A Tale of Two Sirens
Author's Note: Donjo here. Here's another chapter! Things are starting to heat up, don't you think? Enjoy!
I ducked back into the alley way once again and found a surprise for me. Not only was there no one there, there wasn’t even a trace of them. Not even a sign that anything had been in the alley way since yesterday. I couldn’t even smell the blood from the guy that got stabbed in that fight. I looked around anyway, hoping to find something that might give me something to go off of.
Then I noticed that the dumpster had been moved as well, but not opened back up. Flipping it open, I found a chair leg that had been broken off. I gingerly reached down and grabbed it to use as a poker while I sifted through the top layers of garbage. It took me about five minutes of searching, but I managed to find a scrap of cloth that had been torn off of one of their robes, or so I hoped. I hopped back out of the dumpster and hit the road to my storage unit to store my “prize” until later tonight. After dropping it off, I went back to the Holden’s clinic to wait out the time with the others.
“I take it that you didn’t like what you found?” Mama asked me when I returned.
“Not even in the least.” I said with a shake of my head. “There wasn’t even a single sign that anything had happened tonight. You think there was magic involved?”
“Most certainly.” Agatha confirmed. “I’d doubt it was anyone in the Coven though. We would know if we had a traitor in our midst.”
“Well, either way. I think I’m going to be leaving for the night. I’ll be home a bit later, Mama. There’s one last thing I want to look into.” Mama didn’t say anything to this, but she did look at me suspiciously.
Some part of me immediately recognized that I was dreaming again, but I just didn’t care anymore. Everyone was gone… even my own mother seemed to have no faith in me. She spoke to that doctor as if I wasn’t actually her daughter! With a scream, I frantically punched the air. I was surprised when my fist actually hit a wall, but that didn’t matter either. I just kept punching… until the wall was reduced to rubble. With a choked sob, I fell to my knees, desperately fighting my tears. Aka Manah would be here soon, and I couldn’t show any weakness… especially not to him.
“Ashley…” his voice inevitably came.
“Leave me alone,” I gasped, raising an arm to motion him away..
“Stand up, Ashley. There is no need to cry,” he said.
I grimaced. He was right. I needed to stop this. Stop wallowing in my own sorrows. I stood up, turning to face him. Gently, he stroked my cheek. It almost seemed like he actually cared about me. As I looked into his eyes, I came to a startling realization. He was the only one who had stayed with me through everything that has happened to me in the last two weeks. The only one who never acted as if I was different.
“I can help you, my dear,” he said, “you just have to give me permission.”
I felt small under his gaze. For all the confidence I had in myself, this man shattered it so effortlessly. “W-What do you mean? You’ve never said that you would help me,” I said, skeptical of his true intentions.
“Have I ever lied to you?” he asked.
My eyes widened. “No, you haven’t…”
“Then place your trust me. I can help me, if you’ll just let me,” he said.
“Okay…” I said. What more could I lose? “You can help me. Do whatever you feel is necessary.”
“Thank you, my dear. Now, look at me,” he said. I looked back up into his eyes, and he smiled. “You don’t need your friends, do you Ashley? You just need me.”
Ashley’s eyes glazed over slightly. “…Yes,” she said.
“Now, you must help me before I will help you,” he said, still staring into Ashley’s eyes.
“Yes, my Lord,” she said softly.
Aka Manah smiled. His control was working beautifully. Ashley was now putty in his hands. Even now, she was looking at him with devotion. Due to certain… limitations, his work to corrupt her into accepting this took far longer than he wished, but this moment made it all worth it. He now had full control over her.
He would be free.
With a swift movement, he brought his most important follower close and began to give her his orders.
“Now that we have that out of the way, why don’t you tell me what you plan to do about this problem.” Agatha told me when I arrived at the library.
“For starters, I’ve got a few friends I’m going call to help out with this.”
“So you’ve said, but just because you trust them doesn’t mean that I or the rest of the Coven will. Why should we trust them with something like this?”
“Well, they owe me their lives and their souls, to begin with. They’re also about the best people that you’re going to find to take on a task like this because it’s what they do for a living.” I explained.
“So? That still doesn’t tell me how good they are at this, or anything about their background.” Agatha impatiently replied.
“Does the name ‘White Lotus’ mean anything to you, Agatha?” To this, she didn’t need to say even a single word. Her face, a combination of surprise and caution, said everything I needed to know.
“If it’s them that you’re calling, then you have my blessing. Just keep the collateral damage to a minimum.”
“Of course, Agatha. Did you really think I want to destroy this town if I’m trying to help save it?”
“No, I guess not.” She said as her face turned to one of mild concentration. “The Inquisitor is on her way here now. The only way I will allow you to participate with this is to allow her to work with you.”
She turned back towards the building, as though she were expecting someone to come out through the front door.
“What’s the problem, Mrs. Crawford?” Came a voice that sounded familiar. Out of a shadow stepped a girl I had seen quite often around the university campus. Her fire engine red braidlocks (braids that have turned into dreadlocks) are rather hard to miss, as is the rest of her. She had a very goth sense of style that was somewhat close to my own. She seemed a bit surprised when she noticed that I was there. “What are you doing here?”
“That question will be answered momentarily. Your job, for the immediate future, is to work with her on correcting the issue we have been having with the Black Horns. She has contacts to valuable allies that she has kindly offered to make use of for this task. Normally, I would tell you that you are to ensure that this does not get out of hand, but I don’t think we can afford to hold anything back in this case. You need to leave only one member of this cult alive for questioning. I do not care what you do with the rest.”
“Thank you Agatha. I’ve got a strong itch for some payback on these losers.”
“Very well then. I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.” She said as she used her magic to probably take herself back home.
Ashley smiled to herself as she made her way through the woods surrounding Ravencrest. Sneaking out of her home had been too easy. She could almost feel the hand of her Lord, pointing and guiding her to her goal. Or, perhaps her goal was guiding her to it. When she came upon a body, slumped against a tree, she knew she had found it.
Clutched in the man’s bloody fingers was the Orb. As Ashley pried it from his fingers, she knew it was the same Orb that she removed from the lake all those months ago. However, she no longer feared its touch. She welcomed it. Holding it in her hands, she wondered how she could have ever feared it. The power residing inside of it was astounding. It was her Lord’s prison, and he would be freed tonight.
*Very good, Ashley,* his voice rang within her head.
“Thank you, my Lord,” she said, holding the Orb close.
*Move with haste,* he said, reminding her of his orders. She was to take the Orb to the Black Horn, his followers. Once there, the ritual to free her Lord could begin. Ashley was the key; only she could be the one to free him.
Before deciding to make her way to the secret location, Ashley turned to face the man who had died with the Orb in his clutches and smiled wickedly. This man wasn’t strong enough to properly serve her Lord. His death wouldn’t be mourned. He didn’t even deserve a burial.
She left the man to rot, heading further into the forest.
“So, how about an answer to my question now, Danielle. How are you involved in all of this?”
“I was ambushed outside an alley way two or three blocks in that direction.” I said with a gesture in towards the alley in question. “When I started towards the alley, I saw two men go in after Ashley and went in after them.”
“I see. And just how do you know her?”
“So, fair to say you were involved with that thing against the Hunters a month or two ago, right?
“Yup, I was involved.” To this, she said nothing. “But that’s neither here nor there. What is of relevance is what happened to me when between the time that I disappeared three years ago and when I popped back up in twenty-ten.”
“And just what would that be?” She asked me somewhat pointedly.
“Long story short, the four members of Mongoose Unit in the Order of the White Lotus owe me their souls and I’ve called in the favor.”
“Just how in the flaming Hell did you manage that?” She asked, suspicion written clearly all over her face.
“That’s a rather long story, but it started with me mugging a hooker in Cleveland and it snowballed from there.” I managed to say with a straight face. The thing is, it’s the truth. How was I supposed to know that the hooker I mugged was an undercover cop?
All the Inquisitor could manage was to stare at me like I had sprouted an arm out of my eye ball.
“Ask them yourself when they get here if you don’t believe me.” I told her. “And yes, I am aware that I’ve had some very strange things happen to me over the years. So, you got a name?”
“Scarlet DeWitt, Inquisitor for the Coven of Ravencrest.” She said as her voice betrayed something that seemed suspiciously like regret.
“I’m not going to ask why I sense there’s something regretful in the way you said that, as it isn’t any of my business, but please don’t let it distract you from this. If you are supposed to be working with me on this, I’ll need you at your absolute best. And that’s just so that you have a shot at keeping up with these people. And speaking of them...” I said as I turned to great Jethro and his team.
“It’s been a while, Dani.” He said as he stepped out from around the corner of the building, followed by the other three members. “I really could have used someone of your talents not all that long ago in Syria.”
Before I continue with the banter, I should tell you a little more about Jethro. He only stands about five and a half feet tall, so he’s a compact man, but he is exceedingly well built. Well defined muscles all over the man show that he is capable of handling any business that he needs to and the scars that aren’t exposed due to being dressed for the cold weather show that he’s not just capable of it, but that he’s done it too. His sandy brown hair is kept buzzed close to his head and going by the stubble on his face, I’d have to guess that he hasn’t seen a razor in more than a week. But the single most arresting feature on this man, and the reason I would probably bed him anytime he wanted, were those slate grey eyes of his. They had the intensity of a hardened warrior in them, but also that of a father figure, a leader. One look into those eyes was enough to know that the man took no one’s nonsense and that to threaten his team was a death sentence.
Behind him were two new faces, both of them women. The only remarkable thing about them was that they were so unremarkable. Almost forgettable, really. But that’s a good thing in their line of work, I guess. It wouldn’t pay for your enemies to remember what you looked like. About five-foot-four and five-foot-five, each had sandy blond hair. One had green eyes, the other had brown. Past that, all I could tell was that they were brought on board the team after I parted ways with Jethro and his team and that they were witches.
Bringing up the rear was a familiar face, Barabbas. He was the team’s expert tracker and assassin. He stood only an inch or two taller that Jethro, but was a little less well built. “Wiry and sinewy” is the best way I can think of to describe him, physically. That, and to say he was leaning more towards ugly on the beauty scale. Not because of bad genes, mind you, but because half of his face was scared and pot-marked from an incident that happened three years ago in the Congo region of Africa. He had pale, ice blue eyes and a smile that made you question his sanity, but he was usually quick with a joke to keep moral up in any situation.
“Hey guys, let me introduce Scarlet DeWitt, Inquisitor of the Coven of Ravencrest.” I said to them, then turned to Scarlet. “Scarlet, on the far left we have Jethro, the team leader and a were-otter. To his right, Barabbas, A.K.A. ‘Rabid,’ were-rat and tracker-slash-assassin extraordinaire. Get him within three miles of his target and it’s nighty night for the bad guys.” They each nodded their head to Scarlet as I introduced them.
“To Jethro’s left is... Well, actually I have no idea who either one of you are. I guess the two of you joined up after their little trip into Africa, right?” I said as I turned to Jethro for confirmation.
“Sparkle and Cracker.” He said as he nodded to each in turn. I nodded and took a step back to visually take them in.
The vibe they gave off, to describe it in a word, was frightening. Truly frightening, to be more specific. The two weres had battle rifles, as I was told they were supposedly called, slung on their shoulders via a harness and a side arm in a special holster attached to the center of their Kevlar vest for easy reach. Strapped upside-down to their left shoulder straps were large combat knives, again placed for easy access if needed. Their clothing was all greys ranging from medium to almost black. The females of the team wore what looked like body gloves with cargo pockets in convenient places. Around all of their waists were belts with storage for more things and they each had a medallion or two around their neck. All in all, they seemed to have an aura about them that exuded the kind of danger that would have made even Wisteria hesitate, at the very least.
“Really? Sparkle and Cracker? What kind of names are those?” I asked with an arched eyebrow.
“Sparkle got her name from an incident in Tokyo before she joined up with us and Cracker, well, one word for that: ‘temper.’”
I didn’t get much more of an explanation from them due to my phone choosing that particular moment to ring. Pulling it out of my back pocket, I was mildly surprised to see it was Cindy.
“Hey.” I said as I flipped my phone open to answer. Yes I still have a flip-phone. I have no need of a smart phone when I have a perfectly good laptop to use for internet browsing. “Isn’t it kinda late in the day for you to be calling?”
“Normally, you would be right.” She said as her little one squealed and giggled in the background. “But there’s been a problem. Dr. Holden had Ashley’s parents take her back home and provided escort for them, but as they were discussing what would be the best thing to do about her, she managed to slip out and run off.”
“And just how do you know this?” I asked a little more intensely than I had intended.
“Ashley’s mom is here talking to my mom about what could have happened. They met earlier in the day and mom offered Ashley’s mom support in this or whatever. I have it on good authority that something is manipulating Ashley, but I have no idea what it is.” This little bit of info was news to me, but I kept my silence and let Cindy continue. “I was hoping you would help us track her down before anything bad happens.”
“Whoa there just a minute girl. Who’s this ‘us’ you’re talking about?”
“Me, obviously, along with my sister Carly, my cousin Chris, Carson, and Mason Locke as well.” That got my attention. “Why, what’s going on Dani?”
“Well... That changes things a little bit. Get your group together at the University Library as soon as you possibly can. Five minutes ago would be lovely, actually. I’ll be waiting for you there with some friends of mine from out of town.”
“Okay. Give us no more than five minutes and we’ll be there.” She said as she hung up.
“Okay then... It seems that some more of the locals got a little restless and decided to crash our party.” I said as I turned back to my group. “They are as follows: Cindy, Chris and Carly Harper, all coyotes. Accompanying them are Mason and Carson Locke, both werewolves.”
“I’ll give you the bad news first. All of them, aside from Mason, are really just kids. Late teens at the most. Mason, on the other hand, is in his mid twenties, was Spec Op in the US Army and has seen combat. He knows how these things are supposed to work and can do it well. The good news, is that I’ve been teaching Cindy what I know about how to get into and out of places unseen and she has probably better than a decade of martial arts experience. She has seen combat, of a sort, through a local conflict with those Sacred Heart bastards. She beat ‘em down pretty hard, and they even had a grail at that.”
“From what I’ve heard, Cindy has been teaching Carly and Chris what I’ve taught her about sneaking, and the three of them have been teaching martial arts consisting of Judo and Tae Kwan Do, along with various melee weapons training, at a dojo that their parents own here in town. All of this to say that they aren’t exactly defenseless, even if the oldest amongst the kids is no older than twenty.” I explained for the benefit of Jethro and his team. Jethro actually seemed duly impressed that a teenager was able to lead a group against a group of hunters that had a grail at their disposal, but said nothing of it.
“Okay then. That’s actually going to be a bit of a problem, Dani. We’re not babysitters.” He said instead.
“I know that Jethro, but these kids, and Cindy in particular, are rather thick headed at times. They get it in their heads that they need to do something and they then figure out ways of getting it done, with or without the blessing of the people in charge. They are deceptively smart and they have Mason to babysit them if need be. Just let them come and be the ones to watch our backs. Let’s see if we can’t avoid another situation like what happened in Cleveland, okay?” That got a grumble from him as his look darkened considerably. “I know you don’t like it when I bring it up, but having someone watching our backs would have been very helpful then and you know it.”
“Fine.” He interrupted. “You got a map of the area? I’d like to get an idea of the lay of the land and what we can expect in this area.” With that, we sat and went over the layout of the town area until Cindy and the others showed up. Once they got there, went through quick introductions.
“Okay. First thing we need to do is figure out where Ashley went, obviously.” Jethro stated. “Then, we figure out which way she went and track her down. Do not stop her when we find her. Don’t call out to her and do not bring yourselves to her attention in any other way. Instead, we’re going to follow her to this base of operations for this cult and rescue her there. It’s riskier this way, but it’s the only sure fire way to get everyone together for this little shindig.” He then turned to Cindy and Carly.
“I’m assuming that the two of you know where she lives, right?” They nodded their heads. “Good, lead us there and we’ll begin the search. Once we get there, Mason and Rabid are on point. Dani and Sparkle are on rear guard. Any questions?” No one said anything.
“Good, now let’s do this.”
Ashley steadily approached the door. She couldn’t quite see it yet, as it was well hidden, but she knew well enough where it was. It was in one of the few small caves that existed on the outskirts of town, etched into the wall. She gently knocked on the wall in question until she found the small hollow area, pushing in a small protruding stone to swing the door open. It closed behind her, leaving no evidence that it existed in the first place.
With the Orb still in hand, she approached another door further in. Looking through a hole, a hooded man saw her coming. Before he could do anything, Ashley spoke.
“The Black Ram should run free.”
Even after stating the greeting phrase, the man seemed skeptical, but he opened the door when Ashley revealed her marked palm.
“Welcome,” the doorman said. Ashley ignored him. Soon, another man approached the door.
“Hmph. Wouldn’t have guessed that a frail girl such as yourself would be one of us,” he said.
Ashley scoffed at that. “I’m hardly frail.”
“Is that so? Care to prove that?”
She glared at the man who dared to insult her, but someone else interrupted. “If she were a frail little girl, she wouldn’t be holding that Orb.”
The first man looked at her left hand, and his eyes widened. “Is that…?”
“Yes, it is,” she said, “Imprisoned in this Orb is our Lord, Aka Manah!”
Several gasps were heard further in the room.
“And, now that I have your attention!” Ashley continued, “I am taking control of this sect of the Black Horn!”
“Do you really expect us to accept you as our leader?” the closest man to her asked. She was on him in an instant with a quick throw to the ground. She straddled him once he was on his back and showed him her palm.
“You see this?” she asked, “This isn’t some farmyard brand. This is our Lord’s true Mark. That means that I am far more important than any of you could even dream of being! If you wish to challenge my authority, you will die.”
The man sneered. “No piece of jailbait is going to lead me around.”
“Too bad,” Ashley said. With a wicked smile, she brought her fist straight down into the man’s windpipe. The crack of it shattering could be heard through the whole room. She simply stood up and continued to walk, leaving the man to continue attempting to breathe. Another man approached soon approached Ashley.
“I like your style. Why don’t we get together a little later and celebrate your rise to power?” he asked.
Ashley smiled, running a finger across his chest. He was well muscled. “I’d love to, handsome, but I have things to do. Tonight, the black ram shall truly run free.”
“Then this is a truly special night for us all. What do you need us to do?” he asked.
*No preparations are necessary, my dear Ashley. Simply place me on the altar and we may begin,* Aka Manah’s voice rang in her head.
Ashley smiled. “All you need to do is watch. Tonight, we make history.”
She approached the altar in question. There was nowhere to place the Orb, but that changed when a stream of energy flowed out of it, forming a metal claw with which to hold it. Taking the cue, Ashley placed her Lord inside of it, standing back.
*I will now put to you sleep. As long as I am in this orb, it must be so for us to fully link ourselves.*
Ashley closed her eyes in preparation, feeling drowsiness begin to overtake her. Two men gently lowered her to the ground as the Orb began to pulse and glow.
“A cave. Really? How original.” Cindy quipped once the trail stopped just outside of town.
“Hey, it was easy enough to find, right?” I countered.
“Stow it. Any of you ladies know how many bodies are in there?” Jethro’s Cajun growl came to my ears as he came up behind us. He had stayed behind with Mason to check on a body we had found along the way. It wasn’t out of any sense of fear, mind you, it just left fewer things to answer for later. Assuming that it wasn’t found for quite a while, that is. “From here on in it gets serious. I want only those of us with actual combat experience to go in from here. The rest are going to be rear guard. No one gets in or out unless Dani, Mason or I say otherwise. Got it?”
“Hey...” Cindy sounded a little indignant by being put in that category. “I’ve got combat experience. Why am I being put out here?”
“Because we’re giving you an equally important job, that’s why. You get to make sure that no one comes in behind us and ambushes us. I’ve already had that happen to me once before with these losers and while it wasn’t much of a threat, I’m still not keen on having a repeat experience.” I explained. I wasn’t about to tell her that neither Jethro nor I were about to put her in a situation that could get her killed, or worse.
“Speaking of ambushes, give me just a moment. I need to let Mama know that we found where they are and what’s going on.” With that, I slipped out my phone and sent Mama a text saying exactly that. Once that was done, I sent one more and slipped my phone back into my pocket. “Okay. We’re good to go.”
“Roger. Rabid, we clear to enter?”
“Yep. It’s all clear boss.”
“Good man, now let’s be done with this. I don’t like fighting in caves.”
“My Lord,” Ashley gasped, bowing down toward the figure before her.
“Stand, my servant,” he said, “you are too important to bow down to me.”
“How may I free you?” she asked.
“It is simple, my dear. Through your body, I will manifest once again in your world,” he said.
“I will be your host?”
“Yes. Only through you can I escape this prison of mine. Will you allow me to take you?”
“Why are you even asking for my permission? My body is yours, my Lord,” Ashley said, bowing down again.
“Then stand, and come to me,” he ordered. “Let us come together as one.”
Ashley walked forward, letting Aka Manah take her in his arms. With a tender kiss, he began his spell. The second their lips touched, a sharp pain lanced through Ashley’s mind. A soft voice called to her, stating that it was not too late to fight back. Fight back against what, she wondered.
Pure bliss awaited her as she sacrificed everything for her Lord. When the two broke their embrace, Ashley could feel it. His pure essence was beginning to fill her.
Soon, Aka Manah would be free.
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