While I’ve been posting my first-ish draft here, I thought I’d post the changes in a separate post. The first epilogue chapter got cut, but I’m still holding on to the idea of adding one, only from the POV more directly involved with real-time events that shed a vague light on how Desiree was augmented.
As always, comments are loved…
Fool’s Journey: Chapter One
Zi had come to him personally, otherwise he wouldn’t have even glanced at the file Phecda had dropped on his coffee table, rudely pushing through the door in an impromptu visit that had almost given him a heart-attack.
They were not known for getting along, and she’d never been to his apartment, a place he rarely used, and only kept for the occasional need to be away from the non-humans. That she’d barged in had him afraid she’d finally decided to simply rid herself of his annoyance in her life. Accidents did happen, and Zi would never think twice that his most trusted would kill off his pet.
Without a word, ignoring his sarcastic prompts for information, she’d simply pulled a laptop from her bag, opening it and spinning it in her hand to face Hamal, where Zibanitu’s face promptly appeared. If he’d been surprised by Phecda’s visit, there wasn’t a word for the unscheduled teleconference.
In the end, he’d taken the job without having ever looked at the girl’s file. He didn’t say no to this one. Add that to the fact that Phecda was so obviously against him taking the job, he was on his way to middle-of-nowhere-America before he’d had time to digest how quickly the events took place.
Half-way to his location, a boring ten hour drive North, he’d finally stopped for a breather, taking the time to open the file he’d remembered to grab on his hurried way out the door.
He’d been surprised, on multiple levels. For whatever reason men were typically his targets. A women making it on a list for assassination was rare. That this woman was as young as she was; 24, if the files information was correct, made her an even rare case. That he wasn’t supposed to kill her was another change from his norm, and he laughed, thinking of the arsenal buried in the hidden compartment under the floor of the cargo area.
Better safe than sorry.
Now, after settling in to a crap motel two towns over, he waited, sitting in his truck drinking what passed for coffee in this place, flipping through her file for the hundreth time.
He’d studied her picture, but found himself doing so again. It was a candid shot, the object of her attention somewhere to her left, showing her from a side angled view. Short, dark hair was tousled like she wanted it so, pale skin contrasting against it, which only seemed to brighten the blue of her eyes. There was something sad in her face, and he was again caught by how strange of a target she seemed.
Watch her. Gather intel.
Nothing else. No context for what he was trying to find out about her. Did they care if she was right, or left, handed? Did they care what size shoe she wore?
After tailing her for two days, he was sure she led the most boring life of anyone on the planet. And he still wasn’t sure what handed she was.
His thumb traced over the call button in the steering wheel, wondering if he’d get more direction that way. Except he was told not to have any contact with them about his task until they contacted him. Another oddity that had him curious.
Curiosity wasn’t something he tended to carry around with him. He followed orders. Curiosity was dangerous. Need to know and all that. He only ever needed to know what would most effectively get him in, complete his task, and get out unidentified. The why’s were rarely, if ever, needed for his position in the game.
Yet, he was so out of his element. He’d been tasked with gathering intel before, but always for a specific purpose. Always with perspective from which to watch for. Here, he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to see, or find.
The LED from his truck’s clock display ticked one more minute gone. This was the time she’d come around this path the previous two nights, and he was betting she’d be turning the corner any second. Twice didn’t make a habit, but he was willing to bet it was in this case.
She didn’t disappoint, her steady clip a fluid motion forward, short hair bouncing wildly, as she jogged up the street towards him.
He had to give it to her, she was in great shape. He wasn’t sure he’d have been able to maintain her pace for the distance she traveled, and he allowed himself to appreciate the muscle tone her fitness allowed her through the yoga pants, knowing what was hidden under her hooded top would match. Women were a hobby of his, and he always knew.
The heavy tint of his windows made him confident she wouldn’t see him, though there was the chance his car would spark suspicion. A chance he was willing to take. Her file suggested there was no reason for her to think anyone would be watching her. There was nothing remarkable about her, though the fact that Zi had his eye on her meant there must be something.
Curiosity again flickered through him.
Her file told him she’d been a gypsy over the last few years, disappearing off the radar for a year, explained by the likelihood she had simply crashed with friends and held no job. Her father had died, leaving her a boat load of money, so she hadn’t had to work. She’d never have to work again. Yet, none of that suggested what it might be that they wanted him to find.
There was a year unaccounted for, and he figured this was where the answers to their searching lay. So far, he hadn’t had anything come up to explain this. It was rare someone truly fell off the grid, so was confident something would pop up on her.
This absent year had her popping back up here, again living at the house her father had left her, enrolling in the local community college for the upcoming semester. She lived quietly, rarely going out, and only with the single person she seemed to have any contact with, a friend-of-the-family who was as vanilla as they came.
He tried not to stare at her face as she moved past the truck on the opposite side of the street. Some were sensitive to attention, and he didn’t want to spark that in her if she happened to be one of them. His gaze returned to her picture.
Her pictures did her no justice. An attractive girl, the pictures didn’t pick up the energy of her that was missing in the photo. He’d seen this before too, though it was another rarity in some people he’d never pinpointed. Some people just didn’t photograph well, the camera not picking up the essence of what made that person, them.
In the rearview he watched her disappear down the hill. Waiting a few moments so the sound of his engine starting, quiet as it was, would be nothing more then background sound, he pulled forward towards where he was sure he could pick up her route again.
It was the third time she’d seen the SUV. It was hard not to. It stood out from the rest of the small-town trucks that had seen better days over twenty years ago. This one was one of those huge SUV’s, way too big for most of the people she’d ever seen riding around in them. She wondered if that were the case of the owner of this one as well.
Figuring someone had a relative visiting, she didn’t spend much more time thinking on it, except to pity the one visiting this neck of no-wheres-ville.
Can you say: Worst vacation ever?
Part of her was sad that she didn’t know who owned the house the truck was parked in front of. Living here most of her life, and with a father who’d been very active in the community, she knew most of the people who lived right in town. Much had changed though, in the few years she’d been gone, so she was no longer sure who lived where.
Looking for new friends? The voice in her head mocked her thoughts, and rather than be accused of talking to herself, something that seemed to happen more and more frequently, Desiree ignored it. So what if she was curious about the only thing different in a town frozen in time.
You chose to come back here.
It wasn’t a complaint. An observation, so she mentally shrugged in acceptance of the comment. She had chosen to come back here. Here was home, despite her attempts to leave it behind. Everywhere else had done it’s best to try to kill her. Home was safe, even if it was mind-numbingly dull.
Her pace increased in an attempt to create some excitement in her life. Was that also why she waited for the witching hour to venture out into the world? That time that was supposedly riskiest?
Mike asked her not to go out so late, and she always nodded, fully meaning to listen to his advice, but finding it too difficult to stay in as her insomnia won over the good intentions of sleeping when normal people slept. He’d never said it to her face that he thought she was a little bit crazy, suggesting instead she might have some PTSD from the fire she’d been the only one to survive.
The fire hadn’t been the final straw to send her home, but it had been the catalyst for her new worldview. Her memories were hazy, always brining up pain of loss akin to what she’d felt when she’d lost her father. Her friends were lost that day, in a scene of chaos she’d never been able to make sense of.
The months that followed had her living homeless, never stopping in one place very long, as she ran from something she couldn’t explain. Had there really been someone after her, or had she merely been hallucinating from shock and smoke inhalation?
Her questions were answered when that thing finally caught up to her, pulling from her abilities she’d never had. Shocking both her, and her pursuer, she’d killed the man that had been something else. Though she’d survived, her body was covered in injuries. Slowly, afraid of going to a hospital, she’d made her way home, never realizing until hindsight granted her the perspective to realize she should have died. Her new abilities capability of healing had been what had saved her, and allowed her the strength to make her way home.
She remembered showing up on Mike’s doorstep, scaring him in a way she’d never seen anyone scared before. Her story had been unbelievable, and was passed off as some stress-induced hallucination. It didn’t bother her that he didn’t believe her. It was unbelievable, but when she started showing feats of strength no human should have, she’d found it frustrating that he wouldn’t accept that some of the other things she’d talked about could be true.
Running down the full moon illuminated path, trees to either side walls of blackness, these memories swirled through her mind. Occasionally, she was forced to make a conscoius decision to stay on the paved path, rather than disappear into the trees where she was able to see first-hand what new skills she possessed.
Feet swept from under her, she registered the dull THUD of two bodies colliding, more a nonrecognition of feeling than sound. It took her dazed brain a few seconds to realize it had been her body that’d been hit, now rolling off the road through bramble and bushes, sounds of some animal snarling near her face.
The two bodies flew apart, coming to a stop with jarring force as one hit the stonewall of a tree, the other forced to stop through the friction of the ground.
What just happened?
Too surprised to be alarmed, or feel any pain, Dee moved her head around to see what it was that had hit her.
A figure scrambled to it’s feet, eyes finding hers, sending a primal chill through her. Whatever had been human about this person had been chased away. Feral eyes bore into hers, a low hiss escaping it’s lips as it launched itself towards her, clearing the twenty feet effortlessly. Still dumbfounded, Desiree did nothing but throw her hands in front of her face, discovering too late the sharp, clamping teeth contained in the creatures face.
I knew you weren’t crazy.
Useful as always, the voice in her head distracted her from the annihilating pain that erupted from the forearm now encased in the creatures mouth. She might have screamed, but the blood rushing through her ears seemed to have brought on a deafness to the outside world.
Adrenaline surging, an instinctive full-body push sent the creature flying away. Landing with catlike grace, it sent a louder hiss towards her before racing off in the opposite direction.
Not thinking, she raced off after it, shattered arm held tightly to her front with the other, making her gait an off-balanced, sprinting stagger.
You must look like a drunken idiot.
Appreciative of the inner support, she continued forward, choking on her breath as she realized she was being led through the back entrance of the town cemetery. Not hurt enough for the irony to slip past her, her feet stopped on the wooden bridge that led over the barely trickling creek that was the natural border of the dead’s resting place, and town.
Silence descended, the adrenaline that had pumped it’s roaring deafness through her calming enough to give her hearing back. Arm held tightly to her didn’t stop the blood from trickling out the gapping wound, dripping soundlessly to the wood at her feet.
That should hurt more than it is.
The voice came from some distant place her consciousness barely noticed, as she stared instead at the water passing under her, the bright moon sparkling against it, hoping the creature, who’d seemed to disappear into the night, didn’t ambush her again.
Gaze moving upwards in a daze, she blinked at the bright pinpoints of granite epitaphs scattered ahead in a maze of concealment locations.
Lots of places it could be hiding.
The obvious wasn’t so obvious in her fading mental state, pain and fear finally mingling with the hot-headedness given her by the initial adrenaline burst. The thought kept her held fast in her position. Had she really thought it was a good idea to chase this – thing?
I think there wasn’t much thinking.
More helpful remarks pushed her forward, feet moving one after the other in a sort of haze that blanketed a second voice in her head that screamed for her to run home to a far distant echo. This thing couldn’t be allowed to attack someone else.
She knew that wasn’t the real reason she continued after it. It was because she had proof, real solid evidence, that she hadn’t been delusional this past year. Her foggy memories of some non-human, human-type creature attacking her were being validated. As much as she’d known, there was always that little point in the back of her head that wondered if maybe Mike was right, and she was crazy.
I thought there wasn’t anything out here you couldn’t handle.
The smugness in her inner voice set her teeth on edge, even as a tremor of pain washed through her.
She had said that, because it was true in the world where she had believed herself delusional about the existence of these supernatural creatures, whatever it was they even were.
She’d only made it a hand-full of steps before stopping again. Arms basically useless, she wasn’t sure what her move should be. Maybe lure the thing home so she could show Mike later?
What? Trap it in the basement?
It was a stupid idea, but how could she prove it was real?
Maybe a picture?
She almost laughed out loud at the simplicity of it, then again when she realized her phone was missing. Most likely back where she’d been tackled, an image of her other sweatshirt laying on her bed, the one with the pockets that zipped things like phones safely away, just for a moment like this.
I’m sure fitness clothing designers had moonlit battery as key marketing points.
Her distraction was just enough this time for the creature to attack again.
Fortunately, she reacted much better, ducking and throwing herself so the creature flew over her head, landing in a graceful roll that brought it back to it’s feet as she flopped on the ground, searing pain bringing blinding spots across her vision.
You’re going to die.
This comment got her moving, the matter-of-fact tone too much for her. Forcing her legs under her, even through her partial blindness, she found her feet, standing towards where the creature had just been.
Only, it had moved on again, intent on playing it’s game of reverse cat and mouse. Maybe this game was cat and cat? Or cat and bigger cat? Either way, Desiree wasn’t sure what her next move should be, besides LIVE. Staying in the cemetery seemed like a sure way for that not to happen, but not sure where the creature was, she didn’t know if it was safe to turn her back and make her way home.
Movement further in overrode her sensical brain, and she was off chasing the creature, suddenly sure she could take it.
You are going to die.
Ignored, as with the pain in her arm that seemed less in her momentary insanity, she sprinted to her max, overreaching the creatures speed, surprising herself. She’d been discovering how her skills greatly superseded human ability, but watching the dexterity in this creature had made her feel inadequate. Confidence soaring that she really could take it, she tore through the gravestones, eyes staring at the last place she’d seen movement.
The life-size angel statue beckoned her forward, and she was sure the angelic arms were welcoming her towards her victory.
Instead, there was nothing. Only shadows where the stone-figure blocked the moonlight that had, moments before, been a beacon of hope. Crouching, silent, she listened like she’d never listened before.
A car in the distance.
Too close to be passing by in the street.
Who would be pulling into the cemetery at this time of night? Possibly a police patrol, but it didn’t sound like one of their cars.
Refusing to be distracted from her mission, Desiree tuned the car out, waiting for a sign of something near.
It came with a rush of air, a slight rustle of grass, just enough to alert her to the third assault. Allowing instincts to guide her, she pivoted in her crouch, meeting the leaping creature so she could throw it past her. This time, it came to it’s feet more slowly, hissing through sharp fangs that could never have been human.
They stared at each other for a few heartbeats, Desiree’s mind blank, blood fueled with endorphins foreign to her rational mind.
It pounced again, this time ready for her defensive throw. Managing to keep it from slashing her, while pushing it away, she ended up sprawled on her stomach, shattered arm screaming, fingers slick with the blood that had been flowing since the first attack.
Somewhere in the recesses of her brain she wondered how she could still be conscious after so much blood-loss, but the primal part of her, that was still in control, paid more attention to the decorative steel fence that was buried in a season of grass and weeds.
In some corner of her mind, she processed the creature coiling to spring even as she reached for the thing that might save her. With her usable arm, Dee pulled at the fence, praying a piece of it would break away as she turned to meet the attack.
As if choreographed, the two met, becoming one as the metal fencing pierced through the creatures body, face shrieking in surprised defeat, fangs clamping open and closed mere inches from her face. Letting go, she kicked the creature away as it fell, dropping to her knees in exhaustion, even as the fear that had been kept at bay flooded over her, forcing silent tears down her face.
When she hadn’t come around on her normal route, he hadn’t thought much of it. Two did not technically equal a pattern, so it was likely she had more than one path.
After sitting in front of her house for another half-an-hour with no sogn of her, he grew concerned. Though she seemed like an average, boring girl, he wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t something to be watching.
If something had happened, especially while he was supposedly actively watching her, he’d never live it down, which could get literal, depending on the seriousness of the subject to those who’d hired him. On that point he still wasn’t sure, as he had yet to receive updated orders.
Driving back to where he’d last seen her, he parked in what was now becoming his spot, to follow her path at a light jog, scouring the roadside for clues to what might have happened. Would anyone be out in a town like this waiting to mug someone? It seemed unlikely. He’d never seen anyone but her out late, let alone this late when most people were long asleep.
Eyes used to looking for the barest of clues, he clearly saw the phone laying in ditch, alongside the scuff marks and battered grass that clearly told the story of a struggle. He gazed down the path the two had taken, curiosity peaked that she had chased after whomever, or whatever, had jumped her.
Playing it safe, he retrieved his truck before following, hoping it wasn’t a decision that would leave his mark dead before the order to kill her had been given. He also didn’t want to end up in a compromising position, one that would give him away, or, more especially, leave him dead.
Pulling up to the back of the cemetery, he crouched through the sprawling field of graves, barely catching the end of the fight mostly hidden by the tall angel monument to the dead. Watching intently, unsure if he needed to rush in and save her, wondering how he would explain that, he realized he was too late.
The moon glinted off the weapon his mark had picked up, reflecting brighter as she turned. He still couldn’t see what it was she was fighting. His mind whirled with multiple possibilities, and what they each meant for the true nature of his mark.
He imagined well the outcome of the fight when stillness settled over the night, followed by a grunt of effort, and the sound of something dropping to the grass.
When she dropped to her knees, concern flooded through him again. Finding his mark, only to lose her again was too much emotional upheaval for him over someone he’d never met face-to-face. Waiting a moment to see if she would get up, he sighed loudly at the decision to move in and make sure she wasn’t dying, or dead.
Quietly, using as much shadow as he could find on such a clear, full-mooned night, Hamal was soon kneeling next to the girl he’d been watching. Her wounds were severe, setting him in a panic, though as he checked her over, he noticed the blood-flow slow, her heart-rate, thready and irregular when he’d first arrived, return to a more normal rate.
Who was this girl?
He thought he he had a better idea of why he was watching her. Heightened healing abilities. Apparent heightened strength and speed. Not that he’d seen this first hand, but he easily recognized the dead Revenant laying nearby, metal rod sticking out of it’s chest.
Had she escaped from a House?
He took a long look at her.
That didn’t seem right. She wasn’t enough of one of them. She was something else. Something he couldn’t explain, yet. His mission seemed clear now.
Walking over to the thing she’d fought, he knelt over the creature, ensuring it was really dead, before looking back at the girl he’d been tasked of watching. That she had survived an attack by this creature, then willingly chased it, then not dying, said much. He wasn’t sure he’d have survived an ambushed attack like she had.
Curiosity peaked, he smiled, finally excited about this assignment, hoping that he’d need to move in closer. This evenings events were definitely something worth reporting, even if he did have to wait to give it.
Dropping the girls phone in the grass beside her, he was off back in his vehicle, moving quickly through the quiet streets towards his motel, a hot shower, and a quiets morning sleep.