Friday, February 23, 2007


A medical suite it wasn't, but room 103 at the Motel Six was the best Matthew could do for the girl.

He had the shower running to put some warm water vapor in the air, an air purifier was churning away on the nightstand and a hot plate was boiling everything that touched her. He'd already fed her sips of chicken broth, though she'd not really woken up so much as just swallowed autonomically. There was no evidence of her regaining consciousness.

That worried Matt. The best thing for her would have been to stay in the hospital. Unfortunately, there'd been three things wrong with that plan. One, he'd had to leave the hospital because of all the bodies. Two, most of those bodies were the nursing staff that would have taken care of the girl in the first place. And three, the sirens he'd heard on his way out of the hospital parking lot would have taken offense at his being there.

With the bodies.

Of the nurses.

So here they were in room 103 of the Southern Chattanooga Motel Six. It was an acceptable substitute for a recovery ward once Matt had taped plastic over the windows and washed all the linens at the laundromat nearby. Bleach and baby-safe detergent made for a clinic-level clean on just about any surface. Between that and his insistence on a non-smoking room that had always been a non-smoking room, the girl was in as good a shape as she could be.

He, on the other hand, was a wreck. He'd been going hard for fifty hours without sleep. Sitting in the corner, watching the Rite-Aid pulse meter he'd placed on her right arm, Matt caught himself micro-napping. Watch, watch, watch, snore. Shudder, wake up, watch, snore.

Snore some more.

An hour later, wake up cussing.

He needed sleep. He knew he needed sleep. He was just worried about the girl and just as worried about himself. He'd taken the only thing keeping that terrifying St. Michael agent from coming back and finishing him off out of her hospital bed and strapped her to a motorcycle for nearly an hour. Even though she'd not apparently been harmed by the experience, he was certain it wasn't a healthy thing to have done.

So he'd denied himself sleep while he made her as comfortable and secure as possible. At least money hadn't been a problem; he still had a wad of what he'd assumed to be drug money from the car he had been forced to abandon at the hospital. It meant no more stealing for a while, which was nice.

Oddly, people in retail environments always seemed to assume he was there to rob them. Perhaps it was the long black coat, the dark glasses, or maybe -just maybe- the massive handguns he took everywhere. Of course, the more perceptive of these retail monkeys might also be reacting to the fact that Matthew carried himself like a criminal. He was certainly not adverse to robbery if the need arose, though he was just as glad to have cash right now.

Rite-Aid was especially glad for his cash right now; he'd just dropped about a thousand dollars on medication, first aid supplies, food and basic supplies. He'd been running low, really low, and hunger was starting to take its toll. Cash and transportation made such a difference sometimes.

Of course, then he'd thought to check the saddlebags of his bike and when he did, his palm hit his head in an Homer-like expression. "D'oh." Zephyr's containers were stuffed with all manner of clothes, edibles, spare cash, and useful items (including a toothbrush, something he'd neglected using in some time). He muttered, "Ravenhurst has too much free time..." under his breath but he'd been secretly touched by the gesture.

The gesture, and the note. "Dear Matt, here's hoping this stuff and your wonderful bike find you well. We understand why you can't come here yet but with any luck maybe you can soon. This place is huge and we are bored bored bored! Aliya promises you'll be safe as long as you behave, but I can't promise you will, so good luck! Love, Ariel."


When she finally opened her eyes, the girl could only see a pebbled white ceiling through the fine mesh of bug netting. She was in an isolation tent cobbled together out of camping supplies and duct tape. Wearily, weakly, she unplugged herself from the cuff monitor and made her way out of bed. Tired legs barely supported her weight but, step after step, some meager strength returned.

Across the hotel room, a young man was sprawled across a chair, sleeping sitting up. Well, vaguely sitting up. Mostly, he was leaning against the wall, eyes closed, mouth wide open, snoring. He looked like she felt.

He also looked slightly familiar. Had she seen him before? She couldn't remember much of anything, just a haze of pain and darkness. An accident. There had been an accident. People, not that she could remember who, were dead. And this man... had he saved her? He was the one who picked her up out of the smoke and fire. Yes, that was him. She couldn't remember much else, but she remembered him.

As steadily as she could, the girl moved across the floor to where Matt was sleeping. She sat him upright, pulled a fallen blanket up over him, tucked it in around his shoulders, and pulled an drool-smudged note off his face. Kissing him on the cheek, she whispered "Thank you," before returning to bed.

She felt better now, but she was still sleepy. She'd be okay.

They both would.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Noble Steed

It no longer had wings. Only chrome and steel.

It no longer had talons and claws. Only wheels of black rubber and gleaming spokes.

It no longer had beak, burning eyes, or a piercing shriek that could tear apart the sky.

Only a cowling of metal, a single blazing headlight, and the roar of its powerful engine owning the road.

It had been one of the most noble creatures to grace the Mystic Earth. It had ruled the air, undisputed by any but other majestic beasts for the title of Lord of the Clouds. Its life was one of soaring, hunting, and greeting the rising sun each day with an avian aria.

Once, it had been a griffon.

Then came the years of Denial, when Mankind slowly forgot his magic and relinquished his grace to the cold forces of reason and mundane law. There had been hunts to be sure and many had fallen to the weapons of the Purge, but that wasn't what had killed the Enchanted Age. Something far more insidious had brought about its doom. Like poison, neglect and dolor took their tolls. The mountains became cold, forbidding peaks; the seas lost their deep mysteries. Man no longer dreamed and without flights of fancy, flight itself became impossible.

On its stereo, a new song began to play. The Turning Away by Pink Floyd. Its voice had been reduced from the cry of an eagle to stolen moments from the history of music. It could no longer speak save in the voices of artists from the dawn of melody to the bloodiest edge of new industrial grind. Right now, it felt like playing a lament.

Its name was Zephyr and before being reborn into this two-wheeled metal body, it was a trapped Ethereal in a soulcage crystal. Used as a battery for the spells of a Dark Order wizard, its fate was to be racked with agony each time its "owner" tore out parts of its existence to fuel his bestial magic. It was worse than death; many times Zephyr had tried to end itself but the same power that trapped it kept it from fading. An eternity of slavery was all it was ever going to know.

Or at least, so it had believed. Then a new mage came into possession of its gem, taking it from the pocket of its tormentor after beheading him with a entropically charged hubcap. It had believed it was just changing possessors again as it had so many times, but the new wizard was not like the rest.

Unable to free it directly, this owner had done something none of the rest could or would attempt. He performed a Rite of Imbuement, a high magic used to create Incarnates - possessed objects. The spell was a difficult one, a power usually too complex for even experienced magus to perform. A thousand things could have gone wrong, most of them disastrously. But they didn't.

And when the glow of enchantment faded, Zephyr was no longer a trapped soul in a jewel. It was once again alive, in a sense. Zephyr could move, could be free, and could act through its potent new form. If it had desired, it could have bolted for its freedom and none could have stopped it. No longer a slave. No Master any longer...

...but it hadn't. This new mage had given it freedom without asking a price. In the Old Times, such a gift would have demanded a return. Those days were gone but Zephyr still remembered them. It... HE.... still honored the old code.

And so it began. Zephyr became Matthew's familiar, a motorcycle with self-motivation and so much more beyond. They had been inseparable, acting as two halves of a greater whole. His respect for his magus had only grown with each new example of the young caster's power. Though Matthew had made some mistakes in judgment and seemed incapable of expressing his emotions properly, that was to be expected of fledglings. If he survived this time out of the nest, the human would become so much more than he was now. Zephyr was determined to stay at his side until that day came.

That, at least, had been the plan. Then came the Great Deathling and her interference once again. There had been a terrible explosion and in the midst of the flame and chaos, his Master was captured. Thrown in the back of a warded car and banded with some kind of Higher Magic talisman, Matthew could no longer be sensed or felt. The fires took their toll and Zephyr learned a new kind of suffering.

Time had passed and he had healed but his Master was still gone. The Deathling actually helped put him back together, though her every touch was painful, and his opinion of the female was better than it had been before. She was still not good enough for his Master but she was at least bright enough to realize she needed to serve Matthew properly. She had loaded Zephyr's saddlebags with food and supplies, then released him to try and return where he belonged.

The road had been a long one. There had been bad weather, broken pavement, near-wrecks, not-so-near wrecks, an encounter with a truck full of hunters determined to reap his spirit for their own purposes, and areas of dead power where magic was so scarce he had actually needed normal fuel just to move.

All of this was just another source of suffering. For eeks, now more than a month, he had roamed the highways, desperately seeking a sign of the Master. Anything, any psychic echo of where his magus might be.


He silently idled up to the front of a white building tucked away in a grassy meadow and surrounded by tall hills. Chattanooga, Tennessee. A hospital. Somehow, it did not surprise Zephyr that he would feel his magus in a place of healing and death. Both were very fitting for the Master. Very much what his life was about right now.

In the distance, he finally saw Matthew approach, a young female human in his arms. The Master looked tired and in need of rest. Easing his back wheel down to make mounting easier, Zephyr rumbled his engine in greeting and played "We're in This Together" by Nine Inch Nails. It was one of his Master's favorite bands and even at this distance, he thought he could see a relieved look on the male's face.

Then Matthew was at his side, belting the small unconscious human to the back of his tall seat. The Master slung one leg over the leather bench, adjusted his coat, and pressed the throttle switch on his handlebars. After a moment's silence, his magus said in a low, grumbly voice, "Damn well took you long enough. Stop for a car wash before getting here?

Inwardly, Zephyr sighed. One really couldn't expect better manners from fledglings. Of course, if fledglings did not eventually learn better manners, fledglings could always be taught them by driving swiftly towards a wall and then stopping suddenly.

This thought made the motorcycle purr warmly as he drove away into the night, finally whole.

Friday, February 9, 2007

White Light

There was a roar and a flash of light.

Matthew's defensive spells buckled as the bullet hit. It took him in the gut, a little off to the left and under the bottom rib. His vest was useless, rated for something a lot smaller than the .50 caliber round slicing through it. There was pain, but not as much as he'd expected.

Oh, he thought as his legs gave way. This is shock.

Matt collapsed forward onto his hands even as the man looked back over his shoulder at him. "It has been a good hunt, Mr. Engel. You should be proud of that."

He was bleeding. He was bleeding hard. A gut shot took roughly twenty minutes to be fatal, even if a major organ was ruptured. The pain could be crippling and the damage was usually inoperable, but death was far from quick. Even so, he planted his left hand on the tile and forced himself forward a half-foot.

"Head... or heart...", Matthew groaned through gritted teeth.

The gunman pushed down his dark glasses to regard Matt with surprise in his pale eyes. "What did you say, Mr. Engel?"

Matt stared up at him, eyes burning. "Head or... heart. You'd better put me down, because if you... Uhhhnnn.... if you try to hurt that girl, I'll.... ahhhh..... I'll bite your fucking foot off." It was bold talk for someone who was leaving a blood trail every six, slow inches of movement across the depressingly wide room, but he meant what he said. If it was the last thing he did, he'd stop this bastard from hurting her.

That provoked the oddest response from the Knight. He had been raising his gun, presumably to finish Matthew off, but now it slowly fell to his side. "You must understand, Mr. Engle. You are a threat, like a plague, and those you come into contact with have to be dealt with for the good of all. It, like this, is nothing personal."

Matt kept moving. It was agony; the shock was wearing off. In a way, he was grateful. Pain was helping him focus. "I have a hole in my side the size of a bratwurst. Trust... me. It's gotten really personal." Hand over hand he came... slowly.

The man raised his gun again, tugging on his shooter's gloves to tighten them and perfect his aim. "Of course. My apologies. I assure you your suffering will end quickly, as will hers."

Matt shook his head. "She didn't do anything to do, but I still can. I've still got enough magic to.... ehhhh.... owww... bring this whole place down on your head." He stopped crawling, looking up at the Knight while he tried to clear his mind of the pain in his body. "But I won't if you promise to spare the girl. Your people have already killed enough of these folks, even a poor nurse who never even saw me. Haven't you... uhhnnn.... done enough damage?"

The bald, almost elegant looking killer raised his gun again, the surprise in his eyes changing to slight disbelief. "Excuse me? Are you saying one of my agents killed someone who never encountered you directly?"

It was all Matt could do to nod without spitting blood. "Her body's in a cleaning closet downstairs. I thought she'd spoken with me, but I was wrong. She only knew... ahhh.... about me from the Duty Nurse." Matt's vision was going all blurry. That meant he had about ten minutes left. Dad and his "life lessons" again.

The gunman lowered the hammer of his postol and holstered it, stepping out of Matthew's reach as he walked around him to the door of the room. "I find this highly doubtful, Mr. Engle, but I will investigate your claim. Do try not to die while I am gone." The door went click.

And Matt went thud. He pressed his face to the cold tile and tried to control his breathing. His magic was so useless right now. While he was suffering the effects of one physical spell's downside, he couldn't work another. He had no gift or ability with healing magic, and while he might be able to affect time itself with his entropic gifts, he didn't dare risk it with the little girl in surgery just a few yards away.

This was checkmate, pure and simple, and he hated to lose.

Matt focused on that. The hate. The stubborn refusal to give up. He was never the fastest kid at school, or the strongest or the brightest, but he always finished a challenge. He rarely won, but he never quit. That didn't mean much in the Educational system, but it meant everything to him now.

It was literally the difference between life and death.

Seemingly as soon as he left, the tall man came back. Matt realized he'd passed out for a little while, but at least he'd woken up again. The Knight looked perturbed, not an expression Matt figured the man wore often. He had his gun out, but it wasn't pointed at him yet.

"You seem to have a bit of life left in you. Strong will, but of course that goes without saying." The man was talking more to himself about Matt than to Matt directly. Not knowing whether he should, or even could, answer, Matthew settled for the far easier option of lie still and bleed. It just seemed like the thing to do right now.

"Allow me to restate your proposal, just to see if I understand its terms." As he spoke, the Knight raised his gun again and pulled back its hammer. The weapon's huge barrel loomed like the tunnel of death into Matt's pained field of vision. A head shot. Well, at least it would be quick. "If I agree not to harm the girl, you'll accept execution without attempting to defend yourself in any way. You'll forgo your magic and agree to your end?"

It felt bitter in his mouth, like he was at some level surrendering to this zealous prick, but he couldn't take the thought of having come all this way with the poor child just to have her die because he wasn't strong enough to save her. Though it hurt to say on so many levels, Matt closed his eyes and accepted the coming storm. "Yes."

The next sound he heard was not thunder. It was silence. Silence punctuated with the CHACK of a hammer being released again. Then a burning light flared through his body, starting at his side and racing its way down his limbs and over his tortured skin. It hurt worse than being shot ever had, even though he understood at some level he was being healed. Brutally, forcibly healed. Somehow, it seemed appropriate for "holy"healing to hurt this much.

"Well then, Mr. Engel. I accept your bargain but I'm granting you a little time while I turn my attention to other matters." The man retrieved a hat from a nearby coat rack and placed it over his bald pate, pushing back up his glasses as he did so.

Matt doubled over in pain, though his body was perfectly functional and restored now. As he writhed, recovering, the Knight stepped over him and walked back towards the door. "I suggest you take very good care of your little stay of execution. If any harm comes to her, I'll consider our agreement broken on your end."

And with that, he was gone, leaving a very confused fallen Engel on the floor...