0 - Amelia Brandt
The cylinder of a six-shot revolver broke open, shattering the silence of the evening as two emerald eyes checked the bullets loaded into the weapon: three were forged of dead-man’s blood and the others glowed a subtle shade of blue. Her feet clacked along down the sidewalk, boots falling heavy on the concrete. The night was dark; the moon a thin sliver in the sky. She spun the cylinder and clicked it shut, testing her aim as she walked. A twig cracked behind her and she wheeled about, aiming the weapon dead ahead, steady despite the sweat beading on her forehead. She could see nothing in the dim lights of the streetlamps, not even beneath that one that flickered half a block down. She dropped her arms and turned back to walk forward, further. “Where are you, Greg?” she mumbled under her breath, eyes scanning the area. Drumming her right hand’s fingers on her hip, she spun the gun in her other hand and holstered it, dropping thumbs to hang on her gun belt. A heavy groan escaped her lips and she looked skyward, watching my butts float to cover up the waning crescent. She plucked her phone from the front pocket of her jacket and woke it up, staring at the blaring digits, indicating it had been two hours since the phone call saying to meet him here in ninety minutes. “Irritating,” she said, shutting off her phone and dropping it back home.
When she looked back up, she found herself staring down a man in a hooded sweatshirt, walking straight toward her. She blinked and waved, “Hey, is that you, Greg?”
The figure sped up, walking a bit faster. She took a step back, pulled out her gun, and aimed. “Stop right there, **********! I’m not afraid to shoot!” Her static posture and narrow gaze betrayed truth in her words.
The figure stopped, then, and threw up his hands, hissing, “Relax, Amelia! Put the gun down!” He threw back the hood, revealing a pale white visage with two red-sclera eyes set within. Visible red veins wormed from his eyes, through his cheeks. The man grimaced a bit, flashing his sharp canines.
Amelia released the hammer and held the gun up. “I’m the idiot, am I? I almost shot you, Greg.”
“Yeah, well, maybe you shouldn’t be so trigger-happy.”
“And maybe you shouldn’t pick a meeting spot on a dark street at midnight.”
“It’s not that dark.”
“Like half the lights don’t work, and half of the others flicker on and off every few seconds.”
He looked around, confirming her words. Scratching at his chin, he grumbled, “Whatever, come on.” He motioned with his head and turned around, trotting back the way he came.
Amelia tucked her weapon away and jogged to catch up. “You’re making this seem a lot sketchier than it is. Why are you wearing that?”
“People here know me, Amelia. And you, too. You should be wearing a disguise…”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s the middle of the night. Nobody’s gonna run into us except maybe the cops.”
He nodded. “Right. That’s pretty true. I’ve just gotten really used to night time. This is like noon for you, for me,” he said with a chuckle. “And winter means longer nights. The best time of year.”
She smiled. “You seem to be getting accustomed to your lot.”
“Hard not to. Been turned for…” He held up his fingers to count. “Almost seven years, now. Any progress?”
“None. I looked a little, but can’t find anything about turning you back. Sorry.”
“Don’t be. You’ve already helped more than you know.” He led the girl off the sidewalk and through some underbrush to a large, rusted warehouse set in an otherwise vacant lot on the edge of town. He rapped his knuckles on the door and said, “Here we are. This is the place I was tasked with bringing the cargo.”
“And the cargo is… a girl, you said?”
“One who needs your help, yeah.”
Amelia nodded, folding her arms before her. “Right.”
Dropping to a squat, Greg pulled the door to the warehouse up, holding it for Amelia to slip inside, which she did, followed shortly by the vampire. It slammed shut behind them. “Alright, I told her to wait ahead in the back room.”
“Lead the way.”
Greg nodded as he unzipped his hoodie, slipping it off. Beneath that, he wore a black vest over a white button-down with a red-and-black striped tie tucked into the former. He was a stark contrast to Amelia’s more casual light brown soft leather jacket over a black thermal undershirt and leggings tucked into matching brown boots. She followed along behind her friend for a time, their footfalls screaming metallic echoes into the hollow space. He paused at a door and tugged it open. “Ladies first.”
Amelia laughed. “No.”
Greg rolled his eyes and slipped in ahead of her. “Still don’t trust me, huh?”
“Don’t let it go to your head. You’re not special.” She froze just inside the doorjamb, staring dead ahead. There, sitting on a lone chair in the well-lit room was a woman with charcoal-grey skin and a pair of glowing yellow eyes that flashed orange the moment Amelia entered. She wore jean shorts and a tattered black tee with her feet bare against the stone floor.
Tucking black hair behind her ear, she blinked. “Is that her, Grigori? Is that really Amelia Brandt?”
As if the outfit and skin weren’t enough to draw her eye, this woman also sported a pair of orange horns, jutting from her forehead and a long, thin tail with a spade at its end, which swished forth and back as she spoke.
“Yeah, that’s me,” replied Amelia, letting her left hand fall back to the stock of her revolver as the door shut behind her.
Amelia Brandt sat alone in a house, feet kicked up on the coffee table as her body was sunken deep into the soft cushions of her sofa. She licked the spoon clean of ice cream, emerald eyes transfixed on the screen as she caught up on her favorite show. Finding time to watch it was difficult, to say the least, with her schedule. Tonight was an exception. Her daughter was fast asleep upstairs, meaning she could watch her show in peace. That was, until her phone started wiggling its way across the hardwood table, vibrating violently as if mocking her and her inability to ever take an evening off. She leaned forward, setting her tub of ice cream aside and checking the phone. Grigori Rasmus. Her brow furrowed and she paused the show, holding her phone up. “Greg? This is unexpected. How’re things going with Greight?”
“Great!” he said with a chuckle.
“Now I remember why I don’t call you.”
“Hah. I’m on a delivery right now, driving back home. Was wondering if you might be in town?”
She drummed her fingers on the table. “I can be. Do you need me for something?” She was definitely not dressed to go out. Tonight was a relax-and-watch-shows night.
“I don’t, no. My cargo does.”
Her eyes widened. “Elaborate.”
“So my current job is to deliver this girl to a warehouse near Aisor. She claims she was sent topside by the devil to kill you. I personally…”
“I didn’t finish!”
“I’m not gonna meet someone who wants to kill me, Greg. I get enough of that from real jobs.”
“Can I at least finish her pitch?”
Rolling her eyes, Amelia dropped onto her back on the sofa. “Yeah. Sure. Go for it.”
“Right! So she was sent here to kill you. I personally believe her. She also said that she needs your help, so she asked me to introduce you to her. Apparently the devil had her seek me out, since I have direct access to you or something. He’s offering to cure me if I help her kill you.”
She narrowed her gaze. “He’s starting to play dirty, then.”
“If you can’t figure it out, it’s impossible. No way do I believe the devil. Don’t worry.”
“So the girl is tasked with killing me and wants you to get the two of us alone in a room together?”
“Three of us. Anubis thinks I’ll help her.”
She scratched at her cheek and rolled over, staring at the frozen television. “What does she need my help with?”
“That’s not suspicious, at all.”
“So what should I tell her?”
“I’m not gonna walk into a trap, Greg.”
“Alright, hold on a sec. She’s riding shotgun.” She heard shuffling and then his voice, a bit quieter. “Sorry, Lucille. She said no. She’s worried you’re tricking her.”
“But I’m not!” came a shout from an unfamiliar voice.
“Wait, hold up!” Amelia shouted, sitting upright in a hurry.
“One sec,” Greg said, before his voice became louder again. “Did you say something? Had the phone away from my ear.”
“What’s her name? You said her name.”
“Lucille? Are you sure?”
“What? Say that again? I thought I just heard you completely change your s–”
“I’m in. I’ll take her case. Send me time and place in a text. I’ll be there.”
“Sure. I’ll have Lucille text from my phone. Driving and all.”
“Yeah, you’re supposed to be a law-abiding vampire, Greg. A lot has changed since we last saw each other.”
He laughed and said, “Alright, I’ll see you soon, Amelia. And thank you again.”
“I don’t do it for the thanks.”
“See you. I gotta go get ready.” She hung up and clicked off the TV. Exhaling, she looked down at her hands. “Lucille…”
“Yeah, that’s my name,” the gray girl responded, pushing to her feet. Amelia clenched the stock, finger resting alongside the trigger.
“Stay right where you are. I’m warning you,” Amelia hissed, looking from the girl to the vampire and back.
Greg groaned and rolled his eyes. “Come on, Amelia.”
Lucille held up both hands and nodded. “Will you really help me? Can you really help me?”
Amelia stared her down. “That depends on whether or not you’re serious about wanting it, and this isn’t a trap.”
Lucille nodded. She reached for her ear and plucked from the lobe a small ruby gem, set into an earring. Tossing it to the floor between the two girls, she explained, “That’s my contact with my dad; called a chatterrock.”
“Your dad?” she asked, relaxing her grip on the gun. “You mean Anubis?”
The girl nodded again and Amelia released her gun, exhaling and instead folding her arms before her chest. “Okay, got it. So what do you need help with?”
Lucille blinked. “Can I move, now?”
She shuffled up to Amelia and held out her hand. “I’m your biggest fan, miss Amelia.”
The girl furrowed her brow and shook the woman’s hand. “Thank you? Why would you be my fan?”
“Because you’re awesome. I’ve heard lots of stories.”
“Well…” Her yellow eyes scanned the woman up and down as her hand retracted. “It’s hard to believe them, now, seeing you in person, but…”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Amelia grumbled, tugging her arms tighter.
Lucille reached out and poked at Amelia’s arm. “I mean… you’re so squishy. How did you beat ten werewolves when they wanted to eat you?”
“And you’re supposed to be the only human to ever kill a spirit, but you’re so…”
Amelia blinked. “That was…”
“Yeah, that was his name.”
Lucille furrowed her brow and took a step back. “It’s just odd. I pictured you to be different. Like… lots different.”
“Yeah, I figured. Probably imagined me prettier and without glasses.” She adjusted the frames on her nose.
“No, I was gonna say I pictured you taller.”
Amelia felt her face flush a bit and she shrugged. “Can’t help my height. You’re only a couple inches higher up there than I am, either way!”
“Still taller,” Greg chimed in.
“You shut it, vampire!”
He chuckled. “Sorry, sorry.”
Amelia tugged her jacket tighter around her shoulders. She blew a lock of brown hair out of her face and stared up at the demon before her. “So, anyway…”
“Ah! Right! My dad sent me here to kill you, but I don’t want to do that. You’re always nice to monsters like me.”
Greg cocked a brow and said, “Oh, you’re gonna strike a nerve.”
Amelia cut across, “You’re not a monster, Lucille. Monsters kill people and do bad things. I go by a mantra of person until proven monster. So far, you’re the former.”
Lucille looked down. “Oh, well…”
Just then, there was a rumbling sound.
*****, that’s the front door,” Greg hissed. “I’ll go stall for time. You two get out of here. That’s probably the devil’s hired muscle.”
“How did they find us?” Amelia pondered after Greg left.
Lucille kicked the ruby on the ground. “I think he can track our chatterrocks.”
“Right. Well, let’s head back to my place, then. We’ll discuss your case more, there. It’s more comfortable than this old warehouse, anyway.” She snapped her fingers and a wooden door appeared before them, in the middle of the room. “After you.”
“What?” Lucy squeaked.
“Go through the door.”
“Where does it lead?”
“Oh, okay. Why don’t you go first?”
“When I go through the door, it closes behind me. So…”
“Okay, okay. Got it.”
Lucille’s fingers wrapped around the handle and the latch clicked when she turned it. The door was easy to push open, and functioned just like an ordinary one, except when Amelia followed behind, it slammed shut on its own, locking the pair of women in a wide open living room. Hardwood floors, sofa, table, chairs, perfectly domestic. Amelia tousled her hair and dropped her hands to her hips.
Lucille looked around in awe at how peaceful everything looked and felt. Cozy, warm, and quiet.
“Welcome to the Shack. Make yourself comfortable.” She lazily motioned to the couch as she walked off toward another room. “Need a drink?”
“What do you have?”
“Water, soda, iced tea… I’ve got no liquor in the house.”
“I think I’m fine, thanks,” Lucille said, dragging herself toward the couch. Amelia vanished through an open doorway and the girl flopped face-first onto the soft cushions.
“And be careful not to break anything!” she shouted, “Most of the stuff here is antique!”
She picked herself up and found a pillow stuck to her face! Tugging the ruined fluffy square from her horns, she panicked and stuffed it behind the seat she was on, looking around for something to busy herself with. Laptop on the table, television with no remote in sight, perfectly positioned chess set… her eyes finally settled on the shelf hanging over the television.
Her yellow eyes scanned left to right along it, checking out the various little figurines. There were crudely-made clay models of monsters and creatures from mythology coupled with exquisitely carved and painted pewter statues of same. She pulled down the model of a demon. A hulking brute with huge horns and orange lines painted into its gray skin. Its face had similarly orange eyes and open mouth. Pure terror in tiny stone form.
Lucille leapt out of her skin, the little demon flying in the air as the shelf rattled. An ornate hourglass set upon the shelf wobbled. Amelia caught it with her free hand as Lucille fumbled to catch the little figure, setting it back in place as she clutched a hand to her chest.
“My mom made the pewter ones. The clay ones were by her great-grandma or something. Super old. I got you some water.” Handing over a water bottle, she smiled.
Lucille took it, cracked the top, and drank a swig. “Thanks,” she mumbled, shuffling a step away from the woman.
“Do you want a tour or…?” Amelia stepped away to set a guitar down carefully on the sofa. She drank from her own bottle, downing over half of it in just a few moments.
“Yeah, I guess a tour would be nice.”
“Right! So this is the Shack.”
“You said that already.”
“It’s been my family’s home for give or take thirteen, fourteen hundred years, maybe longer. It’s nestled safely away from all sorts of danger, warded against pretty much the entire gamut of terrible beasties, and has a door that only responds to those who bear our blood in their veins.”
She nodded, looking around the room some more. Her eyes settled back on the figurines.
“It’s kinda boring living alone, so we gotta do something to pass the time. Mom carved statues, I play guitar. Anyway, this is the living room. Nice comfy sofa and chairs for lounging. Over this way–” she grabbed Lucille’s wrist and tugged her along toward the way she had gone before. “–is the kitchen. There’s a table for eating, stove and oven for cooking, fridge for storage.” She nodded and smiled. “And that’s the back door,” she said, motioning to the glass sliding doors across the room. “It’s not a portal like the front one, it actually just opens into the backyard. We’ve got swings and a fence and a patio with a grill.” She shrugged and walked back toward the passage. “Behind this door,” she tapped on it, “are stairs to the basement. It’s got some nice wards, and it’s where I stash all my excess ingredients for more advanced witchcraft. Up these stairs, you’ll find the toilet, shower, and beds. Mine’s last on the left, yours is last on the right. Try not to snoop, too much.”
She shuffled back toward the front door, pulling open a closet to hang her jacket, kick off her boots, and grab her guitar from within. Making her way around the sofa, she plopped her bum down onto the sofa cushions. With her sock-hugged feet kicked up on the table, she settled in and began to tune the instrument as Lucille looked on from the entry to the kitchen. “Why is it called the Shack?”
A shrug responded. “Dunno. My mom told me that’s its name.”
“Where is your mom?”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s been seventeen years. I’m good. Take your shoes off and relax. I won’t bite.” She smiled at the demon and patted the couch beside her.
“Right,” she mumbled, doing as she was told. Her bum hit the couch, causing Amelia to bounce a bit. She mimicked her host, feet up on the table.
“That’s more like it,” she cooed, strumming out a chord.
“Can I ask a question?”
“Depends what kind.”
“Why did you trust me?”
“I don’t trust you. I just believed you.”
“Why did you believe me, then?”
“I’m a glass half-full sort of person.”
“But, I’m a demon.”
“And I’m a witch. Let’s call it even,” she hummed, in tune with the last few string plucks.
Lucille nodded and shut her mouth, holding her arms across her chest.
“Anyway, back to your case.”
“You asked for my help. I’m helping you. That makes you my client, and it makes this business arrangement your case. Just terminology I like to use. Makes it seem more professional.” She nodded.
Lucille wasn’t quite sure she liked the word “seem” being involved there, but she relented with a curt nod.
“What sort of help did you need? There’s no way to turn a demon into a human, if that’s what you’re after. You wouldn’t believe how many spirits ask me for that sort of help.”
“No, I need you to help hide me.”
Amelia paused her strumming and shifted to face the woman more directly. “Alright. Hide you from what, exactly? Or, who, I guess? Anubis?”
She looked down.
“I’ll level with you – I’m not the best person to shack up with if you wanna hide from Annie. I’m his number one target, right now. Smack dab in the middle of his crosshairs, lately.”
“Because you killed Baphomet?”
“Mostly because of that, yeah.” She tapped fingers on her guitar. “Baphomet and Aine. Those are the names of the only two people I’ve ever killed. I think it’s pretty good for being eight years in the game.”
Lucille nodded. “Why did you kill Baphomet?”
“Revenge. I’ll tell you the whole story another time. Tonight, let’s talk about you.”
“No. Don’t people usually do these things, uh, no questions asked, or something?”
“Right, but we’re dealing with some pretty dangerous stuff. I need details.”
“I don’t wanna talk about it. I just need to stay away from Anubis. He let me come topside, and I never want to go back. Okay?”
Amelia stared into the woman’s eyes, hummed a little, and then started plucking strings with her fingers, playing the notes of a song. “Deal. I’ll do everything in my power to stop him from getting you back. Other than that, I have a proposition for you.”
“Would you like to be my partner?”
Lucille’s gray skin flushed orange and she began to stammer.
Amelia looked at her and cocked a brow. “I’ve been hunting alone since my last partner left, and I could really use someone to watch my back. You seem capable enough, so I figure… if you’re up for it, that is.”
“Oh!” That made more sense. She exhaled a sigh of relief. “I could give it a shot.”
“Excellent. There’s just a couple ground rules you need to follow, if you wanna work with me.”
“First,” she held up one finger and furrowed her brow. “We’re not hawks. We don’t kill.”
“It’s what people call the Nightstalkers, for short, since they used to wear these stupid hawk masks. Their mission statement, according to them, is: To save humanity through the systematic eradication of the corrupt, monstrous creatures that lurk in the night. Basically, they kill monsters to help people.”
“Right. That sounds like an extreme measure.”
“It is. Last resort. For you, that means that, no matter what, I need to give explicit, direct permission for you to be allowed to kill someone – or something – that we end up fighting with.”
Lucy nodded in response. “I’ll trust your judgment going forward.”
“Good. Second rule: I’m not the boss, outside of the first rule. My judgment is not infallible. Pretty clear, since I’ve got two dead on my conscience. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you think I’m wrong or you have a better idea for something.”
She nodded, a bit unsure about that one. Lucille had never really considered herself a particularly smart person…
“Third, we’re gonna be traveling the world and staying in motels of questionable repute. I always spring for the cheapest option. That’s usually a room with just one bed. Since you’re literally made of fire, I’ll sleep under the sheets, you’re over at least one. Boundaries.”
“O-Okay.” That one went way over her head. She’d have to just see that to get it. Her brow furrowed as she agreed.
“And lastly, trust is earned around here, not freely given. I’ll be packing contingencies for if you turn on me, so don’t be stupid.”
“I’ll do my best to earn your trust, then.”
“Good luck,” Amelia exhaled, fingers plucking at strings.
“You don’t think I can do it?”
She laughed. “I don’t.” Her emerald eyes flashed to the demon. “In fact, I’m so confident that, if you ever successfully earn my trust, you’ll also get a voucher, from me, redeemable for anything you want, so long as it’s within my power to give.”
Lucy cocked a brow. “Deal.”
“Now, I’m gonna stay up for a bit and play. Music calms me down.” Her hand split from the strings to roll the wrist in a circle, stretching the strained joints. “You’re welcome to stay and listen.”
“Okay, I will.”
The guitar sat lightly in her lap, each strum helping her tightened muscles relax. Her left hand’s fingers slid easily along the frets, her eyes fluttering shut as she let the vibrations of the strings course through her form. She exhaled, long and low, transitioning from random chords here and there into a light, lilting melody that reverberated within the heart of the wood-bodied instrument. It was soon accompanied by her voice, singing about her desire to be wanted and needed, and how her life had been a series of failures up to that point. It was a slow, almost haunting melody. Above all, though, Lucille thought Amelia had quite a lovely singing voice.