A boot splashed in a puddle as a heavy-set man ran for his life. He raced down the alley and turned to look over his shoulder only to see that whoever had been pursuing him was no longer there. He slowed his pace and bent over to rest his hands on his knees as he caught his breath.
“Goddammit,” he gasped. Holding back his dinner, he wiped at the drool and sweat that was trickling down his chin. There was nothing like a life and death situation that could make just about anyone run. A loud cackle shook him to the core. Spinning around, he wasn’t able to pinpoint where the sound was coming from. It seemed to be everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. It was a loud shocking sound, sudden and harsh with each rendition of a female’s laugh. It was slow like a slow clap and each burst of laughter made him shake in his boots and jump with terror. He knew the woman laughing, he knew what she was capable of, and he knew why she was chasing him. What he didn’t understand was why she had chosen him to be her prey. He was no one important. Just a cook at a no-name restaurant. He didn’t even own it, just worked there part-time. Yet, here he was, being forced to run for his life from this maniac.
“Come out! Goddamn you! I said show yourself!”
The quiet stillness returned to the night and only his labored panting could be heard. He wasn’t going to go down without a fight! She thought she could scare him, he would show —
A sharp pain plunged through his chest. He looked down to see the glint of cold metal made warm with his blood. “Goddammit,” he whispered as he reached up and touched the metal in shock. It was sticking right out of him, his numb mind tried to process what he was seeing. It was just sticking right out of him, like an arm or a leg. His thoughts grew slow and trailed off as he continued to study the metal. The once thundering hammer of his heart now shook and trembled as with each beat it brushed against the blade positioned just inches from it but in his mind all he could think was, she got me. That goddamn bitch got me. A warm breath puffed against his left ear and a soft almost angelic voice whispered cruelly into it,
What is now mine,
Claimed in blood
From this unworthy swine.
Let loose his grimoire
To fit into my pocket
“No!” He gasped even as a nondescript book with a brown binding appeared out of thin air in front of them. He didn’t know how she did it, how she made the very thing that contained all that he was and all that he could ever be, appear when only he was supposed to be able to. Goddamn bitch got him, his mind wandered from thought to thought. He knew there was something he was supposed to do. But what it was, he couldn’t remember. There was a way to stop her from stealing all that he was, to stop her from getting what she wanted, but he just couldn’t think straight. Goddamn bitch got him. It was words. There were words he was supposed to speak. It was sticking right out of his chest, that blade was. It was just sticking right out of him. Words. He knew they were important words but what were they? Why couldn’t he remember them? Like an arm or a leg, just sticking right out of him. Important words that would stop her. He needed to stop her. She was going to take them all, all of his spells all that he was and all that he could ever be, but he wasn’t going to become anything anymore, the goddamn bitch got him.
“Ah, here we are then,” the woman whispered and pale boney fingers with black painted fingernails that were chipped, as if she chewed on them he thought, reached out over his shoulder and grabbed the book. This was bad. He needed to stop her but he just couldn’t get his arms to respond. As the woman’s hand touched the book, a shocking pain thrummed throughout his body, like electricity running along every nerve and wreaking havoc on every inch of him. A scream burned and tore out of his throat.
The knife plunged deeper and twisted suddenly and ruthlessly and the scream abruptly cut off only to be replaced by the gurgle of blood. Then there was only silence. A heeled boot slammed into the now dead man’s back pushing the body off the blade as the woman kept hold of the slowly fading book. With a flick of her wrist, her blade was clean and she sheathed it within a black leather casing that hung at her hip. Holding up the almost translucent book, she reached into her pocket to retrieve a small stone. She placed it on the cover of the book and it lit up in neon green and the brown book wailed, as if it was an animal, as it was forcefully opened and the pages flipped as if commanded by the wind.
As each page turned the words that were written in strange symbols were quickly erased and the pages left blank. The book slammed shut after a moment, its pages empty, and it finally disappeared leaving the neon green stone to fade into a dull jade. The woman smirked and placed the stone back into her pocket only to retrieve a slip of paper and a ballpoint pen. With a couple of quick flicks of her wrist, she completed her message and shoved the paper into the man’s jacket pocket. Wiping off the leftover blood that she had managed to get on her sword hand on his jacket, she stood back up. Then she simply turned on her heel and carried on down the alleyway and back onto the street and into the rush of the late evening commuters on their way home. And just like that, she disappeared, the only evidence of her trail a dead body and a message for the next pawn in her game, whoever they may be.
Ambient Black hated being a shadow aggressor almost as much as she loved it. She was who they called when a troublesome case was dropped at her bosses feet and he needed someone, a ghost, to deal with it. Currently, Ambient was following one specific case, or rather a series of cases dealing with a specific group of deadly people. So, when her phone rang, a loud ringtone of a crow cawing, at seven in the morning on a Friday and she actually answered it, a highly improbable feat in and of itself, her boss expected the disgruntled noncommittal grunt to his demand that she make an appearance at a crime scene. He also wasn’t as surprised, as one might expect him to be, when she suddenly hung up on him before he finished what he had to say.
Nor was he upset, as he suspected that she had, in fact, fallen back asleep after his call. Ambient was many things, a morning person was not one of them. It could be considered her Achilles heel that she could not function before nine in the morning, but once nine rolled around, she was immediately alert. Despite knowing all of this about his employee, and despite giving her the leeway he knew she needed to function to the best of her abilities, Jameson Hemmly was not a happy camper when she showed up two hours later in a coffee-stained gray hoodie with the words, ‘Cat Got Your Tongue’ written across the front, frayed black jeans that were tucked into her scuffed combat boots, and with hair that looked like a bird had tried to take up a permeant residence but realized it was too much work and moved on to bigger and better things. But, as she was no longer representing aggressors officially, and technically she was completely off the books, he simply held out the bag of evidence that contained a brief but very important note.
She grabbed it and squinted, rubbed the sleep from her eyes that she had somehow managed to miss, and peered through bleary eyes only to look back up at her boss in confusion. She read it aloud,
“At witching hour
In a high tower
Find a menace at Harmony.
Kill it fast
To make it last.
Pluck the flowers of splendor.
Find what is unfound,
And walk away with worth unbound.”
“What the heck is this?”
Her boss shrugged. “Figure it out. Tell me. Then fix this,” he pointed to the body bag Ambient had only just noticed, “And not in that particular order,” he continued.
She sighed, then stuck out her hand grabbing a young man running around, and glared at him.
“Get me a cup of black coffee, and you’ll keep your life and job, but only if you’re back in ten minutes.”
“I’m Aggressor Black. I like my coffee black. Ten minutes.”
He paled. “Yes, ma’am!” and took off like a bat out of hell.
“Still got it, I see,” her boss mumbled.
Ambient grimaced. “I don’t think it will ever go away.”
She turned back to her boss. Jameson Hemmly was a good man once one looked past all the hard-assary. Luckily, Ambient knew how to look good and hard. “I’ll take care of it, Jameson.”
He nodded. “See that you do,” and walked back over to three aggressors-in-training that were talking quietly amongst themselves as they waited for him. She sneered at them when they glanced over at her, then smirked as two paled, but the other nodded in respect. It seemed even Jameson had to fulfill the job as a mentor for the witching squads taking their witch trials. It always seemed there were just never enough good aggressors these days.
Most failed the witch trials while all the good aggressors were retiring to cozy jobs at the embassy. She shrugged, pulling her jacket closer, as a breeze blew by. October, the witch’s staple month. The time when things seemed to take a turn for the worst in her opinion. She wasn’t one much for stories but after her years on the force, she was as superstitious as any other witch. It was like when someone said it was a quiet night in the emergency room. It was just something you didn’t do unless you wanted to bloody your hands and end up with a couple of dead bodies. Witches just knew better than to say, “October seems quiet this year.”
She would personally plant her boot up their ass if it appeased the powers-that-be and restore the fragile balance that occultist tended to like to disrupt for shits-and-giggles. She turned to study the most recent victim, in a depressingly long list of victims, being zipped up in a black body bag. At least this one wasn’t marked. Some of the others had the marking of a rune somewhere on their body. She knew though, that the ones that weren’t marked were, in other’s opinions, the unlucky ones. It was one thing to die and be marked.
Sure, your body would have to get chopped up to preserve the marking for later use, but most would prefer that to having their grimoire stolen. It was another kind of pain and humiliation to watch the thing that represented your very soul being erased as your life slipped away. Some of the victims had even suffered several hours of torture before the assailant had deemed them worthy of having their grimoire stolen and to be put out of their misery.
“The things people do to each other, I’ll never get used to it.”
“You’re coffee, Aggressor Black!” She was startled from her thoughts as the young man returned holding a styrofoam cup filled with piping hot coffee. Smirking, she relieved him of his precious cargo. He must have stolen it from another aggressor, she thought, as she took the first sip of the meaning of life for the day. There was no better magic then coffee on a weary and battered soul. With a wave of her hand, she dismissed him, and he was only too happy to run away as fast as he could. She took another sip and just appreciated one of the small pleasures in life.
As she drank her coffee, and watched the other aggressors work the crime scene, some pointedly avoiding her eyes, others glaring, and others still, nodding to her in respect when their eyes happened to lock with her own heterochromic ones. Her left eye, a light powder blue, while her right bore the mark she would never live without. It was a soulless black, some even said it was like being sucked into a black hole when they stared into it. She took another sip and swallowed while mumbling under her breath, “Still got it indeed,” and set about getting to work. She had a bad feeling it was going to be a long day.