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A note from Fox-Trot-9

Written on 7/15/17. Camp NaNoWriMo, July 2017 edition.


Warning(s): traumatizing content (self harm).

Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal . . .

—H. P. Lovecraft,
"The Tomb"


1


The telephone started ringing downstairs, so their father got to his feet and said to Mara and Nico that it might be their mother, or at least he hoped it was their mother. With any luck, he told them, he might convince their mother to come back over the phone.

Their father went downstairs, and when they heard him picking up the phone and talking to their mother, both girls sprinted into their room. Nico and Mara came to their phone on the nightstand, and Nico picked up the receiver, holding it next to Mara, so they could listen in on their parents' conversation.

". . . down, okay? Calm down!" their father said. "Just tell me what's going on?"

Her voice came on the phone, huffing and puffing through the static. "I'm in a weird place, but I . . ." The connection cut itself out, then came back on with more huffing and puffing. ". . . and someone's after me! I can . . ." The connection cut itself out, then came back on.

"Did you call the police?" he said, raising his voice. "Fuck's going on here? Hey, hey, are you there?"

"I did, but . . ." The connection cut itself out, then came back on.

"Where are you?" he said. "I can barely hear what you're saying! There's too much noise! Where are you?"

". . . don't know where I am right now! I just . . ." The connection cut itself out, then came back on. Now she was sobbing through the static, saying, "I wanna get out of here! I just wanna get out of here . . ."

The connection cut itself out again, with only their father yelling at the other end of the phone. "Lucy? Lucy? LUCYYYYY?" No answer came back, and no static ran through the line. Only the dial tone came through. "Fuck!" The receiver slammed onto the cradle, killing the connection. Their father yelled from downstairs, "Girls, call the cops! Something's happened to your mother!"

Nico slammed the receiver on the cradle, then picked it up and dialed 9-1-1, holding the receiver with shaky hands, saying, "Something's happened to my mom! . . . Her name's Lucy Cairns, and this is her daughter, Nico Cairns! . . ."

Footsteps came running up the stairs and into the hall, and he barged through the door and said, "I'm gonna go get one of the neighbors to watch over the house. Stay on the line, till I get back, okay?"

Mara said, "But Dad, we—"

"No buts, just watch over the house," their father said. "I'll be back with the neighbor!" And he ran back down the hall and down the stairs and opened the front door.

All the while, Nico kept talking to the dispatcher, saying, "I don't know! She said she was in a weird place, but I don't know where! . . . She called the house, and my dad answered, and my sister and I listened, and we heard our mom say someone's after her! . . . I don't know!"

Mara rushed to the bedroom window and opened the shutters, looking over the front entrance, where she saw her father rushing out and running down the street to the next-door neighbor's house—

Before disappearing into a dark haze.

Mara sucked in breath. "What the hell? Where did he go? I can't see Dad anywhere!"

Nico took the receiver from her ear, saying, "WHAT?"

"I saw Dad disappear! I can't see him anywhere!"

Nico rushed to the window, dropping the phone with the voice at the other end of the landline that was screaming for what was going on, before cutting out completely.

Nico pressed her face to the window, and both sisters looked outside.

Nico said, "Where is he?"

"I don't know! He just flat-out disappeared!"

Both sisters were about to start an argument when they witnessed a man that wasn't their father appearing out of the haze, almost out of nowhere, wearing a white suit over a black shirt, and possibly wearing black gloves. He seemed strange but still human, till he raised his gaze to their window with a pair of red glowing eyes.

They slammed the shutters.

Then Mara remembered the front door left open. "Shit!" She sprinted out of the room, saying, "Dad forgot to close the door!"

Nico cursed, following her sister through the hall and down the stairs, both now racing to the door before the stranger could get inside the house.

As one, both sisters slammed the door closed and locked it, then backed away towards the stairs. They looked around the inside of their house and noticed some of the shutters, still open.

"Close the shutters!" Nico said, running towards the windows and slamming all the shutters in the family room, kitchen, dining room, and living room, while Mara ran up the stairs and into the upstairs bedrooms and home offices slamming all the shutters.

Mara then raced back down the stairs and met her sister dialing 9-1-1 from the family desk phone, holding the receiver up to her ear. Nico held it out to Mara to listen, but both sisters only heard the dial tone.

"Fuck!" Nico said, slamming the receiver on the cradle. "Mara, the phone upstairs—I forgot to hang it up!"

Mara cursed, then sprinted up the stairs and through the hall and into their bedroom, where she saw the receiver left on the floor. She ran to it, swooping it up and slamming it back on the cradle, then ran back into the hall and yelled from upstairs, "It's back on! You should be able to call the police now!"

Mara hastened back down the stairs as her sister was dialing 9-1-1 again, and she and Nico listened to the receiver between them, but instead of the police dispatcher, a different voice came on the line.

The voice said, "Ah, it took you long enough!"

Nico said, "Who is this?"

"Oh, just a visitor from the Phantom Realms," the voice said. "I've heard you had a family emergency, so I came to your house to see if you were doing okay, and it seems you are!"

"You're the creep outside our house!"

The voice on the other end chuckled. "Creep? Creep? Creep doesn't describe me at all! Don't just a man when you haven't walked a mile in his shoes, till you know what it's like to lose the very people you hold dear, and you haven't lost a FUCKING THING since you were born!"

Mara grabbed the receiver closer to her, saying, "Hey, don't fucking talk to her that way! You're not getting in, so what do you want?"

"Oooooh, a different voice, and a feisty one, too," the voice continued, chucking over the line. "Now that I've heard of both of you in person, let me guess your names. Hmmmmmm . . . How about this? Mara Cairns and Nico Cairns! Am I right? Am I right? Am I right? Am I fucking RIGHT?"

Both girls slammed the receiver back onto the cradle, cursing.

"Who the hell was that guy?" Nico.

"How should I know?" Mara said, sprinting up the stairs and into the hall, with Nico following under tow. "He's got all the phone lines tapped!"

Both girls ran into their bedroom and slammed the door shut.

"Get the smartphones!" Nico ordered, while she got a chair from the desk and propped it under the door knob.

Mara grabbed both of their smartphones from the nightstands, and threw one of them for Nico to catch, then dialed for 9-1-1, praying that for the police dispatcher—

"Hello, hello, hello," the voice said.

"Fuck you!" Mara said, then threw her smartphone against the wall, shattering it to pieces.

Nico, however, didn't call for 9-1-1. She called for her mother's phone number, and was waiting for her mother to pick up on the other end.

Mara came over to her sister, saying, "Any luck?"

"I'm trying to call our mom," she said, and she held it out to her sister, so that they could listen together, both hoping against sanity that this would work, hoping to hear their mother's voice on the other end.

"Who is this? Who are you?" their mother said over the line.

"MOM!" both girls yelled.

"Mara, Nico, is that you?"

"Oh my God, where are you?" Mara said.

"And where's Dad?" Nico added.

"I . . . I don't know, honey," their mother said. "But I'm with your father, and—Hey! HEY, GIVE IT BACK, BASTARD!"

Another voice, the same voice that had been dogging the girls in their own house, said over the connection, "Why didn't you tell me you wanted to see your parents?"

"WHERE DID YOU TAKE OUR PARENTS?" Nico screamed.

"No need to shout!" the voice said. "I'll personally take you both to your parents. It'll be a family reunion!"

And no sooner had he said those words when darkness flooded their bedroom, blacking everything out into a nameless and formless void, where all things are one and the same, where the first meets the last, where everything meets nothing, where the past meets the future, and where eternity meets the now. Here, there was no happiness, no hope, no love, no life, and even no soul. Here, there was nothing to raise the spirit or set it free. There was only the sleep of eternity—

Only the sleep of death.


2


During their interval of sleep, another girl with bobbed dark hair and teal eyes, dressed in a Shad-Row Academy uniform and an oversized hand-me-down jacket, rushed down through the backstage area and spotted Rancaster smoothing out the creases on the sleeves of his white jacket just before he entrance onstage. She caught up to him, saying, “Rancaster!”

The man turned and greeted her with a smile, saying, “Ah, I’m glad you could make it, bambina,” and he patted the back of her head as she was bent over trying to catch her breath. “I was beginning to think you wouldn’t show up, but you know what they say: better late than—”

“Enough already,” she said, regaining her breath, then walked up to him and looked him in the eyes. “Why are you doing this?”

“I’m doing this for you,” he said.

“I don’t want this!” she said. “Let them go!”

“Oh, come, come, bambina,” he said and led her up the backstairs towards the far side of the stage close to the pulleys and ropes operating the stage curtains, where he pointed out Mr. and Mrs. Cairns in a pair of chairs beneath the track lights calling out to their daughters sleeping in another pair of chairs on the other side of the stage. “Those girls over there, do you know them?”

She shook her head but added, “Don’t do this.”

“You don’t know them, bambina,” he said, “just as they don’t know you. You’ve never walked in their shoes before, nor have they walked in yours. You’re complete strangers.”

“But that doesn’t mean—”

“What about those two before us?” Rancaster added, pointing to the frantic parents of these sleeping girls yelling for them to wake up. “Do you know either of them?”

She said, “No, I don’t, but—”

“That’s right, bambina,” he said. “You don’t know them, but I do. I’ve watched those two tyrants wage endless arguments over petty matters between themselves, putting their daughters through an endless succession of sleepless nights. You’ve never witnessed the torments those two girls have had to suffer, just as they have never witnessed the hell you’ve suffered at the hands of your father. Your experiences and theirs are mutually exclusive, but misery loves company.”

“Don’t do this, please,” she said and grabbed a hold of Rancaster’s sleeve before he went onstage.

Yet he grabbed her hand, freezing her in place under his psychic restraint, and said, “I’m doing this for you, bambina. Remember that. Just wait here like a good little girl, and once those girls over there wake up, enjoy the show.”


3


When Mara and Nico finally woke up, they found themselves lying on the stage, blinded by the limelight from the back wall, in front of a theater filled with spectators, who applauded their awakening into the show, the night's entertainment in the Labyrinth of the Phantom Realms.

Both girls looked around, then saw their parents sitting on chairs on the other side of the stage. Both girls called for their mom and dad, bolting towards them, then slamming against an invisible force field in the middle of the stage, knocking themselves out on impact and falling backwards with a dual heavy thud onto the stage.

Laughter broke out amongst the crowd, followed by a grand applause, while their parents struggled against Rancaster’s psychic restraints, restraining them to their chairs, their mouths kept shut with another of his psychic restraints.

More laughter broke out over their parents' antics, nudging their chairs as they struggled to get free, and merely making incoherent noises.

Then the host of the show walked onto the stage, spotlighted in the limelight, whistling an old ragtime tune. He wore a white suit over a black shirt and black gloves, like before, and was swinging a cane around in circles in one hand, and his other hand in his pocket.

Then he stopped where the girls lay unconscious on the floor, then looked up at the audience, then looked back down on the girls, then said, "Now that's gotta leave a mark."

A new burst of laughter rose from the audience.

He then raised his hand in the air and snapped his fingers, and a table and two chairs plopped onto the stage. He snapped his fingers again, and two revolvers plopped onto the table.

When the parents saw those guns, they panicked and struggled against their restraints, till they tired themselves out and slouched forward in their chairs.

But ever the showman, the man stood before his audience and said, "Before we begin tonight's main event, let me tell you something about this family," and he gestured at the prone girls on the stage and their parents still struggling against the restraints on their chairs.

"This family is a broken family, one of a myriad of broken families in this world. They were once a happy family, but like all broken families, their happiness could not last, because the very pillars that should have held them together . . . crumbled. You see, although they say they loved their children, they couldn't see the pain their constant bickering was causing them, until it was too late. Their children loved them unconditionally and saw past the very faults that they themselves could not reconcile within each other."

In the silence of the crowd, his words moved many to tears of sympathy, yet the tears the parents of Nico and Mara Cairns shed were those of shame. Nonetheless, they bowed their heads low in penitence, their faces scrunched up in agony, as tears trailed down their faces and unthinkable thoughts flooded their minds and unshakable feelings flooded their hearts.

But the host wasn't moved at all. He just glared at these two sufferers, saying, "You cry now like you cried then—at the very end, when it was too late to reconcile, and only later (as now) do you realize your mistake. You two make me sick! In the course of your married lives, you've forgotten what it was like to be children, to sympathize with their needs and their wants! Instead, you two were consumed in your own needs and your own wants! You were blinded by your own selves, and your children paid the price! They looked for that love in their bodies, because they could not find it in YOU!"

He then turned to the audience and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, let the show begin!"


4


After witnessing the straining effects her blood spell put her through, Colbie and Kendra wanted Celia to rest for a while, but Celia wouldn't have it. She put on her sweater and overcoat and said, "There's no way I'm letting you two go out there alone. You need my help, and you know it!"

"But that spell took a lot out of you," Kendra said. "You need to stay here and rest!"

Colbie added, "I'll teleport us there myself!"

"Colbie, you can't teleport that distance!"

"I can try, damn it!"

"I won't let you," Celia said. "The greater the distance, the worse your accuracy!"

Colbie took her last remark like a low blow, curling her hands into fists and saying, “Don’t be an asshole about it, geez!”

“I’m just telling the truth,” she said.

"Celia, be reasonable," Kendra said. "You heard what Connie said. There's something out there that has the whole police department on edge. You'll become a liability if we can't protect you and Mara while we're there! It's not only our lives on the line, it's Mara's, too!"

Celia paused, giving it thought, then said, "I'll teleport us to Mara's location, and then I'll teleport Mara to the hospital. After that, I'm going back there with you, and you can chew me out all you want. I don't care! But I'm not letting you out of my sight, got that? And if you've got a problem with that, you can shove it up your asses, 'cause I'm not taking 'No' for an answer!"

Colbie and Kendra stood silent, because they rarely ever saw Celia get this angry.

So Kendra said, "Fine. Have it your way."

With that, Celia released her spell, and a magic circle of pink roses appeared on the ground encompassing herself and her friends, then blinked them out of sight.


5


Mara and Nico woke up to another riotous applause from the audience, and found themselves seated around a table, facing each other but unable to move from their chairs. Both sisters squinted under the light of the limelight, spotlighting them and their table. Then both sisters saw the guns on the table, and both recognized the peril they were now in.

They looked around the stage and saw the man in the white suit, the man that had dogged them in their parents' house, wearing a sardonic smile that crept hideously into his eyes. And from those eyes blazed the fires of Judgement and Hell.

And he was standing between their parents, still seated at their chairs on the stage, still restrained under psychic restraints invisible to human eyes, still psychically gagged, unable to speak but still able to struggle helplessly in their seats. And both sisters saw the panic in their eyes and the tears on their faces, their expressions contorted into hideous portraits of unimaginable guilt and fear.

Nico screamed, sobbing, "Why are you doing this?"

"Why do you have to be so cruel?" Mara screamed, also sobbing. "We never did anything to you!"

"If you survive this game, I'll tell you," the man said, then added, "but I'm not as heartless as you think. To most, I am the Raven Man, but as a gift to you, you'll know the real name of your judge. I am Lord Aaron Rancaster, 6th Baronet Rancaster, the last of the Rancaster Baronetcy."

At those words, collective gasps resounded through the audience, for there on the stage in their midst stood a living legend, long thought to be dead after decades of rumor.

Then a silence fell upon the theater.

But ever the showman, Lord Rancaster announced, "Rules are simple. You'll only have one shot, one chance."

Both sisters started cursing at the man, both hot with vengeance and fear, then started begging him to stop with tears streaming down their faces, while their parents renewed their struggles on their chairs, but to no avail.

He continued, "You have two six-shot revolvers before you, both loaded with six rounds each. I will give you until the count of ten to grab your guns and aim them to your heads and fire. Should both of you or one of you survive, I'll set you free to go. And should you wish for it, I'll even let you say your final farewells to your parents before you go out into the world. But," he stressed, "should both of you die in the attempt, I'll kill both of your parents immediately. Whether you go to Heaven or Hell, it matters not to me. In the end, I'm only a mortal judge. I'll let God judge for Himself."

He then raised his hand in the air and snapped his fingers, and now the game began.

A psychic force flooded through the sisters' bodies, taking control of their bodily movements, moving in sync with each other, despite their struggles to resist.

"One!" Lord Rancaster said.

They struggled and struggled against their movements, contorting their faces in agony, trying to restrain themselves, but both reached for the guns.

"Two!"

They struggled and struggled, renewing their efforts to take control of their arms and hands, straining against their chairs, while their parents looked on in agony, but both picked them up from the table.

"Three!"

They continued their helpless struggles against their movements, doubling their efforts as they now began to sweat, squinting and contorting their expressions into uglier portraits of terror, struggling as they raised their guns to their heads.

"Four!"

But then a miracle happened. With all their strength of will, both girls managed to stop the advance, halting the guns from pointing directly at their heads, eliciting gasps of shock and awe from the audience.

"Five!"

Both girls continued their struggles, neither one making much progress, straining against the psychic force that threatened the end of their lives.

"Six!"

And during their mutual struggles, one sister, Mara, awakened her latent psychokinesis, and waves of psychic energy flooded the stage and flooded the crowds, rousing them into an uproar when they witnessed her pulling the gun away from her head.

"Seven!"

But her sister, Nico, lacked the strength to endure any longer, and little by little, inch by agonizing inch, the barrel of her gun lowered and lowered and lowered, as tears now trailed her eyes.

"Eight!"

Now in a panic, Mara screamed, tears welling up in her eyes, "Nico, please, please, you have to keep trying!"

"I am, but I can't! It's too much for me!"

"Nine!"

"You have to keep trying," Mara screamed, her tears streaming down her face, "I'm begging you, sis, I'm begging you!"

But neither words nor strength of will could reach her sister in time, as the gun now pointed directly at her sister's head, with Nico now sobbing and saying, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, sis, I can't do it anymore! I'M SORRYYYYYY!"

"Ten!"

And just before both shots rang out across the stage and through the theater, Mara screamed, "NICOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"


6


A magic circle of pink roses appeared on the abandoned grounds of the Rancaster district, encompassing the trio of Celia and Colbie and Kendra, where they sighted the old drugstore at a corner of the square. For about half an hour, they looked all around the square through a thick and misty haze, looking into various storefronts and old boutiques on each side of the square, but they found no sign of Mara anywhere.

"Where the hell could she be?" Celia said, taking another round of looking through the storefronts of the square with Colbie and Kendra. "We should've found her by now!"

"Maybe she's somewhere else," Colbie said. "We haven't looked anywhere beyond this square yet."

"There's no way she could be anywhere else, I just know it! My blood magic is always spot-on!"

"Well, maybe she woke up and moved somewhere else a little warmer," Colbie said, fluffing up her jacket to keep out the winter breeze. "I know I would in this cold."

"Maybe, but I'm not sure."

"Hey, guys!" Kendra yelled up ahead of them. "I found something."

Colbie and Celia ran towards their friend crouching down next to the entrance of a nearby storefront they hadn't searched yet, just outside the square on the opposite side of the drugstore. Both girls came up to her, breathing out hot clouds misting in the chilly air.

"What did you find," both girls said, looking over Kendra's shoulder, and then both sucked in breath when they saw it.

"Blood," Kendra said. "Do you think it could be Mara's?"

Celia crouched down and put two fingers on the stain, still sticky and fresh, then placed the residue on her tongue.

Colble and Kendra looked away.

Colbie made a face. "Why do you keep doing that?"

"I'm not doing it, because I want to."

"Ugh!" Kendra said, shaking her head. "Why do you witches have to be so freaking weird all the time?"

"Trust me. You don't know what 'weird' is, until you've spent a day with my family. I'm tame compared to them." Celia looked into the storefront and walked in. "She's gotta be somewhere here," but just as Colbie and Kendra passed the threshold, Celia spun around and said, "Don't touch anything in this place."

Both girls said, "Why?"

"This place looks like a specialty pawnshop, one of those old dealerships dealing in cursed items. Don't touch anything, all right?"

Both girls nodded and followed Celia into the back room, where they found a trap door into a hidden basement below their feet. All three girls tensed as the air around the entrance into the basement turned acrid, smelling of blood. Then the sound of laborious breathing and sharp huffs resounded from somewhere deep in the basement, followed by silence.

Then heavy steps came running from the basement.

Colbie cursed, Kendra manifested both guns in her hands, aiming at the trapdoor entrance, and Celia released two spells in quick succession.

A seal of white roses appeared over the trapdoor entrance, covering it with thorny rose stems just in time, when something huge collided against the seal, bending the stems but not completely breaking them.

A sharp cry issued from the basement steps, followed by howling and snarling, attracting more wolves in the vicinity. Other howls resounded from around the district, both far away and close by.

The second seal encompassed all the girls, blinking them out of sight just as the wolf below smashed through the first seal amidst splintering rose stems and fluttering petals, huffing and snarling in pain.

But the spell couldn't complete its circuit, and only dropped them onto their original entry point in the middle of the square.

"Why are we here?" Colbie screamed.

Before Kendra said anything, Celia released another spell, encompassing them in another seal and blinking out of sight, but they kept reappearing at the center of the square.

That's when Kendra realized the terrifying reality of their predicament. She said, "Holy shit, we're screwed! We're fucking screwed!"

"Why?" Colibe said.

Then it clicked in Celia's head. "Please don't tell me—"

"This place is quarantined!" Kendra said. "They got spooked, remember? They just quarantined this place with magic; now we're stuck here with the wolves!"


7


Mara woke up screaming Nico's name in a dark cavernous place, her name echoing and reverberating along the underground. She was a crying wreck of her former self with mucus clogging up her nose and tears running down her clammy face.

After a time, she sat up and felt at her wet clothes, noticing the stains of her sister's blood had completely washed out. She looked at her hand and saw no cuts that she had sustained while struggling with the man's psychic control over her hand, managing to keep the barrel away from her head on the tenth count.

The moment of her sister's death was recorded and soon after submerged into the depths of Mara's subconscious mind, blocking out the details of that particular memory—the terror in her sister's eyes as Mara tried to encourage her, the gun shaking in her hand as it was pointed to her head, and of course the inevitable shot that ended her sister's life. All these details disappeared from Mara's waking mind, but her emotions over that event clung to her like an invisible monster, ripping through her soul even now as tears now trailed her face, and digging up earlier memories of happier times.

Mara and Nico used to explore these endless tunnels in their more innocent childhood dreams, in which Nico was always the brave one, leading Mara by one hand and carrying a lamp in the other. In those dreams, both sisters would eventually reach a lighted underground city filled with friendly ghosts who would show them all the haunts from the days of the Old West before the Baronetcy War ravaged this sacred place.

She now got up beside the glooming shimmer of an underground pond, shimmering from the depths of a nameless watery light. How she escaped that horrible moment on that stage and ended up here, she hadn't a clue.

She was about to go when her foot bumped the kodachi she had wielded against Colbie at the height of her mania. She bent down to get it, and a tingling sensation ran through her grip and up her arm, filling her with grief, for she had shed the blood of an innocent soul.

She collapsed to her knees, clutching the weapon in her hand, her face scrunched in an agony of grief and guilt, as more tears trailed down her cheeks over the death of her beloved sister and that innocent girl who tried to help her. And in her plight, she picked herself up and ran through the tunnels, running aimlessly from the shadow of her guilt and grief-stricken conscience, running and running and running till she tripped and fell headlong through another dreamscape, landing in a field of many flowers amidst a flutter of petals—


8


And into the arms of her sister's embrace, pressing her head onto her sister's bare breasts, shedding her tears onto her skin, wrapping her arms around her waist, tangling her hands in her hair, and planting hungry kisses on her cheeks and lips, only to look into her eyes and see a different girl's face.

It was not the face of her sister, Nico.

It was the face of Colbie Amame.

And in that moment of recognition, she unsheathed her phantom blade and stabbed her bare stomach, bursting the image of Colbie into petals of daisies and roses and purple carnations—


9


And appearing in the square before Colbie and Celia and Kendra amidst a flutter of petals, collapsing onto her hands and knees, several feet outside of Celia's fifth and last row of protective seals. And for a moment, all three girls forgot about the wolves and stared at Mara Cairns right in front of them.

All the while, a pack of enormous wolves prowled the edges of the square, huffing and snarling and sniffing the air, and spotted Mara away from the trio of other girls. They growled and huffed and moved forward into the square towards Mara, eyeing her under their glaring eyes.

And the girl just caught sight of them approaching, when Colbie screamed, "Run for it, Mara!"

Mara scrambled to her feet and ran, while a pair of wolves charged after her.

"Damn it!" Ignoring her friends' protests, Colbie sprinted towards the other girl, reaching out for her and grasping her forearm, then teleporting her back inside the circles of Celia's protective seals.

Right then, the wolves back off and growled at Mara and Colbie, now pacing around Celia's outer-most seal, eyeing the four girls and sniffing at the air, while more wolves entered the square, and several others appeared at the tops of the buildings overlooking the girls' position.

"Shit," Kendra said, looking around and seeing the wolves taking the high ground. "This place is a kill zone!"

Celia said, "Don't you have any silver bullets?"

"How was I supposed to know we were dealing with wolves?"

Celia cursed, then noticed the wolves eyeing her very closely as they circled around her seals. "Guys, they're singling me out. They know I'm in a weakened state right now."

Kendra, Colbie and Mara looked back at her.

Colbie said, "What do you mean?"

"They smell blood on me."

"That blood seal took a lot out of you earlier," Kendra said, getting pissed off now. "If you would've listened to us, we wouldn't be in this shit!"

"If I wasn't here putting up these seals," Celia said, "you two and Mara would be dead right now!"

"That's not gonna matter much, if you keep getting weaker while you keep up those seals," Kendra yelled. "The only reason we risked being here was because you could teleport us out of here on short notice, but since we're quarantined, we're screwed!"

"Well, if you've got any bright ideas, I'd like to hear them," Celia said. "Otherwise, you can shove those words up your ass!"

"Guys!" Colbie said, grabbing a hold of Mara's hand. "Stop arguing; I've got an idea."

All three girls looked at her.

Kendra said, "What is it?"

"Just stay close to me, and hold onto each other's hands," she ordered. "I don't want any of you to get blown away when I do this. Just stay close, and make sure to keep a firm grip. And Celia," she said, "keep your seals up as long as you can. It's gonna get rough, I'm telling you."

Celia nodded. "I'll do what I can."

With that, Colbie focused her mind and imagined being inside of a twister, and just then the air around the seals swirled and blustered to life, backing the wolves away from the girls' position in the square, and began swirling into heavy gales and cutting crosswinds that closed around them. Then Colbie imagined a spiral set of stairs they could climb, and another blast of air lifted the girls from the ground. Taking Mara by her hand, Colbie had each of the others grab each other's hands to form a train, then led them up the spiral stairs made of air inside the tornado, till they reached the top platform ten stories up in the air, out of reach of the wolves that were now scattered from the winds.

When the gales finally dissipated, leaving a blast of air keeping them afloat on the platform above the ground, Colbie said, "All right, Celia, you can release your spell."

Celia was grateful, and on releasing the seal, she fell to her knees in exhaustion, still holding onto Mara and Kendra with both of her hands. "Thank God, now I can rest!"

Even Kendra fell to her knees, not daring to look down at how far she was from the ground, saying, "Girl, I'd kiss you right now, but I can't! I'm still scared of heights!"

"Just bare with it, okay," Colbie said, adding under her breath, "silly girl."

"Stop saying that!"

"Celia," Colbie said, "can you teleport us to the wall? We still have to get past that magic barrier."

"Not while I'm in midair," Celia said. "I can't teleport in the air like you can."

"Okay," Colbie said, smiling at her companions. "We'll do it my way, then. Come on, keep a firm grip on each other's hands," and she led them by the hand across continuous blasts from below their feet, blowing their hair into the sky as they walked on invisible steps.

All the while, Kendra tried everything she could to keep getting woozy from looking below her feet, saying under her breath, "I swear, Colbie, when we get back on the ground, I am so gonna punish you later. Just you wait!"

But they didn't walk far when Colbie noticed Mara's hands shaking from the cold moving air around them.

Colbie stopped, turned and saw that Mara wore no winter clothes, but only had thin sleeping clothes on her. She said, hovering over the roofs of the old shops in the abandoned district, "Hey, Mara, are you cold?"

"Yeah."

"You want my jacket?" Colbie said, taking it off and handing it to her. "Don't worry. I'm actually wearing two sweaters over my uniform. Here, have it."

"Thank you," Mara said, running her arms through the sleeves and smelling the hint of her perfume off it, bringing a little blush to her cheeks.

"No prob," she said and reached for her hand.

Mara obliged and felt a familiar rush pulsing through her. Something about Colbie reminded Mara of her sister, Nico, but she couldn't really place it as she followed her steps across footless paths of wind. Her last vision of making love to Nico when it was really Colbie flashed across her mind, and something in her heart fluttered at the thought of sharing that kind of intimacy with another girl other than Nico. She even remembered something through the storm of her insanity just before she had stabbed Colbie in the stomach, something about Colbie wanting to be her sister. It was a foolhardy promise, but a noble one in light of her sister's death, which she still couldn't accept in her heart. Nothing would ever replace Nico's affections, but Mara wanted to be Colbie's friend, anyway.

For the next several minutes, they followed Colbie's air-borne path in single file, till they got to the perimeter of the guard walls surrounding the district. Colbie calmed the blasts, descending till the girls were close enough to alight safely to the ground, before dissipating the winds entirely.

She said, "So what do we do about this barrier?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Kendra said, manifesting an enormous anti-tank rifle. "We'll just have to blast through it!"

"You're crazy!" Celia said. "If I can't teleport past it, how the hell do you expect to blast through it?"

"If you’ve got any bright ideas, tell me now," Kendra said. "Otherwise, I'm blasting us out of here! Any ideas?" She waited, glaring back at her companions. "No? Thought so. Now stand back," she added, raising her gun, taking aim at the enchanted wall through the crosshairs of her gun sights, and firing off a blast.

A percussive shock shattered the silence surrounding the neighborhood on either side of the wall, and waves of heat sent up a cloud of dirt and debris overtaking the grounds, startling the pedestrians on the other side and causing them to flee, and stopping traffic and causing the occupants to flee. And for just a few moments, the enchantment shimmered in a rainbow of colors around the point of impact, but once the cloud dissipated, they were disappointed.

The wall enchantment stood firm.

Kendra lowered her rifle and gaped, saying, "You've got to be shitting me! How can it withstand that at point-blank range?"

"Because it's designed to do that, you dummy!" Celia said, shaking the dust and other debris off her clothes. "You can't just go all super-soldier and expect things to work your way. It never works like that!"

"Well, why don't you do something?" Kendra shot back, her giant rifle disappearing as waves of heat began swirling around her. "If you're such a hot shot, then why don't you—"

"I already told you," Celia yelled, clenching her hands into fists. "I can't teleport past that barrier! You already saw what happened in the square!"

"Then shut your trap," Kendra said, then mumbling to herself, "Who the hell does she think she is? The Blood Rose Witch? Fucking wannabe!"

Only her words caught the attention of all three girls, and Celia glared at her friend and said through gritted teeth, "You better take that back! Take that back right fucking now!"

Kendra blew her off with a wave of her hand. "Make me, bitch."

"Calm down, you two!" Colbie said.

But neither girl calmed down. In fact, Kendra manifested hand guns in both hands, each with the hammers pulled back, while Celia threw up protection seals, and was about to place a blood seal on Kendra before she could fire any shots her way.

Before it escalated any further, Colbie screamed, "I said, calm down!" And she sent a gale barreling at them, toppling both girls off their feet amidst more flying debris and landing on their butts.

"What the hell?" Kendra said, glaring at her friend. "Are you trying to kill me or something?"

"You could've said something before doing that," Celia said, picking herself off the ground, shaking more dust off her clothes.

"I did try to say something, but you two weren't listening!" she said. "And if you haven't noticed yet, we're still stuck here!"

"Then why don't you do something?" Kendra said.

"I am, but I can't even hear myself think when you're fighting! So can you two just cool it for once?" Colbie said. "We still have to get out of here, you know."

"Then you two can fuck off!" Kendra said, walking in the opposite direction. "I'll find my own way out!"

Colbie said, "Kendra, come on; we need your help!"

"Forget her, Colbie," Celia said. "I've just about had it with her bullshit for one day."

Colbie just stared at her friend in shock. She may have expected something like this from Kendra, but not Celia.

Which wasn't lost on Mara in the slightest, either. Through it all, Mara had watched their fighting in disgust, as memories of her parents' last fight surged through her mind like residual dreamscapes of a former life. Tears welled up in her eyes at the thought of Nico Cairns' sacrifice being disgraced with the same petty bullshit that had warped the bonds of her family into broken shards of pain. The specter of her broken home was shadowing her when she had escaped it just a short while ago, waking up screaming her sister's name in the void of her own despair—

And now screaming at the impostors before her, screaming with the force of a sonic boom: "You made a promise! You made a promise to my sister, and YOU LIIIIIIIIIIIIIED!"

And all at once, huge waves of psychic energy flowed through the air around the girls, and all the girls stopped bickering. Colbie and Celia turned and faced her against the on-coming rush of psychic currents, and even Kendra looked back at the epicenter of rage that had become Mara Cairns.

And like a sonic boom, her accusation scraped across the magic barrier, cracking it for yards along a stretch of wall, but she wasn't finished yet. Her kodachi manifested in her hands, and in one blind arc across the wall, she cut through the enchantment with a series of detonations blasting through it, sending concrete and twisted metal and clouds of debris flying through the air across the now-empty street and into the buildings on the other side, toppling the girls right off their feet.

When the dust settled and the smoke cleared, Mara was left standing in the rubble that had once been a whole block of wall along the street, barely holding her kodachi, and now falling to her knees and collapsing to the ground.

Right in front of Colbie and Celia and Kendra.

All three girls came running to her side, fearing that the worst had happened, that her body had given out and her mind had been submerged into the sleep of death.


つづく

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About the author

Fox-Trot-9

Bio: From Las Vegas, NV, welcome to my profile, RoyalRoadsters! I'm Foxy, the fluffy butt-stabber! I'm weird, introverted, impatient, cheerful (half the time), and friendly. I'm a Catholic, a former college student, a dream diarist, an amateur poet and short story writer and novelist, and a chronic perfectionist, ugh!

Genres I write include dark fantasy, gothic, magical girl, occult detective, action, thriller, horror, genre mashups, LGBT, and a dash of ecchi.

Genres I read include whatever catches my fancy. Who knows? It might be one of yours!

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