"Wait wait wait...what?" I rubbed my eyes with the heel of my hands and thought about this. "You have to be kidding me."
"You wanted to know." Tony sighed and waited for me to catch up.
My brain rushed to process the information and felt like someone had slammed the actual brain matter around in my head. One too many facts slowed down my brain and pressed against the walls of my processing abilities.
"So, okay, let me get this straight: you've known about this since Kathleen was front page news?!" I blinked and tried to focus on Tony. "You and Dad were the Reapers on her case?!"
It never fails to surprise me that my father actually is a Reaper and is fairly competent at his job. I know it happens, that he does stuff like this for work and has been around since the dawn of time, but hearing about it and seeing proof is just really weird.
"Yeah," Tony nodded.
"And you two put her rest?"
Apparently, all it took back in the day was Tony and Dad to prove that Kathleen had already axed the guys that had made her ghost in the first place. Those twenty-year-old men that she kept on ripping apart was all that she could remember about the people who killed her. Out of two hundred and thirty, they all figured that she got the right one somewhere in the bunch.
"But someone, and you have no idea who, snatched something of Kathleen's and brought her back?"
That would be old, and highly illegal, magic. You may have heard of it, some people call it necromancy. But that's when you bring back the physical form, sucking the soul right back into its broken body. This psycho just summoned her consciousness and refused to let her go. That's still illegal, as it breaks someone's free will, and it's called spectromancy. You can summon someone, or even manipulate them, if you have a piece of them, like blood, bones, or hair. It doesn't take much, a drop of blood or a lock of hair would do the job. It takes a lot of juice to pull the stunt though; you can't just cast that spell without a lot of knowledge of how to use magic. It would either blow up in your face, in the literal sense of magical feedback ripping your skin off your bones, or do something completely different, like summoning a demon, or worse an angel, that wants to eat you alive.
He nodded and pointed his thumb over at the kitchen counter. "There is an article over there about how someone robbed her grave about a week ago."
"And you have no idea what they took?"
"Nope." Tony tapped his fingers. "All her bones and clothes were there, or as much of her after twenty-some years of rotting the ground could be."
Ick. Rotting corpses. The stench, the disfigured skin, the bits of bone that were slowly coming through to the surface after decomposition with rotten clothing that was saturated in whatever fleshy part it was touching. I gagged a little just thinking about it.
I took another breath to banish the mental image. "So Raith and Chuck, they were surveillance?"
"I had my suspicions about that Markin since this whole thing went down. Didn't think it would hurt to put them on the same plane, and saved Artie the trouble of jumping them."
"Of course it did." My brain tried to remember the questions I had asked earlier. "You've been on this for a week, most of which Dirk spent in Thailand. Did you seriously have him dig up bones?"
"Well, dogs, bones, dirt. Y'know."
"Tony!" Jo smiled and tried not to laugh. "That's horrible."
"It worked, didnit?"
Everyone tried to hide a smile or small laugh. Behold the miracle of cheap jokes.
You could be hurt, lost, stuck with people you don't particularly care about, and for one brief moment the whole world seemed acceptable because someone made a cheap joke. It's like the world had decided, for all the crap that we were going through, that we deserved a five second break before it goes back to trying to break open our heads.
"So, the warlock who stabbed me." I pulled his attention back for a moment. I know, I'm a bitch, but I got stabbed and that ain't fun.
"He's been givin' me and Shaun hell for couple years now. Show's up every once in a while when we got somethin' someone else could use." He puffed up his cheeks and blew out the air. "Tries to take it. Or destroy it. Wins more times than he should."
I paused for a second. The idea that this wasn't their first encounter with he-who-knows-their-Names was a little unsettling. And by a little, I mean I wanted to rip out his throat, crush his hands and mouth before he ever did it again. If it even was a 'he', that is. I'm totally open to the idea of it being a 'she', women are far more creative and psychotic by my count, but regardless I'm dealing with one simple truth:
Bitch touched my vampire, twisted my mentor, and then stabbed me.
I'm not letting them walk away from that.
"Why don't you Reap him?"
See: politically correct term for sanctioned axing of people who break the Laws.
"'Cause the sumbitch is slipperier than an eel covered in oil." Tony paused. "Don't leave us no blood or hair or spit for us to trace. Don't ask me how he got our names. I'm still tryin' to figure that out." He smacked his lips. "And that damn knife sucks in magic and destroys it, makin' it useless for trackin'."
I slumped in my chair and felt my brain slip into stand-by mode. My eyes focused on nothing in particular, just falling over one of many small burnt spots on the table that Tony had made by putting a super headed cauldron stand on the table without thinking too hard about it.
The black cloak stabbed me. I have his knife. And I can't trace him.
I don't even know who he is. But he knew of my name and he wanted me dead.
"I know you don't like it, hell, I don't like it," I looked up see Tony lean forward. "But the S.O.B's going on the back burner until this ghost problem blows over. Now get back upstairs and get some rest while we get 'round to Plan B."
"I want to part of Plan B." I didn't stop to let him cut me off. "I'm not going back up." He stared at me and I stared back. "There is a woman in your basement that needs help. Her entire consciousness is here. She's scared and alone and currently bawling her eyes out. I'm not holing myself up just cause I got a little cut. I mean, you and Raith had your kidneys juggled, and you two aren't complaining." There was a pause as Tony tapped his fingers. "Also, she kills via nightmares. Why would I go to sleep?"
Tony bit back a groan and waited for me to say something more. I didn't. "Okay. Tessa, get over here! Shaun, go get-"
Bam, BAM, BAM, BAM.
There was suddenly increasingly loud knocks on the front door as we all fell silent. Well, "knocks" was putting it lightly, as it sounded more like someone was slamming something quickly against the door before shouting at it.
"TONY YOU SON OF A BITCH OPEN THIS GODDAMN DOOR!"
"...Shit." Tony stared at the front door out of pure annoyance. The angry male voice from the other side didn't seem too happy.
"TONY OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR RIGHT NOW BEFORE I BLAST IT."
Jo looked over at us confused as Tessa walked in to stand behind me. I slumped in my chair as I wondered if there was such a thing as karmic backlash.
I do a few stupid things and the universe wants to put a fork in me.
"I'D LIKE TO SEE YOU TRY!" Tony got up and walked toward the door. He briefly peaked through the door and started undoing the locks.
"HURRY UP ASSHOLE!"
"SHUT UP DICK FACE!" Tony shouted as he undid the last lock and door flung open with a loud 'SLAM'. I'm fairly sure the wall rocked a bit and few stacks of books came crashing down as a result.
He was an aged man, who looked like he was in his mid-fifties. He was a little shorter then Tony, a little shy of six feet with flat, trimmed black hair that stuck to his skull, a rather pointy nose, and beginning stages of beer gut. He was dressed in a red plaid shirt that had been beaten to hell with time and dirt, black leather jacket that had been beaten with the same things, but with the added elements of knives and gunfire, and jeans that were ripped up and sown back together so many times that I doubt there was anything left on them from the original pair he had bought.
He sat down next to me and started checking me over and quickly asking if there was anything wrong with me like somehow there was a time limit or a magic clock that was going to kill me if he didn't figure it out in the next thirty second. His dull blue eyes scanned me over, thankfully not seeing that I was trying really hard to minimally to move my stomach.
"Dad, I'm fine." I said trying to shake him off. "Really. It's okay."
He hugged me and kissed me on the forehead. "Piper, you were stabbed."
Thanks, Dad, I didn't know. I thought I just had a tummy-ache or something. Is that what the dental floss holding my stomach together is for? I thought someone was teaching me how to floss my stomach or something.
"I'm very aware, thank you." I looked up at him. "Shouldn't you...be somewhere?"
Like whatever job you were on yesterday? I'm sure that there is someone somewhere going psycho whose head you can stick on a pike and parade around the village. They'd be eternally grateful, I'm sure. Hey, you could bring me back a souvenir and go then tell me all about it when you get back.
I mean, c'mon Dad, you're the best at disappearing when I need you. Why are you screwing this up now?
"Artie, she's fine." Tony said locking the door back up. "She's awake and givin' me hell. What else could you ask for?"
"Her magic not being in the gutter, for one." He let go of everything but my wrist. "Look at her! She's just slightly more than mortal!"
"I'm fine." I took back my wrist and wrapped my free hand around it. I looked it over looking for whatever they could see. "Thank you for your concern."
"Again, with the thank you's." I kicked Raith in the leg and he laughed it off. "Really, I could get used to you being so nice."
I could get used to you shutting up!
"This shouldn't have happened." Dad said as Tony sat back down and I covered my face in my hands. I could hear Raith laugh at me.
"I told her to get the hell out of dodge, but..." Tony nodded over to me and shrugged. "...Piper."
I love how my name has become an acceptable self-explanatory statement. Why is the forest on fire? Piper. Why is the ghost still here? Piper. Why is there a body for the vampire to hover over? Piper.
"And you just let her get stabbed?!" I could feel the eyerolls.
"They were getting Named. They were a little busy." I said slightly muffled through my hands.
"That's no excuse!" I peeked and saw him turn toward Tony. "The fuck's wrong with you? It's her first day, you get her Marked, and you get Named?!"
"Do you remember our first day?" I peaked some more and saw Tony lean forward. "We were a couple a eight-year-olds that just lost a war to Henry the seventh!"
I snickered, Dad and Tony stopped for a moment for me to return back to be being highly embarrassed.
But Tony wasn't kidding. They really had fought their first battle when Henry VII of England came to power, and occasionally remind me of how the conditions of life were extremely primal compared to now. They usually remind me of that fact when I complain about something not working.
The plus side of living for insane amounts of time means that you don't have to make age jokes, they more or less write themselves.
"That's different! That was us, she's my daughter!"
"Dad, seriously, I'm okay." I pulled my hands away from face and put on my best smile. "See? I'm talking and walking all by myself!"
"Except you have a Mark on your head and the magically equivalent to a box of Lucky Charms." He didn't even bother to look at me when he said it. He then put a hand, palm facing me, to signify that I should shut the hell up.
I crossed my arms over the table and buried my face in them as Tony and Dad continued to duke it out. "Kill me."
"And miss the fun? No way." I didn't have to look up to know Raith and Tessa was smiling. I could hear her snickering.
"This is your chance, I won't fight back." I muttered into my arms. "One quick blow to the head. Put me out of my misery."
I could hear him laughing this time as he talked. "Nope."
"Down right menacing." He tapped me on the back that made me look up and then gestured that we get the hell out. I nodded and got up from the table. "Tessa, could you get Dirk?"
"We going to have a little pow-wow somewhere?" She asked as we snuck away from the war zone my father had created.
"Yeah, we gonna figure out a battle plan, with or without Tony." I nodded. "I doubt whoever got a hold on Kathleen is just going to let her sit. We got to move before someone else turns into Markin. We'll be upstairs."
"Ohh..." Tessa nodded as she crossed her arms. She started smirking and nodding her head a bit. "Have fun you two."
What the hell is that supposed to mean? And what the hell was with that look?
Tessa was the one to pause this time as she dropped her facial expression. "You have to grab Chuck, right? You seemed pretty edgy about the stairs the first time."
"Oh...yeah." I scanned her up and down as she turned away with her eyes fixed on out position. Her eyes weren't looking at me, though. They were looking at...
This is getting ridiculous.
I looked up at him and he was instantly kicked back from whatever reality he had sent his mind to. "Let's go." He tried to smile and all it did was make me not want to follow him.
There was something going on here that seemed to involve me in ways that I didn't really like. I mean, I'm all for the idea that Raith being less of an insufferable prick, but whatever seems to cause it seems to be information that is strictly prohibited from outright telling me. I mean anything that can make this pretentious maggot go from making my life living hell to a reasonable asshat is information I'd rather not be left out of the loop on.
We didn't get three steps before my Dad's voice blasted over the living room in our direction. "SHAUN!" We stopped and turned back again to see Dad leaning back in his chair to look at us. His eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. "Watch her."
The way he said it, with a blatant level of hostility and absoluteness, it was both a statement and a threat.
"Of course." He nodded and we turned a corner in at a slightly quicker pace.
I could hear Tony and Dad resuming arguing as I leaned against the stairs. They were going off on a tangent about how they had to crawl through a thousand miles of mud for a piece of bread and to avoid some guy named Lancaster.
I nodded over to behind the stairs as Chuck appeared, soundlessly waltzing over. "'Sup."
I admit, I jumped a little. I hadn't heard a single noise coming from that direction and people just appearing without warning is not all that isn't something you are programed to deal with.
"Do you even have footsteps?" I asked as I attempted the stairs again. "And what about the air ring?"
"It doesn't need me." He waved me off. "Kathleen isn't going anywhere between those elemental rings and all those damn symbols carved everywhere. She can't even leave to the Second Sphere. So, your dad paid a visit?"
"Not important." I grunted a little in pain. The stress I was putting on my lower body to pull myself up wasn't doing any good to whatever abdominal muscles that the shadowy son of bitch had cut apart. "Come with us, we got shit to talk about."
God I hate stairs. There is just so many of them.
"Here." Raith leaned down and gave me something to lean on before he knocked me off balance. I let out a yelp and he carried me up the stairs.
"You bloodsucker!" I kicked a little as they both laughed. He kept carrying me down the hallway and around the corner to the table, which caused me to flail just a tad bit more out of protest. "Stop that! I can walk!"
Raith pulled a chair out with his foot, put me down, and sat next to me, pleased as punch that I was ready to punch him in the face.
"Not up stairs." He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "I mean you just cursed at them a second ago."
"That doesn't mean you have to test my balance every time!" I glared and he shrugged.
"Not my fault you suck." A corner of his mouth curled a bit. "I'm happy to see your pride kick your ass, but there is so many times that joke it funny."
"As hilarious as this is, why am I here?" Chuck took a seat across from me as we waited for Dirk and Tessa.
I filled him in.
"Okay." He nodded a moment. "We're screwed."
"We're...what?" Tessa said as her and Dirk came up the stairs. They sat around the table too.
I repeated myself.
"See? Screwed." Chuck said. "And not in the fun way."
"How?" I challenged leaning forward. "We go in, steal back the thing keeping Kathleen here, and destroy it. Or stick it where Tony stashed the knife. Point is we find the warlock and get rid of the ghost before another Markin shows up in the morgue."
"Chuck has a point. We don't know who we're looking for, what she's tied to, or where they could be." Tessa sighed. "They could be anywhere with anything for any reason."
"Not necessarily," my brain worked overtime as my mouth ran. "Kathleen was on the plane with Markin. Someone had to put her on that plane. She wouldn't just hop on a plane from Thailand then find the correct connecting plane that Markin was on."
"You're suggesting a warlock got on a plane past me and Chuck." Raith said as I shrugged.
"You two were probably busy. I mean, it's not like you two were looking for a warlock." I thought about it someone more. "You can have a suppression amulet under your clothes. They just had to make sure Kathleen woke up while Markin was there."
"That's insanely risky." Tessa frowned. "Kathleen could have crashed the plane, she's still a witch, and if she drew from the plane or opened a Hellgate, everyone was going to die, including whoever was holding their object. I mean, that far up off the ground, you'll end up just as high up in the Second Sphere."
"What if it's just really simple, then?" Dirk asked "What if the first time with Markin was just coincidence? Like, Kathleen was supposed to stay under wraps until after the flight?"
"Points for the werewolf. That means whoever got their hands on Kathleen's object wanted to be on that plane, not to get a Markin stain on the carpet." I leaned back and tapped my fingers on the table. "But it can't be a coincidence that whoever went through the trouble to summon Kathleen just happened to be on the same plane as Markin."
"But that plane was coming here." Raith pointed out. "The warlock was coming here."
There was a moment as my brain clicked. "Tessa, what did my brother say about why Markin was coming here?"
"He was coming here for a friend's wedding." Tessa tilted her head. "You think the warlock was going to a wedding with a nightmare ghost?"
"Okay, question." Dirk raised his hand with his elbow still on the table. "If Kathleen is being controlled by an object, how are able to hold her in the basement?"
"We're not keeping her in. We're keeping the warlock out." Chuck didn't miss a beat. "She can leave that basement anytime, but the minute she does, the warlock who's got her object is probably going to call her back. Between all those sigils, runes, and the elemental rings, nothing can get to Kathleen unless she decides to leave."
"Meaning whoever got her object is currently very pissed that we snagged their ghost." I tapped my fingers again and brushed off a need scratch my nose.
Markin. Clinton Markin.
"Explains the Mark's on our heads." Raith said as he looked me over. I kept tapping my fingers and avoided his eyes.
Was going to South Dakota for his friend's wedding.
Never went to Thailand.
No enemies to speak of.
And not a single Exorcist, Reaper, or supernatural thing in his entire family.
"The wards aren't coming down if we die, they just get harder to undo." I bit my lower lip and tapped my fingers. "They're pissed and now they want us dead."
"Rookie mistake." Tessa shook her head. "It's only going to throw kinks in whatever they want."
"What?" Dirk asked as tried to put on my best smile.
"Anyone who can access the Field can see that we have Marks on our heads." I crossed my arms. "How far would you go to stay alive? I mean the only way to remove a Mark is either get your respective governments to make them go away or kill the person who put it up in the first place. I don't know about you, but Conclave is still pissed at me. They might be happy to take a sword to my neck just so that they have a Debt against whoever put it up in the first place."
Debts are taken seriously where I come from. Because magic is binding to a wizard's thoughts and feelings, to basically every aspect of them, Debts get magically charged because, I suppose, honor before reason. Debts are leverage that one magical creature from the abyss can use against other, and if the Conclave got their hands on me, they could use the Debt from my death to use against whoever put the Mark up for one single action of equal value.
Suddenly the black cloak person made sense.
"Oh hell, I'm not going to back the Kingdom of Air." Chuck shook his head. "Where do we find the son of a bitch who put it up again?"
"Somewhere in South Dakota there is a wedding that Markin was going to that we need to get to." I bit the inner lining of my cheek. "Our warlock will be there. We axe them, destroy Kathleen's object, Kathleen crosses over and we don't have Marks on our heads anymore."
That son of a bitch tried to kill me outside the hospital...
"Williams, what is it?" Raith asked as I moved only my eyes. "You have a look on your face. The one that usually ends with you doing something stupid."
...when we tried to make Kathleen crossover. How could we have had Marks on our heads then?
"Nothing." I shook my head and tried to smile. "Someone should go question Kathleen-"
"Oh, oh, pick me!" Chuck raised his hand like preschooler. "Me, me!"
"-About who's wedding we could possibly be going to." I raised an eyebrow as everyone else sighed and gestured for Chuck to go ahead. I looked over at Tessa and she just rolled her eyes.
"Chuck, what are you going to ask her?" Tessa asked, her voice bored and annoyed with every word.
"Which one of her friends are about to lose their freedom and get laid all in the same night, duh." Chuck spring up from the table and smoothed out his clothes.
I sat there and repeated what he said in my head. I tilted my head and watched him just smile brightly at me.
"Well that's how mortal weddings work, right?" He looked around a bit. "Anyways, it's a total sausage-fest up here. I mean, there is Tessa, but she can make on command, and that's just no fun. Then there's Piper..." He grinned. "You're welcome to come along for a ride."
"Picking on the weak and lame now, Chuck?" Raith asked as I tried to figure out which of them I should hit first. My mouth seemed stunned. I know, I thought it was weird for me too.
"No way man. See, between that street-wise hero act she's got and her daddy's big blue's," He clicked his teeth. "You know what they say, sticks and stones may break my bones but chicks with guns excite me." He grinned. "After all, she's single and rockin' it. Nice top, by the way."
I took a sharp breath in through my nose and gritted my teeth.
I swear I'm going to burn this thing.
"Get out." Raith and I said in perfect time. I zipped up my jacket and gripped it close as extra insurance.
"I could use a conversation with less territorial breasts anyways." He shrugged and looked around bored. He turned around and walked toward the stairs, the sound of him walking away playing as background noise as we watched him. "You know what this place needs? A secretary. A nice leggy secretary that could help out for with these things. She could even be a ghost."
"And we're not keeping her!" Dirk added as Chuck made it to the end of the hallway. "She's going back to where she belongs!"
"I know, isn't it great?!" He said excitedly from around a corner. "If you excuse me, I got a ghost woman to go comfort with my massive intellect."
There was the sound of him jogging down the first few steps before we sat in a brief silence.
"Oh you have to kidding." I said letting go of my jacket and sitting back against my chair.
"We mostly just tell him to shut up and deliberately forget how to do math." Dirk shrugged as Tessa looked like she was about to bang her head into the table. "Get a few historical facts wrong and he'll start banging his head against a wall."
"Giving him crap TV also shuts him up for at least an hour." Tessa shrugged. "Don't ask me why, I don't question what works."
I silently nodded. Just when I thought I could get away from people like Chuck, they end up being someone I have to live with. Just my luck.
I said something about grabbing a directory and looking up weddings as I got up from the table. I cleared my throat, recounted the facts that were in front of me, and then silently wondered if it was time to take the stitches out yet. I brushed the hair out of my face and Raith watched me walk back to my room to snag a few things.
I listened for a moment as Tessa told Dirk about how stories of how couples who couldn't tell each other how much they loved one another were Chuck's favorite. Something about how two people could be completely obsessed with each other, a twisted mix of hate and love, just floated his boat like he had won the lottery.
"...Williams? You okay?" He asked apprehensively. I looked over and put on my best smile.
"I'm fine." I said as calmly. "Guys, I think our lives just got a lot easier."
Tessa and Dirk looked up as Raith crossed his arms again. He raised an eyebrow and waited for my follow up.
"Markin was married." I smiled a little more naturally. "It's time to see if the misses came with him."