Penance
Part Fourteen
There Is No Life
By: Stephanie J. Bardy

Cynthiana turned from the window above the sink. She looked at Ash and Tiana sitting at the table. Her face bore a tormented confused look. They had spent the last three days cleaning the blood from the hall. The smell of death still lingered under the Pine Sol and bleach. Ash and a few of his friends had tried to remove the body from the house but Reese had become uncontrollable. The living room still bore the holes in the walls from her pain. So, he was lying on a table in the basement. Waiting. Tiana had wanted to clean the body and wrap him in a burial shroud but again, Reese had become frantic and refused to let anyone near Marlon.

When Tiana was learning to use her powers, she had decided to incorporate a lot of different customs into her belief system. She had been raised Jewish before she had met her boyfriend and joined the cult and their burial customs appealed to her nature-based practice. She wanted to wrap Marlon in a hemp burial shroud and perform the Taharah. But it required a minimum of 4 people and Reese just wasn't there yet. So, Marlon lay, untouched. Reese sat alone in the courtyard, staring blankly.

"Momma, we need to snap her out of this. Marlon can't stay like that forever." Cynthiana turned back to the window and watched Reese. She hadn't moved since Marlon had been taken to the basement. She just sat, in the same clothes she had worn, blood now dried on her hands, her face, and her clothes. Her tears had left streaks on her face, giving her a macabre mask like appearance. She had finally stopped shaking and now sat still as a statue. Staring. Cynthiana knew the blank stare meant that Reese was locked inside her mind, reliving those moments.

"If she stays like this much longer, we will lose her." Ash spoke quietly. He knew the look. He had seen it on his sisters face once. The only time Cynthiana had ever allowed herself to love, to let her guard down, she had let her passion overtake her and her lover had been killed. She had crawled into herself. Refusing to eat, to sleep. She sat staring, and it was all Ash could do to bring her back. Not all of her had come back. She never let herself love again, never let herself feel any intense emotion again. Never let her guard down. The only people she was close to were her mother and her brother. Ash knew that Reese had made that choice long ago and Marlon was the only real friend she had. The loss of him could easily destroy her. They had to pull her out of the dark place she had gone in her mind before she never returned.

None had any allegiance or relationship with Reese, or Marlon for that matter. But Tiana felt a great guilt for what they had done to her. She had been a child, no older than her own daughter. To see her broken like this, shattered from the inside, tore at her heart. She was human after all. No one deserved to lose a loved one like that.

A gasp broke the heavy silence.

"Momma! He's back!" Cynthiana's voice shook slightly as she watched Adrian walk casually across the courtyard.

Tiana and Ash bolted up from the table and rushed to the window. They all held their breath.

Reese sat on the same wrought iron chair she had when she had first come to this house. Although this time she didn't see the beautiful flowers, the pool or the lion's heads flowing with water. She didn't hear the birds or the sounds of the street beyond. She didn't feel the warmth of the sun or feel the slight breeze that stirred her hair. All she saw was Marlon. Torn and bloody, lying at her feet. But in her mind, his eyes were accusing instead of blank, his mouth, which in reality had been slack, kept asking her why.

Adrian's face drifted into view. She closed her eyes, thinking it was an illusion.

"Ma cher." He said softly.

Reese blinked again. In her mind that voice had come from Marlon's mouth.

That wasn't right, she thought. The fog that had enveloped her lifted slightly.

Adrian sat across from Reese and cross his legs, leaning back on the chair. "Come back cher."

Again, the voice came from Marlon's ruined mouth. Making Marlon look like a string puppet. A slight scowl creased Reese's forehead.

In the house Ash grabbed Tiana and Cynthiana's arms. They were heading out into the courtyard to do battle with Adrian. They looked at him confused.

"Look at her face. Her body stature. He is reaching her. Maybe it is her anger that needs to bring her back and not our kindness."

The women turned and looked a bit closer at Reese. They could see the subtle change in her posture, she was a bit straighter, more tense, her face was showing a slight expression of confusion. They agreed to let her be, for the time being.

Reese refocused and again she was back in the moment she saw Marlon. But again, Marlon's mouth moved at an odd angle and Adrian's voice filtered out.

"This is unlike you. You do not grieve the death of a piece of mortal meat. You relish it. Why the weeping widow act?" Adrian scoffed, anger lacing his words. She never shown even a bit of emotion when they parted, other than anger and irritation. She never professed words of deep emotion, nor did she seem overly pained by living apart. She did all she could to remain apart.

"Was this servant that special?" Adrian sneered.

Rage is a funny thing. It can cloud your mind, or it can clear it as quick as lightening. Pain had clouded her, but Adrian's words, his casual dismissal of what Marlon meant to her, filled her with intensely mind clearing rage. She blinked twice, took a shuddering breath and her eyes and mind cleared.

"This servant as you call him, was more to me than you ever could dream of being. He was my friend, my conscious, and my saviour. Do not cheapen his existence again." She stared at Adrian, her face blank. Her voice spoke to the emotion she felt, but her features gave away nothing.

In the house, Tiana gave a slight smile. "She is back."

Ash heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank freaking God, I could not face Adrian again. I still bare the marks of the last encounter." He rubbed his arm absently where to long scars ran from his elbow to his wrist. "He is unlike anything we have ever come across."

Tiana looked at Adrian through the window. He had always reminded her of someone, but she knew it couldn't be her. They looked totally different and possessed different powers. While some were the same, others were not. But something niggled at her memory. She was one of the originals the First Ones, one of those who had stolen the power from Reese. Her lover had become the wolf, his brother the vampire. She had known the other three, but not very well. Jordan was the reason she was even in the cult. She would have followed him anywhere. It was an obsessive and possessive kind of love and as she watched Adrian and Reese, she realized that what Adrian felt for Reese was dangerously the same. She could see the darkness, the insanity, swirling around in his aura. He was a dangerous man on his own, blinded by emotion, she knew he would be deadly. The body in her basement was a testament to that.

She turned to her children. "We need to move Marlon from the basement. Before Adrian realizes he is still here."

Cynthiana chuckled nervously. "I don't know why you insist on calling the main floor a basement. Just because the entrance is on the second floor doesn't make it a basement."

Tiana shot her daughter an aggravated look. "I was raised in the Mid-west. We had basements. If it is below the main entrance, it is a basement to me. Regardless of what you want to call it, the body has to go. Adrian would do a whole manner of horrible things to Marlon to hurt Reese."

"How do you know that?" Cynthiana asked.

"I just know." She replied. She had refused to tell the children about their father. He was a cruel and violent man but what she had done to him was beyond unfair. She knew her children would never forgive her for such cruelty.

She sent Ash to make some calls. They couldn't bury him, not until Reese was ready, and bodies weren't buried in New Orleans, they would have to put him in a crypt. So, Ash would have to find one of those as well. But for now, they needed a safe place for Marlon, that Reese would accept, and Adrian would never be able to get too.

A scream from the courtyard made the three in the house run outside.

Reese stood in the middle of the yard, the pool behind her, arms thrown wide, screaming. Her hair flew about her face as if she were caught in a tornado and her clothes rippled around her body. The sound that came from her was guttural, almost inhuman, and full of rage and pain. It was directed at Adrian. He lay on the cobblestones beside the small table, bleeding from various cuts on his face and hands. Tiana did a quick scan, saw no broken glass, and knew that Reese had inflicted those marks.

Adrian began to rise to his feet and Reese slammed her energy forward and he tumbled back until he came to rest against the wall. More cuts appeared on him, and more blood ran down his face.

She screamed again and this time Adrian rose up the wall, pinned. His face contorted with the effort to pull him self free. With a roar he fell back too he cobblestones. Slowly he rose to his feet.

"You may eventually best me, ma cher, but it won't be today. You let emotion rule your actions. That makes you reckless. You have lost that cold blooded part of you, and it has made you weak." He brushed the dirt from his linen slacks and took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his face. "Marlon held you back and you know it. When you were with me, you were at your best, your fullest power. We ruled this city and could have gone so much farther if he had not interfered. Once you see that you will know that I did you a favor freeing you from him."

Cynthiana let out a gasp as it felt as if all the air from the courtyard had been sucked out. You could almost see it being drawn to Reese. She pulled it all into her, all the power she could, all the energy from around her, and sent it all at Adrian. Again, he ended up pinned to the wall and bleeding. But again, he pulled himself free.

He smiled coldly at Reese. "I will leave you for now cher, but you will come to me. You will be mine again. You know this. It is the only way it can be. It is the only way it has always been." With those words, he was gone.

Reese stood ramrod straight for a few minutes longer, then she collapsed to the ground. Tiana flew to her side.

"I am alright." Reese said slightly breathless.

"I will be the judge of that. You have been catatonic for the last few days. You are in no shape to know what is alright and what is not." Tiana was stern and motherly, and Reese smiled at her. She was a good woman, despite what she had done. She allowed Tiana to help her into the house.

Once they were seated in the living room, a cup of tea in Reese's hands, Tiana told her what they had decided about Marlon.

"If Adrian discovers he is not decaying, and that he is here, he will use that against you. If you are determined to defeat him and to find the others, you can't be distracted by the safety of his…" she paused…" of Marlon."

Reese sat silent for a few moments then rose and went to Marlon's side.

She looked at his face, so peaceful. Tiana had cleaned him up and mended his wounds as best she could. He looked like he was sleeping. She touched his face gently, a tear slowly rolling down her cheek.

"I don't know how to do this without you. There is no life without you." She whispered. "You kept me grounded, you kept me sane." The tears were flowing freely now, and she let them come. "I never said this to you, and I wish I had. I can only say it to you now and hope that wherever you are, you hear me."

She kissed his forehead softly and leaned down until she her lips were inches from his ear.

"I love you."

She straightened, turned towards Tiana, and gave her a nod.

"Have Ash do what needs to be done. We have a battle to prepare for."

As they returned to the living room, a harsh pounding came from the front door. Reese immediately went into combat mode and Tiana tried to cloak them in protection, but her magic wouldn't come. She grunted in frustration. Cynthiana waved her hand and the cloak fell onto the house. She then went and opened the door.

A man stood there, with an almost frantic look on is face. He was about 6'2, brown hair, green eyes, and a beard.

"Where's Tiana?" he barked at Cynthiana. A loud gasp came from behind her, and she turned to see her mother standing there, her eyes wide.

"Jordan?" she asked, her voice shaking.

He pushed passed Cynthiana and grabbed Tiana by the arms. Ash was immediately at is mother's side.

"Let my mother go!" he growled.

Jordan became very still. He looked at Ash, and then back at Tiana.

"Mother?" he asked her softly.

Tiana gulped a few times and looked from Cynthiana to Ash.

"Yes. They are my children." She said, fear lacing her words.

Reese came to Tiana's side and physically pried Jordan's hands from her arm. She took a small breath and Jordan stumbled back.

"Now that I have your attention, why don't we adjourn to the living room and talk like civilized adults."

Jordan gasped as his air came back and followed everyone.

Tiana paced nervously.

"Momma?" said Cynthiana.

Jordan's eyes widened, "You have two?"

Tiana nodded. "Twins."

Jordan's eyes grew small. "How old?" he asked.

"Old enough." She replied.

"Oh, for heavens sake," snarled Reese. "Will you two quite dancing around the obvious? We don't have time for this."

Tiana took a breath. "Ash, Cynthiana, this is your father, Jordan." She turned to the man who sat stunned on the couch.

"Jordan, these are your children."

Reese clapped her hands together. "Fabulous, now that we have that out of the way, why are you here?"

"I have kids?" Jordan stammered.

Reese snapped her fingers in front of his face, "Focus, you can go all family man after, why are you here?"

Jordan blinked and cleared his throat.

"I felt a loss of power, for lack of a better phrase. So, I traced it to here."

"Explain." Reese said.

Jordan looked at Tiana questioningly. "She is always like this, just answer her. She is the one You owe her answers."

Jorden's eyes got even wider. "With each death, I can feel the loss. From my calculations, there are only 3, but you are alive so that means there are still 4, but you are powerless."

"I tried a simple cloaking spell when you knocked, and I couldn't do it. I don't understand what happened to my power." Tiana said

Reese gave Jordan a hard look. "Who are you? What form did you take?"

Jordan knew what she meant. He looked at her and saw the girl from so many years ago. She was tailored now, sophisticated, but her eyes, her face, were the same. "I am the werewolf."

"What do you mean 'with each death'?"

"Lloyd, who was Jinn, and Sarah, who was the shapeshifter, are dead. Jayden, my twin brother is the Vampire. He is still alive but in hiding. Aaron, the Phoenix vanished a century ago and I haven't been able to track him."

Anger rolled off Reese in waves and Jordan inched away from her.

He tried to speak but she silenced him.

"If it were not for our battle with Adrian, I would kill you where you sit. I have searched a long time for my children to exact my revenge for what you have done to me.

Jordan lowered his head. "My life has been hell. Your curse has been a torment for me." He said quietly.

Reese rose from her seat. "Good."

She told Cynthiana to go and get some paper and a pen. They needed to make a graph of who everyone was, and what had happened to them. Where they were located and how they died. She needed to track it to find who was killing them.

"The power should have come back to me with each of the deaths, it did not. Someone has taken that power. We need to find out who that is."

The small group spent the rest of the night charting the tree of First Ones and their descendants.

"So, Adrian is a descendant of Jayden." Tiana said, looking at Jordan.

"Yes. We came across him in Pittsburgh. He had powers that seemed familiar, but we had never met someone like him and knew, or thought we knew that no one had made offspring. It was just after you had returned me to human form and Jay felt that I needed to be as far away from our hometown as possible. We took a road trip. I learned to control my wolf side and he made a family, of sorts. Adrian left us shortly after his change. I haven't seen him since."

Tiana shuddered. "He is here. He is the one we are going to war against."

Jordan laughed. "He is nothing but a vampire, with some other extra powers. Nothing you can't handle and definitely nothing Reese can't deal with."

Reese looked at Jordan. "He is so much more than that now."

Jordan made an o shape with his lips.

Cynthiana stretched in her chair. "Ok, now that we know all the players, can I ask a few questions? I suddenly have two parents and would like to talk about that."

Reese laughed. "Be my guest."

She walked out to the courtyard and left the little family figure out how they were going to work,

She took a deep breath, pulling in the fragrant New Orleans night air. A slight breeze picked up and ruffled the hair at her neck, sending goosebumps up and down her body.

"I love you too." The voice floated on that breeze and Reese froze for a moment then let her grief and pain come.

She sat at the little table and let the tears come. She finally let herself say goodbye.

-

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