sex in the shower

Ian woke at the crack of noon with his muscles feeling tight, slightly burning as if he’d just gotten back from an intense workout. ‘Though…’ His eyes popped open in surprise when he realized his body wasn’t sore. In fact, he felt refreshed –like he’d just slept ten hours instead of less than half that. He noticed his newest companion was awake next to him on the bed, staring his way through hooded eyes. He turned to her with an expression of wonderment.

She laughed silkily, “It wouldn’t do to tire my lover out only to have to wait for him to recover.” So saying, she moved her hand underneath the covers and began jerking him to hardness. He moaned appreciatively and then sniffed as a heavenly smell caught his attention. He turned to the table where the Archive was flipping through a newspaper and the revenant was back to reading his book.

Atop the table was a box of donuts and two cups of coffee. “I sent the golem out to get breakfast,” she explained.

“Yeah,” the Archive confirmed, sounding impressed. “Don’t ask me how he managed it, though. He sure as hell didn’t have any money with him…” Scraps grunted without looking up and Ian had the notion that his intimidating appearance might have had something to do with it. He felt bad for the teen behind the counter that’d had to face him when he’d ‘asked’ for food.

The succubus directed his thoughts back to her needs as she mounted his hardness and he rested his hands on her creamy hips. “He- …ey,” he said, getting her attention as he began panting, struggling to form coherent thoughts with the heat engulfing his cock. “Just wha- what’s your name anyway?”

She began moving her hips in need, drinking him in eagerly; sucking him dry. She moaned, “Ember.”

“Of course it is,” Ian chuckled.

Ember looked down at the goofy smile plastered on his face and tweaked her hips in response, drawing an answering moan from her lover. “Hush. It’s a beautiful name.”

Ian agreed and said, “It matches your eyes.”

She rolled those same eyes and declared, “The cheese that oozed off that line is going to give me heartburn.”

After Ember was done using him to scratch her itch, they both sat down at the table. She flipped through channels on the basic cable TV, fascinated by just about everything she found. Ian saw her dig into the box and start munching away with a donut in each hand. “You eat?” he exclaimed. “Like… stuff besides sexual energy?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Obviously,” she replied, sounding offended. “Just what the hell do you think I am?”

The Archive gave a snort, but instead of answering simply observed, “There goes your rent money.” She looked around the room at that, as if noticing its dilapidated state for the first time.

“You sure don’t need much,” she commented dryly, brushing off the crumbs that had deigned to fall atop her naked breasts.

Ian, currently trying to figure out ways to get money, grumbled something about the government blowing up his house. The Archive interjected, “Technically, you blew up the house… And don’t blame them, you were going to take off after the summer anyway. Your plan just sucked ass.”

Ember perked up. “I’ve never heard of a necromancer that didn’t belong to one of the main bloodlines living to be your age. You must have been incredibly cautious when you awakened. What’s this about a plan?”

The Archive guffawed and Ian heard, “Go on, go on. Tell her one of your countless get-rich-quick schemes.” He muttered darkly before sighing heavily. Finally, not seeing a reason to hold back and feeling –hoping- that maybe another perspective could provide some insight, he told her what he’d had in mind.

She inhaled another donut and said, waving a hand airily, “So let me get this straight… You want to look through missing person’s ads, because with your power you can tell immediately if the individual is alive or dead -and if they’re dead and their spirit remains behind, you can even find out where the body is and what happened to them? …I knew you guys were morbid, but fucking hell. How depressing can you get? You’re just going to call people all day and say, ‘hey, by the way, your loved one is dead. Search here. Oh, and can you send a check?’”

Put that way, Ian was definitely not looking forward to talking with the family of the deceased. Still… “Well, ideally they’d be alive,” he pointed out, desperately trying to keep his plan afloat while she was poking holes in his logic.

She took a sip of coffee and a grin slowly formed that lit up her whole face. “God! You guys have it good here.”

Ian sputtered, “Y-you can say God?”

Ember glared at him. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” she huffed.

The Archive chortled, “I blame the whole paranormal romance and urban fantasy movements that have started up. It fools people into thinking they know shit about the real world.”

She sighed and decided to ignore his last question. “Yes, you have the advantage of having more ‘searchers’ at your disposal than a normal person. And yes, time and distance is perceived differently in the spirit world, but you’d still have no clue where to send them. Face it, the only people you’re going to find with any chance of success are dead ones,” she took another sip and gave a satisfied sigh.

“Well, how would ‘you’ do it then?” Ian asked exasperated.

Ember shot him an ‘are you really this stupid’ look and said with extreme patience, “Well, if I wasn’t bound to you, I wouldn’t ‘need’ to earn money. I’d just use my ‘assets’ to get whatever I wanted.” With that, she stood and walked to the bathroom, declaring, “I’m taking a shower.”

Ian, his plan in utter ruins, bowed his head in defeat. “Back to square one, I guess,” he muttered. The revenant gave another grunt.

A minute later, the succubus stormed out of the bathroom and grabbed Ian, forcibly dragging him back in with her. “Pay attention,” she growled. The door slammed shut behind them.

The Archive turned to Scraps and lamented, “He’s hopeless…” Scraps just gave an answering rumble, having turned his attention to watching the news.

Ember dragged Ian into the shower, the water having warmed to a level satisfactory to her. He yelped as the scalding water hit him and she sighed insufferably, turning the knob a fraction to the right. “Lesson number two,” she declared, pinning him to the wall. “Your ancillary duties include, but are not limited to, making sure every inch of me is scrubbed clean regularly.”

Ian frowned, starting to think this whole demon business was more trouble than it was worth. That is, of course, before he got a look at her naked body in all its glory, water cascading off her skin and dripping down her curves. “Hey,” she said, waving a bar of soap in front of his enraptured face, “you don’t expect ‘me’ to soap up my own tits, do you?”

He swallowed dryly and shook his head dumbly. A smile formed on her face as Ian’s head fell forward to be surrounded by her glorious, well-endowed boobs. He really was innocent, she thought to herself. She pulled back and presented her nipples in front of his mouth and moaned as his teeth nipped her buds.

She took the minty bar and soaped up his crotch. Then she turned around and presented him with her ass, wiggling it tantalizingly. He groaned at the sight and was powerless against such a tempting target to do anything but line himself up and thrust into her. They both moaned as she encased his hard cock and he decided to take the initiative. Grabbing the bar of soap from her, he began massaging her tits, alternating between tweaking her nipples and squeezing her firm orbs.

Her back arched and she gripped the sides of the shower. “That’s it, baby,” she rasped. Just then, both of them perked up as something hit the wards he’d set up around the motel room.

The Archive shouted, “Ian!”

They both tumbled out of the shower, Ian cursing, “Not again…” They stumbled out of the room as the temporary wards were shredded –the magicians behind the door not even attempting to overpower them this time, but instead choosing to drain what little energy they were imbued with.

Five mages rushed into the room and were held up short as the two girls were shocked to see Ian naked and the three guys were fixated on a nude Ember. He was surprised at just how young they looked. It was hard to tell the age of a magic user, but he sensed they couldn’t have been more than a few years older than him. The door shut behind them and there was a moment of stunned silence as all they did was look incredulous. Then the revenant exploded into action and all five hit the walls in different directions and at awkward angles.

Two were knocked unconscious and the rest were dazed. One redheaded male with freckles and glasses struggled to his feet and tried to erect a shield around his companions. Scraps swiped at it disdainfully, shattering the construct, and kicked the young man into the wall, causing cracks to form along the plaster and leaving an indentation as he slumped to the floor.

By that time, the other two had recovered and a man who was obviously a wizard shot a jet of fire into the chest of the revenant. With all those dry-looking shreds of cloth, Ian half expected him to go up like a tinderbox. Unfortunately for the pyro, the dark tatters actually seemed to eat light itself and flames proved to be no different.

Scraps walked through the oncoming blaze that died almost before it touched him and punted the hapless mage through the front door and into the hallway beyond. A girl Ian assumed was a witch by the way she mumbled her final incantations suddenly disappeared. She’d stayed down while the others kept Scraps busy and had instead concentrated on forming one of the most complex spells she knew.

If she had been expecting them to be impressed, though, she was to be disappointed. “Aww,” Ian complained. “How come she gets invisibility?” he asked the Archive.

“I know,” the spirit agreed wholeheartedly. “Awesome, right? Just think of how many girls’ locker rooms you could scope out with that.”

The revenant stood still and cocked his head to the side. In a refined, yet unbearably bored voice, he commented, “I see my surroundings as they are in the spirit world. You show up perfectly well to me.” With that, he backhanded the invisible girl that was trying to tiptoe out of the –now open- doorway. The girl hit a wall and crumpled.

Lily felt like she’d just been hit by a truck. She’d been trying to escape to warn her superiors, but now she knew they were all going to die and no one was going to know why. If Roderick was still conscious, he could have mentally let Agent Morgan know what happened. She groaned, curling into ball, guessing she had at least two broken ribs.

‘How could we have been so stupid?’ she cursed. ‘Why did we listen to that impulsive hothead Bryce when he boasted they didn’t need any backup? Oh, God…’ She shuddered at all the horrible stories the department told them about necromancers. Would he feed them to that monster? Would he kill them slowly and then resurrect them as his thralls? She whimpered as a foot nudged her.

She looked up in fear to see the nude raven-haired beauty with red eyes looking down at her with a calculating expression. “Meh…” she heard. “You look to be about the right size. Strip.” Lily’s widened in disbelief. “You heard me rookie. My all-powerful summoner neglected to find clothes for me. You volunteered when you came in uninvited.”

After a few moments of stunned inactivity, Lily sat up and with shaky hands unzipped her FBI windbreaker and began to disrobe. Ian sat at the table and rubbed his face with his hands. “Scared the shit out of me,” he muttered.

“Tell me about it,” the Archive commented. “When did they start letting these little squirts join the Inquisition?”

“A better question is how they found us,” Ian said as he belatedly got up to find some clothes.

“Well, let’s be realistic here,” the Archive retorted. “Your wards leave something to be desired and your mind magic downright sucks. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to bypass the compulsions you set up. Though… how they knew to come here and why they chose now are beyond me.”

Scraps spoke up, “I read in your book that magicians are able to sense each other and their minions as well as supernatural creatures. Could they have felt me?” The guilty expression on Lily’s face was all they needed to confirm this.

Ian shook his head. “I warded the place when I started the summoning, though. You shouldn’t have…” he paused.

“Ah, ousted by those infernal donuts,” the Archive chuckled. “That’s what you get for not placing a ward on him to hide his presence after you summoned him. They found him as he was making the coffee run and he led them straight back to us. We’re lucky these idiots wanted the glory for themselves.”

“I was a bit preoccupied,” Ian mumbled defensively with a peek at Ember.

The succubus rolled her eyes although she was secretly happy to know she held her lover’s attention so completely. She bent down and picked up the girl’s boots and sighed appreciatively at the find. “Definitely not standard issue,” she enthused. “Thanks!”

Lily hugged her arms to her naked chest and turned her head away. Both Ian and Ember stared at the exposed girl hungrily. The demoness frowned when she heard the faint sound of sirens in the distance. Apparently slamming a few bodies into walls and knocking a door off its hinges warranted a call to the cops –even in this dump. “Could we take her with us?” she begged Ian hopefully.

“What is she, a to-go meal?” the Archive asked nonplussed, “…and what about the whole ‘one lover’ thing?”

“One ‘male’ lover,” Ember corrected. “We succubae invented lesbianism. When all Joshua wanted to do was live, eat, and breathe war, Lilith had to find some way to amuse herself.” The Archive sputtered nonsensically as his view of history shifted considerably.

Ian sighed longingly at the pretty brunette (now that he knew Ember wouldn’t kill him for doing so), but shook his head. He dropped the two books into his duffel and threw it over his shoulder. “Time to go,” he announced. Scraps led the way out of the apartment, stepping over the unconscious wizard in the hallway. Lily huddled on the floor staring after them, dazed and confused.

* * * * *

The four walked –well, three walked and one was carried- down the street towards Seattle’s Industrial District where the address the girl in the alleyway had given him was located. They’d made a stop at an antique shop in the hopes of picking up some type of metal trinket –preferably silver- for Scraps that Ian could inscribe a rune onto and imbue with power. Ember could already hide herself quite proficiently.

He’d been concentrating on dulling the revenant’s presence, but having a physical anchor was a stronger, more permanent solution. Having it made of silver just meant it was a better conductor for the enchantment and that it would last longer. He’d been against the idea at first. He knew finding a ‘medallion-esque’ anything then giving it to someone wearing a long hoodie and not having it scream ‘bling’ was going to be impossible.

They at last found a cheap yin and yang knockoff attached to a silver chain that he thought was feasible. The man at the counter wanted sixty bucks for it though, which Ian didn’t have. After trying to put a compulsion on him three times and failing three times, a frustrated Ian simply zapped him with a sleep spell and walked out, muttering to his snickering companions, “Not a word.”

Ian still didn’t know exactly what he was going to do, and concentrating on the problem was next to impossible while he could still remember the feel of Ember’s soapy tits. It scared him that he was almost as horny as a sex demon… Bored, the sex demon in question reached into the open bag and plucked out the book that the Archive was bound to and began flicking through the pages as they walked down the side of the street.

“Humph,” she complained, “I can’t read it.”

“Don’t feel bad, sweet cheeks,” the Archive told her. “Your deathliness over there can’t either. It requires someone of my special talents to navigate the complexities of a necromancer’s tome.” If he had manifested himself, Ian was sure they would have seen him preening.

Ember giggled, “And just what do I call you, Mr. Talented?” She turned her head to Ian for the answer.

He shrugged his shoulders and simply said offhandedly, “The Archive is what he’s always gone by.”

She frowned. “That’s most assuredly not a name.” She looked at the book, although his spirit was currently floating along beside them, and smiled slyly. “Wouldn’t you rather have a strong –sexy- name for people to call you by?” she asked in a raspy voice choked with lust.

You could almost hear the Archive gulp as he stuttered, “Well, you know… Like, whatever works, I guess…”

Ember brought her finger to her lips and hummed. She went through a series of rapid fire names, all of which were rejected. She bumped Ian’s shoulder and mouthed ‘come on.’ He sighed and looked around. As he saw a sign, a small smile formed on his lips. “We could call him Izze,” he suggested.

“What’s that?” she asked.

Before he could answer, the Archive exploded, “I swear to fucking God, if you name me after a soft drink I’ll take out my ethereal dick and skullfuck you, master of the dead or not!”

They both laughed as their ghostly companion cussed them out loud enough for those passing by to throw them odd looks. “No, no,” Ian managed to get out. “In all seriousness, we’ll call you… Slimer.”

“From Ghostbusters,” Ember laughed. “I got that one. Ooh, how about Twilight? Oh, come on, Archie. Don’t pout.”

“You can’t call me Archie, either!” the Archive spat venomously.

Amidst the expletives and laughter, Scraps suggested in a quiet voice, “What about Grim?” The other three paused and looked at him. “Well, technically he ‘is’ a grimoire,” he explained with a shrug.

“Kind of goes with the whole depressing theme you guys have going here, too…” Ember commented dryly.

“That is… badass!” Grim shouted, startling a poor woman pushing a baby stroller. “Men fear his name. Women line the streets when he passes by. Children…”

Ian groaned and covered his face. “If you start quoting Dos Equis commercials, I’m tossing you in the recycling bin.”

* * * * *

Walking through an open chain-link fence as the sun began to set in the distance, they arrived at a nondescript warehouse. “Ho, ho,” Grim piped up. “There’s a watcher on the rooftop behind us. This might not be the crackpot operation I first imagined.”

“Sniper?” Ember asked curiously, not showing an ounce of concern over the revelation.

The spirit gave a derisive snort. “Hell no… Just some kid with binoculars and a walkie-talkie.

Banging on the rusted door at the base of the warehouse wall, an actual slit opened at the top and a pair of eyes peered out at them. “Not interested,” a voice said gruffly and the opening closed shut again. Ian stared at the door incredulously. Well, whatever he had expected, it hadn’t been that.

“Never mind…” Grim sighed and began ranting about the poor state of professionalism shown in criminal organizations these days.

Not really in the mood to argue with some grunt through a steel door, Ian debated whether he should possess the poor sap and have him let them in or just have Scraps take it off its hinges. Suddenly, there was a commotion behind the door and they all heard raised voices and a resounding slap upside someone’s head.

The door ground open and the girl he’d met the night before stood there blushing. She’d cleaned up nicely, Ian thought. Long black curls framed a pretty face which framed even prettier hazel eyes. Her bronze skin clashed with the pink Babydoll t-shirt that stretched over her lovely C-cup breasts. “Sorry about tha-” she stopped, realizing he’d brought company.

She eyed Ember with a look he couldn’t decipher and wordlessly led them inside. “I’m glad you decided to come. There are some people that would like to meet you.” Her voice was scratchy and her eyes were red and puffy like she’d been crying. She turned abruptly, leading them into an open area.

Looking around, Ian saw sectioned off partitions lining the vicinity. There seemed to be an abundance of cubical-style ‘rooms’ that had a variety of different purposes. Ember frowned. She didn’t like to be quiet when she fucked and this environment didn’t seem to be conducive to her needs. She shrugged. Well, it wasn’t as if ‘she’ cared if anyone heard. Ian would just have to bear it in the mornings.

The girl led them to a section that was obviously set up as a ward. An ashen-faced young man about Ian’s age with a strong resemblance to the girl lay atop a sickbed as some of the teens he recognized from the night before last crowded around. A middle-aged man in a lab coat Ian guessed was ‘Doc’ met them at the entranceway and whispered in a sorrowful voice, “His condition’s worsening. He doesn’t have much time.”

Sighing, he rested a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder and said, “I can only do so much with modern medicine. The old man is scouring the city for healing mages, but the last registered druid moved away ages ago and the Church doesn’t give divine assistance to just anybody. There are a few other registered healers in Seattle, but most have outrageous fees we simply can’t afford.”

“There is one,” he began. “A new witch that moved here recently that’s with the Inquisition… The old man went to their field office to ask for help this morning since it was their job to prevent a warlock’s harvesting in the first place. There hasn’t been any word back so far. Don’t give up hope, though. Her potions may yet arrive in time to save him.”

The girl took the news like a fighter, but Ian could see her resolve crumbling at each new revelation. Finally, she took a deep breath and staved off her tears. Without a word, she led them to her brother’s bedside. The ragged-looking youth glanced up and locked his eyes with Ian’s. “Ah,” he rasped, “so the savior ap-” *cough* “appears.”

Ian remained silent as they approached. “Allow me to introduce myself,” her brother continued in lightly accented English. “I am Bobby Romero. These guys elected me as Captain of the Night Watch, the group you see around you.” At this point, he erupted into a coughing fit and his sister moved to his side worriedly.

Reaching out a hand to clasp her shoulder, he continued, “And this… is Valentina, who I believe you’ve already met.”

The girl blushed and looked away, muttering, “Just Val…” She hated her full name. Her brother always teased her with it and said it made her sound like a princess. Tears sprung from her eyes as she thought about her brother’s condition and she turned her head even further to hide her face from view.

“If I’m to believe what I’ve been told,” Bobby told Ian, “I have you to thank for her wellbeing. For that, I’m eternally grateful and she was absolutely right to offer you a place to stay. You can rest here for as long as you’d like and it will still be poor payment for what you’ve done.”

Ian inclined his head, only half following the conversation. He turned to consult Grim, but it was Ember who spoke up, “Definitely Hellfire. I can smell it, eating away at him.” Ian wasn’t surprised to see all the young males –and some of the females- in the room eying her appreciatively. Her words only gave them a legitimate reason to do so.

“Nasty stuff,” Grim confirmed. “Not as bad as Spirtfire, of course. This shit only harms your physical body, but once your spirit deteriorates past a certain point, there’s no putting it back together.” About half the people in the room jumped at the disembodied voice.

Ian ignored the mixed reactions his companions were getting and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he was seeing in the spirit world and locked onto the portions of Bobby that were dying or already dead. He must have gotten hit by a blast of Hellfire from the warlock in the alleyway before he’d gone down. There were blackened bits all along his body that indicated the areas the warlock’s fire had burned.

Ember had said it was ‘eating away at him’ and she’d been correct. It fed off of what it consumed, powering itself in lieu of energy. It would eventually die out as there was no longer any intent driving it, but not before Bobby was too far gone to recover. Ian collected his will and remembered his lessons.

Magic worked both ways. Just as other magicians could drain his wards when they didn’t have the power to go through them, he could stop and even reverse decay. It wasn’t nearly as easy as causing it… but then, Ian could channel a shit-ton of power to get it done, so it was all relative. First, he shielded Bobby against the remaining Hellfire and willed it away. Then he began to work.

Bobby stiffened and everyone watched as he clenched bunches of his blanket and gritted his teeth. “What’s wrong,” Val asked, concerned. “Bobby? Talk to me!” Ian inwardly winced as he continued the process. His way of ‘healing’ wasn’t nearly as gentle as those of other mages. You weren’t getting any pain killers when nerve endings suddenly started broadcasting again. The bare essentials to keep going were all he could provide.

Curing a headache? That he couldn’t do. Making sure a soul could survive in its body… that was a different story. “Slowly,” Grim warned, still acting as his mentor. “If you reverse it too fast in his midsection it’ll cause a reaction.” Everyone looked at Ian and then back at Bobby as the realization that he was trying to heal him dawned on each one at different moments.

Finally, Ian had drawn out all the blackness he could find and closed his spirit vision. Blinking his eyes as he reoriented himself, he was completely unprepared when Val squealed in happiness and threw her arms around him, kissing his cheek. She quickly stepped back, blushing, as both of them stared at each other with wide eyes. Then she shook herself and dashed to her brother, hugging him tightly. He was looking much livelier, albeit in much more pain as his dulled senses suddenly reawakened with a vengeance.

Ian blew out a long breath at the exertion. He told Bobby, who was currently staring at him in astonishment, “I can’t regenerate skin and you’ve still got a bunch of it missing. That means you’ll have to watch for infection, which will probably happen anyway. But if it worsens, just come find me again. You’ll also feel a lot of pain and will almost certainly scar unless you guys can get a competent healer.” Ian shrugged in a ‘nothing-I-can-do-about-that’ manner. “Sorry.”

Bobby shook his head, tears trailing down his face at the second chance he’d been given, unable to express words. Val looked up from the bedside, “H- how?” she asked wonderingly.

The corner of Ian’s mouth quirked into a teasing grin. “You saw me essentially decompose a living human being,” he pointed out with a light chuckle. “It stands to reason I could make a little rot go away…” His eyes lit up and he snapped his fingers at his companions. “Youth serum!” he declared, almost comically. “Or youth… something. I can make money by reversing the decay in old people, making them younger.”

Ember rolled her eyes and the Archive groaned. Finally, trying to explain the error of his thinking to the excited entrepreneur, Grim huffed, “That stuff is strictly regulated. Besides, you’d fuck it up if you tried to do something that subtle while looking through the spirit world.”

Ian frowned, feeling like they were making a habit of shooting down his ideas. Determined, he said, “Well, what the hell do I care about their regulations? They want to kill me.” Turning away, he mumbled petulantly, “And I would ‘not,’”

His bonded reached out a soothing hand and cupped his face. “There are other classes of mages that can do the process better and easier,” Ember told him. “And I can assure you, if someone is rich enough to afford it, they already know about it.” She shot him a soft smile, proud of him despite herself. She’d never heard of a necromancer using his powers to heal.

A hand rested on his shoulder and Ian turned to find the Doc regarding him with fascination. “I’ll make sure his wounds stay clean,” he assured him, voice filled with awe. “Th- that was necromancy, wasn’t it? So I guess they weren’t telling tales then.”

“Indeed not,” a voice from the doorway declared. Turning, Ian saw an elderly man with piercing gray eyes. He guessed this was the ‘old man.’ Walking forward with a stride that belayed his age, the man thrust out a hand which Ian grasped, noting the steel in the grip. “Name’s Forrester… Welcome to our little slice of Hell.”

Before Ian could answer, the Doc started up again. “So that’s how you guys do it. I’d always wondered why a necro’s minions don’t just waste away. And the zombies! That’s not just some magical voodoo that makes their limbs move. You’re actually freezing the decay and reviving the dead organs so the spirit can move the body. Simply amazing!”

Ian’s lip twitched as he tried not to laugh. Necromancy doesn’t usually get many fans. He wondered if the man had studied to be a mortician or something before being roped into this gig. The old man gave a snort at the Doc’s exuberance. “There will be time for that later. Now, would you mind if we take a walk…” Forrester asked, waiting for him to fill in the gap.

“Ian,” he replied and pointed in turn. “And that’s Ember, Scraps, and Grim is my Archive.”

Forrester studied Ember with narrowed eyes. “Vampire?” he asked gruffly. In response, a forked tail appeared behind Ember and fluttered meaningfully as she shifted forms slightly.

“Ah,” Forrester nodded in recognition, shooting an impressed glance Ian’s way. “Well come on then.” With that, he turned and walked down a hallway. As he gave them the fifty-cent tour of the place, he glanced over and said, “You look fairly normal for one of your kind. I’ve only seen one other briefly, but he was pretty damn cagey.”

Ian gave the man a sardonic grin and shrugged. ‘He’d’ never met a necromancer who’d been insane. Until he saw the standard, the rest of the magic community was crazy and presumptuous as far as he was concerned. “Isn’t it hard to keep the spirits out?” Forrester pushed, sounding to Ian like he was probing to see if he was going to flip out at any moment.

Chuckling, Ian explained, checking off his fingers, “I ward myself against them so it doesn’t get too overwhelming. I don’t keep my spirit vision open all the time so I don’t start seeing things. I understand that anything the dead say means absolutely nothing since they interpret things differently than we do.”

He shrugged. “Seems like some pretty basic precautions to me. I don’t get why everyone thinks the constant pressure is going to make me crack,” Ian commented, annoyed. “If I had to guess, early on necromancers don’t recognize spirits as a resource. They open themselves up completely, wanting to take in more power, and end up getting possessed. If you create a bubble around yourself and only let in those that you acknowledge, I don’t see what the big deal is.”

Grim remained silent. Ian never believed him when he insisted that among necromancers he was unique. There was something different about him… What he could do effortlessly took other’s years to accomplish. Some things… He glanced at Scraps and if he could’ve shuddered, he would’ve. No, Grim thought. Ian was special. He didn’t know how, but one day the shit was going to hit the fan and whatever was revealed would be big.

Forrester grunted disinterestedly and filed Ian’s words away with all the other useless shit mages tended to spout. “As you can see,” he said, moving on, “we don’t much care about whatever edicts the magical authorities living in their crystal palaces deign to give us. They haven’t lifted one finger to help my people, so I don’t see why I should give a damn. So long as you don’t bring any trouble down on us, it doesn’t matter what kind of mage you happen to be.” As an afterthought, he turned to Scraps and muttered, “Or whatever the hell it is you are…”

“How… uh, is it that you know about…” Ian gestured helpessly.

Forrester gave a snort and explained in a voice that said he obviously found the rules absurd, “Deal is, if you’re exposed to a supernatural event, you’re in. You just can’t tell anyone else about it, or your governing body of magic –that’s the Inquisition over here- will come and take you away and punish you according to the damage you’ve caused. Unless you’re rich, of course… then you just get slapped with a fine.”

“You’ll find that much of the underworld and the upper echelons of the wealthy and powerful know what’s going on.” He sighed. “As usual, it’s your average working Joe that’s left in the dark,” he stated with a grimace. “We each have our own stories about how we ended up here, but suffice it to say we all see the ugliness of the world and are just trying to make it to the next day.”

“Now,” Forrester said, stopping at the end of the hallway. “I heard back there that you might be looking to make some money. We do a number of… unconventional jobs.” When Ian didn’t say anything, he sighed, as if he’d been half-expecting that in itself would be enough to scare him off. “I’ll level with you. We’re not the only gang in Seattle that knows about what really lurks in the darkness. There’s at least one in each of the main districts.”

“We are, however,” he continued, “the only one without a single mage in our ranks. The other groups have been slowly weakening our hold on the Industrial District and pushing us back to the waterfront. A few more good pushes and we won’t be able to recover our territory.”

He laughed cynically and stared off into the distance. “I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but we really are balanced on a knife’s edge. We have backers funding our operations, mostly from the Central Business District, but they handle everybody’s financials and don’t care who’s in charge so long as somebody takes the jobs.”

Ian tried to process what the old man was telling him. It was like he’d stepped into an alternate reality inside another alternate reality. ‘Who segregates an entire fucking city?’ he thought incredulously. He had a sneaking suspicion that the various communities had set up shop first and that Seattle’s districts had grown around them. Finally, he shrugged helplessly. “I’d like to help, but if anyone found out I was a necromancer and I was ‘here,’ you’ve no idea the shit storm that would descend.”

He glanced at his companions. “I guess I might be able to pull off looking like a warlock with Ember, and I doubt many people would recognize Scraps for what he is now that he’s warded, but eventually someone’s going to make the connection. I have enchantments to muddle my appearance when an image of me is captured digitally so the FBI can’t trace me, but it’s only a matter of time before they find me. This was always just a temporary fix to hold me over until I found something to do.”

Forrester rubbed his chin in thought. “I had wondered about you staying here with the punishment for harboring a necromancer being death and all…” he groused. “How ’bout this: we have friends in Central that can set you up someplace in an apartment. They’ll make it so your identity doesn’t set off any flags. You’ll never have any obvious relations with this place and we’ll contact you remotely when we have a job.”

He paused, then shrugged. “It would also be great if you could help with our border disputes as well. Pretend to be a warlock or not, I don’t care. If they manage to take our territory, we’re as good as dead anyway…”

Ian stared at him for a long moment, not believing what he was hearing. “You can actually do that?” he asked, shocked.

Forrester gave him a measuring glance. “You really have been removed, haven’t you? Magicians of your caliber are huge assets and live like kings in this day and age. Organizations in the magical community of every variety consider them legitimate investments. If you had been anything but a necromancer, there would have been trains of people lining up outside your door the minute you awakened, trying to buy your allegiance and offering you all kinds of aid in the hopes that you’d someday return the favor.”

Ian tried to process this along with everything else he’d learned. He’d been forced to keep as low a profile as possible for as long as he could remember. He tried unsuccessfully to associate the privileged lifestyle of his fellow mages with the one where he was being hunted and despised. He sighed as Forrester turned his view of the world on its head once again.

The old man seemed to know what he was feeling and clapped him on the shoulder and nodded to the door they were standing in front of. “That’ll be your room. It’s used for storage at the moment, but you won’t be here for long and you need to keep a low profile so we can’t risk putting you in the communal bunks. I’ll let you know tomorrow what our tech guys manage to come up with for you.” Ian nodded dully and Forrester walked off.

He opened the door and found a spacious but cluttered room with a few cots in the corner. “Hmm,” Ian remarked. “Not much better tha-” Ember cut him off as she grabbed his collar and dragged him to a nearby workbench. She pushed him to his knees and unbuttoned her pants, letting them cascade down her long legs before kicking them off. She then boosted herself atop the bench so that she was sitting on the edge, legs wide open.

“Time to learn how to use your tongue,” she declared with a wicked grin.

He froze, hands at his sides, staring at her pert pink pussy peeking through the tiny tuft of hair sticking up from between her legs. His mouth watered and he leaned forward. Suddenly he stopped as an absurd revelation flashed through his mind. “I thought you took the girl’s panties, too…” he wondered aloud at their absence.

Ember grinned wider. “I took them as a souvenir, not to wear them,” she laughed. Ian’s prick soared at the naughty look that crossed her face. Slowly, he spread her legs apart and approached her cute snatch. “Start kissing along here, and use your fingers like this,” she directed him in a commanding voice. “I’ll tell you what to do next…”

She moaned as his mouth found her puffy lips. His tongue glided over her folds and she shivered as he kissed the crevice between her thigh and cunt. “There you go, baby,” Ember rasped. She twined her fingers through his hair and dropped her head back.

As fate would have it, Val chose that moment to walk in through the open doorway. She had her arms full of linens and bedding, not paying much attention to her surroundings until she heard Ember moan. Glancing up, she squeaked in surprise as she realized they’d already occupied the room and were… engaged. She stared at Ian, frozen, as he tried to look over to see who it was.

The demoness prevented the movement, still holding onto his hair, and silently urged him to continue. He shrugged and did as she wanted, not really caring who it was at this point. His cock was straining at the seams. Val watched the strange, erotic tableau for a few moments, never having seen a guy go down on a girl before. She’d heard about it, of course… but she’d always thought it was reserved for porn.

She realized she was getting wet and dropped the bedding suddenly, rushing out of the room, flustered. Ember watched her leave through hooded eyes and smiled slyly. Without instruction, Ian began sucking on her clit and her legs clamped together around his head involuntarily. She smacked the top of his head and growled in a reproving voice, “Don’t rush!”

Ian gave a muffled chuckle despite the bruises he was probably going to be sporting the next day. He couldn’t think of a better way to go than having those glorious legs wrapped around his head, face pressed firmly against her leaking pussy. He sighed as he felt her juices give way, her release rocketing through her body.

Panting heavily, she released him and looked down at his sopping wet face. Without warning, she pressed her foot against his chest and shoved him hard, flinging him halfway across the room and onto his back –conveniently atop the dropped linens, in fact. Out of breath, he didn’t have time to wonder how they got there before Ember was gripping the waist of his jeans and tugging them down around his ankles. “My turn,” she hissed.

She swiftly pulled back his tenting boxers and swallowed his cock whole. Ian groaned as his tip hit the back of her throat in one go and his head dropped back. “Fu- fuck!” he mumbled deliriously. Her eyes glittered in delight, her skillful throat muscles massaging him like only a sex demon knew how. And when she used her tongue…

Ian moaned and tried valiantly to hold out for a length of time that wouldn’t seem so pitiful. He was powerless to do so, however. Too soon he was erupting into her mouth, which sucked his offering greedily. Afterwards, she looked up at him, red eyes dancing, and smacked her lips. “Now that I’ve had my appetizer, I think I’d like the main course.”

He looked at her with wide eyes. “Uh, hey,” he started. “I don’t know if…” No sooner had he thought the words then Ember had manipulated his cock, returning it to its rock-hard state. His breathing quickened as she shifted forms, her tail lashing out across the inside of his thigh like a whip. Ian yelped and gazed into her purely evil grin and glowing red eyes. “Aww, shit…” he muttered.

* * * * *

The next morning, Ian was awoken by a knock on the door. Scraps, ever awake and watchful, padded over to the door and opened it cautiously. A boy that couldn’t have been older than ten years of age stared up at the revenant with unchecked fear. “Yeees?” the black-clad golem asked imperiously.

The kid’s mouth dropped open in awe, like finding out this fearsome creature could talk was the most fascinating revelation since sliced bread. Finally, he managed to stutter, “B-breakfast. It’s, uh- I’m supposed to show you the way.”

The revenant nodded and said as he shut the door, “Five minutes.”

Ember glanced at Ian and smiled devilishly. “We’ll just have to make this a quickie then…”

* * * * *

The boy led them to a cafeteria area. After he and Ember loaded up their plates with scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash browns, they found Forrester waving them over from a table in the far corner of the room. They walked over and joined him, Val, and a tender-looking Bobby. Val blushed and looked away when Ian shot her a glance and Ember smirked. The old man tossed him an envelope with a smug expression and announced, “Welcome to the Night Watch.”

Ian caught it and emptied it out onto the table. He was stunned to find a driver’s license, phone & charger, credit card, and a set of keys. He picked up the driver’s license and stared at it. It looked like one of the pictures he’d taken in high school had been doctored against a blue background. Furthermore, it was horizontally oriented rather than vertically, which was used in Washington State as a way to tell if someone was over 21.

He looked closer and exclaimed, “It has my real name!”

Forrester chuckled. “It’s just easier that way. All that matters is that you aren’t ‘the’ Ian Cale who shows up in the system as being on the FBI watchlist. We set you up in the University District -more transients over there and less chance of you being noticed. The phone is untraceable and your apartment is unlisted, though if you get tailed they’ll obviously know about it. If that happens, tell us and we’ll move you.”

Ian did some calculations in his head. The area he was talking about was located to the north and slightly to the east. He was new to the area, but… “Isn’t that on the other side of Capitol Hill? That’s like two districts over… How am I supposed to react in time to a threat on the Industrial District?” Ian questioned.

Forrester shrugged. “It’s less than fifteen minutes if you drive down i-5. I’m fairly certain we can hold out for that long,” he pointed out. “And the distance actually works in our favor because it disassociates you with us. It would have been much riskier to put you up in our territory -or in one of the bordering ones as they’re run by the groups we have the worst relations with.”

Ian nodded and Ember asked, “Just how much of the Industrial District do you control?”

Forrester sighed and the three looked at each other. Finally, Bobby spoke up, “It used to be all of it, but over the years our numbers have thinned. Nowadays, it’s just the upper east portion of Industrial, south of the bridge. There was… there used to be a mage with us, but he broke off and started up a group called the Georgetown Syndicate that has been gobbling up our territory to the south.”

Val leaned forward and moved salt shakers and condiments around to draw the battle lines, outlining the situation. “If you look at a map, the immediate threats are: Georgetown from the south. To the west across the river there are the warring factions of Delridge. Beacon Hill is pressuring us from the east. Then there’s Pioneer Square to the north and the International District to the northeast.”

“As you can see,” she said, “we’re pretty much pinned against the water to the northwest of here. All the factions residing in the surrounding territories see us as the weakest group and are determined to take our territory like they scent blood in the water. With the limited resources we have, well…”

“We’re screwed,” Bobby clarified helpfully. “We can’t even call the northwest safe as the fucking werewolves on Harbor Island control the shipping from there and they’ll attack anyone.” Ian’s insides squirmed as he remembered the first time he’d seen a werewolf. He hadn’t thought about them for ages.

For a few moments, he just stared at the arrangement, shaking his head at the absurdity of it all. ‘How did these people keep this hidden from the public?’ he wondered, gaining a smidgen of respect for the Inquisition whose job it was to cover it up. They were diligent, he had to give them that much.

Seeing they were losing him, Forrester spoke up, “Don’t think of them as bordering states. There are over a dozen districts and rarely are there clear distinctions between them with how often their area and control changes hands. You can take your car and drive through every one of them in the middle of the day.”

He leaned forward and projected with his hands. “Imagine each one is a separate sphere of influence and the various businesses and organizations in them are run by a specific group. In our case, the other groups are taking over the running of our district and replacing them with their own enterprises. Yes, there are physical raids that happen, but for the most part it’s all about controlling our interests.”

Ian’s eyes widened and before he could ask, Forrester rolled his eyes and staved off his question by saying, “No, I don’t mean we own ‘every’ business in the Industrial District -we live out of a warehouse for Christ’s sake… just those that deal with and are related to the supernatural communities in some way. They’re all regulated differently and they need to interact with people that are on the up-and-up, especially when it comes to the sale and shipping of magical commodities.”

Ian took a deep breath and leaned back, trying to look at the situation he found himself in from a distance. What these people were telling him made his head hurt, but he tried to analyze his position empirically. It sounded a lot like he was diving headfirst into someone else’s fight without knowing the circumstances or who the other players were.

On the other hand, he had to admit his situation was a lot better than when he’d started. He glanced down at his shiny new phone, one of the spiffy razor-thin touch-screen models, and grimaced. He supposed if he accepted all this he would feel obligated to help them out. Sneaking a glance at Val, he also admitted to himself that he ‘wanted’ to help them. From what he’d seen, they were good people who were up against a wall.

He sighed and looked to Ember questioningly. She shrugged and asked Forrester with a completely straight face, “How big’s the bed in the apartment?”

* * * * *

The warehouse door ground open and Ian felt like he was stepping out into the ‘real’ world again. In the back of his mind, he doubted if there was really a silent war going on between different Seattle neighborhoods. The surreal experience didn’t stop there, however. Parked in front of them was a brand new platinum-colored BMW M5.

Ian made to walk around the car, shooting it an appreciative glance, when Ember poked him in the ribs and cleared her throat. He frowned as she simply waited. His eyes widened. “No…” He fished out his set of keys and flicked through them, glancing at the rubber tags mumbling, “Apartment key… Storage container…” He paused as he saw the telltale key wrapped in black plastic with the tiny BMW propeller logo on it. “Shit…” he muttered.

Ember glanced at the car, then at the rundown warehouse and back. “Where the hell did they get the money for this?”

“They didn’t, obviously,” Grim said. “You never told that old geezer your last name. I’m betting when whoever fixed you in the system found out that you were a wanted necromancer, their organization, for whatever reason, jumped to the front of the line to try and please you instead of reporting you. Hell, Forrester might have even encouraged it by playing you up a bit so you’d get better treatment and stick around.”

Ember laughed, “It seems the underworld in general doesn’t care much for the death order on necros. So long as you can benefit them, they’re happy to do business.” She grinned and swiped the keys from Ian’s stunned grasp.

He shot her a look. “Hey!” he exclaimed, but she was already crossing to the driver’s side.

“Pff,” she laughed. “If you think I’m letting ‘you’ get first dibs, you can kiss my ass. In fact, we’ll add that to your ancillary duties later.” Ian made to argue and then sighed. It wasn’t worth it. And how often does an eighteen year-old get the chance to be chauffeured around by the hottest chick on the planet… “Guess this is all an attempt to curry favor with you, though,” she commented as she gripped the steering wheel excitedly.

As Ian sunk into the black leather of the passenger seat while Scraps got into the back with his bag holding Grim, he sighed dreamily. “It’s working…” he murmured.

While the four drove off, Agent Lily Hunter watched them from the other side of the chain-link fence. She’d come as soon as she’d been notified about the warlock victim, knowing it would probably be too late. Calling the Night Watch this morning on the way over though, she’d been confused when they told her a minor regeneration bath was all that was required. When their leader had come to their office the day before, he’d implied the injured person was on his deathbed.

She’d assumed they’d found a mage somewhere to stop the advance of the Hellfire, but she hadn’t expected to find the boy that had spared her after they’d raided his motel room. ‘Did he somehow managed to help the save the wounded?’ she wondered. As she walked towards the front entrance, she decided that perhaps she’d keep her finding to herself. This didn’t fit what the department had told them about necromancers at all…

* * * * *

Ember bounced up the stairs of the gated apartment complex, eager to scope out her much improved residence. Ian trailed behind her, eyes locked onto her bubbly ass. Scraps took up the rear carrying his bag. As they reached the top of the stairs, they saw a blonde model built like an Amazon just leaving her room, a basket of laundry in her arms.

Her hair was pulled back into a pony tail and she was wearing sweats and a T-shirt. While she wasn’t freakishly huge or well-muscled, she did have maybe an inch on Ian and her arms were toned without an ounce of fat showing. Fit didn’t even begin to cover her; she was almost… predatory. She looked up as they trooped up and beamed. “You must be the new folks moving into apartment 22,” she stated with just the hint of a Russian accent. “I’m jealous, the previous owners put in a washer and dryer –I’ve still gotta do mine downstairs.”

Ember smiled at her hungrily like she was eying a piece of meat. “Well,” she offered, a husky lilt coming to her voice, “you’re more than welcome to come use ours anytime.”

The girl laughed nervously, then paused and sniffed the air. Ian had already sensed she was a werewolf and waited, wondering why the fates hated him. She frowned as if she couldn’t place the scent and shot Scraps a curious glance. After a few moments, she seemed to shrug off whatever had caught her attention. “I’m Kiara,” she finally said. “I’ll be a sophomore next semester at UW. Do you attend?”

Ian smiled thinly and shook his head. He was entranced by her gold-colored eyes. Not golden-specked, but a pure, rich hue. Having exhausted that line of conversation, she threw them another smile and walked past. As she descended the stairs, she called over her shoulder, “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

“She looks yummy,” Ember commented, not at all quietly. Ian grunted noncommittally, trying to calculate the odds that his new apartment just ‘happened’ to be near where a supernatural creature lived.

“Oi,” he asked Grim as they entered the apartment next to Kiara’s, “I thought those fur bags were all supposed to live in the forest and shit…”

Grim sighed and grumbled something about Twilight lowering his IQ. “The actual ritual that created them originated in ancient Greece. They’ve adapted with the times,” he explained. “If I remember correctly, there are packs all throughout the Pacific that have formed a sort of conglomeration to control the shipping market.”

Ember nodded. “Most supernatural creatures keep to themselves, preferring to be the wolves among the sheep,” she pointed out. “The Were have a strong sense of community, though. They couldn’t afford to not be competitive just so they could support each other through each generation. A hundred years ago, that meant shipbuilding and trading. Now, they have roots in nearly every type of business and are very much a visible player in the magical community.”

Conversation dropped off as they viewed their surroundings. Ian was impressed. Going through the door you were met with a well-equipped kitchen with a marble island to your left and a small unenclosed dining room on the right with a bookcase up against the wall.

As you traversed further into the dwelling, a large living room took up center stage with three doors taking up the left wall, the flat screen TV taking up the right, and what looked to be a small room that was probably for the laundry in the far corner. Looking directly across from him on the other side of the living room, he could see a sliding door leading to a balcony beyond.

Ian checked out the rooms the three doors led to and found the balcony connected with the master bedroom which had an attached bath. Then there was a second bedroom and a guest bathroom. The complex already had a gym and thus images of a pool table flittered through his mind as he envisioned turning the second bedroom into a ‘man cave.’

The entire place was fully furnished and there was even a laptop on a side table. “Shit…” he muttered. Going out onto the balcony, all he could see was the building on the other side and the street below. Shrugging, he went back inside and was struck by the image of Ember stripping in the middle of the room.

She turned to him and in a nonchalant tone admonished, “You have yet to give me my daily scrubbing.” Ian just about ripped his shirt off in his rush to get undressed.

Grim commented, “You never used to be this obsessed with sex.”

Ian was about to shoot back some offhand remark about horny young males when he stopped and looked suspiciously at Ember. She admired her nails, looking entirely too innocent. Finally, she looked up and pouted. “It’s not my fault. I secrete pheromones,” she whined in a little girl’s voice, stamping her foot. Ian’s eyes widened.

She sighed, and in the next instant her demeanor changed to that of pure woman, oozing sexuality as she stalked towards him. “…And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it,” she declared in a lusty growl. Her hand reached up and slapped him lightly on the cheek. “So shut up and get naked before I take your hesitance as an offer to play rough.”

As she turned and walked slowly, sensuously to the bathroom, Ian thought he was going to explode. Then he caught side of her perfect heart-shaped ass bobbing naked to the rhythm of her hips. He supposed his pride could take one for the team… Ian chuckled as he finished removing his clothes and headed after her. ‘Who am I kidding?’ he thought. ‘I don’t deserve her in the first place.’ It was times like these she kept him honest.

* * * * *

After their steamy shower, the couple lay naked on the bed. Ian was on his back with his arms crossed behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. Ember was molded to him, face buried in the crook of his neck, one leg draped over him. Her fingers were playing with the tip of his hard cock like a favorite pastime she could do unconsciously; a Rubik’s cube savant that could solve the puzzle in her sleep.

Ian sighed contentedly. Hot shower… check. Mind-blowing sex… check. A pair of mouthwatering tits mashed against him… fucking check. He could die happy right now with no regrets. He was unable to believe how much his life had changed in the past couple of days. A slight frown marred his features as he considered the lotus fruit he was being offered. Thinking critically, he tried to understand the intentions of his mysterious benefactors. They hadn’t revealed themselves or made their motivations known, which meant their aims were at least partially the same as Forrester’s.

He let out an involuntary moan as Ember pinched the head of his cock, keeping him from release. He chuckled softly and reached down to stroke her hair. He closed his eyes and delved deeper. What he’d been given was nice –especially since he’d gone into it with virtually nothing. However, a midrange luxury vehicle and a two-bedroom apartment with no view weren’t exactly breaking the bank if these guys were a high-end, top-notch organization.

This could mean two things if he was to believe Forrester that they really wanted him badly. Other they were extremely savvy and didn’t want to give him everything upfront, stringing him along with goodies until he did what they wanted, or they ‘weren’t’ on top of the food chain. Guessing they’d use the most tempting gifts they could obtain to get him hooked, he was leaning towards the second option.

If he then assumed his investors weren’t in charge of running things over in Central, he could be pretty damn sure they wanted to be. This desperation would also account for why they’d ignored the little tidbit about him being a necromancer so long as it would get them what they wanted. The bad news was that they would likely be sending him against whoever ‘was’ top dog. He grimaced at that line of thought, but accepted that it was other this or to go back on the streets. He flexed his neck muscles and rolled his shoulders as he thought about the future.

There might have been other offers depending on who found him first, but Ian was satisfied with what he’d been given so far. He understood and accepted that the people using him had their own self-interests at heart. It was decision time and he chose to stick with it. It was going to be a challenge facing whatever they threw at him, but at least he wouldn’t get bored. He chuckled as he remembered Grim’s words, ‘time to see if all that waiting and training will pay off…’

Ember bit his neck and sat up with a throaty laugh. “You’re thinking too loud,” she teased, as she threw a leg over him, mounting his pulsing member. Ian moaned as she sunk down his length. “So, have you decided?” she asked rocking her hips.

“Decided?” he asked innocently, rubbing her velvety smooth legs as she straddled him. She threw him a saucy look and twitched her hips, drawing a wince from her cheeky lover. “You know they have an agenda?”

He chuckled. “Everyone has an agenda,” he mused. “However, I think it’s an acceptable trade. Before I hand them what they want on a silver platter though, I think I’ll pay them a visit to renegotiate my contract.”

She smiled as she raised her hips, her spines dragging along his length and making him raise his hips involuntarily. “Good,” she murmured, “’cause I really like the apartment.” She paused before adding with a wicked grin, “And the neighbors.” Ember rode him faster and squeezed his cock in a way that boggled his mind.

“Oh shit,” he cried out. “That’s cheating…” Her melodious laugh echoed around the room and she shifted forms just enough to summon her tail. As she felt herself let go, her new appendage tickled his balls and a single spine rubbed against the underside of his cockhead. He arched his back as she caused his mind to blank and drove his prick deep inside her as he exploded.

She fell atop him as they panted heavily. She grinned up at him. “You’re getting pretty good,” she giggled. He grinned down at her and started tickling her.

“Pretty good?” he accused in mock indignation. “‘Just’ pretty good, huh?”

She laughed, squirming around and screaming, “Stop! No… cut it out!” She turned and hit him playfully. Of course, playful for her was punching him in the gut so hard he doubled over. “I warned you,” she pointed out as she stood and began fixing her hair. Ian was trying to breathe and laugh at the same time, currently failing miserably on both accounts.

“Now,” she told him. “Get dressed. You’re taking me shopping.” On the way over, Ian had called the number on the back of the credit card and found that he had a ten thousand dollar a month spending limit. He’d originally thought that was pure gold, comparing it to the allowance his parents used to leave him. As he looked at Ember as she danced around the room picking up stray articles of clothing, he began to reconsider that assumption.

* * * * *

The next day while he and his companions were out eating (though only two actually consumed anything), he received a text that told him to show up that night at an address a few blocks from the warehouse the Night Watch ran. He hummed in curiosity when he saw the words ‘escort duty’ attached. “Looks like it’s starting already,” Ember said as he looked up.

“No rest for the living,” Grim commented, chuckling at his own joke.

That night, all four rested in the car as it was pouring rain. Ian chuckled and rested his head back. Ember looked at him curiously and he explained, “Just trying to figure out what to call my current occupation… Contractor, mercenary, hired muscle?”

She gave a throaty laugh and ruffled his hair. “That’s okay, baby. I’ll handle the heavy lifting. I know how delicate you are…”

“I guess we know who wears the pants in this relationship,” Grim observed. Ian just shook his head and laughed at the good-natured ribbing.

Finally, a van pulled up down the street and flashed its high beams twice. They got out and entered it through the back seeing Bobby, Val, and some of the other kids –most of whom he recognized from that night in the alleyway. They greeted each other all around as the van drove off and Bobby outlined the planned events of the evening.

“Should be an easy run tonight,” the enthusiastic captain advised. “We’re picking up a shipment of goblin-crafted energy cores from Pike Place Market and delivering them to one of our factories that’ll use them as the main component for the order of wizard staves we have lined up. Then we’re dropping off a crate of chimera eggs bound for Japan to the werewolves.”

Ian crinkled his brow. “I thought you were all at war with each other,” he asked in confusion.

“We are,” Bobby confirmed, shrugging his shoulders, “but the orders still need to be filled. Have to play nice with each other, all the while making sure the other doesn’t stab you in the back. ‘Cept for the werewolves, of course. When I say ‘drop off,’ I mean we drop the crate at the delivery point and take off…”

“The danger,” Val spoke up, not sharing her brother’s confidence in how smoothly tonight would run, “is that other factions not involved in the trade will likely attack us as a form of financial sabotage. If we fail to complete our delivery, the buyers will look elsewhere. Also, our sponsors lose money, which means they pay us less or possibly shift their support to another group altogether.”

Ian winced as he felt another headache coming on. Oblivious, Val continued, “The most likely group to hit us is the Tiandihui, a Chinese organization that actually predates the triads. They have a branch based out of the International District. Not only are they close to our route, but they were the ones we beat out for the contract.”

Ember giggled as their situation worsened. “This might actually turn out to be fun,” she stated, getting excited. The others shot her incredulous looks. Scraps just memorized the map Bobby had placed in front of them.

Roughly ten minutes later, they arrived at Pike Place through a delivery entrance that smelled of fish. It was actually a fairly efficient process as a dozen ewok-looking individuals came out of the shadows and loaded up the back with two giant crates wrapped indiscriminately. Ian tried to peek into one of their hoods and Val elbowed him in the ribs. “They don’t like that,” she murmured redundantly.

They all squeezed back into the van, their knees resting against the crates and took off back to their territory. Ian was actually starting to get a bit bored. Just then, as if the fates had heard him, multiple black sedans approached from behind with their high beams on. Ian could see them accelerate through the back windows and try to box the van in.

“Why don’t they just shoot out the tires?” Ian asked as Ember was thrown into him, their wheelman swerving to evade the pursuers.

“Mi- shit!” Val tried to explain as she hit the back of her head. “That might flip us. They want the cores intact to ransom back to the buyer.”

“That’s actually happened before?” Grim asked incredulously at her definite tone.

She glared at him. “I told you we had no mages…”

Ian nodded and said, “Whelp, I guess that’s my queue.” He turned the handle on the door while they were still moving at 60mph and said, “Go get ‘em.” The others watched in shocked disbelief as Scraps jumped out of the speeding van, hit the asphalt, and didn’t so much as roll as glide over it before smashing into the nearest chasing vehicle. Shrapnel of every kind flew in all directions and the sound of metal tearing and crunching rang out.

The car behind it managed to veer out of the way, shuddering to a halt just before it could run into a building, but the one behind that saw the stopped and crumpled obstruction too late to turn away. “Hey oh…” Ian commented mildly as the last car rear-ended the first and the back end came up off the pavement before slamming down again. “Two for the price of one…” They got onto the expressway and began to relax again as the rain died down.

Ember glanced out the window. “So, uh… What about Scraps?”

“He’ll catch up,” Grim remarked, unconcerned. It turned out not to matter in the greater scheme of things because as they took the off-ramp, there was an ambush set up. The same type of cars moved out to block the narrow one-lane exit. On pure instinct, the driver of the van swerved off the road and down a grassy embankment, bumpily getting them down onto a side street.

It seemed their pursuers were ready for that though as a car slammed into the side of the van, pinning it to a brick building to their left. As the van grinded against the structure, more cars showed up, pinning them in. Ian sighed at having to do the dirty work and opened the backdoors.

Guns opened fired and the bullets seemed to melt away as they came into contact with his invisible shield. Using his will alone, he began lifting bodies a dozen feet or so up into the air and letting them drop down again. Suddenly Ember slammed into him, knocking them both to the ground as a wave of compressed sound screeched over them and in into the windows of the building beyond, shattering them and exploding glass in all directions.

“It’s the banshee!” one of Bobby’s lieutenants cried as they huddled in the van. Val tried to jump out to reach him, but Bobby wrapped an arm around her and hauled her back. He took out a handgun from somewhere and began firing around the door. Ian, his ears ringing, got to his feet, trying to identify the threat.

Ember dragged him behind one of the conveniently-parked sedans as another blast rang out along where they’d just been. “Keep her busy,” Ember told him, then streaked off into the night. Ian stared after her, incredulous. He didn’t even know what this thing was.

“Hey, Grim,” Ian shouted as he willed one gunman’s head through the glass window he’d been peeking around. “You been holdin’ out on me? What the fuck’s a banshee?”

“Never thought you’d actually see one,” the ghostly presence provided helpfully. “Switch your shields, it’s an elemental blast.” Ian did as he’d suggested and dived out from behind the sedan as a wailing blast totaled it. Ian saw the banshee standing next to a black car surrounded by goombas and almost stopped in his tracks. She was a short Asian girl with bubblegum pink hair and a black gothic dress that had ruffles and everything.

She thrust her arms out to her sides as if gathering energy, strands of her hair standing on end. He was so entranced by the display, he almost forgot to dodge as she screeched again and a wall of force thundered past him. He tried to shove at her with his will and was stopped cold, hitting a barrier that was so strong it seemed to push him back. He didn’t want to raise the dead, use Spiritfire, or anything else that would give him away, but if Ember didn’t hurry the hell up…

The girl smirked at him and mocked, “Not much of a warlock if you can’t even cast Hellfire…” Just then, a winged formed dived out of the darkness behind them and a wave of Hellfire rained down on their position, incinerating her comrades and singing her dress as she dived out of the way.

She came up with a shocked expression and fired a flurry of blasts at Ember seemingly from the hip. Each one missed as the succubus didn’t seem to dodge so much as vanish into thin air and appear just off the mark. Finally, the girl seemed to have had enough and wailed what seemed to be a barrage of widely dispersed shrills that were less powerful but succeeded in buffeting Ember back.

The banshee retreated with purpose, diving into the one surviving sedan and it sped off into the darkness. Ian stared after it with a stunned expression, doubting if this night could get any stranger. Ember landed softly next to him, dusting herself off. “Miss me?” she asked cheekily.

He grinned and slapped her ass. “How ’bout you move those cars so the van can get out, Ms. Heavy Lifter?” he asked audaciously. She squeaked in surprise and her eyes blazed with lust as she gazed at him. The passengers were a bit shook up and the van was making noises Ian didn’t think were indicative of a clean bill of health, but aside from that they made it to the production warehouse without incident.

While they sat in the back, Val was looking at Ember with newfound respect. Ian turned to the demoness and mentioned, “I didn’t know you could cast Hellfire.”

Ember gave a snort. “Just where do you think warlocks learned it from?”

There was another nondescript white van waiting for them when they reached the warehouse, along with a bored-looking revenant that wordlessly got in beside Ian as they switched vehicles. Ian noticed the amount of people milling around the warehouse and was impressed with the size of the operation. The eggs were already resting inside, surrounded by some kind of incubators.

Narrowing his eyes as Bobby got in and passed around a set of very illegal-looking firearms, Ian questioned, “You have automatic weapons… Why didn’t you use them before?”

Val checked her clip and explained, “For the most part, there is an unwritten rule that guns aren’t allowed in residential areas and other highly-populated sectors likely to bring cops running. The waterfront, where we’re headed, doesn’t make the list.”

Ian struggled to comprehend the logic of this. “But smashing vehicles is okay?” he asked skeptically.

“It’s a psychological thing,” Bobby explained. “People hear gunshots, they start writing to their senator about how unsafe the area they’re living in is. The government asks questions and the Inquisition has to come in and cover everything up. They then put pressure on the rest of us to behave or they’ll start shutting down whole districts.”

“There have been purges before and the backers in Central have made it clear that keeping discrete is mandatory,” Val explained. “For the most part, we don’t even bother taking guns on jobs anymore, but this is different.” Ian frowned at the implied danger on a supposedly ‘regular drop off.’ She added, a bit sheepishly, “Well, that and we kind of stole ‘these’ from a group out in Beacon Hill. The limited number we have is usually reserved for defense.”

“Back at the off-ramp though…” he started to say.

“That was on our border and the area is considered sparsely populated enough to get away with it. If we would have made it a few blocks further, our own armed guards would have been able to cover us,” Val explained. “How do you think we’ve been able to combat other groups who have mages at their disposal?” Ian had wondered about that…

“No wonder your numbers are dwindling,” Grim remarked, “you’re all suicidal…” Bobby frowned and made to defend his people only to be waved down by Val.

She explained as the van started moving, “Me and Bobby…” her voice cracked. “Our mother abandoned us when she brought us to this country. A vampire fed on her once and she got addicted to the sensation it induced. She decided to throw away her life and live her days as a blood slave, leaving us to fend for ourselves. The Night Watch took us in when we had nowhere else to go. Yes, it’s dangerous, but it’s also rewarding.”

Her gaze unfocused and she said in a soft voice, “You’re new so you don’t understand the true extent of our organization or how many people it helps. The base here in the Industrial District is just one aspect, but the trade it does is critical to funding its entire operation. The ripple effect that would occur if we fell is unfathomable.”

Ian sat back and absorbed what she’d said, Ember leaning against him. A short while later they reached their destination in a clearing near the delta that trailed into the river which separated them from Delridge. Across the greater body of water of Puget Sound that flowed into the delta was Harbor Island and in the distance they could make out the lights of the West Seattle Bridge.

They all got out and began the delicate process of transferring the eggs to a pallet that had been set out. From a nearby grove of trees that was maybe a hundred yards off on the opposite side of the clearing from the river they heard menacing growls and the branches and bushes began to shake. A long, lone howl rose up. The werewolves Ian guessed with a derisive snort.

Bobby looked at the woods uneasily. Undefined shapes could be seen darting back and forth between the gaps in the trees. “They’re early,” he revealed. “They don’t usually show up until after we’ve left. We almost never see any sign of them.” Ian shrugged unconcernedly and leaned against the van as the others continued the unloading process.

* * * * *

In the grove of trees, out of their line of sight, Kiara Volchitsa sat on a rock bored to tears as her packmates made a ruckus. She thought it was all a little ridiculous that they tried to make themselves look as fierce and bloodthirsty as possible, but as her father always said, ‘those you can cow with intimidation today are those you won’t have to fight tomorrow.’

And no one was about to question one of the council elders who led the combined packs and was even a big decision maker here in the city. While other packs still maintained the traditional alpha-led institution, their particular breed of Were had done away with it long ago when they’d joined together and become so large that politics started to play a role in the governing of things.

She winced as a particularly annoying yipping started up. That’d be her younger cousin. She sighed heavily. Suddenly, she perked up as she caught a familiar scent. It was an intoxicating mix of pheromones and danger. Shifting form, she stretched to her full nine feet in height, pristine snow white spiky fur covering her entire frame, a fluffy tail waving behind her. Crouching in a rest position, she flexed her razor sharp claws and began a lazy lope out of the tree line to investigate, ignoring the inquisitive calls of her pack.

* * * * *

Danielle Chevalier lay flat against the mud bank, looking down the scope of her AS50 sniper rifle, watching the miscreants unload the van. The Church-sanctioned Demon Slayer of the 9th Order wondered for the umpteenth time what she was doing there. They’d given her the time and location of the drop-off with instructions to create insurmountable tension between the two groups.

When the Church had taken her in after her family had been slaughtered by a demon, it had been to shape her for a higher calling. At least, that’s what they’d always told her. So far, all she’d been doing for the past two years since they’d declared her ready to take up the fight at the ripe old age of sixteen had been unexplained assassination assignments and one job infiltrating a cult out in the Midwest that hadn’t led to anything.

They’d assured her that she would cleanse the world and that her actions held a greater purpose. She sighed as the High Inquisitor’s favorite quote rang in her head, “What right does the clay have to question the potter?” She used to consider everything they’d told her as irrefutable fact. She wondered when it was she’d started doubting what they decreed.

A memory flashed through her mind and she shuddered and clenched her eyes shut as the screams of one of her former peers at the enclave hung by spikes attached to the ceiling, slowly being roasted alive by the flames below. Her breathing picked up and she buried her head against her arm to stave off another panic attack. ‘Yes,’ she thought grimly, trying to block out the images that still plagued her nightmares. ‘I remember the exact moment I lost my faith.’

She sniffled and rubbed her eyes, shaking herself furiously. Still, Dani wondered at what her actions tonight were supposed to accomplish. She knew the Order had it in for more than demons. In fact, they disliked mages and most, if not all, supernatural creatures in general, only interacting with them when they were forced to. In some countries the Church resided in, they still had a branch dedicated to witch hunting.

However, this group- this… ‘Night Watch’ didn’t have either. If she provoked a fight with the Were, they’d be massacred. There had been rumors of some high-ranking bishops in the city participating in the control games going on in Central, using the Slayers as their personal tools to rig the outcome of events in their favor. Unfounded rumors that were made up of the usual backroom whisperings that created drama and intrigue without anyone actually believing it, of course. She believed it…

Dani grimaced as she surveyed the land. She did have one card to play, however. While she was sworn to do her duty, she doubted those manipulating her had accounted for the Delridge militia that had shown up in force about ten minutes ago, crossing the river in Zodiacs.

They were about three hundred yards off at the mouth of the delta, waiting in eagerness for the shipment to be unloaded so they could swoop in and grab it. Dani shook her head. She didn’t know much about the warring factions, but it seemed ridiculous that everyone knew the exact time and place this was going down. There had to be a mole or three in their organization, or perhaps one of their backers was playing both sides.

Whatever the case, it didn’t matter anymore as the militia began moving, seeing the Night Watch had finished. Adrenaline rushed through her as she searched frantically for a werewolf to hit. If she timed it right, the Were would think they were being attacked by one of the factions from Delridge and the Night Watch could escape.

She’d already switched out her incendiary rounds for her enchanted ones. One shot and she’d at least remove one more monster from the world. ‘Come on, come on,’ she urged, trying to get a bead on the vague targets darting between the trees. Suddenly, a snow white form jumped out at her through the scope.

* * * * *

They’d just finished unloading and were getting back into the van when a scrawny kid buried in a jacket much too big for him cried out, “Were!” Everyone quickly looked back towards the woods.

Val smacked him upside the head. “It’s just one,” she admonished. “Quit scaring the crap out of everybody.” Ian waited, one foot resting on the back bumper as the werewolf leisurely made its way over to them. He didn’t know what this was about, but it was nearly 2AM… The least it could do was hurry its ass up.

The werewolf neared and then froze when it got a good look at him. Ian’s eyes narrowed as he took in the thing’s appearance. Just as he began to associate the piercing golden orbs of the beast that shined in the moonlight with the beauty he’d seen in the apartment complex, a shot rang out. The round pierced her heart and traveled out the other side. Kiara fell to her knees as if in slow motion, her form shifting back to human, a shocked expression on her face. The world seemed to freeze as silence permeated the clearing and Ian leapt towards her, catching her body before it could hit the ground.

In the next instant, chaos reigned. Dozens of shifters exploded out of the trees and charged them. An equal number of the group from Delridge rushed them from the other side. One of Bobby’s lieutenants shouted, “It’s a trap! They’re trying to blame it on us.” Ian ignored it all as he held the girl and felt the rest of her vitals start to fail.

He called on his magic, desperately trying to freeze her organs in suspended animation. What was left of her heart wasn’t even twitching and she was clinically dead. The militia from Delridge slowed their charge as they realized just how many ‘too-deadly-to-be-called wolves’ there were and that they were actually ‘attacking.’ Suddenly, the idea of an easy snatch and grab was fast turning into a nightmare.

The shifters noticed the Delridge group as well and most of them broke off to face what they thought was the main element in an ambush. At the van, Bobby hesitated as he saw them stuck in the middle of a very bad situation. He wanted to shout at the Were, ‘it wasn’t us!’ He wanted to rail at the heavens at the unfairness of it all. Yet, he knew they needed to get out of there. He had to protect his people.

Unfortunately, he realized, Ian wasn’t inside the van, and as he watched, the succubus and the cloaked thing ran out to defend his kneeling, oblivious form. ‘What the hell is he doing?!’ Bobby screamed in his head. Stuck between fight or flight, his sister took the situation out of his hands as she grabbed her G36 and ran zigzagging towards where she thought the sniper was.

“God fucking damnit!” Bobby roared punching the side of the van. “Fire. Fire!” He aimed his own rifle as the rest of them crowded out the back and raised their M4 carbines towards the onrushing mass of fur and death, knowing they couldn’t do anything but slow them down.

The running wolves were peppered by automatic fire, many of them going down in tumbles of flying dirt and yips of pain. Most of the ones who fell were more hurt by the fall than the projectiles though, and a good portion got back on their paws and continued.

On the other side of the field, the werewolves and the militia engaged each other. The Delridge faction had a total of three mages and the rest were armed. The shifters ripped into the shell-shocked humans, taking a good bite out of their numbers before they recovered enough to make a concerted effort to fend off the attacks. One wizard with an affinity for Earth Magic took a small squad and sneaked around the melee to try and secure the precious cargo.

At the site Kiara fell, Ian desperately worked to keep her… well, not ‘alive,’ but at least inhabited with a soul. He anchored it to her body, not letting her fade away. He couldn’t regenerate tissue, let alone a new heart, but he could make it so her body didn’t need a heart to function. Before he could finish that thought, she scared the shit out of him when she woke up suddenly gasping for air she no longer needed.

Ian’s eyes widened and he lunged for her head, keeping her chin up so she wouldn’t see the gaping hole in her own chest. At the same time, he desperately tried to knock her out again with a sleep spell. Her entire body shuddered as she could feel everything that was happening to her, his magic dulling nothing in terms of pain.

Her terrified eyes locked onto his and she shivered. “S- s- so c- cold,” she stuttered. Tears leaked out of his eyes as he winced at what it must feel like to no longer be connected to a part of your body anymore, your insides having been numbed, and yet still able to feel that there was something missing. On the third try, he managed to overpower her excited nervous system and her eyes closed as she fell into a deep sleep.

Ember mumbled quietly, “Company…” Ian spared a quick glance to take account of the situation.

“You take the Were. Try not to kill them,” he said. “Scraps, take those guys trying to sneak up behind us. I don’t care how you deal with them.” Ian could feel Kiara’s soul tugging at his grasp and he tightened his grip, locking it in place.

Ember dashed forward to meet the onrushing lupine creatures, shooting jets of Hellfire in their path to slow them down and make them concentrate on her. She had a small advantage over them in speed, but they had the numbers and knew how to work together. Bobby and the rest began concentrating their fire on those werewolves that tried to jump over the flames, hitting them in midair in controlled bursts.

Scraps charged the oncoming squad of militia as they crept up behind the van and tore through two of the gunmen before they even knew he was there. Then he was dodging rock projectiles and moving fast as the ground beneath him constantly turned to quicksand.

On the other side of the clearing, the Delridge militia had actually begun to turn their luck around and was pushing the Were back towards the area around the van. One of the mages worked to maintain a shield around a cluster of them while the other, an unregistered druid, summoned huge vines that were gripping and thrashing any of the werewolves that weren’t fast enough to evade their grasp. All the while shifters fell like flies from automatic fire, though mortal injuries were rare.

Ian was getting angrier, his temper flaring, soon to become volatile. He needed to find a healer fast to regenerate what he was preserving and her own kin were attacking the wrong people, even managing to bite and scratch Ember twice. Scraps was currently locked in a stalemate as he was entombed in a pillar of Earth, but if the mage let up on the metric tons of pressure he was using to hold the revenant in, he’d die in a heartbeat.

When a round whizzed past his head from the main Delridge group, he’d had enough. He stood up and bowed his head, clenching his fists. Making sure his link to Kiara was secure and her soul wasn’t going to slip, he let the spirits around him use his magic to manifest themselves, not even trying to regulate the power flowing out of him.

The battle on all sides froze as thousands of ghostly shades appeared around the clearing. Ian’s eyes flashed open, glowing green as a wispy, smoky aura surrounded him from all the energy he was channeling. He formed a single, all-encompassing command in his mind of what he wanted done and then unleashed the dead.

The roiling mass of ghosts exploded into action. The spectral horde began ripping the remaining militia apart while buffeting and corralling the werewolves into a big circle. Individually, they couldn’t do much physically. But together, with countless eager grasping hands, it was a nightmare for anyone without a strong shield.

One mage faltered under the weight of the attacks, but the Earth Mage and the druid held strong, directing their focus to Ian, trying to bring him down. The druid tried to wrap him in vines, but the hardy tentacles caught ablaze before they could reach him, seeming to writhe in agony as Spiritfire ran down their entire lengths. Caught by surprise, his head snapped back as Bobby shot him when he saw his shield falter.

The Earth Mage tried a different approach and simply threw chucks of rock at Ian. He was prepared for the shield to stop them though, and the rocks didn’t break apart on contact. Instead, they seemed to stick to the shield, wrapping around it like a stone cocoon. At the same time, Ian sunk, the earth seeming to bend around Ian’s shield like a bubble, compressing it with more and more force.

Lastly, a ball of earth was raised high overhead, reshaping and hardening into a deadly spike that was poised to pierce Ian’s weakened shield. In his eagerness though, his control that was keeping Scraps trapped lessened and the revenant exploded out of the brittle casing, wrapping a bandaged hand around the Earth Mage’s neck and snapping it in one fluid motion, disintegrating the constructs that trapped Ian as the energy that held them together vanished.

After the last of the screams had died away, a still calm descended over the clearing. The werewolves growled and shifted around, but a solid ring of ghosts kept them trapped where they were. Ian approached them as Ember scooped up Kiara’s unconscious body and trailed after him. “Anyone a healer?” he asked them without preamble.

The shifters simply stared back at him with hostility. Ian sighed, not expecting to get anywhere. Pointing at Kiara and doing charades while trying to get them to understand that it wasn’t too late for her would doubtless produce the same results. He’d been about to use force to get a few of them to change back to human-form so he could at least have a conversation when a horn was blown in the distance.

It was a deep, chilling sound that set his teeth on edge. All the werewolves in the circle perked up at the sound and seemed to get excited. He sighed, thinking, ‘reinforcements then.’ Turning to Bobby, he said, “You should leave now.” Prepared for the young leader’s arguments, Ian added, “Ember will go after Val. You need to get back to the warehouse. Too many people knew about this.”

“It’s likely another faction decided to use this as a distraction,” he reasoned. “I’ll send Scraps along as well once I’m finished here.” Bobby was torn between leaving Ian to face an army of werewolves, trusting his sister’s safety to a demon, and going back to defend his home. Finally, the responsibility of all those relying on him determined his next action. He turned and ordered the others in motion.

Ember rested Kiara at Ian’s feet and straightened, looking him in the eye. Threading her fingers through his hair, she pulled him in for a deep, possessive kiss. “Stay alive,” she murmured as she leaned back. A goofy smile crossed Ian’s face and she rolled her eyes. “If you manage to get yourself killed, I’ll reach into the pits of the underworld to get you back… just so I can kill you myself for making me go through the trouble.” With that, she shifted form, spread her wings, and took off into the night.

Ian and Scraps turned to face the oncoming host. SUVs and Jeeps with mounted .50 Cal machine gun turrets were bearing down on them, hunchbacked figures loping along beside them. The werewolves in the circle were looking decidedly positive given their current predicament. Ian raised his hand palm upward and the nearly forty dead bodies around the clearing picked themselves up and formed ranks in front of him.

He waited, half expecting them to open fire as soon as they got into range. They seemed to take into consideration the trapped packmates, however -probably thinking along the lines of them being hostages. “As if I needed such a thing,” Ian chuckled to himself darkly.

He was feeling lightheaded from all the power he was channeling. He was also pissed off that he’d been forced to reveal himself. The repercussions for the Night Watch were unknown and coupled with his bad history of werewolves, he really didn’t know what he’d do if they pressed him. One thing was for sure, he wasn’t in a charitable mood.

The vehicles skidded to a stop on the gravel, a massive line of shifters and steel facing off against Ian. Three individuals in human-form that were clearly the leaders stepped out of a Jeep and moved to the front of the ranks of Were, numbering close to a hundred strong, standing a dozen feet in front of the line of undead.

There was a tension in the air that clashed with the quiet stillness of the clearing, interrupted only by the multitude of growls that made up an eerie rumbling. The wind ruffled Ian’s hair as he stared them down. Then, one of the three, a blond-haired bear of a man, caught sight of Kiara laying there at the necromancer’s feet and he choked out a cry of rage, grief, and disbelief.

He surged forward and the incorporated pack tensed. But as the man reached the line of undead, instead of attacking, they opened their ranks to let him pass. He stumbled to his knees when he reached her and cradled her head in his arms. Holding her to his chest, he rocked his body, repeating over and over, “No, no, no…”

Ian let out the breath he’d been holding and stated, “She can still be saved.” The man looked up sharply at his words and his face went from showing incredulity to fury when he thought he was being mocked. He could feel that she didn’t have a pulse. He could see the gaping wound in her chest and knew that whatever had made it had been enchanted as there were no signs of regeneration.

“I’m keeping her soul anchored,” Ian explained. “I could wake her, but she’d be in tremendous pain. I need someone to fix her internal organs and whatever else is wrong before her body can support her soul on its own.”

The man stared at Ian for a long moment before he raised his voice, “Orlov, quick! Get over here.”

The two remaining leaders, a man and a woman, stepped forward in alarm. “What are you doing?” the man shouted. “Can’t you see he’s trying to trick you? She’s gone, Konstantin. There are others who need the shaman’s help.”

“You can’t trust him,” the woman advised worriedly. “Come away from there and we’ll remove his wickedness from the world.” Orlov stepped forward despite the others’ protests. Ian didn’t know if shamans had a Hippocratic Oath, but he got the impression that the chance to save a life trumped whatever conditioned displeasure they had for necromancers.

The male leader who’d taken offense turned to the others and ordered, “Attack! Can’t you see what he is? Attack, damn you!” The mass of werewolves shuffled nervously, but none moved forward. Whether it was because the blond-haired leader trumped the other’s authority or they were still concerned about the ‘hostages,’ Ian didn’t know.

The agitator turned bright red in the face at their inaction and turned to glare at the blond-haired man. “You know the law!” he accused. “Not even you can go against the Council’s decree.”

The blond man stood and faced his accuser and in a firm voice declared, “I will do whatever it takes if there’s even the smallest chance of saving my daughter.”

The other man’s eyes flashed in triumph. He growled at Kiara’s father, already shifting forms, “Then the conditions have been met and I challenge you for the right to lead-”

“Seriously?” Ian interrupted, incensed. “You’re doing this now?” Turning to Scraps, he ordered, “Get rid of this clown.”

The revenant crossed the 20ft gap between them faster than the eye could follow and punched the creature that now out-massed him by a good three or four times. He hit at about chest height and no one expected it to be very effective given the size difference, so they were shocked when it knocked the werewolf back a good six feet, doubling him over.

Before he could recover, Scraps was already there, wailing away at him without the slightest hint of form or technique; simply slugging him with machine-like persistence, shattering bones wherever his fists landed. The outmatched werewolf desperately tried to recover, lashing out with a claw to try and suspend the relentless onslaught.

Large furrows opened up along the revenant’s chest, shredding the dark tatters and patchwork flesh beneath. Scraps didn’t appear to notice, continuing to pummel away until the weakened lupine figure was knocked down and forced to fight on his knees, then on his side, then not at all -his injuries shifting him back to human-form. The revenant’s mangled chest knitted back together, the black cloth weaving closed the large rents.

The shifters watched the display with shocked expressions, stunned by the brutality displayed by the tattered ragman that looked as if a strong gust of wind would blow him over. Ian hadn’t watched the ‘fight,’ turning away after he’d given the order and kneeling next to the shaman, telling him what he was preserving and the damage he’d observed.

Orlov also paid no heed to what was going on behind him. He pulled out an assortment of items. Breaking a stick of self-lighting incense, he began a hair-raising rhythmic chant, rocking back and forth. He took a vial of water and spritzed her face and then reached into his pouch. His hands came out wet with something that looked suspiciously like blood and began gliding over Kiara’s inert form, hovering over the wound in her chest. Ian saw a soft glow emanating from the liquid. Reforming the heart took the most effort and Ian was humbled by the procedure, knowing he’d never be able to do something like that.

It was an enlightening experience to work with another mage to revive someone. After he would heal an area, Ian would gradually let Orlov take more and more control of her vital systems. Kiara’s father choked up as her wound closed and color began returning to her face. Her eyes blinked open and then widened as she recognized her father crouched over her. Ian turned away as they began sharing a tearful embrace and started walking in the direction he’d come from.

The ring of ghosts vanished into the gloom and the bodies of the dead began following him like a procession. Scraps stopped battering the bloody body of the rebellious upstart and fell in beside him. The werewolves watched his retreating form fade away in silent awe, knowing this was a story they’d never tire of telling. Ian directed the zombies to cross into Delridge’s territory, not wanting the bodies found on this side of the river.

He then noticed a fire that was growing larger in the distance. Ian estimated that it was near where the main warehouse he’d stayed in was located and ordered Scraps to sprint back and help those in need. He made sure to hand Grim over to him so the Archive could direct his actions, still unsure of just how much free will and initiative the revenant could exercise.

He sighed and rubbed his face as he watched the cloaked figure take off into the night. It was roughly a thirty minute walk -if he didn’t get lost- and he predicted whatever was going down would be over by the time he made it back.

* * * * *

Dani wasn’t used to being hunted. After she’d fired her shot, she’d waited until she’d thought everyone was engaged and then slipped away. Only someone had noticed… She hadn’t made it far down the bank before shots were fired in her direction and she observed a girl about her age running after her. Since then, it had been a cat and mouse chase once Dani had managed to reach the buildings.

She’d thought she’d be able to lose her pursuer in the concrete jungle, but this girl seemed to know the area like the back of her hand. Dani frowned as she heard the running footsteps behind her actually get louder. ‘How the hell is she still gaining on me?’ she wondered, incredulous. She was the fittest person she knew of, but the other girl seemed to be a natural runner. She also wasn’t weighed down by fifty pounds of gear, she reminded herself.

Releasing a heavy sigh and resigning herself to a confrontation, she ducked into the shadows of an alley for the third time and rested her pack on the ground. Every other time she’d tried to give her pursuer the slip it had failed, but this time she wasn’t trying to run. Just as she saw the barrel of a rifle peak around the corner, she lunged and grabbed at the weapon, sending an elbow streaking out and pivoting to rip it from the other’s grasp.

Tossing it away, she turned, expecting the other girl to stop once she’d been disarmed. Dani got a knee in her midsection for her mistake and Val threw a fist at her mouth which she barely managed to dodge. She took up a stance and began trying to control the fight. She was better trained, but Val was scrappy and determined and there were a lot of makeshift weapons lying around the alleyway.

Despite Val fighting like a wildcat, Dani gave better than she got and after the fourth time she’d knocked her opponent down, the girl from the Night Watch was slow getting up. Panting, Dani shouted, “Stop! I tried to help you.”

Val laughed and spit to the side. “Yeah, sure… ’cause inciting the Were was such a big fucking favor.” She lunged and went in for a punch, but stopped short at the last second and kicked out into the Demon Slayer’s stomach, slamming her back into the brick wall behind her.

As Val made to press her advantage, Dani spun and drew a slim knife. Wrapping an arm around Val’s neck, her knife shot up and rested a fraction from her face. Expecting Val to freeze, she was shocked when she felt the girl continue struggling. “Stop,” Dani repeated desperately, not wanting to kill an innocent. “Those were my orders. I waited until the group from Delridge made their charge to fire so you guys could escape.”

Val’s resistance waned as she took in her words. Then a hand latched onto Dani’s arm which held the knife and she was tugged away with superhuman strength. Dani barely managed to roll to her feet, her eyes widening in shock as she turned to see a succubus in demon-form standing in front of her. Instincts took over and she threw her enchanted knife at the monster with glowing red eyes, simultaneously rolling backwards and drawing her Beretta 92A1 with enchanted bullets.

Ember snarled as she sensed the danger to her and shot backwards into the air as shots rang out. Dani desperately tried to get a bead on her target as she vanished into the night. She breathed hard as her arm whipped around, looking for the black-winged demoness.

Suddenly, out of the darkness shot a ball of Hellfire. Dani dodged but the ball exploded when it was flush with her and the force of it threw her into a wall. As her shoulder was slammed into brick, her gun fell out of her nerveless fingers. Groaning in pain, she tried to lunge for it with her working hand, only to have Val scoop it up before she could get there.

“N- no,” Dani croaked, her vision blurring. “Why? How c- could you… side with a demon?”

Val looked down at her contemptuously as Ember landed nearby. “Why did you shoot the werewolf?” she shot back. “Why not simply fire into the woods if those were your orders? You think every single one of them deserves to die just because of what they are? People like you make me sick…” She turned and handed Ember the gun and walked off, reaching down to grab the strap of her assault rifle as she went.

Ember looked at the fallen slayer carefully. She ejected the clip and examined the enhanced bullets. Emptying them onto the ground, she ejected the round in the chamber and popped the empty clip back in, tossing the gun at her feet. “Tell me,” the demoness murmured to Dani. “Do they still burn you to death if you fail the Rite of Divine Cleansing?”

Dani’s eyes widened as the succubus cited the secret rite of passage all Slayers go through before they’re deemed ready to serve. An image of a burning body hung by spikes flashed before her eyes and her stomach roiled. Ember smiled viciously at her distressed expression and whispered, “You know the warlocks they have you murder to ‘test your resolve’ are those taken from their homes in the dead of night, right?”

Dani shook her head in denial, even though the sound of the inquisitors’ laughter as Ben dangled and screamed seared her mind. “They never hurt a soul, never even tried to summon a demon,” Ember continued in a scornful voice. “Your order kills those who show restraint, encouraging other warlock’s to make pacts with us. Only, their desperation attracts the strongest and most sadistic of our kind.”

“You want to know why there are so many rogue demons in the world?” the succubus pressed mercilessly. “It’s because your order creates an environment where anything is better than the alternative.” She gave a snort at the fallen girl’s stricken face. “Demon Slayers aren’t there to fight demons, youngling. They’re there in case the oppressed and abused decide to rise up and do something about your corrupt institution -which only survives within the Church because all the other branches are afraid of them.”

Ember crouched down and tilted her head like she was telling Dani a secret. “And when they can’t find warlocks for their silly little ceremony… They’ll take anyone –even children- to fill their quotas.” Dani’s breathing picked up as she remembered the last conversation she and Ben had shared.

From the other end of the alley, Val screamed, “Ember! We have to go. There’s a fire at the shelter.” She sounded hysterical. “The families… the kids… Oh, God. Hurry!” Ember took off running towards Val as she turned and ran in the direction of the flames. The demonesses spread her wings and launched herself into the air, swooping down to grab Val under her arms and lift them both aloft.

Dani watched them go feeling numb. She willed herself to keep strong, but she felt her insides crumbling. She wanted to reject what she’d been told, but the words rang too true in her heart for her to deny. As her head dropped to the concrete, her last thought before she blacked out was that a demon had just spared her life…

* * * * *

Ian had misjudged the distance and at forty-five minutes since he’d started, he was still a ways from the blaze that looked to have diminished not at all. He’d actually decided to head for his car since it was almost on the way and he’d traverse the last few blocks quicker. As he walked along the sidewalk, he wondered at where all the shifters had come from.

As far as he knew, they couldn’t live on Harbor Island. Grim had told him that many of the werewolves in the combined pack lived on cargo ships and islands in the south pacific, with a large majority also residing in the Russian tundra. That didn’t account for how they could organize these kinds of numbers so quickly.

He pulled out his phone and began doing some searching. After awhile, he found a likely location for their base. There was an abandoned depot close-by that the 833rd Transportation Battalion used to operate out of. He typed himself a note to check that out sometime before pocketing his phone again.

As he looked up to check the street signs, he felt a prick in his neck. The next thing he knew, he was on the ground, his surroundings darkening. He heard screeching tires and the last image he recalled was the blurred outline of dark, indistinct figures, one wearing a long overcoat and the other two FBI jackets.

* * * * *

Agent Ashley Morgan studied Ian’s slumped-over form as he rested between two agents in the back of the black Chevy Tahoe. They had been on their way to investigate the fire, as there had been numerous reports of supernatural activity in the area, when who should show up but Mr. number-one-on-the-FBI’s-unpublished-most-wanted-list, head in the clouds, unprotected by a shield, and -most importantly- without the golem that had reportedly bested all five of her naïve, but still competent newbies.

She had been furious when the cops had called her a few days ago, saying they’d found her missing rookies in a rundown motel, one of them requiring a change of clothes and all of them needing to be checked out by a medical team. Ashley knew that although she’d drilled into them the dangers of necromancers and gone over Mr. Cale’s particular case thoroughly, they hadn’t bought it.

She just hadn’t thought they’d of been stupid enough to try that shit without at least notifying someone. If they weren’t so short-handed, she would have kicked them out. Ashley calmed her breathing as her temper got the best of her. Looking again at Ian, she swallowed nervously. Her orders were to kill him, but…

She couldn’t quite explain why she’d hesitated. All she knew was that after they’d shot the knockout dart to verify if he really ‘was’ the boy they were looking for, instead of ordering the restful-looking necromancer shot, she’d ordered the others to put him in the back of the vehicle. Ashley sighed, knowing the decision might cost her her job… or more. She constantly got memos to ignore individuals who’d ‘disappeared.’ All she knew was that after he’d spared her life, she wasn’t able to take his so carelessly. If the higher-ups wanted him dead, they could get their asses over to Seattle and kill him themselves.

* * * * *

Lin Mei stood beside her mother and shook her head to get her pink bangs out of her eyes. She flinched as another scream filled the room, the action moving her hair back, obscuring her vision. As she made to fix it again, her mother stepped on her foot, silently urging her not to fidget lest she gain the attention of the Honorable Master while he was in such a terrible mood.

Master Long seemed to have tired of torturing the leader of the men sent to ambush the Night Watch in any case. He made a gesture and two men holding long spears of bamboo began arranging the final stage of the unfortunate underling’s prolonged death. He turned his stormy gaze on the young banshee and stated, “If you had led tonight’s raid, that would have been you.”

Moving to stand in front of her, he said, “As it stands, and in light of your mother’s entreaties, I will overlook your failure tonight and give you another chance.” Mei recognized that at this point she was supposed to thank him profusely for sparing her, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it for this vile man.

He frowned at her silence. “Your recent successes have made you overconfident, careless even,” Master Long declared. He reached out and cupped her mother’s ass. “Perhaps… you simply need the proper motivation.” His eyes blazed with lust as hers flashed in hatred. “The esteemed Mistress Lin has begged me often to prolong your visit to my bed, saying things like ‘the fruit is so much sweeter when it’s ripest’ and ‘it will taste bitter if you bite into it too soon.”

He chuckled, “Maybe you’re ready now, hmm? Maybe you’ve become restless in waiting as I have and are starting to make mistakes.” Her mother reached out a hand to caress the leader of the Tiandihui, occupying his attention to spare her daughter.

“We banshees mature differently,” her mother whispered in his ear as she pressed her tits against him. “It will just be a little longer, Honorable Master.” Slowly, her talented seduction captivated him and he waved absently, dismissing the gathering as he retired to his rooms.

As Mei retreated, tears pooling in her eyes, Master Long’s voice reached her ears, giving her a last warning. “The Heaven and Earth Society has withstood nearly three hundred years of change. It will not fall while I reign. If you bring disgrace upon us again, I will take your flower… and then I will gag that pretty mouth of yours and give you to the men until you are no longer in control of your senses.”

* * * * *

Dani knelt in the clearing where it had all began to change for her, rubbing the soil that had been scorched by Hellfire between her fingertips. ‘So the Night Watch has a mage after all,’ she mused. ‘The warlock must be extremely powerful to have summoned so potent a demon.’ She sighed as the demon’s words came back to her.

Events she’d forgotten about started to make more sense. Ben coming into her room the night before he’d been execu- tortured to death… telling her some wild story about his challenge for the Rite of Divine Cleansing. He’d been spouting some nonsense about his chosen mark being a little girl. Even going so far as to say she didn’t have an ounce of magic to her name.

Then he’d admitted his ‘crime.’ He’d let her live, he’d told her. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Tears trailed down her face as she knelt on the scorched earth. She’d been so incredulous at the time… so wrapped up in her faith. She couldn’t even comprehend what he’d been telling her.

There was no failing the Rite. You simply did it and moved on. ‘Not’ killing the ‘plague of humanity’ had never even occurred to her as an option. When she’d killed the scruffy-looking man in her assigned chamber, it’d been easy to see him as an evil ritualistic mass murderer. Of course, she couldn’t really see much of his face through all the bruises… but that just made him look more menacing.

She hiccupped and cried for her friend, for her lost innocence, for the scores of people she’d killed. Dani realized her life -everything she could fucking remember from the time the rogue demon had taken her parents- had been given to the 9th Order. She remembered the look on the kindly sister’s face at the orphanage that took her in when Dani had told her that she’d accepted the traveling Inquisitor’s offer to join the 9th.

The mixture of pity and disgust that she’d seen in response now roiled in the pit of her stomach. The entire Order was a blight on the Church’s good name. Her eyes flashed as she made a decision, knowing she would probably share Ben’s fate for her actions –or worse. There was a seventy-two hour grace period after each job she performed. At that time, if she hadn’t checked in yet, she’d better have been dead or nearly so. The 9th didn’t take desertion lightly.

She needed more information though, before she resigned herself to her fate completely, which meant she needed to find that succubus –Ember, the girl had called her… Her mind set, her path decided, she lowered her hood over her face and hoisted her rifle, setting off to enter into the lair of the enemy, murmuring, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

* * * * *

Ian woke to the sharp ammonia smell of the salts waved under his nose. His eyes blinked open and he squinted against the bright light. He slowly recognized the sorceress that had chased him back in his old town and the scrawny redheaded kid with glasses that had burst into his motel room. He instinctively tried to shield and got a nasty shock for his trouble. He winced as the pain cleared his head and he saw more of his surroundings, recognizing it as a kind of office. He was bound to a chair in the center of the room. The three of them were alone, but he thought he heard faint sounds coming from outside the door.

“Don’t try to use magic,” Ashley warned him, not unkindly. “The collar prevents it and the voltage goes up with subsequent usage.” She sat across from him as Ian grimaced at the new situation he found himself in.

He then grinned and chuckled to himself, “Still beats the motel… at least the heat works in this place.”

Ashley raised an eyebrow when she saw his perilous circumstances hadn’t had the effect she’d anticipated. Frustrated, she leaned forward and told him, “We’re waiting for my boss’s boss to show up and take custody of you. While we’re just killing time however, I think I’ll have a look at what you’ve been up to in the weeks we’ve been apart.”

Ian gave her a level stare and she frowned when she met his mental barrier and wasn’t able to penetrate. She shocked him and said in an irritated voice, “Let me in. I can do this all day.”

Ian knew from his lessons that when a sorcerer tried to read you, they were leaving their consciousness wide-open in terms of what you projected. This allowed them to sift through more information faster, but they weren’t in control of what was shown. Most of the time, they were interested in what you were thinking about so this wasn’t a problem.

Ian shook his head as another shock ran through him. ‘Fine,’ he thought. ‘I’ll give you something.’ He projected what he wanted at her and she took it all, reliving it through her own eyes, unprepared for the sudden flood of information. Her throat caught as images of his sister’s mutilated body filled her vision, the werewolf stalking towards her. Tears fell from her eyes as she realized how young he’d been at the time.

She was powerless to do anything but watch as Ian showed her the event that changed his life. When it was through, she was shivering. Slowly, she tried to get to more relevant information, only to be bombarded by images of Ian’s more gruesome dissections. He uncovered the true grittiness of what he saw as a necromancer. He showed her the dead, bodies and spirits. He took her on a ride through some of his more fascinating and terrifying memories of when he’d used his spirit vision.

Ashley bolted from her seat and crossed behind her desk, puking in a waste basket, the image of flesh knitting together replaying over and over in her mind. She stayed there, bent over her desk and shuddering for a full minute, Ian’s experiences shining in her head clear as day. She could only hope that over time they would fade. Whatever happened when the Director got here, she wasn’t going back into his head.

Roderick, the other resident mind reader, looked at her curiously and offered to go in if she ‘couldn’t take it.’ Ian gave him a chilling smile and she told the young sorcerer, “Don’t even think about it.” The rookie was insistent though, eager to prove himself and with the serum of youth backing his judgment.

Ashley cursed, knowing it was just this sort of gung-ho attitude that had almost gotten him killed a few days ago. It was to be expected, she supposed. The agency sought out those applicants perceived as ‘hungry’ and encouraged the attitude. Just as she was about to put her foot down and make it an order, a deep, thundering *boom* filled the air as something hit the building’s wards.

“Uh, oh,” Ian intoned wearing a sardonic grin as excited voices started up from behind the door. More loud ‘booms’ filled the air, the relentless assault seeming to defy the very idea of resistance. Roderick looked shocked at the notion that someone would actually attack one of the Inquisition’s main offices. ‘They’ raided others, not the other way around!

Ian chuckled at his expression. “I know, right? Not how I’d planned on spending my night either…”

“What… is it?” Ashley asked, stunned that it sounded like one single being was doing all the damage. It had taken six months and eight continuous shifts of rune wardens to enchant this building’s defenses. There was no way in hell they could actually be weakening.

May 2018
« Feb