Chapter Three: A Stitch In Time
“Left! Left! Turn left!”
Blood gushed from the crook of Ethan’s shoulder as he shouted instructions. Ashe gripped the steering wheel tight, struggling to hold her focus on the road. Ethan grew paler by the moment, and she wasn’t sure how he was still conscious; he’d lost so much blood…
“There’s a towel in the backseat,” she offered, strain in the back of her throat. Her eyes watered, making it harder to watch the road. “You need to apply pressure to the-”
“I got it.” Ethan leaned his seat back and snatched the towel, pressing it to his wound. Dark circles encompassed his eyes, making the sallowness of his face more prominent. Through jagged breaths, he said, “Head toward St. Anne’s.”
“We’re going to the Quarter?” Her eyebrows creased in concern. “We should be heading back to base! You’re hurt-”
“That thing is probably still following us,” he hissed in pain. “If we go back, we risk compromising headquarters. I know a place where we can go. One with strong wards. You trust me, right?” His brown eyes glistened in the headlights of passing cars.
Swiping at more tears, she nodded. “With my life.”
“So let me offer my deepest condolences in advance for having to kill you.” The man pointed to the top of the iron gate where Ashe’s blood still stained its bars. “You’re the bleeder, are you not?”
“Look, asshole, we don’t want any trouble.” Ethan barred a protective stance in front of Ashe. A slight part of her was thankful, but the rest flared to life with contempt; she could take care of herself.
“What are you?” she asked, trying to distract. “Some sort of demi-vamp?”
“Me? A demi? Now, that’s highly insulting.” The man tilted his head and gave a light shrug before bowing in a grand gesture. “Alarich.” He waited for a reaction, but when all he got instead were blank stares, he sighed. “Seriously? I’m famous, you know.”
“Funny, I’ve never heard of you,” Ethan jeered.
Unimpressed, Alarich rolled his eyes dramatically. “History falls on deaf ears to the many - thus they are doomed to repeat it.” He held his arm out to his side and conjured a sword out of thin air. It was light, metallic, and glistened with various shades of color from hilt to tip. Embedded into the hilt was a red crystal no bigger than the size of Ashe’s thumb. When she gasped, momentarily mystified at its beauty, Alarich grinned, pointing the blade toward her. “Do not fret. I will make it painless.”
“Eath, I think he means it.”
“Over my dead body,” muttered Ethan.
“I think it goes without saying,” smirked Alarich, “but that can be arranged.”
Time ticked by at an unnaturally grueling pace. Ashe wanted to pull over, to tend to Ethan’s wound and convince him to get to one of the sanctioned hospital orderlies assigned to the Clippers, but there wasn’t time. Her heart slammed against her chest. This Alarich...he was something beyond anything they’d been trained for, that was for sure. His stature, the cadence in which he spoke, the skill he had with a blade, was otherworldly. He felt like some knight out of Ethan’s Dungeons and Dragons games. And the satisfaction in his eyes as he tore into Ethan’s shoulder with his teeth...it was sadistic. It was arrogant.
The streetlights flickered through the windows, illuminating Ethan with gentle flickers every few seconds. In these moments, she could see the blood soaking the towel.
“It needs to be stitched, or you’re going to bleed to death.”
“Worry about the road.” Ethan sat straighter in his seat, as if it would somehow alleviate the tension coursing through Ashe. He tried to prove to her he was fine, but he failed. She noticed the way his mouth grimaced and his breath caught.
“Damn it, Ethan!” Ashe slammed down on the brakes at a stop light, giving herself an excuse to physically release her frustration.
“You’re cute when you’re angry.”
“Shut up!” She slammed her hand on the steering wheel. “That bastard…” Silence engulfed the car. The only thing to be heard was the rattle of the engine and the sound of cars whooshing by at the cross section as they waited for the green light.
Ethan reached over and folded his hand over hers. “Ashe...look at me.” His lips turned up into a confident smile as their eyes met. “I’m not leaving you, alright? Alright?”
She jerked her hand away. “Just tell me where we’re headed.”
“That hole-in-the-wall? Why?”
“I told you. Strong wards. Strong enough to mask us. Light’s green.”
“Damn it.” She slammed her foot on the accelerator.
“I don’t want to kill you,” Alarich said, taking one step, then another, toward the pair. “I only require the girl.”
“Yeah, well, tough shit. You want her? You gotta get through me.”
“You’re a very arrogant young man.” Alarich’s lips twitched. “I like it. A duel then?” The strong, foreboding man drove his sword into the ground and leaned on the hilt. “Choose your weapon, young clipper.”
“Ethan…” Ashe began, but her friend merely walked around to the backpack on her shoulders and removed the spray can.
“Lighter,” he whispered.
Ashe peered over his shoulder at the flamboyantly leering man as he gave a flippant yawn. Everything about Alarich from his white teeth, to his styled hair, to his perfectly pressed clothes screamed superficial. And yet, he was more than just a pretty face; behind those eyes rested the alert mind of a killer. Ethan’s father, her godfather, wore the same expression on his face before he went hunting for rogue Occult. It was unnerving to be on the other side of the wire.
“You can’t possibly think you’re going to win.”
“No, but I think I’m going to distract. When I give the word, run.” Ethan didn’t wait for Ashe to comply; he reached into her back pocket and fished out the lighter, whispering against her cheek, “Ready?”
No. Ashe thought, but it was too late. Ethan turned around, took two steps toward Alarich, and brandished his spray can in front of him.
“Do you plan to Picasso me to death?” Alarich lulled.
“Nah, just call me Prometheus.” He flicked the lighter milliseconds before he pressed the nozzle. The air lit up in a flurry of orange flames headed straight for Alarich. In the time it took for Ashe’s breath to catch, the man lit up in an array of flickering fire. His sleeve was the first to catch, then his shirt. Ethan dropped the canister and turned around, scooping Ashe’s hand in his. “Go!”
Ashe’s feet slammed against the graveled path as they sped past Alarich toward the gate. Her heart galloped in her chest while her throat constricted, making it nearly impossible to breathe. The smell of burnt skin and clothing lingered in the air, sickening her stomach. The car was in sight. She heard the jingle of keys as Ethan reached into his pocket; they were so close.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the glint of something reflecting in the moon’s glow before it zipped across the air at lightning speed.
One moment her hand was on the door handle. There was a sickening crunch just before Ethan went headfirst into the windshield, lifeless. Blood splattered the window as an evil chuckle tickled her ear. “That was my favorite shirt. Expensive, too. Alas, he paid for it, all the same.” Ashe spun around, swinging at the air-
The next moment, Ethan stood in front of her, his hand outstretched. “Lighter.”
“Wh-what?” She glanced behind her, expecting to see the car, but it wasn’t in sight. Instead, an amused looking Alarich stood, leaning against his weapon.
“Come on, I know you can hear me.” With an irritated huff, Ethan reached behind her, trying to fish the lighter out of her pocket - again.
“What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?” he whispered right before he claimed his prize. “When I give the word-”
“Run?” she finished, eyes flickering up to his in horror.
Ethan smirked. “See? You’re smarter than you look, Greene.” He moved to turn around, but Ashe caught his arm.
“Don’t.” The memory of a bloody windshield flashed behind her eyelids.
“Let go of me.”
“Don’t.” She peered over Ethan’s shoulder and addressed the man still leaning on his sword. “What did you do?”
Alarich quirked an eyebrow. A perfectly unburned eyebrow. His clothes appeared just as they did half a minute ago; free of singeing and wrinkles. Was this déjà vu? No. No, this happened. And, judging by the look in his eye, Alarich knew it, too.
“We’re here.” Ashe leaned over the console and rested the back of her hand on Ethan’s forehead. “You’re burning up.”
“I’m fine,” Ethan grumbled, gulping down breaths of air as if he kept being pulled under water.
“It looks closed, Eath.” She glanced through the window at the bar, knowing that they were violating plenty of parking laws.
“Check the glove box.”
“God, do you ever stop asking questions? Just do it.”
“You’re closer,” she grumbled.
“And you have the damn key.”
Rolling her eyes, she jerked the key out of the ignition, reached over the the glovebox, and unlocked it. “I see a couple of vials of holy water and a coin.”
“The coin. Take it.”
Ashe slipped the metal piece in her hand and held it between her fingers. It was about the size of a half dollar, bronze in color, and held runes Ashe knew to be a dialect of the Fair Folk. In the very center sat a depiction of a skull. “What are you doing with Fairy currency?”
“Help me out of the car, and I’ll give you an answer.”
Mindful of her surroundings, Ashe pried the car door open and swung her legs out, almost expecting to be pulled under the car. When nothing happened, she quickly made her way to the other side of the vehicle and lurched the door open before tucking her shoulder under Ethan’s arm, coin still in hand. The sign on the door read ‘We’re Closed’ - and then, scribbled in sharpie a bit lower, ‘Get lost.’ Someone went the extra mile to personalize it. Even more surprising was, just below that, another message, written on a sticky-note, read, ‘Help wanted.’
“Hand me the coin,” Ethan commanded, breathing heavy and leaning against the doorframe to stay standing. Cautiously, she gave it to him and watched, in mild fascination, as he waved it in front of the deadbolt. It unlocked with a click.
Wick’s stomach churned, begging him not to continue down this road of self-deploring as he pressed the bottle of half-devoured bourbon to his lips. The buzzing in his head, however, held other ideas. His body felt heavy and fluid at the same time, and Wick grabbed onto the edge of the bar top for support, closing his eyes and listening to the hum of the freezer in the back. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t shake the image of Benny’s lifeless body slumped against the Cathedral. Last night, he’d drank himself into a stupor because of other reasons, but tonight it was in tribute to his coworker and, dare he think it, friend. The guilt inside of him was strong, which only made matters worse. Perhaps, if he hadn’t fed Benny his blood, the man wouldn’t have wandered out into the streets to be slaughtered like a pig.
He glanced around the empty bar before his eyes settled on the clock above the door. 2AM on Monday morning. Nothing happened on Mondays. They were usually his day off, but now with Benny dead and gone, he would no doubt be pulling double shifts until they were able to find a substitute, which he knew would take time. Trish only picked those in tune with the Occult, and there were few of them on the lighter side these days.
Wick was just about to take another pull from his bourbon when he heard the roar of an engine outside. Fucking drunks, he thought before going back to his task at hand.
His stomach groaned again, this time for something stronger and much warmer than the alcohol. “No,” he scolded it. “That’s what got Benny killed, wasn’t it? We’ve gone weeks at a time without a drop, and we can do it again.” Grrrggggle. His stomach didn’t agree. “Shut up. No self control, you.”
Just then, there was a click at the door, and Wick’s head popped up at the sound. His eyes narrowed into slits as he sat his bottle down on a stool beside him and stumbled forward, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Trish?” he grumbled, watching the doorknob rattle.
The next moment, the door swung open wide, and two strangers stood in its doorway.
Wick’s throat instantly responded to the heavy scent of blood in the air as he took in their appearances: one was a girl, or rather a young woman, with strawberry blonde hair and a slighter frame. The other was a man around the same age with shaggy, brown hair that fell in curls over his eyes, and he was drenched in crimson. Though he was well over a good head taller than the girl, he clung to her like a life raft.
“Please,” the girl cut Wick off. “Help us.” She stumbled across the floor and dragged the man over to a nearby table before swinging him into a chair. He fell into it with a loud thud, his eyes droopy and unfocused. The girl stood, straightening her shoulders with delegating authority. It was then that Wick noticed the coin in the man’s hand.
“A Friendly Key,” Wick said, looking between the two. “Those are rare...how’d you get that?”
“A gift,” muttered the man, pressing a blood-soaked towel into his shoulder.
“Are you the manager?” she asked, smoothing her hair out of her face. The moment she did, Wick felt his stomach plummet.
Those eyes… Wick hadn’t seen those eyes in nearly two hundred years. He’d seen eyes like them in women that would come and go like the shifting tides, but these were the same almond shape and green as emeralds that crawled behind his eyelids each night.
His mouth grew arid, and he forgot how to speak.
The girl snapped her fingers in his face. How had she gotten so close? “Hey, I asked you a question. Are you the manager?”
“Daliah?” he blurted out.
“What? Who?” She scrunched her face in confusion. “Is that the manager?”
“Your name…” He blinked his eyes, hoping it was some weird trick of the light on his drunken eyesight.
“I don’t know who Daliah is,” she stated simply, “But she isn’t me.” She shrugged her shoulder in the bleeding man’s direction. “We’re looking for the manager, Trish.”
Finally, Wick was able to form a coherent sentence. “Do I look like a Trish to you?” His mind was racing too quickly to attempt pleasantries. He tried to wrap his head around the fact that two strangers stood in just below his home, and one of them looked so similar to her.
“Hey, I’m not here to judge. I’m trying to make sure my friend doesn’t bleed to death.”
Wick turned his eyes on the man. “Did Trish give you that coin?”
“Let me see it.”
Storming over to the table with a drunken swagger, Wick thrust out his hand for the coin. The man dropped it in his palm, and Wick felt over the smooth edges, honing in on the familiar magic within. His thumb graced over the skull in the center as his eyes trailed up, catching sight of a familiar inking just at the base of the man’s ear. “You’re a clipper.” He pocketed the coin in his back pocket and turned back to the girl. “You need to leave.”
“Wait. What?” She reached out and grabbed his arm just before he passed her, and a tingle shot up Wick’s spine. “No way. There’s a nutcase out there who wants to kill us both. No way am I letting you kick us out.”
“Do you know what he does for a living?” he snapped at her, jerking out of her grasp. “Like Hell I’m letting a clipper, and a bleeding one at that, take refuge in this bar.”
“A bleeding one? What does-” She paused, realizing. “Ohhhh! You’re a demi-vamp!” Her expression shifted to one of mild fascination. “Wow. I’ve never actually met one of you in person-”
She took a daunting step forward into Wick’s personal space. No doubt she could smell the alcohol on his breath as she challenged, “No. We’re here to see Trish.”
“Yeah?” Wick’s patience was wearing thin. “Well, she isn’t here. Too bad, so sad. Now leave.”
“Look, buddy, we’re not going anywhere, so you-” she pressed her finger against his chest, wobbling him off balance for half a second, “-can deal with it! I’ve had one HELL of a night dealing with brains and ghouls and some psychopath with a sword manipulating fucking time, so you call up Trish right now and-”
Wick threw a hand between their faces, silencing her. “Wait, back up a moment. Time?”
“I know it sounds crazy, but yea-”
“Was it a broadsword?”
The girl blinked, thinking. “Yeah, it could have been.”
“Shhhhhhhhhit.” Wick threw his hands up in the air and staggered his way to the bar. He snatched his phone from the counter and swiped right on the screen, sneaking an irritated, drunken glance at the girl. He was done with his text message within a moment. Inwardly, he hoped it wouldn’t come across as some drunken gibberish, but he was too prideful to double check.
“Start talking. Now,” Wick demanded, leaning against the bar for support as the alcohol assaulted his system. “Don’t leave a detail out.”
“What the Hell just happened?” Ashe shoved past Ethan and stood protectively in front of him as if her tiny frame could form a barrier between Alarich and his prey. “Answer me!” she demanded.
Alarich merely shrugged and withdrew his sword from the dirt, swinging it with ease in her direction. “Interesting,” he said, eyes raking over the two of them. “So you do remember.”
Without a response, Ashe yanked Ethan by the wrist and tore off in the opposite direction of the car, heading toward the darkened grave path ahead.
“Hey! Whoa!” Ethan shouted, but he kept his pace with her. “Ashe, I had him-”
“No, you didn’t.” She could still see his broken body slung against the windshield behind her eyelids, and it solidified her resolve. She glanced over her shoulder for half a second, catching Alarich’s sinister grin spread over his pointed face, unconcerned.
She jerked them down another path, shielding them behind a set of stone mausoleums. Only then did she turn her rapid sprint into a jog.
“-You died.” Her heart pelted wildly against her sternum as she reached out and pressed
her hand against his chest.
“What are you talking about? I’m right here.”
“But you weren’t,” she tried to explain. “You were silly putty splattered on the car windshield. And then…” How could she even attempt to describe what had happened? She had to try. “He reset everything, somehow. You really don’t remember?”
“No.” Ethan gave her a look that said he was seriously considering admitting her into a mental institution. “Maybe you had a premonition?” he offered.
“This was real, Ethan. As real as you’re standing in front of me.” Her hand slipped up his chest, to his shoulder, where she gave it a squeeze. “Time manipulation. Do you think it’s possible?”
A rock whizzed past their heads and smacked against the stone wall behind them, drawing their attention. Ashe spun around, expecting to find Alarich, but who she found instead was a very disgruntled-looking Charles Wallace, the very ghoul they’d spoken to not minutes before, with his hands in his trouser pockets.
“Mmm, you dug up something nasty this evening, didn’t you, Little Clipper?” he looked at ease as his cold, dispositioned pupils shifted from Ashe to Ethan.
“Do you know who he is?” Ashe asked at once.
“The question isn’t really a who, so much as a what.”
“Okay,” Ethan growled, “we’ll take the bait. What is he?”
“A vampire. The real deal - not one of these vampire-lights you call demis. You’ve managed to dig up a real, soul sucking, no - pardon my French - bullshit monster. If I wasn’t so irate at you for luring him into my home, I might be impressed.”
“A vampire,” Ashe repeated. “You’re sure?”
“I can practically smell the immortality rolling off his skin. It’s rare for one to come out of the shadows long enough to pay a mortal any attention. Something about one of you must be very special. -Do not fret,” he added, gesturing around the mausoleums surrounding them. “I’ve placed this particular section under a heavy illusion ward...for now.”
Ashe’s thoughts turned to Alarich’s introduction at the gate. I wondered which one of you it was, but now that you’ve arrived, I can clearly tell it was the girl.
“Thank you,” Ashe said at once, a shiver shooting down her spine.
“Don’t thank him,” sneered Ethan, glaring at Charles. “Ghouls are always looking for handouts.”
“You’re nearly as perceptive as your friend,” Charles grinned, his leathery lips tugging awkwardly around his teeth. “I only require one thing: a favor, when the time is right.”
Ashe glanced quickly back at Ethan to delegate and found his mouth pressed in a hard line.
“Do you accept my terms?” asked Charles.
Ethan shook his head roughly. “I’m not about to owe a ghoul a favor.”
Ashe could have beat his head against the wall if she weren’t so frightened.
“Now isn’t the time to get xenophobic, Ethan!”
“A ghoul’s word is his bond, Ashe. A literal bond. What if he wants us to kill one another when it’s all over? Or give him information about The Council? This is all some sick game to him. We’ll have no choice.”
“So it’s a no, then?” Charles raised one, emaciated hand up in the air.
“Wait-!” Ashe cried, but it was too late. Charles snapped his finger, and a blue haze cascaded down over the tops of the tombs like a shimmering waterfall.
“It is a pity,” he said, tucking his hands behind his back. “I liked you, Little Clipper. Though I don’t care much for your friend.” Within the blink of an eye, Charles was gone.
“Damn it! You idiot!” She rushed at Ethan and pushed him in the chest. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“I’m the idiot?” Ethan spat back. “You’re the one going soft for the Occult!”
“If you weren’t so prejudiced-”
“Lovers quarrel?” a voice chimed from behind them. Ashe turned on her heels to face Alarich, who grinned pleasantly as if he had been invited for an afternoon tea. “Don’t worry. I have all the time in the world.”
“What do you want?” Ashe could feel the panic and fury course through her veins in the form of adrenaline.
“I thought I made it clear: for your untimely demise.”
“What did I ever do to you?” She could hear the anxiousness hitch in her voice.
“It isn’t about what you’ve done. It’s about what you will do, seltene hexe.” Quick as a blur, he stepped forward and landed in front of Ethan. “Alas, it is a shame. I had hoped you would choose to walk away.” He snapped Ethan’s neck in the blink of an eye. Ethan collapsed to the ground in a pile of dead weight skin and bones.
Ashe screamed -it was a guttural keen from the back of her throat, and she felt her legs turn to jelly. “No!” she shouted. “Bring him back! Bring him back, you sick prick!”
“Sick prick? Now I've heard everything.” Alarich yawned.
“Do it!” She raced at him, swinging wildly. All of her training never prepared her for this. She was as lost as a kitten first opening its eyes.
“You didn't say please,” Alarich taunted. “Come on, where's your sense of fun? I could keep this up all night.” He laughed, grinning with vigor.
“Bring. Him. Back.”
“If I do, will you promise to show me your talents, just this once?” Smirking, Alarich arched his arm back and sent the sword flying through the air like a dart. “Perhaps this death was too pleasant for him,” she heard above the wind.
Ashe didn’t have time to comprehend before she found the scene reset just as Alarich sank his teeth into Ethan’s shoulder.
Blood welled from the wound instantly as Ethan’s eyes went wide in pain. “Aargh!” he shouted right before the vampire knocked him sideways with the back of his hand. The force of his blow tossed Ethan through the air, and he landed with his head cracking against a nearby tombstone.
“Oh, don’t fret over him. You should worry about yourself.” Alarich grabbed Ashe by the scruff of her shirt and yanked her forward, inches from his face. As he observed her with bemused interest, she realized the flecks of his irises glistened an unnatural shade of violet. His breath was warm against her cheek as he whispered, “I had heard rumors, but to know they were true...I feel as if I’m looking at an endangered animal.” He cast out his arm and summoned his sword once again, this time using it to tilt her chin up and force her to keep her attention on him.
“Please…” she whispered, legs quivering. She wasn’t sure what she was begging for.
“Come on, hexe. Show me your gifts.”
“I don't know what you're talking about!” she shouted, but it came out as more of a squeak.
Alarich looked displeased. “Pity. I will make it quick, then. I promise.”
Ashe closed her eyes, trying to calm her nerves. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to...I don’t want...to die!
Instinct overtook her, and she thrust her hands out. A bright, hot light as white as starlight burst from her palms, and a sonic pulse pushed its way through her hands and into Alarich’s body. The formidable man found himself slung backwards just as Ashe did, her back slamming against the mausoleum behind her. Clank went his sword to the ground. What? Her hands shook in front of her, still smoking but otherwise unscathed, unlike Alarich, who now wore two distinct scorch marks in his chest.
Ashe didn’t think about what just happened - she only knew she had to get Ethan out of here. She raced to him, falling to her knees and cradling his head in her hands. “Eath. Eath, wake up.”
“Mmh,” was his reply, his eyelids fluttering open to meet her stare. “I’m nowhere near as badass as I thought I was.”
“Humbleness. Shit, you have a concussion.” Ashe took his hand and clamped it down over the gushing wound where his shoulder met his neck. “Hold pressure here. We’ve got to get to the car.”
As she helped Ethan to her feet, she noticed Alarich crawling toward his weapon, wheezing for breath.
“Hell no,” she seethed, releasing Ethan and running before throwing herself on the ground at the weapon. Her hand curled around the hilt. The moment it did, a surge of confidence engulfed her, and she smiled triumphantly as she scrambled to her feet, standing above Alarich.
It was like someone had switched on all of the lights in a house. She felt an uncharacteristic satisfaction at besting the vampire at her feet, and her lips tugged back in a smirk.
“Not today,” she told him, rearing her foot back and kicking him hard in the face with her boot. She trotted back to Ethan, shoulders back in confidence. “Shall we?”
Together, they high tailed it away from the vampire and made it to the car in record time. Ashe threw open the trunk and tossed the blade inside. The moment it left her grasp, the switches inside of her shut off again. By the time she hurled herself in the driver’s seat and turned the key in the ignition, tears flooded her eyes.
“Holy shit,” she whispered. She flicked on the headlights and stared at the undamaged windshield for half a second before throwing the car into reverse.