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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2135327-Ghost-Steps-Ch-1-draft
by Poeros
Rated: GC · Chapter · Sci-fi · #2135327
When your master shoos you away, a mythical monster has to keep themselves busy somehow.

Page | 17

"I recall previous discussions we've had about better sources of nutrition for you," Vainya said, his voice is a deep rumble that always reminds me of thunderstorms.

I piled black soil up over the bones of Kathy, patting it into place. When my hands were free of the spot, the raised tree root lowered itself once more to bury the remains. I gave it a pat in thanks once it had settled with a creaking groan. It hid my stomach's growls.

"And I recall saying I wouldn't eat children." I rose and dusted off my knees. "I know I haven't been human for a long time, but I can't say the idea agrees with me. At least with the elderly, it feels more like a mercy killing." My tongue brushed against something lodged between my teeth and I tried to suck it out. "More mercy than the living is willing to give them." I used a finger to wrestle free the bit of sinew lodged between my molars. Looking it over, I flicked it to the side.

"Most humans are accepting of veal. You are justified in eating their own young if they are doing so to another species." His long claws scraped across the hard floor from inside the manor. I looked over to see he made himself comfortable in a place that overlooked the black forest about us. "At least select some that are not on the verge of death. Your present method is leaving you in varying stages of starvation. This is not a thing I want to command you to do."

I looked over my shoulder to huff at Vainya,

His vibrant red eyes studied me with a thoughtful expression. At first glance, it is easy to mistake him for a large feline or a horse. But Vainya didn't appear as any one animal, but a blend of several. He is large and feline like in body save for having the head of a wolf and a long serpent tail that curls about his body. Adorning his head, two horns rise and curl into deadly tips. Though difficult to see when he sat on his hunches or laid on his side, his front is covered in thick dragon scales. They start about his throat and spread down and outward to covered his belly before fading into his shaggy soot colored fur.

He regarded me in silence, his tail flicking on the ground behind him, "Must we discuss your slow descent into anorexia?"

I threw my hands up into the air. "For fucks sakes, Vainya. Not all of us can get by on chocolate truffles and apple turnovers like you. My food requirements are more demanding than your own."

His ears flicked back flat against his head and red eyes narrowed at me. "You will not change the purpose of this discussion by pointing out the difference in our dietary needs. And yes, it's an old discussion, one we've had a hundred times, but if I'm not reading then all else I'm doing is prodding at you to be a better...hmm... creature." His lips pulled back to expose sharp teeth. A terrifying grin to those not used to it.

I scoffed. Vainya didn't need to eat but elected to keep a sense of taste and therefore possessed one monster of a sweet tooth. If I wasn't making cakes, I was making cookies. When he didn't want cookies, then it was eclairs. I created a poster sized flow chart to refer to when he is indecisive about his sweets.

"It's not super easy to abduct people these days," I said. "I can't yank them off the street like I did a hundred years ago."

"Then consider taking some work that will also allow you easy feeding. You have not taken a job in several weeks and it is showing with your restlessness. Perhaps play around with some young buck of a man. When he inevitably upsets you, you'll have clear conscience to eat him."

I whined, but then I as I thought on it I realized Vainya was trying to get a rise out of me and it was working. Hunger and frustration don't mix well. Especially when trying to match wits with a creature that knows everything.

"Maybe you should get a job. You sit around and read all day and it's showing," I said as I gestured a hand towards his hindquarters.

He canted his head, his eyes crinkled up in amusement. "I'm showing proof of my dedication, so sayeth the Master of the Well of Knowledge."

"You should talk to the Well and see if it can give you some currency for all those words you read. Food isn't cheap and you eat more than your fair share."

"What is that new human word? The one where they become cranky when they are hungry?"

"It's called hangry," I supplied. "Hey-n-gree."

He nodded. "You are growing hangry." Another flick of his tale and he rose to all fours. "Go to the mortal realm and pick up the post. Perhaps you can find a homeless person to devour. Take that thing with you. I don't want its influence affecting the manor."

I didn't gag at the suggestion, but it was a close call. "You don't need to send me out for walkies. Homeless people are off the table since I never know if they are an uncover cop or not. Could we consider getting you an email soon? Even I have a cell phone." I pulled mine out and showed it with what I felt was exceptional jazz hands.

His head turned, red eyes narrowing again. "Even if it were possible for technology to function as it was meant to here, I prefer my mail in paper. I enjoy the feel of it against the pads of my paws. Go forth and collect the mail, Ghost. Thus, I command, do not step back inside until you've found something to resolve your hangry state," he said with a tone that transitioned from chiding old friend to admonishing father.

I clenched my jaw as the command slammed into my body, the tattoos along my forearms stinging. It's rare that I am commanded, but it is binding. Vainya's commands are to be followed as intended, not to the letter. Such wiggle room was for demons and fae.

My feet were already taking me around the manor and towards the front door. "You're being a hipster!" I yelled over my shoulder.

His chuffing laughter reached my ears while I soldier marched to the front door. It opened on its own and the coat stand by the door leaned out to display my gray parka and scarf.

"At least you love me," I told the building, giving the door frame a pat. "I need Silence, as well, please."

The building creaked and a section of the wall I was facing to reveal a sword mounted in a glass case. I walked over to it and placed my hand over the top of it to examine the blade. Silence took on the appearance of a simple machete when he wasn't with me. There is no guard to separate the blade and handle, the hilt covered in a tightly wove black cord. His length is pitch black save where it faded away into bright silver near the edge. At my nearness, red runes that spelled his name in Old Norse illuminated along the spine of the blade.

The glass melted away from my hand and I reached inside to pick up the blade and the sheath next to it. The will of it flowed into me, merging with my own consciousness. The eagerness to deal death, to watch blood flow over the length of the blade, and to see the fading expression of one I killed filled my mind. I pushed the urges from my thoughts with a shake of my head. The hilt was warm in my grasp and sent a pleasant vibration up my arm in way of greeting.

I love you, as well, Silence said within my mind. You make men pled before they die. Warm blood and soft cries.

I stared down at the knife in my hand with an arched eyebrow. "You made a haiku?"

I was bored, the blade responded in a yawning voice. Did you eat the disgusting thing?

"Yes. You could have come with me."

You can eat the living dead, if you want. It is not worthy prey for me. No challenge. No enjoyment. Just putting something out of its misery. It's pathetic.

"Well, we can't all be ruthlessly evil possessed blades like you."

A pity.

Shaking my head, I made sure Silence was secure in the shift at the small of my back before working on my jacket.

Are we taking work? I want something with lots of blood and death. The last job was borning.

"We dealt with a group of Aswangs. How was that boring?"

It was boring because you scared them out of the village. There was no death. No blood. I practically slept through the experience.

I rolled my eyes and started walking. "No promises, but I'll see what's available."

Vainya is right, by the way.

I frowned as I walked. "What do you mean?"

You need to eat. Actually eat. The garbage you've settled is not working. Your moods have teeter tottered from depression to temperamental for the last few days. If I wanted to deal with the mood swings of a teenage girl, I'd be with them and not you.

"You don't really have a say on that point."

If you can pretend that you are fine while starving yourself, I'll pretend that I can pick my wielders.

I wrinkled my nose at that. Having my master and my weapon agreeing on something was never good. But they were right. My feedings hadn't been what they once were. It wasn't uncommon for Vainya to shoo me, from the manor, but when he did it was necessary for both of us. It cost him as well. He disliked any absence longer than a few days at a time. Lacking opposable thumbs and claws for fingers makes trying to feed himself a hindrance, though humorous for me. I'd leave ready-to-eat food--desserts mostly--in the fridge often those days to be safe.

I whistled to myself as I headed to the waypoint at the end of the Well's border. Crafted by myself and Vainya, a dry-stone sphere comprised of a mosaic of stones. Each stone linked to the numerous waypoints on the mortal plane. I leaned over to inspect it and frowned as one had become pitch-black in color. I touched it and an image of a building with flames eating at the walls flashed in my mind. Blowing out a breath out through the corner of my mouth, I straightened up and sought the stone I needed. It still held its steel like color. Too many way points destroyed to human influence or some other epidemic those days.

Pushing the thought from my mind, I placed my hand atop of the sphere and murmured, "Seattle."

The world warped about me and I closed my eyes to keep my vertigo stable as the magic rippled over my skin and ruffled my hair. I frowned, the sensation lasted longer than normal. When I opened my eyes, I looked about in the darkness. Blinking my eyes to adjust them, the details of the shed/art studio became clear. One wall held gardening tools while the other housed canvases, sculptures, and clay in containers. The stone sphere looked at home here.

Opening the door, I found the world outside in a thick blanket of snow with it still falling. The brightness blinded me. I waited until my sight adjusted once more. My last visit there had been a few days prior and while it had been snowing, it hadn't been that intense. Even with it being the late winter season it was the kind of snow I expected in Northern Canada. A cold front, though my senses told me otherwise. Despite the abnormalness of the weather, I welcomed it. I love snow and cold weather the same way lizards bask in the sun.

The building attached to the garage was a large two-story structure with more windows than brick. It had a spacious front yard remained hidden under a thick blanket of snow. In the summer, the grounds would be awash with vibrant plants and herbs maintained by the owner.

Said owner was shoveling snow out of his driveway. The waypoint keeper gave me a chin jut in greeting and went back to his task. Pulling my phone out of my parka, I saw that the battery was close to dead. I wasn't in a hurry to fetch the mail since I couldn't return home anytime soon, and wasn't about to wander around with a useless device.

My attention shifted back to the man. I said, "Hey Carl," to get his attention. He looked back at me as I walked towards him and asked, "What do I have to do to get you to charge my phone?"

He looked over at me with pursed lips. "Help me with the driveway, sidewalk, and that oak in the back."

"What am I doing with the oak?"

"Break it up and turn it into firewood."

I frowned. "It's dead?"

"When the storm came in, it was too much for him. I thought he'd recover, but one of the guests said he died."

An unease settled in my stomach, but I dismissed it into the 'Not my problem' category of my brain. "Carl, that's a lot of labor to ask for from a pretty lady like me. I may break a nail with all that work."

He snorted, a fog of air appearing before his face. On the outside, I don't look all that different than any other human, though I'm taller than most at six feet. I've always been so pale I make Mortician Addams seem tan in comparison. Dark brown messy braids along the sides of my head with metal beads littered about it. I often had it back into a low ponytail at the back my head. There were rune and Norse themed tattoos covering the entirety of both forearms, which I kept covered. My build is stocky with rounded shoulders, lean and defined legs and arms, and solid mid-section.

I wasn't built to look pretty, I was built to fight. And win. "All the women I know, you're the one who cares less about breaking a nail."

I grinned at him. "Could've humored me. Fine. Driveway, sidewalk, and tree," I agreed. He nodded and we both walked back to the building. Reaching the steps, two white canine heads popped out of the snow to watch us.

"Hey there," I said in way of greeting. The two large Tibetan Mastiffs shook themselves free of the snow and followed us up to the door. "You got another one?" I asked Carl, jutting my chin towards the dogs.

"The guild sent him. He's a rookie going by Oscar." He nodded to the leaner of the two, "Good fella so far."

Carl held out his hand and I placed my phone in it. He disappeared inside while I waited on the porch with the two guardians. The smaller one padded closer to me, his nose working along my feet and legs.

"Enjoying the snow?" I asked him.

It is a pleasant diversion from inside the house, the larger of the answered, his voice sounded within my head, Fae of both Summer and Winter courts are residing here. It has been a tense few days.

"I don't envy you. Having trouble with them?"

No. Carl has been a keeper for generations. Diffusing fae tantrums is a simple matter for him.

She smells like blood, Ace. Oscar said, stepping in to sniff at my pant leg, But she's not dead like a Vampire.

"Thanks for noticing," I ruffled the top of the dog's head. "The smell that bad?"

Only to us, Ace said.

I huffed and then fished out a cinnamon stick to chew on. It's good for digestion, concentration and covering up dead grandma smell. "What's up with the Fae?"

Ace sat on his haunches and scratched his ear. They are holding court in the city, from what we can gather. Queen Mab and Queen Titania arrived yesterday.

"Clearly not staying here."

Clearly.

Carl stepped back outside and grunted at me. I followed him as we went back down to the driveway where he tossed me the shovel. We didn't so much work together as he walked in my wake and salted the drive while I bulldozed the snow with the shovel. It was good work we did in silence and I basked in the feel of the cold air against my exposed skin. A few couples walked out of the house, bundled up for the cold, and waved at us as they passed. I watched them maneuver their way to the sidewalk and past the "Solitaire Bed and Breakfast" sign in the yard as I worked. My stomach growled each time a tasty mors--person walked by.

"You workin' right now?" Carl asked as I placed the shovel back on its hook in the garage and picked up the chainsaw he offered me.

"Not yet. I'll pick something up soon." I looked the machine over and nodded. Ace and Oscar followed us as Carl led me to the large oak cracked half down the middle from the weight of the snow. I frowned as I looked it over, allowing my eyes to view it astrally. I blinked at the tree, tilting my head to the side.

"What do you see?" Carl asked, his attention fixed on me.

"Nothing," I said, still frowning.

"Can you be more specific than that?"

I shook my head to clear my vision. "You know everything has a trace of magic in it. Even things that are recently dead have magic inside. There's nothing in the tree. It didn't die in the storm, it's been dead for a while. A few years at the very least, if I had to guess."

"That doesn't sound right. It's still grows leaves and such."

"That's Ghaia's thing. She'll make it bloom, but it's not alive. Either way, the spirit of the tree's long gone. Even a druid couldn't save this." I looked to him. "I thought it was a grove tree."

"It was a grove tree."

We both looked back to the tree in silence. A gush of wind blew, dusting us both in snow.

"Mab always brings the snow with her." I said, brushing snow off my face. "It's going to take a while for me to take care of the tree for you. You want me to take it all down?"

"Just cut up what's fallen. Even if it isn't protecting the waypoint anymore, no sense in losing it completely. It'll be good shade in the summer months."

I shrugged and set the chainsaw down to work off my parka and scarf. I hung them on the oak's remaining limbs. My shoulder holster with my Glock stayed on, but I wasn't worried about others seeing me. There was enough cover from the rest of the trees and snow to keep people peeking from seeing me. In my sports shirt and jeans, most would think I'd lost my mind and call police. Carl went back inside while I set on the tree, leaving me under the watchful eye of Ace and Oscar.

This is degrading, Silence grumbled.

I hefted the chain saw. "What is?"

You making fire wood to get your phone charged. Do they not know who we are? They should charge it for free to remain in our good graces.

"There's nothing wrong with tit-for-tat, Silence. Now cool it or I'll have you turn into an ax and we can do this the old fashion way."

Silence grumbled, but otherwise kept his opinion to himself while I worked. I'd finished cutting the branches into manageable parts when he returned with my phone and cup of something steaming.

"Thanks." He nodded to me while I tucked my phone away and grabbed the mug. I smelled the coffee and sipped at it. It did nothing for me, but I enjoyed the aroma and warmth all the same.

"Anytime." I told him, "You're one of the good ones so keeping you alive works for the rest of us."

He snorted. "We don't live in the Salem Times anymore. The uneducated and fearful don't accused their friends of witchcraft and admit they're innocent after drowning them."

I miss those days, Silence sighed. We had so much work then. Remember that bishop we made raven food in Poland? Good times.

"True." I finished the coffee and handed back the mug before working on my parka, "You want me to pick up anything while I'm out?"

Carl shook his head. "No, we're good here. Thanks."

I nodded to him. "All right." I gave Oscar and Ace head scratches in passing as I trudged through the snow. The dog-guardians escorted me to the sidewalk and watched as I left the property's boundary.

Foo Dogs never trust you.

"The feeling is mutual," I said. "I don't trust myself either."

I slogged to the post office from Carl's place. The snow was the Only thing that made getting about difficult. It crunched under my feet while I walked and slowed my progression as I had to make a path. My trail gone as soon as I forged it, erasing my existence like everyone else. If it had not been falling so heavily I would have been able to catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier ascending into the sky, looking beautiful and innocent.

Or as beautiful and innocent as dormant volcanos can be.

Very few people were out that day. I spotted the occasional group of children running about and hurling snowballs at one another. Adults became more frequent the closer I came to the stores and railway stops. Even on a snow day like that one, people worked.

I had my own work to find. It wouldn't cheer me up, but the distraction would have been welcomed. I pulled out my cell and thumbed through my list of contacts until I reached 'Operator' and texted "I need a number."

I tucked the phone in my parka as I opened the glass door to the post office. Much like the outside world, it held very few people. Twirling the dial of the box, I frowned at the package slip that rested inside along with a postcard. I put the postcard into a pocket without looking at it and fiddled with the package slip while I went to the pick-up counter.

The package required that I return home to deliver it to Vainya. I debated leaving and picking up parcel later when the command to stay away from the manor had been lifted. But mail was always a sensitive subject to Vainya. He couldn't leave the manor when he wanted to and snatched mail up like a fat kid gobbles fried cheese curds. He'd be angry at me for knowing there was mail and not bringing it to him. The command to not return still hummed in my bones, amplifying my dilemma. Damned if I did, damned if I didn't. Rocks and hard places. Pick your preferred idiom.

When I'm banished from the manor, I can't even reach the door. At the very least I could toss the package on the doorstep. Vainya wouldn't know if it was there and would ignore my attempts to get his attention, thinking I was trying to get back in. Or engrossed in his reading. I debated chucking the box through one of the windows of the manor. The package be delivered and I wouldn't have to fight the command. Though that course of action would have me risk the wrath of the manor. The last time I broke a window, it replaced my comfortable futon with a bed of nails.

While I was sleeping on it.

Things would have been so much easier if the manor had a phone.

As I had the thought, my own cell rang. Fumbling the phone and the package, I managed to place it to my ear. "Yes?"

"Seven million," a dispassionate female voice on the other end of my cell said, "upfront if accepted. Another seven million after the job is complete. You're requested by name."

I staggered and came close to tripping into a woman with her toddler waiting at the crosswalk.

"Can you repeat the sum?"

The voice on the other end of the line did.

Fourteen million is a lot of money, Silence said. More than what we normally get.

He was right. Not that I was hurting for cash, but my savings had been drained the month before due to expansions for the manor and Vainya's book requests. Specialty books are not cheap. Fourteen million would keep us cozy for a while.

"Name?" I asked while coming to stand next to the mother and daughter. The former read the sign names to her little one. My eyes lingered on the pair of them and I tried to ignore my watering mouth. As much as I am against eating the small ones, I am prone to my instincts like any other predator. The squeals of children are both horrifying and tantalizing.

"Patrick Allen Green."

I blinked. "I'm sorry. Say that again."

"Patrick Allen Green."

Focus, Ghost, Silence chided. There is killing to be had!

I shook my head and turned my side to the pair while I ordered my thoughts. The name didn't ring any bells, but for that much money he had to be a somebody to someone, "Politics or personal?"

"Both," she said, making my gut cringed.

Assassination for political reasons were the easier ones. Party A pissed off Party B, hires an assassin to kill offender, and that's it. People were upset afterward, but they left Reapers out of that mess.

We were created for that very reason, after all. To kill others.

Jobs combined with personal emotions were always messy. I avoided those when possible. Clients are quick to throw the responsibility of death onto you, even though they hired you to do it. Emotional family and friends leap onto it like flies on honey. Not that I did not don't welcome the food, but there are only so many 'You killed my father!' scenarios you can endure.

The client was requesting me by name. Just a handful of people ever did that.

"Special instructions?"

"Make an example of them."

I paused and worried my bottom lip. I couldn't pull that rabbit out of my ass at the drop of a dime. "The client is insisting?"

"Affirmative."

"Understood and possible. But I'll need an extended time frame."

"Hold, please."

The voice clicked away and I stood there eyeing the people about me. Patrick Green, I thought to myself. Poor sod has pissed off the wrong person.

Don't feel compassion for creatures beneath you, Silence chided. Stab them instead.

My mental rolodex turned and I came up with two people I knew that would request me. With fourteen million as payment, I crossed off one. My frowned deepened. The situation wasn't his style. He had always gone for bigger fish or those who rivaled him.

"Client has approved the request for the extended time-frame," the operator's voice clipped me out of my thoughts. "Will you accept?"

I looked up as the sign changed and walked with the herd. "Yes. Transfer it to my account, please. I'd also like the project details sent my way."

"Confirmed. Funds will be transferred to your account according to procedures. Good hunting."

The call clicked off and I waited until I was across the street to lean against the wall out of the way of the cattl--pedestrians.

I googled Patrick Allen Green on my phone and thumbed my way through the first few results. The consistent findings showed a British botanist with his own consulting website. I looked over his web page, rates, and the type of work he did. There were pictures of him either working with people or looking at some exotic breed of plant. I located a British phone number and with a bit more digging pulled up public records to find his address.

He looks ordinary on all accounts, Silence grumbled. Why does your client want to pay fourteen million dollars to kill him? I was hoping for a challenge.

"Hard to say. We can't judge it just by how he looks on the outside."

In a lot of cases, I don't care about details like that because my targets are more transparent. Rival vampire lord, meddling witch, or even someone being gossiped about on poker night. My work never catered to the mundane. Humans are capable of killing each other without help. The information package would tell a different story, most likely. The info brokers were good about digging up any and everything on someone.

My eyes traveled over Patrick's face and I frowned. It didn't make any sense to me. The logical part of my mind said to do the job and bank the money. My gut sang a different tune. This job was trouble and I was going to regret it.

"Whose stew did you spit in?" I asked my screen before turning it off. A snapping sensation went off in the back of my mind. The command on me was lifted. I could return home, which was good.

What do you need from the house?

"That's where all my guns were kept."

You can kill people without guns. You have me.

"But they make it so much easier."



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