Storm Born Chapter Fourteen
I saw Kiyo a few times in the next week. One of those times I was out on a job, doing an exorcism that turned out to be a setup. The house I’d gone into had no spirit but rather an asag: a demonic creature that literally had a rocklike body. Kiyo had shown up in the midst of the fight, and while I’d thought I had things well in hand, his help sure expedited matters. He didn’t use any weapons like I did; he was all body and physical force. Watching him move was almost hypnotic, like admiring a dancer.
His other appearances were similar, showing up when needed and then retreating if I wanted. Once, I reluctantly agreed to lunch after a fight. He watched me with those hungry eyes the entire time, but everything else was friendly and easy between us. It was like when we’d met in the bar, all breezy banter and connection – underscored with simmering sexual tension.
All the other times I saw him, he trailed me around as a fox. And, as much as I hated to admit it…he was right. He was pretty cute.
Life was busy now. Whereas before I’d had maybe only one or two jobs a week, I now had at least one every day. Apparently the gentry and other creatures hoping to get a piece of me realized they no longer had to seek me out; I would come to them if they bothered the right human. It was annoying, to say the least – and exhausting. Of course, since these fights occurred through clients and contracted jobs, I got paid for them. It became a very rich few weeks, though I felt a little bad since my clients never would have needed to pay in the first place if not for me.
I woke up a couple weeks before Beltane, aching and exhausted. I’d had two jobs and an “unscheduled” fight last night. Staring at my ceiling, at the way the late morning sun filtered into funny shapes through my blinds, I drowsily wondered if I was going to be able to keep this up. I’d lose to the Otherworld not through any one encounter, but simply via my own fatigue.
I trudged to the kitchen and found no morning offering from Tim. He must have stayed the night with one of his groupies. Forced to make my own breakfast, I put two chocolate Pop-Tarts in the toaster and fixed coffee while they cooked. Glancing at the table, I saw that my cell phone displayed four missed calls. I’d taken to turning it off, because the calls were always from Lara, and I didn’t feel like hearing them anymore. She’d either want to offer me a new job or tell me that Wil Delaney had left yet another message.
I was halfway through my second Pop-Tart when my mom showed up. I hadn’t seen her since the confrontation. For a moment, I considered not letting her in, but I promptly dismissed the thought.
She was my mom, after all. She loved me. No matter what had happened, I couldn’t let go of that intrinsic truth. She was the one who’d doused my scratches with antiseptic when I was little – and not so little – and tried unsuccessfully to interest me in shopping and makeup as a teenager. She’d tried to protect me from the ugly truths that everyone has to discover growing up. She’d tried to protect me from the path Roland had set me on. And now it seemed she’d tried to protect me from my own past.
Looking back, I tried to piece together things she’d said on the rare occasions I could get her to acknowledge my biological father. You’re better off without him. He wasn’t the kind of man anyone could count on. We didn’t have a healthy relationship when we were together. There was a lot of emotion, a lot of intensity…but it ending was for the best. He’s gone – just accept he’ll never be a part of your life.
She’d never exactly lied, I realized, but I’d interpreted the story in a completely different way. I’d read it as a whirlwind affair, one in which her emotions blinded her. With all the bad things she’d implied about his character, I’d just figured he’d up and left one day, unable to handle the responsibilities involved with taking care of me. Little did I know he’d desperately wanted me back.
I offered her a seat at the table, handing her a cup of coffee at the same time. She held it with both hands, lacing her fingers in a nervous gesture. Her hair was braided down her back today, and she wore a red blouse.
“You look tired,” she said after a long stretch of silence.
I smiled. It was such a mom thing to say. “Yeah. It’s been a busy week.”
“Are you sleeping enough?”
“I’m sleeping. Sort of. I’m just too busy when I’m awake, that’s the problem.”
She looked up, nervously meeting my eyes as though afraid of what she might find. “Busy…because of…?”
“Yeah,” I said, knowing what she meant.
She looked back down. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry about all of this.”
I dunked a piece of Pop-Tart into my coffee. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t decide to go to the Otherworld.”
“No…but you were right the other day. I was wrong to keep it from you.”
“I was too harsh then.”
“No.” Her eyes met mine, wide and sad. “I think I thought…that if I kept it from you, maybe I could make it go away. Like pretending enough would make it so that it had never happened. I could forget too.”
I didn’t like to see my mom sad. I don’t think anyone does unless they’re trying to take revenge for some traumatic childhood wrong. Maybe I had been wronged to a certain extent, but in reflection, it probably couldn’t compare to what had happened to her. I knew she had been older when abducted, but in my mind’s eye, I could see my mother looking like Jasmine, young and scared. Based on the stories I’d heard before the Storm King paternity news, I’d always envisioned my conception as the result of a torrid affair my scumbag father later walked out on. But that wasn’t it at all. The truth was worse. I was a child of rape, born from violence and domination.
“Every time you see me…do I remind you of him? Of what happened?”
Compassion washed over her face. “Oh, baby, no. You’re the best thing in my life. Don’t think like that.”
“Do I look like him at all? Everyone says I take after you.”
She studied me as though seeking out the answer, but I knew she already had to know. “Your hair, a little. But mostly…in the eyes. You got those from him. His eyes were like…” She had to clear her throat to go on. “They always changed. They ran every shade of blue and gray you can imagine, depending on his mood. Sky blue when he was happy. Midnight blue when troubled. Deep gray when he was angry and about to fight.”
“And what about violet?” I asked.
“Violet when he was feeling…amorous.”
I’d never heard my mom use that word before. It might have been funny, but mostly it made me consider adding a shot of whiskey to my coffee. Jesus. I’d gotten the eye color my dad had when he was in the mood. So many people complimented me on my eyes, yet to her, they had to bring back memories that were anything but amorous, as far as she was concerned.
“I’m sorry, Mom.” I reached out and held her hand, our first contact since I’d stormed from her house. “It must have been so awful…but were there – were there any moments, even a few, when you were happy at all? Or at least not so unhappy?”
Surely…surely there had been one moment when it had not all been hatred and sorrow between my parents. Surely I could not have been conceived and born out of so much darkness. There had to have been something. Maybe he’d made her smile just once. Or maybe he’d brought her a gift…like a necklace recovered after some looting and pillaging. I didn’t know. Just something. Anything.
“No.” Her voice was hoarse. “I hated it all. Every second.”
I swallowed back a thickness in my throat, and suddenly all I could think about was Jasmine. Jasmine. More than five years younger than my mom had been. Jasmine had been subjected to the same things. She had to have those moments of agony too. Maybe her misplaced affection for Aeson was the only way to cope. Maybe it was better than hurting all the time. I didn’t know. I closed my eyes briefly. All I could see was my mom as Jasmine and Jasmine as my mom.
I opened my eyes. “We didn’t get Jasmine.” I realized I’d never told her that when I’d come over to talk to her. Briefly, I recounted the essential details. Her face blanched as I spoke, and her raw hurt clawed at something inside of me. Jasmine as my mom. My mom as Jasmine.
“Oh God,” she whispered when I finished.
“Yeah, I – “
Cold flowed over me. The faintest electric tingle tugged at my flesh.
“What’s wrong?” my mom asked, seeing me stiffen.
“Can’t you feel that? The cold?”
She looked puzzled. “No. Are you okay?”
I stood up. She couldn’t feel it because it wasn’t actually a physical thing. It was something beyond normal human senses. On the counter sat my athames, gun, and wand. I didn’t go anywhere in the house without them now, not even to the bathroom. I also didn’t sleep in anything too delicate anymore. The tank top I wore was still lacy and flimsy, but my pajama pants were cotton with a sturdy elastic waistband. I draped my robe over a chair and considered my armament.
I could tell it wasn’t gentry. It was a spirit or demon. Silver, then, not iron. The Glock already had a silver cartridge in it but would have questionable effectiveness if the spirit had little substance. I carefully placed it under my waistband and then picked up the silver athame and wand.
“Stay in here, Mom.”
“Eugenie, what’s – “
“Just stay,” I commanded. “Get under the table.”
She looked at my face and complied. I guess you couldn’t be an Otherworld abductee and married to a shaman without knowing when to take these things seriously.
I moved slowly and stealthily toward the living room because that was where the feeling centered. I heard no noise, but the silence screamed louder than any sound. I put my back to the wall, sliding along it to peer around the corner. Nothing.
Whatever it was, it couldn’t hurt me and stay invisible. It would have to turn substantial to do any real damage. The weird thing was, a spirit also couldn’t get me pregnant, not like gentry or some of the monsters could. Spirits were dead, and that was that. One seeking me out seemed odd.
I waited, back up against the edge of the doorway as I peered around the living room. Whatever was going to happen would happen here. It was like a vortex. Power flowed both in and out of this spot.
Something cold brushed against my arm, and then a hand materialized, grabbing hold of me. My reflexes snapped to life, and I cut at the spirit’s wrist with the athame in my other hand. The spirit had enough substance to feel the effects of the metal. Plus, the athame’s power extended beyond tactile discomfort.
The spirit – a gray, haglike thing – recoiled, but then I felt more cold hands behind me and gave a quick glance back. Five more spirits – more than I’d ever taken on at once. I spun around, but my initial attacker’s position was better, giving it a solid hold on me. I didn’t break free of its grip entirely, but I struggled like hell, accidentally hitting a small table with a ceramic pitcher on it. The pitcher hit the floor and splintered into sharp, aqua-colored fragments.
The spirit pushed me up against the wall, its skeletal hands clutching at my throat while it stared at me with empty black eyes. It floated such that while it kept me pinned, it stayed out of reach of the athame. It wasn’t out of the reach of the wand, however.
Its ghostly companions drifted over, ringing us, as my oxygen began to dry up. Black stars sparkled in my vision, and I tried hard to focus on what I needed to do.
“Be careful,” warned one of the observers, “or you will kill her.”
Hecate, I prayed in my head, open the gates. On the edge of passing out, I felt the snake on my arm tingle. I used that power, letting the farthest limits of my mind brush the Otherworld. I became the gate, a conduit of passage running from my soul to the snake to the wand. The hands on my throat wouldn’t let me speak, but the banishing words burned in my mind. It was good enough.
The wand’s power flared out at the spirit holding me. It realized too late what had happened and vanished with a piteous scream. One of its counterparts started to move toward me and got sucked away with the other. The other four kept their distance. Meanwhile, I had backed up as much as possible. I needed to open the gates again, but my body informed me I had to allow a moment’s recovery time before going a second round. My throat hurt inside and out from where the spirit had choked me, and the room spun around as I staggered. I took deep, shaking breaths in an attempt to recover what I’d lost.
Two more spirits bore down on me but hesitated a little this time, still keeping some space between us. They circled me, like dancers or boxers, each of us determining what the other would do. Just then, my mom came out of the kitchen holding my iron athame. Screaming, she drove it against one of the other spirit’s backs, hacking away. Iron hurt gentry – not spirits. All her actions did was annoy it. It turned slightly, and with one oh-so-casual gesture, it backhanded her with enough force to throw her against the far wall. She hit the wall and slid down into an unmoving pile.
I yelled my fury, charging the spirits around me. Strong emotion is better for physical attacks but not mental ones, and I lost whatever grip I’d momentarily had on the Otherworld. The athame caused some damage to one of the spirits, but the other dodged. It hit me hard, shoving me into my entertainment center. The sharp corners dug into my back, but the adrenaline pumping through me wouldn’t let me feel it. Not yet.
I muttered another incantation to Hecate and felt the power shoot up again. The spirit who had thrown me drifted forward. The gates swung open, and I banished it away. Moments later, its injured counterpart followed. That left two.
One of them swooped in, reaching out for me. I ducked past it, hitting the floor, where I half-crawled and half-rolled out of its grasp. My connection to the Otherworld had slipped again; I needed it back. I kept ordering myself to focus, but then I saw my mom lying in the corner. I couldn’t get past that. I went after the spirit again, and it hissed angrily as the athame dug into its upper body. I was sloppy, however, and gave one of its hands the opening to grab my wand hand and shove me against the wall. The wand fell to the floor. A moment later, the spirit’s other hand twisted my other wrist until I dropped the athame as well. The last spirit floated up and added to the wall around me. Walls were really starting to piss me off lately.
They had me now, trapped and defenseless and injured. I didn’t know what exactly they could do, however. Earlier they’d worried about killing me, yet they could have no romantic interest in me. What could they –
My patio door opened, and an elemental walked in. An elemental made of mud, of all things. Its body was very solid, very human, and very male. Oozing, brown-gray sludge dripped off it and onto my carpet.
I renewed my futile efforts to break from the spirits. Volusian’s words came back to haunt me. More organized attacks. The spirits couldn’t have sex with me, but the elemental gentry could. It had sent its minions to subdue me first. Clever.
“Where are the others?” asked the elemental, an almost comic look of astonishment on his face as he glanced around the room.
“She banished them, master,” whispered one of the spirits.
“You really are lethal, aren’t you?” The elemental approached. “I hadn’t believed the stories. I thought sending these six was overkill. Still. I guess even you have your limits.”
I sneered at him. “Don’t talk to me about limits. You can’t even cross to this world in full form.”
A look of displeasure crossed that dripping, muddy face. Power was a matter of pride among the gentry. His inability to cross over fully was probably a sore point. Raping me was undoubtedly a way of compensating for all sorts of deficiencies.
“It won’t matter,” he said. “Once I beget Storm King’s heir, all gentry will pass into this world, smiting the race of humans.”
“Okay, Mr. Old Testament. I can’t honestly believe you just used ‘beget’ and ‘smiting’ in the same sentence.”
“So brave and brash. Yet it won’t – ow!”
I couldn’t free my upper body, but the elemental was close enough that I flipped my lower body upward and kicked him. I’d been aiming for the groin, just like with the Gray Man, but caught his thigh instead. The guarding spirit restrained my legs.
The elemental narrowed his eyes. “You make things difficult. This would be far easier on you if you would submit.”
“Don’t hold your breath.”
“She will submit, master,” intoned a spirit. “Her mother lies there on the floor.”
I stiffened in the spirit’s grip. “Don’t touch her.”
The elemental turned and walked toward where my mother had fallen. Almost gently, he leaned down and picked her up in his arms. “She’s still alive.”
“Leave her alone, you bastard!” I screamed. I strained so hard, it felt like my arms would tear from my shoulders.
“Let her go,” ordered the elemental.
“Master – “
“Let her go. She will not do anything, because she knows if she so much as steps in this direction” – the muddy hand slid up to my mom’s throat, leaving a dirty trail wherever he moved – “then I will snap her neck.”
The spirits released me. I did not move.
“I’m going to kill you,” I said. My voice was hoarse from the choking and screaming. “I’ll tear you to pieces before I send you to hell.”
“Unlikely. Not if you want this one to live. Come,” he said to one of his servants. “Take her.” There was a tradeoff, and now a spirit held my mother. “If Odile Dark Swan so much as looks threatening, kill this woman.”
“Odile Dark Swan always looks threatening.” The spirit spoke in a deadpan, nonsarcastic voice. Apparently this elemental’s minions had as good a sense of humor as my own.
“You know what I mean,” snapped the elemental. He came closer to me, so only a few inches separated us. “Now. I will let you live. I will let your mother live. All you have to do is not fight me while I do what I’ve come here to do. When I am finished, we will depart in peace. Do you understand?”
Anger and fury were raging in me, and I could feel tears burning at the edges of my vision. I wanted to reach out and claw his eyes. I wanted to kick between his legs until no one could tell if he was male anymore. I wanted to deliver him to Persephone in a pile of body parts.
But I was scared. So scared that if I even blinked wrong, they’d break my mother. She already hung uselessly in the spirit’s arms like a rag doll. For all I knew, she could have been dead, but something told me she wasn’t. I couldn’t gamble if she might be alive.
So I nodded in acknowledgment to the elemental and felt one of the tears leak out of my eye as I did.
“Good.” He exhaled, and I realized he was as scared of me as I was of him. “Now. Undress.”
Bile rose in my throat. I couldn’t get enough oxygen again; it was like the air was thick and heavy around me. Another tear stole from my eye, and I slowly pulled down the pajama pants, removing the gun I hadn’t been able to use. It occurred to me briefly that I could probably manage to shoot the elemental right now, but I wouldn’t be fast enough to save my mother.
What did it matter? If he was telling the truth, I would still live if I could only endure this. I was on the pill. I probably wouldn’t actually get pregnant. I’d only have to lay there passively while this big anthropomorphic pile of dirt had his way with me. Things could be worse. Probably.
I looked at him, imagining those hands on me. The air grew thicker to me, making it still harder to breathe. The lighting seemed darker, as it had when the spirit choked me, and I wondered if I was going to faint. Maybe it’d be easier that way. Less to remember.
“The rest,” he said impatiently. He too was breathing heavily.
I moved my fingers to the edges of my underwear. I had dressed for comfort in plain, gray cotton bikini-cuts. They were nice but not sexy. They didn’t match the pink top. Of course, it didn’t matter to the elemental what I wore. Naked desire glowed on his face. I stared at the lumpy, misshapen body and worked hard not to whimper. I knew what I had to do, but I didn’t want to. Oh, God. Oh, Selene. I didn’t want him to touch me. I didn’t want him pressed up against me. Nausea rolled up in my stomach, and I wondered desperately where Kiyo was. I knew he couldn’t follow me 24/7, and I suddenly regretted my snide comments about his protection. I wished he were here now. I needed him. I’d never felt so defenseless in my life, not even in that long-lost memory. It was not a state of mind I liked.
As I was about to pull the panties down, a slap of wood on glass made all of us jump. The elemental jerked his head around, and I followed his gaze. The patio door was open, and the wind had blown in, knocking over a picture frame on my coffee table. It was a strong wind, one that kept blowing, scattering papers and other objects around. Yet, outside, the sunshine and azure skies of late spring reflected no such disturbance.
“What…?” began the elemental.
That sharp sound had sort of snapped me out of my anger and fear, and I was suddenly able to notice details more sharply. I could see everything with a new clarity. The air really was thick, the lighting truly darker. I hadn’t imagined those things. The angry wind rose and fell with my breathing. Brilliant light slashed the dimness, and we all cried out as it danced around from object to object. At the same time, a deafening roar of thunder filled the room, too big and too loud for the small space. I covered my ears and dropped to the floor.
The elemental turned on me. “Make it stop.”
“It’s yours! Stop, or you’ll kill us all.”
I looked around and realized he was right. I couldn’t explain it, but I was connected to everything going on in there. The building moisture and humidity. The wind whipping around, scattering things. The electricity charging the air.
I could feel it, but I didn’t know what to do with it. You’re mine, I tried telling it, but nothing happened. This was not like trying to control power with a wand or an athame. This was both within me and outside of me. I could no more stop it than I could stop myself from feeling joy or sorrow or hate.
The wind increased, its fury building. A jagged piece of glass flew into my cheek. “I can’t control it,” I whispered. “I can’t.”
The elemental looked panicked. So did the spirits. Whereas a moment ago I had felt weak and defenseless, their fear made mine go away. Their fear fed my anger, and I fed the building tempest. I couldn’t actually control the storm, but it was expanding out from me. Something else hit me in the shoulder, and moments later, I barely dodged a book flying toward my head.
I couldn’t control this. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know anything except that I wanted to live and I wanted my mother to live too.
Darkness swirled around us all as great billowing clouds filled the room. More lightning danced around, oblivious to where it traveled. The elemental was right. I would kill one of –
Lightning shot out at the spirit holding my mother, forcing her to fall to the ground. He screamed and screamed. It was the most horrible sound I’d ever heard. It was more than a death knell, more than a tortured cry. I covered my ears again, watching as he glowed blindingly bright, then went black, then was nothing.
The elemental backed away from me, fear palpably rolling off of him. A tingle along my skin told me what he was going to do. He was so scared, he was going to try to cross back to the Otherworld. Right here, right now, with no crossroads. Doing so had nearly ripped me apart. There was no way he could do it, not when he couldn’t even transition to this world in his natural form.
He didn’t seem to care, however, and suddenly I panicked. What if he could? What if by some miracle he escaped? I couldn’t let him get away, not after what he’d done here, not after what he’d tried to do. My need, my anxiety…both grew, but I had no way to focus them. I had no idea what had happened to my weapons in this madness. A bolt of lighting blew apart a speaker beside me, and the sound made that ear go deaf.
More lightning flared, so strongly and rapidly that I couldn’t tell what was real and what was an afterimage. Somewhere, over the thunder, I heard the elemental screaming, although I could no longer see him. It wasn’t as horrible as the spirit’s cries had been, but it still made my skin crawl. Lightning hit something else beside me, and sharp pieces of whatever it was flew into my arm.
I was going to die, I realized. With the spirit. With the elemental. With my mother. Who would have thought the spirits I’d just banished to the Otherworld would be the lucky ones?
I buried my face in my hands, trying to block out what I’d created. It didn’t help. It was almost like the lightning and clouds existed in my mind as much as in the room. I squeezed my eyes tighter, so much so that they hurt. But nothing changed. The wind roared against me, the thunder shook my house. Dominating it all was the darkness – and the light – as the thunder and lightning came and went.