"Are you sure you're all right on your own?"
Cecily rolled her eyes at Mom Io, but only where she couldn't be seen. "We'll be fine, Mom. As long as Siggie behaves himself, everything will be all right."
"Me?" Siggie glared indignantly at her; at eight years old, her little brother was getting pretty full of himself. "What did I do?"
Since she wasn't going to bring up The Fork Incident in front of their moms - not and risk him or Niobe bringing up The Skirt Incident - Cecily just shook her head at him. "We're fine, Mom. I'm armed, after all, and so is Aloisa." Not that she thought her eleven-year-old sister would be all the much use, but she'd do better at it than either of the littles. "You and Mom Ayla have a good night home, and we won't go further than we agreed on." And if she did well with this, maybe her mothers would let her go to the movies next weekend. All her friends were already dating, and it wasn't like the world was that dangerous, even with the so-called Returned Gods hanging around.
"We'll stay on the porch," Mom Io said firmly. "And holler if you need anything."
"Yes, ma'am." Determinedly not making faces - they could still decide they needed to come along - she kissed both moms on the cheek and herded her siblings down the street.
There were a few abandoned houses, a few more foreclosed, but their neighborhood hadn't been hit all that hard by either the recession or the return of the so-called gods. They collected their loot in good graces, all of them wise enough to ignore the comments of "ooh, those weapons look dangerous;" normal kids didn't carry live steel trick-or-treating. They were supposed to be normal kids.
They had rounded the corner, just after the Olsen's house with its predictable peanut butter cups, one per kid and a scold at Cecily for being too old for this, but a peanut butter cup anyway. Siggie had the best haul, of course; he had cute going for him. He fluttered the bat wings strapped to his arms as he ran circles around the rest of them, the plastic pumpkin full of candy rattling with a distinctly un-batlike clatter.
A commotion of another sort seemed to be taking place down the street, though; a few older children were running towards them, hooting and hollering. Trying to scare the little ones most likely, Cecily thought. She grabbed the back of Niobe's ghost-shroud in one hand, trusting Aloisa to get Siggie, her other hand staying near her blade. It was probably nothing, but it wouldn't do to lose one of the kids. She needed the moms to start trusting her.
The teenagers ran past, though, almost oblivious to them; it seemed off, somehow. They had been running, yes, but many people were running. They had been screaming, yes, but on this night of all nights, many people were screaming, she reassured herself. However, despite her best rationalizations, somewhere inside she knew that something was wrong.
They should go back. They should go home, back to safety, back to their moms and their threshold. Just as she decided that, yes, candy or no, they ought to turn around, Siggie broke free of Aloisa's grip and darted forward.
"Lookit I'm flying!" he squealed, zooming ahead with his head held low and his arms outstretched. "Kee, kee!"
"Siggie, no!" She ran after him, the others hot on her heels, and crested the small ridge that defined the border of their neighborhood, before it plunged into the arroyo.
The scene unfolding before her stopped her in her tracks. On the other side of the gulch, some sort of... creatures, it didn't seem right to call them animals, were prowling the streets. They were distinctly feline in aspect, perhaps a meter and a half in length, and blacker than the night, standing out as silhouettes except for their glowing emerald eyes. Children and parents alike fled before them, the terror of the night having become all too real. Siggie, of course, was heading towards the bridge at top speed.
She spared the quickest glance she could for her younger sisters. "Allie, get Nie home. Now. Run. Don't stop until you're with Moms." She turned back, already running again, hoping she hadn't lost her brother. "Sigurd," she called. "Sig… Siggie, damnit, come here!"
The boy was out of hearing, but at least she could still see him. She'd have to cross the bridge herself and hope for the best. As if the cats, cats, she forced herself to think of them, weren't enough, it seemed like there was something else out there; she couldn't see it, not really, but she caught a flicker of motion in the distance, moving like the wind, barely discernable as it passed in front of other objects.
Cecily put it out of her mind. It wasn't here, now - yet, a treacherous voice in her head reminded her - and she had to reach Sigurd. He must be down one of these side streets now, but which one?
The first time she turned, she found herself nearly face to face with one of the monsters. It greatly resembled a jaguar, she realized, except for the coloration; at a zoo, she would've thought it was a panther, with its eyes closed. Those eyes. She froze in her tracks before their unearthly green glow. The beast sniffed once, nose twitching, and it panned its head slowly from side to side, opening its mouth slightly and revealing dozens of razor-sharp teeth. She was helpless, paralyzed by sheer terror, watching its ears twitch in time with her heartbeat. Its eyes passed over her, though, and after a long moment it turned away, speeding out of sight on lithe, powerful legs.
Not worth eating? Cecily shook her head at the betrayal she felt. She had to find Siggie. Damnit, of all the days for him to be himself! She took another street, running faster than she ever had now. He had to be here, somewhere. Somewhere. Not eaten… please not eaten? She prayed as she ran, not even knowing what she was praying to.
Another child ran past in front of her. She took a second look, but it wasn't Siggie; this boy wore a reptilian costume, maybe supposed to be a dinosaur, or Godzilla. One of the cats ran after him, and she was sure that it would be on him in moments, it was so fast. The beast leapt... and missed, hitting the ground just behind the child, who shrieked and continued sprinting away. The monster's tongue lolled out, and for a moment she almost thought it grinned as it rejoined the pursuit. It was toying with him, she realized, just like a housecat. Was that what had made her different? She had been so afraid, she hadn't run
Would Sigurd know not to run? She hurried on.. The monsters were taking their time; did that give her more time, or less? What would they do if faced with one of her brother's famous tantrums?
At least I'd hear him then... Actually, she realized, she heard him now, a shrill little squeal from the next street. Cecily left Godzilla to his fate, cutting through a yard and leaping a low hedge to reach the parallel road. Siggie was there, running in a circle as he had been half the night, with two of the black jaguars flanking him.
"Sig," she called, desperately pulling up the first thing she could think of. "Is that any way for a viking bat to act?" She drew steel, moving to place herself between her brother and one of the jaguar-things.
"No?" He ran to her side, looking around as more green eyes appeared in the darkness. "Cecy, what are they? They're not normal kitties, I don't think."
"Monsters," she answered him, draping her left arm over his shoulders protectively. "Monsters or returned gods."
"You would mistake my servants for such as I?" The voice seemed almost a part of the chill wind that swept over them suddenly; Cecily could make out, squinting, a shape coalescing on the street, windborne particles accumulating into a humanoid figure. The jaguars were massing, as well, apparently attracted to this point now, forming a loose ring around them.
"I did say 'or,'" she answered, before she could stop herself. Mom Ayla was always saying her mouth would be the death of her. She pulled Siggie closer to her side, and hoped this was one of those times Mom was wrong.
The figure solidified, stepping forth from the very air, and regarded her. He appeared human, at least, although dressed quite oddly, even for Halloween, in leather and bones and feathers. Two thick stripes of black and yellow were painted horizontally across his face, and he held a long spear in one hand, tipped with a heavy blade of some black substance that reflected the jaguars' eye-light oddly. One of his feet was missing and had been replaced with some sort of prosthetic limb, in which a gleaming disk of the same material had been set.
"I am Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror," he intoned, "and these are but my heralds." A sweeping gesture with the spear indicated the assemblage of monsters ringing them, some of which still paced restlessly.
Cecily looked him up and down. "I see." He seemed like what Mom Ayla would call "overcompensating" and Mom Io would call "cocky, cocksure, and cocked up." But if he was really a returned god, he could probably kill both of them without much effort. What was she going to do. "How can we help you, sir?"
"Present yourself," he declared, leveling the spear at her.
"Present? What?" She looked at that spear uncertainly. "I'm right here."
"Your essence, in word and blood."
That sounded suspiciously like the sort of stuff her mothers talked about with some of their school friends, behind closed doors while she and Aloisa listened at the grates. "Dude," she answered incredulously. "I'm a kid." She knew the term, she knew the term… "Sh'Ioanna and everything."
"Then you are of the Blood," he nodded, returning the weapon to a resting position. "Let it be known that I am returned, and as Lord of the North, this is my rightful domain."
"Uh… okay?" He wasn't pointing a weapon at her anymore. "Can we go, then? And, um, tell people?"
"You may, indeed, you must. Go forth, child. My children will not harm those of the Blood who do not oppose us."
"Thank you, sir." She picked up Sigrud, pressing him tight against her chest, and fled towards home as fast as she could run.
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder. All rights reserved.
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