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« Part I

Chapter One

"You seem different lately."

His comment hung in the air like a question, like a tasty-looking ripe fruit waiting to be picked, yet no one was very eager to pick it.

"In what way?" said Michelle, very carefully picking the fruit. Her beautiful face softly twitched into a somewhat sly, playful, knowing, yet very subtle grin. Gabriel liked how she was aging gracefully, just the slightest of wrinkles in the corners of her mouth, below ever-so-slightly more chiseled cheekbones than when he had met her over a decade before. Her hazel eyes were hiding something, but not seemingly in any sinister way. It was more like they were playfully sing-songing "I've got a secret... and I'm not telling."

Gabriel smiled. "Things have been so pleasant lately. Not much bickering. You're so agreeable. I'm more agreeable."

Michelle laughed. "Really?"

"You haven't even complained about my mother in weeks. I'm beginning to wonder if you're dying!"

Michelle flew her head back and laughed heartily. "You're so hyperbolic."

"After I look up what that word means on the 'Net, I'm gonna look up these strange symptoms you have; what strange disease have you come down with?" Gabriel chuckled to let her know he was only half-kidding.

"I have learned to see things that I couldn't before"

She picked an apple out of their picnic basket. The soft breeze that tossed her curly, auburn hair made the near-perfect temperature of the air, briefly, down to perfect. "It's like this apple. I no longer see just its red skin. I see how it got here, how it grew, and, by looking at its seeds, I see its future."

"I see a delicious, post-turkey-sandwich snack," Gabriel mused. He craned his neck over and crunched a bite out of it.

"Ah, my hungry man."

"Serioushly," said Gabriel's apple-filled mouth, "wha kind of Buddhish - or whatever - crap have you been washing on TV?"

"Television is the last place you'll learn," she said, "let's just say that, just like your body, sometimes your soul needs healing from injuries. Mine is healing. I am seeing more, hearing more. I am more open to the world around me, to really anything. I am no longer behind huge stone walls, protecting myself from all outside influences. I've thrown open the gates, so to speak."

"Come on!" Gabriel chuckled. "Have you been buying some self-help DVDs or something on that separate account of yours?"

"No," she said. "Nothing like that. Let's not talk about how I got here, let's talk about where we're going now." She put one of her long fingers under Gabriel's chin, leaned in, and softly kissed his lips.

"Well, maybe I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth," said Gabriel, even though he was sufficiently suspicious.

"My thoughts..." Michelle looked around her, her smile suddenly fading. "Is it getting dark already?"

Gabriel looked at his old digital watch. "It's 3:30 in the afternoon. And," he looked up at the sky, "not a storm cloud in sight. Just those fluffy ones that--"

"Oh!" she closed her eyes and put her hand to her forehead. "This truly awful thought just popped into my head. Oh, this horrible, awful... hmm. Man. That was so odd."

"Time to close those gates, honey?" suggested Gabriel.

"Maybe I should, just a little bit.

"Just a little bit."

LIGHTNING CRASHES! Picnic GONE! In the house... IT'S DARK!

Gabriel sees Michelle, hanging in the kitchen.

CREAK.

CREAK.

CREAK.

Her dead eyes are open, staring at him.

"MICHELLE!!!!"

"Her gates are closed now," hisses an evil, almost British-sounding voice from somewhere, like what the grown-up child of Jeremy Irons and the Devil might sound like. Gabriel's heart stops when he sees a shirtless man - weird symbols cut into his ripped chest - only visible when the lightning flashes through the little window above the sink.

Gabriel, gasping for breath, trying to scream but can't, awakens in his sweat-soaked hotel bed.

When his vocal cords are released from whatever wretched spell they'd been under, he yells "FUCK!" as loud as he can. As he punches into the air as hard as he can he suddenly becomes disoriented. Vertigo sweeps him as gravity suddenly, and surprisingly, releases its grip on him.

"What the---?"

Gabriel realized something was really wrong when what he'd just spoken did not come from his mouth. He looked around. He was floating in the air! He looked down. His body, with a pissed-off look still on it, lie in the bed below.

Frightened and panicked, Gabriel zoomed back down to it as fast as he could. Shhhhnnnnkted! He was back in his body.

Gabriel's hand trembled so much he could barely grab a hold of his phone, which had been setting on the night stand. As he hit the recent calls button he muttered almost every curse word he knew, saying Bastiaan's name in between some of them. His trembling thumb pushed the call button when he saw "Bastiaan."

"It is nearly three in the morning, mon, this had better be good."

"I. LEFT. MY. BODY!" Gabriel gasped.

"What??"

"I had a... a nightmare! I woke up, all messed up, I... I punched into the air... and then my soul was out! WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?! HUH?! WHAT?!"

"Ohhhh," Bastiian said. "I see."

"What?!" Gabriel exclaimed. "See WHAT?! You'd better start explaining before I reach through this blasted phone and grab your neck!"

"Well, it's like anything, leaving your body, the more you do it, the easier it is. Remember how difficult it was the first time I helped you do it? Remember how much easier it was the second and third times? Now you can do it without my help, apparently. You must have, even though maybe you didn't realize it consciously, really wanted to leave your body at that particular moment."

Gabriel thought about the fourth time he ever left his body, in Chicago. Only his second mission. The time he barely missed his wife. When she'd possessed that preacher shortly before he opened fire on his congregation. Trouble getting out of his body had been costly timewise - it took almost ten minutes. Bastiaan had had to take him back exactly twenty-four hours with only seconds to spare to be in time to stop the shooting. As Gabriel had rushed the preacher he saw their spectacular failure as the bullets started flying. A fraction of a second before he entered the preacher's body he saw Michelle slither out.

That mad look on her soul's face now haunts him almost as much as the look on her body's face when he'd discovered it. Gabriel shook his head to get it out of his mind.

"You mean to tell me that now I can just... just... slip out of my body by accident?! All the time?! Like my soul is loose now or something?! Like the more you uh... uh..." Gabriel stumbled as he searched for an appropriate analogy. He couldn't find a real good one. "Like the gun of an action figure? The more times you remove the gun from that little hand the looser it gets until it won't stay in anymore?!"

"Oh no, no," Bastiaan said. Gabriel could just see him smiling, even though he hadn't turned the video calling on. "For you to do it by, er, 'accident' as you say, it must be in a situation of extreme distress, mental or physical, or both. And, death of course. That musta been some nightmare, mon."

Gabriel tried to recall it. The nightmare was suddenly slippery in his mind. "Uh. It had Michelle. First it was nice. We were outside, we were talking, it was nice. But then... then it went to the night that... that..."

"I see," Bastiaan said soberly. "You no have to finish that sentence."

"There was something else." Gabriel thought hard. "There was... a man. A very, very..." He never liked to admit when he was scared. And as childish as it was going to sound, he couldn't find a better word to describe it. "...scary man."

"Mmmm." Bastiaan sighed. Gabriel imagined the shaman shaking his head slowly. "That would be the Old Man I tell you about when you were droppin' off the crystal -- Hasan. And like I say he go by many names, like Rutajit, Tartok, or Duppy. Or any of the other many names he is known by depending on your cultural persuasion. Like I say, his real name is a mystery."

"Mr. Static himself!"

"Right. Even those, like Suriya, who know his real name, cannot utter it."

"Well, anyway, he... um... I think... I think he had these symbols... actually carved into his chest."

"Those symbols... they very important to the extremely dark magicks he deal in. Just be lucky you only seein' him in your dreams, mon. Not a person you want to be meetin' in reality."

"Well, here's hopin' I don't!" Gabriel huffed. "And, I also don't hope I become like the Hulk or something and every time I get pissed off - instead of getting all big and green - my fuggin' soul doesn't decide to go for a stroll!" Briefly he considered how lame that last sentence had sounded, its rhyme and its beat.

"You don't be worryin' 'bout that," Bastiaan said, "no matter how 'easy' leavin' your body be, it still be helluva difficult compared to just about anything else. Now you get some rest. I got a feeling our next mission will present itself later in the morning."

"So where should I head?" Usually when Bastiaan had one of his "feelings" he was right. However, most of the time, before they knew what the event was, either he or Suriya knew at least what direction to send Gabriel in so he could start driving and end up close enough so that he could get there within a day.

Bastiaan grunted. "Sorry. For some reason I don't know that yet. Maybe the brat will know. But I'll call you if and when I know more."

Gabriel did not like that at all. "You'd better."

"Don't worry," Bastiaan said. "One of us will know something."

Gabriel ended the conversation and hung up. He knew it was a futile attempt to get back to sleep, as the horrifying image of his wife's dead face, and the feeling of dread at seeing the mysterious man, troubled him greatly every time he closed his eyees. And it didn't help that he was worried about not knowing what direction to head yet. However, he still hated being interrupted in his attempt.

"Still his fetchdog?" asked that all-too-familiar voice.

"Not YOU!" Gabriel said. "Go away... Sue!"

"I said don't call me that!" Suriya said as she materialized next to his bed.

Gabriel almost smiled. Almost.

"What the hell do you want?"

"World peace."

Gabriel rolled his eyes and groaned. "Go away! I'm trying to sleep."

"I have a feeling you're not going to succeed."

"Well you're not helping, that's for sure"

"You've been dreaming about her," Suriya said. She was definitely not asking him.

"Stay out of my dreams, Suriya," Gabriel said.

"I didn't have to actually be in your dreams to know, Gabe."

Gabriel scoffed. It'd been a long time since somebody had referred to him in the short. It was probably the last time he'd talked to his brother, Drew, the Addict, who, last he'd heard was panhandling in the Florida Keys. "Well, fine, I'm glad you weren't snooping in my dreams."

"I didn't say I wasn't," Suriya said, "I just said I didn't have to. I'm tuned to your vibrations, don't you remember?"

"Why the hell are you here?" Gabriel said, it coming out more whiney than he'd intended. He scoffed in what he thought was a manly way to try to offset the whining. "I mean, do you know more about this upcoming mission Bastiaan has a 'feeling' about?"

When Suriya did help him out with more information about upcoming missions, she could give him more details than Bastiaan.

"I have something for you," Suriya said in an almost teasing way. "And no, I don't know anything about any upcoming mission. The spirits have told me little today. Too much interference, probably from other crazy stuff going on in the world."

Gabriel sat up. "Well what the hell is it then if it's not about that! I hope it's sleeping pills! I'm operating on about five hours the past few days."

"I'm not a traveling pharmacy!" snapped Suriya. "It's not about any upcoming event, but I do have information. As usual." She paused. "Well, actually, it's information about information."

"Just spill it, girl," Gabriel said.

"Bastiaan knows something," she said, "something he's not telling you."

"Yeah yeah, I shouldn't trust him, blah blah blah. Broken record, I tell ya. But he says to trust you and etcetera, etcetera, whatever. I think you two are just playing a game of Let's Mess with Gabriel's Head!"

Suriya smiled as she touched her fuchsia fingernails to his chest, only a threadbare old tee shirt in between them and his flesh. He backed away. "Fine. Don't listen to me. I'll let you back to your, uh, sleep, such as it is."

"Thank you," Gabriel said. "Now shove off."

"You didn't use to be this rude, Gabriel Whindam," Suriya said, actually sounding a little annoyed.

After he was sure she was gone, he muttered to himself "Yeah, you're right."

But then he thought Didn't used to be? How much does she know about me?? And has she known me longer than I think she has??

The next morning, while eating his continental breakfast consisting of bagels, muffins, and apple juice, Gabriel's phone rang. It was Bastiaan. He grumbled. He really wasn't in the mood, as he'd only dozed off a few times after Suriya's visit. But he answered it - with a mouth full of blueberry muffin. "What?"

"Enjoying your breakfast?"

"Actually, yesh." Gabriel swallowed.

"Is there a television in the breakfast room? Perhaps with CNN or some other news channel on?"

"Actually, this television right up here in front of me..." But he trailed off as he saw on the screen probably what Bastiaan was calling him about.

"ST. LOUIS SHOOTING: 5 dead, including 17-year-old shooter" read the graphic, white letters on a red banner, as images of sheet-covered bodies on stretchers being wheeled out of a house flashed on the screen.

"There was a shooting," Bastiaan said, "at a home--"

"In St. Louis," interrupted Gabriel as he strained to listen to the story, as the volume was down quite low. "I see it, although I'm not hearing it quite well."

"It happened at 11:30 AM yesterday."

Gabriel almost choked. He yanked the phone from his mouth and looked at the clock. He brought it back to his mouth. "Shit, B, that was almost 18 hours ago! Dammit I shoulda been drivin' by now! You didn't know about this sooner?!"

"They just discovered the bodies an hour ago, mon," Bastiaan said, "teenage boys murders his whole family and a friend of his sister's. Sorry I did not know the direction before now. Something interfering with my sensitivity right now. You must go there at once."

Gabriel had been staying at a Louisiana town called Hammond ever since his adventure in New Orleans. With no new news stories he'd been enjoying a few days off. Well about as much as he could enjoy anything these days.

"I am at least eight hours from St. Louis! Damn that interference! 11:30 is only about five hours from now! I'd have to break land speed records to--!"

"You have to fly."

Gabriel's stomach almost ejected the breakfast he'd been eating. He swallowed. He had only flown once in his life, a trip to Washington, D.C. with some of his high school senior classmates. Some frightening turbulence had almost crashed the plane. He took a bus to get home. Ever since he'd refused to fly... anywhere.

"No flying! We agreed!"

"You have to, mon," Bastiaan said firmly. "I am online right now booking your flight."

"No! I can't fly!" Gabriel said. "Isn't there anybody else who could? What about Sabine?"

"Sabine is in Seattle. And Rico is in Ontario. You're the closest. It is the only way. Set your fears aside for these people. Because of your delay in New Orleans you missed the window to stop the mall shooting. We're not missing another one."

"But I am not leaving my car--!"

"Oh, Gabriel, you and that car! Why not you marry the Charger and make her your second wife?"

"Don't even talk about wives to me!" Gabriel said. He noticed that others in the room were starting to stare.

"Sorry, sorry, insensitive I know. That car, though, why do I let you drive it? The gas it's costing me, especially lately! Why not you get a hybrid, mon?"

"Blasphemy!" Gabriel spat.

Bastiaan sighed. "I figured as much. Look, you gotta fly. Go back to New Orleans. I think I have a flight here for you. It leave at nine-oh-five."

"Just send me back further than 24 hours, just this once," Gabriel said.

"No, mon, I already say, it is too dangerous."

"Do you really know for sure that you can't do it?"

"Yes. Proof of how risky it is: a man in a coma in Tampa, Florida. Dan, a soul seeker like you, I send him back 27 hours in 2006. I lost his soul when I try to bring him back. It is somewhere in space, somewhere in time. The planet, it move too much in its orbit in more than a day. Makes it very difficult. I still have no idea where Dan's soul is. Now his body is a vegetable in a hospital. Every once in a while I try to find it again. No luck."

"A coupla days ago I went back further than 24 hours."

"That was not my doing, mon! I do not know how she did it. I lost you. I afraid for a moment that you'd end up like Dan. Sorry I cannot do it."

"Fine then, send my soul to St. Louis, you can move me that way, too, right?"

"No, mon, that wouldn't work--"

"The goddamn briefcase," Gabriel muttered.

"Right. You cannot bring it with you. And I cannot move you all the way back to Louisiana while you bear-hugging another soul."

Gabriel sighed. He knew what he had to do.

He didn't like leaving his gun behind, a .45 he had just in case one of the possessed persons got too out of hand. But he especially hated leaving his car. What he hated most, though, was stepping onto that plane.

"Have a nice flight," the man at the Gate had said in a chipper tone. Gabriel, his mouth and throat completely devoid of moisture and his heart racing, rasped "Thanks" in response - barely audible. Then he had boarded the plane, his only carry-on the briefcase.

Thankfully Gabriel had gotten an aisle seat - he wasn't sure he could bear sitting by the window so he could see just how far away the good ol' terra firma was. Almost the entire flight he sat nervous, cringing, his heart pounding, clutching the charm that Ishmianthe had given him in one hand and gripping the arm rest in the other white-knuckled hand.

Fortunately the plane hadn't crashed and Gabriel had landed at the Lambert-St. Louis airport in one piece. He had tried to remain calm during the flight but was tense and queasy the entire time, unable to eat the snack they had given him. When he'd accidentally glanced out the window and saw the Gateway Arch down below as they were preparing to land (looking upon a structure that he'd known to be extremely tall - and knowing that he was above it) he'd had to look away quickly to fight the urge to curl up into the fetal position.

The first thing he did when left the plane, even before calling Bastiaan, was make a bee line for the nearest place serving alcohol and quickly suck down some shots. No drinks had been served on that quick flight. He was reasonably certain that if there had been, he would have been completely trashed by now.

"OK, mon, you have to take a cab to a suburb called Florissant," Bastiaan instructed Gabriel when he finally called him. This was after Bastiaan chastised him for stopping for the drinks.

Gabriel caught a cab that had already been ordered by Bastiaan and made it to the house where the possessed boy lived.

As Gabriel stood on the sidewalk near the yellow-taped, reporter-surrounded brick house he looked at his phone. It was 11:00 AM. It was cutting it too close. Maybe he shouldn't have stopped for those drinks.

He walked as quietly and discreetly as he could behind the neighboring house’s high hedges. He set the briefcase down and quickly phoned Bastiaan.

As Gabriel was transported back into time, and as he flew into the house, his mind was partially distracted by the nightmare, by the smiling face of his wife in the good part of the dream, by her cold, dead eyes in the frightening part. And that man. That man with the bloody torso, those symbols carved into the flesh of his chest and the face obscured by the night’s shadows. Even though it hadn’t been clearly visible, Gabriel knew that it had an expression of pure evil and malice.

But he was quick, though, as he zoomed into the boy's body, just as he was reaching into his pants pocket to pull out the gun.

”No, not YOU!” the invading soul screeched as Gabriel fought him inside the body.

Not me?? Gabriel thought. The notion that he was gaining some sort of reputation among the crazy souls was an interesting thought to him. But he only pondered it for a fleeting second, as his current situation and the nightmare were too competitive for his thoughts.

Gabriel did finally yank the invading soul from the boy - a middle-aged black man with wild, bulging, crazy eyes. He was one of the tougher ones to hold on to, but hold onto him Gabriel did as they fast-forwarded to the present.

As he opened the briefcase, and as the man's soul screamed in horror while being sucked into the crystal, Gabriel thought about what Suriya had said. Was Bastiaan keeping something really important from him? If so, what?

"Mission accomplished," Gabriel said to Bastiaan after that was over.

"I take it from your lack of emotion that it wasn't your wife?"

"No," Gabriel sighed, "not her."

"I sort of knew," Bastiaan said, "for I did not feel them when you brought the soul back."

"Yeah." Gabriel sighed. He almost hung up.

Wait.

Them??

"What the hell didja mean when you said 'them?!'" Gabriel said.

"Um, nothing! I meant HER..."

"Bastiaan! What is it that you're not telling me? Suriya said there was something that you weren't telling me!"

Gabriel could hear the shaman sigh over the phone. "Damn. I was hoping that I never had to. I mean, I was never one hundred percent sure. But I didn't want to upset you any more than you were every day already."

"What is it?!" Gabriel yelled.

"Another soul is attached to your wife's," Bastiaan said quickly. "Actually it's... almost a part of hers. But..."

"Bastiaan, what are you saying?!" Gabriel said, his mind reeling, forming the answer in his head before Bastiaan said it.

"It... it is a much younger soul, with no strong sense of self yet, cannot separate from your wife's, goes wherever she goes. I could feel it when you barely missed getting her in Chicago.

"Gabriel... I think that when she killed herself, your wife was pregnant."

To be continued...


Brought to you by e2collaborators.

Chapter Two

"Gabriel... I think that when she killed herself, your wife was pregnant."

Gabriel’s eyes widened and his jaw clenched.

“Gabriel?” Bastiaan called over the phone.

Gabriel’s hand squeezed the phone tightly till his knuckles went white.

“You still there, mon?”

The phone surrendered a squeal as the plastic gave way, and the inner circuits cracked under the pressure of Gabriel’s loss.

It was not anger, nor grief that Gabriel felt at that moment. He had slid past those instantly. He felt his skin tighten and all of his organs pull into a vacuum inside his chest. His thoughts became focused as a razor-sharp clarity overcame his mind.

Gabriel went straight to the airport and bought a ticket for the first flight to New Orleans. The desk attendant was unnerved by his presence. The gate security guards checked him thoroughly. Twice. But found he only had his clothes, wallet, keys, and a blue crystal inside a briefcase. Gabriel had left his luggage at the hotel. It wasn’t much. It didn’t seem necessary.

When Gabriel landed, the flight attendants looked away as he passed them. Gabriel had said nothing the entire flight and simply stared in to the seatback in front of him; unresponsive to any of their questions. Gabriel retrieved his car from the parking lot and drove.

Suryia materialized in the passenger seat next to him.

“Gabriel?” she asked. “Are you alright?”

He said nothing.

“I know you are…not currently in the best of moods.”

He said nothing.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

He said nothing.

“I…harrumph.” Suryia said and melted into the air. “Humans.”

Gabriel parked in front of Bastiaan’s house and knocked on the door. When Racheal answered the door and demanded what he wanted in her usual curt manner, Gabriel just turned his head and looked at her…and she stepped aside.

Gabriel walked into the parlor, and Bastiaan stood up as Gabriel placed the briefcase on the sidebar.

“You look like you want to hit me again.” Bastiaan said.

“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t?” Gabriel replied. His voice was low and gruff.

“Cus it not go well for you last time.”

“You lied to me.”

“I tell you, I no lie.”

Gabriel stepped towards the man. His insides were starting to boil over. His eyes were dry and itchy.

“You lied to me again. You knew, and you didn’t tell me.”

“Bout you wife? I no tell you ever’ting. So what? I no call that lying.”

“She. Was. My WIFE!” Gabriel lurched forward again. Saliva sprang from his gnashing teeth.

Listen, boy!” Bastiaan said poking Gabriel in the chest. “You no only one who grieve when peoples die.”

Gabriel pulled an arm back to swing at Bastiaan, but something pounded into his back. Something fast and hard swept his feet out from under him. Gabriel fell forward onto his face, and then had the annoyingly familiar sensation of a knee on his spine and a hand pressing his face into the floor; a left hand missing the last two fingers.

“Hello, Sabine.” Gabriel said tasting lemon-scented tile cleaner.

“Are you quite finished now, Gabriel?” Sabine said in her proper, French-accented, English.

Gabriel tried pushing himself up, but only managed to grunt and receive more pressure from Sabine’s hold.

“I no expect you back today.” Bastiaan said.

“I managed to catch an early flight out of SeaTac. My crystal is full and I am here to pick up my check.”

“That fine. Let the boy up.”

Sabine released Gabriel, and he stood up and glared at her while rubbing his creek. Sabine just looked back at him with her eyebrows raised. Her brown eyes begged him to challenge her. Her pulled-back blonde hair and near perfect features invaded his vision, but his focus was always drawn to the hairline scar running from her lower lip to the top of her chin.

“I think you cracked a tooth with your crazy French martial art.”

“I should have cracked open your head, you stupid fat man.” Sabine retorted then slid into a rambling French denouncement, which Gabriel really didn’t care that he couldn’t understand.

Racheal entered the parlor, and then the two women were all smiles prattling back and forth in French.

Bastiaan grinned. “I tell you it not go well for you, Gabriel.”

“Fuck you, Bastiaan. How dare you hide something like that from me?”

“It help you none.”

“I still have a right to know! Where do you get off?”

Sabine cut off from Racheal long enough to interrupt. “Watch your tongue, Gabriel. Bastiaan deserves your respect.”

“Oh, what do you know, Sabine!” Gabriel growled. “You didn’t go through what I have.”

Sabine stormed up to Gabriel once more. “You know very well what I went through.”

“Yeah, your brother died. So what?”

“He was my twin brother, you bastard!”

“And you found him.”

“Just because you have not made your piece with Michelle, does not mean that you can diminish my loss.”

“Michelle was my wife! Carrying my child! Your brother was a drug-dealing man-whore!

Sabine grimaced, and the blood rushed from her face, which made her suddenly look like very angry porcelain. Racheal spat in Gabriel’s eye.

“That’s it.” Gabriel said wiping his face with the back of his hand. “I’m done. I’ve had enough of this shit. I’m leaving.”

Gabriel stormed out of the house towards his car. Suryia materialized just as he was pulling out his keys.

“You shouldn’t have done that, Gabriel.”

“Fuck. Off. Pixie.”

Suryia flared, literally, and Gabriel stumbled backwards. “Do you have any idea what is at stake here?”

“No.” said someone else. “I don’t think he does.”

Gabriel and Suryia looked towards the T-Intersection where a bum was walking in the middle of the street. He looked like an old man in rags with a dirty, white beard. He was walking oddly, as if he didn’t have full control of his limbs.

“Who is that?” Gabriel asked.

Suryia squinted. “I don’t know. But whatever it is it’s dead.”

The man grinned gruesomely and lurched towards Gabriel and Suryia. When he got closer they could see his skin was pale, and his eyes had a distant hollow look to them. There was a bloody wound on his chest. “Well, relatively dead here at any rate.”

“______” Suryia screeched. “He’s projecting his energies to control this body from somewhere else!

The man hacked and convulsed in a morbid jerking laugh, and blood trickled out of his mouth. “Suryia dear, for an ancient being from a race of imaginative trickster daemons, your grasp of metaphor is still quite limited. The phrase you are looking for is puppet on a string.”

“We’ll just see how well your strings work when I burn your puppet!”

Suryia’s body began to hum and glowed deep red. Gabriel felt the air temperature around her rise quickly and he took several hurried steps backward before she burst into a flames. She charged the man on a tail of fire, letting out an unearthly howl that made Gabriel’s legs buckle, and he collapsed on the pavement.

______ grinned nastily and stood his ground. “Using the lines of this nexus to increase your power in order to attack me? Tsk. Tsk. Two can play that game.”

Suryia danced a fiery trail around the corpse, and she spat jets of green at him. Before any of the flames could reach him, he would swing up his arms and a lance of blue light sprung from the ground at his feet. Suryia’s fires entwined with the light sank down into the ground from where it came.

Gabriel could do nothing. The shrieking of Suryia’s siren call paralyzed him, and all he could do was watch. He felt the heat and the air tingled making all his hairs stand on end. He smelled sulfur and burning ozone. The pavement beneath him was hot and trembling. He could no more aid the jinn than run away in fear.

Circling each other, the two combatants seemed to be at a stalemate. Suryia was too fast with her attacks for ______ to form any counter other than deflecting her flames away from him. Then she stopped in her tracks. ______ pulled his hands together, and a blue sphere of energy gathered in his palms. Suryia spread rainbow wings of fire and engulfed her opponent. For a long moment there was just a massive burning object in the middle of the road, and then it shrank and contracted into a spiraling orange orb in the man’s hand. There was not a single burn on him.

“Silly, silly, Suryia Jinn. Stupid creature. I’ve had many of your kind in my possession. I know exactly how you function.”

The orb in the man’s hand rotated and twisted in on itself turning from orange to light blue. He shoved it into ground and released it. The ball writhed and screeched across the pavement. Slowly it rolled toward the center of the intersection, and then fell into the ground and pulses of blue light shot off in hundreds of directions.

Gabriel watched as this all happened, speechless, until he regained his composure. “Holy shit!”

The man lurched over to the spot where the ball had disappeared and kicked away some stray ashes.

“Yes.” he said. “Very pretty. Just because they’ve been around since before the planets formed they think they can do anything they want. They often forget that nothing is immortal.”

He then turned his attention back to Gabriel and approached while Gabriel struggled to get to his feet. “And you must be Mr. Whindam. I’ve been wanting to meet you ever since you set Ishmianthe free from Roberta.”

Gabriel got to his knees. He was trying very hard not to pee his pants. “How did you know about that?”

“I heard you speak the words.”

“What, that Necronomicon stuff?”

“Yes. Just call me Abd al-Azrad.” the man said wiggling his fingers at Gabriel. “H.P. Lovecraft. Spooky!”

“Is that your real name?”

“Come now, I know you’re not the quickest horse round the track, but do you actually think I’m going to tell you my real name?...Anyway, I just wanted to deliver a message…”

“And?” Gabriel shouted.

The man grabbed Gabriel by the collar and lifted him to his feet. “Keep searching for your wife. She means nothing. Bastiaan on the other hand may not be able to continue in his foolishness for much longer.

“…Oh and one more thing.”

The man spewed blood all over Gabriel’s clothes and collapsed in his arms.

Just then, a police car pulled around the corner. When it saw Gabriel holding the dead body, its siren turned on.

Gabriel looked from the police car, to the body, back to the police car. “…Son of a bitch!”

To Be Continued...

Chapter 3

He wasn't always like this. The possession. The endless scheming, twisting people's souls, seeing everything as a means to an end. He would never have done these things when he was young. He was a scholar once. He was innocent. He was good.

I have to remind myself of this as I create a bridge between firespace and the Earth and pull up a curtain of flame around us to shield the world from his malificence. I have to tell myself once again that no soul is completely corrupt until it has been judged by She Who Watches at the end of time. Because if I don't remember that, if I let my hatred consume my purpose, if I allow myself to incinerate this bastard's soul in firespace, where it cannot be reborn, it will be very bad for me.

The difference between jinn and the sons of Adam is that the more power a human has, the more society lets him get away with, whereas the more power a jinn has, the less she is allowed to use it. A newborn jinn is permitted all sorts of indiscretions - pretty much anything that doesn't involve the death of innocents - but an older one, an afrit or marid especially, has all sorts of limitations on the power she can wield, unless she's under a geas or serving a human sorcerer. When you get to those levels, you can hardly blow your nose in the human world without special dispensation from the Emerald Council or a waiver signed by an archangel.

That's why they call me the Brat. Because I do it anyway. I've never abused my power on a personal whim (I remind myself as I superheat the air around him and turn into a cobra), but when something needs to be done, when every other jinn is content to stand around looking wise while bad things happen, I don't. I go where the trouble is, and I do something.

I love trouble. I'm almost human that way.

The Powers That Be could stop me if they wanted to, of course. But the very same principle of noninterference keeps both the Emerald Council and She Who Watches from ever touching me. It irks the angels no end to see me "thwarting Her will", but She won't let them do anything to me, and angels always, ALWAYS do what She tells them. I think about this a lot, and over the centuries I've come to believe that She lets me be because in the end, despite the illusion of my independence, I really am part of Her plan.

Everything is, really. That's how She works.

We're in firespace now, far from the beautiful human architecture of New Orleans, and all around us are pillars of stone and flame. I strike at him, but he's shrunk and changed into a little animal with a wedge-shaped head, dodging my strike with little predatory dance moves. Mongoose. Just like in the story.

The second time I strike I feel his sharp little teeth on my neck. He's gotten very fast and very dangerous in the last few centuries, and my old shapes have lost their effectiveness. But I haven't been sitting still all these years, either.

I choose one of my newer shapes, one that can kill a mongoose in a heartbeat. A pit bull - one of my favourite new dog breeds. I do feel pain as my neck thickens and slides under his teeth, but the pain is nothing to me in this shape. I roll back and swipe at the little rat with a hind paw, hoping to brush it off and bring my powerful jaws to bear. But my paw hits empty air, and a hawk flies away from me.

I become an eagle and launch myself after him. He heads for the nearest landmark, a pair of twisted rock pillars straight out of a Frazetta painting, and I follow him. He's got a good lead on me, but every beat of my wings shortens the distance. I remember the last time we danced like this. There were three of us then. Me, him, and Ishmianthe. She was the best flier, always had been.

That was one of the reasons he tried so hard to keep her in his power. Well, that and the fact that he couldn't trust me.

So far, so good. He circles around the taller of the two pillars, spiralling down towards the ground, and I know that he's going to turn and hit me as soon as I get close enough. I can feel energy gathering within him, a halo around his little feathered form. He has so much power I can't keep its buzz out of my head. I wish I could take just one peek back at Earth, just to see if Bastiaan is shoring up his defenses, but I can't take the chance. I wish I could have warned him, and Gabriel too, but we vetoed that idea a long time ago. Gabe's mind is an open book, and if our one-time master even suspects a trick, none of this will work. Too much depends on this, and we've been planning for too long to let a moment of fear ruin everything.

I almost ruin it anyway, just by letting myself get distracted. Instead of jumping out from behind the pillar with spells blazing, as I expected, he turns the whole pillar into a storm of knifelike slivers that fall on me, spalling, and I manage to vaporize at the last possible instant, but he still gets several of my feathers. It hurts when I vaporize. If I survive this, I'll have marks to show for it.

I'm back in my own natural form for a change, and fire is spewing out of me. The slivers of stone melt in mid-air, a swirling hurricane of magma that engulfs my old master. But he's already thrown up a shield, and I can feel him chanting.

At least it keeps him from spewing any of his lame threats. I hate it when he monologues. That alone would have driven me away from him eventually.

I'm concentrating on gathering a storm cloud, which is not nearly as easy as most people think, when his shield disappears and he hurls out a handful of metal balls. They begin to whirl around me, and I have to cancel my lightning bolt before I fry myself. Pure fire can't hurt me, but electricity definitely can. Bastard knows way too much about jinn.

Time to start the big finale. I take a deep metaphorical breath and remind myself that I can do this.

I am Suriya, Kawkab el-Shareq, granddaughter of Iblis. I have slain dragons. Crusader armies have quailed at my shadow. I have fought witches and the living dead. This is just a man, and I don't even have to kill him. I just have to make him think he's killed me.

I stamp my foot, and a shockwave runs through the ground, throwing up sand everywhere and cracking the stone underneath. With both hands flung out, I send tentacles of fire to lash him and wrap themselves around his arms. His robes are instantly engulfed in flame. But already he's fighting back with tendrils of black entropy that suck the energy out of my flames.

I throw out more fire, hotter than anything I've unleashed so far, just to hold him, pull him closer, while a miniature sun begins to burn inside of my fire cloud. He quenches some of the flames, trying to pull away, but I'm reeling him in and burning hotter and hotter. If this works, it's going to leave me as weak as a human baby. I won't be running into any battles in the next few years. But, hopefully, I'll be alive.

He sees what's coming, and starts to call out to other spirits, calling in favours, promising the Earth to anyone who'll shield him. Some come, mostly the newly dead that he's diverted from Bastiaan's works, but not enough to stop me. Maybe, enough to protect him from the full force of my last attack.

I stamp my foot twice, hoping Ishmianthe can tell the difference between a stamp and a random explosion. I can picture her giving me that arch look, like would you hurry it up please? I've got places to be.

Oh, Ishmianthe.

The ground explodes on the second stamp, and the sun inside me lights up the world. I divert what I need straight down into the ground, into the waiting arms of my lover waiting in a cavern of shadowrock three meters under the sand. The rest of me goes everywhere else, including right at the sorcerer. Fire blows his hair off, turns his skin to charcoal. He rocks, stumbles, catches himself on one hand. Flames run up and down his body, but he's made it. The dead have protected him from the brunt of my attack, probably at the expense of their own souls.

He looks, and sees exactly what he expects to see - the weakly burning remnant of a jinn who just let out a kamikaze attack with everything she's got. And from my shelter down beneath the sand, I see him whisper a spell that sucks that wisp into a cool blue globe in his left hand. Then he smiles, not quite managing to hide the fact that I very nearly killed him, and he goes back to Earth chortling,

"Silly, silly Suriya Jinn."

I can't believe he's about to start another monologue.

I can't risk watching him, even if I had the strength for it. I let myself go limp in Ishmianthe's arms. The world fades to black, and my last thought is the frail hope that Gabe will eventually get the message I left for him.

To be continued...


Brought to you by e2collaborators.Check back with this node around the same time next week for another chapter (subsequent chapters will be posted once a week on Fridays).
Same Bat time, same Bat channel!
If you're interested in being a part of this collaboration, or any future ones, consider joining e2collaborators! Just /msg artman2003.
Credits:
Base Concept: artman2003
Title idea: DejaMorgana
Contributors (so far): artman2003, Uberbanana, Dejamorgana, jessicaj, Junkill, Dimview
Plot Developed by: Above-mentioned contributors, with some suggestions by non-contributing members of e2collaborators
Directed by: artman2003

Chapter 4


The police officers were, oddly enough, quite polite about asking Gabriel to kindly put his hands just so, and place his legs like this whilst leaning against the car. The fact that he was quite obviously shocked, un-armed, and made no attempt to resist arrest went a long way towards them being almost pleasant about the whole deal.

"You have the right to remain silent," they informed him. Gabriel nodded. "If you waive that right, anything you say will be written down and can be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand?"

"Um... Yes." Gabriel's brains were working overtime. What he had witnessed had to be shoved to the back of his mind now, while he came up with a story that'd sound at least remotely believable. The policeman's voice droned on, occasionally asking him if he understood. He said "yes" at the appropriate times, while managing to keep his shaking legs from buckling under him.

"Oh my... This sucks", he said, looking around as the police officers asked him to get into the backseat of the squad car. People were emerging, seemingly from nowhere, along with another two police units. He could have sworn the streets had been empty while Suriya fought... him. Damn! He looked out on the slightly blackened spot where Suriya had met her fate. He hadn't thought of her as being mortal, but it seemed that she was. Had been.

The handcuffs they had put on him chafed a bit but not too badly. The back of the seat had an indentation to make room for a prisoner's arms, so it was possible to sit fairly comfortably. Gabriel leaned back and took a deep breath, staring blankly out the window at the cops milling about, taking pictures, talking to people. He wished they'd get on with it. He was trying to put together a likely story about why he happened to be standing in the middle of the street, covered in blood, holding a dead man in his arms. It wouldn't be easy.



Finally the cops got into the car and one turned to look at Gabriel.

"We'll just take you to the precinct now, sir," he said. "We have a number of questions for you in order to determine what kind of situation we have here."

Gabriel nodded. "Sure. I understand. I am... completely stunned..." He let the sentence trail off, and did his best to project fear and confusion. It wasn't all that difficult, considering what he had just seen. During the latter years he had seen a lot of very odd and very violent things happening, but somehow this had been violent in a chilling way. Because he knew that there was no way in hell he could ever hope to defend himself from... that thing if it chose to come for him.

The police car drove off, leaving the reinforcements to poke around and ask questions. Not that they'd be getting any answers, though. In this neighbourhood the police were if not hated, then at least not everybody's best friends. They wouldn't get lies, but nobody would have seen anything. That would work to Gabriel's advantage.



He wasn't brought in to be questioned right away. Once they arrived at the police station he was asked to place all his belongings on a tray. He emptied out his pockets and watched the police officer put everything in a brown envelope with his name on it. The policeman hesitated a bit, holding the car keys.

"Charger?" he said. Gabriel nodded.

"'78."

"Wasn't that the last real Charger?"

Gabriel smiled. "Yeah, pretty much. They made the Magnum after that, I think."

The policeman nodded and then shook his head. "Shame, really. Anyway... This way, sir. Someone will be with you shortly. Can I get you a glass of water?"

"That would be great, thanks!" Gabriel said gratefully. The policeman grinned.

"My uncle gave me his old Charger, a '71, some ten years ago, and bought himself a Viper. Ever the Dodge fan..."

The two men smiled to each other as the policeman showed Gabriel into a room with a table and a couple of chairs.

"Someone will bring you a glass of water in a minute", he said and closed the door behind him, leaving Gabriel alone.


Gabriel sat down by the table and looked at the mirror on the wall opposite. For a second he felt like saying a lot of rude words whilst looking into the mirror, but he thought better of it. He maintained what he hoped was a tired and slightly confused expression, looking at his hands, sighing. He had a kind of story ready now. The simplest of simple - and simple was always the safest. Also he felt sure that if some witness was to come forward and explain what had happened, no one would believe a word of it anyway.

"So you say this man and this woman fought with fire, and in the end the woman burned to ashes in his hand, and was blown away by the breeze? Please come with us sir. Will you blow in this tube? Yes, it's a breathalyzer, sir..."

Gabriel shook his head. No, he would be safe from witnesses. He hoped.



Since they had removed his wristwatch he had no idea how long he had been sitting in the room. His butt was beginning to go numb from the hard chair, and he was getting hungry. And thirsty, since he never had been given the glass of water promised. He was getting to the point where he contemplated getting up and knocking on the door to attract attention, when the door opened and two policemen came in. They wore plain clothes and looked like accountants - excepting the fact that few accountants would wear shoulder holsters that could be spotted under the open jackets.

They sat down and placed a recording device on the table between them, and pressed a button.

"How do you do, Mr. Whindam. I am Inspector Craig, and this is Detective Munroe. We are going to ask you some questions about today's events, just to determine what kind of situation it was. You should be advised that we are recording this conversation."

Gabriel nodded, and wondered why cops had to speak in that way. "Determine the situation. Be advised."

"So... Please state your name for the recording."

"Gabriel Whindam."

"In your own words, Mr. Whindam, what happened today outside the house of Bastiaan LeFeure?"

"Well..."; Gabriel scratched his head. "I had been visiting Mr. LeFeure... Just flew in a few hours ago from St. Louis. Business, you know. Anyway I was just going to my car when this other car came speeding along. Um. Maybe around the corner, I forget. But it made me jump back onto the sidewalk. And it stopped and the backdoor opened... And this guy was thrown out. I was standing, like, two feet from the car, and I caught him in my arms. He was dead, as far as I could tell. But he bled like hell..."

He fell silent, shaking his head and muttering about why they had to pick him to throw dead people at. The policemen looked at each other.

"This man... You say he was dead. And he was pushed out of this car. What kind of car was it?"

Gabriel shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't look at it as such, and then I was holding an armful of smelly, dead hobo. I wasn't paying attention."

Gabriel gave himself a mental kick for being too cocky. The two detectives exchanged glances again.

"Well, Mr. Whindam. I...", began the inspector, but a knock on the door interrupted him. A young woman poked her head in and motioned to him. He rose.

"Just a moment."

Gabriel could hear their mumbling coversation just outside the door. And then he heard the inspector's voice rise.

"You gotta be kidding! Ten hours?!"

A few moments later he came back in, looking slightly flustered.

"You are free to go, Mr. Whindam. We would appreciate it if you let us know if and when you leave town. We might want to ask you some more questions."

"Oh...", Gabriel said, dumbly. "Well... okay. Er. Thanks. Did someone bail me out?"

The inspector smiled. "No. No, we just have no reason to keep you here. The man who you were found holding in your arms has been determined to have been dead at least ten hours prior to being... thrown at you. We do still want to find out why you ended up in that position, though..."

The words sounded very innocent, but as Gabriel re-stuffed his pockets with his belongings he knew that from now on his job would be even more dangerous. Before he had only been battling the forces of evil, demons and spirits: now he had also caught the attention of the New Orleans Police Department.


To be continued...



Brought to you by e2collaborators. Check back with this node around the same time next week for another chapter (subsequent chapters will be posted once a week on Fridays).
Same Bat time, same Bat channel!
If you're interested in being a part of this collaboration, or any future ones, consider joining e2collaborators! Just /msg artman2003.
Credits:
Base Concept: artman2003
Title idea: DejaMorgana
Contributors (so far): artman2003, Uberbanana, Dejamorgana, jessicaj, Junkill, Dimview
Plot Developed by: Above-mentioned contributors, with some suggestions by non-contributing members of e2collaborators
Directed by: artman2003

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