and-seek here before, because it gave him a good reference to juxtapose with his mental map of his old family home. He could already picture the next three turns they needed to take… and which three they were going to take instead.
He forced himself to look at Julian beside him, knowing full well he was fangy and his eyes were just a little bluer and brighter than normal. Hell, she’d seen worse sides of him tonight. This wasn’t going to kill either of them. And anyway, as soon as he got a breather, he shook his head and was back to normal.
“Follow the leader,” he told her, and spun her in a sharp right. They hurried past the bathrooms. He pressed her against the wall just as someone went tearing down the hallway from which they’d just turned.
Julian sucked in a breath and went stiffly silent. Tilting her head back against the all with her eyes closed, waiting and listening. He knew where they were headed and she knew where they were supposed to go, but she couldn’t figure out why he kept taking detours instead of just marching on directly. Until right now. He was trying to avoid people.
Part of her wanted to complain that he was just delaying the inevitable, but that would mean explaining what she meant by inevitable. That wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have.
The other part of her, though…
“Leo.” she whispered his name softly, once the sounds of footsteps faded. “Do that stupid thing you do where you say everything is fine and I can do this.”
That note in her voice was what made Leo’s resolve crumble. The one that said I’m pretty sure we’re not all going to make it. The one where she was begging him to make it all okay, as if someone like him was even remotely capable of making anything okay on any planet.
He shifted slightly and placed his palm against the white painted brick, steadying himself as he took a few, brief seconds to take in exactly what sort of expression she was wearing. What he saw just damned him a little further.
“Hey,” he said, tilting his head. “Look at me.”
The moment their eyes met, he leaned down and kissed her.
Just… kissed her. Just like that. Like it was the easiest thing he’d ever done.
Because somehow, in that moment, it was.
The sound she made was pitiful, at least in her opinion. Not a complaint, or regret… just that damning surrender to something you didn’t realize you were asking for. It melted the tension in her shoulders and she might have slid down to the floor if her knees hadn’t been locked.
He had to go and choose the most terrible and most wonderful way to solve the problem.
He was annoyingly good at that.
But now she really wanted to cry. A kiss was bad, wasn’t it? A kiss meant he was too worried about what was going to happen to care about consequences later.
Once he broke away, Julian tilted forward, sliding her arms underneath his jacket to curl around his back. Fingers gripped tight in to his shirt as she buried her face against his chest.
“I’m scared.” she confessed, her voice coming out muffled. When she was done squeezing, she retracted her arms, swiping the back of her hands against her eyes furiously. “I’m okay, I’ve got this. Just don’t-”
Her breath caught. She couldn’t even finish it.
“No time for tears,” he said, giving her a wry smile. “Consider revisiting this-” He gestured between them. “-a motive for both of us to stay in one piece, huh?”
Despite his bravado, his hand shook a little when he wiped one last holdout tear from her cheek with the backs of his knuckles. He was utterly fucked if anything happened to her. Or, he realized slowly, to him. Because he’d be fucking her over, and that was just not even on the table.
“You’re the worst,” he told her, the way he said it completely contradicting that statement. He couldn’t even do it with a straight face; his mouth was still curving upward at the ends. “Real pain in my ass.”
He had to be at the point of total meltdown to be this calm. But he felt a strange certainty as he picked up her hand again and tugged her down the halls, back on the path for the last place on earth that he’d been able to call himself human.
“You’re the worst.” she choked out with a weird half-laugh. Was he promising another kiss or a nice long awkward talk about said kissing? He was terrible and awful and she didn’t know what she was going to do with him if she actually made it past morning without dropping dead somewhere.
But she did know that she wanted the chance to find out.
Julian kept pace with him, the squeezing of his hand being the only remnant that she was still nervous. With the heel of her other she made sure to erase any left over tears. She fought to paint something a little more tough on her expression. For one, she didn’t want Leo worrying about her freaking out because he’d just get himself killed. And second… the only real power she had beside confusing the hell out of people was sounding intimidating and like she could actually DO everything she threatened.
Julian wasn’t sure how far she could hold her bluff with David.
“What IS the plan?” she asked, once she finally swallowed all those lumps in her throat.
“The plan is adaptable,” he answered. “Planning every detail is what gets you fucked when you don’t plan for one contingency or the other. And there’s always another contingency.”
That was a bunch of bullshit, obviously. He didn’t have a plan. Well, not a real one. Not a sane one.
“Hopefully, the plan is that Walter and Michael are both still kicking. Top priority is getting them conscious or free or whatever and hoping they can pitch in, because if they can we might actually have enough firepower to kick David’s ass. From there… well. Depends on if David’s alone, depends on how far he’s gotten with that spell. Not gonna lie, I’m not exactly thrilled about the fact it’s taking him this long. That means one of two things.”
He held up one finger on his free hand.
“Could be that it’s reeeeally complicated, which means better chance for us that those two are safe and sound. On the other hand, a spell that takes this long to set up has got to be extremely nasty mojo. Worse than we first thought, even.”
His second finger went up.
“Or. He’s waiting for a certain time. Which could mean he’s already done with getting… components. But that we definitely have a window of opportunity in which he can’t do shit if we stop him on time.”
Leo’s head was already filtering through the different possibilities, juggling them like glass balls in his empty palm. The odds were piss poor either way, but Leo knew all about how to play the odds.
“David didn’t listen to me,” he went on. “But you happen to be annoyingly good at getting bad people to spill their guts to you, Jules.”
He didn’t have a clue of what to do anymore than she did. That might have been concerning if it were anyone else. But after watching Leo and Angela have their little back-and-forth war conference earlier, where they pinpointed exactly what was going on just by blabbering about it, Julian was pretty confident he would when it mattered.
“Basically, I pester David until you figure out what to do. Got it.” she muttered in response, almost sounding amused by it. Julian didn’t have a lot of confidence that they’d pull any of it off, but that didn’t stop her from trying before. She’d just have to find a way through it now.
“I’m sure we’ll be best friends by lunch time.”
“Well, start thinking about your plan to become BFFs with Michael’s asshole little cousin,” drawled Leo, lowering his voice. “Because this is it.”
He drew to a halt outside a pair of double doors. Once upon a time, a much smaller door had stood here in a much narrower hall on a floor much higher off the ground. On the other side of that door had been the nursery where Leo had played as a child- and not alone.
Now those doors were the threshold to the school library. On his last trip to the school, Leo had deliberately avoided actually crossing that threshold. This time, he pressed a tentative palm to the door’s handle and snuck a glance through the frosted glass window.
The library was dark, but he could see the outline of two figures in the center of the room.
Two small boys sat amidst a pile of wooden blocks. The one with a wide smile and bright blue eyes was showing great enthusiasm and care in constructing what looked almost like some rudimentary form of ziggurat or pyramid- something fairly advanced for someone who couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old.
The other boy sat silently beside him, knees pulled up to his chest and dark eyes watching from a particularly solemn face. He didn’t touch the toys, nor show much interest in the ones that his companion didn’t handle. There was a pad and piece of charcoal lying beside him, unattended and blank.
“One day I’m going to make a real house,” the blue-eyed boy told the silent one with a gap-toothed grin. “Just like the ones you like to draw. And you and me are going to live there and my dumb sister can’t come.”
“Just you and me?” the quiet boy whispered. It was a strange whisper, though, almost as if he didn’t know how to speak any louder.
“You and me and Georgie and Violet!” the first boy answered. “We’ll all run away and live there where there aren’t any parents or rules.”
The somber boy’s expression darkened.
“I don’t like Violet,” he said, in that same half-hushed tone. His eyes slid to the side.
Blue eyes blinked. “She’s a girl, but she’s okay. You like Georgie and she’s a girl.”
“I don’t like Violet.”
“I don’t like Violet!” the boy screamed, suddenly at full volume and lurching to his feet. He kicked his foot in a direct line for his playmate’s structure of blocks; they toppled and scattered and bounced across the wooden floor. “No, no, no!”
“No!” He tossed himself down on the ground, thrashing and striking out with his fists. The other boy scrambled back out of range. It did nothing to stop the fit; if anything, it grew more pronounced. Tears and screams echoed in the small room. “Leo! Leo! Leo, my Leo, mine, no!”
It only ended when the blue-eyed boy threw himself on top of his friend, pinning his arms and sitting on him until the screams turned garbled and incoherent before finally quieting.
“Shh, shh,” hissed Leo, eyes wide as he stared down at the boy on the floor. “It’s okay. It’s okay! He can’t get you, I won’t let him, I’m not going to leave you alone!”
Michael’s empty gaze never changed.
Julian sucked in a breath and braced herself out of reflex. She was never sure when one of these flashes of memory would come with a sudden jab of pain, or just be a flood of dizzying unchecked emotion. Being over-emotional was a thing she did all by herself without the extra help. This one came with a surge of fear. Confusion. Determination. And that special kind of caring little kids had where they just did with every fiber of their being. Because little kids didn’t feel things in small ways. They felt them BIG.
And Leo and Michael seemed to do that even more than normal people. Everything about Leo and Michael always turned out greater than what it seemed.
She wasn’t sure what to do with this one yet, so she swept it away for later the same way she brushed a few loose strands of her hair back behind her ears. Her gaze fell down to their entwined fingers. Letting him go would probably be the best idea. It wouldn’t be the first time she was far too in tune with Leo and picking up on things she didn’t need. Julian forced herself to let go of his hand, then shoved her own in to her pockets before she changed her mind.
“Now or never?”
Leo shook his head.
“No such thing as never,” he answered, and gave the door a small push.
The Silent Pines High School library was a relic of the past. There were exactly three computers, all side-by-side at the same table in the back, which was why most of the student body opted to frequent the computer lab instead. The carpet and walls were the exact same shade of rust-red that had probably been applied in the 70’s; it actually looked less eerie and mottled in the dark than it generally did during school hours, when it was awash with the overhead fluorescent lighting. Dark wooden shelving and matching tables cluttered the room. In the farthest left and right corners, spiral staircases twisted up the walls into the loft area that housed the books which couldn’t be checked out of the library- mainly encyclopedias and other research volumes.
The librarian’s counter was catty-corner to the main library entrance, and that was where Leo and Julian took cover as soon as they slipped inside. Behind them, the door swung quietly shut. Leo hazarded a look at Julian, holding her eyes for a moment.
Stay down, he mouthed.
He peeked his head over the counter, relying on the librarian’s kiosk to halfway shield him from view. As soon as he got a good line of sight, he grabbed Julian’s hand with intent and squeezed.
Right. Let’s see if sight-jacking is on her ever-growing list of absurd powers.
He wasn’t sure it would work, but it was worth a shot. And it meant less chance that they’d be spotted.
Even if Julian didn’t get a goddamn thing, Leo got a pretty good scope of the room. It was dark, but luckily that didn’t mean much to a vampire. Between the clusterfuck of tables, chairs, and bookshelves there was a clear-enough pathway to the center of the library.
There was a statue dead-on in the middle of the room. Because of course there was.
If circumstances had been less dire, it was the sort of thing Leo would have just had to comment on. How the hell did Julian go to school every day with a statue of the Greek goddess of magic in the middle of her school library and not realize people in this town were insane?
The Hecate statue was comprised of three female figures standing back-to-back and facing outward. Each bore a torch in one hand and the manifestation of their aspect in the other: a wand, a dagger, a second torch. Leo couldn’t see from this distance, but he was willing to bet that somewhere on that statue all three of those orders’ symbols were hidden in the design.
The statue accounted for one of the figures he’d thought he’d seen through the frosted glass window. The other…
“Walter,” he breathed in recognition.
It was hard to tell if the witch was alive or dead. He certainly didn’t look conscious. Someone (presumably David) had strung him between two small bookshelves by either wrist. His head was drooping; Leo couldn’t get a look at his face.
The room was thick with the scent of blood.
David and Michael were nowhere to be seen.
It couldn’t be clear if it were her own senses getting a good feel for the room or impressions from Leo. Everything came in a little fuzzy, like it was being forced through a filter. The room didn’t want her snooping around, which might have been kind of creepy if she didn’t already know that was likely David’s doing. What she did know was that Leo tried something. Beaming thoughts, thinking her name – it was something. Enough to give her a curious little tingle of awareness that it happened.
That was way too weird to think harder on.
Julian bit in to her lip, resting her head against the wood of the kiosk. Angela would have been really useful right about now. She’d have an attack plan in two seconds. Julian on the other hand, was struggling to think up the best options. It would be dumb to think running up and grabbing Walter would easy, wouldn’t it? And Michael was still unaccounted for. She couldn’t just play a youtube video this time and hope for the best.
…well. She could. Or at least something equally as crazy.
She leaned in close to Leo, close enough she barely even had to raise her voice to a whisper. “One of us has to be distracting. Walter is heavy and you’re faster than me. Unless you have a better idea?”
He hated that plan.
…But it was a good plan. Or at least the best they had.
“If he’s still alive, I can try and get him up and running,” he answered softly. “He’s not going to like it, but I can fix him up.”
Walter would forgive him eventually. Probably. As long as the guy didn’t stop breathing.
Slowly, he eased himself into a crouch, ready to spring at the first sign of trouble. He eyed Julian, wishing he knew exactly what she was going to do- and at the same time, already sure he didn’t want to ask. It was probably better this way.
“That was pretty much the plan anyway, really,” he admitted. “Do your thing.”
I want to kiss him again.
I am so stupid.
Why. Why did he have to look at her that way.
Julian knocked her head against the kiosk once, before taking in a deep resigned breath. There would be no chickening out now. She was the biggest badass in Silent Pines, right? And if she died, well, she could always haunt the town forever.
With once last fleeting glance towards Leo, she pushed herself up off the floor and rounded the desk. Julian straightened her jacket and pulled the brass candlestick out of her pocket. She couldn’t go in to battle without a decent weapon. Once she reached the center of the room, she only gave Walter a quick look over to make sure he was still breathing.
“SO.” she called out loudly, kind of surprised she did it without her voice cracking. “Whose ass do I have to kick about Mr. Cragg? Because I’m pretty sure he’s going to be failing me if I make it back to school on Monday.”
Walter didn’t seem to be doing much of anything… except bleeding. There were cuts all over his arms, and one of his own knives was sticking out of his right shoulder. As Julian got closer she could hear a slow drip, drip, drip as blood splashed down into a widening puddle on the floor and settled into the carpet.
Actually, when she looked down, there was more blood involved than just Walter’s. At least hopefully it wasn’t all his, because there was a lot. Enough to paint a large circle around the statue. It was hard to see because of the color of the carpet, but it was there, dark and already dried.
Wait, no. It wasn’t a circle. It was a sun.
“So,” David’s voice called out, echoing between the shelves. It was hard to pinpoint exactly where he was, which direction he was in. “You finally noticed your boyfriend wasn’t taking calls.”
“I’m not the brightest girl in Silent Pines.” she responded after taking a big swallow. There was so much blood all over the place. How long had he been working on this? How many people did it take to get this much blood everywhere?
Julian eased away from Walter, taking careful steps towards one of the rows of book shelves. She flexed her fingers around her candlestick. Not knowing where he was hiding was a little disconcerting, but that wasn’t important as long as he kept focused on her.
“I get caught up quick, though. First you try to kill my Leo, then you kidnap my witch, and probably have nefarious plans with my boyfriend… I doubt you really have anyone’s best interests in mind. So unless this whole ritual is saving the world from Cthulhu, you need to cut it out.”
“What would you say if I told you it was?” he asked in return. “Or something like that. Would that make a difference?”
Julian caught a flash out of the corner of her eye- but it was just Leo, zipping from shadow to shadow and using the furniture as cover. He blinked at her from under one of the tables, giving her a smirk and a salute before he was gone again, slowly picking his way toward Walter.
Meanwhile, David was still talking.
“You have no idea what you’ve gotten involved with.” It was almost like his voice was shifting around the room, but whether that was an effect of the library’s acoustics or from one of his spells was hard to say. “I’m sure that your darling Michael never told you. This is so much older than either of us, Julian. Everything I’ve done is to right a wrong that happened a long, long time ago. Every awful act I’ve committed, all of the awful things I’ve become… that’s because someone had to. I had to.”
“Actually. Yes. It would make a difference.” Julian responded, trying to avoid the urge to check up on Leo and his progress. She was a bad actress and if David were watching her with his creepy witch vision, Julian was sure he’d know everything she was thinking.
Julian stopped to peer over a line of books to the shelves on the other side, both looking for David and pretending to look for him. She rubbed her hand over her chest trying to will her heart to stop beating so hard. It was almost so loud, Leo could probably hear it from across the room.
“I remember talking to you before, a long time ago. I offered my help and you said you didn’t need it. …but I think you do. You think this is the only way to do things, but I bet it’s not. I bet if you told me the story again, I could help you find a better way. One where you don’t have to be a huge asshole.”
“You’re so determined for everyone to be good.” There was a loud scraping noise. “Why? ‘Your boyfriend, your witch, your Leo’. None of them are worth saving.”
Another scraping noise.
“Neither am I,” added David.
“But Michael… Hm. What can I say about dear cousin Michael.” Julian heard a cough and a moan that definitely didn’t belong to David. “He’s the worst of them all. Have you ever taken a peek into Michael’s past, Julian? You should. I’m sure it’s a real trip. He’s the reason we’re all here today. Where do I even begin?”
Though she was trying to avoid looking, Julian spotted Leo right away when he got to Walter. The small shelves didn’t provide as much cover as some of the other spots in the room, but between them and behind Walter’s limp frame was the only place to hide. Leo pressed one of his hands to his own lips and bit down, then reached around to clamp his bleeding palm over the witch’s mouth.
Don’t look at him. Don’t think about it. Oh god, what is that noise?!
It was the sort of sound any sane person would try to avoid drawing closer to. So obviously that meant Julian needed to find it’s source. Grinding her teeth, she tip-toed carefully between a pair of shelves, turning at the end of the Non-fiction.
“Michael has done some pretty shitty things.” she admitted. “It’s like he’s cracked in to multiple pieces. When I look at him, I see all the damaged pieces layered on top. But there’s still this little shimmer of something else. The person he wanted to be. Someone he still could be.”
“Everyone is like that. Even you.” Julian twist the candlestick in her hands. What she wouldn’t give for one of Walter’s knives right about now. “It’s never too late to make a different choice. Stop doing this crazy stuff and come take a walk with me. We can talk and no one will bother us. I promise you can trust me?”
“You’re the one who sees things,” said David. She wasn’t positive, but it sounded like he might be ahead of her now, towards the back of the library. “Tell me. Why do you think I’m doing this? What do you think I have left to lose? Why do you think I would stop now?”
A series of dull thuds followed his words.
“I wonder if you’d be so supportive of your boyfriend if you knew. Why don’t you tell her, Michael?”
A gurgle, then only silence.
“Right. You’re having a bad day, I forgot. I’m so sorry.” She could hear David’s sneer in his voice. “Spoiled little princes don’t care what happens to anyone else. Spoiled little princes only care about getting what they want. Spoiled little princes get everyone’s families killed just so they can get back at daddy.”
Something dragged across the floor again, and then with a series of crashes, Michael came tumbling down one of the spiral staircases. He landed in a heap on the floor, twitching. His hands were bound behind his back with something brown and tangled that didn’t look like it ought to be capable of holding anyone still, let alone a vampire. His hair was matted with blood, and given the way he’d obviously been pushed, he likely had other injuries.
He’d been pushed from the top of the stairs.
That was why David seemed to be moving in all directions. He’d been above Julian in the loft the whole time, walking along the rails.
And if he’d had an overhead vantage…
Julian made a strangled sort of squeak and threw her arms up to cover her eyes. It didn’t matter that she knew Michael was a vampire and could heal with time and blood, or that she knew he probably wasn’t dead. Seeing his body all twisted up and mangled sent her stomach churning and her chest constricting in to a tight vice. This was so far above her level. Out of her league dangerous. She didn’t know what she was doing.
And David was upstairs. That was all kinds of bad. If he hadn’t already, he’d be able to spot Leo and Walter real easy. She couldn’t shield anyone like this.
Swallowing the fear that lodged it’s way in to in her throat, Julian rushed to Michael first. There would be no dragging him away to safety, but she could at least make sure he wasn’t all tied up. The rest she had to trust to Leo. IF David hadn’t already picked them off one by one.
“Why don’t you stop screwing around with me and just get to the point? Just because I’m psychic doesn’t mean I know everything.” she called out, glancing upwards towards the loft. Her bravado was starting to crack and it could be clearly heard in her voice. Once Michael was untied, she headed to the spiral staircase. Her hand gripped on to the railing and she hesitated for a split second. She had to do this. She could do this. Steeling her resolve she started up the steps.
“You’re going to stop, whether you choose to or not, because I’m going make you.” Julian didn’t sound too confident about it, but she pushed on, trying to even her tone with each step. “But you making the choice is better. You have tons to lose. You could have friends and a family and all the sparkling good things you assholes keep making fun of me for.”
“Fine.” It was a whisper, but it carried to her ears as easily as if he were standing right at her side. “I’ll get to the point.”
David slid into view at the top of the stairs. His hands were bloody, and in one he gripped what looked like a sharpened bone. His face was a grim mask. His complexion was off; pale, sweaty. He didn’t look very healthy.
He pointed down below them as he took the first step.
“Michael,” he said, “wasn’t very good at being a witch. But he found out all about his family history, about the Hightower line and what we stand for as the high priests of the Golden Sun. And do you know what he did with that knowledge?”
From under Julian’s feet, she heard Michael make another pained sound and scrabble to his feet.
“He decided to use that knowledge to get a whole different kind of power, Julian. He became a vampire on purpose. And that’s where all of this begins.”
Leo knew the exact moment that Walter came ’round, because Walter bit the shit out of Leo’s hand.
“Fuck!” he swore, retracting it fast. “You sure you didn’t kick the bucket and turn already after all?”
“Eat ten thousand dicks, you filthy piece of shit,” growled Walter in return. He flexed experimentally against his restraints, head lolling to the side. He coughed and spat.
“You’re gonna regret that in a second,” he informed Walter, as he wrapped his fingers around the handle of the knife in the man’s shoulder. Without warning, he yanked it free; Walter let off a new and even more creative stream of quiet expletives. Leo immediately shoved his hand over his mouth again- for reasons now twofold.
“C’mon, Walter. Swallow, don’t spit.” The answer Walter gave was muffled against Leo’s skin, but Leo got the gist. “Look, just a little more. We need you back in the game. I don’t think Michael’s in any condition to help, so it’s gotta be you and me who help Jules kick David’s ass.”
Walter twisted away again, tipping his head back. There was a flash of alarm in his eyes that sent a chill down Leo’s spine.
“Michael and David are both here? Now? At the same time?” he wanted to know. He seemed to take Leo’s hesitation as answer enough. “Lovely. We’re fucked.”
“What do you know?” asked Leo, voice gone sharp.
“Leo,” Michael’s voice interrupted. Leo pivoted in place, alarm bells now at full volume… because he knew that tone.
Fuck. All this blood.
The creature standing in front of Leo wasn’t even close to Michael’s usual collected demeanor. This was a half-starved, beaten and crazed vampire surrounded in a cloud of blood-scent. Michael’s eyes were like an animal’s, and they were staring over Leo’s shoulder to where Walter still hung, bound and bleeding.
“Fuuu-” was as far as Leo got through the word before Michael pounced.
Michael became a vampire on purpose? Julian could see this. From the glimpses that she’d seen and the way he always needed to be in control, it would make a crazy amount of sense for him to think that was a good idea. There was something her father told her about power a long time ago, the thought skimming across the surface of her mind but refusing bare fruit. Maybe it was because David was right there, looking like he had already been to hell and back. He didn’t look much better than she did. That couldn’t be good.
Julian paused on the steps, griping tight on to the railing and refusing to move any further. She watched David warily, holding up her candlestick to gesture at him to be still. It didn’t look at all threatening compared to the weird bit of bone he had.
“He made a really stupid choice.” she stated slowly, mulling over the words even as she said them. “And you’re going to fix it. …but is this really the right way to do it? What exactly are you trying to do that justifies all of this? Why does it have to be this way?”
Then suddenly, she was aware that something was wrong. Julian cast a worried frown over her shoulder.
Down below, Leo and Michael were struggling on the ground. Michael kept trying to get up and lunge for Walter, but Leo got a hold of his legs and dragged him back to the floor.
“Substance abuse is ugly, isn’t it,” he said. “I thought Michael could keep them entertained while we talk. That’s what you came here to do, isn’t it? Talk.”
He took another couple of steps down, his footsteps heavy on the stairs. The closer he got, the worse he looked. There was blood trickling out of the cuff of his sleeve.
“You’re the psychic, Jules.” He smiled a thin smile. “Why do you think I’m doing this?”
He reached out his hand and wiggled his fingers in invitation.
Feral vampire Michael was on the loose? …now Julian was kicking herself for untying him. The possibility of him desperately needing blood hadn’t crossed her mind at all. Walter was pretty much a hanging chew toy and Leo wasn’t exactly all together yet either.
She was the worst at this hero stuff.
Her gaze darted from David’s face to the blood dripping from his arm and then down to his hand. Had he bled himself for this spell? Or was it just to rile up Michael? Julian bit in to her lip. She already learned once before that offered hands landed you shoved in to crypts and she didn’t fancy taking a fall down the stairs.
He was offering her a glimpse. But he didn’t realize this could backfire.
“Lets find out.” she mumbled, reaching out. There was a slight hesitation before she grabbed his hand, her other raising up the candlestick ready to clobber him with it if anything weird happened.
Two gravestones. Not ones in the old Silent Pines cemetery; these were new, modern. They stood in the graveyard on the other side of town. Julian could see names carved into the granite: James and Mary Hightower.
The rest was all emotion; not hers. His. Loneliness. Grief. Anger.
“My parents died when I was 18,” said David. He leaned in, his face inches from hers, and wet his lips. “I’m sure you can imagine some of the things going through my head, can’t you.”
“But see, I know what happened to my parents, Julian. And I know why.” He was below her on the steps now. He hadn’t let go of her hand. “They died because of Michael. And they’re not the only ones. See, Michael threw a wrench in something much bigger than any of us when he avoided his destiny that night. And when you mess with fate, Julian, bad things happen.”
Julian couldn’t tell if he were willingly opening up to her or trying to block her. Or both. The actual images were short and disjointed, but the feelings were coming in full force. Drowning out her senses and making it very hard to compartmentalize what was going on. She needed to be aware of where the others were. She needed to think and know where she was.
She was surprised to find herself turned in the opposite direction, David now a few steps below her. Her mouth twisted down in to a frown and she squeezed his hand tight. A warning for him? No, she wasn’t done here. She couldn’t let him go until she knew what was going on. The candlestick was her warning, raising partially in the air again and ready to swing. Though now not nearly with the same confidence.
“That doesn’t sound right.” she responded slowly. “How could it ruin everything? Why would it still make a difference now? No one could really do that..?”
“There are things in this town much more powerful than vampires and werewolves and ghosts.” He yanked harder, practically dragging her down the steps after him. “The Golden Sun has always served a very particular function in this town, and Michael must have known about that. How else would he have planned to turn? I don’t know if he knew his role in the ritual, but he knew enough.”
“‘Sun must conquer Sun, drenched in Iron blood and pierced by bone of the tree,’” whispered a strange, raspy voice that Julian had heard before but couldn’t place at first. “‘The younger will take the elder’s place and seal the world in a Golden paradise.’ That’s what it said.”
Julian was falling. Her unmoving feet stumbled on the stairs. David let go of her hand to catch her and crush her painfully tight against his side, not even pausing in his descent.
“We’re going to finish that ritual tonight, Julian, because every year someone’s parent is taken to make up for Michael’s sins. To appease something very, very angry about what happened. My parents are Michael’s victims. Your friends the Whelans can thank him as well.”
“You should be helping me, Julian. You have a stake in this,” said David. Julian could feel how tight his breathing was. Blood was soaking into her jacket as it dripped out of his sleeve. “After all. Your parents were taken too.”
A muffled sound slipped out when she stumbled downwards, and in her flailing to catch balance she lost her brass weapon. The loss didn’t seem to register, though. Little wheels in her head was trying to connect strings of knowledge together.
Sun conquer sun, drenched in iron blood.
That meant something. Something somewhere she saw in a vision before? Or was she trying to draw on something that wasn’t occurring to her yet?
Your parents were taken too.
“What?” she squeaked, going dead still for a moment. That wasn’t- It couldn’t-
“That doesn’t make ANY sense!” Julian practically shouted, finding the presence of mind to finally grab at him and try to shove herself away. “You can’t blame dead parents on sacrifices to who the fuck knows what for something that happened a hundred years ago! You just- You can’t! That’s CRAZY.”
“That’s CRAZY.” Julian’s shout echoed in the library.
Michael’s head whipped around.
“Oh hell no,” hissed Leo- but in a burst of strength, Michael broke free and sent Leo slamming into the nearest bookcase. Its contents spilled onto the ground- and goddammit, Leo was really sick of getting hit with books tonight- and for a moment he was concerned for Walter, who was still suspended between the cases.
Except he wasn’t.
Walter had managed to get ahold of his knife at some point during the struggle. He’d cut himself free and was slouched on the ground beside Leo.
“Get the fuck up!” the witch snapped, kicking at Leo. “You can’t let him be the one to kill David.”
“Now you tell me!” Leo was up on his feet and after Michael in a blur.
“I’m not crazy.” He shook her, hauling her down the last few steps without much care for her footing. “You think I haven’t looked? You think I would rest until I found the truth?!”
“Blood of the mother to line the womb,” that same coarse voice whispered, but she could hear David repeating it at the same time, the two voices layered over one another. “Blood of the father to seal the tomb.”
He tossed Julian down onto the floor.
“If you won’t help me, fine,” he breathed. “It’s already done. It’s time.”
He stood at the bottom of the stairs, turning his face upward to the high windows that lined the room. An eerie orange light was beginning to filter inside.
“Sun’s coming up.”
Ow. It wasn’t even hitting the floor that hurt the most, though it did give her joints a sudden sharp jostling. The mix-matched flashes were hard to take. They were disorienting, and worse she couldn’t bounce back from them quick enough to catch her bearings again. It felt like every time she blinked she was somewhere else. She struggled to keep up.
Julian scrambled to her feet, pressing the heel of her hand to her forehead as she winced.
“I am helping you! But this is wrong. This is all REALLY wrong.” Her gaze followed his to the window, confusion setting in again. His spell needed the sunrise? Would be complete by sunrise? She didn’t know! Panic was trying to set in, so she tried to swallow it.
Rushing forwards, she grabbed on to his clothing, not sure if she was going to shake him of shove him, but fully prepared to let go and swing a fist and break his nose if she had to.
“No, no, no.” she hissed. “It’s NOT done yet. It doesn’t have to be done! No one has to die. Nothing good EVER comes from things where people have to die to make it happen! I’m helping, just listen and leave with me.”
“I’m already dead,” he told her. He almost sounded sorry.
A pair of bodies slammed into them from the side.
David fell on top of Julian, crushing her to the floor as Michael and Leo rolled across the carpet next to them and partially above them. Michael was hissing and spitting like an angry snake. His hand latched onto David’s jacket, yanking so hard that the fabric tore. Leo yelped a curse and looped his arms around Michael’s waist to haul him back, kicking his feet to put some distance between them and David. It didn’t look like he was getting very far.
“Oh yes, hold him still, Leo,” growled David, pushing himself up onto his elbows. In the tussle, he’d lost his grip on his bit of bone; he started to pat around on the floor for it. “That will make this so much easier.”
“Fuck you, asshole!”
“Or let him go,” David continued, sounding distracted. His eyebrows furrowed as his gaze skimmed the carpet. “Either way. Just give me a moment to-”
“Hey moron,” another voice cut in.
Walter was now the only person in the room who was up and on his own two feet. He stood a few feet away, leaning heavily on a shelf but otherwise appearing unharmed. In one hand, he held his knife; in the other, he clutched David’s bone shard.
“Looking for this?” Walter twirled the bone between his fingers. “Well, too fucking bad. You’ll have to come get it, and I won’t be fooled by the same tricks twice.”
“Aarrghdammit.” she growled out between her teeth. It wasn’t the first time she wound up in a dog pile on the library floor, and it was probably that weird familiarity that gave her the sense to fight through the complete and utter chaos erupting around her. Feral vampires and crazy witches aside, this was familiar territory. They even taunted each other just like her group of crazy teenage girls.
Sun conquer sun. Bone of the tree.
Julian froze, her eyes darting from David scowling at Walter, to Michael trying to fight himself loose from Leo, and finally Walter twirling that bone shard.
“Oh fuck me.” Yeah. That was obvious. She had the pieces right here in front of her. Angela probably would have figured this shit out fifteen minutes ago.
“Stop SASSING HIM and get rid of that thing!” she shouted at Walter, shoving herself up to her knees. She needed- Yes! Her hands found her dropped candlestick. David wanted to die for this spell. Or have him AND Michael die. It didn’t matter. The only person destined tonight was her and she sure as hell wasn’t going to do that without taking care of all them first.
“David!” shouted again scrambling behind him, “Let me save your stupid life!” she then swung her candlestick for his head. If she had to knock him out and drag him away, that’s what she was going do.
David ducked. His hand flew up in front of him, and Julian’s arm locked up mid-swing. His other hand pointed toward Walter, but his evasive maneuver and her frantic chase had left Julian standing between the two witches. Neither had a direct line of fire.
“Jules, get out of the way,” Walter hissed, his eyes riveted in their direction. He made an impatient noise and made a move to snap the piece of bone in half like a twig.
Before he could follow through, Michael chose that exact moment to ram his head back against Leo’s face. There was a familiar crunch- the sound of a nose breaking- and Leo was flung back. This time, Michael just had to go for the worst target possible at that moment. As he leapt on Walter, the bone dropped to the floor again and rolled away.
Leo made a dive for it even as David held aloft an open palm.
“You had one job, Walter!” Julian hissed somewhere between trying to wretch her arm loose from a spell and Walter getting jumped by Michael. Now she was throwing the snark too, and it was probably for the best. If she didn’t she’d realize just how freaking crazy it was to think she even had a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up.
She finally got her arm back under her own control just in time to see David aiming his witchy hand at someone else.
“NO. We’re not doing that again!”
Julian shot forward and David earned himself a forced tackle, with not just the physical one hundred and fifteen pounds of pissed off teenage girl, but she made sure she threw her feelings too. He had been throwing his at her the whole night with confusing visions and heartbreaking scenes, he could have a taste of her and what she could do to crazy assholes that attacked people she loved.
The psychic whammy must have been what knocked David prone. He made a gutted noise and grabbed Julian’s arms, his grip painfully tight. His eyes blinked rapidly, unfocused and glassy.
“L-” he was trying to speak, but seemed to be too overwhelmed. “Loo-”
Out of the corner of her eye, Julian saw Leo grab hold of the bone shard.
The next minute he hissed and dropped it. He doubled over, hacking and wheezing; he spat out a glob of something dark and wet onto the carpet beside him.
Meanwhile, Walter and Michael were a flurry of kicks and rolls across the ground. Michael was consistently keeping the upper hand, though… and suddenly, Walter cried out as Michael’s teeth sank in around the still-open wound on the witch’s shoulder.
“Ghng.” Any brief satisfaction Julian had in throwing David off went out the window when everyone’s trouble just snowballed. The room may as well have been literally spinning with how quickly her brain tried to snap back and forth from each person, and it didn’t help when she spun her head trying to see them. Walter was getting himself eaten and she was pretty sure screaming BAD VAMPIRE at Michael wasn’t going to be effective. She didn’t know what Leo’s bone-caused consequences were all about. All she had was a grip on David while he had a grip on her.
She couldn’t help all of them at the same time. She didn’t even know what to do for one of them.
“I need help.” she growled out through her teeth. “I need something.” At this point she didn’t care if it were one of them, or wolves, or even nosy ghosts. Angela bursting through the doors swinging one of the school’s fire axes could have even been good. That’d definitely catch everyone’s attention.
As she pushed to untangle herself from David, Julian tried to focus on what was most important in the right now. Anything that was going to be useful.
But no little shadows came popping up from under the shelves. No furry pack of wolves or crazy blondes burst through the library doors. Not a single disorienting vision or gut churning twinge tried to guide her. After spending the entire evening getting blindsided by visions and feelings, that one was ironic and kind of annoying.
“Fuck!” She was officially the worst psychic ever. In the midst of her complete lack of supernatural signs, a grunt and familiar cursing was the first thing to catch her attention. Walter, who was just as mortal as she was couldn’t possibly hold up to being a vampire snack right after being near bled to death.
That was a good enough sign for her.
With the second most uncool squeak of the night, Julian swung a fist to knock back David and shoved him with the weight of her shoulder. Once she was free and clear of grabbing hands, she ran to the nearest library chair. The damn things were old as Hades and practically falling apart, but it was solid enough. With a few wide steps and an over-head swing she brought it down against Michael’s back with as much force as she could muster.
“That’s enough Walter! Get off him!”
“Jules, don’t!” Leo’s voice was hoarse and garbled, like he’d been snacking on razor blades, but loud enough that it echoed throughout the library.
Michael pulled away from Walter and looked up.
There was still a peculiar, feverish light in his eyes that turned the boyfriend Julian had been getting to know for the past couple of months into a complete stranger. Right now, Michael looked every bit the monster that would snap Julian up in a matter of seconds. He wasn’t really breathing- until suddenly his nostrils flared.
“Julian,” he began, a glimmer of recognition settling into his face. He stood up, leaving Walter groaning and dazed on the floor. He took a step forward and then stopped. “You- You smell so-”
“Ahhhh fuck,” croaked Leo.
“Shut up and stop dying, Leo.” She didn’t need him in the background croaking (vocally OR physically) and reminding her how monumentally stupid it was to go swinging things at a cracked vampire. Michael was doing a good enough job of that himself. There was still blood, Walter’s blood, dripping down his chin. This felt cold, empty, a lot of ravenous and just a little bit of weird hungry desire that definitely wasn’t the fun kind. Oh hey, there were her senses kicking in again when they weren’t doing her any good.
“I smell like a tasty Julian snack drenched in David sauce – and wow that sound really wrong – but WHATEVER! I really, really need you to not eat people right now.” Julian wasn’t banking on the reasoning being a working tactic. That’s why she ever so slightly shifted her feet, trying to circle around him so she could be a barrier between Michael and the stupid witch on the floor. She tightened her grip on the back of that chair, prepared to start swinging again if he made any zippy movements.
“You’re stronger than this. I know you want to be.”
“Julian.” He said her name like it was a puzzle he needed to solve. He wavered slightly in place as if he were spring-loaded and just hadn’t yet been triggered. “Julian, Julian.”
“Michael.” Leo swore and lurched back onto his own unsteady feet. “Michael, seriously, you don’t want to do this.”
By the time Julian saw either of them move, Michael had already ripped Julian’s makeshift weapon out of her hands and caught Leo in the stomach with the back of the chair. Leo dropped back, winded, before sweeping a leg at Michael’s ankles.
Holy shit. Fuck. Damn.
They moved so damn FAST. Michael could have knocked her head right off and she’d probably still be blinking across the room not knowing what happened. There was no way she could keep up with them by sight.
…There was also no way to keep up with them physically, so when she found herself taking a step towards them and preparing to leap on Michael’s back she managed to cut herself short. This was no schoolyard level scuffle. She couldn’t just grab him by the ear and twist until she had him on the ground.
Julian redirected her steps towards Walter instead, dropping to her knees and fumbling in to her pockets for something useful. Of all the things she stuffed in there, apparently not one of her goodies involved basic first aid. But from the looks of all that blood, this wasn’t going to get fixed with a band-aid and an aspirin.
“Damnit, Walter, some witch overlord!” she hissed at him, because, well. If she didn’t she might’ve started crying just out of frustration. Last thing she wanted was one of these assholes to see her crying.
“You owe me about twenty million favors!”
“Stupid little girl,” Walter bit back, wincing and trying to prop himself up onto one elbow. “I’m not going to die because I’m not going to turn into a fucking vampire if I can help it.”
Michael and Leo were still scuffling, still moving at a speed too fast to follow. They rolled away and crashed into a table, splintering it in half.
“Jules.” Walter shook his head, blinking rapidly. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you- not to- take your eyes off the prize? Where the fuck is David?”
Julian’s eyes found him just as he picked up the piece of bone. Their gazes locked across the circle of blood. Once more, David cast a glance up at the window. During the excitement, it had lit up like golden flame with the light of the rising sun.
I’m sorry, he mouthed.
He plunged the sharpened end of the bone straight into his gut. Blood sprayed down to further pepper the carpet in dark red.
All at once, the morning light dimmed as if swallowed whole. David’s shaking fingers slipped from the bone that still protruded from his stomach. He crumpled sideways.
The feeling of the room changed in the blink of an eye. Where before it had been echoing and vast, it was suddenly crowded.
And when Julian looked around, she could see them.
Ghosts. A hundred ghosts, maybe more, standing stock still as statues in the library and tilting their faces up toward the sky.
There was no opportunity to scream the word, it was far too late. She was stuck in the middle of a tragic horror movie, watching as blood went in every direction and David hit the floor. Instead of the backdrop of suspenseful music, there was just a high pitched ringing in her ears. Maybe brought on by the fact she was sure her heart stopped beating and she suddenly couldn’t breathe.
How many ghosts were there? Enough that Julian couldn’t quite count them. She lost track somewhere in classic fiction. The library was crowded with eerily still forms of people that should never be anything more than a simple fleeting shadow or a vague temporary presence.
This is wrong. This is bad for them.
Everything about it felt against… everything. The balance of nature, of the universe or just rightness, Julian wasn’t sure. But it made her heart ache for too many people all at once and her skin feel all prickly and ice cold. They didn’t belong here like this.
“Walter.” she said, finally taking a breath. “…what the hell just happened.”
“Ran out of time.” Walter grimaced. “Tried to do it anyway, stupid sonofabitch, but that’s not what the spell called for… and I don’t- don’t think it was quite good enough.”
He finally managed to drag himself over to the now-abandoned chair that Julian had used to smack Michael. He steadied himself against it, swearing. His stupid tweed coat was soaked through with fresh blood at his shoulder.
“Go,” he wheezed. “Best bet now is to make sure he isn’t dead. If- If he is, we’re not going to be able to fix it.”
Julian did not want to find out what happened when a witch fucked up a spell in all the wrong ways. Especially if that was going to involve the lives – or afterlives – of all of these people. It already hurt to see them like this. What was it going to feel like if the spell actually worked and did whatever crazy thing it was supposed to do?
Climbing back to her feet, she nearly wavered. Okay, yeah, this was making her feel ill. Julian could have just rushed right through them all, it would have been faster and the smarter thing to do. But she couldn’t bring herself to walk through a person. Instead she stepped carefully, wary and stiff in her attempt to avoid touching any of them. Probably looking as pale as – well – the dead people she was trying very hard not to harm.
Once she finally reached David and dropped down on her knees next to him, she tugged him over on to his back. Her hands reached towards the bone shard only to hesitate. What did she learn in health class last year? Did they even mention what to if someone stabbed themselves through the gut? She was pretty sure you couldn’t just yank things out. But then she wasn’t exactly sure she should be leaving an enchanted bone shard stabbed in to suicidal witch either.
“David! Heeeey, stupid.” she muttered with a surprising amount of sweetness for someone she was pretty sure was trying to kill everybody. Julian shrugged off her jacket. It was already covered in blood and the only thing she could use to stall the bleeding until she figured out something better. “Dying is not going to get you away from me. If I pull this thing out, is that gonna start the apocalypse? Don’t lie, I’ll know.”
“Llll,” he tried to answer. He looked even more sickly now, but that probably had something to do with the fact that he was now bleeding to death. “Lllluke, I tried.”
His head lolled to the side, and it was only then that he seemed to realize she was there.
“Should’ve been Michael,” he whispered. “Wasn’t supposed to- do this myself.”
His hand closed around hers.
“If you pull it out, I’ll die faster,” he said, sort of half-smiling. “It’s not like TV.”
“Are you trying to do things for dead Hightowers? You should really leave the talking to dead people to me.” she muttered grimly. Okay, Silent Pines High School managed to teach her at least one thing after all. A lot of good it was doing him though. Even when she arranged her jacket around the shard and tried to put some pressure down to at least slow the bleeding, it still soaked through the fabric. This wasn’t going to work. He was still going to die. Then there would be one more still and hurting ghost lurking in the library.
“Why couldn’t you just wait and let me help you? Is this a stupid Hightower tradition, where you just gotta take it all on and create a massive mess for everybody else to clean up?” Julian was lecturing a dying guy, this was not how she expected to spend her weekend. She almost let out a hysterical laugh.
“Tell me how to right it. You have to.”
His grip tightened on her hand. He yanked her fingers towards the bone, placing them around the base.
“Pull it out,” he insisted. “And then- use it on Michael. If we don’t both die… the spell won’t work.”
“Two suns, both the same,” a voice whispered in Julian’s ear. A pale girl with a mop of red curls knelt down beside her, her fingers wrapping around Julian’s wrist like cold air. Her eyes were wide, and she shook her head with thin-pressed lips. The motion made her hair sway to one side, exposing a gaping wound in her throat. “Both bore the ancient name. One sun set on the wrong day, the other sun faded away. To keep the Black Sun’s light at bay, those who remain the price must pay. But not this way, not this way.”
David’s eyes flicked up and over her shoulder. If he could see the girl, he didn’t seem to be paying her any mind. Instead he was focusing on something behind Julian.
“You might want to… make up your mind fast,” he panted.
“He took the name, he took the place,” the girl went on, voice rising with panic. “He must become the same, though he doesn’t bear the face. Close enough, close enough.”
“Julian.” That was Michael. When Julian turned, it was to find Leo motionless on the floor at his feet. Michael’s hands were covered in blood. Michael looked at her, and she could see a glimmer of the person in there again- but so was all that hunger, all that overwhelming need.
“Run,” he told her, and then he was rushing toward her.
Did he just kill-
No. No, she’d know.
With the ghost’s perfectly rhymed warning ringing in her hears, Julian snatched her hands away from the bone shard and David. Somewhere deep she knew what become the same meant, but it was lost in her mad scramble back to her feet. She sprinted, dodging between wispy forms of frozen spirits, nearly colliding in to a library table and having to roll over it in her escape towards the door.
“WALTER!” Julian meant to scream something along the lines of fix it, or maybe a fuck you for this! but she couldn’t catch her breath. Michael had enough sense to tell her to run, which was good in the fact that he was trying to fight base instinct – but not so great if he actually managed to catch her before he had control.
Hitting the doors with her shoulder and practically falling through them when she shoved them open, Julian took off down and skidded to make a sharp turn around the first corner she passed. And she kept running, trying to gain as much distance as she could. Somewhere out here there was a whole pack of wolves that had a hell of a better chance subduing a vampire than she did.
There ought to have been signs of life somewhere, anyway, but Julian couldn’t find them. Caleb and his pack, David’s other witches… they were nowhere to be found. The halls were empty, silent. All of the lights were out, except for something flickering up ahead in the distance- maybe a light fixture, maybe a fire set by one of the witches. It was unnaturally cold, the chill creeping up her arms without her jacket’s protection. Other than her own heels clicking on the linoleum floors, there was no sound. Just the hurried pace of her footsteps.
A silhouette passed by her in the hall. A lady in an old-fashioned dress, drifting toward a window and setting her hands on the sill. As Julian followed the woman’s gaze, she saw a single halo of light in the sky where the sun should have been.
Behind Julian, the library doors burst open.
Julian nearly tripped, stumbling to the side and in to the lockers when she tried to avoid crashing right in to the ghost lady’s apparition. A sense of deja vu was almost as chilling as the air. Without anyone living in sight, for a moment she thought she had somehow passed through the world to somewhere else. In to one of her dreams or worse, walking along in that strange place she knew ghosts must hang out in when they weren’t visible to the living.
This was worse than deja vu, it was just like a dream. The vision. That stupid first vision.
She made a strangled sort of sound at the doors bursting open, pushing away from the lockers to dash down the hall. Julian didn’t bother screaming for anyone – she knew she wouldn’t find them. Just like she knew it was futile to chase the light, because she wouldn’t catch up to it. Better yet, she defied it. Choosing to launch herself in the opposite direction and away from the flicker that led her astray in her dream.
She was being followed. She could feel more than hear her pursuer, his presence ice cold and heavy. The only thing missing was the fire from her dream. The only thing different was that if she turned around, she knew what- who- she’d see on her heels.
“Julian!” Michael yelled. It was hard to say whether he was pleading, warning, or threatening.
As she rounded a corner, Julian heard a crash, heard him snarl.
The footsteps behind her kept on coming.
“NOPE!” It was the only word she could shout back. Her chest already ached. Feeling constricted from all the exertion and the frosty air biting in to a seizing up her lungs. She wanted throw out something snappy, or even something reassuring, but there was no way she could talk, run and breathe at the same time. Not anymore.
When she hit the end of the hall, she almost paused long enough to turn around and catch a glimpse of his expression. Almost. Fighting the urge, she kept on running. She didn’t stop until she turned another corner and just couldn’t run anymore.
Julian ducked behind a row of lockers, pressing up against the wall as best she could to hide her presence and heaving in several gasps of oxygen. The hardest part was keeping quiet. Clamping her mouth closed, she tried to temper her breathing and the frantic beating of her heart. Julian squeezed her eyes shut, willing the white spots in her vision to go away as she listened for the footsteps. She remained stiff, waiting, hoping she had enough air in her to sprint again when she needed to.
After what felt like a lifetime, Julian heard someone walking down the hall.
The footsteps were slower, more deliberate. They weaved from one side of the hall to the other, and then stopped entirely. Start, stop. Start, stop. It wasn’t long before they were only a few feet from her hiding place.
“Lux deducet me,” a voice whispered. Not Michael. It was her fucking math teacher.
There was a bright flash, bright enough that she could see the insides of her eyelids light up no matter how tight she squeezed them. Something slammed hard against the other side of the locker.
The locker was pushed back several inches from the force of the crash… pinning Julian between the metal and the wall with, far, far too little room and far, far too much weight behind it.
Gasping in pain was the exact wrong thing to do, because once she let the air out, she couldn’t get it back. Even if there was enough room to squirm, icy fear seized up her limbs. Nothing moved, nothing shifted. She chose a different hall and it was still the same. What did David say? When you mess with fate, bad things happen. There was no changing fate. Everything felt hazy and numb and she was so, so tired of fighting it.
Julian sucked in a ragged breath, the sound that followed seemed more like a whimper than a laugh. It was too late, she was already dead. This was meant to happen.
But despite it, she forced her eyes open and tried to push against the weight. She had tunnel vision – the world seemed so far away and she wasn’t even sure if she did open her eyes. Everything was dark, blurry. Another desperate attempt to breathe failed, leaving her light headed and fading. Even the sounds in the hallway were nothing more than strange far off echos.
Sounds… like another pair of footsteps. A voice shouting her name.
Despite all odds, Julian felt the locker slide just a little across the floor. Just a few centimeters, but enough to feel like a victory.
And then, abruptly, the entire thing was hauled away at a catty-corner. As she came free, a pair of warm arms caught her before she could sink entirely to the floor.
“Shit,” she heard him swear. “Shit, shit, no.”
She took freedom in so quickly she started coughing. That made her head start swimming worse. The world spun in that fun, out of control way. The one that felt like she accepted one too many shots of questionable booze from Angela. Light and fuzzy and warm.
It was a moment before she realized that warmth was a person.
“Ssshhh. Still here.” she mumbled with a dazed sort of grin, flailing a hand up to touch a cheek? Cover his mouth to shush him? She just ended up pawing his face. “Almost forgot not to die.” Was she really still alive? She tried to stand on her own feet, but everything was either still numb or turned to spaghetti.
“Hrmf, wait… might be a ghost.” Julian sighed, giving in to that weightless feeling and going limp. She hadn’t passed out yet, but a ghost wouldn’t know the difference from being conscious or not anyway.
The grip on her arm tightened until it hurt.
“You idiot.” A shaking breath. “Like I was ever going to let you just die.”
He pressed his hand over her mouth. His palm was warm and wet and she could taste the metallic tang of blood on her lips.
“I know,” he told her. “I know what you think you saw, and that’s not going to happen.”
“Wh-” she was going to ask what the hell his problem was. Julian was just fine with being a ghost. She was mentally prepared to haunt and harass everyone she knew until she got bored and floated away to where ever ghosts lived.
Fighting him was just out of reflex and the natural instinct to start wailing on anyone trying to grab and smother her. Not that it was much of a fight. Her vicious growl was just a squeak, and what should have been a solid swing of her fist was just a slow motion swatting.
And biting came with startling consequence. The accidental swallowing of blood caught her off guard, but it was the zing of feeling that went with it that had Julian giving a surprised muffled cry and her eyes blinking open. That was definitely NOT a being-dead feeling. That was a very living, very NOT dead feeling.
He knows what?
Julian tilted backwards trying to get away from his palm. Once she had enough slack, she hissed. “Just let me die!” The phrase sounded more like angry mocking than an actual request. “Dumbass.”
“Fuck you!” He snapped back.
Leo’s blue eyes were wide, his face way whiter than it should be. There was a smudge of dried blood on his cheek, a larger patch of drying red on his neck. He looked like fresh hell, but he didn’t seem physically injured.
His arm looped around her waist, keeping her still. And yeah, Julian still had enough feeling in her that that wasn’t exactly comfortable.
“How do you think everyone else will do without you here?” he demanded. “You think Angela is going to last two seconds? She’s a fucking baby. Michael is never going to get his head out of his ass without your help. Walter will just murder everyone. And what about your parents? What if they aren’t dead, what if you can still save them you moron?”
He didn’t even give her time to answer. His hand found her mouth again.
“Turn-about is fair play, Jules. Now you get to shut up and drink.”
“Grph mhg frrmgrph!!” Julian struggled out of pure spite, kicking her feet behind her and slapping at his shoulder. It’s not like she wanted to die, but there were consequences! Something even worse would happen now and it’d be all her fault.
One of those consequences was needling it’s way through her awareness already, becoming more and more present every time she was forced to swallow. She could feel his heart beating just as solid as if it were in her own chest. Was that a vampire blood thing? It could have been, maybe, but quickly realized it was something else entirely. That was his soul. Was that a real living, totally not a ghost soul? Bewildered her hand curled in to a spot at his chest. Julian could almost feel it beneath her fingers.
“Hrmf!!” she squeaked again, snatching both her hands up and away from him. Nope, nooope! No more crazy psychic bullshit! Oh god, what if she accidentally death touched him and knocked it out of him!? She was freaking out!
I can see your soul! Get offa me!
“By the way, fuck you again for thinking you could just keep that to yourself,” he went on. “You can’t just do that.”
He peeled his hand away at last, moving to cup her chin instead.
“If you’re done putting everyone through a bunch of bullshit, we have a couple things to take care of.” Leo’s eyes were searching her face with a look she was more used to seeing on Michael. Anxiousness, worry, like she might break if he touched her the wrong way. “Luckily for us, Michael is still an arrogant SOB even when he’s strung out on blood. He totally bought it when I played possum. He’s knocked out and tied up a few turns back.”
I want to kiss you. If you don’t stop looking at me like that, I’m going to.
“Well I didn’t know it’d be my teacher trying to kill me. I don’t think I’m coming back to school on Monday if that makes you feel any better.” she said out loud. Julian still kept her hands up and away from him, which was sort of an awkward position, but now she was worried about setting his little soul free AND trying to kiss him. Trying not to look at his soul and avoid staring in to his eyes was proving to be difficult.
“What about Walter and David.” she continued in a softer tone. Shifting slightly, she tested her weight on her feet. The world was no longer spinning in every direction and she still hurt like hell, but now it was more of a dull aching instead of a shattered feeling. It was her brain that felt like it was on fire, and that was completely Leo’s fault. Leo was always sparky and now he had to go and give it to her.
At the mention of her teacher, Leo’s eyes slid to the side.
“You don’t have to worry about that anymore,” he said, voice a little too clipped.
That was when Julian noticed the body slumped on the floor across the hall.
Leo let go of her and stepped away. He ran his fingers through his hair, looking back down the hall the way they’d come. It was still dark; the eclipse must have still been underway.
“Walter and David are both alive, last I checked,” he told her. “But we need to get back there fast. David’s not going to stay that way, and from what Walter was saying, that’s bad news.”
Flicker flicker. There his soul flickered. He felt bad about it. Not guilty for killing the man, THAT Leo felt he wholeheartedly deserved. He just knew she wouldn’t like it. He knew she would feel guilty.
That was just-
Julian couldn’t help it. Without warning she stepped forward, reaching out to grab his head and tugged him down to her level. She planted her mouth on his, fully intending for it to only be a quick peck, but instead she lingered. Slow and tender and completely wrong of her in every way. When she pulled away her thumbs brushed against his cheeks. God damn, what has she gotten herself in to? How was she going to fix all of this?
“Don’t think stupid things.” she muttered softly, letting him go and turning to march down the hall ahead of him.
“David isn’t what or who he is supposed to be to make that spell what it needs to be. He has to be the same as something or someone just to be be close enough? I don’t know yet.”
Leo was quiet for a moment as he followed along behind her. Whether it was because of the kiss or because he was mulling it over, she couldn’t be sure. It wasn’t as easy to sense what was going on with him when he was out of her line of sight.
“Okay, so. We know David was trying to recreate some spell that was supposed to happen back in the day and was fucked up beforehand because Michael became a vampire,” he finally spoke up- and it was with his all-business tone. “We also know it has something to do with Michael and/or David dying. Walter was really concerned about Michael being the one to kill David, and at least for a hot minute it sure looked like David planned to use that pointy bit of bone on Mike. Can’t help but notice the resemblance to a stake there, and that can’t be a coincidence. So I’m guessing a Hightower had to kill a Hightower for the original spell.”
“Sun must conquer Sun, drenched in Iron blood and pierced by bone of the tree. That’s what he was trying to do.” Julian rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand. They needed Angela for this kind of stuff. She padded at her shirt and then at her hips, expecting to find pockets to fish her phone out of. It took her a second to remember she left her jacket with David.
They probably didn’t have time to relay the details anyway. Her hands went back up to her head, fingers curling in to her hair as she thought it through.
“He doesn’t actually want people to die, he’s trying to fix something Michael broke. Michael was supposed to be the one to do it. But I don’t know-” she hesitated, pausing in the hall. “David thinks they both have to die. But she said he was doing it all wrong – I think. It’s not supposed to be this way.”
Julian pulled her hands free from her hair, only to get stuck frozen with her hands just inches from her head. Staring off in to space, and wiggling her fingers in that confused fidgeting she always did when she was trying to figure something out. Under her breath she recited it. Word for word, the ghost’s rhyme. What would be close enough?
“All wrong,” he repeated. He paced in a circle, glancing at her and then back toward the library again. “Close ‘enough’. He didn’t plan to stab himself, he planned to stake Michael, probably dying in the process. But he thought he was going to miss that opportunity because we slowed him down. This was his plan B. He thought it would work, but it didn’t. It fucked things up worse. Pretty sure nothing like this happened when Michael turned. I don’t think the actual spell works without exactly the scenario we were trying to avoid.”
He stared down at his hand. The wound on his palm was just about closed again.
“Spells like this,” he mused. “They’re usually things that have to be unmade to be broken. David trying to kill himself is what triggered this. The last spell was borked by Michael turning-”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” He groaned. “We’re looking at this wrong. We can’t undo the spell, it’s already screwed up. To get things back to the way they were, we have to make it close enough to the last time that happened.”
He grabbed Julian’s hand and took off again, half-dragging her down the hall.
Julian was glad he could figure it out, because the entire thing was still swimming her head. She took a few stumbling steps before she righted herself and kept up the pace. They were headed right back in to crazytown. This time she couldn’t even be right and properly horrified. He wasn’t going to let her die, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t lose her damn mind in the process.
“To make it like Michael and his mysterious vampire twin.” she stated under her breath again. This time unaware she even spoke. Julian was focused on trying to build up some sort of mental barrier against what she was sure was a library still full of ghosts and subconsciously squeezing his hand in the process.
By the time they got back to the library, Walter had shifted to a sitting position. His color was positively awful, but it looked like the worst of the bleeding from his shoulder had stopped. Maybe it was a lingering effect of Leo’s blood still in his system.
“About time,” he greeted them. “I take it Thing 2 has been subdued. Our friend over there is not in good shape, so I hope you’re prepared to fix things. The veil’s already been open too long.”
True to Julian’s fears, the masses of the dead still filled the room like a silent gallery. There were whispers now, hushed murmurs. A silvery fog had begun to rise from the ground.
David was motionless.
“Yeah,” said Leo, grimacing. He dropped Julian’s hand. “I know what to do. I just hope no one else needs a pick-me-up, because I’m not an endless goddamn tap.”
“You’re sure keeping him alive will reverse the spell? That seems too simple.”
“I’m not planning on keeping him alive,” Leo answered.
He took a bite out of his palm, flexing his fingers to get the blood working. It was coming much slower this time; he had less to spare. When a drop of red finally trickled down his wrist, he marched across the circle, weaving through the throng of ghosts. Could he see them? He sure didn’t seem to be passing through them, which was too impressive at such packed quarters to be coincidence.
“I’m going to make sure he dies,” he told them. “That’s the only way this will work.”
Julian didn’t like this. Maybe she should be used to the whole dead people and ghosts and killing people and vampires thing by now, but it still didn’t sit right. None of it ever really did, even if she understood that bad people and things existed and not all problems could be resolved with candy and a stern lecture.
She just didn’t like it.
Following Leo’s footsteps, she rubbed her hands against her arms in an effort not to feel the weird skin crawling chill. Wondering how he managed to miss every single one of them without even watching. Walter mentioned a veil being open too long. The place where the ghosts were meant to be hanging out? That’d explain why it all felt so… so… otherworldly. She supposed maybe they could all see the ghosts now, if that were the case.
“If anyone has a request you better tell me now.” she stated softly, easing her way around one of the figures and trying not to bump in to the next.
The murmurs turned to a uproar in an instant.
“Tell him I love him- Make her pay. -see if Lucky’s alright… don’t want to be alone. Leave a flower on her doorstep, she likes lilacs. -can’t happen again- sorry, I’m so sorry- Watch out! Kill him. …make sure my mother’s safe. Help them find me. -daddy’s not drinking again. No.”
Meanwhile, Leo was kneeling by David- who definitely wasn’t conscious anymore. Leo tipped his head back and balled his hand into a fist, squeezing out thick red drops until they fell in a steady stream into David’s open mouth.
“Fuck,” he muttered, “Not sure this is gonna take if he can’t drink on his own.”
Julian should’ve known better than to ask – at least without telling them to talk one at a time. Her eyes shot to Leo and Walter even as her hands rose up to block her ears. Yet neither of them seemed to notice the cascade of urgent voices. Or if they did, they didn’t bother to acknowledge it. Maybe they were all just speaking in her head. Julian was fairly certain not all of those requests were from people actually in the room.
She almost opened her mouth to argue with a few of them, but she could do that later. More pressing things were going on.
Once she squeezed through the ghosts, she dropped down next to Leo and David. This was going to be… Well. Leo was essentially going to KILL David. Julian didn’t want to watch, but she didn’t want him having to do it by himself.
And if it didn’t work? David would still get her help. She could at least do one last thing for him.
Leo’s eyes rose to meet Julian’s. He had a peculiar, almost resigned look on his face. He raised his eyebrows at her. Like what did you expect, Jules.
“Walter,” he said. “I need to borrow one of your knives.”
“I poison them, you know.”
“Yeeeah, we’re not going to talk about your weird fucking issues. I know you do that, but I need to bleed a lot more a lot faster, okay?”
“Suit yourself.” The knife scraped and rolled across the floor as Walter tossed it, for once without the aid of magical guidance. The hilt bumped against Julian’s shoe, halting its momentum. Leo reached over to pick it up- and he probably knew Julian might have tried to stop him, because he was out of his jacket and slicing up his arm in the blink of an eye. It looked like he’d hit a vein, because there was an instant spurt of blood. He shoved his forearm into David’s mouth like one of those wooden dowels they used to make people bite down on during surgery in historical movies.
His other hand wrapped around the bone impaled in Walter’s innards.
The bone shard came free with a much bigger burst of blood. Like Kill Bill levels of blood; Julian’s jacket was never going to be the same. David’s eyes snapped open and he made a muffled sound around Leo’s arm, convulsing. Leo pressed his lips together a little tighter and turned his head away.
She couldn’t help herself. The muffled sound she made was involuntary and her arms went up covering her face and over her head. It didn’t matter how brave she wanted to be. She couldn’t even watch horror flicks, knowing that everything was fake gore and questionable acting. Why did she think she could watch it now – the real thing – and it not give her those cold, unnerving chills? She already saw one person’s soul spill out today. Julian wasn’t sure she could watch another.
Julian turned her upper frame, reaching a hand out to grasp at the back of Leo’s shirt as he bent over David. She couldn’t watch, but she also wasn’t going to scuttle away and take refuge with Walter. Not when Leo was having to do all the hard stuff.
“This hurts.” she finally whispered through her teeth.
Leo didn’t answer.
The sounds of David’s death throes ceased alarmingly quickly. It seemed to do the trick, though, because the ghosts had also fallen into a hush. There was no sound at all for several long moments.
Then the entire library shook. Books toppled off of the shelves; furniture fell over. When Julian lifted her head it was to watch every single ghost pop into thin air one by one, the silvery wafts of mist rushing up to the ceiling and dissipating into nothing.
A sliver of sunlight broke through the window.
“Welp,” said Leo. “Guess this means I’m a dad.”
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- Black Sun 001: His Name is Michael (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 002: Leo Through the Window (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 003: The Crypt (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 004: The Seventh Star (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 005: DJ Got Us Falling in Love (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 006: Dance Class (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 007: A Real First Date (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 008: Psychic Impressions (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 009: Angela’s Confirmation (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 010: Margrit’s Little Helpers (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 011: Blood Moon (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 012: Trust (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 013: Reconnecting (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 014: Angela’s Bad Date (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 015: Hide and Seek (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 016: A Chat with Mr. Anderson (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 017: Michael’s Birthday (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 018: Vampires and Laundry (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 019: Angela’s Supernatural Silent Pines Flowchart (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 020: Mysterious Ms. Abernathy (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 021: Ride Home (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 022: Ghosts and Festival (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 023: Halloween (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 024: War Council (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 025: All Saint’s Day (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 026: Not Meant to be Together (Original Draft)