Nicole Grey (foenix) wrote,
Nicole Grey
foenix

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Black River: The Dead of Winter - Day 23

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So, the day after I am no longer required to meet a goal, I still write my 2k, plus an additional 1000 words.  But I bring with me a chapter!


Chapter Six - Life Everlasting

        Christopher did not come to his decision easy.  He knew what Joseph wanted, and what was for the best, but he had a better idea.  At least, he hoped he had a better way.  While the ways of their order did not preclude the murder of a child; blood is blood, and all blood spilled is spilled in honour and for the cause.  But Christopher was going to save that as a last resort.
        If his master plan didn't work, then he would have to fall back to ending the young Kelly's life, but with luck that could be avoided.
        He spent the next few days watching the child from afar.  He never watched her for long, so as to not araise suspicions.  He knew how it would look to have someone of his age keeping a close eye on a nine year old girl.
        The obersvations were far from necessary.  It wasn't like a fourth grader had a gruelling schedule to adhere to.  All they served to do was make Christopher ever more certain he was making the right choice.  He found himself becoming more and more fond of Kelly the more he watched her.  Part of him wondered if he could pull the figurative trigger on her if it came to that.  He still thought he could, but the cost to his soul would be much higher now.
        Which is why he took the extra time to make sure he had any chance of pulling off what he had in mind.  Christopher had left the resources of the order behind in Chicago, but he always carried some of the texts with him; including the orders main tennets, and his own personal book of spells.  Nothing he had come up with before would do the trick, but some of the incantations would call upon powers he had called upon before.  Hopefully they would be as receptive to their servant now as they were in the past.
        The worst part of his duty would be getting his hands on the girl.  No plan he had didn't involve some alone time with her, and that meant abducting her.  The lesser of two evils, when put up beside killing.  At least if he failed to contain her, he would have her right there to do what needed to be done.
        At last the day came for Christopher's task.  After classes, he knew the girl almost always remained in the playground until her mother came to pick her up.  He did his best to act like he belonged there behind the elementary school.  If he didn't seem out of place, Christopher hoped no one would notice he wasn't supposed to be there until it was too late.
        From where he sat, he could look out over the single story building to the much taller high school nearby, hoping Kelly would have the chance to go there someday.
        Christopher watched the students, acting like he was waiting for one of his own.  After a fashion, that was just what he was doing.
        With what seemed like ages of waiting and more than one curious glance at the stranger reading the paper upon a bench, Christopher saw Kelly come out at last.  He had picked a spot where he knew she could see him.
        The little girl skidded to a stop in her pink sneakers.  Her purple winter jacket made her look more like a grape than a little girl, and her jeans were splattered with paint.  Her blue eyes shone out from under her hood and caught the man sitting on the bench.  She smiled at the sight and pointed at him.  "Sparkly!"
        If there had been any question in Christopher's mind, that dispelled it.  She could see the energy flows around people, and had picked out his much stronger aura from the crowd.  No one who wasn't connected to the power could do that.
        Little Kelly stared with rapt attention at what she saw.  It wasn't the first time she had seen someone with colours flowing around them, but never before had she seen someone that shone so bright.  Brighter than the noon day sun, yet she could not look away, even if her eyes burned out because of it.
        Christopher beckoned her over, and she bounded closer on her tiny feet.  "That's right.  You glow too, you know."
        "Everyone glows!" she cried out.  The little girl had been so confused for the last few weeks by what she saw, and the things that happened around her.  It came as a great relief to have someone acknowledge them.  All her mother did was say, "Yes dear" every time Kelly said she saw something.
        Now came the hard part.  This all depended on how Kelly responded.  "Do you want to know why?"
        The thick fabric of her jacket rustled in excitement as she bobbed her head.
        "Good, you just have to follow me," and with that Christopher stood and started walking away.  He paused and looked back to see Kelly had not moved from where she stood.
        "Mommy says not to go anywhere with strangers."
        Well, crap, thought Christopher.  This was what he had feared.  Things could get dicey from here if things didn't go well.  He wanted to protect himself as much as the girl.
        Christopher knelt down so he could look Kelly in the eye and feel less like an adult.  "Well, my name is Chris, and I've seen you around, but I never caught your name...?"
        "Kelly," she said in a soft voice, muffled as much by her own nervousness as by her hood.
        "Well now, we're not strangers now, are we?"
        The girl's eyes narrowed to slits as she stared at the man kneeling in front of her.  "I'm nine.  I'm not stupid."
        Christopher could tell this was going about as wrong as he'd feared it would.  "Of course not, Kelly.  If I meant you any harm, would I do it in front of all these people that might see me?  I just want to talk, want to help you understand."
        He hoped the truth would be a good enough incentive.  It would be almost novel.
        The child chewed on her lip, considering the stranger's words.  She looked at him with those big, blue eyes that were too large for her head but would some day grow into them.  She watched as the colours around him danced and shifted along the spectrum, and whatever she saw in them made her trust the man.
        "Ok," she said with a shrug and scooted up next to his side.
        Christopher led the girl closer to the woods, and led her down a path that would become very familiar to her over the years to come.  In his research of Kraftsbury he discovered the existence of the stone circle there, and knew it would give him the edge to do what needed to be done.
        When they crested the hill, Kelly saw the stones for the first time.  She let out a squeal of childlike glee at the mysterious sight, and ran down the hill towards the rocks and the river.
        Kelly's fears of being with a stranger had disappeared and were replaced instead with the curiosity of a child when presented with something that looked like it came out of a fairy tale.
        Which was unfortunate for the girl, because just as her fears faded away is when they would have been most apt to have.  With a heavy heart Christopher came up behind the girl whose attention had been stolen by one of the tall, finger-like stones.
        Her eyes studied every inch and every crack of its granite surface.  Kelly never even had a chance to see the cloth Christopher held before it was over her mouth.  She breathed in deep to scream but her lungs filled with something strange until the world went black.
***
        Years later, Kelly sat in that same circle of stones, with the same man, but she did not know it.  To this Kelly, she had met Christopher just a few hours ago, not nearly a decade.  Something about him seemed familiar, but it was little more than a sense of deja vu to the 17 year old.
        The two druids sat on opposite sides of what looked like a fire, but there was no wood fueling it.  The flames flickered above the ground and cast an orange glow that died just outside the perimeter of the stones.
        Kelly had learned how to make the ball of flame with ease, and it was the first thing that Christopher taught her that night.  It had taken him days to learn how to even make a spark, but Kelly took to her powers like a fish to water.  Which was no surprise since she had lived with them for the past eight years.
        The girl was hungry to learn more, but Christopher was cautious.  So much power, breaking free so soon was dangerous for all concerned.  They had to take it slow, as much as that made Kelly pout.
        "Knowledge is power, Kelly," Christopher explained.
        Kelly just made an exasperated sigh.  "And power corrupts.  Yes, I've read the Dark Phoenix Saga."
        Christopher was at a loss for words, barely able to follow this girl's train of thought.  "The what?"
        "Never mind.  What else can you teach me?"
        The man flipped through his books, "A lot.  Everything.  But nothing else tonight."  He ignored the sounds of disappointment coming from across the fire.  "We need to take things slow.  You need to tap into your powers at a trickle, grow used to the power.  Not turn it on like a firehose at full blast."
        "I suppose I can see how that would be bad.  It's just, I feel like this is what I'm supposed to be doing, and it's what I should have been doing all along."
        Christopher glanced up from his book and looked at the girl.  She was tinted yellow and orange behind the flames, and he wondered just how much she did remember in the back of her mind.
        "This would be easier if you would just come with me," he said.
        Something about the offer sent a chill through Kelly, some sort of recognition.  She shook her head though, and shifted closer to the fire for its warmth.
        "No," she murmured.  "It needs to be here.  If that's ok."
        Christopher sighed and closed his books.  "That's fine.  If that's what you wish.  We can make due here.  But not tonight.  It is late, and you still have school and real homework to do."
        "Bleah," she made a face like she had eaten a raw lemon.
        "Your real studies are just as important as these.  Education is important and blah blah blah."
        "I know, I know.  This is just more fun."
        "Really," inquired Christopher.  "And how is that cut on your hand?"
        Kelly flexed her fingers, and while the wound had healed, she could still see the red mark on her palm.  It had faded while they sat and comisserated around the fire, but it was still there.  Almost anyone else would mistake it for any other line on her hand, but Kelly would always know what it was.
        Christopher stood and brushed leaves and dirt from his pants.  He held the smaller book in his hands and held it out to the girl sitting in front of him.  She reached out and when her hand didn't quite make it, she too stood and mimicked his brushing motions before taking the book in her hands.
        "That's my own personal spellbook.  You'll start making your own soon enough.  There are no set rules.  We all have our own ways and means of drawing upon the magics.  Whatever makes a person most comfortable.  You'll find your way, and can use some of my own experiments as a guideline."
        Kelly thumbed through the pages.  They were well worn and used.  Smudges and fingerprints marred almost every page.  More than one of the pages had a coffee ring imprinted over the spells.
        She closed the book and ran her fingers over the textured, blue cover.  It looked like almost any other hardcover book that had lost its dust jacket.
        "What will I be able to do with all this?" she wondered.
        "Almost anything, although that's limited by a person's own ability.  Some people can't even make a flame like this one.  Most of our powers are directed towards healing, though.  Cuts, bruises, broken bones, I've even seen some people rejuvinate dead tissue."
        Kelly's ears perked up at the final possibility, and she did her best to hide her reaction.  She couldn't tell if Christopher had seen anything, but it seemed like he was too busy gathering up the stuff that had exited from a shoulder bag over the course of the night.
        The girl tucked the new book under her arm with care and smiled.  Wheels were beginning to turn in her head and a plan was beginning to formulate.
        Kelly got back to the long-abandoned parking lot, and even the cleaning crews had gone home by then.  Part of her, the old part of her that came from her old life, knew she should be scared walking to her car all alone with no one to help her, no one to watch over her.  The difference now was, Kelly knew she could kick some magical ass.
        As long as nothing mystical leapt out of the shadows and attacked, that is.  She was confident she could drop your average mugger, but anything worse than that might give her trouble.  Still, she was in her all normal, all the time frame of mind, and never gave the more supernatural side of Kraftsbury a second thought.
        She got to her car and gave the door handle a tug, but the door remained shut tight.  Kelly dug in her pockets to find her keys, grumbling her thanks to Brendan for saving her stuff from thieves.
        With the door open, she tossed the book from Christopher on top of the rest Brendan had piled in her seat.  Kelly sighed again at Brendan making everything so difficult without even being there, and shoved the books across to the passenger's side so she could get the hell out of there.  Even if she thought she could handle herself, Kelly was not quite ready to put that to the test.
        As Kelly pulled out of the high school's parking lot, she had to pause as a number of police cruisers shot past before she could pull out.  A brief thought of what could be wrong passed through her head, but whatever it was, it wasn't her problem.  The police were on it, and she'd hear about it in the morning.
        The car drove through the almost empty streets of Kraftsbury.  It wasn't that late, but in a small, rural town like this, the streets rolled up early, and the people didn't come back out until sunrise.  There were precious few shops to visit, save for the supermarket.  A few restaraunts and bars were busy, but besides that, the town was dead.  The snow had not begun to fall yet, and the mountain resort was just beginning to ramp up for the skiing season.  Once that happened, then the town would be buzzing well into the wee hours of the morning.
        Once she was home, Kelly had a quick bite to eat, feeling drained.  It had been a long day, and a long night.  Calling upon ancient magicks could build up a girl's appetite, it seemed.
        As she tried to work on her homework, her gaze kept drifitng to Christopher's book.  After an hour of working on a single math problem, Kelly knew it was futile.  She tossed her pencil across the desk in her bedroom and grabbed the blue-covered tome.
        She ran her hands over the cover again, feeling the bumpy fabric underneath her fingertips.  The book looked older than it was, much like its owner, she noticed.  It had seen much use, and who knows what secrets it kept that weren't written down in its pages?
        Underneath the book, she saw Brendan's note.  She stared at it for awhile before snatching it up in her hand attached to her now-repaired left arm.  There was only the barest twinge of pain leftover as a reminder that something had happened.  The pain was no more than that one feels from a lingering bruise that had disappeared from view, but not from notice.
        Kelly crumpled the note up and tossed it in the Garfield wastebasket next to her bed on the other side of the room.  It hit the back wall and bounced off under a chair.  There's a reason why Kelly was a cheerleader and not on the basketball team.
        "I do not wish to speak with you, Mister Franks.  Your words are not welcome right now.  You can keep your freaky world with freaky vampires and freaky...whatever you are."
        She turned back to her desk and saw the magical spellbook staring up at her accusingly.  She sighed and resolved to talk to Brendan in the morning.  To talk with everyone.  Kelly knew this was part of what she was, and denying it would just make things worse.
        Flipping through the book, she noted all the healing spells and potions that Christopher had accumulated over the years.  None of them were quite of the level for what she had in mind, but she did start to notice a pattern to the spellcraft.
        With her homework long forgotten, Kelly was not surprised when she looked at the clock on her desk and saw it was almost 1am.  If she didn't pass out soon, she'd never be up in time for school, and her standing breakfast meeting with Rachel.  Maybe she could get up in time and ask Brendan to join them.  He could smooth things over with his girlfriend and her best friend in one fell swoop.
        Sleep did not come easy for the brunette as she lay in bed staring at her ceiling.  It did come and take her away, but she got nowhere near the amount of sleep she needed or wanted.
        The dawn came far too soon for Kelly's liking, and she woke up feeling like she had just closed her eyes.  The time on the clock didn't help her think otherwise.
        She rubbed her eyes, fell out of bed and got ready for school.  After a quick phonecall to Brendan, she grabbed her books once more, and headed back to her car, feeling like she had just left it.  Her mother saw only a blur of brown hair zoom through the kitchen as her daughter ran out the door.
        Brendan and Rachel had smoothed over things as well as they could do over a cup of coffee, and the blonde rushed off to take care of actual schoolwork.  Both of those remaining behind found that to be odd for her.
        Rather than dwell on what was up with Rachel, Kelly sat Brendan down to bring him into her plan.
        His reaction to the idea was about what she expected.  Shock, disbelief, and confusion.  Such an audacious idea had never been spoken, as far as the cheerleader knew.
        "You gonna what now?" he blurted out.  If he had been drinking his coffee, Kelly feared she would have drowned in it.
        "I think I can bring Alyson back to life."  She said it like she was talking about walking down the street.
        Brendan leaned forward so they could speak in hushed, conspiratorial tones.  "And how are you going to do that?"
        "Did you miss the part about me being a druid?"
        Brendan rolled his eyes.  "No, I got that, I meant more about the hows of it.  I mean, she is alive."
        "Yet she's not at the same time.  She's dead, she's damaged, she's injured and diseased."
        "Nice way to talk about your friend," Brendan shot back.
        "You guys left me in the woods while a killer is running around.  We'll discuss how much friends we are at a later date."
        Brendan looked away.  It hadn't even crossed his mind to go looking for Kelly the night before.  So much was happening so fast, she had literally become the last thing on his mind.  Now he was paying the price for that.  And justly so, he felt.
        "Yeah, you better look like the dog who just crapped on the new carpet.  I get that you're all wrapped up in your vampirical, Montrosey world now, but you have real friends back in the real world, and we have real problems.  The more you get drawn into their circle, the further you're becoming from Rachel, me, the football team, your schoolwork...."
        "Says the witch."
        "Druid, you ass.  And that is so not helping your case.  The fact remains that you were running from a killer, and left me in the woods.  For all you knew, you were going to find me laying atop Marcus's grave this morning."
        Brendan sighed, and there was no arguing with Kelly.  She was right, and he said as much.  "I know, you're right.  Does it help that I really am sorry?"
        Kelly grunted and sipped her cocoa, but Brendan could see the bubbling anger in her blue eyes.  Like pools of distaste, they stared into him, considering his question.  "A little."
        He knew the girl forgave with ease, and someday this would all be forgotten, but he could tell that day would be longer in coming than most.  But someday, Kelly would bounce back, and they'd be back to normal again.  Or whatever that was these days.
        Leaving the question for the time being, she spoke again, "But back to my plan.  I told you about the visions I had."
        Brendan nodded, "The ones you can't remember.  What do they have to do with this?"
        "The one thing I do remember, the one feeling I know for certain, is that the Montroses are bad news."
        A light came on in Brendan's head and he sat up.  "Ah ha, that's why you're trying to put some distance between them."
        Now it was Kelly's turn to look sorry.  "Ok, a little.  Maybe a lot.  But that doesn't change anything.  Anyways, we have a vampire.  That's gotta be problematic for the health of this town, right?"
        Brendan gave a curt nod and urged her to continue.
        "So, if we could take the vampire out of the equation, that would be a big step to getting off the path to wherever they're leading us."
        Kelly took a pause and looked around.  It was getting late, and while she had a study period to start her day, she still had to show up for it.
        "There's an added bonus.  Brendan is, well, he's a little bit dark.  You may have noticed."
        Brendan had to force back a laugh worming its way up his throat.  "A little dark?  The boy can be downright troubled.  Can't say as I blame him, what with his sister dying and all that."
        The girl waved her hand in the air, swatting the idea out of the sky between the two.  "Excuses, excuses.  If I bring back Alyson, then Darien can lighten up.  Whatever's coming, they're both involved.  It could just as easily be Darien doing something in service to his vampiric sister that ends the world, not just the fact we have a vampire living in town."
        "You really think this is 'end of the world' serious?"  Bredan stopped and replayed his words over and over in his head.  "And I can't believe I just said that.  Where did my life go so horribly wrong?"
        "The day they arrived," said Kelly like it was the most obvious statement ever.  "But once we bring Alyson back to life, then everything goes back to normal."
        "Except for you being a witch."
        "Druid!!" Kelly's fist shot across the table and slammed down on Brendan's hand.  Or it would have if he hadn't yanked it out of the way.  She winced at the contact and shook her hand into a blur in the air.
        "Do you really think you can pull this off?" Brendan asked, being serious for a moment.
        Kelly rubbed at her stunned hand, the shock already fading fast.  "Honestly?  I don't know.  But I have to try.  Don't I?"
        Brendan blinked.  "I have no idea.  I'm barely able to process vampires, and now I have to deal with druids and magic?  This is all a bit much for me.  But I'm on board.  I think.  When are you going to tell Alyson?"
        He knew the answer just by how long it took Kelly to say anything.  She wa fidgeting again, so it was no surprise when she said, "I was thinking about skipping that step."
        "That might not be the best idea.  She ought to have a say in it, shouldn't she?"
        Kelly sighed.  "I know.  She should.  But how can she not want to be human again?  Why would she want to stay a vampire, some undead, blood drinking monster?"
        "You make a good argument for her agreeing, so why not tell her?"
        "Because she might say no," Kelly replied.  "And then I'd have to do this anyways."
        "Why?" was Brendan's sole question.
        "Because, it is the only way I can see to curtail the darkness closing in on us.  I can't just sit here and watch the night fall.  I have to try and keep the sun shining."
        "Poetic, but I think you'd be better off moving to Alaska than trying to bring a vampire back to life."
        "Killjoy."
        "I try."
        "Besides, Alaska?  Ever read 30 Days of Night?"  Brendan just shook his head at the question.
        Kelly sighed and finished her cocoa.  "I still have a lot to figure out with this, if it will even work.  Until then, it's a moot point.  But if it does, maybe we'll put a stop to whatever is out there."
        She tossed her cup away and looked again at the time, "But the end of the world will have to wait, we have to get to classes before they think we're ditching."
        "Or dating," said Brendan.  "And Rachel's jealous wrath is worse than the end of the world."
        As Brendan said the words, he didn't know just how wrong he would one day be proven.
        The two seperated and Kelly rushed up to the very top floor where Rachel and Darien were already waiting in study hall.  Even with her athletic abilities, a straight run up the stairs left her more than just a little winded.
        Darien was sitting against the far wall, twisted in his chair so the light from the windows shone down onto the books he was reading.  This was all for him, she realised.  Darien was so sad, so troubled, and she felt that he was the key to it all.  If Kelly could stop his descent, then everything would be ok.
        Kelly had been expecting to see Rachel in there somewhere, but she was surprised to find no sign of the blonde.  She assumed her friend was still working with Alex on her programming homework.
        Taking a seat about a neutral distance from Darien, Kelly broke out her long neglected homework.  She didn't want to sit too close to him, her visions making her wary of all things Montrose, but she didn't want to seem like she was giving him the cold shoulder, either.
        She didn't want to really do that as well as not wanting to have it look that way, but her instincts made her keep a reasonable distance.
        Ms. Wilcox saw Kelly enter the room and take a seat, and just gave a quick nod to the girl, before returning to her paperwork.  Darien noticed the new arrival too, but didn't move an iota more than his eyes flicking towards movement at the door.  It was more of his hunter training than looking for Kelly.
        Kelly dove into her homework, this one class her only chance to get everything she had set aside last night.  She fought hard to not fall into the stereotype of the ditzy cheerleader.  Rachel did more than enough of that for both of them.  Kelly would rather get good grades than cheer, and struggled to balance the activities.  Now with her other extracuricular studies, she could see things were just going to get harder.
        It didn't matter to her if people saw her as bubbly and more than a little flighty when it came down to being outside of school, but once she was inside those four walls, Kelly focused on her schoolwork almost to a fault.
        So it was that she had become so engrossed in her work that she didn't notice the shadow that had crept over her as if she was sitting beside a building at the end of the day.
        Once Kelly did take notice that someone was standing beside her, she twisted her head around and up, until she saw Darien's face on high, looking down upon her.
        "How can I assist you?" she asked in a half whisper?
        Darien settled into the chair on her left, facing her.  Which was not the most comfortable position for someone of Darien's size.  Or for anyone of any size.  The bar that connected the chair to the desk was on that side, and it squeezed anyone who tried to sit there.  The tall, lanky boy managed, although Kelly could see the discomfort on his face.  It was almost novel to see any emotion there, so she took what she could get.
        "I'm glad your ok," he returned in an equal whisper.  "I was worried about you."
        Kelly had returned to her homework, still having a ways to go before the bell rang.  She didn't look up from the problem before her to face the problem beside her.  "And yet, this is the first I'm hearing about it."
        Darien removed his glasses and set them upon the desk with a clatter.  Several students looked up at the noise, but they were all too invested in their own lives and problems to care much for what the new kid was doing.
        He leaned closer so he could speaker softer but with more clarity and force to the girl challenging him.  "Look, you made it perfectly clear you wanted nothing to do with our crazy, and wanted to be alone.  I thought we were respecting that by giving you the space you needed."
        Kelly's eyes flicked over to Darien.  It was hard to read him, harder still to read his aura.  It was still so black, even though more colours had seeped into the mix in recent days.  But those were brief streams, flashes, highlights that were engulfed by the swirling miasma of ebon night around him.
        Rather than stare into that particular abyss, Kelly instead concentrated on the young man himself, and the aura faded to the background, becoming a deep grey just out of focus.
        "Kelly, we..."  Darien fumbled for words.  It was easy to tell words were not his strong suit.  He was more about actions and deeds.  The fact he was even making an attempt to communicate meant the world to Kelly.  Not that she was going to tell him that anytime soon.  "We...no, I.  I can't speak for the rest.  I am sorry.  Maybe we should have come after you, but we thought we were giving you what you wanted.  If it makes you feel any better, the three of us did agree that we should stay away from the weirder stuff after you left."
        It came as a bit of a surprise that Kelly was taken aback by that.  And while Darien's words were welcome and did not fall upon deaf ears, they were only a first step.
        Kelly also knew who she was talking to, and as she finished up the bit of math that had been plaguing her, she said, "And how is that going for you?"
        "Um," Darien began, and it took him a long time to finish.  "Not well.  Alyson and I...had a, a uh, visitor last night."
        Kelly turned to Darien at last and cocked an eyebrow up at his statement.
        "You know, a..." he paused, and made a hooking motion with two fingers on one of his hands.
        Kelly's other eyebrow ticked up to meet its twin.  Kelly's face twisted from surprise to shock then anger.  It took all of her strength to not snap the pencil in her hand.  She blurted out at full volume, "A vam...!" before she stopped herself short, and returned to an angry hush.
        "A vampire!?"  Darien nodded, trying not to meet Kelly's accusatory gaze.  "You sit there, telling me how sorry and worried you are, and you knew there was a vampire around?  And a dead body!  And you expect me to forgive you??"
        "I..." Darien tried to speak, but Kelly cut him short.
        "I am not finished!" Darien's mouth snapped shut like a steel trap.  "You guys have your own world, your own problems, and I'm putting my distance between it.  Fine, good.  Ok.  But you saw me walk off into the woods, and then find repeated dead people, both breathing and not, and you expect me to accept your apology??"
        Darien opened his mouth, but the burning embers of Kelly's fuming, angry eyes stopped him before even a syllable exited his mouth.
        "Would it have been so hard, SO difficult, to pick up a fricking phone, and call?  Or a text!  Or even an email!  But no, the Montrose family and their vampires come first, don't they?"
        There was a long silence between the pair, and more than a few eyes were starting to turn their way in genuine interest.  Kelly didn't think anything had been heard by the few students scattered to the corners of the study hall, but the commotion was getting noticed.
        Once Darien knew Kelly was done, and she had even given her nod of consent for him to speak, he opened his mouth once more.  He let it hang there for a second, making sure Kelly was not about to tear off again.  "You're right."
        Kelly's look shifted again from anger straight back to shook.  That was not what she expected Darien to say.
        "Yeahbuhwhat?"
        "You're right!" he repeated.  "Alyson and I, we do get caught up in our own bullshit.  We've spent the better part of the past year on our own, protecting each other, fending off an endless stream of threats both human and not.  We've forgotten what it's like to deal with real people.  The two of us have just been the two of us for so long...we need to look at the world around us from time to time."
        Kelly sat there, rightly stunned, just staring at Darien.
        "This time here in Kraftsbury, we never thought we'd make friends," he continued.  "We're, well, a little socially stunted."
        "A little?"
        Darien smiled just a little, an almost imperceptable smirk.  "Did I say I was finished?  Anyways, you guys...we never thought we'd meet anyone.  Alyson and I, we thought we'd come in, do what needed to be done, and then leave."
        Kelly watched as Darien rubbed the back of his head.  The fact he had gotten all that out was astounding enough.  It was the most she had heard him saying, period.
        "So, what happened?" Kelly was filled with genuine curiosity.
        Darien shrugged.  "It seemed like we needed some excuse to be here, so we enrolled in classes.  Maybe things would work out and we might stay longer.  It seemed like a good cover."
        "Oh yes, two 17 year olds attending high school is a perfect cover for two 17 year olds."
        Darien sat up, a look of surprise, "I know, right!  How could it fail?  But you guys, you're like...an anchor for us.  We'd just stay cloistered in our own little army of two, but having these connections we've built...  Alyson's more human because of them.  She'd never admit it, but I see it.  I probably am too."
        "As opposed to the robot you normally are, yes."
        The two shared a smile, and after a few seconds, Darien leaned back closer.  "So are, are we ok?"
        Kelly did her best to mimic Darien's stony faced expression.  She had no way of guaging how well she pulled it off, but at least Darien didn't laugh at her attempt.  "No."
        It was worth it to see Darien look so hurt and confused at that single utterance.  "What?"
        "No, we're not ok," Kelly elaborated.  "Your apology is appreciated, and your reasoning well thought out, but...  I need more time."  She focused back on the still open books and waved her hand at Darien, shooing him away.
        His words were appreciated, she meant that much.  And on the inside, they were ok, or would be, but she wasn't about to tell him that.  Darien needed to stew in his own juices for awhile.  Like the rest of the year sounded good to the cheerleader just then.
        When Kelly shooed him away, Darien noticed something was amiss, something had changed, and he wanted to kick himself for taking so long to notice it.  His training had taught him better than that.
        Without thinking about it, Darien reached out across the aisle and poked Kelly in the shoulder.  The girl yelped out in surprise more than anything else.  She rapped Darien's knuckles with the pencil in her hand, her face bunched up into a look of surprised anger.
        "What was that for?" she demanded.
        Darien pointed, coming close to poking the shoulder again.  He remained a safe distance away for adding another red mark across his hand.  "Your arm is ok."
        He was just about to poke it again, when Kelly held her pencil high in the air.  Darien's hand pulled back and he held both hands up in surrender.
        "It got better!" was all she said about it.
        Darien glared.  "Gunshots don't just get better."
        The girl sighed and dropped her pencil in the crease of her textbook.  "Fine, fine.  I fixed it."
        "You fixed it?"
        Kelly glared at Darien repeating her statement back at her.  "Yes, exactly.  I..."  She floundered trying to think of how to explain things.  "My auras?  There's more to it than that."
        "What do you mean?"
        "I can do...things."
        Darien crossed his fingers and leaned back as best he could, sitting in such an uncomfortable position.  "So, you used some magic to fix your arm?"
        Kelly sighed as Darien cut right to the heart of it.  "Well, yes.  Pretty much."
        "So, you want to take a break from all the weirndess," he began a smile growing on his face.
        "Shut up."
        "And you use magic, learn magic! to fix your arm."
        "I said shut it!"
        "After yelling at us for having to strange of lives."
        "I am warning you, Darien Montrose!"
        Kelly didn't know how serious her threats were, but she was more than relieved when Kelly wandered in the door.  Her coat was slung over one arm, and she hung it up in the back of the room with everyone else's.  Even Darien had started to leave his coat back there.  Her light pink sweater came right up under her neck in a thick collar.  The heaviness of the sweater hid most of her curves, but she looked warmer than most students did, as the cold was setting in faster than many had expected, given the lack of snow.
        The blonde flashed a bright smile at the two sitting in the middle of the room.  "My two favourite people after myself, hi!"
        Kelly turned her head up to face Rachel, almost in the same motion she had done with Darien.  "What about your boyfriend?"
        "Oh, I suppose him too," Rachel took a seat in front of Kelly and Darien at last stood up and readjusted himself so he was sitting properly.
        "Hey!" gasped Rachel as she looked at her best friend.  "Your arm isn't a in a sling anymore!"
        Darien hid his face in shame at Rachel's apparent powers of deduction being superior to his own.  He didn't realise the two had spent some time together earlier that morning.  Still, he had just been shown up by what some considered to be the most ditzy girl in school.
        Kelly gave a nod to her friend, and waved the hand on her once injured arm.  "Yep!  Must have just been a sprain, and not as bad as everyone thought.  Woke up this morning, and it was like it had healed by magic."
        The blonde missed Darien's slight head shake at Kelly's obvious to anyone in the know comment.  "That's great!  We could really use you back on the team.  Last night was a nightmare."
        "The newbies didn't look that bad."
        Rachel sighed and waved her hand in the air.  "Whatever.  They're ok, I guess.  But ready for the big game this weekend?  No way in Hell."
        "I'm still a little sore, but I think I'll be ok by then." Kelly flexed her fingers experimentally.  She could feel it every time her muscles contracted and released, but with each one, the twinge of pain was a little less.  She could live with a little weirdness in her life if this was the result.
        Before the conversation could go on any longer, the bell buzzed, startling even the most aware student.  Kelly discarded her empty cocoa cup and smoothed out her long-sleeved green top before grabbing her bookbag.
        The trio left the room, letting Darien lead the way.  The halls were full of people already, moving from one room to the next.  The school had not been made for so many students, and the number had been on a steady increase since it had been built.  The crowding was becoming an increasing problem.
        For the first time in what felt like an eternity, everyone had a normal day at school.  The only bits of strangeness were inside their own heads.  Thoughts of magic, of dead bodies, and vampires.  Everyone had their own issues to deal with, but they kept pulling four of the students together.
        And so it was that once school was over, the twins, Kelly, and Brendan were once again standing face to face.
        Alyson's smile shone like the sun she dreaded when she saw Kelly's face amidst the crowd, back from her brief sabbatical.  "Hey, Kell!  Just couldn't keep away from his freaks, huh?"
        The brunette crossed her arms and in a flat, emotionless voice, just uttered the girl's name, "Alyson."
        Despite being unable to feel much difference in temperature these days, Alyson still shivered at the reception.  "Whoa, someone's been taking Rachel lessons."
        Alyson's brother leaned closer, but didn't bother to whisper.  "She's upset that we left her in the woods when a killer is running around leaving dead bodies as gift baskets."
        "Oh.  I see."  Alyson nodded.  "That's...yeah.  We can be kinda assholes sometimes."
        "S'fine," Kelly muttered, not meeting Alyson's gaze.
        "We already talked it out," smiled Darien with pride.
        Alyson tilted her head, then looked up at her twin in disbelief.  "And a fine job of it you did, too."
        Kelly was tired of talking about herself, and changed the subject.  "I don't have long before Rachel notices I'm late for practice.  Do we have any idea what's going on?"
        The twins could only shrug.  Darien took the reins though, after no one else seemed to be willing to speak.  "Aside from dead bodies that look like a vamp attack that isn't really a vampire?  Not really.  If it wasn't a vampire, they sure can cover their tracks like one.  If it was, and we didn't catch the thing feeding, we'll never find the him, unless we get lucky."
        "How do we know it's not a she?" asked Kelly, her eyes landing square on Alyson.
        "Wh...hey now!  That's not even funny!  You can't be serious."
        Kelly shrugged herself.  "Why not?  We only have your word that you aren't a killer."
        Darien intervened while Brendan stayed well out of the whole thing.  "Kell, Alyson was with me all night, there's no way she could have done it.  Since there's nothing to track, all we have to go on is your ability to tell the vampires from the living.  If you see anyone without any aura, you need to tell us right away."
        "I'm looking at one right now."
        "Kelly!" Brendan shouted.  The halls had grown thin with students, but a few had yet to make good their escapes, and looked up from their lockers at the group.  All four of them just ignored every bit of attention.  "We have all apologised for last night.  We need to move on."
        The girl kept looking at the vampire.  "She hasn't."
        "Hasn't?"
        "Apologised."
        Alyson's grey eyes met Kelly's, and the small girl gave a heavy sigh.  Her face fell and Alyson's once-cheerful face turned to sadness.  "I hate that this has become an issue.  Like the others, I'm sorry too.  I don't know what I can say that hasn't already been said at least twice before.  You're the closest thing I have to a friend here, that isn't a ghost in the forest.  I've lost too many people to fangs and blood, I don't want to lose one over this crap."
        The cheerleader looked at the ceiling tiles above her, then looked back down, right at Alyson.  Kelly regretted letting them all off rather easy, but deep down she knew they were her friends, and she was just a victim of being second on a list of important things.  Not the first time she had felt that way, given how much time she spent in Rachel's shadow, but that was the first time it had stung.
        "Fine, fine!  We're good.  Ish.  Dead bodies and vampires trump high school drama," Kelly blurted out.  She meant it, too, but just by inches.  This would not be the last they would hear of this, she vowed.  "So, what do we do now?"
        Glances passed between everyone, and muttered half ideas that were far from formed.  No one knew.  "We really need a better game plan than hope Kelly sees someone without an aura, guys," grumbled Darien.
        Brendan pressed the redheads.  "What about you, oh big bad hunter.  You should have some sort of idea."
        "You really don't want to hear my plan."
        "It's better than no plan."
        Darien shook his head.  "Not by much.  Bait."
        Brendan wanted to say something, but just stared, waiting for Darien to continue.
        "The first vampire attack is unavoidable.  You don't know there's one in town until the body is cold.  After that, you can only keep your eyes open and try and catch him in the act before he kills again."
        Brendan asked his question, fearing the answer.  "And how well does that work for you?"
        "There's almost always more bodies."  Brendan's muscles went slack and his whole body slumped in resignation from the revelation.
        "I can't take this.  I'm some kind of weapon, and I can't be used.  This blows."
        Kelly chewed on her lip, pondering.  "So, the whole thing hinges on me.  Each dead body is on my shoulders."
        "I didn't say that," returned Darien.
        "But it's true.  I don't want this responsibility."
        "Well, with great power..."
        "Bite me, Uncle Ben.  Look, if there's nothing else to bring me down, I need to get to practice.  Is there a plague of locusts I need to know about?"
        Darien shook his head, "I think we're as down and as doomed as we can be for the moment.  Have fun."
        The group scattered to the four winds again, for a thankfully uneventful night.  The worst any of them had on their plates was homework.  Kevin had up and disappeared just as fast as he had shown up, but Alyson knew he was lurking somewhere in town.
        Kelly couldn't shake the feeling that this was all the calm before the storm, and her attention once again turned to Christopher's book instead of her textbooks.
        Brendan went home and worked out in the basement.  He had set up a punching bag ages ago, but as his strength grew, he had to find ways of reinforcing it.  He used to get lost punching at the hanging sack, but now all it did was remind him how abnormal he was.
        The twins returned to their home where Barbara and Peter Montrose attended to their beloved children.  After dinner, Darien went out and wandered the town, looking for any signs of foul play.  The hunter returned home from the hunt with nothing to show for it, save for more material worn off the bottom of his shoes and a chill from winter knocking at autumn's door.
        School and life continued like that for a few more days.  The quiet was almost as off putting as if something had happened.  They all knew the other shoe was about to drop, and everyone was on edge because of it.  The only respite any of them had from the lurking fear and dread was when Brendan, Kelly, and Rachel went to the football game that weekend.
        For Rachel, it was nothing more than another game, albeit an important one for the team.  For the other two, it was a true return to their regular lives.  For a few hours, Brendan and Kelly put aside everything strange and dark, and just played for their respective squads.
        Brendan was lost in the game, as much as he had to keep himself in check.  His aim was truer than it had ever been, but if he threw the ball to hard, or tackled someone wrong, well he feared the worst.  The concentration and effort to act normal took away from Brendan's complete enjoyment of the game.  It was still the most regular thing he had done in the last week, but still he questioned if he was right to be supressing himself to feel normal.
        Kelly was just glad to be able to put thoughts of magic and gunshots out of her head and cheer on the guys with her friends.  Not to mention to get the obligatory glances from the crowds.  It was almost refreshing to just be seen for what she looked like, and not what she could do.
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