Don't Shake the Flask

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Tag: storm chasers

Storm Chasers – Entry #4

He’s a thunderbird with an attitude problem. She’s a soul eater with a sweet tooth. They fight supernatural crime!

(I’ve decided to do a series of short urban fantasy vignettes set in an alternate universe Vancouver to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This entry is based on this picture prompt at WriteWorld.)

* * *

As Taj reluctantly contemplated the shedu’s essence, now compressed into a small metal bead between her thumb and index finger, the background music to “My Heart Will Go On” blasted through a pair of crackling speakers. She and Ru had decided to retire to a sushi dive on the east side of Powell Street in order to regroup and plan for the next demon take down. Ru had said something about dinner. Which was easy for him to say. She had to eat a demon.

“Aren’t you going to eat that?” Ru ate a piece of tuna roll as a trio of drunk businessmen at the other end of the dive warbled about their hearts on static-y microphones.

“I don’t normally eat demons. But if this doesn’t give me indigestion, they certainly will,” she replied as one of the businessmen hit a high note. At least they were sitting in a back corner booth so the noise wasn’t so loud. Her ears were still recovering from the encounter with the shedu. She grimaced and then tossed the bead into her mouth. Swallowed. She reached for the sake a second later. The alcohol warmed her throat, but it did nothing to alleviate the heaviness in her stomach. It wouldn’t take long for the demon’s powers to augment her own. “I should have said no.”

“Said no? Said no to what?”

“To your suggestion for coming here,” she said, waving a hand to indicate the sushi joint. “If you really wanted sushi, we could have gone to that new restaurant down on Robson.”

“Too fancy,” he countered. “And too many normal people there. Besides, it would be impossible for us to talk about this.” He took out his phone and started playing the recording of the shedu hissing and roaring. Most of it was drowned out by the bad karaoke, but Taj reached over anyway to stop the playback.

“Don’t be so reckless. It’s a wonder you haven’t landed on the local tabloid before now with the humans writing stories about you having alien babies or something.” She poured herself another cup of sake before finally partaking some real food. She crunched on some shrimp tempura as she took in their surroundings. Dim yellow light lit the dive which consisted of a couple worn tables and booths populated mostly by casually dressed regulars. The only concession to décor was a couple of fake bonsai trees near the entrance. “Besides, I don’t see much difference. There are normal people here, too.”

“Sure, but nobody here will bother eavesdropping on us.”

“Uh huh. Well, what about her?”

Ru turned his head in the direction that Taj had wiggled her chopsticks. A short line of patrons stood against the wall, waiting for their turn at karaoke. One of the people in line was a slim, dark haired woman in a jean jacket and extremely short shorts. At that moment, she was staring in their direction with black eyes. Her skin was pale but with a greenish tinge that marked her as one of the sea people.

He scowled. “What is she doing here?” The light rain outside suddenly became a downpour.

“You know her? Who is she?”

Instead of answering Taj, he turned back to the table and muttered, “We need more sake.”

“No, we don’t. Who is she? Is she an ex-girlfriend?”

At her words, his lips curved into a snarl. “You’re fortunate you had some justification for that incident, even if it was a stupid reason,” he said, referring to the last time they met, before Vivian Long put them on the current case. “She almost killed my brother.”

“Your brother? I didn’t know you had a brother.”

“He’s in a coma thanks to her,” he spat. He gulped down some sake. Thunder rumbled outside and the lights briefly flickered, but none of the humans noticed. “I should have struck her down on the spot when I first found out.”

“Why aren’t you striking her now?”

“Contrary to what you think, I’m not an idiot. She’s a princess. If I struck her down, I’d have the sea gods breathing down my neck for the rest of my life.”

“A princess, huh? Strange that she’s slumming it down here today.” Taj pretended to concentrate on her food, but she was aware that the woman had peeled away from the karaoke line and was heading their way. When she got to their table, she struck a pose with a hand on her hip.

“Well isn’t it a sweet coincidence?” the woman said, her smoky voice forcing them to acknowledge her presence. Her voice had a compulsion to it, similar to the Dragon Queen’s, but it was weaker. Despite the fact that the woman was a siren, Taj found it easy not to fall into her thrall. “Fancy seeing you here, Birdie.” The siren glanced at Taj and then continued with a sniff, “She doesn’t seem like your type. She seems a bit…unconventional.”

Taj merely smiled at the barb and ate another tempura shrimp.

A muscle ticked in his jaw, but his words were cool and controlled. “I’m a regular here. You, however, don’t make it a habit to visit dives. I thought you had more…refined tastes. Did your latest rich boyfriend get tired of you?”

The siren gave a brittle laugh. “Oh, you know Dave. He’s pretty busy. I’m just amusing myself here.” She took a step back and wiggled her fingers in a mock wave. In the dim light, a ring with a large blue stone flashed. Taj found herself staring at the ring. Her fingers itched. “It was so good to see you. By the way, have you found your brother’s soul yet?”

Ru’s eyes glinted. A faint, almost imperceptible sliver of smoke rose from where he clutched his chopsticks. “No.”

“Too bad. It’s such a shame.” She turned and sauntered back to her place in the karaoke line.

“Bitch,” Ru growled.

The trio of businessmen began the final stanza of their song, their voices rising in a crescendo as the background music crackled and swelled from the speakers.

The itch in Taj’s fingers intensified. Instinct had her splaying her fingers. The effects of her demon meal finally revealed themselves. Her normally keen senses jacked up and she briefly lost control of her power which called out to any lost souls in the vicinity. She forced her hands to close back into fists and shoved a lid back on her abilities. But it was too late. Several things shattered inside the dive. A woman screamed. It was the siren, clutching a broken ring.

The humans in the sushi dive went silent for a moment before erupting into cheers. They thought the glass broke because of the power of their operatic voices.

Taj stared down at her hands. Faint bluish wisps gathered into her palm and reformed into a glittering, blue gemstone. “I think I just found your brother’s soul,” she said. She hated the fact that her hands were shaking. The power that she had absorbed from the shedu was far greater than she had expected. She shoved the stone into a pocket before anyone else in the dive could see.

Ru slapped some bills onto the table and scooted out of the booth. “Come on. Let’s go before she realizes the humans didn’t actually do anything.”

Storm Chasers – Entry #3

He’s a thunderbird with an attitude problem. She’s a soul eater with a sweet tooth. They fight supernatural crime!

(I’ve decided to do a series of short urban fantasy vignettes set in an alternate universe Vancouver to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This entry is based on this picture prompt at WriteWorld.)

* * *

When they finally arrived at the squat brick house in Renfrew, the latest victim was already dead. The only remains they could see was an arm frozen in desperation as it stuck out of the front door mail slot. Blood pooled on the concrete step below. The trail of the shedu that Ru had been tracking splattered against the front door in a sickly iridescent sheen only visible to those who had the power to see beyond the normal.

“This way,” said Ru. “The window’s open.”

Extreme caution had Taj glancing around the empty neighborhood. No humans strolled on the sidewalks, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t any glancing out behind curtains. Even so, they would only see slim shadows on the lawn at best. A trick of the light. When those of Taj and Ru’s ilk didn’t want to be seen by humans, they weren’t.

Taj followed Ru to the far right of the house to stand in front of a sliding window painted in white trim. Ru wedged his fingers into the crack at the bottom and pushed the pane up with little trouble. In seconds, they both slipped inside. The bedroom they entered was unremarkable. A bed, a desk, two chairs, photographs, and posters on the wall.

She reached out with her senses for a moment and then nodded for Ru to continue. “I can’t sense anything in this house except for the dead human.”

The bedroom door led out into a short hallway that met with the foyer at the entrance. They both stood shoulder to shoulder at the end of the hallway looking out onto the scene. The shedu had made short work of its victim in an extremely messy fashion. The carpet, whatever its original color, was now stained a permanent dark red. Taj had no desire to step into the foyer so she summoned the victim’s soul to come to her. The tattered, silver wisps rose from the remains and migrated to her fingers easily. So did the victim’s last memories. Her fingers spasmed, abruptly releasing the poor soul. If her stomach wasn’t so strong, her cousin’s baklava would have joined the blood on the carpet.

“It was bad,” she finally said. She cracked her eyes open. Ru looked at her with a narrowed, intense gaze. In the distance, she thought she heard rumbling. Perhaps it was a passing train. “The man had no idea. It suddenly appeared in the kitchen. He tried to run.”

“And didn’t make it.” Ru pulled something out of his back pocket. A phone. He took some pictures of the scene and then carefully skirted around the worst of the area to head deeper into the house.

Taj followed him to the kitchen, which would have looked as ordinary as the bedroom except for the scattered splinters of what remained of a wooden table. Black scorch marks streaked across the linoleum in strange patterns. Ru took several pictures of the patterns before they both squatted down to examine them more closely.

“If I’m not mistaken,” said Ru, “I’d say that these sigils had been etched beneath these floor tiles. The victim probably didn’t know they were there when he bought the house.”

Taj shook her head as she tried to recall the soul’s older memories that had also downloaded themselves into her head. “Your hunch is right. He bought the house last year. The kitchen had been renovated before it was put on the market. How did you guess there was something underneath?”

“I know all about fire’s effect on…” A sudden crash broke into his words as the kitchen window exploded into dark shards.

The shedu stood shrouded in a cloud of thick, black smoke. Even from their crouch on the kitchen floor, they saw only a glimpse of a hoof and a pair of glowing red eyes.

For some reason, Ru simply raised his phone and began recording. Taj wanted to yell at him, to drag him away from the kitchen. To run. But her feet stayed firmly rooted to the spot as the shedu emitted a series of grunts and hisses that made her ears hurt. Something trickled down her neck. It was only when the pattern of smoke slightly shifted that she managed to jump up from her position and fling out her arms.

The demon roared. It had wanted to crush Ru like it did its last victim, but the shield that Taj flung out at the last minute stopped it in mid-strike, its hooves swimming futilely in the air. She breathed hard. The shedu was strong. She couldn’t hold the shield forever. And she was about to tell Ru just so when she saw his mouth curve ever so slightly as he raised his middle finger.

Lightning struck the kitchen, blinding, hot. A terrible wind flung Taj against the wall. She lost her grip on the shield when her head hit something. Unfortunately, it didn’t hit hard enough to knock her unconscious. Instead, her head rung and her eyes saw nothing as she slid to the floor. She breathed hard and blinked several times. After several moments, white nothingness turned into ghostly afterimages and then after another second, flickered back into normal vision.

The kitchen was a complete, smoking ruin. Ru stood near the worst of it, apparently unscathed. Taj wobbled to her feet.

“You idiot. You destroyed all the sigils. It was our only hint on how to lure out those demons.”

He canted his head towards her voice and gave her a familiar smirk as he held out his undamaged phone. “Don’t worry. I’ve got all the pictures. But I believe it’s your job to dispose of that.” He pointed to a small, glowing red sphere where the shedu had once stood.

“I really don’t want to eat that,” she replied as thunder faintly rumbled overhead. She briefly looked up and was not surprised to see that his powers had scorched away the roof. When she looked back at him, he was staring at her.

“You’re bleeding.”

She raised a hand to her ear. “It’s nothing. I heal fast. You’re raining, though. Water is going to make this an even bigger mess.”

At her words, the water droplets came down from the sky. Some of them hit the red sphere, vaporizing into streaks of pale steam.

Storm Chasers – Entry #2

He’s a thunderbird with an attitude problem. She’s a soul eater with a sweet tooth. They fight supernatural crime!

(I’ve decided to do a series of short urban fantasy vignettes set in an alternate universe Vancouver to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This entry is based on this picture prompt at WriteWorld.)

* * *

The trail went cold at a bus stop near Granville Island. The shedu Taj had been tracking had either managed to disguise itself and get on one of the buses or it had found a host. Both possibilities made her job much harder.

She shook her head in frustration and decided to head to the Granville market to grab something to eat before figuring out what to do next. Back at the museum, she and Ru had discovered that the statue had held seven demons and not just one. And all seven of them were loose somewhere in the city. With just the two of them, they decided to split up to find two of them at a time.

Locals and tourists crowded the market, mostly humans unaware of the other beings watching and possibly preying on them. Taj had little interest in them as she made her way through the throng and toward the pier. Only the dead and dying had anything to fear from her. Once at the pier, it only took her a moment to spot the small stand at the edge of the food court. Jess, one of Taj’s numerous cousins, owned “Three Point Sweets” along with her business partners Ed and Amy.

Today, all three of them were dressed like time travelers from the 1950s. Taj spotted Ed at the back of the stand stirring a large bowl of dough for the next batch of pastries. His homage to the Fonz was spoiled by the fact that he had on an orange apron over his costume. Amy, busy restocking the display case, wore a bright blue poodle skirt. Jess manned the cash register wearing a delightfully retro black and white strappy dress. Her cousin’s caramel curls were pulled back into a ponytail which bounced every time she gave a customer a red-lipped smile. Taj could tell that her cousin was working her mojo to lure the customers in—Jess fairly glowed like dark fire in the afternoon light.

As she neared the stand, she heard the latest customer in line—a young human male with baggy jeans and a baseball cap facing the wrong way—brashly ask Jess for her phone number. Jess simply grinned and chirped “Of course!” before reeling off a string of numbers which he dutifully punched into his mobile. Taj’s lips involuntarily twitched. She recognized the phone number. It was for the local feminist intervention hotline.

A moment later, Jess looked up and waved her over. “Taj! Just the person I wanted to see! Hey Amy, could you take over for a sec?”

“Sure thing,” replied her business partner.

Taj met Jess on the other side of the counter where her cousin promptly shoved a paper plate containing four triangles of baklava layered meticulously with filo, nuts, and honey into her hands. “Eat,” Jess commanded.

“Is that all?” she replied, amused. She popped one piece of baklava into her mouth and slowly chewed. Jess and her partners viewed Taj as the perfect guinea pig due to her cast iron stomach. Nothing fazed her, not even evil souls. Taj, on the other hand, was perfectly fine with bumming off free delicious food from her relatives and friends. “Pistachio,” she finally said after swallowing. “And something flowery. It’s good.”

“Ed added in some rosewater,” Jess explained. “People will think it’s extra fancy so we can do a markup.”

“Mercenary.”

“Exactly. We were also planning to make some for Auntie Bastet’s birthday party this Saturday.” But then Jess leaned closer as she ate another pastry. “So, what brings you here before lunch time? You almost never visit us before noon.”

“A case.” Taj glanced around to see if any of the humans were paying attention to them. They weren’t, but she didn’t take any chances. She lowered her voice to frequencies below human hearing and briefly summarized the situation with the shedu. “I lost the trail near here. I suspect it probably hopped on a bus to hide its tracks, but there’s a possibility it’s here in the market, too. If you see or sense anything weird, call me.”

Jess nodded. “I’ll call if there’s anything weird at the market. But if worse comes to worse, Ed, Amy, and I can take down a tank if we need to.”

“Jess, I’m not kidding. These are demons, not tanks. You’ll be foolish to think that…” Taj’s phone buzzed, interrupting her. She glanced down at the screen and involuntarily let out a sigh.

“Who is it?” her cousin asked. “Is it your boss, Mrs. Long? Does she have more information about the case?”

“No. It’s…my partner. Apparently he has more luck than I do. I need to go meet him to check out the latest lead.”

“Partner?” said Jess, confused. “I thought you worked alone.”

“I did. Mrs. Long put us both on the case.” She shoved her phone back into her jacket pocket. “Look, I’ve got to go. Your new baklava recipe has my approval. And before you ask, yes, I’ll be at Auntie Bastet’s birthday party if the city isn’t being wrecked by a bunch of homicidal demons in the meantime. I hope you don’t have any more questions.”

“Nope,” Jess smiled. “Just have fun and kick some demon butt!”

Taj only gave her cousin a tight smile in return. Judging from the text message that Ru sent her, fun was going to be the last thing she would be having.

Storm Chasers – Entry #1

He’s a thunderbird with an attitude problem. She’s a soul eater with a sweet tooth. They fight supernatural crime!

(I’ve decided to do a series of short urban fantasy vignettes set in an alternate universe Vancouver to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This entry is based on this picture prompt at WriteWorld.)

* * *

Oh no.

The tips of Taj Ammit’s fingers itched, claws threatening to pop out as the sound of a motorcycle grew closer. She clenched her fists to hide her fingers in case her control snapped. It would not do to frighten Mr. Fitzwilliam, the human director of the Historical Art Museum. The white bearded suit was already nervously wiping his spectacles with a handkerchief as his gaze alternately darted between her and her boss, the coolly coiffed Dragon Queen, Vivian Long.

After another second, Fitzwilliam finally decided to keep his eyes on Vivian who appeared to be the least threatening. Vivian was very good with camouflage. Upon casual observation, the Dragon Queen was the stylish matriarch of one of the oldest and most influential families in the city in her navy pantsuit and gray-streaked hair pinned back in a bun. She had a sympathetic expression as Fitzwilliam continued babbling about the problem.

Taj, on the other hand, had a long rangy build. Pairing that with a leather jacket and boots made for stomping made her intimidating. Her refusal to wear contact lenses to disguise her not-quite-ordinary eyes didn’t help her image any. It wasn’t surprising that Fitzwilliam preferred to pretend that she wasn’t there.

“Why aren’t we going inside to look at the problem?” Taj asked, even as a sinking feeling told her the answer.

Vivian smiled serenely. “I thought having another pair of eyes would be helpful in this case.”

At her words, the motorcycle finally turned around the corner of the museum, revealing itself and its rider. The rider parked the motorcycle near the end of the loading dock and dismounted. The rider had not bothered with a protective jacket. He was a tall man in distressed jeans and worn boots. He wore a white t-shirt printed with the name of a local band. Curling abstract tattoos covered his tanned arms. And when he took off his helmet, Taj’s suspicions were confirmed as he shook out his shaggy dark hair. Damn thunderbird. Vivian knew that if Taj never saw him again, it would be too soon.

It was Vivian who introduced him as Rupert Thunder to the director who, despite a dubious look at their newest addition, quickly ushered them toward the back door of the museum that led to one of the storage rooms. It was a cool, climate controlled concrete space stacked with wooden crates of all sizes. Fitzwilliam and Vivian led the way, forcing her to walk beside him.

“I thought that last incident sent you back to Cairo,” he said lowly. “I guess you’re harder to kill than I thought.”

She glanced at him and found his lips curling into a smirk. Silently, she counted to three before saying, “Evil just makes me stronger.”

“Stronger? I thought eating all those evil souls was fattening.”

She felt the prick of claws against her skin. “It’s a pity that fire didn’t scar that pretty face. Girls prefer men with character.”

The curl of his mouth widened into a sharp-toothed grin. “Too bad for you, I’m immune to fire.”

They finally reached the end of the room. Fitzwilliam was babbling even worse than usual. It wasn’t hard to see why. At the foot of an ancient Mesopotamian statue of a bull with a man’s face was a body with its head smashed into a pulp. There was a bloody hoof trail leading away before vanishing into the nearest wall.

Vivian looked at the scene with a frown before turning back to Fitzwilliam to tell him to call the police. The Dragon Queen’s voice was quiet but infused with great power, making the hairs on the back of Taj’s neck stand up even though it wasn’t directed at her. The director’s babbling stopped and he nodded vigorously before scurrying away.

“What do you see?” Vivian asked when she turned to look at them.

Taj walked over to the body, careful not to step in any of the blood, and crouched. She reached out and saw the victim’s soul, a shivery golden wisp, gravitate toward her fingers. She snagged it and the traumatized soul, as light as a feather, pulsed against her skin. The soul transmitted a stream of images into her mind. She let out a shaky breath as she saw the victim’s last moments.

Shedu,” Ru said, breaking the silence. He wasn’t looking at her. Instead, he touched the statue and squinted at some faded cuneiform etched into the stone. “Storm demons. Several of them were released from their prison, this statue. I would guess the victim probably had the idiotic idea to break their bindings.”

She straightened from her crouch and released the soul to float out to the Great Beyond. “No. That’s not it. It’s not the victim’s fault. He was just an intern. He noticed some noises in this room and came in at the wrong time. Someone else broke the bindings before he was killed.”

Vivian narrowed her eyes as the voices and footsteps of the arriving cops interrupted their quiet contemplation. “We’ll find the individual who broke the bindings eventually. But right now, the shedu is the greatest threat to the city. Eliminating them will be the top priority, for both of you.”

Taj dared to glance at Ru. He gave her another smirk. Oh great. If she was unlucky, she’d manage to kill him before getting rid of any pesky demons.