April 1st, 10 years ago
Northern Missouri, outside of Douglasville, in a barren tobacco field
Giant plumes of fire shot into the air, bracketing both the stage and Conleth ‘Cole’ Douglas within their heated embrace. The pyrotechnic display filled the night sky with showers of crackling flames.
An unknown force had let loose a demon within the town of Douglasville. Malevolent was too nice a word for this beast. This evil was a promise maker, a soul sucker, a bloody life taker, and now it was Conleth’s job to send it back to Hell. The only problem—he wasn’t nearly strong enough on his own. For this, he needed Em.
Emterra Azzurra was many things to him, his friend and lover, his soul mate—but right now what he needed the most was the thing inside her. Deep within the body, he knew quite intimately, was a being of magic, a source of goodness, an Other—one who had the ability to work with his own Other to defeat the evil bearing down on them now.
“Terra quod ventus nos queso ye, adeo nos, reperio vestri populous.” ‘Earth and wind we beseech ye, come to us, find your host’.
Together Conleth and his Other called the wind and summoned the earth. The task put a strain on their waning energy, as neither power was theirs to wield. Yet, they could only hope there was enough force to release Emterra’s powers, link her to the earth and air around them, and free her Other.
Magic spiraled through the crowd, seeping into pores and burrowing under skin, looking for its host, looking for Emterra. She was here. He could feel her; his Other had scented her life force as she’d entered the field of battle.
Con knew Emterra had the power to control the wind and a body to embrace the being she carried inside. With practice, she would hone the skill to become truly powerful, a force to be reckoned with, but time was an indulgence neither could afford. He had to encourage her to try, right here and right now. A gentle introduction to her new life was something he could not give her this time as he had in the past.
He prayed she would forgive him.
“Em,” he whispered inside her head. Her thoughts were a confused jumble of fears and questions. She didn’t yet believe in psychic links as Conleth did, but this was the only way he could find her in the mass of humanity about to be used as food.
“How can I…in my head…Con.” Her emotions were scattered, but in her newly cop-like way, she’d locked them deep down inside. “What are you doing?”
“Something good, my love, nothing that can hurt you.” He hoped. “But I need you to trust me.”
“Con, I’ve always trusted you, but…but this time, you’ve gone too far…please stop.”
“Do you remember our last concert, Em?”
He flashed a vision of them into her mind, taking her to a past where they soared into the eclectic world of musical freedoms and expressions, while around them, drugs and liquor flowed freely. Amid the rabid throng, they too screamed and beat their hands in the air to the squeal of the electric guitar and each bang on the skins of the drum.
“Don’t, please don’t make me remember this, Con.”
Her mental plea broke his heart. A heart that had always and would always beat for her and her alone. Unfortunately, his love and devotion to her were not enough to keep him from what he had to do, no matter how painful it may be.
“I’m sorry, my love, but you must remember. I need, no—we—need you to remember.”.
He sent her another vision. This time it was a memory of those magically successful moments when she had relaxed and let go enough for her Other to come close. She stood in the past, her hands high above her head as he’d cupped her breasts from behind. They swayed to the ballad screeching from the massive speakers. Nipples hardened to painful points between his fingers and thumbs as he squeezed them. He held her tight as she shook, he knew, from the shocking power filling her body.
“Say it, Em,” he’d whispered. “Say the words.”
“Vicis congelo,” she screamed into the sky above them. The Latin words for ‘time freeze’ rang clearly through the air.
Everything slowed. The band, being further away from them, moved as if they were stuck in a muddy bog, starting and stopping, their sounds low and slurred. The fans surrounding them, however, froze in pre-and post-head-banging modes. They stood amidst the previous chaos, enthralled by the strength of this new gift.
A steel door ended the vision with a finality that worried him. They were back in the present, with evil all around them, and again she squashed the emotions and thoughts inside her. “Em, please…”
“No Con, that vision is nothing more than a drug-induced nightmare of a time best forgotten. It wasn’t real…”
Conleth’s Other began demanding release. “It was very real, Em, and what you did then, controlling time, is what we need now.”
“Stop it, Con, just stop this. The time for foolish pranks and pretending to be magical are over—it’s time to grow up!”
Goddess, he thought as he was pushed back into the background of his mind, exchanging consciousness with his Other—they were screwed.
Yep, clearly, Emterra had taken too many hits, swallows, and pills that crazy night, but youthful stupidity in the past did not explain the weirdness of tonight. First up on the loony list, Con “speaking” to her, inside her own head. That was just not possible, right…
“It has to be a drug flashback or a bad trip.” Of course, she no longer took the short road to psychedelic bliss. Self-preservation and a career in law enforcement had curtailed that activity long ago. What was it then, did she just long to hear Con’s voice in her head? Did she miss their youthful hijinx enough to imagine the gothy, witchy phase was real?
“Am I going crazy?” If talking to one’s self and hearing voices was any indication, she’d jumped on the crazy train the moment she stepped foot on this barren tobacco field.
Hordes of people writhed under the oppressive heat of the flames bursting into the air on stage. The energy was similar to what it had been like at the concerts of her youth, yet the mood was vastly different. The power, drawn from every soul she passed, beat at her with excitement, arousal, and agony. She yearned for more of their pain, but cringed at the cruelty inside her. These people were hurting and she was enjoying it on some level.
Tonight, she didn’t even have mind-altering drugs to blame.
Bodies writhed in the dirt of the farm field, screaming for release. Children sobbed next to adults who begged for it to be over. Wisps of red smoke swept over the crowd, a bloody evil probing for a way inside each soul it passed.
The leader of this invisible raping, pillaging mess of hellish torment, it seemed, was Conleth. Arms lifted skyward, he chanted words she’d never heard before, sounds that pulled at her. His words fed life into the columns of fire beside him. Higher they climbed, releasing the bloody red wisps, or possibly pulling them back in—she couldn’t tell. Her heart beat faster, pounding to the rhythm of his words. She had to get to him, stop him before it was too late.
She ran full out, palming her Taser as she made a beeline toward the man she loved. Electrified air charged the hair flying around her face. She never faltered; it was as if she were running on the wind.
“Conleth, stop,” she screamed at him from the dirt in front of the stage. “Please.”
“Malum phasmatis, reverto volo.”
Emma shook. He was speaking in Latin, and again she understood. ‘Evil spirits, return to me’. Oh Con, what have you done?
“Conleth Cole Douglas, cease and desist. Now!” She used her best cop voice in an attempt to take control of the situation, though she had no idea what the situation was. This night was to have been a magic show to support the families hit hardest by last season’s crop failures. The invite extended to the entire town with a request that everyone dig deep and give what they could—food, time, money. Anything would help.
Rumor had it, Martin and Wilhemina Douglas sponsored this worthy cause; but suspiciously, their son Conleth had been the only one to show. He’d promised big name magicians, bands, as well as a plethora of rich and famous people, ready to lend a financial helping hand.
Again, Con was the only one here. He was looking guiltier by the second, but of what? Mass hypnosis? Con was a master at hypnotism, but more one-on-one than a crowd this big. One look at the Labradorite stone he wore around his neck and she was a goner. The grayish-blue gem, with its green and blue flashes could pull her under in less time than it took an arsonist to flick his bic.
But that was one small gem; there were hundreds if not thousands of people gathered in this field. No way was he putting all these folks under, unless it was really the chanting doing the work.
Still he went on. “Malum phasmatis, reverto volo.” Over and over again, but that didn’t make sense. How could ‘evil spirits, return to me’ be used as a focus?
“Ut is est, sic vadum is exsisto.” A Latin phrase forced its way past her lips, ‘as it is, so shall it be’. The words seemed random to her, but to Con, they appeared to make sense. His head turned to her and the blood red eyes staring back at her climbed inside her skin and stilled her heart.
“Emterra Irene Azzurra, finish it,” the man she loved said in a voice not his own. “Please.”
“Con, get down. Now!”
“Finish it!” He screeched into the night sky.
“I can’t, I don’t know what you mean.” Fear seeped under Emma’s skin while bugs skittered around her brain. The pain was unbearable.
Tendrils of fire weaved through her body, meeting the air pushing its way in through her pores. A bright star burst to life beneath her skin. The light was more brilliant and loving than anything she’d felt in her entire life. The presence filled her, touching every lonely spot inside her with calm and well-being. There was safety within the light, protection. Yet she struggled to get away from the nexus of peace.
As quickly as it had come, the presence departed—torn from her with the subtlety of a rusty axe. The pain of it dropped Emma to her knees. She writhed upon the ground with fellow town members, praying for death, wondering how and why Con would do this.
Briefly, Latin words whispered through her brain, perfectus, per meus mos– ‘finished, by my will’, but the pain swept the words away, leaving only Conleth’s voice to fill the void in that dying field with a Latin rhyme.
“Per meus mos–‘By my will’, may this adnihilo, ‘demon’, return to me, cling to me. Take me, leave them be. Alive, but ten years more before we settle thy wicked score. Per meus mos,” he screamed, before disappearing in a flash of flame, miles high.
The blessed darkness overtook her.
Today, almost 10 years later
“Mayor Azzurra, our town is dying, people are leaving, crops are withering and the folks who stay suffer unbearable anguish.” Arvid S. Skolter’s voice, ASS for short, at least her in mind, rang with pompous contempt.
Emma looked at her opponent in this year’s mayoral race. Cruel parents lay initials like that on their child, but Arvid S. had lived up to them his entire Skolter life. All through school, he’d been that kid. Tattletale to the stars, and most of the time he’d been telling tales on Con and her.
Pain shot through her heart. Still, after all of the years since the dangerous and idiotic stunt that had lead to Conleth’s death, she still loved him—the big dork.
“Thank you, Arvid, I am well aware of the town’s issues.”
“Then why don’t you do something about them, Mayor?” The sneer in his voice sounded loud and clear. Grumbles and murmurs of agreement spread swiftly around the small room. Arvid S. Skolter, the ASS booger wanted her job, her reason for existence since Con’s shocking demise.
“Everyone, please, the town council is working on figuring out what’s going on in our wonderful town. We just need to give them some time to call in, er, specialists.” The pleasant smile pasted to her face didn’t stop ASS from vocalizing the question she really didn’t want to deal with.
“Would those specialists be the witches and warlocks prancing around the park in their long robes and pointy hats?”
“Those folks are not witches and warlocks, AS—Arvid.” A chuckle spread around the room even as Arvid squawked at her mistake. “They are naturalists who specialize in homeopathic healing and green encouragement.”
“Ha. Are you even listening to yourself, Lady Mayor? Homeopathic and green encouragement—what does that even mean?” the self-important little prick goaded. “Next thing you’ll tell us, there will be midnight sessions of naked dancing around the town square to bring back fertility, and…”
“Enough!” The crack of Emma’s hand connecting with the table echoed around the room, startling every naysayer speechless. “You asked, you all asked for the city council to do something to bring the town back, but you neglected to provide suggestions of your own. Now when the council makes an attempt at fulfilling your requests, you bitch.”
“You call this crazy idea an att…”
“Zip it, Arvid. Whether this works or not, I expect you to either support your town council’s attempt to fix the problem or shut up.” Emma seethed inside with a genuine dislike, heck, almost a hate for ASS. “When and if you become mayor, feel free to encourage the council in any direction you want. This meeting is adjourned.”
She shoved her laptop into the bag, shot Arvid a nasty look, and walked out the door.
Great, now what did the little skeezer want? Conleth wondered.
He watched Emma slow, then turn to look at the man he’d spent an excessive amount of time shaking off her ass all through school.
“What is it now, Arvid?”
“I realize we are at odds about how to handle the problem of the town, but perhaps we could discuss it further over say, dinner and drinks?”
Good goddess, the little prick was flirting with her. If the suggestive tone in his voice hadn’t given it away, the finger down her arm would have. Con’s blood boiled as he watched the town turd coming on to his woman.
Arvid S. Skolter was trying to get a date with the woman who had once pushed him to the ground and all but stood on his balls with her combat booted foot, just for getting little Annie Morgan in trouble with her boyfriend.
She was brilliant.
Now though, Arvid was damn close to feeling an unholy burn of said balls if he didn’t take his hand off Con’s woman. Leaning against the far wall of the town hall, Conleth Cole Douglas fought back the fire that was always ready to do his bidding.
Arvid was a nuisance, but he was far from being man enough to handle the earthy beauty he panted after like a thirsty dog. His Em would soon pat him on the head and send him on his way, which was exactly what Con needed in order to make contact with his witchy mate.
This initial contact was going to be tough considering the way things had ended ten years ago.
“I don’t think that is such a good idea, Arvid.”
Con sighed at the lackluster response from the once vibrant woman he knew. Come on, baby, give it to the little shit but good. Stop dancing around and tell the candy ass where to go.
“I’ve got Mother’s spaghetti recipe and a bottle of red wine in the cooler at home.” Arvid ran his finger along the curve of her cheek, firing Con’s temper even higher. “I’d even be willing to stop and pick up the spumoni you adore so. A full stomach, a slight buzz, and we could hit the sheets for some crazy monkey sex like we used to have.”
Con saw red at the visual he now had of Emma and the town turd engaged in anything remotely sexual.
“Not a good idea, Arvid.”
Damn straight, it was not a good idea. No way could his mate be involved with Arvid S. Skolter, ASS of the world and all around weasel. He had better hope this was a misunderstanding, because, if not, Con was going to have to kill him.
“Actually, I think it’s a fabulous idea, Emterra. Food, wine, sex, then we can figure out where you screwed up with this town.”
Con pushed away from the wall. That was it; he’d heard enough to know that ASS was grass. No one spoke to Em so disrespectfully and continued breathing.
“How typical, Arvid. The blame lies with me, does it? Well screw you. Douglasville has suffered through your egotistical, self-serving blather for long enough. If you win this race for mayor, feel free to make whatever changes you want, but until then, back the hell off.”
That’s it, baby, Con inwardly cheered. Give him hell; you have him on the ropes. Now deliver that final blow!
“Oh and by the way, ASS, my hand provides better crazy monkey sex than you ever did.”