Darke's Knights part 2

            She looked up at me probably thinking she was stuck in a room with a nut case.  I’d been a teacher for more than forty years but this was fast becoming the most difficult thing I’d ever tried to explain.

            “Why me?”

            “Because you were born with it,” I said.

            “What good is it if my dad is dead?”  She demanded.

            I shook my head  “We don’t ask for the power, we just live with it.”

            The girl returned my shake of the head, still not accepting.

            “Ivy,” I said softly.  “It was a demon.  They are summoned from a place we call the NeverNever, as in Peter Pan’s Never Never Land.  They are not actually living things but spirits that take a form.  That form is only something called ‘ectoplasm’.  You cannot kill it, only send it back to the NeverNever.”

            “What did it want with me?”  I could feel the growing fear in her.  Noir’s fur ruffled down to the tip of her cat.

            “You have power,” I told her.  “But demons do not do things for their own reasons.  They must be summoned . . . called by a human.  It was on a mission from a human.”

            “So you are saying someone is out there called a demon to do whatever a demon does . . . oh, right it kills . . . IT KILLED MY DAD!”  Anger was growing in her, overcoming the fear.

            “That is all a demon does, kill then go back to the NeverNever.”  I kept my voice calm.  “We have to find out who wanted you or your father dead.  Until we do, you are not safe.

            “I don’t even know anyone yet,” there was a whine in her voice now.

            “It will be my job to protect you,” I told her.  To myself I though ‘at least until someone in the council figures out how powerful you really are’.

            “And teach me the Seven Laws?” She asked trying to look into my eyes.

            “Yes, that too.” I admitted.  “I will have to find you a mentor.”

            “A mentor?”  She frowned and it did absolutely nothing to mar her innocent beauty.  “For what?”

            “To teach you magic, of course.”  Noir stood on her hind legs and pushed her face against Ivy’s cheek.

            “Oh,” she sounded almost disappointed.  “What are the seven laws?”

            “They generally only pertain to humans, okay?”  I prefaced. 

            She nodded.

            “Thou shalt not kill by use of magic.”  From my cashmere coat’s inner pocket I pulled a pistol and laid it on the table.  “It would be wise if you start learning to shoot.”

            She glanced at the gun then back to her tea.

            “I can’t shoot someone,” she said softly.

            I let that pass and continued.  “Thou shalt not transform others.” I said.  “So no turning people into toads.”

            Not a flicker of reaction.

            “Thou shalt not invade the mind of another.”  I continued.  “This is one of the blackest things there is, at least to me.”

            She nodded, lifting her attention from her cup to me.

            “Thou shalt not enthrall another,” I went on.  “Thou shalt not open the Outer Gates.”

            She watched my lips as if hypnotized.

            “Thou shalt not reach beyond the borders of life,” I said slowly.  Again no reaction.  “And thou shalt not swim against the Currents of Time.”

            I paused for a moment before adding “There is only one punishment for all of them, death and I am the one that would have to do it.”

            “Nice job,” she muttered.  She looked up.  “What would have happened if I’d looked that thing in the eye?”

            “It might have enthralled you,” I said.  “You are not ready to met the eyes of anyone.  Do you remember the last time you looked into someone’s eyes?”

            She shook her head,  “Maybe a couple of years ago.”

            I nodded.

            Ivy looked numb as she said “I’m tired, I want to go home.”

            “You can’t,” I said.  “There might be another demon.”

            “So what am I supposed to do?”

            “Until dawn, you can stay here.”

            “These things only come out at night?”  She glanced out the back window at the black sky.

            “Generally, they don’t like the sun much.”

            “So what am I supposed to do about school and work?”  She pushed back a sob.  “Just stop living?  And taking care of my father’s funeral?”

            “You are safe when there are other people around, like at school,” I said.  “It is when you are alone or in a secluded place that you have to worry.”

            “There were others at the gas station,” she offered.

            “And the only reason you are alive is because I interfered,” I told her.  “Otherwise, there would have been no living witnesses.  How long has your family lived in your father’s home?”

            “We’ve always been there,” she said looking up, caught be the sudden change of subject.  “As long as I’ve been alive.”

            That made things a little easier at least.  “Has your home been a good family home?”

            “I guess,” she said, still confused.

            “Don’t guess, yes or no.”

            There was another flash of anger in her eyes  “Yeah! It’s been a good family home!”

            “The better the home the stronger the threshold,” I muttered more to myself.  Then to Ivy I said “A wizard looses most of his power if he crosses a threshold uninvited and it will stop all but the strongest of the NeverNever.”

            “What if you invite one in and don’t know it?” She was watching me.  “Not like I can tell the difference.”

            “Then you are pretty much screwed,” I told her truthfully.  “It’s the same with vampires.”

            “Vampire?”

            “Never invite one into your home.”

            “As in blood sucker?” she frowned, a furrow forming between her brows.

            “That’s one type.”

            “One type . . . ?” she said in a small voice.

            I covered her hand with mine “I am sorry about your father, Ivy . . . sorry about all this coming down on you so fast.”

            “I don’t know how to live without him,” she sniffled. “He’s always been there protecting me.”

            Tears filled her eyes, trapped for a few heartbeats in her long lashes.

            “Do you think he knew you are a wizard?”

            “I don’t know,” she said with a shrug.

            “How about your mother?  Is she expecting you?”

            “I never had the pleasure of meeting her.” 

            Ivy’s choice of words puzzled me.

            “She left right after I was born.”  She said.  “My dad raised me all by himself.”

            “Did he tell you who your mother was?”

            “No, I don't think he wanted me to know the truth,” she said.  “He always told me a fairytale to keep the truth from me.  I guess he didn’t want me to hate her for leaving us.”

            “Faery tales are often true,” I told her.

            “Maybe,” she said with an indifferent shrug.

            “No maybe,” I said.

            “So are we staying here or going to my house,” she turned her head suddenly as if she had caught something out of the corner of her eye.  Noir ignored her and lapped her cream.  “This place is creepy . . . “

            “It is home,” I said, offering me arm.  “Noir.”  The little cat sank her claws into my jacket and scrambled up me as if I were and tree.  Draping herself around the back of my neck, she looked like a half finished fox stole in black and white.

            “Man that’s what she did on the professor,” she noted.

            “Her favorite spot.”  For like eighty years.  I scratched her between the ears.  She purred contentedly.

            “So how do you and him know each other,” she asked.  “Grandson?”

            I smiled.  “Something like that.”

            “Thought it had to be something like that with Noir and all.”  She paused then asked.  “So is he one too?”

            “I am the only wizard in my family.” I told her truthfully.

            “My dad was talking about him,” she said.

            “Oh?”

            “Guess he was famous with that tiger thing he flew in,” she said, dismissively.

            I nodded.

            “China . . . “ I said, trying not to get lost in the memory.  “That was a very long time ago.”

            “My dad remembered it so can't be that long ago.” She said.

            Once more the lesson of history bounced off the callousness of youth.  I sighed.

            “So we going or staying,” she said,

            “We need to go,” I admitted.

            She picked up her untouched tea and carried it to the sink.  I rose from the table and pull the kitchen broom closet opened and snatched up an old fashion doctor’s bag.

            I paused just long enough to empty her cup down the drain.  Didn’t need any drunken party going on while I was gone.  Something in honey made a few of my little nonhuman friends tipsy beyond belief.  While I was at it, I tucked the honey bear back into the cabinet, the one with the sticking latch.  She watched me without comment and I pulled the back door open for her.

            “Hope you like the great outdoors,” she said.  “The house is a bit out of the way.”

            “That’s okay,” I assured her.

           “It was a great place to grow up,” her voice trailed off at the end.

            Though I followed her down the stairs, I could almost hear her mental wheels spinning and I wondered at her resilience.  Father killed by a demon only a couple of hours ago, more or less kidnapped by a strange man claiming to be a wizard . . .yes she seemed to be taking it in stride.  Herb Nichols had raised her well.

            The garage doors slowly opened as I approached and I reached the passenger door of the pickup just in time to open it for her.  She didn’t think it unusual for a man to do something so un-PC.  I got the impression she expected it.

            Once behind the wheel, I slipped the key into the ignition and turned it, them mashed the starter button and prayed it worked.  It didn’t happen but once or twice every decade but even cars this old sometimes hated magic and I figured with the aura this girl was throwing off, this would be one of those time but it wasn’t.  The truck coughed twice and puttered to life. 

            One armed draped across the back of the seat I turned so I could see what was behind me, I eased out onto the street.  The old fashion narrow truck put my hand behind her head for this maneuver and I half expected her to flinch away from me but though she saw my arm coming, it didn’t bother her.  Back out on the street, I twisted the wheel and head east toward Market.

            “Where to?” I said.

            “You ever heard of Big Bend Forest south of Half Moon Bay?”

            “Yeah,“ I nodded.  Once upon a time, many years ago, I had ridden there on horseback with Ida, gathering a few unusual ingredients for potion making.  I had to double back and head for 101 rather than the Bay Shore.

           “Have you noticed how technology is always breaking around you?” I said by way of small talk.

            More relaxed this second time in the truck, she sat with her knees primly together and hands folded on her lap as if to keep the impossibly short plaid skirt in place in case of an errant gust of wind.  I had forgotten what she was wearing in the chaos of the last few hours and now her long, tanned legs reminded me.  I had to fight to keep my eyes on the traffic.  Damn, Ash, I thought.  You ARE a dirty old man.

            Truth was I really hadn’t paid much attention to women other than as a passing and mild interest in almost thirty-eight years.  No, I wasn’t gay.  I’d had many lovers in my life but the last one had been the one woman for me.  Antonella Ruiz, sent to Stanford by her adoring father had come into my life not long after I returned from my last tour in Viet Nam. 

            It was 1972 and I had just come back to Stanford a few months before after using a DC-3 as a spotter for an artillery battery.  A company of our guys were trapped on a hill about fifty miles up country and the Piper that had gone in to play spotter had gotten shot down.  About to be overrun, the guys were begging HQ to drop HE on their position but the brass was scared of a friendly fire incident and refused to okay it.  Then the radio got blasted, I found out later, and everybody wrote them off.  I’d been sitting in the cockpit of my old DC-3 that had been converted into a gunship called ‘Puffy the Magic Dragon’ listening to the action on the radio.

            Earlier that morning, me and my crew had shot up a couple of square miles of jungle looking for a VC camp and come up empty.  We’d returned to base for a re-arm but the brass nixed the second run.  Didn’t make anyone on my crew that upset.  The mini-guns on that bird ate up ammo to the tune of two thousand rounds a minute.  So, we stood down and figured on reloading later.

            When HQ told those guys they were on their own, I sat up in my seat and pulled the harness into place.  Calling out the window to one of the aircrew, I had him pull the chocks and within two minutes was airborne and headed north.

            I didn’t catch any flak until about two miles out when the whole damn jungle seemed to be spitting tracers at me.  The grunts on the ground saw me coming and popped smoke to mark their position.  From there it was easy.  The one five five’s opened up and dropped a couple of tons of HE around the hill and Charlie did a fade.  The guys on the ground slipped back south and got there in time for dinner.

            Our little Vietnamese buddies got pissed at the BST (big slow target) orbiting the area and brought up some heavy crap, surface to air missiles.  I was on the way out when they shoved one up my ass and blew off one engine.  A DC-3 is a tough old bird but with most of a wing gone, I was going down.  I kept it in the air as long as I could but it was inevitable so I aimed for a big rice paddy and kissed my ass good bye.

            I skimmed in over a water buffalo and if I hadn’t left the gear up, I’d have taken off its head.  Puff bellied in with hardly a ripple and everything looked great until that damn path.  Still doing about 50 miles per hour, the plane hit the rise and ground looped, pivoting on its nose and coming down on its back.

            Noir came up hissing and spitting, blaming me for waking her up but when the shots started coming through the fuselage I told her to shut up and do something useful, like have a look around.  I was upside down, held to my seat by the harness and when I released it, I fell on my back on the damn overhead.  Charlie was coming in from the north, Noir told me so I snatched up an M-16 and stuffed Noir into my flight jacket and beat feet.  I’d just gotten to the tree line when the VC got the mortar set up.  The first couple round blasted Puff to pieces and the next few started walking toward me.

            Ducking mortar bombs and splinters from the exploding trees, I ran through the jungle Noir griping form inside my jacket the whole time.  Turned out she didn’t like CCR or my singing ‘Run Through the Jungle’.  The little bastards chased me for a couple hours and only by constantly moving did I keep them from nailing my ass.  When a squad of our guys appeared around me I turned and fought back.

            When I got back to the base, the CO was mad as hell but some Army general turned up and told me he was gonna  put me in for a CMH I thought he was full of shit but sure enough, two weeks later, I’m in full dress AND a newly promoted light colonel, getting pinned by the theater commander with a letter from Tricky Dick himself.  It was also my ticket out. 

Looking back on it, that whole ceremony thing has be the usual army PR crap but the party those guys from that hill threw me was the award the really matter.  Each and every one of them showed up and shook my hand then, en masse, we got totally wasted.  Antonella, dressed much the same as Ivy, walked into my life a few months later.     

            Her English was terrible and my Spanish was excellent so when our faculty advisor suggested I tutor her, I took one look into those gorgeous brown eyes and figured I’d be crazy not to.  Our first night of study turned into a knock-down drag-out fight in three languages, English, Spanish and French.  I think she even threw some Basque at me because I know at least once I cussed her out in Mandarin.  We ended up in bed and eight years later, one day from our wedding, she was dead, killed by a Black Court count. 

            She never knew about magic and the NeverNever, or that monsters were real.  She never knew that my past had come back to haunt me.  A couple of decades before I’d been responsible for the untimely end of the most powerful Black Court vampire in Europe.  My arrival in Spain did not go unnoticed.   Two months later, I personally drove a stake into the heart of the one woman I had planned to spend the rest of her life with.

            I blinked, the pain still raw.  Ivy had said something and I glanced at the girl beside me in the truck.

            “Pardon?”

            “The tech junk,” she said.  “Yeah, it got to be bothersome.”

            “It is because you are magical,” I said.

            “I was teased as being a jinx in school.”

            “You are,” I told her.  “Believe it or not, you CAN direct it.  I jinxed the lights at the gas station so people driving by wouldn’t see the demon.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “If you are really calm,” I said, “you might be able to get near high tech.  If you are upset or excited, it’ll burn out instantly.  You will learn to direct it..”

            “Can’t all this wait,” she said.

            “Okay.”

            Noir climbed off my shoulder and walked along the back of the seat before dropping with a little kitty purr onto Ivy’s lap.  She absently stroked the cat as she stared out at the passing road.

            “How do I explain you to the authorities?” she said.

            “What is there to explain?” I replied.

            “Who the hell you are!”

            “Who do you have to explain me to?” I watched her out of the corner of my eye.  She was really a beautiful girl and I wondered what she would look like smiling again.

            “My father gets eaten by a demon and I am found at home with . . . “ she made an fluttering motion with her hand to indicate me.  “You don't think they are going to ask how I got home?”

            “How do they know you were with him?”  I asked.

            “My book bag,” she said.  “Has all my ID in it.”

            I shook my head.

            “You'd be surprised how the police only see what they expect to see,” I told her.  “The subject will never come up.”

            “What if they had cameras?” she said.  “Course I was there.”  She sighed deeply.  I caught the rise and fall of her breasts in my peripheral vision.

            “I jinxed the whole place,” I told her.  “It will all be fuzz.”

            “Here,” she said, pointing to a dirty road between a line of trees.

            I turned in and started up a hill.

            “Why did he kill my dad?” she was on the verge of tears again.  I let the car roll to a stop.  Ahead, through the trees, I could see a black and white parked in front of a house.

            “You need to act like you have no idea what is going on . . .“ I told her.  “Can you do that?”

            She nodded.  “I can try.”

            Easing out on the clutch, the pickup crunched up beside the cop car and I switched off.  I was out before Ivy even considered moving.

            “What seems to be the problem, officer?”  I said.

            The cop leaned down to look in at Ivy how was stroking the cat.

            “Are you Miss Nichols?” he asked.  His tone was a little harsh and I bristled a bit.

            She looked up at him, clear-eyed.  “Yes, sir.”

            “What’s going on?”  I demanded.

            “Who are you, sir?”

            “Dr. Ash Darke, a friend.” I told him, adding my current title.

            “Miss . . . can we go in the house?” his tone had softened and my hackles went down.

            “Of course, sir.”  Her tone wasn’t quite bright but she was playing it perfectly, the slight apprehension, a touch of worry.

            She pushed open the door and the cop stepped back.  Noir shot out of the truck and climbed me like a rocket.  Ivy paused and lifted one corner of the mat, revealing a key.  The cop glanced at me as if to say ‘stupid people’ but the look on my face made him blush.  Ivy unlocked the door and stepped in, holding it open for us.  I paused to grab my bag, then followed them inside.

            Noir was off like a rocket again and ended up on the headrest of the oldest Lazyboy on the planet.  Ivy flipped on the room’s lights.

            “Miss . . .” the cop began.

            “Yes sir?”

            The cop pulled off his hat and fumbled with it.

            “I am afraid I have some bad news.” He said.

            I stepped up behind Ivy, close enough to touch her elbow.  She stared at him, blankly.

            “Your father . . . stopped at a gas station in San Mateo,” he said.  “There had been an escape from the San Francisco zoo.”

            I felt her weaken in the knees and put my arm around her waist.

            “A tiger . . . got into the store with your father and four other people.”

            “A tiger?” this time it wasn’t acting, she was truly puzzled.

            “Yes, ma'am...a tiger.” The cop said.

            “You sure you got this right?” she frowned.

            “I'm sorry . . . but your father was killed.” The cop said.

             “You sure it was my father?”

            The Cop nodded.  "Yes, ma'am.  We found his wallet and id . . . and his car is there.”

            “I think i need some water,”  Ivy turned her back to the police and tears flowed down her face.  I guided her to the Lazyboy.

            “Sit, I'll get the water"

            She leaned back in the chair and Noir dropped onto her lap.  Wiping tears with the back of her hand, she stroked the cat without really seeing her.  I stepped into the beautiful little kitchen and found a glass.  I also a box of tissues and carried both back into the livingroom.

            “Ma'am . . . I am afraid we will need to identify the body . . .“ he said, hesitatingly.

            Setting the Kleenex on the little hand carved end table, I handed the glass of water to Ivy.  I had to steady her hand so she wouldn’t spill it.  Her hand was cold.

            “I can do that, Officer.” I offered.

            Ivy lowered her head and took a sip, using my hand to control her trembling.

            “How could a tiger get out of the zoo?” I asked.

            “We have no idea, sir, but there is still an APB out for the cat.  Most of the Bay Area police are on the lookout for it.”

            I could feel the sobs the wracked IVY even though she made very little outward sign.

            “What happens now, officer?” I said, already knowing.

            “If it is acceptable to Miss Nichols, you can identify the body, then there is a very small amount of paperwork.

            Ivy nodded, not looking up.  “He can.”

            “Ma'am . . . we will release your father's body just as soon as possible,” the cop offered.  She nodded again.

            Glancing around the room, I made note of the numerous pictures of Ivy with her father.  Herb hadn’t changed that much even in nineteen years.  A little greyer, a little heavier but still a handsome man.  I squatted down beside her.

            “Ivy would you prefer to stay here or come with me?” I said.

“I'll stay here,” she tone was dead.   I nodded then looked at the cop.  “Officer, if you could wait outside for me, I’ll be right out.”

            “Yes, sir,” the cop said and stepped out onto the porch.

            When he was gone, I drew my bag over and opened it.  Everything to its place and everything in its place.  Makes it easy to find things in the dark when you need to.  My hand closed on what looked to be a one pound box of salt.

            “Ivy, I am going to leave Noir,” I told her moving to the front windows.  I peeked out, the cop was leaning on his car, talking on a cell phone.  Must have been off when he had been so close to Ivy a minute ago.

            I poured a line of powdered silver across the window sills and worked my way around the room, repeating at every opening to the outside.   When I was finished, only the front door remained.

            Squatting down in front of her, I took the hands she had pressed between her knees.

            “Ivy . . .I’ll leave Noir here.” I said again.  She nodded.  “I’ll be back as fast as I can.”

I squeezed her hands, making her look up at me.

            “I've put up wards that will stop anything,” I told her.  “DO NOT leave the house.  Do NOT invite anyone in.”  All I got was a little nod.  Reaching into my bag, I pulled out a leather pouch and pressed it between her hands.  “This is powdered silver.  Use it like the salt but with you inside the circle.  Don’t touch the circle once you call up the spell.  Got it?”

            “Yes,” she said.

            I stood as she did.

            “I'll be back as soon as I can.” I said.

           “Okay.”

            “Stay with her, Noir?” I asked the cat.  Since she didn’t object, I headed for the front door and Ivy headed down the hall.  As I looked back before closing the door, Ivy dropped the short skirt on the hall floor, she was wearing panties that tied at the hip and she tugged one string as she disappeared through one of the doors.  I cursed myself for it but damn she had a great ass.

 

To be continued


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