False Dawn Annual #1: Thicker than Blood
Short Story Format
Devin Leigh Michaels
Life isn’t kind. In fact, it can be cruel, terrifying, and condemning. If you blink, it can and will destroy you. But if you’re lucky, you’re blessed with a bunch of people who will die to protect you from its mechanisms.
If you’re lucky.
Connor Dawson was. A young boy from Zenith’s Rise, he grew up not in wealth but in comfort. I would like to think he enjoyed his first years, even if they weren’t surrounded by his mother and father. But I failed him. I failed him that day all those years ago when he and Drake ran through the foliage of the Platinum Forest, dressed in their knee-high boots and aging cloaks. They thought they were far enough away. They thought they could get away with it. After all, what was the harm?
Taking leave by the River of the Life, Connor and Drake laughed.
“I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it!” Drake snatched the brown bag. He slowly unfolded the top and took a deep sniff. “They don’t make them like this here.”
“Nor do they—” Connor dipped his hand into the bag and extracted a red box with yellow handles. “—come with a toy!”
“You there!” a blaring shout cut through the tranquility, and the boys glanced up at the small platform before the river. There stood twenty of the king’s finest men. “Heed!”
The boys took off, forging the river and heading deeper into the Platinum Forest.
They would soon be caught, not unlike another troubled boy.
KNIGHTSDALE, 342 B.C.
Lance Evans has been perpetually unlucky, and it started at birth.
A bastard child of the highest nobility of Macedonia, he was known in his first lifetime as Pausanias and a member of His Majesty’s guards. He fought alongside the king, performed his duties well, and never once questioned his role in life, for he was in the king’s favor.
An eleven-year-old Pausanias averted his stormy eyes and knelt on his left knee as the king’s personal healer wiped the blood from his right shin. “My apologies for my incompetence, my liege. If it is your will, I will feed myself to the greedy Indus—”
“Hush, child.” Philip rubbed the stubborn tears from the boy’s cheek. “The Ardian solider met his end by your hand.”
“But—But if you hadn’t taken that arrow for me—”
“—which is why this will not happen again.” Philip grimaced as the healer tore the offensive object from his leg. “In the morning, you will leave for Macedonia. Learn with Alexander, Ptolemy, Hephaistion, and Cassander from Aristotle.”
Pausanias bowed his precious head. “I wish to stay at your side, my king.”
“One day, perhaps. Today, child, you will stand by Alexander. Protect him like you wish to protect me. Like my lance, you are my right arm, my greatest friend in battle. Learn. Train, and when we march toward Persia, you will be at my side.”
Perhaps the least lucky of us was Casia LaCroux. A child raised in captivity, in the depths of an abyss, she knew nothing of her past but pain, frost, and darkness. Perhaps she only survived in her cage, huddled in a corner, and drenched to her soul, because she was not alone. Another were-phoenix, Reger McClaren, survived Hell with her, and together, they found strength.
They were not destined to be together forever. Lost in darkness, Casia closed her eyes to keep her sanity.
“Child…” a sinister voice whispered in her ear. “Surrender…”
The icy crystals of the blue flames crept up her arm, and she willed her own, hot flames. Still, drenched in water, she couldn’t light them. The ice persisted up her wrists, her shoulders, her neck—
Casia’s eyes snapped opened, and she saw Reger’s hand through the cage, outstretched for her to take. She immediately reached out to him, and her body bursts into red flames. Shadow tentacles seized her arms, her legs, and her neck, keeping her still.
“They are still able to fight, my lord,” a warrior announced behind her.
Black boots stomped to halt in front of her. “Then your work is not yet completed. Only once we squash their flames forever, may we go forth.”
Perhaps the greatest lesson in life to be learned is we are not in control of our destiny. Others have their own agendas, and we are but causalities of their will.
Brought to the Castle of Light, Connor and Drake were forced to kneel before their judge, the king of Zenith’s Rise, with the light of the heavens like a policeman’s spotlight upon them.
Said to be wise, said to be just, King Durant sat upon his golden throne, his face anything but kind. His golden hair yielded to his heritage as a child of the angels. Not old but not young, his stormy eyes darkened what could have been a jovial face.
He hardened his resolve and stood, using his specter—a golden staff with a bubble of blue lightning—to keep steady.
“I warned the kingdom. I warned you, Connor Dawson, of the ramifications of your actions. The other realms were not to touch Zenith’s Rise.”
Drake slammed his elbow into Connor’s gut, effectively silencing his partner, but the king put up a hand. “No, child, let your friend speak his ‘wisdom.’”
Connor continued with as much bravado as before, “What can be gained from isolation, Your Majesty? If we ignore these other realms, then what happens when they come at us? Wouldn’t it be better if we were prepared?”
“And what happens if their ‘modernization’ touches us? Changes our way of life?”
“Would that be so bad?”
“Enough!” the king proclaimed. “You were warned, and thus, you have proven my worst fears true. If you wish to know the other realms so well, then perhaps you shall embrace them. By order of the King of Zenith’s Rise, you have been banished to Knightsdale forever.”
“Banished?” Connor whimpered.
“Yes, child. Banished! You are to drink from the River of Life and do the duty in Knightsdale that you refuse here—protect the Crossings, so no influence of the other realms shall ever interfere with our way of life.”
Connor shook his head. “You cannot be serious.”
“Oh, I am very serious, child,” the king admonished. “I have had enough of your insolence for one lifetime.”
“Have you had enough of mine as well, Your Grace?” I replied.
Durant’s eyes darkened to ebony. He straightened his back and glared into my light eyes, and despite his anger, he could not ignore my cinnamon hair that matched Connor’s perfectly or the circlet upon it, proving not just my worth to him but also to the kingdom.
Durant’s face hardened faster than liquid metal exposed to winter’s breath. “Do not attempt to change my mind, Adeline. The boy has been foolhardy. He must be punished.”
“Then I will be punished as well.”
“No, Addy!” Connor screamed, shooting to his feet and snatching my hand. “I won’t let you.”
“It is not your choice, little brother.” I stroked his tearstained cheek before glaring at Durant. “You do not have the power of foresight, or you’d see your own shortcomings, Durant. My brother speaks the truth, and one day, you’ll regret not listening.”
KNIGHTSDALE, 338 B.C.
Pausanias could only tolerate so much at the hands of Alexander and his noble friends and made his own way to Philip’s side before the army marched onto Byzantium. Shocked, Philip welcomed him with a hand upon the boy’s cheek and neck, a warm greeting he gave to the likes of legitimate sons.
“Welcome home, my lance.”
But jealousy, for the first time in young Lance’s life, ran deep. By his side, Philip had a left arm as well, another boy by the name Pausanias, the nephew of one of Philip’s strongest generals, Attalus.
Nursing a mug of ale, Lance joined the Macedonia army huddled about the campfires. Young Pausanias flung sword about the small group of Philip’s confidants and guards, the somatophylakes. Not a part of them, Lance hung about the outer edge, distrust his best friend.
“And that’s when we ran through those Illyrian guards. They didn’t know what slew them!”
Lance snorted. “Is that right?”
Pausanias halted, his sword short of achieving blood from a fellow soldier. “Come now, plebe. Tell us of your daring plights at the malevolent hands of Aristotle and his minions.” Pausanias slid about Lance, hissing in the slightly older man’s ears. “Did you clash your sword with his book? Or perhaps you fought his violent words with your dagger?”
“At least I know how to use my dagger.” Lance tore his knife from its scabbard and swiped once. His swift movement shocked Pausanias, who responded too slowly to stop his breaches from covering his ankles. “I don’t give it to older soldiers. I get it from a queen’s servant or at least a tavern maid.”
The soldiers surrounding them broke out in laughter as Pausanias attempted to keep his modesty with his slashed pants. Yet Lance wouldn’t allow it, for as he passed, he swiped once more, tearing the cloth from the soldier’s behind.
Lance shook his head, smothering his own chuckles, and entered the labyrinth of tents.
But tragedy would always find Lance, and following his crude remarks, Pausanias wished to prove his bravery and manhood. When the Illyrian king, Pleurias, attacked Philip, Pausanias jumped before the attack.
He died not too long later.
Lance attended the funeral and expressed his regret. He hadn’t meant his cruel words to have such cruel consequences, but he could not be excused from culpability. As he threw open the curtain to Philip’s tent, a hard, callous hand thumped him in the chest.
“I will not tolerate your presence any longer.”
Lance rolled his eyes at the monolith figure before him. “Attalus. It is not my fault your nephew did not have the heart of a Macedonian warrior. Perhaps he would have done better back home with the other wives. Now, where is the king?”
Attalus snatched a pitcher, pouring a goblet full of dark, blood red wine. “He is currently celebrating life with Cleopatra. Perhaps we should do the same.” He offered the wine goblet to Lance. “Drink.”
“No, thank you. I best be off to guard him, then.”
“Not today, child.”
The curtain flapped open once more, and Lance glimpsed back at the grubby, stable boys, too many for him to fight off.
“You better drink…Lance, is it now?”
“Hottie?” Reger whispered. “Hey, Hottie!”
A tiny hand nudged her awake, and she turned her burning blue eyes toward him. “WHAT!”
“SHH!” Reger knelt in her cage—IN HER CAGE—smiling and giggling. He put out her hand. “Come on. Let’s turn up the heat.”
She took his hand, feeling a warmth she would never touch again, and launched from her broken cage. Her fire wings for the first time stretched, lifting her up. Freedom brushed across her blushed face, and she vowed then she would never go back in that cage.
A simple, thick wooden door separated the cavern from the outside world, and following Reger’s lead, she formed a fireball within her hands. Together, they blasted through it and flew through the hole, escaping into the bowels of the shadow castle. Warriors shrieked at their flames, and with her newfound talent, she burned a way to the grand staircase.
“This way!” Reger yelled, and Casia raced after him, her wings burning a line behind her.
A stained glass window of a blue torch came into view, and she flapped harder. Freedom beckoned them, and Casia reached out for Reger. He smiled and reached for her. They would be safe as long as they were together.
A shadow tentacle snapped about Reger’s neck like a cobra, and Casia felt the coldness from his flames’ absence. “REGER!”
“Go!” he screamed as the shadows pounced upon him, coiling their tentacles about his appendages. “Go! Please!”
“No!” She soared downward. “I won’t leave you!”
His tiny body glowed a violent, molten red, and tears sizzled upon his cheeks. “I know.”
The waves of heat and power crashed against her, forcing her through the shattering window. When she glanced back, pieces of shadow tentacles burned in a circle, like the rays of the sun.
There were no signs of Reger
Tears spilling from her eyes, Casia took off into the darkness to find some light.
KNIGHTSDALE, 338 B.C.
The headache Lance awoke to would have paralyzed the entire Macedonian army, and when he flipped onto his back, he winced at the evil, malevolent smirk upon Attalus’s unshaven mug.
“Attalus—what?” he whispered and when he attempted to sit up, found his wrists attached to one another behind his back. Hay cracked under his head. The group cramped inside the small stable. “What have you done?”
“Retribution, Lance, is an admirable aspiration.” He motioned to the elderly, mocha-skinned woman with a bloody bandage wrapped about her eyes and night-colored hair draped across her shoulders like sleeves. Her bony hands clasped a cane with blue flames in a glass ball atop. The woman’s hands slapped his flushed cheeks.
“Take heed, Pausanias-Lance. You have lost a piece of yourself. Forever shall you walk hand-in-hand with death. You will be granted forever life—but with no companion.
“From this point forth—you shall know only two things: love and loss.”
On the stable boys brought forth a purpled-flamed bucket and pulled a smoldering hot iron from its coals. Lance jerked to fight, but a threatening blade pressed against his neck bled his fight.
“Take heed, Lance,” the woman warned as Lance’s screams filled the stable. “Take heed.”
Tears laced Lance’s eyelids as he saw the lion branded upon his skin, like the lion that had marked Olympia’s womb.
A lion, that Philip eventually came to hate.
“Yes, Lance.” Attalus kicked with the force of a master breaking his horse, snapping Lance’s head back. “Take heed.”
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND 1 A.D.
The pillars of Stonehenge glimmered silver and gold, and in the middle Connor and I materialized from the glow. My fifteen-year-old little brother glanced left and right before refusing to meet my eyes. “I’m sorry, Addy.”
Ruffling his hair, I sighed, then kissed his forehead. “I am not. Come. It is time to greet the new day.”
“WITCH!” the band of villages chanted from behind, their torches ablaze in the brush of the forest. “WITCH! WITCH!”
Casia dashed about the trees, their branches clawing at her dress. Why’d she have to help those cold villagers? She wanted to save them, and what had they done? Called her witch and came at her with pitchforks and sickles.
No good deed…
Her boot snagged an arched root, and her shoulder dug into the unforgiving dirt. By the time she glanced back, the villagers broke through the bushes, their torches and pitchforks menacing to any mortal.
“RUN HER THROUGH!” one screamed.
“BURN HER!” another added.
“You want fire?” Casia’s blue eyes blazed with vengeful anger. “I’ll give you fire!”
Flames burst from her arms, her legs, every part of her body, disintegrating her clothes. She allowed the heat to drift her up until a black tentacle snatched her leg and thumped her hard against the ground. Coldness flowed through her body, and the reality of Skadoia flowed through her body once more. Tentacles wrapped about her wrists, her ankles, even her waist, and black, cold ooze dribbled down her shoulders, covering certain area of her shivering body.
“LET ME GO!” she demanded.
The pack of Skadoian Warriors were different than she knew with blonde hair and baby blue eyes. They were shorter, too. Ashlings. They’d sent children after her.
The Ashlings laughed, their blue fire extinguishing the red flames. The blue flames roared higher behind them, cutting her off from the outside world.
One of the Ashlings bent down and smiled. “No.”
“I can do nothing.”
“WHAT!” Lance pushed the handmaid away from his bloody and beaten face. “My King, Attalus—”
“—is the general of our upcoming siege upon Persia,” Philip admonished, causing the boy to fall to his knees in front of the king’s throne. “He is brutal and callous, but that is what I need from my leaders.”
Lance averted his eyes, allowing the shadows to hide them. “So it doesn’t matter that he drugged me, had his men beat me, and cursed me to live without love?”
“Oh, my child.” Philip wiped the caked blood away from Lance’s cheek with his own thumb. “You ARE loved.”
Philip appointed Lance to his somatophylakes and kept the boy close and as far away from Attalus as possible, but it wasn’t far enough.
Years passed; victories won and lost, but one thing remained.
“My king, I believe this is foolish.”
Philip waved the younger man away as they exited the tent. “Nonsense. This is a time for celebration, and I want to reassure the people of my reign. My guards will impede that.”
“And any assassins who might want to—”
Philip bent Lance’s chin to kiss the boy’s forehead. “If only you were legitimate. I believe you would be more fierce a king than Alexander. Now come! It is time for parting.”
Lance followed the soldiers in the theatre. With fear still clinging to his gut, he swiveled on his heel, toward the entrance to see Attalus arguing with Philip. He patted a fellow guard on the shoulder and headed toward the two, only to see Attalus free his dagger and plunge it into the king’s chest.
Lance raced toward Philip, but he was too late. The king crumpled to the ground, blood leaking from his torso, water still in his eyes.
“No, I believe that is you.”
Growling, Lance elbowed Attalus in the cheek, kneed him the groin, then stole the weapon, holding it against the huffing general’s neck. “He was your king, your leader! How could you—”
“Retribution is such an admirable aspiration, one I have now achieved.”
Lance wrapped the dagger about his hand. “You won’t get away with this. Cleopatra and Alexander will—”
“Who will they believe, child? A general or a lowly slave?” Attalus pointed and screamed at the top of his lungs. “MURDERER! HE MURDERED THE KING!”
Lance whirled to see the guards exit the theatre, and he cursed the bloody blade in his hand.
“You won’t get away with this,” he vowed once more and dashed toward the gates. He could have sworn he heard, “I already have.”
Javelins thumped into the dirt next to his feet, and one cut off his escape. As he jumped, his boot hooked the rod.
The warriors tore apart their fallen prey.
“Monsters!” Casia screamed as the Ashlings dragged her along, their blue fire parting the forest that lead into town.
Men greeted them at the border of the only street, now armed with muskets. “WITCHES AND WARLOCKS! Terrorized our children. Grant us a bad harvest. We will tolerate it no more. Leave or meet thy Maker!”
The Ashlings stopped, looked at one another, then met the men once more. “No.”
Blue fire flooded the town, and those men that fled, lived to tell their horror. Those who stayed froze and then burned in the ultra coldness of the blue fire.
Casia averted her dull eyes, tears welling before the brims. She vowed never to go back, and now, Reger’s death would be for nothing.
The Ashlings stopped once more when they met Connor and I, two hooded figures who dared not to stray. White light courses down our elbow-high gloves. “Release the girl!” my voice echoed through the empty town.
The Ashlings huddled close to form a wall of darkness. “No.”
Connor’s lips quirked into a baiting smirk. “Don’t forget. She asked you nicely.”
White balls of light flung from the impeders’ hands, cutting through the wall and dragging some Ashlings to their knees.
One Ashling still held Casia firmly, but she struggled, shook her shoulders, and thought of the sun. Its warmth, its heat upon her cheeks—something she never saw until six months ago, and now—now she would never live without its presence.
Fire burned along the Ashling’s tentacles, and then Connor’s blaring voice sliced her concentration. “CLOSE YOUR EYES!”
And she did, but even through her lids, the white light threatened to blind her as its crashed through the down like an avalanche. When it finally faded, the tentacles holding her eased until they were no more. A natural coldness to the Swiss air breathed upon her warm skin, but a cloak quickly covered her exposed body. Opening her eyes, she hopefully met my eyes, finding warmth and love in them, thawing the frost that had chilled her life.
“It’s going to be okay, sweetie. I promise. Come. Let’s get you something to eat, a fire to warm you, and a nice dress to keep the vagrants from getting ideas.”
Connor helped Casia to her feet, offering her a peach. “Yeah. Not everyone around here has manners. Connor Dawnson, by the way. This is my sister, Addy.”
CRECY, FRANCE, 1346
“I’m just saying.”
“And I don’t want to hear it.”
“You NEVER want to hear it.”
Bergener winked as he reached out his lance, his fingers beckoning his weapon. “Then we are in agreement.”
Lance heaved the lance into the knight’s hand. “This is foolish. You know that. Prince Edward—”
“Prince Edward has a tenth of our soldiers, little brother. I won’t even need my pavise.”
Lance crossed his arms and let out a pent-up sigh. The entire French army under Philip IV percolated with deadly energy. There was no way the French would not win this battle, but still, doubt lingers in Lance’s gut. “Bergener?”
A general shouted for the soldiers to gather, and as Bergener glanced back, Lance saw the eyes that matched his. None other had before. “Not nagging AGAIN, little brother.”
“Bergener…please. Don’t do this.”
Bergener reigned his horse about and weaved between the other mounts, coming to stand right in front of Lance. He smiled down and waved his lance like a flag. “My right hand and best friend in battle is my lance. It never lets me down, like someone else I know.” He ruffled Lance’s hair. “So, my Lance, I trust your instincts, but trust me. The Black Prince needs to be put in his place. I’ll see you on a forth night. YE-AAH!”
But Bergener did not return this time.
Lance dashed after his brother, who melted into the army and became one of the many knights. His heart thundered out of his chest as he ran. He would never be fast enough to stop the battle. He would never be fast enough to stop the curse.
When his boots sunk into the muddy pools of Crecy, the blood and carnage tore his heart from his chest. The battle had ended, and the French christened the field with crimson.
Wide-eyed, Lance put his hands his mouth, “BERGENER!”
He stepped over thousands of bodies, blood splashing on his boots, and fists on his sides, when he heard a faint, “La...ak!—nce…”
Lance’s head jerked, and his eyes laid upon a body figure, his leg torn apart from a mace. “BERGENER!”
Lance immediately shed his jacket, revealing his lion, snakes, hippogriff hooves, and even a hellhound or two. He wrapped it around the bloody appendage before dragging one of Bergener’s arms about his neck. “Come on, Brother. Let’s get you out—”
“Release the knight.”
Bergener huffed shallowly as life force bled torrents from his calf. Cuts and arrow slices dripped from his face and arms, but his armor remained intact. Perhaps that had saved his life.
Lance raised his chin defiantly, his eyes burning with the fury not known by these “civilized” people. They were English, no doubt, perhaps a dozen or so in count, all but one armed with either a longsword or a crossbow. One peasant held a misericorde.
Still carrying his brother’s weight, Lance bent and scooped up a blade, wrapping it about his hand.
Bergener huffed in Lance’s ear. “Where’d…you learn THAT…baby brother?”
Lance smirked and shrugged awkwardly. “You probably don’t want to know.”
“…run…Lance…Get out of here…”
In hindsight, he probably should have. Perhaps if Lance had left Bergener on that field, the English peasants might have taken pity upon the wounded knight, but Lance had longed given up common sense and reason.
His smirk never waned. “Not on your life.”
English knights and even the Dark Prince himself interceded, but only after Lance disposed of the peasants. A crossbow arrow to the strong hand ended the fight. Blood and mud washed Lance’s hair, and he lost grip on Bergener when the English knights wrestled him to his knees, pinioning his arms behind his back.
“You call this chivalry?” Lance growled.
Edward remained calm, his face schooled in generous concern, as he played with the longsword in his hand. “Your—brother, is it?—fought and loss. He forfeited his life when he chose to take arms against me.”
The sword swiped swiftly, stealing Lance’s breath along with it. Tears burned streaks down his face, and he bowed his head, even as the Black Prince patted him on the shoulder. “You, dear boy, did not, so this is the mercy I grant you. Take this as a lesson, and do not follow in your brother’s footsteps.”
When the knights released him, Lance once more picked up his sword and drove straight for the prince’s neck, but my sword crossed with his. Connor disarmed him and held him tight, even as Lance struggled.
“Let me go! He deserves to pay! He deserves his entrails—”
“Perhaps,” I whispered, “but now is not the time. Death will just come to you.”
“It always comes to me!” Lance proclaimed. He finally bled of fight. Limping to Bergener, he collapsed to his knees and bowed his head. “Leave me…”
“Sorry. We don’t do that type of thing.” Connor patted his head and grimaced. “Eww. Addy, it’s not pretty.”
“Connor, shut it!”
A cloak offered warmth Lance never wanted to feel again, and he shunned away. “No, PLEASE. Leave…You don’t understand.”
My tender hands cupped his cheeks, melancholy eyes smiled at him. “Look away, sweetie. No need to see this any longer.”
“No!” He struggled again, but I held firm, pressing his face into my shoulder. “I’ll just get you killed, too.”
Connor smirked. “Good luck with that, kiddo.”
Together, they forged a bond not by blood but by love.
In a crowded and loud tavern, Connor, Lance, and I huddled around a worn table with mugs of ale.
“HE SAID WHAT?!” Lance blasted.
“Lance, honey,” I soothed, “it was thousands of years ago. No one cares.”
“I care! I wasn’t Philip’s lover! I was his illegitimate son! And Attalus only beat me to pulp, not—y’know!”
“CHARGE!” an emperor Lance commanded, and the Imperial French army rushed to meet those of the Seventh Coalition.
Lance watched as his heart was once more wrenched from his chest when his fiancé stepped in front of a bullet for him. “CAT!”
General Sherman’s moustache twitched as he motioned for his troops to unlock Casia’s chains. “Burn, you wretched girl. Burn the city to the ground.”
Flames lit the tips of her fingers.
The fire reflected upon Casia’s terrified face as a barn behind 173 DeKoven Street burned.
In a bathroom, a stick with a double line taunted me.
Lance blinked at the boy standing behind the near empty bar, drying clean glasses and refilling dirty ones. If he wasn’t five-foot-five with baby eyes, Lance would have sworn he was a veteran bartender of ten years.
Pulling out a stool, Lance plopped down his backpack and smirked. “Hey, kid. Gin and tonic.”
“Hey, dude. License.”
Lance rolled his eyes. “Really? You’re what—twelve and serving alcohol, and you’re asking me for my license? And who’s gonna know? Homeless Bob over there?”
At the end of the bar slumped an elderly man with a twelve o’clock shadow and multiple scarves around his Hulk neck.
“Try fourteen, and don’t pick on Bob. He’s a paying customer and over twenty-one.” The boy flipped a glass over his shoulder and caught it behind his back. “Get a license.”
“Where’s your boss?”
Fire burned in the kid’s eyes almost as strongly as Casia’s. “UNCLE CONNOR!”
Lance blinked. He could not have heard that right. “Uncle?”
Out from the back came a relatively young man, appearing in his late twenties. He was as good-looking as Brad Pitt, as smooth as Johnny Depp, but he wore a smile like Matt Damon.
Then, his green eyes brightened at the older teen, who pulled off his Southpole hat. “Lance Evans.” Connor rushed forward to grab Lance in a crushing embrace, only easing when the boy grunted. “Where have you been? It’s been…what? Thirty years?”
“Give or take a decade.”
“And what’s with this T-shirt in the dead of winter?” Connor wiggled off his leather, biker jacket and swung it over the boy’s shoulders. It reeked of peaches and cigarette smoke. “ADDY! ADDY, GET IN HERE!” Squeezing Lance’s shoulder, he murmured, “She’s gonna to freak.”
I came from the back, dressed like a business woman with a tight designer sweater, boots, and jeans. “Connor, what is all the—Lance.”
I said not another word. My elder son had come home, and when I held him in arms again, I could not tell you the joy I felt. For him to be safe. For him to be loved and know he was loved.
But I also knew there was one person who might have missed him even more than me, though I doubt it.
I released him and kissed the top of his head. “Welcome home, Lance.”
When I moved, Lance’s eyes rested upon the person behind me. “Hey, dame.”
Casia crossed her arms and averted her eyes, wanting to be aloof, but I see the concern and joy in her eyes. “Don’t call me that, or I’ll burn you like one of those pigs on a spit.”
“I missed you, too.”
“Oooh-kay, what’s going on here?”
In all the commotion, we forgot Ral. Ral…my mortal, young, aging kid who I won’t see again once he’s gone. He won’t come around like Casia or Lance. He won’t live more than a hundred years, and once he finds out the truth…
I pushed that all behind my joyous smile and came to stand behind him, placing both my hands on his shoulders. “Ral, I’d like to meet Lance Evans. Lance, I’d like to meet Raleigh…my son.”
“Son!” he shrieked. “Is…Is that even possible?”
“Uh, obviously,” Ral snorted. “And who are you? And how do you know this guy, Mom?”
“He’s not a Sojourner.” Bob downed the last of his beard, his eyes pitch black. I’d seen them once before, almost fifteen years ago.
I don’t remember much after that, other than clutching my son as the door exploded open, and darkness fell.
I remember being thrown to the floor, falling onto Ral before snatching Lance’s wrist. “Take him and go.”
Connor cracked a bottle, flicked open his lighter, and lit the bar on the fire. “Addy’s right! Lance, take Ral! Casia, make an exit!”
“No!” Flames burst from Casia’s fingers to hold back the tentacles. “They’re after me!”
“Not anymore! We’ll meet you at the rendezvous point! GO!” I pushed Ral toward Lance as a blast of blue fire shattered the glasses above our heads. I knew Ral would be in good hands, for Lance lunged and wrapped Ral in a tight embrace, sheltering the boy from any shards.
I leapt to my feet and pulled two bottles of vodka, breaking them to fuel Connor and Casia’s inferno.
“MOM!” I heard Ral yell and glanced back for a second to see Casia blowing a hole through the back and Lance clutching Ral’s waist, tugging him through.
I only have so many years with him, and already, they were being cut.
The momentary loss of concentration cost us, and a tentacle tore through my shoulder, pinning me against the back wall. Sweat slicked my cheeks from the fire, and I coughed against the choking smoke in my lungs. Before me leaned the cold presence of a Skadoian Warrior, his voice smooth like an aged wine.
“Hello, Adeline. It’s good to see you again.”
FIVE HOURS LATER
MONTAGUE, NEW JERSEY
Lance cut the lights to the Blazer and approached the wooden gates. “Can you melt the lock?” he asked Casia.
The girl smiled and snapped her fingers; flames the color of sunlight burned on her skin. “I think I can manage.”
She crept outside, softly shutting the door, and the Blazer was silent.
“Casia…She can make fire?”
For only a moment.
Lance glanced in the rearview mirror at the boy sitting in back passenger seat, his feet to his chest. “Yeah, were-phoenixes can do that sort of thing.”
“And what can you do?”
“…you don’t want to know.”
After pulling the SUV through, Lance stopped and allowed Casia back in. “I left it unlocked for Addy and Connor. Hopefully, they should be joining us soon, right, Ral?”
“What—What happened?” the boy peeped, watching the woods of High Point Park as if they held the answers. “What were those—those things, and just what did they want with my mom and uncle?” Then he glared directly at the two people in the front seat. “Who are you?”
Lance caught Casia’s knowing gaze. “They never told him?”
“I’ve been back a week. Since Connor told me not to do fire around him, I’m guessing no.”
Lance let out a sigh as he threw the car in park at the top of the hill by High Point Monument. “Well, this is going to be fun.”
I can only imagine what it was like for Ral to learn the truth about Connor and me.
To learn his life was a lie.
A Perishable child of immortals, caught between three worlds, and to be left in the care of a were-phoenix and a reincarnated immortal—it must have been overwhelming.
Gravel crunched under Casia’s boots as she came from the Blazer, rubbing the exhaustion from her face. As she took a seat on the log next to Lance, she sighed. “Well, he’s asleep now.”
“How’d he take it?”
“Better than I thought, worse than I’d hoped.”
Lance played with the BMW keychain in his hand. “So…what are we going to do with him?”
“What else?” Casia shrugged. “Keep him. Care for him until we find Addy and Connor.”
“He’s not a dog, Casia.”
“No, he’s Addy’s son. We owe it to her.” She hit Lance on the shoulder. “YOU owe it to her.”
Connor bowed his head. “Casia, he’s mortal.”
“So, my curse. If I get close to this kid—”
“Then don’t. I’ll take care of him. Why don’t you take charge of kicking the Skadoian Warriors’ asses?”
Comfortable silence griped them before Casia brushed back Lance’s bangs. “I like the dyed tips.”
“Did it to annoy Mom and Pop.”
Casia pulled her hand away from him as if burnt. “Mom and Pop?”
He waved his keychain. “They brought me a car to go to college. I was going to go to college, Casia. ME.”
“Then why didn’t you?”
He’d let the question stand before rising. He went by the car, stealing silent vigil about the mortal boy sleeping in the back seat. Ral looked cold, huddling against the cushions. Huffing, Lance striped off Connor’s leather jacket and laid it over the boy.
He never got it back.
Through everything, our family has persevered, and I know even now, they’ll love one another, learn from one another, protect one another.
Standing upon the cliff overlooking the Grand Castle of Skadoia, Ral pulled his arms through the jacket sleeves and turned his back upon the person behind him.
“What am I doing here?”
“It’s been years, Dawson. What?” The man detached himself from the shadows with glowing sapphire blue eyes, a pale complexion, and a ponytail tied at the nape of his neck. “Can’t I see my greatest creation?”
Because that’s what families do.
TO BE CONTINUED in False Dawn #13…