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Satan's Stallions - Short Story

So...I have been known to quietly point out things I find ridiculous to friends. Over emails and texts and private messages because some of the things I find ridiculous others don't so why risk upsetting people? I mean, there are topics I will happily say, "Fuck you if you're upset" about, but they are serious topics. Fuck you, politicians who think you can control my body, for example.

I was talking to a dear, amazing, awesome, inspiring friend the other day. Who is, btw, an amazing writer and you should check out his MG book The Fog Diver. Sequel to arrive next month. So, now's a great time to read the first!

Back to the story. We were discussing the mixing of tropes in genre fiction and he made a ridiculous comment that I instantly loved. Three thousand words later and I am ready to share.

All thanks to the beloved husband for the name. And many, many, many thanks to Joel for being a great friend.



Dirk glared at the vehicle in front of him as he brushed blonde locks from his eyes. Why the fuck did these people drive so slow? His knees tightened and he nudged the horsepower higher. As he overtook the vehicle in front of him the rest of the Stallions followed. Once more he brushed blonde hair from his eyes. He was going to have words with Sasha. He'd done the braids too loose.

From the car he heard, "Look, mommy! A unicorn!"

An adult voice, nervous and high pitched, said, "Don't look, Jane."

It was hard to tell, but he would have sworn he heard the doors lock.

Fuck yea, they better lock the doors. Satan's Stallions were back in town. The boys and their mounts would need to wash a lot of road dust from their mouths tonight. They were here for the football game tomorrow, but tonight was open to a hunt. Lots of maidens in town.

The clubhouse was on the northern edge of town and no one slowed down as they galloped through the dusty streets. By now the residents knew better than to mess with Satan’s Stallions and the out-of-towners would learn quickly. Already Dirk say a large number of people fielding the blue and white of the visiting team. Rough plans began to form in his head and his wild grin alarmed more than one person who caught sight of it.



“I know, Dirk. I know. Sorry. I’ll be sure Sabina’s mane is perfect for tomorrow. Sorry. Those damned semis wouldn’t ease up on us.”

Dirk slapped his fellow club member on the back. Sasha was a good man who knew better than to let this happen again. Not after what happened to Lou, the last man who had the job of dresser. Lou, the poor bastard. He still lurked in town, watched them ride by, and only glared at Dirk’s back. Because he knew better.

A heavy tread warned Dirk of Ollie’s arrival. The man weighed less than 150, but had the walk of a man three times his size. He also rode the second biggest mount in the club.

“Pick said the new sheriff had been snooping around,” Ollie warned. Pick was the stablemaster and was too old to ride any longer. Dirk valued him more than the rest of the club.

“Well, fuck. What’s the new sheriff want?” A bribe, most likely. They all did. A few dollars and they ignored the club so long as the Stallions kept the local mayhem to a minimum. Which Dirk was happy to do. No sense shitting where you eat, his dad has always said.

“Dunno. Said she’d be back today to talk to you.”

Dirk swore, exhaustively, and left Sabina to Sasha. Slow steps took him inside the clubhouse and he retreated to his office to see how much cash they had on hand. Enough, he decided, to handle the sheriff. She’d not ask for more than ten or so thousand. They never asked for a lot. Not at first.

A few beers later, there was a knock and he didn’t bother standing as Pick popped his head in to say the sheriff was here. Knowing how shy some local law was to deal with the club Dirk had her brought to him. Besides, he liked to size a new person up on his territory. One hand reached into the cooler by his stained desk to draw out another beer. By the time the new sheriff arrived it was half gone.

Holy fucks. Dirk forced himself to stay relaxed and took another swig from his bottle. This woman was nothing like the last sheriff, a battleax of a woman who’d held her own against three club members one drunken night. The door closed, but Dirk didn’t notice. He was too busy letting his green eyes rake over the body of the newest sheriff. Her blonde hair was cut short and framed her face in loose waves while her brown eyes took in him and the room with only faint interest. Which was fine. Dirk didn’t need to fend off another woman. Not after El Paso.

The brown uniform she wore somehow fit her. Unlike most law enforcement who looked like sacks of shit in their clothes. Dirk enjoyed the swell of her breasts and the curve of her hips as she stood still and suffered his gaze. He knew she was annoyed because there was a smirk on her face when he looked at it again. A smirk that only made her full red lips more kissable looking. Fuck. He should hustle her out quickly.

“Sheriff.” He nodded after his greeting.

“Ted Jones.”

“Name’s Dirk.” No one called him Ted. Ever. Ted Jones hadn’t been around since college. Dirk tried to hide his name as well as his engineering degree. Hardly respectable.

“Mr. Jones.” The smirk was back and Dirk wanted to kiss her until it vanished. There were a lot of things that could vanish. Her uniform, for example, would look better off her. Fuck.

“Look, just tell me how much you want and we’ll get it settled. Same as we had with Sheriff Kazan.”

The new sheriff grinned. “My aunt ran things differently than me. I’m here to put you on notice.” All thoughts of the new sheriff naked vanished. “I don’t like you in my county, let alone in the town where I live. You may as well pack your things now, Mr. Jones. Because you’ll be out of here before my first term is up.”

Dirk’s boots hit the floor with a thud and he stood. All six foot five inches looked down at the sheriff. Although, he noted, not that far down. She was close to six feet herself. Must run in the family. Most people, even those openly wearing a gun on their hip, backed down when he glared. The sheriff, had she given her name? Well, she stared right back. It was a challenge and he wouldn’t back down.

Also, it only made him want to fuck her more and he had to get that under control.

“Be seeing you around, Mr. Jones.” Dirk had no reply. Even though her back was to him as she left he knew she smirked. Damn her.

Slowly, and three times, he counted to a hundred in his head. Only when he was sure he wouldn’t be embarrassing himself did Dirk leave his office. Some time spent with Sabina would fix him up. He headed for the stables, but Sabina wasn’t in his stall. Great. Could the day get any worse? Rather than look for him, Dirk returned to his office and the cold beers in the cooler. Fuck everything, man.


A fight was brewing. Dirk felt it in his bones as sure as he felt the six beers he’d consumed since arriving at the bar several hours ago. Sabina had shown up, eventually, and he’d headed to The Bad Penny with the rest of the club. It wasn’t their bar, but the owner was a friend. Which meant, for one thing, they could run a tab and settle up days later. Always best to not carry a lot of cash when on a drunk and disorderly.

The sheriff’s words picked at the edges of his mind, but Dirk was intent on drowning them in hops tonight. Because, fuck her, that’s why. How dare she come in and give notice like she did? Who the hell did she think she is around here? And then Sabina. His steed had been prissy tonight. Prancing out of reach and eyeing him down the length of his equine nose. Dirk had hidden the scratch on his palm left by Sabina’s horn. No one needed to know the unicorn was annoyed with him. It might give someone ideas.

Dirk snorted and banged an empty bottle on the scarred bar. Sandy lifted her head from flirting with one of the new club members and nodded her head. A few minutes later she dropped off a fresh bottle and told him, “Compliments of the lady in the corner.”

Well, that was nice. Things were looking up. All he needed to do was flirt with another woman and the damned sheriff would disappear from his head. So, he stood slowly and sauntered to the corner. No sense asking which. A Stallion always knew where the maiden waited.

In the dim light he thought he recognized her, but too many beers and not enough wattage made it impossible to tell. Dirk sat down in the booth she occupied alone and slid around to be right beside her. The women loved being close. A shame so few realized that was as close as they’d be allowed to get to him or any other Stallion.

“Took you long enough.” Her voice was husky, warm from whatever she was drinking, and like the rest of her, demanded attention. So, Dirk resolved to give it to her. Again, he thought he knew her, but couldn’t be sure. She wore a tight red tank top over a black leather skirt that covered very little when she sat. He took his time looking her over, enjoyed the length of bare leg he could make out until it disappeared under the table. “Eyes up here,” she said with a laugh.

Dirk had no problem lifting his eyes from her legs. Not with the peek of skin on her stomach where skirt and top didn’t meet. He thought he saw a tattoo, but couldn’t be sure.

“Keep going.” She teased him and for the first time he understood what had happened to Lou. Despite the seven beers he’d drank his body was ready for something else. Fingers cupped his chin and Dirk let her lift his head. Under her top, he was sure, she wore nothing, and his palms itched to find out. When she released him he stared at full, ruby lips. Lips he was sure he knew.

“No more touching.” Only, it wasn’t a rough command like he’d give to any other woman who dared touch the leader of the Satan’s Stallions. Dirk was appalled to think he heard a question mark at the end. Fuck, he should get up and leave. Right now. Go find Sabina and ride the highway until his head was clear.

And he was going to. Truly. Then her hand dropped down into his lap and she cupped him through is jeans. Outside, Sabina screamed and Dirk barely heard. His hooves were trashing on the pavement and Dirk had only a moment to spare for the unicorn’s comfort.

“All the touching you want,” those tempting lips whispered in his ear. “Isn’t it about time?”

No. It wasn’t as if he’d never been tempted. Every time Dirk had managed a no. Usually with some choice words around it. This time the word dried up on his tongue and he couldn’t pull it from his throat. She was still touching him, palm caressing the hard ridge she’d created between his legs. He would say no. In a minute.

Distantly, he was aware of a bottle smashing against a table. Ah, the fight he’d been sure would happen. There was something he could join in. A few thrown punches and he would be good as new. Only, her hand squeezed and his head fell back as he moaned. All at once he had thoughts and visions in his head he’d never had before. Like, how with her skirt so short he could easily haul her into his lap and take her. No one was likely to notice if the fight was truly going. What would it be like?

“Touch me.”

Dirk’s lips turned up into a smirk. Who was she to command the leader of Satan’s Stallions? Who did she think she was anyway? He brushed her hand from his body and turned to give her an earful.

“Not here.”

That was not what he’d meant to say.


Her hand touched him again, but this time it was to take him by the arm. She hauled him from the booth and out the back door. Dirk didn’t resist.

“I know a place.”

Dirk only nodded. Once more he was almost aware of Sabina’s anger, but he brushed it aside as he climbed into a truck he supposed belonged to the hot blonde. They left the bar behind and he slid closer to the blonde driving the truck.

“What’s your name?”


Dirk wound a lock of short blonde hair around his finger and stared at it. In the moonlight it looked almost silver and he leaned in closer to breathe in the scent of it. She smelled like no perfume or shampoo he’d ever known. One of her hands left the steering wheel and took his other hand to bring it down and rest on her thigh. High up on her thigh. Dirk breathed in her scent as he stroked his fingertips over her smooth skin. Fuck. This wasn’t a good idea, but he couldn’t remember why. Not now. Not with her so close and…and soft.

“A few minutes more.” Damiana glanced at him and her brown eyes promised something. He wasn’t quite sure what, but was onboard. She said something else, but he couldn’t make out the words because there was so much soft, welcoming skin to explore and she didn’t seem to mind at all.

Dimly, he was aware they pulled off the highway. A few miles, maybe, before they pulled off the dirt road into a large pasture. Damiana turned off the truck and twisted to face him. As he watched, she pulled off her top and tossed it behind him.

“I can’t do this.” Finally, reason restored! Dirk pulled away from her as if even the near vicinity of her body would ruin him.

“No?” Damiana asked. The truck door opened she slid out. The moonlight, had the moon been full before, caressed her.

Dirk swore. Because no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t look away. Not as her hands slid down her body to undo her skirt. Helpless to look away, he watched her remove what little she wore until she stood naked in the night air.

“Are you sure?”

He wasn’t. Dirk didn’t last another minute and he stumbled from the cab of the truck to reach for her. Damiana laughed as he lunged for her and he let her draw him down into the grass.


The sun on his bare ass woke Dirk up the next morning. His head throbbed which was odd as he’d only had a few beers. Not only his head. It was like his entire body thrummed with something unremembered.

Until he remembered.

Dirk began to shake and he clutched at the ground as if he might be thrown off into the sky were he to let go. The night came back to him and he wanted to scream, but he was too dry to do anything.

“Here. I always keep a few bottles of water in the truck.”

“You bitch.” Well, he managed those words.

“Now, now, Ted. I assure you, last night was an excellent time.”

Dirk, not Ted, sat up and stared at the sheriff. The parts of him still remembering last night took heed of the fact she was as naked as him as she held out the bottle of water. Without a word, he snatched it from her hand and drained it in several long gulps.

“This doesn’t change anything.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Ted. We both know it changes everything.” She looked too smug, too satisfied, and he wanted to punch her, but didn’t. Because she was right and it was all over.

Ted deflated and his head dropped into his hands. Sobs escaped, his fingers unable to hold them in, and he screamed mournfully as the weight of the morning’s truth settled atop him. Sabina was gone. The Stallions would already have removed him as president of the club. His life was over.

“Don’t be melodramatic, Ted.” Damiana knelt down in front of him and pulled his hands from his face. “It’s not all over. Fuck, I’d think you’d be happy. No more enforced celibacy. And for what? To ride some pansy unicorn?”

“Don’t you fucking dare.”

The rest of the words died as a screech from the sky set his hair on edge. Ted didn’t look up, but he heard heavy wings and then the sound of something large landing nearby. Damiana didn’t even glance away so she must have expected it.

“There’s so much more in life than being some badass virgin, Ted.” Her hands settled on his thighs as she leaned into him. “Like me.” She kissed him and Ted didn’t move. Not until her entire body wiggled closer and bore him down to the ground. “And I did warn you. I told you I was going to bring you down.”

Not that he was down now. Which she was quite aware of since she straddled him. Ted didn’t bother pointing it out because he was distracted by the warm scent of her. Not to mention the way her body was, fuck, was this what he’d been missing the last twenty-five years?

“Besides,” she whispered against his lips, “Who would want to ride some punk unicorn when they could fly on a griffon?” That must have been what landed nearby. “Only, later, Ted. When I’m done with you.”

He had no objections, but found himself too busy enjoying the now to anticipate the future. Even if the future involved flying. Fuck the Stallions. They had no idea what they were missing.




Tesia Teaser

See what I did there? No, well, fine! I've spent the week reworking this short story. It is not perfect. Because, again, was meant to be internal document type thing. I like though, so may as well share! I don't normally do this type of thing for a project, but I was leaping back into first person so wanted to get into the mc's head. The easiest way was to write this backstory for her. This is not first person. Because I was not in her head yet.

Tesia changed so much from my original inception of the story. She started as a dream, something I rarely use when writing, and then I had two scenes I wrote before even starting the novel.

Oh, and she was a pain in the ass. I had a love interest planned and then she liked someone else. (The life of a pantser is always a roller coaster.) Then, I heard a song and she informed me the current love interest was nice and all, but she had other plans. ARGH! Of course, I love where the novel ended up.

And it all started here. After the dream. I have one book done and I want to do a second. It is on the list. 


 “Tes! Tesia!”

Her name echoed around the barn, but Tesia didn’t come out from the stall she’d hid inside. The voice grew closer as she huddled down under the blanket she’d stolen from her brother’s horse. It was no less scratchy than the hay she’d piled around herself, but at twelve the straw and blanket fort was the best she could do so quickly. They’d found her in her closet and even under her bed.

“Tesia!” came closer.

Tes clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a whimper. Was that them? Were the coming to get her? Tesia felt them near waiting for her to make the mistake of looking out of her fort.

“Won’t do it,” she whispered to herself and froze. Had they heard? She pulled the blanket down so it was atop her.

“Tesia Faustina Jaskolski! You come out right now!”

Oh, thank God! It wasn't them. It was her mom. Her mom sounded furious so she didn’t pop out. Even though, more than anything, she wanted to feel her mother’s arms around her.


The voice came from the same stall she hid in now. Despite her best efforts at fort building her mother found her instantly. The blanket was yanked off and it captured her flyaway brown hair and created a halo around her face. Blinking brown eyes sat under heavy eyebrows as she stared at her mom with unconcealed fear.

“Mom,” she whispered before she threw herself against her mom despite her angry face. Tesia didn't know how long the anger remained as she buried her head in her mom’s shoulder to sob. It wasn’t until her mother hugged her back that she began to believe things might be ok. Even then she felt them watch her while they hovered out of sight. They waited to grab her. Tes dared to lift her head and look around. A flicker of grey from the corner of her eye sent her back to hide against her mother’s shoulder with a sob.

“Mom, please.” They drew closer. “Mom, don’t let them get me.”

Her Mom did nothing and they continued to stalk closer. Her mother began to whisper, but Tes realized it was not to her. Most of the words made no sense. In truth, she did not even know if they were words.

Well, not all of them Some of them were words she was not supposed to say, but did when no one else was around. Forbidden words felt different on her tongue. Tesia loved the illicit thrill of it all even if she was not brave enough to say them when anyone else might hear. Even as she thought illicit words the fearfully cold, eerily beautiful creatures grew closer.

Tesia, they both called and she tried to pull away from her mother to run again. Surely she could find someplace they wouldn’t catch her? Her mom’s arms tightened around her when she tried to get free. Tes reeled at the betrayal. How could she do this to her own daughter? Let these things get her?       

We are not things, they said and their voices echoed inside as they burrowed into every part of her brain. No, deeper than her brain. It was like they poked into her very being, her soul. She felt them root out her secrets and shames and felt their displeasure at each and every one of them. Tesia’s sobs grew louder, but it did not deter them.

We are glorious, whispered into her head, but she didn’t believe it for a second.

We are glorious, thundered inside her head and Tesia screamed. She kept screaming even after their cold displeasure was soothed over. Something stopped it and despite feeling them inside, whatever these terrifying, glorious creatures were, Tesia was able to put a wall up between her and them. Inside the walls she huddled in fear as she heard something else.

Tesia, remember you’re not just your mother’s daughter. The voice wasn’t one she recognized at first. Then, as the walls were torn down by the fearsome creatures, Tesia remembered the voice.

“Granny Janka!” she screamed out loud. “Help me!”  Except Granny Janka was gone, run off by the things in her soul.

We are glorious, the creatures insisted. Tesia wondered if she should agree with them like she did with her mom. It was easier to just agree with adults.

So, she tried a tentative, You are glorious.

It didn’t work.

The pain flared back to life. Tesia felt like her head was going to explode before blissful blackness overtook her. In the blackness she saw two points of light that grew brighter until her head did explode.


“Tesia, I don’t think you should be going out with him.”

Tesia stared at herself in the mirror with a frown. Her hair refused to do what she wanted. Her mother kept talking behind her, but Tesia ignored her despite the twinge of disapproval she felt forced upon her.

“Tes!” her mom shouted. With a sigh, Tesia turned to face her mother, still hating her hair. “I do not approve of him.” Tes stared at her mother in disbelief.

“Is that supposed to mean something to me?” Tesia asked. Again, there’s that twinge of disapproval. Words accompanied the feeling this time and her head echoed with them.  Words she’s heard for five years, but still fought against even if it led to pain. “Fred’s a nice boy, mother,” Tesia offered despite the twinge of pain. They always knew when she lied.

It was the action that created the most trouble for her. Especially as she lied to her parents frequently. They refused to believe it was almost required as a teenager. Ageless, divine beings did not understand being a teenager.

“I don’t like that boy.”

Tesia left the mirror to go back to her closet. Flipping through her wardrobe she wondered if she should change. Was there time? She was supposed to meet Fred in less than an hour and her mother could go on for twice that long.

“Tesia,” her mother said, in her I’m giving you one last chance to be reasonable tone, “You have responsibilities. You should be training for your work and not messing around with such things. If you spent less time on your grandmother’s-“ her mother began and Tesia knew she was in for it now if she didn’t speak.

“Mom,” Tes interrupted. “I’m sorry. I haven’t been to see Janka in a month. I swear.” She skirted the edge of the truth with the words, but they’re distracted by something now and don’t notice. “Look, if you promise I can go out tomorrow with Sara and the others I’ll study tonight.” If having angels of the Lord in your head taught anything it was how to speak like a lawyer. Wanting to sell the promise she picked up her cellphone and texted Fred. As her mother watched she sent MEET U THERE NSTEAD.

Even with the shortcut through the woods it’d be a close call to get to their meeting spot before Fred got bored and left. Tes was quite aware Fred was not the good boy she claimed. That was the point. Tesia tried to look innocent as she threw herself onto her bed and reached under it for the ebony box hidden away from everyone.

“Tesia, I know it is hard on you, sweetheart. Please understand I did not want this for you. I never wanted this to happen this way.” Her mother had said the words before. At least once a week for the last five years.

Tesia, as always, shook her head to stop her mother. “Mom, it’s fine. I know, ok? Look, can I be alone?” The trick was to not have to open the box. If she opened the box she had to actually stay long enough to appease them. If she stayed any time she’d miss out on Fred.

"Very well, Tesia,” her mother finally said. “Do not overtax yourself in your studies. I shall discuss with your father if you may go out tomorrow.” The final look from her mother was filled with distrust.

“Finally,” Tes muttered. Knowing her mother the way she did there was no bolting out the window yet. Instead, Tesia sat on her bed, fingers tracing the ancient words carved onto the wooden box. She opened it as little as possible because it only invited their attention. With them distracted by something right now she didn’t want them coming back to her. Crossing the room to get her phone she sent another text to Fred.  HEADING OUT C U SOON. Phone tucked into her pocket she stretched out on her back and counted to one hundred.

When she hit eighty the door opened and her mother’s head peeped in. “Do you want to have ice cream?”

“What flavor?” She’d been through the freezer so unless her mother had run to the store, unlikely as it was half an hour away, she should be safe in asking the question.


Tesia wrinkled her nose as she pointed to the dresser. “I’ve got some jelly beans in there if I want something sweet.” She’s not supposed to have food in her room, but her mother wouldn’t give her trouble tonight. It would help explain away any guilt she felt. They latched onto guilt like her dog with a fresh bone.

Again her mother hesitated, but Tesia ignored her. Once the door closed, Tes sprang up and hurried to press her ear against it. After she heard the squeak from the bottom step she turned the lock. Shoes in one hand, she darted to the window and slid it open quietly. Ever since she’d figured out she could drop herself onto the porch roof, Tesia’d been sure the window was well oiled.


Her shoes were tossed down first. Bare feet touched down on the porch roof and she grabbed the rope tied to the window to pull it down almost all the way. Quietly inching to the edge of the porch she peeked over until she could make sure no one looked out the window. Dropping down she grabbed her shoes and raced for the tree line. She stopped only long enough to put her shoes on. Tesia’d raced through the woods since she was a kid so there was no need to worry about surprises.

At the old iron fence, she stopped and counted iron bars. When she found the one she wanted she gave a tug to free it and slip inside. The old cemetery was long out of use. Even Tesia’s family had switched to the one behind the church. Once she learned about the busted bar from her brothers this had become Tesia’s private hangout since she first started to sneak out of her house.

“Thought you wasn’t going to make it,” Fred said from the top of a crumbling headstone. He set his feet on the ground and walked over to Tesia. “Would have been a shame,” he said before holding out his arms.

Tes made him wait until she counted to five. Then she laughed before stepping into his embrace. Her nose wrinkled at the smell, he’d been smoking, but she didn’t resist when he tipped her head up for a kiss.

He tasted like cigarettes, but Tesia did her best to ignore it and find the thrill Fred usually caused in her. There’s nothing this time so when he tried to push his hand under her shirt she backed away. “Ugh,” Tes said with a grin. “You smell. I thought you said you’d stop smoking before we met up.”

Fred stepped closer and tried to flatten her resistance with his cocky, charming grin. “Aww. Come on, Tesia. You were late and I was bored.” He grabbed the sleeve of her shirt to tug her back to him. “I missed you so much,” he said before his hands tried to get under her shirt again.

Tesia frowned and tried to jerk away, but his hands tightened on her. “Cut it out, Fred,” she warned before yelping when his fingers tightened more painfully around her arm. “Not amused.” Fred pulled her closer and she didn’t fight because she felt them stir in her head. “Come on, Fred,” Tesia said. “You had your fun. Now lemme go. I’m so not in the mood for this.”

Fred kissed her again and Tes tried to get away, but he had both his arms around her. “Tired of the games, Tes,” Fred said as his hand shoved down the back of her pants. “Always teasin’ me and meetin’ me places you could put out, but you never do. I know you want to.” Tes was so stunned by his words he managed to shove her to the ground. When she felt the rough edge of a fallen tombstone scrape her back she kicked at Fred.

“You’re an idiot, Fred,” Tesia said as she managed to get away and scramble to her feet. His eyes narrowed as his lips turned down grimly. Tes backed away. She felt her heartbeat speed up even as she tried to keep it down.

“You’re scared,” Fred mocked as he kept following her. He made her take careful half-steps in the dark. “Nothing to be scared about now, Tessie.” 

She was scared, but not because of Fred. A bitter wind blew up from nowhere and fallen leaves and bits of stone flew around the cemetery. A piece of stone hit her cheek and she cried out as it embedded itself under her left eye. The wind grew stronger as Fred’s eyes widened and he looked around with alarm.

The vessel must not be harmed, whispered in the wind.

“What the fuck!” Fred yelled as he ducked a branch heading for his head.

The vessel must not be harmed, was repeated as Tesia saw twin flashes of light in the windstorm.

“No!” Tesia yelled into the wind. “I’m not harmed. I’m ok. He didn’t mean nothing. Please.” She didn’t know what they’d do. She’d read enough in the books locked in the wooden box to know what they could do and she didn’t want to be a witness to any of those things. “I’m ok,” she cried out again, but it didn’t matter.

The vessel shall not suffer the touch. There must be an Answer.

By now Fred’s eyes were white and he’d begun to tremble. Larger pieces of debris smacked into him, knocking him about in the wind. A blinding light that Tes hoped for a second was headlights left her unable to see. When her eyes cleared she stared in disbelief.

The cemetery was a shambles. Tesia cried out as she lifted a hand and found the piece of stone stuck in her cheek. She pulled it out and shoved it into her pocket. Looking around she screamed at what she saw. Fred, what she believed was Fred, stood before her, arms up to ward off something about to strike his face.

He is cleansed, danced in her ears and Tesia continued to stare in disbelief at what stood before her.

His clothes were still clothes, but his body was no longer flesh. A shaking hand touched his face and came away covered in a fine white powder. Sniffing her fingers, she recoiled when she almost put her tongue to her flesh.

“What did you do?” she whispered. Tears streaked her cheek and she touched Fred again. He’d been an asshole, that familiar twinge of disapproval at the name calling passed almost without notice, but he wasn’t this much of one.

The unclean shall not touch our vessel. They shall not harm our vessel. Our duty is to the vessel. Her duty is to the greater good. The vessel must not be harmed.

Tesia wanted to scream at their answer, but she didn’t. It would do no good. “But what do I do about this?” she asked the beings lurking in her head. “Someone will come looking for him.” The answer was given and she recoiled from it. “No,” she said, but they would not be denied. She’d never gotten away with telling them no.

The pain from her disobedience was welcome as it distracted her from what they wanted her to do to Fred. Her resistance did not last long and she gave in as tears blurred her vision. Several minutes of shoving made Fred’s body rock. When it finally went over she covered her eyes. The smell opened them again and she ran a few feet away to drop to her knees and lose her dinner. Heaving, trying to breathe through her mouth, she ran.

Disobedience, they whispered, has consequences for all involved.

Her hands shook so bad she was unable to get the bar back in place. So, she left it and raced for home. It was impossible to see through the tears and she tripped over rocks and roots she’d normally leap over with a laugh.  There’s no laugh in her now. They’d stolen her laugh. They’d stolen her life. The thought was out before she could stop it and Tesia fell against a tree as her head exploded in shards of light.

We are a gift. We are glorious.

Through the pain she made her way home, but she couldn’t stand the thought of climbing back to her room. Instead, she stumbled in the back door, a mess of blood, bruises, and vomit to be stared at by her parents. Her mother sat down the phone as her father turned off the small tv in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. They were the only words she could managed as her parents helped her up the stairs. Her mother put her in the shower and Tesia grabbed her tight as she continued to whisper, “I’m sorry.”

After the shower, her mother tucked her into bed. Her father came in a few minutes later as all the lights shone down on her. He took the box and put it away under the bed. As he turned off the lights she started shivering again, but he replaced the electricity with warm, scented candles that seeped into her body and calmed her.

“Tesia,” her dad said as he sat on the bed. She pulled her hands from under the quilt made for her by her grandma Janka. On her palms he traced a sigil in sweet smelling oil.

Thank God, there’s that twinge of disapproval, but farther away, for her father and his mother. Without grandma Janka and her father she was sure the angels would have made her mad by now. Tonight, her father’s magic kept her safe from them. He sat with her until she fell into an uneasy sleep. When she woke several hours later the room was empty except for the scent of low burning candles.

“Never again,” Tesia swore aloud. “I’ll find a good man or none at all.”

There would be no more deaths on her hands.

There would be no more dancing with trouble and seeing how far she could push those tethered to her soul.

She knew now there were limits. Unfortunately, she’d learned that through Fred. In the fading light of the candles she felt her grandmother watch over her, keeping the angels at bay. In their distant, disapproving watchfulness she knew they witnessed her oath. The thought nearly comforted her, but as her eyes closed she saw Fred again. His whole body was not turned to salt, only the outside. When he’d fallen, he’d crashed into wet, fleshy pieces.

Tesia whimpered at the memory and spent the rest of the night staring, wide-eyed at the ceiling to try to forget what she’d seen.


The service had ended a couple of hours ago. Tesia was happy to be left alone in the church for a few minutes before her brothers brought the car around. The temperature outside was dropping again and with the rain already coming down that meant a long drive back home. A long, uncomfortable drive back home. As she sat at the front of the church she divided her attention between the flowers overpowering everything with their smell and the wooden cross hanging behind the altar.

It still didn’t seem real. Tesia had thought when her mother had died she’d never feel this lost again, but the accident that took her father sent her into a tailspin. For a week she’d fielded visits from family and friends offering condolences. Her fridge was stocked with food, most of it she had no interest in touching, but she’d still have to empty and clean and return the containers.

The state trooper who’d responded to the call had shown up at the farm in person to deliver the news. Not that Tesia had needed him. Her father had shown up when she was making dinner after getting off work early. Her hand still ached from the burn she’d received that night.

Tesia hadn’t truly noticed the burn as her father stood silently before her. He hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t needed to say anything.

Bill, a nice man she’d dated briefly after graduating, had knocked tentatively at the door. Tesia, red-eyed with a wet towel wrapped around her hand had answered. Bill’s family had lived in the area a long time and his mother had known her granny so he didn’t ask how she knew. He’d sat with her until she called her brothers and he’d driven her to the hospital on the icy roads to see her father. The call from the hospital had come as they were navigating a particularly nasty corner on the way into town.

All of that was a week ago, however, and now she had to deal with the aftermath. Her brothers, Jarek and Casimir had arrived yesterday. Too late to have been of help, but plenty early enough to have gotten on her nerves. Their relationship had been strained since Casimir had run off to attend college in Colorado. His leaving the state had been the nail in her coffin. Tesia closed her eyes, waited for the familiar twinge of disapproval, but it didn’t come. They’d been suspiciously quiet the last week.

Despite the wind outside, Tesia stood from the pew and buttoned up her coat. She slipped out the side door and went around the back to the cemetery. A twinge of guilt pierced her when she pretended not to see Daniel still hovering nearby.

No one was there and she was thankful. The fresh dirt drew the eye like nothing else could. Tesia ignored the cold and the knowledge her brothers would be looking for her soon. Sinking down beside the grave she laid her head against the headstone.

She’d paid extra to be sure it was ready by the time they buried him. It matched the one made for her mother a few years ago. It also bore a striking resemblance to the one on the other side of his plot where her granny had been laid to rest. The same symbols, carefully write in granite, protected him in death. Her mother’s stone has no such symbols. She’d never want such heathen things haunting her in the afterlife.

“Your forehead will freeze there if you’re not careful,” she heard behind her and Tesia opened her eyes before lifting her head. Unshed tears finally fell as she saw her father stand at the foot of his grave. He didn’t get closer; they wouldn’t let the dead get closer. Even if the dead were family.

“Maybe,” Tesia said as she cried. “But the company would be better.” Ever since they’d arrived she’d done nothing but argue with her brothers. The same thing had happened at her mother’s funeral. Only then her father had been able to smooth things over. Now there was no one and she’d found she didn’t care.

“They’re still family, Tesia.” There was no chiding in his tone. “I know it’s hard,” her father continued when she had no response for his words. “I’m sorry,” he said and Tesia wrapped her arms around herself at the pain she heard in his voice.

Looking up again she couldn’t make him out as clearly as the first time. Their time grew short. She struggled to find words, but they refused to come.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she managed to get out finally. “Do you get to be with mom?” The question’d haunted her for as long as she could remember. Her mother had once carried the same burden as her; given up only when her second child had reached maturity. The fact that child had fled before the mantle settled upon him didn’t matter.

Her father, however, had been trained by his mother in other magics. Was his witchcraft keeping him from being with his beloved wife now they were both dead? Tesia wasn’t sure she truly wanted to know the answer.

“He’s not cruel,” her father said. Tesia wasn’t quite sure, but that thought she buried down deep so they didn’t hear even a hint of it. “She’s unable to come, Tesia. It’s not in her blood. But if you have need of me your granny will let me know. Trust her.” As she watched he faded further, almost invisible now. “Tesia, do not despair. I know there will be trials to come and you will feel alone, but you’re not. Remember, Tesia, He does love you. Don’t lose faith. There are whispers, I wish I could say more. Be vigilant. Trust in God, but more importantly, trust in yourself.”

Tesia listened, strained to hear what he said as the wind started to blow over his words. “We love you, Tesia. Don’t hate your brothers for their weakness. They can help it no more than you can help your strength.” Tes watched her father fade from sight before she stood.

The thin sheet of ice forming on everything made it hard to cross the cemetery, but she didn’t let it stop her. Kneeling down again she pulled the flower from her coat and set it on the ice covered headstone she stopped before. “I’m sorry,” she whispered in the wind. Her fingers brushed over the name carved on the stone. For five years she’d made the trek to Fred’s grave looking for…something. She didn’t know what. Forgiveness, maybe, for stealing his life. Maybe for the pain his family continued to suffer over not knowing what happened to him?


She heard the shout so headed back for the church with a frown. Her brothers waited inside and Jarek shut the door behind her. “Goddamn, but it’s freezing,” he said.

Tesia felt the pulse of anger from the angels. Without thinking she slapped her brother who recoiled from her with narrow, red eyes. “Jarek Jaskolski,” she said in a low voice. “Do not take His name in vain and especially not in His own house.” It was not only the angels’ anger that filled her words. Her anger came from a more selfish place, but she didn’t know if the angels knew, or cared, so long as she was angry at the broken commandment.

Jarek didn’t say anything until Casimir nudged him. “Yea, sorry.”

Tesia knew he didn’t mean it, but she tried to hide her knowledge from them. If they were appeased then, for now, that was all that mattered. She was not up to dealing with their righteous wrath today.

“Come on,” Casimir said as he took her hand. “Let’s get home. Are we expecting people?”

“Wait.” Tes pulled her hand from his and left her brothers to go find Daniel in his office. The door was open and he stood in front of one of the many bookshelves inside. He looked good, as always. Some small part of her wanted to go inside and let him hug her until everything was better. She always squelched such ideas. It was nowhere near time to settle down. Especially not with a pastor.

“Tes?” He smiled at her and left the books on the shelf to cross the room. This close she caught the scent of his shampoo and laundry detergent. He always smelled clean. Even in high school.

A sob rose up and she did not resist when he pulled her into his arms. Neither of them spoke. Daniel stroked her back through her coat and she sobbed against his shirt. Tes finally pulled away when the feel of his hand went from a comforting touch to something else.

It was all her as his hands did nothing new. This just happened sometimes. They were friends from way back, but every now and again she felt a distinct twinge of lust for him. As wrong as it surely was, she basked in the temptation for a moment. Shut the door, seduce him on the overstuffed sofa, and forget everything wrong for a time. Tes stepped backwards into the hallway.

“Thank you. I- I’ll call you tomorrow.”

She felt his eyes on her as she fled the temptation of him.

Her brothers waited by the door and she let Jarek take her hand. Tesia let him lead her from the church, but once outside she pulled her hand away. He’d driven them to the church, but she didn’t want him driving her home. Pulling open the door to the truck she slid behind the wheel and turned the heat up all the way.

“Can’t believe you still drive this,” Jarek said as he dodged the spring in the middle of the bench seat. Tesia ignored him as she carefully got her seatbelt attached. When neither of her brothers did the same she turned to look at them, waiting in silence until they did their own belts. Only once they’re secure did she carefully pull out of the church parking lot.

Twice more they asked questions or made comments designed to get her talking, but Tesia ignored them all. The road needed her attention. It’s what she said when Casimir pushed a few minutes later for an answer to his original question in the church. They were quiet after that and the only sounds to accompany her drive home were the crunch of tires and the heater blasting warm air.

Tesia made the turn off the road onto the long driveway with care. Another mile, she told herself. Then she could leave them to entertain anyone who did decide to show up. The thought of a hot shower and silence comforted her more than any of the words of condolence she received today from friends and relatives. They would not bring the peace Daniel’s embrace had, but neither would they bring confusion.

Unfortunately, she realized, as she pulled the truck into the old barn her father’d always meant to convert to an actual garage, silence wasn’t what was in store. An old, black Cadillac sat idling in front of the porch. Tesia ignored it and the man inside as she hurried to unlock the door and build the fire back up. As she opened the front door, Tesia still shivered, but not from the temperature change. No, it was the angels’ sudden and intense attention that made her body react. The weight of it had her resting a hand on the wall to remain upright.

“Not now,” she begged silently. She could not deal with it now. Three sets of footsteps had her turn to greet the unwanted guest. Tesia’s smile was in place for the family lawyer, but she couldn’t ignore the way he looked around.  As if being there was the worst experience of his life.

“Mr. Nallin,” she greeted as her brothers removed their coats. “I’m surprised to see you here. We missed you at the service.” It left her time to wonder how long he’d been this way and she was proud of the way her voice didn’t waiver when Nallin’s eyes looked into hers. Did he know she knew? It would be easier if he didn’t. “Would you like coffee?” she asked before heading for the kitchen. There was less to break in there and the tile floor was less precious to her than the original hardwood in the living room.

Since she didn’t wait for a reply the other three were forced to follow her into the other room. Tesia grabbed the holy water from the counter before they came in and splashed a few drops onto the heater in the corner before turning it on.

“We appreciate you coming out in this weather.”

Tesia laughed at Jarek’s words. She wished she’d been able to stop herself. Three sets of curious eyes, one a little hostile, turned on her and Tesia smiled nervously.

“Sorry. Just…this weather. You’ve adapted too well to California,” she said and it seemed to be an acceptable answer. Filling the old coffee pot from the kitchen faucet was easy. Getting a few drops of holy water into the pot was harder, but she managed. Tesia sat at the table after turning on the coffee pot. “Is anyone hungry?” she asked.

Casimir opened the fridge and pulled out a pie dropped off two days ago by one of Dad’s poker buddies from the senior center. “Anyone?” he asked and Tesia tried not to watch Nallin too carefully when he answered.

“I’d better pass,” the lawyer said. “I promised my wife I’d lose the extra ten pounds after the holidays.” It’s a perfectly acceptable answer, but Tesia saw the slight twist at the corner of his mouth. Self-satisfaction at the lie received was almost always a giveaway. Tesia tried to stop the nervous tapping of her foot on the tile, but had no success. Hopefully they would write it off as post-funeral nerves. Casimir sat at the table with a large piece of pie in front of him as the others waited for the coffee.

“Is this about father’s will?” Jarek asked. Their mother’s death had been easier that way as well. Everything of hers was left to their father except for a few small things given out to cousins, family friends, and her children. This time was different. Tesia already knew what her father’s will said as she’d been appointed his executor. He’d had her help him decide who got what and in a way she was glad of that now. No surprises for her. Surprises stopped being her friend a long time ago.

“It is,” Nallin said as the coffee pot gurgled to let them know it finished. Tesia forced herself to count to ten in her head before rising. From the nearest cupboard she pulled out four mugs. She whispered a quick prayer over each of them before running her finger around the ring of color on their rims. Once the cups were filled she carried them to the table.  Jarek grabbed one immediately for a long drink.

Nallin was slower, but he reached for a cup. He wouldn’t be able to get out of a drink. That was why she’d brought over the mugs without asking who wanted a drink. Casimir dumped sugar in his, even more than Tesia liked. She opened the door to the fridge to ask, “Milk?” All three shook their heads so she only grabbed the small pitcher for herself. Tes bought herself time as she doctored her coffee, but they were growing restless.

Finally, she took a sip and lifted her mug. “To Dad,” she said sadly. The others at the table lifted their mugs and everyone took a solemn drink. Even the lawyer. Tesia ignored the shout of triumph inside her head as the angels felt the lawyer fall into her trap. Eyes full of fury turned on her as the mug fell from Nallin’s hand and spilled onto the table. Casimir and Jarek shared a surprised look as Tesia sprang to her feet.

“Are you ok, Chuck?” Jarek asked as he reached for Nallin’s shoulder.


Jarek pulled his hand away, eyes wide as Tesia ignored their guest. From the top of the fridge she pulled down an old tin can. Dumping it out onto the table she selected three pieces of worn chalk and dropped to her knees. “Stay away from him,” she warned as her brothers looked on in puzzlement.

“You stupid whore,” Nallin spat as she started to encircle him on the floor with colored lines drawn in chalk. Under her breath she enunciated words carefully taught her over the years. The chair rocked as Nallin tried to regain control of his body. He didn’t drink much so it won’t take long. The heated water in the air would help, but she needed to move quickly or someone would be hurt.

“Tesia, what are you doing?” Casimir demanded, but Tesia stopped his approach with a withering look.

“Your job,” she told him. Pointing to the coffee on the table she said, “Clean it up before it spills into the circle.” To his credit, begrudgingly given, Jarek grabbed a towel to clean the mess without asking further questions. Once the circles were in place she rose to her feet. “What’s your name?” she demanded of the demon inside their family lawyer’s body.

“That knowledge won’t save you,” the demon snarled as blood leaked from the lawyers’ eyes. Tesia felt her brothers’ shock, but she had to ignore it for now. Without taking her eyes from the demon she took a deep breath. This was always the tricky part and she was still not comfortable with it. Already she could feel the will of the angels trying to force themselves on her.

“Is he in collusion?” Tesia asked as she struggled to let the angels leave her in control. If she found out the lawyer welcomed such a deal there was no stopping the angels. A possession would be easier. It would definitely be neater. Crossing the room without looking away from the demon she opened the cupboard to the right of the sink to take out a green glass bottle. “Is he in collusion?” she asked again as the demon laughed when he saw what she held.

“You cannot stop me with that.” The demon edged a foot close to the circles written on the floor, but he pulled it back quickly before it could cross over. “The lawyer’s body served its purpose,” he finally said as Tesia uncorked the bottle and stood just outside the circle. “It is not so strong it will survive what you intend.” Blood seeped from the corners of the mouth used by the demon before he grinned to show blood-coated teeth.

“Will you be a killer?” the demon asked. “Will you break His commandments to sever my ties from this Earth?”

He meant for the words to give her pause. The first demon she’d faced had done so with those same words. Unfortunately for the fellow in her kitchen he was not her first demon.

“There’s no commandment about making a mess on my kitchen floor,” Tesia quipped despite the disapproval from the angels and her brothers’ continuing confusion. “This will be easier if you tell me your name.” Tesia wasn’t sure those words were the truth, but the angels always said it would be easier and she tried not to even think them liars. Those thoughts never ended well.

“You have no authority over me.” The demon’s words sounded more desperate and Tesia said a quick prayer of thanks for the desperation. A weaker demon meant she might be able to save the body. Chuck, she reminded herself. Mr. Nallin. The family lawyer for the last ten years. A man she knew. It’d never been someone she’d known.

Tesia resisted the urge to look behind her when she heard a noise. Sometimes when they were desperate a demon would pull out the same old tricks to distract. “If you believe that you don’t know who you’re dealing with,” Tesia informed him as she carefully pours a small amount of thick liquid into her palm. It heated the skin, but she ignored the sensation to focus on the demon. “I am the Holder of God’s Gift,” she intoned as the demon’s struggles grew more frantic.

Blood seeped from the body’s eyes and mouth as she watched.

She rubbed the oil into both of her hands as she stepped within the circle. The demon’s look of triumph faded as she placed her hands on his head. The soft scent of herbs was a sharp contrast to the scream of pain from the demon. He looked frantically around as best he could and cried out, “Please help me! She’s killing me! Please!” Tesia, long used to the antics of demons about to be removed from their host, paid him no mind, but her brothers were not so immune to his cries.

“Tesia,” Casimir said as she felt him move to stand behind her. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” The doubt in his voice angered her, but the angels’ warning came after she’d already taken a calming breath. Doubt and anger were emotions demons thrived on and to let either in now would be disastrous. Jarek didn’t voice any concerns he might have, but she felt him hovering.

“Yes, Tes,” the demon said as she felt the angels grow more agitated at the time she took to finish the job. “Do you know what you are doing? Poor Chuck here doesn’t think you can save him. He thinks he’s going to die. He has for some time.” Under her hands she felt the demon jerk the body around. Chuck’s head snapped back and he let out a moan of despair.

 “I don’t want to die.” Tesia wasn’t sure who spoke. Not that it changed anything.

Her hands burned now as they touched the demon’s head and she wasn’t able to hold back the angels any longer. “There is no death, but eternal life if you have faith in our Lord. Do not despair, Charles Alexander Patrick Nallin.” Tesia hated when they speak through her. Thankfully it was not that often. “We are the protectors. We are the power of your Lord made manifest on this Earth.”

Tesia knew when they gathered their power to expel the demon and she said the words in her head that her grandmother had taught her. The angels disliked her interference with their power, but an uneasy truce had been reached in that regard.

“Have faith,” Tesia whispered to Chuck before the angels took her voice once again.

“Out, demon,” they cried from her mouth. Tesia felt the struggle as the demon resisted the surge of heavenly energy that poured through her hands. She’d witnessed exorcisms done by those without an angel, or two, on their shoulder. It could be done. All it truly took was an unshakable faith. Tesia, in times like these, was thankful for the angels because she’d never called her faith steady.

“In the name of God,” Tesia said, her words echoed by the angels. “By the power he grants all those living to resist evil, I command you to return to the Pit. In the name of Jesus Christ we ask mercy for Charles Alexander Patrick Nallin. Be gone, demon, and trouble this man no more.”

The demon howled and Tesia felt the body under her hands twitch and jerk as the infernal creature struggled to hang on. His resistance grew weaker and there’s a joyous shout from her and the angels when the demon tore free and was gone.

“Call 9-1-1,” Tesia yelled as the lawyer’s body jerked and fell to the floor. This too she’d done before. “Someone bring me the jar atop the fridge,” she said as she loosened the lawyer’s tie and pushed the chair out of the way. The chair crashed to the floor as Jarek handed her the jar. From the jar she pulled out a soft cloth that reeked of the fragment oils it had been left to soak in.

The angels were not interested now that the demon was gone. Thankfully, they offered no arguments when she whispered her grandmother’s spells to try to strengthen Chuck’s body. In the background she heard Casimir on the phone stammering about what happened. Growling in frustration she broke her spell and told him, “We don’t know. Maybe it’s his heart? He’s breathing, but not responding to our voice. He just fell over.” Casimir repeated the words and Tesia shoved him from her mind again to pick up her spells. The herbal floral scent from the jar filled the room and washed away the last of the demon’s scent. As she wiped a corner of the clothe with care over Chuck’s face she whispered for healing and caught the soft flare of power that combined her will with the prepared oil.

Casimir continued to talk to the dispatcher, but Tes was too deep in the spell now to help out. Jarek would have to pick up the slack. Tesia basely felt Chuck’s body respond to the spells and she had no way of knowing if his mind would return. If not, they’d likely chalk it up to a stroke and leave his family to deal with the aftermath. Tesia hoped if his mind was lost then it was truly gone and not locked in the torment the demon had trapped him in before. As her own mind came back to the room she felt the first sting of pain on her palms.

Ignoring the pain, she rocked back on her ankles and rose to her feet. “The jar,” she said as she sank into her chair.  Jarek picked it up to set on the table, but when he got to close it she stops him. Another square of clothe from the jar was pressed against her palms. The burning on her skin stayed, but grew no stronger. This made it easier to keep more tears from falling.

“Tesia,” Jarek asked quietly as Casimir remained on the phone with the emergency dispatcher, “What happened?” The absurdity of the question made her laugh. Jarek’s look of alarm made her laugh harder.

From outside she heard sirens coming closer and she left the answering of the door to one of her brothers. Rising from the chair she walked out on to the back porch. Ignoring the bite in the air, she sat on the battered couch and listened to the EMTs rush in to see to Chuck. They were out of luck if they needed anything from her. Sleep crept over her brain with a welcome respite from the day.


Snow fell when she woke and through the wall of windows she saw nothing but the white blackness outside. Someone had covered her with her favorite quilt as she slept and the woodstove radiated heat to drive away the winter night’s chill. As sleep abandoned her she realized she was not alone.

“You had us worried,” Jarek said as he handed her a mug. Tesia struggled to sit up and claim the mug with a mumbled apology.  Jarek sat as he told her, “Casimir’s packing.”

“Not so surprised,” Tes said before the rich scent of chocolate and cinnamon lured her towards the mug. She peered into it with a smile. “You remembered.”  Jarek said nothing and she was thankful for the silence. The snow fell outside and other than the occasional pop from the wood stove it was quiet. “I miss you,” Tesia whispered to her brother as she tried to hold back tears. “Now I have no one.” She knew they wouldn’t move back and she wasn’t able to leave.

He is with you, echoed in her head and Tesia did not even try to explain the difference. We are with you. It was the first time Tesia’d ever heard an ounce of comfort in their voice. The vessel should listen more carefully, they scolded and she smiled.

“Tesia? Are you ok?” She looked at her brother and read the worry in his eyes.  So, she shifted her mug to her other hand so she could touch his arm.

“I’m fine, Jarek. How’s Mr. Nallin?” The question was the one she was most afraid to ask. Jarek sat in silence which was all the answer she needed.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Jarek finally said. “We got a call a couple hours ago. He died at the hospital.”

Tesia let the words sink into her brain without a response. To buy herself time she drank her cocoa and watched the snow. The dark outside made her nervous, but she wasn’t sure why. At Jarek’s nervous look her way she let out a heavy sigh.

“I know it wasn’t my fault,” she told her brother. “It was the demon’s. Maybe it was Mr. Nallin’s. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.” The hard note in her voice startled her brother, but Tesia saw no reason to temper her words.  “I have a duty.” The porch was oppressive all at once and she wanted to be alone.

So, she stood and wrapped the quit around her shoulders. “Thanks for the cocoa.” The feeling in the pit of her stomach that it was not smart to go outside was ignored. The backyard was dark and cold, but not so cold she wanted to go back inside. Tesia sat on the old picnic table her grandfather had built and sipped her cocoa.

Someone was coming. She had no idea who, or what, but she felt the land still in anticipation. The family’s protections served as wards over the farm and should keep anything bad from intruding.  

“Witch daughter,” whispered on the wind and Tesia forced herself to look around slowly despite the rapid beating of her heart. She found no one, nothing, within view, but gave into the pull of the voice to follow it to the edge of the yard. The woods were dark despite the full moon. That darkness blossomed within the bare branches and flowed to where she stood. Tesia whispered a prayer and wove it into a spell for protection. In the blackness a point of light appeared and flickered out.

“Witch daughter,” the wind whispered again. Tesia refused the force of the words and stayed her distance from the darkness. The angels were quiet. It almost felt as if they hid from something, but they’d never done that before. What was held in that dark that angels of the Lord hid from it?

“There is a line, witch daughter,” the darkness told her. “You dance upon the line, toying with His plans as if it is your right.” Unable to look away from the light that danced in the darkness Tesia found herself unable to speak or move.

The vessel does as she should, argued her angels as their presence suddenly flooded Tesia with the strength to move. Her feet took a step backward, away from whatever hides in the woods. The vessel was Chosen for our purpose as is right.

Again the wind picked up and Tesia shielded her eyes from the debris whipped up from the ground. “The witch daughter must be taught,” the wind howled. Tesia barely managed to stifle her scream as the cold wind tore at her body before it sank deeper.

“Help me,” she whispered to her angels, but they did nothing. It reminded her of the day she was twelve and the angels first appeared to her, only worse. Tesia had thought the pain of that day was unendurable and the worst thing to happen to her, but she was wrong. The cold wind buffeted her very being and not even her spells helped. Driven to her knees she was barely aware of the snow as it seeped into her clothes. The physical pain, at least, gave her something to hold onto. She used that to help get on her feet and back away from the pain the creature on the wind seared into her soul.

“In the name of God,” Tesia whispered, putting as much power in the words as she could pull from the sleeping land under her, “Begone!” She hurtled generations of power at the being in the woods. She felt shock from the creature before it vanished.

What has the vessel done? they asked fearfully as Tesia turned from the woods. There was no answer, not when it took all her strength to get back to the house. Without a word she made it to the fire in the living room, blessedly empty of family, and sat down before the flames, thankful for the warmth.  Only when she was able to feel all her fingers again did she stand.

Hearing nothing from upstairs she went to the kitchen to gather what she needed. The angels’ demands for information she ignored for now. Tes opened the windows and shivered at the cold. Despite the cold she laid the quilt over a chair and stripped. Only long practice let her force out the right words through the chattering of her teeth. With a piece of chalk, she drew a circle around herself on the kitchen floor as she chanted the spells her father and his mother had taught her.

The angels had no choice but to be within the circle with her. Tesia continued to ignore their demands for information. Not until she pulled on them for additional power did they understand.

The vessel must not.

She ignored their warning. Not even the prickle of pain that came with their objection stopped her. Tesia’s chants grew louder as she wove in prayers learned at her mother’s knee to the spells of her father.

The vessel must not.

“He was taking you from me,” Tesia whispered after finishing her spells. In the circle there was nothing now but her and the angels. Not even the cold of the night would break through her spell as she closed her eyes. “I don’t know what or who that was,” she said as she felt the spell start to weave between her and the angels, “but I won’t let that happen again.” She opened herself up to the angels completely. She felt them root through her whole soul, even the places she’d kept private before. Nothing was hidden from them now.

“If I am bound to you,” Tesia said as she allowed herself to be overwhelmed by their presence, “Then so are you bound to me.”

An air of finality rang in her words and Tesia fell into a light too strong for her to bear as the spells bound the three together beyond what was already in place. As she crumpled to the floor within the circle of power a pair of lights flickered to either side of her.

She knows not what she does, one said as they stared at her still form.

They both thought of what had visited the farm that evening. If it were possible to doubt their destiny they surely would do so now.

He must have seen this, one offered finally. Tesia shivered on the ground and with a pulse of power she never felt the angels pulled her quilt to the circle and laid it over her.

The vessel must not be harmed, they said together. As they roused Tesia and urged her upstairs to her bed they worried amongst themselves without her knowledge. Brooding through the night as they watched Tesia sleep it w’s not until the first rays of light came through her unclosed curtains that one said Did He know and send Sariel to stop this? It followed this up with Why do I question His knowledge now?

If angels could sigh the other would have. The only answer given comforts neither of them. We are of the vessel and the vessel is of us. We can only trust in His plan.

Tesia woke not long after the less than comforting words and they retreated to hide their doubts from her. The vessel must never doubt their faith in His plan.





31 Days - Epilogue


“Higher, babcia! Higher!”

Marcelina laughed even as tiny heels kicked her thighs. Soft boots covered Herbert’s feet because the harder heels in his everyday shoes had given her one too many small bruise. Fall was threatened by winter and she didn’t want to go too high and find the cold air lurking above. Dosia also did not like her going higher, but what her daughter didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

“Not today,” she told Herbert. “We should go down now.”


“You’re no match for the terror, Herbie.”

“Not Herbie! Not!”

Marcelina laughed and ruffled his hair. He was spoiled by his mamas and his grandparents. Not enough to send her up into the cold air. Or stop calling him Herbie.

“Herbert,” Marcelina whispered. “Do you want to dive?”

“Dive, babcia! Dive!”

Marcelina hoped Dosia had not arrived to pick up her son yet. If only because she would try to deliver a lecture. Oh, Marcelina could shut her down with her recollections of Dosia’s own adventures at Herbert’s age, but she’d rather avoid it. Not enough to disappoint Herbert who shrieked the whole way down.

A slight stumble on the landing made Herbert laugh. She shook her head. Maybe she should cut back on the diving. Her leg, broken twice, had started to complain. Which was ridiculous. She was not old like her babcia had been the short time she’d known her. It wasn’t that many months ago she’d turned forty-five.

“How was school?” Marcelina asked once Herbert was unstrapped from her chest and on the ground. Her wings shook, feathers fluttered, and she settled them down. The right one still gave her trouble sometimes.

“I hate school!”


Herbert raced ahead when he saw Dosia across the lawn.

Marcelina was left to deal with the security guard.

“Ma’am? I’m sorry, but-”

“Kirk. Kirk, right?” The guard nodded with a wary look in his eyes. “Kindly fuck off. I don’t care what my husband said.”

“Yes, ma’am, but I’m supposed to remind you. Every time, ma’am.”

“Kirk, I like you. You’re cute.” He blushed and she laughed. “And smart. Do something better with your life than babysitting me.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He wisely left her to catch up with her daughter and grandson.

Dosia eyed her suspiciously as Herbert told her about his first day of school and about flying with babcia.

“Mama. You didn’t go too high.”

“Of course not. You asked me not to.”

“And you listened?”

Marcelina smiled and opened the door leading into the kitchen of the governor’s house. “As well as I listened to your tata when he told me not to go too high.”

“We dove, mama!”

“Traitor,” Marcelina told her grandson as she ruffled his hair.

Dosia only sighed and fixed her son a sandwich while Marcelina made coffee. Once Herbert chewed loudly on a peanut butter sandwich, Marcelina and Dosia sat down at the island. Dosia squirmed in her chair and spent a long time fixing her coffee.

“What? Dosia, he’s perfectly safe. You were never harmed. And I did not go too high.”

“It’s not that, mama. I know you wouldn’t do anything too dangerous with Herbert.”

“Of course not,” Marcelina agreed. “And risk the wrath of you, terror?”

“Atefeh’s pregnant, mama.”

Well, that was not news she’d expected. Marcelina sipped her coffee as Herbert’s chewing filled the silence in the room. The boy chewed loudly.

“Should I not say congratulations, terror?” Marcelina wondered if they had used the same father. A man she knew nothing about and despite her curiosity had never tried to find. Mostly because Jory stopped her anytime she tried. She suspected he knew. Telepaths. Ha!

“Mama, I- No, I’m happy. Atefeh has wanted to carry a child since we had Herbert. I’m happy she will get to. I just- Two kids? Mama, I can barely keep up with Herbert.” Dosia pushed her coffee toward the middle of the table.

“Oh, terror,” Marcelina said as she stood. She embraced her daughter and when it did not seem enough she spread her wings and wrapped them around her as well. Dosia trembled and Marcelina struggled to find something helpful to say. “Do you want me to call your tata?”


That surprised her.

“How did you do it, mama?”

Well, that was an easy answer. “I had your tata. I couldn’t have raised you without him. Dosia, terror, you have Atefeh. And the two of you are fierce and strong and great mamas. You can handle two children.” Marcelina squeezed her daughter’s shoulder and kissed the top of her head. “And this time you will not be the one with swollen ankles, yes?”

Dosia laughed and they stayed as they were until they heard Herbert say, “Uh oh.”

Then they cleaned up his mess together.

Jory came in as Dosia forced Herbert into his coat.


Herbert pulled away from Dosia to launch himself at his grandfather. Jory caught him up despite a stumble backwards on his prosthetics. Marcelina bit back a sharp scolding. Although Jory still looked over their grandson’s head to grin at her.

Idiot, she thought.

Jory laughed and set Herbert down to finish getting his coat on. Dosia visited for another minute, but then left to hurry home. She promised to come to dinner with Atefeh later in the week.

“Did you go too high?” Jory asked as he tugged her into an embrace.

“No. But I dove down.”

Jory laughed before he kissed her. His hands slid lower and she wound up nestled against him with the counter at her back. There were a lot of windows in the kitchen, but she didn’t much care. Mindful of his position he stopped before too many windows became an issue.

“We have news.”

Ah, that would be why. News could only mean from their old home. Marcelina still believed nothing the news said, but Jory she trusted. As governor he’d have access to other sources of information. Spies. She’d offered to be a spy and he’d very kindly said never in a million years. He’d softened the words over an entire weekend. She’d not minded, of course, but they both knew she’d forgive him anything.


“More riots. Another coup. The unrest doesn’t seem to be settling down.”

“Hardly news.”

“I know.” Jory took her hands in his. Now she worried. “The riots turned deadly. There were a dozen deaths as gangs ran the streets looking for anyone associated with the old regime.”

“Siemowit.” She knew. Jory was the telepath, but she didn’t need to read his mind to know he would say her brother was dead.

“I’m sorry, Marcelina.”

“It’s ok. I mean…we weren’t close.”

“I know, but he was your brother.”

She didn’t ask how. She knew how riots and mobs operated. There was no reason to ask for details.

“It’s ok, Jory. Thank you for telling me.”

“There is some good news.”

“Oh?” she asked, instantly on guard because of his grin.

“Yes. With Siemowit dead, Charlotte’s available again.”

Marcelina replied by chasing him from the kitchen and into his office. There were no windows in there. Charlotte's name did not come up again.




31 Days - Day 31


“Mama, why do I have to wear a dress?”

“Because it is an important event.”

“And you have to.”

“Yes. But mostly, it is an important night for your tata and we should want to look nice.”

“I can look nice in pants.”

Marcelina sighed and stepped away from the mirror. “Dosia? Will you please go put on your dress and get ready to go?” The strain in her voice must have penetrated the teenage brain her daughter possessed.

“Fine, mama.” Dosia darted from the room, but popped her head back in. “And you look beautiful, mama.”

Sometimes, Marcelina thought, their daughter was too much like her father. She stepped in front of the mirror again and stared at herself. The one thing she’d never gotten used to was the difficulty in clothing options when one had wings. Not only style, but color. Marcelina sighed and gave up. She was either going to look good at the inaugural party or she wouldn’t.

“You look beautiful.”

“Did Dosia warn you to say that?”

Jory grinned. It made her want to take off her dress, but only because it also made her want to remove his suit. Not that he didn’t look good in it, but she was always happier when he wasn’t in a suit. Or much of anything.

“Yes. Our daughter came down and said her mama looked terrible, but I should lie.”

“Shut up, stupid.”

“Who’s being stupid?”

“You are.”



“Stop it, mama! Stop it, tata. We’re going to be late!”

“I thought you didn’t want to go?” Jory asked with his arms still around Marcelina.

“I don’t, but if we’re going I want to be there on time.”

Marcelina laughed. Dosia had certainly gotten her need to be punctual from her father. And all the other good things.

“Wrong,” Jory said as Dosia hurried out to the porch.

“Where is she-” Her question was cut off by Jory’s kiss. Marcelina did not complain.

“Our daughter got plenty of her good trains from her mama.”

Marcelina pulled away, without leaving the circle of his arms, to ask, “How?”

“I know I should have told you. Dosia figured it out a few years ago and I thought surely she would give it away.”

“Give what away?”

Jory sighed and released her. He sat on the couch and rubbed his thigh. A car pulled up outside, but he didn’t move.

“Jory? What’s wrong?”

“You weren’t the only one the missile changed, Marcelina. I was just too afraid to say anything to anyone at first. And then, well, I guess the longer I went the harder it was to speak up.”

“Jory, what do you mean?”

“I can…hear people thinking.”

Liar, she thought.

“Never to you.”

“Well, other than keeping this from me. It’s a pretty big secret, Jory. Is it…on all the time?” Did he know everything she’d thought? Ever?

“Not all the time. I have to concentrate. And I swear, Marcelina, I do not go diving into your head. Not unless I’m really worried about you.”

“So, all the time?” The joke was a little flat, but she was glad she’d tried.

“I don’t worry about you. Well, I do, but not the sort of go into your crazy head kind.”


Jory grinned and she couldn’t help smiling back.

“You’re an idiot,” she told him.

“And you’re stupid,” he replied.

“Mama! Tata! The car is here!”

“Are we…ok?” Jory asked as he stood and reached for his cane.

Were they? Marcelina thought about it, but she didn’t have to think long. She walked over to her husband and took his arm.

“Of course we are. The Claw expects nothing less than duplicitous behavior from Ranger One.”

“I love you, Marcelina Couch.”

“Yea,” she replied as they went out to the waiting car. “But I loved you first.”




31 Days - Day 30


“Why you?”

“Don’t you think I’m qualified?”

“Of course! You can do anything!”

“I just- I don’t know. It’ll be a big change.”

“Well, it’s not for certain.”

Marcelina sat on the ground and plucked a handful of clover from the grass. It was hard to believe. Jory sat down as well, easing into it and stretching his leg out to rub his thigh.

“Is it bothering you again?”

“We walked pretty far today. I’m fine, Marcelina.”

They always walked too far. Or climbed too high. Jory refused to let his missing leg stop him. Even though Marcelina watched him climb mountains with her heart in her throat. He said it was payback for all the years he’d worried about her flying either by herself or with Dosia. She watched as he removed his prosthetic foot.

“You don’t have to prove anything,” she reminded him. Her hands dropped the clover and she reached for his leg to pull his ankle into her lap and rub it.

Jory grinned as he reached into the pack she’d carried. Flying was one thing, and she was happy to do so, but after one disastrous attempt to join him climbing she’d sworn it off. So, she carried up their lunch and worried incessantly until he reached the peak.

“If you don’t want me to, Marcelina, I won’t.”

He wouldn’t. He was wonderful. And she was selfish. She didn’t want him to do it.

“No, I won’t stop you. I think you would be a good governor. I just- I don’t want people to not vote for you because of me.”

Jory grabbed her hands and tugged her down atop him as he settled in the clover.

“Don’t be silly, Marcelina.”

“Don’t be stupid, Jory.”

He rolled her onto her back and pinned her to the ground. “Are you calling your future governor stupid, Mrs. Couch?”

“Yes,” she said with a smirk that couldn’t hide the way her pulse kicked up when he was atop her. “Stupid. Mr. Couch.”

“You’ll pay for that.”

And she did, but no more than she was willing to give.



31 Days - Day 29

There were some weights that were carried for so long one forgot they were there. Some terrors became so ingrained it slid deep into bone and nested with no intention of ever leaving. All of the weight, the terror, the deep certainty that her fate was sealed, left so suddenly Marcelina was nearly catatonic.

The news had first come in two days ago, but no one had believed it. How could she, of all people, believe it? For most of her life she’d waited for the president dictator to come and kill her. Or send people to collect her so he might kill her in the comfort of his own office. However he would do it, she knew he would kill her.

Except now the unthinkable had happened. The rebels had killed him. Jory had been summoned to the governor’s office early in the morning and Marcelina had paced around the house. She hadn’t even commented on Dosia sneaking out the back door. Off to meet Atefeh, or so she assumed.

Marcelina still thought her daughter too young to form an attachment. She was only thirteen. Jory laughed as she fretted. He’d told her last time that at least Dosia would not be getting pregnant. Which had worried Marcelina even more. Surely they were too young for sex?

Today she couldn’t even fret about her daughter. Eventually, after three hours of frantic pacing, she gave up and began to clean house. It was not dirty enough to distract her for long. Well, it could have been dirty enough, but she was a poor judge. There were no rats eating crumbs off the carpet or spiders as large as her head. So, it was clean enough. Jory and Dosia were better housekeepers than her and she was happy to leave them to the work.

By noon she gave up and went flying. Winter was approaching and the higher she went the colder she felt. The shock to her skin was a welcome sensation as she’d felt quite numb since the news had arrived. Marcelina lost track of time as she chased the wind. The few birds in the sky she left to their lives. There was no reason to bother them.

A glint of light caught her eye in the trees. She tried to orient herself, but was high enough it was harder than she expected. Sure it was the city park a few miles from home she began to drop lower and investigate. It could be someone in trouble. Some of the trees were high and kids had been trapped in the branches before.

Marcelina didn’t know why she veered off, but she heard the sound of a gun a second later. Over a decade out of combat, but some things one remembered. She was happy to learn that truth. Because there was another gunshot. She missed her time with the rebels right about then since she would have had a comm to call for help.

On her own, she dove lower and considered her options. She might be able to fly higher. Except, unsure of where the gun was she could be flying right into their sights. The same concern applied to getting away.

Although, the truth of it was, she wanted to go after the person. All of her pent up anxiety over the news she’d received was unleashed as fury. Marcelina said nothing, made no noise but the beat of her large wings as she altered her course and dove down towards the glint of metal in the treetops.

The next gunshot hit her, but Marcelina only clapped a hand over the hole in her arm and continued. With any luck, the gunshots would have been heard and someone would alert the authorities. So, she only had to get the gun away and turn over whomever the possibly dead president dictator had sent after her.

Branches whipped against her skin and forced her to pull her wings in tight. Fingers grabbed for any branch and she caught one before she fell through the canopy to the ground. Marcelina panted and shifted her fingers to grip the branch tighter as her head whipped back and forth to try to find her target.

“How easy you made this.”

“I knew you weren’t dead.”

“Yes, you’re a clever girl. Hanging by your fingers. Blood dripping. No one to call for help, Miss Mencher.”

“It’s Couch, you bastard.”

“Does it matter?”

“You faked your death to come kill me? Is being a supreme leader so dull?”

“I’m surprised, Miss Mencher. I expected an insult.”

“I’ve grown up. I save the insults for when it matters.”

“And I don’t matter?”


“Good bye, Miss Mencher. One final promise to keep.”

“Good bye.”

The gun, raised to her chest, wavered.

“No final insult? Really, Miss Mencher. So disappointed. How I’ve looked forward to his for so long.”

“I’ve no idea why. I was a child. Trying to protect her beloved brother. You’ve taken it too personally all these years.”

“You don’t hate me?”

“Of course I do. Don’t be an idiot. You murdered my brother. You tried to murder me. You sent the man I love off to be killed. I despise you. But all these years…I stopped thinking of killing you and only wanted to be left alone.”


“I’m full of it.”

“Do you want to close your eyes?”


“Not entirely weak.”

“Oh, for the love of anything. Will you shut up?”

A gunshot made her fingers loosen and she felt a fresh pain. A branch jabbed against her wing and she cried out before nearly losing her grip. She stayed hanging until she realized what she saw. The now truly dead president dictator fell from his perch in his tree.

Marcelina struggled to hold on, but cold seeped into her fingers until she fell a few seconds later. The ground was hard and she screamed as she felt her leg bend the wrong way. The same leg, she thought with a hysterical laugh. She’d broken the same leg again. And she was bleeding from a gunshot wound. And she worried about the way one wing felt. She’d never broken one before.

So, she stayed where she was and waited for, something. She didn’t know what. Eventually, it was shorter than she’d thought she found out later, someone found her.


Her head lifted up. Jory was here. Well, good. He held a gun. Well, of course he did.

“You killed him.”

It was not a question.

“Are you angry it wasn’t you?”

Was she? She’d sworn since they first met she would kill the president dictator. So, she didn’t answer right away. Instead, she laid in the grass under the trees and bled. It wasn’t until she heard others, and Jory shouted their location, that she had her answer.

“How could I be angry at you, Jory Couch? You always do what’s right. Even if you’re the scary one.”

“Who said that?”

“Can I pass out first? And then tell you later?”

“Of course, Marcelina Couch. You know you can do anything you want and it’s ok by me.”



31 Days - Day 28

Three times Dosia had tried to speak to her on their walk across town. Each time, Marcelina had quieted her with a look. She was furious. Too furious to speak and she’d even thought that maybe Jory had been right. Maybe she should have let him handle it. Well, too late now.

The door to the church was unlocked and Marcelina led them inside and down to the basement. In an unlit hall that carried a faint odor of mold she stopped her daughter. The single point of light came from the open door a few feet away.

“Tell me why you’re here, Dosia.”

“Mama. I said I was sorry.”

Marcelina felt her wings flutter and shoved her arms behind her back. Because otherwise, she might give into the urge to slap her daughter and she would not give into that urge. Dosia’s sullen expression was easy to read.


“Enough,” Marcelina hissed. “Just enough, Dosia. I have raised you better than your behavior today. What you did…” She forced herself to stop and draw in a deep breath. “What you did today was the worst thing you’ve ever done, Dosia. All of the apologies in the world will not take away the hurt you caused to Atefeh.”

Dosia glanced away. Her expression didn’t change much. Marcelina shook her head.

“You will sit quietly in there and listen. If you decide to cause trouble, I will…”

She did not know what she would do.

“What, mama?” There was a bit of challenge in her tone.

Marceline leaned closer to her daughter and watched her eyes widen in alarm. “You don’t want to know.”

“You don’t know.”

“I will let your tata decide.”

“You don’t know.” Now she smirked.

“I do know. And I know your tata would declare it extreme and he is likely right so I will not decide. Because I am furious at you.” Marcelina stepped away from her daughter. “You did not think, Dosia. And were needlessly cruel. I am ashamed.”

Marcelina laid her hand on her daughter’s shoulder and led her into the support group. It wasn’t often she came here. For the most part, she’d accepted what happened to her. Jory helped. He’d never once treated her like she’d changed. She did the same to him, despite his own losses. So, she didn’t come often, because she felt guilty.

“Marcelina!” Themba’s smile lit up his face. He waddled forward, small legs barely supporting his large frame. Powerful arms engulfed her in a hug and she hugged back because one always hugged back when Themba held you. She was set down and her wings ruffled.

“And who is this?”

“This is Dosia. She’s here to listen.” Marcelina looked at her daughter. “And she has nothing to say.”

Dosia crossed her arms over her chest and dropped her eyes to the floor. Well, if she was quiet, Marcelina was happy. They crossed the floor to sit in the circle of chairs. Marcelina found a stool to use. Plenty of people who showed up did not fit in a folding chair.

Themba waited until everyone was seated before the meeting began. After introductions were made, a noise by the door drew Marcelina’s attention. Atefeh lurked in the shadows and so Marcelina left her seat after a warning look at Dosia.

Atefeh was a pretty girl with blemish free brown skin and black hair that hung down to her waist. She was a little shorter than most girls her age. Although she was not here for being short. Marcelina took the tentacle hanging where her left arm should be and stroked the leathery skin. Atefeh stiffened, but did not pull away. Her other tentacle flailed.

“Please, Atefeh. Come sit.”

“Why is she here?” Black eyes narrowed as she caught sight of Dosia.

“Because of what happened. You needn’t sit by her. Themba is happy to make room for a first timer near him.”

Atefeh tugged her tentacle free and marched with her back straight, eyes forward, towards Themba to sit in a hastily found chair. Marcelina went back to her own seat. Throughout the meeting she watched Dosia and Atefeh cast wary glances at each other.

Themba never invited the new person to speak, but he did cast a significant look towards Marcelina. She sighed. Attending the meetings was one thing. Speaking was another. Especially with her daughter present. Still, when everyone else who wanted to speak finished, she rose from her stool.

“I think everyone knows me. I’m Marcelina Couch. I hate talking. I know it’s been awhile since I’ve been here. Things have been ok, I guess. I still don’t have work. Although, Jory says it is because of my attitude and not my condition.” A few people nodded their heads. “I still feel like a freak sometimes. The other day I tried to dust the tops of the cupboards and knocked half the groceries on the floor.”

“Always finish one job before starting another,” Lenny said with a grin.

Marcelina scowled at Lenny until she grinned as well. It was hard to get annoyed at Lenny. If only because he’d been through so much.

“I feel like a freak.” She did not look at Dosia as she spoke. “Sometimes, I’m standing in the shower and it just hits me. I’m not normal. I’ll never be normal. And everyone I see that day, I know they’re thinking the same thing. That I’m a freak. And maybe I’d have been better off dead.” Marcelina hated crying in front of people. Which was the main reason she did not come to the meetings.

“And I am still terrified that I’ll get pregnant again. Not because I wouldn’t welcome another child, but because I might not be lucky this time. Because this time, what if I had a freak? Like me. I was so lucky the first time. I spent nine months being terrified.” Marcelina shook her head. “I don’t know.” She sat down abruptly. “I miss being normal.”

No one spoke.

Everyone was silent long enough that Themba stood finally and closed the meeting.

Marcelina slipped out to the restroom. Dosia would have to be trusted on her own. Once she’d washed up she left, hoping everyone else would be gone. Themba was in the hall and he lifted a finger to his lips before she could speak. He signaled to the meeting room.

Themba left, grinning, and Marcelina wondered what was going on. As Dosia was still in the room she crept towards the door and peered inside. She never said a word. Only went to the bottom of the stairs and waited for her daughter.

Dosia said nothing, but once they were home she hugged Marcelina tight. They both pretended neither had tears in their eyes.

“They were kissing,” she said later to Jory, when Dosia was asleep. “Kissing, Jory! She’s too young to kiss someone.”

“We kissed for the first time around her age.”

“And look where we wound up!”

“In bed?”

“No! Well, I mean…you don’t understand!”

“I thought you wanted her to be more empathetic?”

“Empathy does not involve kissing!”

Jory laughed. Then he kissed her. Which allowed her to stop worrying about her daughter at least for the night.



31 Days - Day 27

Marcelina hated this room. Calm colored walls and rounded corners on all the furniture left one with the feeling they were still not old enough to be trusted. As if, at any moment, she would produce a pair of scissors and race wildly through the room with them.

To be fair, if only to break the monotonous quiet, she might have done so if anyone had left scissors nearby. As no one had, she sat and waited. Other than a traitorous shake of her wings when the silence closed in on her, she sat still. She must be in more trouble than she’d thought as they’d left her in here a long time.

When she’d been directed to sit, she had, but only after turning the chair to face the door. If they planned on something extreme she wanted to see it coming. One thing they had not done was make sure there was a chair for her. Wings, she’d learned early on, made normal furniture torturous. Not, she thought, the best word to use. Not now.

Marcelina’s eyes opened when she heard the door. The fact she’d slept shocked her. Three people entered the room, but she did not stand. Neither did she acknowledge them other than to let her gaze slip across their faces.

Hardly surprising they’d send them.


“You remembered.”

“There’s no need to be that way.”

“Fuck off, Siemowit. Go back to your stupid wife.”

“So grown up.”

“I don’t even know why you’re here.”

“I always knew about you, Marcelina.”

“Yes, well, I thought you dead. And preferred it that way.”

“Marcelina, we need to settle this.”

“Oh? I figured you were just going to toss me to the wolves.” She wanted Jory, but he wasn’t invited. The governor would come to regret that because she might have held her temper with him there.

“There’s little to settle. The president dictator will agree to cease fire and acknowledge the neutral accords once more as soon as the traitor and her family are in our custody.”

Marcelina shuddered and half rose to her feet. At the last moment she was able to sit, but her wings remained half extended. The governor looked worried. She didn’t mind the man, most of the time, but it was hard to like anyone in the room right now. Especially herself.

“I’ll go.”

Three heads turned.

“But I will not have my family accompany me. He will have to be satisfied torturing and murdering me.”

“The deal,” Zuza said as she flicked a nail against the sleeve of her green uniform, “is that your entire family forfeit their futures.”

“If you try to take my husband and daughter I will kill you.”

“Dosia will not suffer because her parents betrayed their country. The president dictator is a benevolent ruler. He will raise her as his own daughter.” Siemowit took two rather hurried steps back when Marcelina rose to her feet.


The governor glared at the siblings before he opened the door. Several soldiers stepped inside. Marcelina forced herself, again, to stand still. She wouldn’t fight them. They were only doing their job and she was one person. The entire region was at stake and the governor was doing what was best for his people. So long as they left her family alone, she would submit.

So, she thought no one more shocked than her when the soldiers flanked her brother and sister.

“Escort them to the border. Once they are gone, we will raise the wall.”

The wall was a myth. Or so Marcelina believed. An energy field to protect them from outside attacks? It was like something out of a comic book. From the corner of her eye she saw scarlet feathers ruffle. Well.

“This is a mistake.”

The governor bowed and said nothing. After the door closed he turned to Marcelina. She sat down on the floor and lowered her head into her hands.

“Mrs. Couch? Are you well?”

“Why didn’t you let them take me?”

“Oh, I would have. If they’d acquiesced to your terms.”

Her head came up and she stared at him.

“The reasonable thing to do would be sacrifice you and save the rest of the region. And a reasonable man would have left instructions to accept that term.”

Marcelina’s laugh had a tinge of hysteria in it. “Who has ever claimed that man was reasonable?” She spread her wings and gestured behind her. “A reasonable man would not do this to his own people.”

“We’ve never seen any proof it was him and not the rebels who were responsible for the…anomalies.”

“I will leave. But, please allow my family to stay.”

“You will all stay. Your husband would cause me no end of trouble if I exiled you. The man is a menace.”

Marcelina smiled. As if Jory were a troublemaker. Still, if he had that reputation and it helped her, she wouldn’t correct the governor. No, she would just go home.




31 Days - Day 26


“Three months and I still feel like we rattle around in here.”

“Do you not like it?”

“No, Jory. I like it very much. It’s just hard to adjust to after so long.” She limped from the kitchen with two cups. Jory grinned as she moved slowly and she scowled. “Don’t you dare.”

“After all that time you teased me? No, I shall never stop.” Jory reached up for a cup and she sat with only her own. “Did you see the news report?”

The news was, well, a new thing. They hadn’t seen news of any type ever since they were conscripted. Not that she believed anything she saw. The border area they’d found themselves settled in received news from both sides of the fight. Both sides lied.

“Which news?” she asked.

“About him.” They never did refer to him as anything but him. Jory might call the president dictator something else, but when she was around he didn’t have a title or name.

Feathers ruffled and the cup in her hand trembled so she leaned forward to set it on the table. Best to not hold something hot when bad news is soon to be shared. Jory’s free hand settled on her thigh and she tensed up. How bad was this going to be if he thought she’d need physical contact?

“He’s announced a new push. Along the whole border. Regardless of any neutral lines drawn.”

“He knows I’m here.” The sentenced was whispered.

“Marcelina, we don’t know.”

She surged to her feet and hurried to the window to look out. She saw no one, but she closed the curtains. Her fingers shook and she almost pulled down the curtains in the process. The door should be locked. Was the door locked? No, first she had to get Dosia. They needed to get her home where she would be safe until they could flee.

Someone screamed. Marcelina looked around and realized it was herself. Jory stood beside her, his hand on her arm. Why did he look so calm? Didn’t he understand?

“Marcelina, it’s ok. He doesn’t know where you are. We’re safe.”

“It’s not. Jory, where’s Dosia? Why isn’t she here?”

Jory pulled her closer and she whimpered against his shoulder. Her fingers dug into his back as she huddled closer and wrapped her wings around them both. They needed to get Dosia safe.

“Shh. Marcelina, I promise we’re going to be ok. He doesn’t know-”

“He has spies. They’re everywhere, Jory. You know that. We’re not safe here.”

He didn’t say anything. He did listen as she worried aloud about what would happen and how they needed to leave. The door opened and Marcelina disentangled from Jory and shoved him behind her.

“Mama? Daddy?”

Oh, thank goodness. She was safe. They could leave.

“Dosia, terror? Go up to your room. Mama’s not feeling well.”

“Is it because of, you know?”

“Yes. Go on.”

“Ok. Love you, mama. Love you, daddy!”

Marcelina pulled away and raced to the door to lock it. Then she went around the rest of the house from the basement to the attic to be sure nothing was unlocked. Jory followed her, not speaking. Once everything was secure he steered her toward their bedroom.


“Is safe. Marcelina, you should lie down.”

“It’s not safe.”

“I promise. We’ll be safe.”

“You think I’m crazy. Doctor Shepherd said I was paranoid. I’m not.”

“No, you’re not. It’ll be ok. We’ll sit here. We’ll be fine. When you’re feeling better, we can talk.”

“I don’t want these people to die.”

“Well, neither do I. And we’ll be sure it doesn’t happen.”

Jory continued to speak, quietly and calmly, until Marcelina stopped shaking. Eventually she was able to think rationally once more. Although, for the next week she could think of nothing but what trouble might be coming their way.



31 Days - Day 25

Two days without sleep had not improved Marcelina’s mood, but as it was already horrid she thought no one might notice. In three months it would be Dosia’s birthday and she’d sworn to her daughter they would have a new home by her birthday. They’d been holed up in the ruins of a small town for three days. Jory’s leg prosthesis had been repaired one too many times and they couldn’t get much farther with it.

Everyone was tired, no one was getting enough sleep, and winter crept closer every day. She knew she should sleep, but with every drop of her eyelids she had a fresh nightmare waiting for her. It was easier to stay awake. This morning she’d left early so she could claim to have slept at some point. Jory would know she lied, but Dosia hadn’t quite caught on yet to her mama’s tricks.

There was a chill in the air as the stars began to disappear fully. To the east, as she hovered a safe distance from their hideout, she watched the sun begin to send the night away. Despite her exhaustion, she flew higher. At just the right spot she could almost see the sun claw its way from the ground. Once, she’d flown high enough to imagine she could see the curve of the ground. She’d also almost died so had not repeated the trip. Jory had been equal parts furious and terrified.

Caught off guard by the wind she was pushed backwards. Marcelina cursed, thankful for no little ears, and righted herself. Per a very tired husband’s request she was only supposed to be up here to scout for incoming trouble. So, she let the sun rise on its own and steal away the stars, and began to fly a perimeter.

“Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Marcelina dropped down faster than anticipated. If she’d been less tired she’d have avoided the downdraft. As the ground hit her, unfairly as she’d never done anything to it, she bit back all of her dziadzio’s swear words. She could feel a cut on her on her cheek and new bruises would soon form over old ones.

Limping across the broken ground she thought she heard footsteps the whole way. It was likely sleep deprivation induced paranoia. She was familiar with that from her time as a conscript.

“Wake up,” Marcelina hissed as she slipped inside their temporary home.

There was no need. They were already awake and packed. Good. Because they surely didn’t have a lot of time.

“Marcelina,” Jory began before he saw her face. “Baby! What did you do?” He limped across to her and she shook off his attempts to clean her up.

“No time. We have to go.”


“Shush, terror.”

“Marcelina, sit down.”

“I’m fine.”

“Mama, your leg!”

What was wrong with her leg? Marcelina looked down. When had that happened?            

“It doesn’t matter.” Although she couldn’t stop staring at the piece of white bone sticking through her pants. The landing had been rougher than she’d thought.

“People coming.” The warning was the last thing she said before her vision finished narrowing down to nothing and she crumpled to the floor.



31 Days - Day 24

 “Happy birthday, Dosia!”

Brown eyes surveyed the decorations critically before nodding acceptance. Jory nudged Marcelina and she lost her scowl before Dosia looked at them. Her hair was a tangle of red curls she refused to cut or take care of properly. There were times, in the middle of the night, when she considered shaving her daughter’s head. Jory, up until now, had talked her down.

“Thank you, mama. Thank you, daddy.”

Jory grabbed Dosia and lifted her up. He spun her around the room and she squealed before she slapped his shoulder. Marcelina was glad when he put her down. He shouldn’t overtax his leg.

“Daddy! I am too old for that.”

“Then you are too old to go flying with your mama.”

“No! Fine. But I am eight now! Not a baby.”

“So, I guess we should not have gotten her that pacifier for her birthday.”

Dosia pouted, as expected.

“Well,” Jory mused as he slid his arm around Marcelina’s waist. “If she’s old enough, if you think, then maybe we can still do what we planned for her birthday.”

“What? Tell me, daddy! Tell me!”

“Settle down, terror,” Marcelina said with a laugh. “First we’re going to have sekacz.”

Their too-old-to-be-picked-up-daughter squealed again. Looking back, Marcelina could see why her mother only did the cake on her birthday. She tried to do it more often, but it was hard enough once a year out here. It wasn’t as if she could go to the store and get what she needed.


“I promise, Marcelina.” Jory always knew what she meant.

“I couldn’t do this without you, Jory.”

“I know, dummy.”


“Mama! Daddy! Stop kissing. I want sekacz!”

“So do I.” Marcelina winked at Jory and whispered, “But you’re worth missing out on even sekacz.”


They ignored their birthday girl to kiss once more.

Which Dosia only allowed because she opened the closet to find her presents. Jory said she’d already found them, but if so she at least acted surprised. As she hauled out the equipment, Marcelina kissed Jory again. They had learned in the last eight years to take advantage of any spare seconds they did not have to keep an eye on the terror.

“Are we really going camping?”

“We are. For three days.”

Dosia screamed in excitement and despite being too old threw herself at her parents who caught her expertly. The only thing that kept them from having to leave right then was the sekacz. As soon as they’d eaten their birthday lunch and had cake Dosia ran off to pack.

“Are we doing the right thing?” Marcelina asked in their room as they finished packing.

“Second thoughts?”

“No. Well, yes.” She wanted to say more, but they were convinced their rooms were monitored. “Three days of camping with the terror. Can we handle her?”

Jory closed his backpack and walked over to embrace her. She laid her head on his shoulder with a sigh. They stood like that until Dosia demanded they leave. Marcelina felt guilty not telling her they wouldn’t return. Unlike her mama, Dosia did have friends. Maybe they could have trusted her to say nothing, but it was safest in no one knew their birthday camping was only a cover. Best for them to leave before it was too late.



31 Days - Day 23

The banging on the door was louder than it had been before. Was it because the blood was beginning to leak into the hallway? She hadn’t thought it would move the way it did. Now she didn’t know what to do. Nothing had gone the way she’d expected today.

This morning had been lovely. The rain had come and killed the heat. Perhaps not the best choice of words. Marcelina had not even minded flying in the rain. Dosia hated it so she’d been able to go alone.

Yes, the day had started out wonderfully.

Now she stood in a tiny office with a growing pool of blood at her feet. And a corpse. Well, one and a half corpses. She thought Liv was still alive, but was afraid to get close. The woman was vicious. Randolph was most definitely dead and she did not feel bad.



Marcelina stepped over Randolph and perched on the edge of the desk. It let her avoid getting blood on her boots. Liv had curled up against Randolph and didn’t seem to mind the way their blood mingled. Or the way Randolph smelled as he lay dead. Marcelina had smelled death before and this was not the same. Perhaps this is what snakes smelled like when dead?

“How did you do it?”

“Not why?”

“I know why. I told him you knew. I said we should send you away. Or eliminate you.”

“I’m smart enough to figure out a way.”

“And there was the knife.”

“Yes. And there was the knife.”

“He helped you.”

“No. It was only me.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“I’m sorry.” She was sorry. Randolph and Liz had saved her. They’d given her a place. Of course, it was all at his behest. Still, they’d been kind and helped her through her new circumstance. More importantly, they’d helped Jory.

“Are you? That’s a weakness you need to get over.”

“I’ll give myself up.” The banging on the door rattled the wood. “Once you’re dead.”

“Then finish me.”

“I can’t.” There was some shame in the admission. Marcelina thought that good. It meant maybe she was still good. At least a little.

“Another weakness you need to get over.”

The door splintered and three people rushed in with guns drawn.

Liv laughed, a wet sound that made Marcelina shiver. Well, she likely was pleased her last act upset someone. The men with guns stared at the room before they lowered their weapons.

“Glad that’s over.”

They left.

Marcelina, not sure what to do now, left as well. She went back to her apartment where Jory and Dosia waited for her. No one knocked on their door for several days.



31 Days - Day 22

Jory found her in the infirmary. She’d told them not to track him down, but the medics never listened to her. Someday, she’d figure out why they liked him better. Oh, who was she kidding? She knew why. He was nicer. Sweeter. Kinder. There was no one in the world as perfect as him. Which did not mean she wanted him to be here right now.

In the outer room she heard Dosia laughing. Marcelina felt bad. Poor Dosia had witnessed what happened. Guilt clawed at her innards once more and she turned away from Jory when he sat on her bed.

“Don’t be like that.”

“I’m terrible. Awful. Is Dosia ok?”

Jory’s hand took hers, but he let her stare at the wall. His other hand stroked the feathers on the back of her neck. She knew he meant to be comforting, but it only increased her guilt.

“Dosia is fine, Marcelina. You scared her, but our little terror is made of sterner stuff than that.”

The sob she’d been holding in since she’d heard his footsteps escaped. Now she rolled over and buried her face against his side. Fingers stroked her feathers as she wrapped her arms around his waist. The bandages and splint on her hand made it partially awkward, but she couldn’t let go.

Jory didn’t speak. He knew better. Quieter footsteps entered the room.


“Give me a minute with mama, terror.”

“No. No, it’s ok.” Marcelina forced herself to sit up and her wings shook before they settled down. With her good hand she patted a spot beside her on the bed.

Dosia grinned and leapt up. “Wings, mama!”

Jory shook his head as Marcelina let her wings extend as best she could in the small examination room. Dosia held still until scarlet feathers circled around her. Only then did she press her face against Marcelina’s side. The slight tremble in her small body left Marcelina fighting back tears once more. As she fought for control, Jory’s fingers stroked the feathers on her wing.

“I’m sorry. Dosia, terror? Mama’s sorry.”

“It’s ok, mama.”

They sat together, surrounded by scarlet feathers, until Dosia began to squirm.

“Why don’t we go for a walk?” Jory suggested.

A firm, “no,” was on her lips, but died as she saw Jory’s expression. So, despite the leaden feel of her limbs and the throb in her hand, she unwound Dosia’s arms from around her and stood. The medics nodded to Jory and smiled at Dosia, but gave her not even a glance. Well, fine!

“They don’t like me.” She waited until they were in the hall to speak.

“It’s not that, Marcelina.”

“Mama! It’s snowing!”

Because, of course it was snowing. They detoured to their tiny apartment to grab Dosia’s coat. She raced ahead of them to the outside door and waited with impatience as they punched their code in so they could get out. A few other kids were out playing as well. Fewer parents had braved the cold.

Marcelina was happy enough to find a bench under a tree and sit with Jory. The cold would lessen the pain in her hand. They had offered pain killers, but she’d turned them down. The base didn’t have enough as it was and she wouldn’t take away from someone in need because of her own stupidity.

As Dosia screamed and hurled snowballs, Marcelina laid her head on Jory’s shoulder.

“The holes in the wall were impressive.”

“I’m sorry.”

Jory laughed and scooted closer to her. “That is the first time I’ve ever heard something approaching meekness from you, Marcelina Couch.”

“Shut up, Jory!”

“I saw it as well.” The broadcast. Everyone had seen the broadcast. Every screen and speaker had blared the announcement from the president dictator. “It could be a trick.”

“It could be.” She didn’t believe it was a trick.

“It’s not, is it?”

“How could it be? Why would he bother doing such a thing? I don’t understand, Jory. Why would they have lied?”

“Marcelina, it’s a trap.”

“I know.”

“But you’ll still go.”

She wanted to go. How she wanted to go. Every muscle quivered with the urge to shoot for the sky, but she would not.


The pronouncement startled Jory. In truth, Marcelina was surprised by her own vehemence. Shrieking distracted her.

“Dosia, stop that!” She did not need to look up. She knew that shriek. Someone had thwarted the terror. Maybe they should stop calling her that name.

“Should we stop using terror? Will it harm her? Do you think she’ll grow up and believe we didn’t love her?”

“Marcelina? What did you mean no?”

“What about Dosia?”

“Stop changing the subject.”

She took his hand and wished her other weren’t broken so she might hold them both. He knew her well enough that he laid his hand over her forearm. The snowfall thickened and she thought they’d need to go in soon.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters. She’s your sister.”

“No. I mean, yes. I’m sure if he’s decided to parade her around as my sister she is, indeed, Zuza. Except, I hardly remember her.” Her wings shook as the snow began to overload the branches above and trickle down to them. “He expects me to race in there.”

“So, you’re not going to go?”

Marcelina stood and hauled Jory up with her. “The Menchers have to deal with their own problems. I’ve enough on my plate with the Couch family.”

Jory didn’t look convinced, but eventually he would accept she did not mean to go. Although, later as she helped clean up the mess she made of their rooms she felt a moment’s desire to flee. She’d never liked cleaning her room.



31 Days - Day 21


There had been several months of quiet. They hadn’t even been sent out on any missions. Marcelina was going stir crazy, but she didn’t dare say anything lest it be taken the wrong way. The last thing she wanted was for Jory to think she wanted to be away from him. Dosia had been thrilled to have her mama and daddy around all the time. It was all going well.

“You’re bored.”

Marcelina looked up from the comic she read to Dosia. Despite the shake of her head, Jory grinned at her. Dosia slapped her hand against the paper.

“Mama. Read.”

“Dosia, take the comic to your room. Let mama talk to daddy.”

“I don’t want to!”

“Then you do not want pudding.”

“I do want pudding!”

“Then go to your room.”

Dosia glared at her parents, but she took the comic and stomped her way to her room.

“You know, that will stop working eventually.”

Jory pulled himself up from his chair and made unsteady steps to the sofa. Marcelina helped him sit. Today had been a bad day and he’d taken a fall while in the lab. As hard as it had been, she hadn’t freaked out. Not while he was awake.

When he’d been in bed, sedated and resting, she’d locked herself in the bathroom and cried until Dosia had demanded she come out and give her lunch. Jory leaned against her and she wrapped her arms around him.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m worried about you.”

“No, you’re not. Marcelina, what’s wrong?”

“I can’t stop thinking about it.”

It had been a year, but she could still hear the president dictator’s words. His whispers of controlling them here. He’d never lied to her.  And now, after everything she'd been through, she very likely lived on his sufferance.


“Don’t say I shouldn’t worry, Jory. Don’t say it was only- that he only- just don’t say it!”

“Have I ever?”

No, he hadn’t. She’d told him what she’d been told. After she’d managed to make it back to the base. He’d promised he would look into it. More importantly, Jory’d never said she shouldn’t believe what she’d been told.

“I’m sorry, Jory.” She kissed his cheek and hugged him tighter.

Jory grinned and poked her in the side. “I haven’t forgotten it either, Marcelina. I promise, we’ll sort it out. Only, not tonight.”

He sounded too tired and she worried even more about him. The last thing he would do was admit he didn’t feel well. Not that he had to since she knew him. Marcelina slid out from under him.

“I’m going to go read to the terror. Then I am going to take her to get pudding.” He made to stand and she shook her head. “No, you rest. I’ll wear her out and then get her to bed.”

“And then, Mrs. Couch?”

Marcelina winked at her husband as he stretched out on the sofa. “Then I will do the opposite with you, Mr. Couch.”

“I get pudding in bed?”

The pillow on the chair was tossed at his head before she went to fetch Dosia.



31 Days - Day 20

There’d been warning signs. At least, that’s what others told her. A shame no one thought to tell her before it happened. Instead, she’d been caught off guard. Dosia and Jory were having a father and daughter adventure. She wasn’t sure what they did on those days. Left on her own, she’d spent the day outside. Sometimes she just wanted to fly.

It wasn’t safe during the day. Not that the fact stopped Marcelina. It did make her more cautious. Because she’d promised Jory to be more cautious after last year when she’d almost been caught. So, it had been months since she’d risked flying up so high during the day.

How far away it came from, Marcelina was not sure. All she knew was that a few hours after noon, as she drifted on the warm updrafts over the ruined town they lived in, there was a massive explosion within sight. She saw the missile and heard the explosion. Thankfully, it was not so close as to knock her from the air.

“Don’t do it,” she told herself.

A shame she never listened to herself.

Marcelina dove low and skimmed the stumpy trees between her and the blast zone. Was the army advancing on them? If so, she needed to know because she had to get Jory and Dosia to safety. The others would get the early warning, but they were on their own. She’d decided a long time ago when the attack on them came she was fleeing. Her family would not be casualties no matter how she wanted to kill those responsible for her situation.

A large building she’d spied before was rubble now. A couple of smaller outbuildings were partially collapsed. Marcelina did not know what this place had been used for recently, but she’d heard rumors another group, not associated with the one she was in, ran out of here. No one moved below. Other than a tinkle of glass as a window dripped down there was no noise.

Recalling her promise to be careful, she did not go swooping down to look for survivors. Even though every nerve in her body screamed at her to do so and do it now. Instead, she dropped to the ground near a small copse of trees. There was no chatter on the comm in her ear. Marcelina wore it whenever she left the camp.

There was too much open ground between her and the building. Marcelina crouched down in the underbrush and waited. As her wings thrummed against her back she heard static in her ear. Was someone nearby? They didn’t have the tech needed for uninterrupted communication. Sometimes they bumped up against another frequency in use.

Hating herself for not doing the smart thing, she thumbed the comm to vocal mode.

“Hello?” she whispered.

“How did I know it would be you who responded?”

The voice on the other end left Marcelina frozen in place. She couldn’t feel her limbs, let alone make them work. It was only an ingrained will to not give anything away to him that allowed her to stifle a scared whimper.

“Why did you kill those people?”

“I didn’t.”

“Your army did.”

“No, Miss Mencher, you and your terrorist organization did. The film footage will show it. I have to say, for an enemy of the state, you do make a grand entrance.”

Cameras? There were cameras in the area? Marcelina’s head whipped around, but couldn’t see anything.

“We did not do this. And it is not my organization.”

“No, Miss Mencher. It’s mine.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’ve never lied to you, Miss Mencher.”

“Couch,” she hissed as if her last name were the most important piece of information in the conversation.

“Don’t worry, dear, we’ll be sure your headstone in the traitor’s swamp has the proper name.”

“You won’t kill me.”

“Oh, I will. Not my soldiers, not my civil servants, like your brother. No, not even an ordinary citizen. I will kill you, Marcelina Couch. Now, go fetch any survivors. Let’s see what hideousness you’ve inflicted on this group.”

The static died and silence rang in her ear once more.

Marcelina didn’t move. Not for several hours. She couldn’t.

The shift of rubble finally made her move. She remembered her own incident. The building had dropped on them. Jory was injured and she’d been left like this. No matter what that man said, she had to go see if anyone survived.

Marcelina dug through the ruins of the building. In the end, she wound up with two broken fingers, a bleeding gash up the inside of one arm, and three corpses. Two of them had been changed. She wasn’t sure if that’s what had killed them or something else. The third had been alive when she’d found him. Unable to help, afraid to move him, she held his hand until he died.




31 Days - Day 19


“What were you thinking?”

“Could you, maybe, not yell?”

“Marcelina, how are you going to get out?”

“I don’t know.”

Nothing from her comm.




Under her, she heard voices. They were muffled, but she could hear at least two of them. Her wings vibrated so she put her hands behind her and clasped them against her back. Would someone hear? Would they come up here and investigate? No one had been up here in some time. The dust was so thick she worried about a coughing fit.

“I’m here. It’s going to be ok.”

“Jory? I’m so sorry. I am. I know it wasn’t…smart.” She hated the admission.

“Marcelina, I am going to send Dosia to sleep with Cath and Bridge when you make it back. Then I am going to spend the night yelling at you. Because, yes, it was not smart.”


“I’m scared.” If she’d hated the last admission, this one was physically painful.

“I know, but I promise you it’ll be ok. And I am always right.”

“Are not.”

Under her, the voices stopped. Footsteps walked directly under her and Marcelina held her breath. She tried to shrink back further into the corner, but already splinters from the walls bit into her back.

“I think they’re going to bed,” she whispered. “I can get out when they’re in bed.”


“Tell me when.”

“I’m not there, Mrs. Couch.”

She smiled and unwound herself a fraction. “So, you’re not always right, Mr. Couch?” Footsteps walked under her again. “Because you just said.”

“Marcelina, this is serious.”

“And…I am angry and scared and…and I can’t think about anything but running. Please, Jory. I need you.”

“Tell me when the noise stops.”

He waited for her acknowledgement. Once he had it, he told her about Dosia’s day. A couple of times she had to stop herself from laughing. Marcelina really did not know what she would do without Jory.

“I need you, Marcelina. Please. Please be careful.”

“You don’t need me.”

“I am not raising the terror on my own.”

“I need you, Jory. Please, tell me it will be ok.”

“It’s going to be fine. I promise.”

Marcelina closed her eyes and tried to breathe normally. Every noise made her want to gasp. Eventually, the house grew quiet except for the noises it made on its own. After she told Jory he had her wait another hour.

“Go now.”

Wings tucked up close, she crawled across the floor to the exit. The hinges were not kept oiled like they’d been in the past. So, she opened it slowly and cautiously let herself down to the hallway. Rather than risk the noise, she left the attic entry open.

It wasn’t until her hand was on the front door that she heard a noise. Marcelina spun around and stared at a sleepy-eyed woman. Neither of them spoke. Recognition came slowly, but Marcelina was a beat faster.


“Marcelina? What is it?”

“Siemowit!” the other woman screamed. “Help! Help!”

Marcelina did not wait to see her brother. She threw the front door open and took two steps before she spread her wings and threw herself into the air. Behind her, she heard loud voices. The lights in the neighborhood came on slowly and followed her as she fled her own home.

“Marcelina? Are you ok?”

“He married her.”


“The twice cursed bastard married her.”

“Married who? Marcelina? Did they see you?”

“No. He didn’t. But she did.”


Marcelina didn’t answer right away. The wind shifted and she had to fight to stay on course. It took her several miles to get herself on the right path once more.

“Siemowit married Charlotte,” she growled.

Jory laughed in her ear.




31 Days - Day 18


“Mama! Higher, mama!”

Dosia squealed as her bare feet kicked Marcelina’s stomach. Despite her promises to Jory to keep low to the ground, Marcelina caught an updraft. Dosia screamed as her chubby fingers clutched the leather harness keeping her strapped to her mama.  She was fearless and Marcelina loved her for it. It also kept her up at night with the sort of fear she’d never felt for herself.

“Mama had better not have done what the little terror said.”

Jory’s voice in her ear made her shiver in a way the winter wind did not. Whatever secret project he worked on must be done. She hadn’t seen him for two days as he’d been locked in his office.

“Want to go see daddy?”

Arms thrown out wide with a squeal, Dosia screamed, “Daddy!”

“I feel the same way.”

“Fast, mama! Fast!”

Marcelina whooped, tucked her scarlet wings in, and dove for the ground. The whole way down, Dosia laughed and kicked. Even knowing she was liable to wind up black and blue from tiny feet she couldn’t resist.

 A stumble on her landing did not diminish Dosia’s fun.

It did, she noted, make Jory’s worried scowl deepen. Even though their daughter continued to squeal in delight, Marcelina didn’t manage more than a quick smile.

Jory had his cane and the few paces between them he covered slowly. Had he not slept at all the last couple days? New worry bloomed in her chest. Dosia tried to launch herself at her daddy, but the leather straps held her in place. Jory tried to undo the buckles, but his hands shook.

“Daddy! Hold me. Daddy!”

“I’m trying, terror. Just give daddy a minute.”

“Better idea. Let mama carry you til we get home.”

“I want daddy! Daddy, hold me!”


Marcelina rarely used that tone with her daughter. On more than one occasion it had been pointed out she spoiled her daughter. Most of the time, Marcelina would tell them to fuck off. Her daughter already had an abnormal childhood. All the terror she’d been insulated from was always a day away for Dosia. So, if she were a little spoiled she had it coming.

If there was one thing, one thing, she would not let her daughter get away with, it was anything that might harm Jory. He’d already suffered so much for her. She would die for him, kill for him. And, if the need arose, she would scold her daughter.

“Sorry, daddy.”

“It’s ok, baby terror. But, mama’s right. Let’s go inside and I’ll hold you.”

The harness itched, but Marcelina knew better than to take it off and free Dosia. They weren’t that far from the entrance to their hallway. The rooms they lived in were right by the outside door. No one had wanted them. Not secure enough for the more nervous sort. Marcelina liked the idea of being able to get out quick.

Once inside, she shooed Jory to the sofa. Her own hands shook as she watched his heavy limp. They worked him too hard and it made her angry. His own worries about some of her missions she could dismiss. After all, she was tough. Not that she would say such a thing to him. Not after last time.


Dosia was impatient. Her kicks had grown more insistent. So, Marcelina freed her and watched her race toward Jory. Once free of the harness she went to the bathroom. Another reason to take these rooms. Hardly anyone had their own bathroom. From the cabinet she took out Jory’s medicines.

“How do you do that?”

Dosia was curled up in a chair half-asleep.

“I’m magic.”

His words made her shiver. Rather than kiss him senseless, she brought him the pills. After he took them. That would be the time to kiss him senseless.

Except, magic didn’t exist and by the time Jory felt better Dosia was awake and running around. Marcelina left them to fetch dinner. Not once did she think of asking him what he’d been working on. They’d agreed to that right after the rebels had pulled them into the fold.

A fold she knew he disliked as much as her. Three years now and she had the sense they’d already seen the best this group had to offer. Neither of them spoke of leaving. After living under the rule of a tyrant all their lives neither of them trusted anyplace to be free of observation.

By the time they were done with dinner, both Dosia and Jory were nodding off.

“They work you too hard.”

“Well, there’s not enough smart people to go around.”

“Are you calling me dumb?”


“Idiot. I should have let Charlotte have you.”

Jory laughed before he stroked the scarlet feathers on the back of her neck. If he was not so tired as to make the invitation, she would take him up on it. With any luck, Dosia would not wake up and interrupt.




31 Days - Day 17

They’d said it was a suicide mission. No one had wanted to go. Since the job needed doing they’d asked for volunteers. Of which there had not been any. Not until she’d raised her hand. Dosia had started to cry as if she knew her mother was being an idiot. Or so Jory had told her later that night once their daughter had gone to bed.

Their argument was quiet so as not to wake her, but it was an argument. Marcelina knew he understood why she’d volunteered. She understood he was afraid for her. All of the understanding had not left them with any resolution.

“Idiot,” whispered in her earpiece.

“Dumbee,” she whispered back.

He’d taken the night shift monitoring her progress since she’d left three days ago. Sometimes she’d hear Dosia in the background. She’d turned one not long before Marcelina had left. A normal child. No missing limbs, or extra…stuff. Jory had never been able to quite reassure her. Not until she’d had Dosia and held her in her arms. Normal. Unlike her mother.

“The reports are looking worse, Marcelina. Are you sure you won’t scrub this insanity and come back?”

The three-day trip to this outpost had been harrowing. Twice she’d almost been caught, but she hadn’t told Jory. He worried enough now. When she got home she would tell him. She would be safe then. He would hold her and it would be a bad dream because nothing bad would happen when he held her.

“I can’t.”

“I know.” His sigh barely made it through the earpiece. “Dosia misses her mama. I do too.”

Tears threatened her vision, but she dashed them away with a quick swipe of her hand.

“I miss her dad. Especially when it’s this cold.” She hadn’t been warm since she’d left the rebels’ base.

“Tonight then?”

“It has to be. I picked up some chatter earlier. The inspectors left this morning. There’s only five soldiers here now.”

“Five to one is not good, Marcelina.”

“If the one were someone not me, Jory.”

His laugh was harder to hear than his sigh had been.

“You had better be careful. Or I will kick your ass when you get home.”

“With what foot?”

“Low blow, Couch.”

“I thought you liked those?”

He stuttered and he stammered and she knew he’d be blushing.

“I’m going quiet now. I’ll contact again in an hour. When it’s done.”

“Marcelina, please me careful.”

“Only because you asked. I love you.”

“I love you.”

He would still listen. The mic would be muted, but he’d hear everything. Which was why she was determined to do this by the book. Nothing reckless. So he would know he didn’t have to worry.

Marcelina crept closer to the outpost. There was not much to it above ground. The base could extend underground, but they did not know. What she needed was in the communication shack. Where there were always at least two people. Because if this had been an easy task someone else would have volunteered.

For an hour she froze on the ground as she watched the soldiers. No one had been more surprised than her to discover she had the patience for this work. The shack door opened and one of the radiomen came out to light a cigarette. Which left one inside.

Every muscle wanted to run, but she took it slow. She had, maybe, two minutes the way he was sucking on the thing in his mouth. A snicker surprised her. Had she laughed? Marcelina slapped a hand over her mouth. An itch on her back had her shrug off her coat. The thin wool didn’t keep the cold out anyway.

A flat, empty stretch of ground stood between her shadows and the access she needed at the back of the shack. She didn’t think about what she would do or what might happen. Instead, Marcelina raced across the ground and almost slammed into the back wall. That would have been bad.

From her coat pocket she pulled out the small pin and stuck it into the thickest wire in the mess. Pressed against the wall as she was, it was easy to hear the alarm ping. Fuck. Marcelina almost dropped the syringe, but uncapped it without incident.

The door opened and she heard voices. Fuck again. Hands shaking, she carefully inserted the syringe into the hole the pin had left. Once she’d injected whatever weird tech she’d been carrying, she ran her finger over the wire. She felt no trace of a hole.

Now all she had to do was get away.

“Don’t move.”

“Fuck.” The word echoed in her ear.

“Identify yourself.”

Later, when she was safe at home, she would honestly tell Jory she had no idea what had come over her.

Right now, she let her wings extend and heard gasps from the three men standing with guns pointed at her. The wind picked up and she let it help her as she launched herself into the air. A few feet off the ground she spoke as alarms sounded around her.

“I am the Scarlet Ibis. Tell your people they are no longer safe. They will never be safe until they throw off their oppressor. Because so long as your beloved president rules, I will be here to take him and those who follow him down.”

She stopped fighting the wind and flew higher. It was quite dramatic, she thought.

“You stole that speech from The Claw 195.”

“Shut up, Jory!”



31 Days - Day 16


“Are you sure?” The look from the medic annoyed Marcelina. Annoyance made her blush. Embarrassment had her demand he run the test again.

“This was the third time. I don’t think even I could mess things up so badly as to make a mistake that many times in a row.”

She didn’t know this medic, but she knew that tone of voice. So, she mumbled an apology and left. As agitated as she was there was no way to keep her wings still. Scarlet feathers fluttered and she reached out to grab a wing tip as it brushed against the concrete wall. Somedays she hated them more than others. Whenever she was upset it was impossible to control them.

Jory thought it amusing and had declared himself satisfied he could provide others with a list of warning signs for when to avoid her. Thinking of him changed her path. She wanted to see him, but he was working.

Not that it mattered in the end. Marcelina had told him, in the early days of his recovery, that she was selfish. A fact she’d never voiced aloud before. As he’d laid in bed, only half aware sometimes, she’d unburdened her soul to him. None of it was lies, but perhaps he’d been right when he’d told her one day she looked at herself through a skewed lens.

Either way, selfish or not, she couldn’t stop herself from going to his lab. He hadn’t let his injuries slow him down. She stood in the door and watched him work at first. With no idea what he was doing, science had never been her strong suit, she could only admire the way he moved. Which she did. All the time.

A cane rested against the wall, but he didn’t use it. Not this early in the day. By evening he would use it to help steady himself. His left leg was gone from above the knee and the prosthetic was old school. They managed to save his right leg, but not his foot. Marcelina, only thankful he was alive, had made it clear she did not care. Not, he’d assured her, that he’d ever doubted.

A smile curved her lips upwards as he finally noticed her.

His grin made her stomach do somersaults.

No. It wasn’t the grin.

Marcelina made it to the wastebasket in time to lose her breakfast.

“Marcelina! Are you ok?”

He could move quite fast when he needed to and Jory was by her side with a towel and a glass of water before she was done being sick.

“I’m fine,” she croaked before another wave of nausea hit her. Head bent over the basket she waited with an agitated impatience for it to end. Jory’s fingers stroked down the feathers that ran down her neck. A flash of lust crept into her nausea. Damn him. Now her body pulled her in two directions.

“Marcelina, what’s the matter?”

Lifting her head didn’t make her feel ill so she did. He handed her the glass and she rinsed her mouth out before drinking. A grin bordered on a smirk so she used his sleeve to wipe her mouth. Jory wrinkled his nose, but his fingers continued to stroke her feathers.

“That got me in this situation in the first place.”

Not that it mattered. She scooted closer and laid her head on his shoulder. The scarlet wings on her back extended with a ruffle before they closed around the two of them.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“The door is open.”

“Which is not you saying no.”

“When was the last time I told you no, Jory Couch?”


“Which is why we’re in this situation.”

Jory’s hand moved, swept under her wing, and rested against her stomach. Not once did she think the medic had spilled the beans. Jory always knew what was going on with her. She’d never doubted him. Except that once, but that was Charlotte. Stupid Charlotte.

“It’ll be ok, Marcelina Couch. I have you.”

And he did. So, it would be.




31 Days - Day 15


The building shook around them and she watched as dust and debris rained down with a steady ping of concrete on metal. Every time a bit of wall or ceiling hit her helmet, Marcelina flinched. It was clear to everyone but their captain the enemy had their position locked in. Unfortunately for everyone, the captain had demanded they hold. In the end, she supposed, dying here or across the street wouldn’t matter.

For three days they’d been trying to push across the ruined city. The captain claimed the enemy had bombed it years ago, but Marcelina didn’t believe him. Oh, she didn’t doubt the enemy might have, but it was as likely their own president dictator had bombed the poor souls who lived here. Likely on a whim.

Footsteps thudded under the sound of guns and Marcelina swiveled on her knees and lifted her rifle.

“Friendly. Friendly! Don’t shoot.”

Only training beaten into her head kept Marcelina from dropping her rifle. She did break rank and race across the broken ground. He was the first one through the door and Marcelina felt her heart beat for the first time in two days. The weeping gash in her arm from a stray bullet, fired from one side or the other, didn’t matter. Neither did the bruises running down the left side of her body where she’d fallen when a floor collapsed under her. Marcelina threw her arms around Jory.

“I thought you were died. They said- your platoon.”

He wrapped his arms around her and they stood that way as her captain shouted orders. So close. They’d been so close, but it had been made clear they would never serve together. They could die alone. One at a time. She’d known he was in the city. Because the president dictator had also been sure to keep her appraised. The bastard.

“We’re all that’s left,” Jory murmured against her ear. “I knew you would be here.”

His voice was the only noise she heard despite the battle outside. What he said, she barely comprehended, but that was ok. Jory would know she only needed to hear him.

“Mrs. Couch,” he whispered at last and kissed her. A few soldiers hooted, but neither of them cared. It had been almost a year since they’d done more than see one another. Marcelina would shoot the first person who tried to pull her from his arms.

The radio crackled and she stiffened in his embrace. Jory shook his head and kept his arms around her as they turned to see what was going on. The radio never sent good news.

“New orders, sir,” the radio operator said as he tugged the goggled helmet from his head. “We’re to go up three streets. They have prisoners.”

If anyone heard Jory’s whimper other than Marcelina they didn’t speak. She’d seen prisoners handled as well. Their arms unwound from each other, but their hands stayed linked. The captain smirked, but said nothing. He knew. He would hurt them soon enough. Her commanding officers knew her time was up. It had been since the day she’d stepped into the government van outside Jory’s house.

No resistance met them as they moved forward. Shells exploded overhead, but they knew by now to keep their helmets on and their heads down. The building they’d been in moments before exploded in a shower of metal and concrete.

“If only,” she muttered.

“Idiot,” he muttered back with a grin.

Her heart, only recently beating again, nearly stopped once more at his grin. His face was a mess of cuts and dried blood, but his eyes still shone when he looked at her. As they moved she tried to see if he was injured. No limp, no odd hanging arms, and his fingers seemed to be working fine. Of course, if he had internal injuries they could have dosed him with enough combat cocktail to keep him on his feet until his insides exploded.

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re crazy.”

“I got it from you.”

In the middle of a war zone was not the place to have the sorts of thoughts she had now. Marcelina wished they could have five minutes alone. Well, hours, but she’d settle for five minutes.

Instead, they hurried into a makeshift command building. It had been some kind of store before, she thought. In the last year she’d gotten quite good at figuring out what a ruined building used to house.

“In here,” a sergeant said. The captain led them to the back. A receiving area, Marcelina suspected.

Then she saw the prisoners.


Jory heard her whisper and squeezed her hand harder. She moved forward and he didn’t let go. They shoved through the small group gathered.

“Those are not enemy combatants, sir,” she said.

“Shut up, private.”

“Sir, those are children!”

A dozen children knelt together. Their clothes were no more than rags and skeletal limbs covered in new and old wounds shook. None of them could have been older than ten.

“This is it,” she whispered to Jory.

She would die here. He only squeezed her hand before he dropped it. They both stepped forward and stood between the children and the other soldiers.

“Stand down, private.”

“Fuck you, sir. These are not enemy combatants.”

“I say they are.”

“They can barely hold their heads up, captain. There’s no way they held a weapon.”

“Stand down, private!”

“Fuck you, sir.”

“You said that already.”

Hysteria threatened her. Marcelina couldn’t stop a mad laugh. Jory still grinned, but he’d raised his gun. Hers, she realized, was already up and pointed at the captain.

“You’re dead, private.”

“So are you, captain.”

Marcelina shot him in the chest. He stumbled back and before she heard the sound of gunfire erupt in the room she heard the whistle of an incoming missile. Gun held with one hand, she reached for Jory with the other and she didn’t know what hit her first, the falling ceiling or the bullets from the other soldiers.


Hands grabbed her arms and she screamed. It felt like she was being pulled through a tube half her size by metal claws. No, that wasn’t dramatic enough. After she woke up from passing out she’d think of something better. Or let Jory. He had a better way with words.

Whispered voices drew her from the cocoon of unconsciousness. She hated them. Marcelina opened one eye, but couldn’t see anything.


The croak of her voice silenced the others.

“Jory?” she tried again.

“She’s alive.”

“Yes,” an almost familiar voice said. “Find him. We need to move.”

“Where’s Jory?”

A spark of light made Marcelina blink and when her vision almost worked she recognized the woman crouched beside her. Well, she recognized the scars covering half of her. The woman from Herbert’s funeral. Why was she here?

“Jory is here. Somewhere. We’re attempting to find him.” Her voice expressed doubt without words.

Ignoring the pain, Marcelina sat up. If Jory were here, here being the ruins of the building they’d almost died in, she would be the one to find him. The unknown woman watched as Marcelina tried to stand. Her legs were too unsteady and she gave out a cry as she fell down.

“Yes, you are going to be a big help.”

“Fuck. You.”

Then she heard it. Barely a whisper. Maybe no one else did, but she did.

“You said that.”

Marcelina wanted to scream. Not only because she heard him, but because she was becoming aware of how much she hurt. Her entire back burned and they’d left something on it. Had a piece of the ceiling fused with her armor? No, she wasn’t wearing armor.

“Jory!” She’d wanted to yell, but had barely managed a whisper. On her hands and knees she crawled over debris to begin digging for him. He would be alive. They would be fine. The same two sentences were on repeat in her mind as two others, unknowns, joined her quest.

As much as she wanted to tell them to go away, she didn’t. Their help would be needed. Otherwise, she would send them all away. Jory would either be ok and they would leave together or he’d be too hurt and she would sit here with him until they both died.

“The kids?” Jory whispered as soon as they’d moved enough of the collapsed building to see him.

Marcelina felt guilty for not thinking of them first.

“We managed to save four of them.”

“Jory? Are you ok? What’s wrong?”

“Please, let us see to him. We are trained.”

A growl vibrated in her chest. The weight of her knife at her hip told her she was not unarmed. Except, Jory had freed a hand and brushed his fingers across her thigh. It was bad. She knew and, hating herself for being a coward, retreated.

The scarred woman hadn’t moved. Marcelina worked her way over to her and noticed the itching on her back. Better than the burning, she supposed. Had there been a chemical weapon in the missile? Were they all dead anyway?

Jory screamed.

Marcelina shrieked when she felt something on her back. Her head whipped from one side to the other. What? No.

This time she whimpered for herself.

What had happened to her?

Jory screamed again. It was too much and she dodged around the scarred woman’s hand to hurry as best she could back to her husband’s side. Husband, despite what had been done. They’d not been allowed to legally marry as it would have given them the right to serve together. They only had their own vows.

“Jory?” she whimpered.

His eyes unfocused and she saw the needle in his arm. Combat cocktail, she thought. To keep his body from crashing. He lifted his hand and she heard feathers ruffle. As his fingers stroked scarlet feathers she realized they were hers.

“Do you have claws?” he wheezed.

Marcelina looked down at her hands. They looked normal. So, she shook her head.

“A shame. Then- then-”

She felt them now, feathers in her hair and down from there to her shoulders and back. Where her wings were. Wings. Marcelina wondered if she’d been drugged.

“We need to cut him out.”

“He has to live.”

Funny. She should have said that, but it was the other woman. With the scars. Why would she care if Jory lived?

Oh. Because of Marcelina.

Wait. How did she know?

Her head spun so she clutched it as warm, damp feathers closed around her. Jory screamed so she did as well. The scarred woman was right. He had to live.

No one else would be able to stop the visions of blood she saw in her head from coming true.