Blood of the Devil (Tinder and Yuuki_Tatsunohi)

Discussion in 'ONE ON ONES IN CHARACTER' started by Tinder, Sep 23, 2016.

  1. The rhythmic sounds of cicadas humming mixed with the distant rumble of diesel engines and the high-pitched whine of electric lines hung in the air, occasionally broken up by the urgent blare of a car horn. A hot breeze blew through the city and up into the sky, dragging with it the unpleasant odor of the town. The scent of rotting garage and sickly sweet gasoline clung to Nike’s wine red tank top and loose denim jeans. She lay on her back atop a crumbling office building ten stories high. She dozed off and on, her arm thrown over her eyes to block out the occasional light when sun managed to break through the heavy cloud cover. Her prized black hoodie lay beneath her head, haphazardly folded into a pillow. Just another lazy afternoon.

    She shifted positions, looking up at the aging sun in the sky. It would be dinner time soon. She glanced to her side where the remnants of her lunch lay, a grease-stained take-away box and half-empty juice pouch, her stomach turning when she considered a second course. Dinner at home sounded more appealing. She sat up, examining herself. Her arms had several patches of yellow skin, healing bruises from the previous night. Easy enough to hide so long as she wore her jacket in the house. She pulled out her ancient phone, turned on the camera function and looked within. Her split lip had healed, but that she’d expected. Her eyes went to the taped down bandage on her forehead, watching her fingers gingerly probed to find the edge and tore it off. Beneath she found stiches from the previous night, lacing together what now appeared to be a long scratched on her forehead. She frowned, remembering the wash of blood from last night when she’d been knocked into a post and cut on loose nail. The people from the emergency clinic had said she’d need a least a week to before the stitches could come out, perhaps even more than that. She removed the stitching, deciding the mostly healed cut looked better than walking in with a bandage on her forehead.

    She dropped the remains into the pile next to her, staring at her phone. Her body had been quick to recover these past few weeks, far too quick to normal. Common sense told her it shouldn’t be possible to heal from a head wound like that in a night, but she didn’t know what to do about it. Telling Xander would be too awkward, or get her a one way ticket to the nearest laboratory. “Then again, maybe he’d say it’s just another one of my quirks,” she mused, laughing dryly, “I have a lot quirks.”

    She glanced at her phone screen again before clicking it off and standing up. She swept her jacket up off the ground and zipped it up with a smile. “No use worrying about it now. We need to get back before dinner.”

    Retrieving her trash piled, she stuffed it into her pockets and approached the edge of the building. Without a moment’s hesitation, she gripped the ledge and swing down, stretching her leg to find a foothold. She began a precarious dance down the side of the ruined building, sliding from hand hold to hand hold with little more than a glance with each shift.

    She came to the sixth floor, her foot finding the window sill of a spider infested office. Just a few more minutes and she’d be on the ground. She shifted weight to her foot, preparing to move her hand down, when the bricks beneath her crumbled. Her hands slipped and she plummeted down. A shot of adrenaline ran through her veins, sharpening her senses. She made a swipe at the wall but found nothing to grip. Her feet tried as well, doing little more than damaging her worn tennis shoes. She tried again with her hands, grabbing the next ledge that jutted out beneath her, stopped just above the second floor window. She swung into the ruin. The beating of her heart began to slow, stabilizing her vision. She breathed deeply to calm her shaking limbs. Her violet eyes slipped closed, finding her center to bring her mind back to the present. She tested her arms, noting a few more scratches but no serious damage. She sat down with a thud, looking out the window and laughing. “I suppose I’m more durable than I realize.” Her long, dark braid had come undone, but she left ignored it. The loose hair helped to hide her cut.

    After calming herself, she stood and made jumped from the window to the street, biting back a groan when her feet slapped hard against the concrete of the sidewalk. Thankfully few people came to this end of town and the inhabitance rarely came out during the day. It had been the subject of an “incident” a few years back and after deemed unlivable. Some believed that the demons lived among the ruins, but most knew the government was just too cheap to fix it. The homeless lived among the decrepit buildings now along with those who chose a life away from polite society. Nike straightened up, stretching to relieve her aching muscles. She paused, feeling her pulse increasing again. She glanced over her shoulder, frowning when she found an empty window there. “Weird,” she whispered, taking a few steps away from the building. For just a second, she could have sworn something had been standing there. Watching her.

    She dug in her pockets and produced a pair of wireless ear buds. She slipped them in and tapped the outer button to resume her music. With sound of traditional piano accompanied by an operatic voice there to drown out the city, she started back toward the center of town, using her usual series of back streets to navigate around the heavy traffic areas. Her route took her through the back alleys, but most days they felt safer to her than the main roads. Fewer people to offend. A down a few alleys, she swore she could feel the eyes on her back again, but nothing ever appeared behind her when she looked. All the same, she picked up her pace. When she came to a crossing point at the main street that ran through the city, she walked over to a trash bin and cleaned out her pockets. Oddly enough, the bandage was nowhere to be seen. “Must have fallen out,” she muttered under her breath, turning to cross the street with the crowd that had begun to walk.

    Another fifteen minutes of walking brought her to the quiet neighborhood where she lived with her sister and Xander. While not the wealthiest area, few could complain about their lot in life. The homes, mostly recently painted, were packed together in an orderly fashion, each with a small yard hidden behind a tall wooden fence. Some even boasted a two car garage. Nike slowed her pace as she approached their street, peering round the corner cautiously to be sure Xander had no one watching for her return. She preferred to arrive when he was away, and then sneak up into her room before he could catch her to talk. While her staying away for extended periods had become common place, Xander always had some lecture prepared once she returned, usually on the dangers of a young person alone on the street. She crept to their front gate, noting the absence of Xander’s rusty blue car from the curb. A promising sign. She tested the front gate and found it open. A bad sign. She slipped inside, glancing around, but found it just as empty as the street. She made her way to the front door and walked inside the house. No one came rushing to meet her. She glanced toward the shoe stand by the door, noting that Xander’s weathered brown shoes were missing. Either he was desperate to catch her this time or he was actually out. Either way, she stopped her creeping and made a beeline for the kitchen, calling out for her twin, “Diana? You home?”
    • Love Love x 1
  2. The sun cast an orange glow on the horizon, the hustle and bustle of the day beginning to die down. A young girl by the name of Diana Lee walked home from school, texting her friend about one of them being asked out today. She laughed as her friend rapidly texted her back, still in shock about what happened but elated that it did.

    As she passed over a bridge, a kid around her age came in the opposite direction. He looked rough for wear, sporting a bruise on his cheek and a sullen look in his eye. He wore a hood as if trying to make it known he didn’t want to be bothered. Diana briefly looked up from her phone to see a swarm of black spores circling his head. They chirp, yip and tug at his clothing but he doesn’t take notice. Diana had learned from her guardian when demons gather around someone, it’s usually to cause harm. Sometimes to alter their personality, sometimes to drain their life energy, or sometimes to find a new host. Diana had never experienced those things on her own body and mind, but she had seen what possession could do to someone. Having been viciously attacked by possessed kids in her younger years, she had seen how possession can change a person and make them do things they would not normally do.

    Diana watched the kid walk. Perhaps one of those demons would be able to touch his soul, or maybe they all would. Another person passed, dressed in a long trench coat. The man had an ominous, almost predatory aura. They made eye contact and the man flashed a pocket watch with a G.U.A.R.D.S symbol on it. He nodded and continued walking, following the kid. Diana decided then she was done watching and kept moving.

    She continued the rest of the way, resuming her texting conversation while sneaking in little bits of her concern for her future. Diana, like most kids her age, carried numerous college applications in her backpack. She had grabbed so many they started to take up more space in her binder than her school subjects. It’s probably time to sort them; she could only imagine the look on Xander’s face when she lays them out on the table. She’d have no trouble getting into any of them; her grades have been remarkable ever since elementary school. Her main problem was deciding. Xander recommended a few great schools, but she thought of going to a local one where she could just stay at home instead of a dorm, thus saving them a lot of money. But she also thought of a few schools that were in safe zones, spaces clear and protected by G.U.A.R.D.S., places free of demons or angels.

    Diana arrived at their familiar neighborhood. She said hi to the neighbor’s cat who was hanging out on their fence again before shooing her away. Xander’s blue car wasn’t in the driveway, so he wasn’t home yet. By routine, she retrieved the mail, sorting through them and picking out those with her name. Just as she opened the door to the empty house, she heard a hollow bump. Diana turned around, looking for the source of the noise. She heard it again and looked up to see a flaming wheel with many eyes banging against an invisible barrier set over her home. The eyes on the wheel blinked, noticing Diana for the first time and continued to hit the barrier for another minute before seemingly deciding to give up and fly away.

    Diana sighed when the angel had passed, closing the door behind her. She was grateful to the charm from Xander that protects her and anyone within a ten-foot radius. She was also grateful for the strong barriers Xander set up long ago to protect their home from the monsters that scared her out of her wits as a child. It was all because of Xander she couldn’t be bothered by the supernatural and feel safest at home. Indeed it was just like what that movie said: “There is no place like home.”

    Feeling too lazy to take off her favorite Chuck Taylors, Diana set the mail on the table next to a note addressed to her:

    There’s still some cake in the fridge. You can have some to snack on, but don’t eat it all kiddo. You can give some to Nike if she shows up today. –Xander

    Diana smiled with glee and hopped to the fridge. Inside was a large portion of the strawberry shortcake Xander made the other day, her mouth watering at the sight of the fluffy frosting on top. Grabbing a plate and fork, Diana sliced a piece and popped a small bite in her mouth, moaning at the deliciousness that was Xander’s cake.

    Suddenly there was a voice behind her, making her jump and almost dropping her plate.

    “Nike!” Diana ran to her twin and pulled her into a tight hug. It wasn’t uncommon of her sister to disappear for days—weeks on end. Diana had gotten used to it to a degree; she still deeply worried whether or not her sister would show up alive through that door. “Where have you been? No, wait, let me guess: you went fighting again didn’t you?” she asked the obvious, her fingers ghosting over the scar running across her sister’s forehead.
    • Love Love x 1
  3. Nike stepped into the kitchen in time to be tackled by Diana. The force of impact nearly knocked the air from Nike’s lungs and the following vice grip of a hug pressed down on her healing bruises. Probably less healed now. Despite the surprise attack, she couldn’t keep the smile from her face. She coughed, patting her sister on the back as she returned the hug. “Nice to see you too,” she wheezed, overdramatizing her lack of oxygen, “Would you mind letting go now? I think you cracked a few ribs.” She took a deep breath when her twin pulled back, rolling her shoulders to crack her back. “Been working out again, I see.” Xander had always told Nike to keep an eye on her sister, but there were days Nike wondered who ought to be watching who. Nike could throw a decent punch, but Diana could probably strangle someone with her arms alone.

    She paused when Diana ran her fingers along the healing cut. It never took her long to notice Nike’s scrapes when she returned home. Luckily she’d opted to come in without the gaze still taped over the wound. She lightly swatted Diana’s fingers away with a smirk. “Nothing of the sort. I got into a fight with a cat. I thought it might be nice if we had a pet around here. The cat disagreed,” she shrugged, walking around Diana toward the fridge which remained open.

    She spotted the cake immediately. A grin spread across her face as she reached in and pulled out the entire plate, “Perfect timing I see.” She set it on the counter, kicking the door shut as she turned. Without missing a beat, she retrieved a fork and sat down on of the stools by the island in the middle of the kitchen, taking a massive bite from the cake. “Mmm, perfect,” she managed to say around her mouthful of cake, licking the frosting from her fork. Xander’s strawberry shortcake practically melted in your mouth, perfectly combining the flavors of fruit and cream into what Nike considered the perfect pastry. There was no better meal to return home to than this.

    She looked back at her twin, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “How’s school been? Anyone I should know about?”
  4. “A cat?” Diana said in disbelief, raising an eyebrow at her sister. Definitely no cat would leave a scratch that large or leave little extra pink dots surrounding the healed wound. Diana knew those little pink dots were the result of stitches which meant the wound, however Nike got it, was bad enough it warranted a visit to the doctor.

    Although she wanted to ask what the real reason was, she already knew. Knowing what her sister has been doing these past few years it wasn’t something she had to really think about. Diana, however, decided not to press any further. Past conversations between Nike and Xander sometimes resulted in Nike leaving again. She was more than happy to have her sister back home.

    She watched as her sister pulled out the entire cake and sat at the island to eat. Diana hoisted herself onto the granite top, nodding in agreement at her compliment of Xander’s cooking.

    “Good, good. I’m hoping to go to another college tour next week. Aah, I can’t believe this year is going by so fast,” she said wistfully, leaning on her hands. She half wanted to tell her sister about the G.U.A.R.D.S member or the angel she saw earlier but decided not to. That kid has probably been cleansed, and there was nothing to worry about with the charms Xander set up. Plus, it’s not like Nike could understand since she had never been able to see these things like her. “Oh! You remember Art, right? He finally—finally—asked Ella out. And she said yes!” Diana pulled out her phone and showed Nike the conversation between her and Ella. “Those two have been dancing around each other since eighth grade and now they’re actually going out,” she laughed.

    She let Nike look through the conversation for a few more minutes, picking up the crumbs of the cake on the tines of her fork. “Hey, Nike, we’re eighteen now and well . . . I’ve been thinking—no actually I’ve been meaning to ask you something: Um, have you thought of maybe getting a GED?”
  5. “Another one?” Nike replied to move the conversation along, taking another bite of cake, “Careful. You’ll have every college in the country fighting to have you.” Her jokes aside, Nike felt a flash of pride for her sister. She’d always been the smart one, dedicated to school and learning everything that she could. Even as children, Diana had been the one to come home with a sticker on her daily assignments while Nike had returned with more scraps than they had band aids for. Any school would be lucky to have her. She’ll probably end up finding the next breakthrough in science, Nike mused, she always wanted to save the world. Nike had never found that level of passion, not for anything useful. She was athletic where her sister was intelligent, but seemingly lacked the social skills needed for team work. Xander had suggested she try taking up sports to learn how to socialize properly, no doubt hoping she would have an epiphany and become a well-behaved member of society. She’d done everything from football to volleyball to track and field, but her efforts ended in failure, each incident worse than the last. Some of us are born failures.

    Diana pushed her phone into Nike’s face, gushing about a pair of friends getting together. Nike took the phone, scrolling through the dramatic conversation, “Really?” The names were familiar, though her own memories of the pair were less fond. Ella had been fine, polite as all of Diana friends were. Art, however, had been a pain in the ass along with his friends. During her last attempt to attend school regularly, she had offered to help with basketball training when they were down a few players. Unfortunately her natural aggression had led to a clash on the court about the rules of play which led to a round of trash talking that ended with the coach ending practice early to break up the fight. In short, another disaster. For weeks after the team hounded her with as many pranks and personal attacks as they could manage in secret, culminating in a confrontation with the captains of the team, one being Art. They agreed to put an end to the attacks so long as she apologized. She left with a bleeding lip and wounded pride, but they agreed never to speak of it again. She’d never told Diana about it and few outside the basketball team had ever learned anything. She smiled anyhow, her usual act for Diana whenever she spoke about their mutual acquaintances, “Miracles can happen on rare occasions.”

    She set the phone down by Diana’s plate, shoveling another bite of cake into her mouth. Diana changed the topic, circling back to school. Damn it. She kept her eyes focused on her cake. She knew the answer that Diana wanted, the easy lie she could give her twin to silence her for a bit longer. She sighed, stabbing her fork into her cake. Lying was becoming tiresome. “Not really,” she admitted, rolling a stray strawberry around on her plate, “School’s just not for me, Dee. It’s boring.” Too aggressive, too loud, too active, too weird. The cut on her forehead itched. What kind of questions would Diana have tomorrow when the scratch was gone? What would Xander say? Probably another lecture about fighting and how lucky I’ve been. She had no interest in any of it.

    She scooped up a fork full of whipped cream and flicked it at Diana playfully. “You’re the one with the brains anyways,” she joked, licking the remaining cream from her fork, “You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll find a way to make myself useful.”
  6. “Hey!” Diana laughed, shielding her face with her hand as the glob of whip cream landed in her dark hair. She half glared at her sister, lips curling into a smile as she wiped the cream off.

    Diana knew of her sister’s inability to sit still and pay attention to teachers like her, knew how different they functioned. While she had perfect grades, perfect attendance, and all around being the shining example of a proper citizen, Nike was bolder, braver, and could make a statement for herself. To some, it could come off as confrontational, but Diana saw it as her sister not backing down and not letting herself be shoved around. Between the two of them, Nike was more memorable while Diana would disappear into a sea of obscurity.

    “You know I won’t stop worrying, Nike,” she said, her smile disappearing. She had tried to steer the conversation, but Diana just wasn’t done yet. “I want the best for you. I want to see you succeed.”

    When Nike announced she was quitting school, she was heartbroken. The effects of her decision took place immediately: Diana started eating breakfast alone, being home alone if Xander worked late, and going to and from school alone. It didn’t help that she had become more sensitive to supernatural. At one corner on the way was small, low tier demon. Every day, that demon would be there, sitting at that corner and doing nothing, not even paying attention to her. Diana had passed by that corner every day but she never noticed what might have been lurking on those familiar streets until it was just her and her thoughts.

    “There’s gotta be something for you out there. I know it.” Sometimes Diana liked picture her sister as an agent working for G.U.A.R.D.S. With Nike’s physical prowess and her drive, if she had been able to see what Diana could see, it would have been perfect.

    Diana glanced at a calendar on the refrigerator. It was the school’s calendar, marking all the important dates in the school year. She focused on one date, circled in red. Graduation Day

    “Wouldn’t you want to have a grad party? Or even . . . just do something together before we go our separate ways?” There was still plenty of time before then, but Diana didn’t want to think of the idea they would be going on their own soon. Maybe she was being dramatic or paranoid. There were just too many scary things in this world.

    There was the sound of the garage door opening and closing followed by the creak of the door leading into the house. A man’s voice could be heard, grumbling about the hinges being rusty. The twin’s adoptive father appeared in the kitchen, loosening the tie given to him by Diana for his fifty-fourth birthday.

    “Hello, Diana.” Xander greeted pleasantly at said twin before turning to the other. His demeanor changed to more stern tone. “Nike. I see you’ve been throwing your fists around again.” Xander pointed at his own temple, tracing a line similar to the one on Nike’s forehead. “Do you plan on staying for dinner tonight?”
  7. Nike focused on eating her food, unconsciously sliding to the edge of her seat. She appreciated Diana’s concern but she didn’t share her sister’s optimism. Too many odd occurrences kept her wary of the future: her nearly uncontrollable instincts, other people’s negative reactions upon meeting her, the natural rightness she felt when she step into a fighting ring, and this unnaturally fast way she’s been healing. The unexplainable violence she experienced scared her more than she could admit. Xander’s refusal to speak to her about it scared her. She set her fork down, having devoured a sizable portion of the cake. Diana’s leaving scared her.

    She forced a laugh, trying to turn the conversation around, “Don’t be so dramatic. Of course we’ll do something. You think I’d let you go off into the world without a party?” Though considering the last party she’d been at with her twin, perhaps hosting a party would be a poor choice. The boy’s parents had let the charges drop, but Xander had been furious with her for weeks. Perhaps having a separate party with her would be smarter. She pushed the thought out of her mind, “It’s not like you going to college will be the last time we see each.” She reached across the counter, squeezing her twin’s hand, “I’m not going anyway. If you ever need me, I’m just a phone call away. Maybe I can move somewhere by wherever you go to school. Work in a coffee shop…or a warehouse. They always need muscle in places like that.” Diana and Xander were the only family she had, the only people who seemed to have no problem with her. Though Xander seemed to be having more problems with her every day.

    The sound of the garage door closing ended their conversation. Nike cursed internally, pulling away from her sister and rising to her feet. She glanced at Diana, knowing she would only worry more if Nike ducked away. She forced herself back down. Xander would only chase her up into her room if she ran.

    Xander did not make her effort easy. After greeting Diana, he turned his attention to Nike, the increasingly familiar disapproval in his eyes. Had there ever been a day when they had managed to have a civil conversation. She frowned, telling herself to be civil for Diana’s sake. “Yeah,” she replied, her voice colder than before.

    He glanced at her, taking note of the cool response. “A nice change of pace,” he said, sorting through the letters from front table. He glanced down at the table, “I see you found the cake. I hope you let you sister have at least a bite of it.” The edge of his lip curled, indicating a joke rather than a severe chastisement.

    Nike glanced up, wary but returning his peace offering with a smirk, “I always share.”

    “We both know that’s a lie.” Xander turned his attention back to Diana, “How was your day?”

    Nike settled back into the chair, content to let her sister and Xander speak about their days. The chitchat beat her previous night of hiding at the top of a ruined skyscraper eating cold fast food while nursing her wounds.
  8. Diana watched as her sister stood. She wished she wouldn’t leave, but she knew of the uncomfortable atmosphere that would be present if Xander and Nike were in the same room together. Sometimes it got so unbearable Diana would feign wanting to go to sleep just to get out of there. To think at one point in their lives such a heavy air never existed.

    She blinked twice when Nike instead sat back down. Diana was certain Nike would make her escape, but it seems her sister had decided something else. She watched the short but curt conversation between Nike and Xander, squishing the little crumbs of cake with her fork. She smiled at the small joke they made, but it was gone as soon as it came. Don’t get too hopeful now, she told herself. Still, she was happy Nike had planned to stay for dinner; if all goes well, this would be the first time all three of them would sit down at the same table to eat together in a long time.

    Diana put her hands together when Xander turned to her. She retold him what happened to Ella and Art along with her plans to stop by another college tour next week. As Xander listened to the younger twin, he felt a slight pressure, indicating something had hit the barrier he put up around the house. He thought nothing of it as every now and then these things happen. Often, it was because of a strong demon or angel, though they were never strong enough to break through. Xander may have grown more humble over the years, but he certainly can still boast a talent in creating effective barriers.

    “You’ve been going to a lot of tours, Diana,” he replied. “It’s almost as if you want to leave home so soon. What, you don’t want to hang around us anymore?”

    “What? Of course I don’t want to leave now!” Diana shook her head frantically. “I told you I’m only taking a look at the colleges.” She still had the rest of the school year to go through, not to mention acquiring enough scholarships. While she did manage to snag a few good ones, if she could get more, it would be of much help.

    “I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” Xander chuckled, amused at how serious Diana took his joke. He started flipping through the mail. “You’re going to have to decide soon, though.”

    “Yeah, I know.” She paused. “It’s kinda scary, but at the same time, exciting too.”
  9. Nike listened to the exchange as she finished off the cake in a series of large bites. She snickered at her sister’s panicked response to Xander’s teasing, swallowing before joining in. “I was telling her the same thing,” she said as she smirked at Diana, “If she keeps this up, there’ll be college recruiters banging on the door day and night begging her to attend.” Xander nodded but said nothing. His smile left his face as he picked up one of the envelops and ripped it open. Nike’s smiled dimmed, “They’ll be fighting in the streets.”

    Xander ignored her quip. His attention was fixed on the paper in his hand. Nike began to slide off her chair. Her gut told her to run. “I think I’ll go take a nap before dinner,” she said as she stood, attempting to cover her escape, “Let me know when the food’s ready.”

    “Wait.” Xander’s frown deepened as he looked up. Anger flared in his eyes accompanied by what might have been…concern? He stepped back from the counter, “Excuse us, Diana. Nike, a word.” He walked to toward the door to their small living room. Nike made no attempt to follow. He stopped and turned, an edge in his voice, “Now.”

    She followed him begrudgingly, giving Diana a weak smile and shrug as she walked out. Ordinarily she knew exactly which of her recent actions might have annoyed him, but today nothing came to mind that might have reached him by mail. Wait. She felt her heart skip a beat. The clinic. The doctor had threatened to look up her information when she refused to give him her address. After her recent…healings, she’d decided to play it safe and keep her medical information a secret from Xander. She’d even gone so far as to pay the doctor extra in cash to keep him quiet. Obviously it hadn’t been enough. Just another stupid nosy quack bent on saving the damned souls of the kids on the street whether they liked it or not. Xander and Nike came to his small office situated across from the kitchen. He closed the door behind them. Shit.

    “What is this?” he demanded as he held the letter up in front of her face.

    Nike took it from him and pretended to examine the words. It had the clinic’s name print in bold print on the top of the page with several blocks of text beneath. Some spiel about keeping children safe no doubt. If she ever saw that doctor again, she would lay him out flat. For the time being, however, she shrugged, “I dunno. A bill of some kind?”

    Xander wasn’t impressed by her response. “Don’t give me that bull. That letter claims you landed in an emergency clinic at 2 in the morning for stitches. Twelve stitches.” He gestured to her forehead, “Where are they?”

    She started toward the door, “I’m going to go sleep.”

    “Nike,” Xander caught her wrist, “What happened?”

    She gritted her teeth, “I took them out.”


    Nike spun back around and yanked her hand free. “Because I didn’t need them,” she hissed.

    Xander took a breath and released it slowly, “Then why did they give them to you?”

    She paced over to his desk to avoid his eyes, “Because a nail ripped my head open during a fight. Doctor wanted to keep me overnight but I refused.” A juice box had taken care of her major blood loss before she left the clinic. “The damned cut healed on its own overnight. Just like these bruises,” she shrugged off her jacket. Only a patch or two of yellow remained. She felt a shiver run through her as she dropped it on the ground. It was getting worse. She glared over her shoulder, “Happy?”

    Xander took a step closer, but said nothing. Silence filled the gulf between them broken only the sound of Xander’s antique clock ticking and cars in the distance. After an eternity, he sighed and rubbed his temples. “How long have you known about this?”

    “A week or two.”

    His hands dropped away from his face. “Why didn’t you come to me?” She could hear that special mixture of disappoint and concern Xander reserved for her seeping into his voice.

    It didn’t help. “So you could do what? Tell me it’s just another quirk of mine?” She rubbed her arms to banish the goosebumps that rose on her skin. For weeks, she’d wait for this conversation. She just wanted answers, something to explain whatever was happening to her. Answers he would never be able to give her. She reached down and scooped up her jacket. “It doesn’t matter. I’m fine.”

    Xander walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder, “Wait, we need to--”

    “Save it,” she growled, frustration hiding the fear churning in the pit of her stomach. She bit her lip to regain some of her composure, “I don’t care what you think. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m going to bed.” She pulled away and walked out the door.

    She took the stairs from the living room up to her tiny bedroom. There she pulled the door closed and threw herself onto her bed. She hugged her pillow to her chest to dull the sound of her pounding heart. Sleep; she just needed to sleep. Things would make more sense…she would be able to tolerate the nonsense more after a nap. Her eyes slide closed as she began to doze.

    Xander, meanwhile, left his office and went looking for Diana with a briefcase in hand. When he found her, he greeted her with a tired smile, “Hey. Something’s come up that I need to take care of. Would you mind starting dinner tonight?”
  10. “No, I don’t want that!” she said, biting her nails at the thought of college recruiters screaming at each other in their front yard. She remained blissfully unaware of the growing tension until her sister announced her desire for sleep. She bit her lip when Xander requested to speak to Nike alone. Diana’s violet eyes met Nike’s own as she followed their adoptive father to his study.

    Now what happened? What went wrong? Until now, it seemed things were okay at least. Sure, Nike had appeared out of the blue after disappearing again for days, but Xander had seemed to dismiss it. Certainly he wasn’t pleased with her, but he didn’t appear upset enough to reprimand her. Diana believed Xander had, grudgingly, accepted yelling at Nike was useless and not going to get them anywhere.

    She watched them go down the hall and heard the soft click of his office door close. Diana stared at her empty plate, dragging her fork across the ceramic. Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore and jumped off the island. She tiptoed towards Xander’s study and pressed her ear against the door, hearing the muffled voices of her sister and father.

    “Because a nail ripped my head open during a fight. Doctor wanted to keep me overnight but I refused."

    So that explains the scar on Nike’s forehead. Diana couldn’t even begin to imagine the crude fighting ring her sister was in if a stray nail was casually poking out. Diana stayed in place, listening to the conversation taking place. Nike was unresponsive and uncooperative as expected, and Xander sounded upset, if not worried. More worried than usual. She heard footsteps from the other side and Diana bolted out of there.

    Not long after, the office door opened followed by the sound of someone running up the stairs and another door slamming shut. No doubt Nike had just decided to go up to her own room. At one time, both girls shared that room and Diana absolutely refused to sleep alone after seeing demonic eyes staring at her from the closet when she was three. Eventually, as the girls grew bigger, it was apparent the room would not fit both of them. Diana finally mustered enough courage to accept her own bedroom; the first few nights weren’t easy, but after learning a few charms from Xander and time, Diana had learned to enjoy having her own space.

    Diana stood at the foot of the stairs, staring at the white door with a sign that had Nike’s name on it.

    “Hey. Something’s come up that I need to take care of. Would you mind starting dinner tonight?”

    “Oh, uh, sure. Do you want spaghetti, or should I do something with the leftover chicken?”

    Xander thought it over for a moment. “I haven’t had your peanut chicken in a while, kiddo. So that—“he yelped, clutching the back of his head in pain; it felt like his skull had been hit with at least twenty hammers. Diana was at his side, asking what was wrong when something banged on the door. They turned to the door and something banged it again, strong enough to almost knock it off its hinges. Someone spoke, raspy and guttural, followed by another voice at a higher pitch and another and another. The voices spoke in complete gibberish, cackling and curious as to what lay on the other side.

    The door burst and four frightening creatures scrambled in. They swirled and crawled through the hall, breaking anything and everything in their path.

    “Demons!” cried Diana. “But the barrier—“she fell on her bottom as a brute demon charged for her only to crash against the transparent golden sheen of a barrier. The demon growled in frustration, gnawing at the little shield caused by the charm hanging around her neck until a silver blade sliced through his torso.

    “Diana! Get your sister and run!” Xander yelled. Another demon charged, stopped by the blade in Xander’s hand. He barely had enough time to react and throw a barrier at an incoming third one. “Diana, go!”

    Diana nodded, running up the stairs two at a time. She forced herself to keep going, even after hearing Xander’s agonized scream. She burst through Nike’s room, running to her sister’s side.

    “Nike, wake up! Wake up!” she cried, roughly shaking her sister. She furiously wiped her eyes as tears began running down her cheeks. “We have to get out of here. Wake up!”
  11. A fifth demon stalked into the house as Diana ran up the stairs. Ashen white skin stretched over its humanoid frame as its skeletal face examined the room. The sharp spikes rising from its arms, back, and head scrapped the doorframe as its dim eyes came to rest on Xander. The hunter continued to struggle against the smaller demons, having only managed to put up a small barrier to keep them back. It stalked forward with a sneer on its face “Hunter, are you the one who keeps my prize?” Xander turned and began muttering a chant as he drew a symbol in the air. The demon raised a hand that crackled with electricity. “Unfortunate.”

    Xander’s scream woke Nike first. She slowly opened her eyes, pillow still tucked against her chest. Can’t they keep it down, she grouched as she buried her head back in her pillow. She snapped out of her stupor when Diana burst into the room and began to violently shake her. Nike grabbed her sister’s arm as she sat upright. “Diana, calm down. What’s going on?”

    Nike saw movement in the doorway before her twin could answer. She squinted at the door where a fuzzy outline of some animal perhaps stood with a second shape joining it seconds later. She caught the faint sounds of snarling and gibberish. The shapes moved forward into the room, threatening to approach. Nike pulled Diana behind her and grabbed a nearby baseball bat leaned against her wall. “What are those things?” It couldn’t be real, but she could hear the sounds of a struggle downstairs. It had to be Xander. He needed help.

    Another outline appeared in the door. It towered over the other fuzzy shapes, whatever it was. Lizard-like eyes flashed and lit what looked to be a skull. The distant rumble of voice echoed in the room. Nike’s eyes widened but she bit back her fear. She had to protect Diana and get to Xander. “Diana, stay back,” she called to her twin over her shoulder before she sprinted forward. She rushed the creature with the bat gripped firmly. She swung up toward the face half-expecting to find nothing but air. Something caught her bat and ripped the weapon from her hands. A hand, or what she assumed was a hand, shot from the shadows and clamped down on her neck before she could move. It lifted her into the air and began to squeeze. She grabbed at the ghost hand and tried to pry it off. It tightened its grip. “Sprit. Very good,” a coarse voice wheezed from the shadow. She struggled but each movement tightened the noose. “Kill the other.”

    The small shapes advanced and moved back towards Diana. “Di-ack,” Nike tried to call out to her but could get the words from her throat. Her vision began to grow blurry.