Ashlyn doubled her legs up to get them free and scooted across the asphalt, ignoring what it did to her new tank top. She braced herself with her hands and cocked one leg to kick, but the Goth Reaper wasn't moving.
The impalpable wind that had flared that black trenchcoat dramatically caught it again, rucking it up before dragging it off the Reaper's body. The two-penny shades and the scissors caught in the cloth, and the whole mess ripped free and tumbled off into the sky.
It finally registered on her that Tetsu was looking somewhere else, with his bloody crowbar raised, and she glared around the parking lot for more attackers. Tiffy was sprawled in the doorway at the far end of the building, and of course had fallen right out of that stupid tube top, but she wasn't moving and wouldn't have been frightening anyway. No one else was in sight, so she stood up.
"Tetsu?" He jumped, but lowered the crowbar. "You okay?"
"Uh. Yah oh shit you're bleeding!" The crowbar clattered and rolled against the tire of the Reaper's car, or at least the faded blue Pontiac idling unhealthily where the sleek black magic car had been crouching. The sick feeling in her stomach had nothing to do with the scrapes Tetsu was checking, but she couldn't not look.
Straggly dishwater-blonde hair trailed into the pool of blood from the woman's ruined shoulder, and a denim dress faded the same color as the Pontiac was rucked up over cellulite-bumpy legs in pantyhose with a run down one thigh. The wound was the same, but nothing else.
"Just scraped off some scabs from the last time you got scraped up. I hate to say it, but maybe you should wear more. You'd look hot in biking lea-- what's wrong?" He followed her gaze to the corpse, and flinched so violently he almost knocked her over. "Oh no. Oh, fuck, no." His voice was pleading, and he looked as sick as she felt. "I didn't-- She--" He drew in a shaky breath. "Oh, God."
There had to be something to say, but she had no idea what it was. She just held on to him.
The blue car coughed and stalled. She and Tetsu flinched in different directions, but his magic muscles won and she toppled into his arms. He caught her easily, but sank to his knees nonetheless.
A real breeze sprang up, sweeping away the air that she hadn't realized was unnaturally still and heavy, and someone's muffler-deficient hotrod rumbled beyond the screen of trees. It felt like a spell had been broken, and of course it had. She giggled at the thought, but it came out ragged and high-pitched and for a moment she couldn't stop it.
Tetsu didn't seem to have noticed; he was still staring at the body. "Ashlyn, what are we going to do?"
Tiffy gave a muffled shriek. There was the sound of bony flesh hitting metal, and the door clanged shut.
She squeaked embarrassingly as she tumbled from Tetsu's arms, but he was already halfway to the door, bounding across the parking lot like a cheetah. "Come on," he yelled back, and threw the door open with crash.
He disappeared inside, leaving her alone in the parking lot with a corpse and who knew what magical assassins. She didn't see anything, but it suddenly seemed like a very long way to any sort of cover. "Wait up!"
No one was in the hallway. Before she could reach a new level of panic, though, she heard Tetsu's voice from around the corner by the library. "It's okay, Tiffy. I'm not going to hurt you."
Tiffy was backed into the corner, curled into an almost fetal position that would be useless in fighting off anyone who did want to hurt her, staring at Tetsu's outstretched hand with horror. Behind him, the dangling handset of the pay phone tapped against the wall. Ashlyn picked it up as she passed it, but the recorded voice was only saying, "If you would like to make a call--" so she hung up.
From out of reach, she said, "Tetsu, let me," but he didn't jump after all. "Keep an eye out for trolls?" He squeezed her hand in passing and took up a position just out of human sight.
"Tiffy?" Ashlyn went to her knees in front of the other girl and held out her hand. "Really, it's all right. No one's going to do anything to you." No reaction, so she carefully laid her hand over Tiffy's trembling one. "Tiffy?" Whether she'd seen the Deathmobile and the Goth Reaper attacking her or Tetsu whacking a human with his crowbar, being upset was understandable, but this seemed a bit much. Somewhere she'd read that the average American saw a thousand murders on TV by the age of sixteen, so even if Tiffy was flat on her back for half the time other people watched TV-- Ashlyn shook the digression out of her head. "Let me see your elbow."
"My--?" Tiffy twisted her arm around to try to see the source of the blood. "Ow, dammit!" She blinked and uncurled, exposing big round brown breasts sticking out over the bright band of her collapsed tube top. "Ashy? Where's-- Shit, we have to call the cops! Or an ambulance! Or--" She stared at Ashlyn. "Tetsu just KILLED someone!"
Ashlyn remembered the chill of the Reaper's skin when she had fallen onto her. "No. She was already dead."
Tiffy's voice rose in pitch. "Dead people don't drive cars! Or walk around!"
Ashlyn sighed. "Not normally, but that doesn't seem to have anything to do with this week." A question struck her. "Can you tell me what you saw?"
"Huh? You were there too!" Her incipient hysteria seemed to be fading, though.
"Please, just tell me what it looked like to you."
"Um. A big black car almost ran over Tetsu, but it stopped in time. A skinny chick all gothed out got out and you tried to kick her, then Tetsu hit her with something, a sword? and knocked her over. He was going to attack me too, but I guess you stopped him." Her cheeks reddened. "I, uh, fainted. When I came to, I tried to call 911, but he came after me and you stopped him again." She looked around. "Is he gone? I know you like him, but take it from me, that doesn't mean he won't--" She flinched from Ashlyn's face. "Ashy, I know!"
"I guess you missed the part where the Goth Reaper was trying to STAB me?"
"Oh. She was? But Tetsu cut her head off! Why does he have a sword anyway?!"
Ashlyn resisted the urge to grab Tiffy by the shoulders and shake the hysteria out. It probably wouldn't work, although it might be interesting to watch, and there was the post-adrenalin horniness again. She didn't even like girls! (Never mind sixth grade!) She dragged her mind back from the digression again. "He doesn't have a sword. He has a crowbar, because we had a warning this might happen today." Tiffy opened her mouth, but Ashlyn held up a hand. "It wasn't anything we could go to the police or school about."
"So you had your pet thug beat her head in."
Ashlyn stared. "Tetsu's not a thug! You've known him as long as I have!"
"I didn't think he was, but I know what I saw." She looked aside. "Wouldn't be the first time I made that mistake."
Any further defense of Tetsu's character was interrupted by a deep male voice from the hallway. "Easy, son, I'm not here to fight." The voice had years of whiskey and losing the good fight, and even if she hadn't just been almost killed, it would have given her the shivers. It wasn't sexy enough to keep her from jumping to her feet, though.
"What are you here for?" Tetsu asked. "And who the hell are you?"
"People call me Jack Mercury. I see I'm a little late to the party, but it looks like you managed just fine on your own."
Tiffy moved up beside Ashlyn, and her reaction to Jack's voice was much too visible. "Put your clothes on," Ashlyn hissed, but Tiffy was still struggling with the rolled-up spandex when the two men came around the corner.
Jack Mercury would have been tall even if he weren't standing next to Tetsu, although the black duster snapping down to his ankles helped. Three days of beard made him look charming dissipated instead of slovenly, and he had the lopsided smile thing down perfectly. He didn't watch Tiffy finishing adjusting her top, but he definitely didn't turn red and look away like Tetsu. He would have been the perfect Worldly Older Man for a teenage girl to crush on, except that Ashlyn could faintly see the line of the lockers on the far side of the hall through his duster.
"Why son, I'm here to get you and your friends out of the mess you've gotten yourselves into."
Tiffy wiggled her way forward. "I'm glad you're here! Are you with the police?"
Jack Mercury raised one eyebrow. "Not exactly, Miss...?"
"I'm T--" Ashlyn remembered a lot of things she'd read, but even though she was standing right there, Tetsu got his hand over Tiffy's mouth before she could.
Jack snorted a laugh. "It was worth a try. You have something you want to be called?" When no one answered in the next half second, he went on, "Then I'll call you Apsara, blondie Pythia, and you with the crowbar can be Wrecker. Now let's blow this joint. I know a good place for coffee and private conversation--"
Tiffy shoved the hands away from her face. "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?! If you aren't a cop, who are you? Why aren't you calling the cops? Why don't you two want me to say my name? Are you all NUTS?!"
Ashlyn couldn't think of a way to even start to explain the bizarre mess her life had become. She looked to Tetsu, but he looked just as helpless as she felt.
Jack raised his other eyebrow. "She's really just a bystander?" Tetsu nodded. "You attached to her?" He snorted again when Tetsu stepped between them. "I won't hurt her, son."
Jack Mercury reached around Tetsu and brushed his fingers across Tiffy's forehead. Her eyes fluttered shut and she collapsed heavily into Ashlyn's arms, knocking her to the floor.
Tetsu slammed Jack face-first into the lockers with one hand, crowbar raised to strike. "Chill out, Wrecker. She's just sleeping. Probably won't remember much of today, though she's flammable enough it's hard to be sure."
"Ow. Not literally. You and Pythia are alight with the Invisible Flame, as they say. Apsara isn't, but she could be."
That made sense. In the books, fire was transformation and vision, and she'd never heard of a profession that didn't have its own jargon. Tiffy had had the biggest dream-mirror in the class, too. But Jack Mercury was too sexy and not transparent enough to be trusted as far as she could throw him, and she couldn't even lift Tiffy.
"The Invisible Flame, huh?" Tetsu let go of Jack's spine, but didn't lower his crowbar much. "Well, I guess I can't say T- Apsara isn't hot. But we have to wake her up sometime."
"She'll wake up on her own in a couple of hours. Just put her in one of these classrooms, and we'll be on our way."
Ashlyn shifted Tiffy into her lap, more or less. "And what you're going to tell us in the next hour or two will keep her from going to the police if she does remember what she saw?"
"Already taken care of. You'll see."
Tetsu stuck the crowbar through his belt and crouched down to lift Tiffy off her. "What do you think?" he asked softly.
All the monsters seemed to be coming after her and Tetsu, and if they had Jack too, leaving Tiffy behind probably was the safest. True, it had been Jack's suggestion, but if he really wanted to do something to Tiffy, he probably would have already. She sighed. "I don't have a better idea."
"Me either. Damn it."
"Any time now. I can't keep everyone at the other end of the building forever."
"Okay, okay. But nothing better happen to her, or Wrecker will find out how much softer you are than a troll." The threat sounded lame to her, but Tetsu's glare was pretty good. Jack Mercury didn't smart off, anyway.
|<-- 14: In the Face of Death||Contents||16: Distant Glimmers -->|
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