"The bleach was getting to me."Saturday morning arrived far too soon for Brenna's liking. She awoke to the sounds of bustling downstairs. Slipping out of bed, Brenna padded on bare feet downstairs to see what was happening. Her father was in the living room with her uncle watching the sports highlights. Brenna peeked in to find out the score from the Padres road game, then ducked back out. In the dining room, Grace and Rae ate their breakfasts as Aunt Dawn returned with a stack of pancakes. "Good morning, Brenna," Dawn said. "Sleep well?"
"Officer Cruz is here to make sure I'm safe, Daddy."
"Detective McCoy needs available officers."
"Mom and Dad are fighting almost all the time now."
"Yeah, I guess. You don't have to cook, Aunt Dawn."
"Let her, Brenna," Rae said. "We've had the discussion already."
"Raven Amelia, mind your manners," Dawn scolded. She turned back to Brenna. "Would you like some? I did use eggs in them, though."
"I'm allowed eggs, Aunt Dawn. I'm not a strict vegetarian. Just no meat." Brenna sat down beside her cousin. She reached for the coffee carafe and poured herself a mugful. "Morning, Gracie."
"Morning, Bren," Grace said with a mouthful of pancake. She swallowed. "Rory's still asleep?"
"She and Summer got in late."
Dawn returned with a plate for Brenna. "Here you go, dear. Have any plans for today?"
"Not really," Brenna said. She looked over at her cousin. "I was thinking of taking Rae to the beach, if she's interested."
"That sounds like a lovely idea, Brenna."
"Yeah, lovely," Rae said, sarcasm oozing off each syllable.
Grace looked up from her breakfast. "You should take Rory and Summer, too, Bren."
"My van doesn't have seats for everyone, Grace."
"Take my car." Grace set the keys to her Volkswagen on the table. "Just don't dent it. I'll need your van, though."
"I guess." Brenna got the keys to her lavender Savana out. "Don't break it."
"I'm not going to break it. I need it to get some stuff that doesn't fit into my Bug."
"It's so nice you girls can work together." Dawn picked up the coffee carafe and disappeared with it into the kitchen.
"The beach," Rae said in a flat tone. "Oh, fun."
Brenna sipped her coffee. "Unless there's something else you want to do?" She looked over her shoulder at the kitchen door. Lowering her voice, she added, "It's not like you have to stay with me."
Rae perked up. "I'm listening."
"Get what you need before we go. I'm not planning on being back until dinner time."
"Bring your bathing suit," Grace suggested. "Camouflage."
"Seriously?" Rae said.
Brenna nodded, then took two pancakes from the stack. "Just make sure you keep in touch with me."
Rae finished her breakfast. "Thanks, Brenna." She set down her utensils. "Can you answer me something?"
"Why do you call Rory 'Aura'? I think you're the only person who calls her that."
Brenna poured maple syrup over her pancakes. "I'm not sure. It's what I've always called her."
"Probably because of the stutter you used to have, Bren," Grace suggested. She drained the remains of her coffee. "Rory's a mouthful on its own. Aurora must be even harder."
"Could be." Brenna started on her breakfast, cutting a small portion to taste.
Rae got up from the table and walked upstairs, passing Summer on her way down. The middle sister tried to stifle a yawn. "Morning."
"Hi, Summer." Grace finished the last bites of her breakfast. "Your mom made breakfast. Pancakes. There's still some left."
"Thanks." Summer parked herself in the chair her younger sister vacated. "I need coffee."
Dawn returned with the carafe. "Morning, sweetheart." She poured a mug three-quarters full for her daughter. "Cream is on the table."
"Brenna's offered to take you and your sisters to the beach. Won't that be fun?"
Summer looked over at her older cousin. "Yeah, fun." When her mother turned away, Summer mouthed, "Are you insane?" at Brenna.
Brenna shrugged back. "When should we be back, Aunt Dawn?"
"I think your father has reservations for seven tonight, so try to be back by five-thirty so we can all get ready."
Brenna spent the rest of breakfast listening to Summer and Grace chatting. The conversation was mainly about university, with Summer asking Grace for advice. Aura came downstairs as the young brunette was finishing her cup of coffee. Taking advantage of having her bedroom free, Brenna ran back upstairs to get dressed for the day.
She returned downstairs wearing her favourite denim skirt, the knife cut patched, and a long-sleeved purple and white t-shirt, a beach bag in her arm filled with towels and her bikini. Brenna set down her gear near the door, then joined her father and her uncle in the living room. She sat down on her father's lap, giving him a hug, then snuggling into him while she waited for her cousins to get ready.
By eleven o'clock, Brenna had her entourage in Grace's gold Beetle. She put the rag top down, letting the wind blow through her air. After a quick ride, Brenna parked near Gnarly's Boards. The group climbed out of the Volkswagen convertible. After a short explanation, mainly Brenna pointing out that she was stopping at Gnarly's to meet her friend, and making sure that they had the young brunette's cell phone number, the Stone sisters split up to go their separate directions. Summer made a beeline to the beach's changing room. Rae walked away from the beach, heading towards the quirky stores lining the road. Aura stayed with Brenna, as the Halliday woman expected.
At lunch, Missy took Brenna and her cousin down to the Perfidious Clam. They caught sight of Summer wearing a pair of cut-off denim shorts over her tankini sitting at a table with three other people, another girl and two guys, all around her age. Summer waved to her cousin and older sister, then returned to paying attention to her own group. Brenna waved back, then resumed talking with Aura and Missy.
Once lunch was over, Brenna took Aura on a quick sightseeing tour of San Diego, passing by places the Halliday woman liked to go to in order to escape crowds. She made a point of driving past both the Zoo and the hotel complex hosting the Comic Con. Aura gave a low whistle at the sheer number of people at the hotels, many of which were wearing costumes.
As five-thirty approached, Brenna returned to Gnarly's Boards. When she parked, Rae stepped out from under a shady tree and jumped in the back, carrying several bags worth of shopping with her. A few minutes later, Summer returned, her hair still damp. She set down a towel to sit on before getting in. As soon as her cousins were buckled up, Brenna began the trip home.
Tricia lounged on the couch in her hideout. One of her skeletal minions waved a fan over her, keeping her cool. Another held a tray with a pitcher of iced tea and several glasses. Tricia admitted to herself that this luxury was possibly an abuse of the power she imbued in her minions. However, if one couldn't enjoy having servants waiting hand and foot, what good was having them in the first place, beyond the insurance she had wanted to protect herself from the ashen man.
She sipped her iced tea. Staying holed up in her second home was starting to get to her. Granted, she had made sure all of her dwellings had creature comforts, but Tricia chafed at not being able to leave. She set down her glass, not even noticing that the skeleton with the pitcher refilled it right away. Tricia got up and walked into her bedroom. "I've had enough waiting," she declared. "When is the moment right?"
Patience. You caused a stir yesterday. I'm sure every sensitive in your city felt your power.
"Then they should already be cringing in fear."
And the police? What did that insipid person on the television say? Three police officers dead, one badly injured?
"I should have hit him harder."
I believe the police got your message.
"What can they do to stop me? I have raw power at my command." Tricia sat down on her bed.
Tricia interrupted, "Is a mere wisp of a girl. I don't need to get close to her. That is one of the reasons why I have my animated skeletons."
As I was saying, the Bladekeeper needs to be neutralized. Not killed. Not before the rest of her family is dead.
"Just how am I supposed to find the Bladekeeper? I never found out her name."
I have felt the power of the Bladekeeper before. Her abilities have a unique taste to them. Her family should be similar. All you need to do is track it.
"Track something by taste. Right."
Get a map. Lay it out on your table. Then I will show you.
Tricia rummaged for a map of San Diego and set it up as asked. "I don't see how this will help."
Be still and concentrate. I will teach you.
Tricia closed her eyes. She clutched her head as new knowledge appeared in her memory, a new ritual burning itself into her brain. Tricia snarled a string of curses and obscenities. "That fucking hurt!"
'Everything has a price.' I believe you even said those words to me at some point. Some payments cost more than others. Now, give the ritual a try.
Tricia looked down at her map. She intoned the spell, then pricked her finger, letting a few drops of her blood fall on to the paper. The map turned a rust colour as the blood soaked into it. As Tricia finished her incantation, several blood red dots appeared on the map. "What am I seeing?"
Interesting. The Bladekeeper has blood family in town.
"That's who all these dots are? What about the Bladekeeper herself?"
There should be a black dot for her. Do you see it?
Tricia scoured the map. "Black dot, not finding it. Wait, found it, with a large red blob. They're on the freeway."
She must be with some of her family.
"Then we can go and kill them now."
No. It's too dangerous.
"How dangerous can it be? I can have my minions go in before me."
The Bladekeeper's blood line produces girls with unusual abilities. They will know that we are coming and they will prepare themselves.
"Then we just have to overwhelm them. Send in fodder first."
Fodder? Such as?
"I don't know. Animate anything on the street and send it after the Bladekeeper and her family."
A lamp post? Ooh, how scary. They might laugh themselves to death.
"You haven't come up with any ideas." Tricia sat down, keeping an eye on the moving dots.
An army would work. If we could overwhelm them. A pity you didn't create more minions.
"I couldn't kill enough people in the next month to get a decent sized army."
No, but what if you could get more without going through that full ritual? No killing needed.
Tricia shrugged. "Takes out some of the fun of the hunt, but I'm listening." The ritual appeared in her head, sending off waves of migraine-strength pain. Tricia groaned, trying to bite back on the ache. "Warn me next time!" she snarled.
The dinner out with her family was a noisy affair for Brenna. She resisted the instinct to go out to her father's car and hide in there for a few minutes. Instead, she kept up her end of a conversation with Aura and managed to keep up with her aunt when she was asked questions. The dinner itself was expertly done; her father had found a restaurant that provided for a decent vegetarian selection along with its regular courses. In fact, Aura had joined Brenna in ordering from the vegetarian menu.
Dessert and coffee kept the older generation talking long past dinner as they caught up with each other. Brenna kept an ear out in case they needed anything from her, her sister, or her cousins. Soon, the bill was settled and the group returned to the Halliday home. Grace went straight to bed; with her graduation in the morning, she wanted to get an early night in. Summer opted to share the tent with her younger sister instead of wanting to risk disturbing Grace on the eve of her big day. Brenna went upstairs with her eldest cousin, where they sat chatting until midnight before going to sleep.
Tricia crept through the graveyard, her dark grey sweater and pants hiding her in the shadows of the trees and headstones. The ritual required her to find the center of the cemetery before she could start. She was estimating her location, hoping that she was close enough for the ritual to work. Tricia didn't like the idea of casting a major spell without doing some research into how it worked first, but time wasn't on her side right now.
She reached what she thought was the middle, or close enough. The words to the incantation popped up in her mind as she intoned them. A drop of her blood fell and soaked into the ground. The earth rumbled, threatening to throw Tricia off balance. She adjusted her stance, not once missing or mispronouncing a word. A bony hand shot out of the ground near Tricia's feet as the first skeleton left its grave. It was soon followed by another, then two more. Soon, several hundred skeletons stood at attention, waiting for her command.
"Bren, you can let go of me now."
"No clothes at all."
"Try no skin."
"Just think of the overtime, though."