This is the continuing story of the Succubi called Storm Clouds…
Chapter Nine didn’t work out, so some more editing for today…
“Thomas, talk to me.”
Camilla stood there, looking quite concerned. Tom found himself looking at her, not with the panic he had at first, but, instead, with an odd curiosity.
He let out a snort, “I’m good. You wouldn’t understand.”
“That you lost someone close to you? That you where hurt? Still are? Always will be?”
Tom didn’t answer that. He could, but he felt like she was getting into something that she had no right to. So instead of answering, he turned away from her and looked at the landscape around him.
The rows and rows of grave markers made it clear that this was a place of rest for those who had passed on. For a moment, he wondered how someone like Camilla could be killed, and then shoved that thought away.
It wasn’t something that he needed to think about.
Camilla frowned, “You haven’t got a lock on pain, Thomas. No one does. Not ever.”
He thrust his hands into his pockets, “Alright, I’ll assume that you are telling me the truth and that you aren’t going to kill me.” He heard her coming closer. Passing him, she nodded as her tail moved from side to side behind her. “Why me?”
Her tail stopped, “That’s not for me to tell you. If you want to know, you’ll have to ask Tera about that.”
He managed a smile, “Passing the buck or thinking that I can’t handle it?”
A shrug, “Both.”
He walked up to her, looking at how she had changed. She was still the girl he had met not that long ago, just with some optional extras added to her. If he overlooked those, she was still a woman… No. That was wrong. She was what she was, but she didn’t lie to him … that one thing made her trustworthy.
“Alright. I’ll talk to her later. Camila, what … why are you?”
She rubbed her hands along the side of her dress, “We aren’t all evil, nor are we all good. We make choices just like you do. Sometimes they are good ones, sometimes they are bad ones, but we choose to do and be what we are.”
She winked, “Thanks… Been working on that for centuries, actually.”
“Now how about the unvarnished truth?”
She nodded, “In short, I believe we are in limbo between light and dark, that both want us and both are afraid of us. You can think of us as wildcards, Thomas, but there is one thing, one promise that we have made that we can’t forget … people like you have to make your own choices, decisions, and actions …”
He put a hand up: “I didn’t choose to be here.”
“Oh yes you did. You chose to come. You chose to knock on the door. You chose to see what you could find out. All of that was your choice.” She waved a hand, “All of this followed because it had to; you would have never accepted a lie…”
He thought about that and came to the decision that she was right. He wouldn’t have let this lie, ignored it, moved on. That wouldn’t have happened because it was not his nature to do that.
“Besides giving me the breadcrumbs to find you, why did you pick me?”
Camilla shook her head, “Can’t say.”
A question came to him, “Tell me something. Are there angels and all that other stuff?”
“Yes. Angels, devils, dragons, faeries, and more are all real. It’s just that your world has forgotten about the wonders around it … most of the time.”
“So what are you, exactly.”
She looked almost embarrassed, “Beings like me are Succubi, Thomas. There are Incubi here as well.”
He arched an eyebrow, “I’ve heard of those.”
“No. You have heard of something like us, not us.”
“A Succubus or Incubus kills through sex. We don’t. We gave that up ages ago just to be able to be who what we are right now; independent beings that serve no one.”
Tom thought that over, “Okay, so you split away and you do what you want.”
A slight nod.
“That’s dangerous, Camilla. No rules means nothing to control you.”
A smile, “But there is: one very important thing, Thomas. We know the past. We won’t go back to it again.”
Tom wiped a hand over his eyes, “You know that this is all too much to take in.”
Her hand was soft and gentle on his shoulder, “You are, really, one of the few people that can handle this, Thomas. Most people would be screaming and running in circles at this point.”
“What makes you think I won’t?”
“Curiosity … You want to know the secrets. Your mind is wanting to know answers to questions you have had since the day you were born. Most of all, you won’t let yourself back down from a fight, Thomas.”
Tom thought that over for a while. It was true that he was wondering about a lot of things … more than he wanted to be. But three things came to the forefront. He had a mystery. He had a job to do … and he had a promise to keep.
He looked her straight in the eye, “I need a partner in this; someone who knows the lay of the land; someone who will watch my back.”
She nodded, “You always will in our world.”
He offered his hand, “I … I will trust you Camilla. I trust that you will watch out for me.”
She took his hand, “I promise. I want a promise from you, too: wherever this goes, whoever did it, whatever it takes, you won’t walk away.”
They shook on it and then Tom asked, “Where are we? Fill me in.”
“You are in what you would understand as our cemetery.” She pointed towards the mountain covered in fog at the edge of the markers, “It continues far up the mountain, almost to the very top. Everyone whom we can return home is here. Some never return and we are less for that. Otherwise, from the first of us to the last of us, our bodies rest here.”
Then she pointed into the distance to Tom’s right where three figures collected themselves around a marker, “Her family is up there.”
“Let’s go. I want to talk to them.”
It took them a good fifteen minutes of walking before Thomas got his first good look at Patricia’s family. Her husband was talking to their children, trying to explain to them, Thomas assumed, what had happened and why their Mother would not be returning to them.
The husband was a short blonde man, unassuming, someone you wouldn’t look twice at in the street. He wore a darker suit, in comparison to the children. Looking at the children, Tom was struck with the realization that neither of them had horns or tails.
“Why don’t the kids have horns and a tail like you — or their father, for that matter?”
“They haven’t decided if they want to be like us. So they are simply children with their own ideas and goals. If they decide to become like us, then they’ll have to go through the ceremony and be picked by a Tail.”
“Picked? By a Tail? How does that work?”
She shook her head, “I’ll explain later. Not in front of the children. We protect them from what we are so that they can make up their own minds…”
With that, Camilla’s horns and tail shimmered and vanished, but her clothing remained transformed. As they came within earshot of Patricia’s family she added, “I’d thank you not to talk about it please.”
Tom nodded, but resolved to ask Camilla more questions about their rules later. After all, rules were meant to be broken in the eyes of some people … Reaching the father, Tom offered his hand, “My sympathies upon your loss, sir.”
The other man stood and paused for a moment before taking the offered hand, “Thank you. Name’s ‘Brent.’” The grip was firm but not overwhelming, although Tom had the distinct feeling that he was being judged at that moment by this man.
A nod, “Tom. I’d like some of your time.”
Camilla went to the kids, soon hugging them and drawing their attention away from Tom and their father. She gave him a nod, and Tom took that as his chance to start his questioning, assuming that Brent agreed.
Brent spoke to the kids, “Okay you two, go with Auntie Camila; her friend wants to talk to me. Now be good, right?”
A chorus of, “Yes Father”, and then Camilla and the kids began to walk towards a path leading away from the grave markers.
Brent then rested a hand on the marker which Tom now saw had Patricia’s name on it, “I’ve been told that you are looking into my wife’s death. I’ve been told that Tera asked you to do this. That true?”
“She did, I was investigating before I knew about what you people are. She’s hard to say ‘no’ to…”
A chuckle: “She’s the Queen. Rarely pushes people, mostly suggests and guides when needed. But she has always let people choose to disappoint her or not.”
“I’ve disappointed myself.”
Tom was not exactly surprised by those words. Survivors usually blamed themselves for things that happened to their loved ones. Some couldn’t handle the pain and didn’t stay in the world, taking what they thought was the easy way out. Others became vigilantes, trying to take an ounce of flesh or more from the person, persons, or thing that took what they loved away. Tom’s concern was a being of power losing control and wrecking havoc.
A being like Brent.
Tom started where he needed to, “Why? What could you have done?”
Brent placed his right fist into the palm of his left hand, “I could have been with her. I could have stopped it.”
“So why weren’t you?”
For a moment, just a moment, a shadow fell over Brent’s face as he replied, “Because I was stupid enough to get trapped in a ward set by a mage.”
A pair of black horns shimmered into view at Brent’s temples and his black tail formed behind him, that tail almost lifeless, not moving as Tom had seen Camilla’s do almost constantly.
“Summonings are a bitch. Any idiot with the right book and a fragment of knowledge can summon us into their world. They can summon anything. The stupider ones go and summon beings that they can’t control and then in a panic they summon another being to try and save their worthless hides.”
“Which were you?”
A snort: “The latter. The ass summoned a Darkweaver: ugly horrid tentacle thing that likes to hide in shadows and kill the unwary that get too close. The ass summoned it thinking that he would use it to kill a rival. He didn’t expect that it would try to eat him instead.”
Brent rubbed his fist twice, “So in the middle of that happening, he grabbed his book and tossed out a summoning spell with no focus. I was unlucky enough to be nearby and got dragged into it.”
Tom held up a hand, “You haven’t said where you were.”
“You remember that house that burned to a crisp on the lower west side the same night that … that Patricia left me?”
A nod was Tom’s answer. That was in the papers. A two story, hundred year old house went up that night. One body was found in the mess, the morgue didn’t even bother trying to identify it; there was not a lot left.
“I was the closest supernatural being to him, so I went from being at home with the kids to standing in the middle of a bloodbath. The mage didn’t last five seconds after I got there. The Darkweaver then turned its attention to me and I had to kill it…. Otherwise it would get loose in the city. Couldn’t let that happen.”
He laughed, “Because the Queen forbids it. She says that we’ll never get recognition for what we do, but someday it will matter. So I cornered it in the basement, lit some hellfire in the floor to surround it and then burned the place to the ground.”
Brent didn’t flinch at that, “Burn it or let others die, me first, then whomever got in its way. Arson was the quickest way to stop it. So I did it. You can take me to jail for that if you want.”
Tom pushed on, “You have more important things to deal with. And two kids to look after.”
The tears that formed in Brent’s hurt eyes were something that Tom had seen before.
Brent wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, “I couldn’t leave until I was sure that thing was dead. I stayed in the flames watching the place turn to ash because I had to be sure it was gone. When the fire department had the flames under control and I couldn’t sense anything else there, I portaled out back to our home. When I came through I … I felt her die.”
This was confusing to Tom, “How could you do that?”
Brent started to play with a silver ring on his right hand, “She was more than my wife. She was … is… my Eternal as I am hers. When something happens, something really bad, we know…”
Tom took that at face value, “Why didn’t you go to her?”
Brent gave him a look, “I did, dammit! I portaled as close as I could and ran to her, but the mall cops were there trying to save her and I couldn’t reveal myself, not even to save her. Then your people arrived and it was far too late to do anything more …”
Tom could see the anger in Brent’s eyes, “If I had left, if I had just assumed the fire would have done its job, if I wasn’t so focused on that … thing … I might have felt her in trouble and gotten there sooner, taken her back here and our healers might have saved her …”
Tom felt like he was walking on eggshells, “You won’t believe me, but I know what you mean. Do yourself a favor … get yourself together and real quick. You have two kids that need their father right now. If you forget them I’ll slap you myself so that you remember.”
The dangerous look in Brent’s eyes vanished at the mention of his children, “They have no idea what’s really happened, or it hasn’t hit them yet … what the hell am I supposed to do now?”
“Be a father. Be their father. At least you have that to comfort you Brent. I wasn’t that lucky …”
Brent looked off in the distance where Camilla and the children had vanished behind a small rise moments before, “Luck? I’m all out of that. All that’s left is …”
“Is getting on your feet, making sure those kids of yours know that you are going to be there for them, and that their mother loves them. Not loved.”
A nod, “They know. They’ve always known that. It was the first thing we said when we found them.”
Tom’s reply held a question he had, “Adopted. Camilla told me but not why.”
“One of the things that marks us is that we can’t have kids. Legend has it that as part of the price for being free, the pound of flesh that was taken in return was that we would never have our own. But like any being that deals with contracts, a loophole was found. They never said that we couldn’t adopt them.”
Tom smirked, “Nice. Good deed in place of a bad one. So you got your freedom and then took it upon yourselves to … what? Take kids you wanted to fill a void in you?”
Brent’s tail, for the first time, rose into the air and then pointed itself at Tom, “No. We go through the same steps that you would to adopt them. We don’t cheat and we don’t pick. Every single one of them is loved by all of us. We’ll protect them, let them choose their own way no matter what.”
“And if they choose not to be like you?”
Brent’s tail drooped a bit, “Then they choose that. We stay with them in your world as long as we can. At least until they have their own lives to lead. Then we fade away from them.”
“That hurts doesn’t it?”
Brent sighed, “More than you know. We still watch over them, watch them grow old and then … then we mourn them… It’s a lousy life when you have to watch your kids pass on before you do.”
Tom asked the obvious question, “How old are you, really?”
“Going on three millennia.”
Brent chuckled, “Pretty much. Seen a lot, loved just one, and now I don’t know what the future brings to us.”
“You hoping that the kids follow you?”
Another nod, “Have to. But I won’t push them, not an inch. They’ll know when the time is right and then … then if they want it, its theirs freely.”
“And if not?”
Brent’s tail and horns shimmered and vanished again, “Then it will be like a dream to them and they’ll continue in their lives never knowing the truth. But I will, and I’ll still be their father.”
Tom considered that; knowing that even beings of power believed in free choice was a small comfort. He wanted to continue to a question about Patricia. But before he could, Brent started walking off in the direction of the kids.
“Sorry Tom, I know that they are safe, but I don’t want to be away from them.”
Tom caught up with him in a couple of strides, “Would you tell me what Patricia did for a living? That might give me a place to start.”
Brent nodded, “Nothing. She stayed home, looked after the kids and that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.”
He reached into a pocket and then handed a card to Tom, “You won’t believe it.”
Tom looked at the card and didn’t believe it. There in black and white was proof that the universe had a wicked sense of humor. The card read, “Brent B. The Daily Times. Gossip.” It was so weird that he asked, “So tell me then, who’s the mayor seeing?”
Brent’s eyes actually had a spark of mischief in them, “If I told you, you’d fall over from shock.”
Putting the card away, Tom sighed, “Probably. I don’t believe the porn star rumor myself.”
Brent had a look like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, so Tom asked, “You make enemies over your job?”
That question brought Brent to a sudden stop and then he shook his head, “Nah, they wouldn’t do something like this over something so trivial.”
As the two of them crested over the hill, the answer wasn’t what Tom expected…
“It would be easier to list the ones that aren’t …”