Thunder cracked as lightning struck the earth over the hazy skyline of Parell North Dakota. With each flash the ruined factories would illuminate. The once beautiful town was still lit with streetlights and homes, though the dark mercurial fog that encircled the town made them seem distant and blured. From the clock tower in the abandoned outskirts, the town was nothing more than a grainy unfocused movie playing on a faraway screen. The forgotten ghetto was quiet except for the roaring storm... and the voices whispering in the belfry of the clock tower.
The swirling clouds churned above as two dark figures stood almost motionless. They scanned the bleak cityscape and were disturbed by how it had fallen from grace. The tallest of the pair spoke in a gruff voice, "Parell gets worse every time I see it, West." His Russian accent rang in the crumbling bell tower.
"You know how these things work." The young woman replied, in a sweet yet sad voice. "It's always darkest before the dawn." Her confidence was unwarranted but still made the old cosak smile. "Isn't that what you told me when we started, Markov?" Markov Let a deep chuckle slip. "We just need to find the 'key' that they left here?" She pulled out a small bronze cup and held it out of the cracked clock face to fill it with rain. "We've done it a few times and it's easy with the tracker we got from Celaphas." The cup now full, she pulled it in and wiped the water from the sides. She drew out a short throwing knife from her sleeve and pricked her finger. "Ouch! I really hate this part. Why can't you do it?" She complained as she let her blood drip into the tracker.
Markov sighed, "I am human. That thing only works with demon blood." He was watching the cup intently.
Huffing, West put her finger in her mouth, ""Ish stihl noh fair." She took the tracker in both ands and began to whisper into it. "By blood you live and by blood you serve. I comand you to show me what i seek." The cloud of blood in the water moved with a will all its own to the surface. The blood circled and skimmed the water for a moment and split into two spinning orbs. The each went to the front of the cup and formed two arrows pointing towards Parell. "What the hell? Markov what does that mean?"
"This time there are two keys…" Markov trailed off into thought while West watched the lightning flashing in the last moments of night.
In a messy bedroom filled with books and dirty clothes, a young man slept as soundly as the dead. Thunder cracked the sky outside his little apartment window. He began to stir at the scent that had begun to waft in the doorway that stood open only a few inches. Bacon… Eggs… And the third scent was harder to identify but just as tantalizing. He was rising from the rickety old bed when the aromatic enigma became clear. Steak. The slender young man began to pull on his crimson t-shirt, which was a poor match to his black power ranger pajama pants. While he struggled with the neck hole, a voice echoed through the hall. "Just wait, Drous is gonna shoot out of there like a rocket." Drous knew he was right. Steak was his favorite food next to venison. "He eats like a monster, but he never gets any bigger. How is that fair?"
Another voice chimed in, "I wish I was like that." Drous had gotten his socks on and was opening the door when he heard Jenna speak. His brother was talking to someone but he hadn't realized who yet. Drous thought it was Scott or Lance but not Jenna. His body froze as if the knob was made of pure nitrogen. I really hope she isn't pissed off anymore… His hopes were frail to say the least. Taking up what little courage he had, Drous moved to the kitchen.
"I was wondering if I'd have to come and get you." Trell commented while setting a fresh slab of meat on the griddle. His green apron and blue jeans showed a little grease, the mark of a great chef. "Jenna has been waiting for you." As he stepped into the pure white kitchen a wave of fear rolled over Drous.
"Why?" Drous asked as innocently as he could. "I thought we were going to meet up later?" He sat down while Jenna finished chewing the little bite of bacon she started. She was an amazing sight. Around five foot five and slim, a dark tan and pure blond hair that could stop the sun. She always dressed like she was going to a little kid's birthday party but it worked for her.
The electric blue gloss on her lips wrinkled when she spoke, "I know what you did." That knife of a sentence dug right into his pride. Drous began to speak but was cut off, "You are the biggest idiot I have ever met." This is gonna be bad… Drous's thoughts echoed. "I mean honestly you can't even try to be a decent human being. I am getting really tired of having to stop people from killing you. You knew that Becky was dating the new volley ball captain didn't you?"
Drous began to defend himself when Jen tried to take a breath for the next set of bladed words but was cut off again by Trell, "Whoa, back up. You're stealing girls from other girls now?"
"He is! Can you believe the crap I have to deal with just to keep him from getting pounded?"
"You're Gonna get killed one day."
The pair kept hounding him while he ate but Drous had heard it all before. For someone so average he seemed to get a lot of attention. The girls at school were always flirting with him just because he was arrested in the beginning of the year. It wasn't his fault as far as he was concerned, and he didn't like thinking about it. He put it out of his head and focused on the food in front of him. His brother was an awesome cook and an excellent cleaner. Trell was cleaning up after Drous since Drous was able to walk, so it seemed almost natural that he was goo. Trell loved his brother and did everything he could to try to give him a normal life after he left the orphanage.
"You guys can stop now…" Drous said after his last bite of eggs. "I know I need to stop acting so immature but it is my last year of high school." He paused for a moment and revised his thought. "It's my last week of high school. We already finished testing and we don't have anything else to do. Just let me have my fun." He saw the fake sad expression come over Jenna's face that he figured out in third grade. "Now don't give me that… I know you well enough to know you aren't hurt that easily."
Her expression loosening, "You just have all answers! I can't believe I actually took the time to bring you this." Jenna took a small box out of the bag at her feet. "Here you go, birthday boy." She slid it across the white marble table. "Enjoy it."
Drous, being the ever cautious man he was, ripped the paper from the box and tore it open. A black leather band about two inches wide with a set of twin chains going from end to end so that it would wrap around his wrist when he put it on laid in the grey tissue paper lining the box. Drous had a bit of a passion for chains and loved the way these glinted in the light. He collected only two things in his life and books where a close second. As he was admiring the beautiful band, Trell dropped a large book on the table and sent a jolt into Drous. "You guys really know what I like…"
"Of course we do. I've been watching over you since you were born"
"And I've Been saving your ass since you learned to talk." The words were as sweet as honey. He looked at the book Trell had placed in front of him. It was the next installment in a series he'd been reading.
"Trell, I can't believe it! This isn't supposed to be out until next month?!" Trell Laughed off the question. Drous knew that he was working in a parcel service but he didn't know he could get his hands on an early shipment. "I love you guys!" As he grabbed the others and tried for a group hug, but Jen pulled away.
She was turning that shade of pink that matched an embarrassed flamingo. "You didn't even notice it."
Drous froze thinking he had touched her inappropriately by mistake, and then looked at the back of the black leather band. He noticed that it had a metal plate inside with something scripted in a familiar style.
Drous Navat, You will never break our bonds. No matter how hard you try.
"How did you get the engraving in your handwriting?" Drous knew that there were few things she couldn't do but Jen had never been known for metalwork.
With a condescending scoff to hide her pride Jenna replied "Well, I engraved it myself. I made the whole thing just for your ungrateful ass." Drous could see it was true. The way that everything was perfectly aligned and the way that the silver chains and buckle shone as if it had been polished for days on end, the whole thing was a reflection on Jenna's personality. Beautiful, precise, and a little sarcastic. "Try it on."
Drous put the band on his wrist and buckled it. While the jingle of the chains was the only sound in the room Drous got a feel for the band. It felt good. It felt like it was a part of him. In an overly-emotional burst of affection, Drous tackle hugged its creator out of her chair. "It's amazing, Jen! If you weren't so much of a bitch I'd marry you!" Jenna's face turned an even darker shade of pink and she smiled and laughed with the others a while longer. They got up from the floor and Jenna sat back down, looking a little ruffled. Then Drous had to go shower and get dressed for class.
Five days of school were left and the first class of the day was going to take forever. At least it felt that way for Drous Navat. At nineteen years old he was still acting like a child. He was throwing pieces of crumpled up paper at the meanest teacher Parell H.S. ever had. Prof. Thomas was the only teacher in the entire school still making the seniors work. With his short and round build it would be easy to mistake him as one of the students if it wasn't for the thick black beard and balding scalp. English was Drous's favorite subject but the Prof. had a way of making it suck.
In his class, you didn't read, you didn't write, you only listened as he went on and on about sentence structure. Drous had read more sentences than there are stars in the sky. It's just his luck that Mrs. Wailings retired a month early. If you had to classify the Prof. you would say he's a fun vampire. He sucked the fun out of everything so efficiently that he could empty a Jell-O filled pool in under a minute. Anything that was even a little amusing landed you in detention for a month.
Drous was getting seriously bored with the Prof.'s lecture on adverbs, when he noticed a note on the edge of his desk. With a puzzled look, he slid it into his notebook and returned his attention to the Prof.'s vocal vomit. Questions were burning in his head as the rest of the decade long class. Who is it from? When did it get there? Is it a love letter? Is she hot? Mind ripping it's self apart, he lost focus on pretending to be interested.
WHAM! A book fell on the desk and snapped Drous out of his world of riddles. "Mr. Navat? What are you day-dreaming about?" The gritty sarcastic tone had a sobering effect.
"How best to use an appropriate adverb in my next letter to the Brown board of education." The most serious and unassuming tone he could muster was more than enough to crack up the class. Drous was never known to have ambitions but the idea of him in a place of higher education was absolutely hilarious.
Oblivious as always the Prof. said "Oh, Brown was my school of choice when I was younger. Best of luck Mr. Navat." With almost no further thought, he walked back to the front of the room and began his speech again. After the next millennia had passed and the bell rang for the students to switch classes, Drous pulled the note from its hiding place and unfolded it.
There is something we need to discuss.
We are meeting at the large oak behind the cafeteria.
With the thoughts of a beautiful girl waiting to confess her undying love to him, the rest of the day flew by. His gym class was the only eventful thing that even shook him from his romantic fantasies. All of the graduating seniors were playing against the freshmen in a game of dodge ball. Drous was torn from his dream world and played on the freshmen team to even the players out. As the junior girl who was to be referee yelled, "GO!" Drous lost all outside thoughts. This was a war and he would win. He was firing the balls as fast as he caught them, while spinning and diving to avoid the shots from his opponents. The referee watched Drous more than she should have. She did have a small crush on him but seeing him move like this was something she would never forget. The man was like liquid smoke, with fluid movements. His dark hair was ruffled from the game, but he was an impressive sight. Black Jeans with a blue and white marbled t-shirt. The two chains that connected his keys to his wallet chimed and jingled as he moved. The referee could barely focus on the game for watching him. With the few kids that were good enough to actually help he wiped out the other seniors within fifteen minutes. Drous was always good at sports, because of his fast reflexes. He could literally see the ball's path and move to avoid it or catch it. This was not a natural ability but one he had earned. He won those skills through years of hard work and blood with his guardian prior to Trell doing a full adoption.
One senior said "Are we really going to let the freshmen beat us?"
"They didn't…" Another replied out of breath.
"Drous was the reason we lost." A third chimed in while gasping for air.
"We should have gave them Lance"
Lance yelled back "We shoulda gave em' your mom!"
On that childish note, Drous went to his locker for a drink. Parell H.S. had a strict "No outside food or drink," policy. One that wasn't readily enforced. Drous keep a stock pile of Jones soda and little Debbie's snack cakes ready for a day when the lunch was "Vegan friendly." In his opinion, it wasn't friendly to anyone. As he finished turning the dial to the last digit Prof. Thomas stepped next to him from the corner of the hallway.
"Ah, Mr. Navat, I have something for you." A deep seated fear of summer school crept up Drous's throat. "I have a letter of recommendation for Brown written and signed." A quick rush of relief and shock washed the fear back down.
"I… I don't know what to say…." He reached for the piece of paper that the Prof. was holding out.
"Try a few of those adverbs you were considering." A gleam of approval flashed in his eye as he turned back down the hall he had come from. This left Drous with a new respect for the old guy and a case of nervous cotton mouth. Remembering his stash, he uncapped the first bottle within his reach. The refreshing blue liquid washed away the cotton mouth and left him to consider actually applying to the school. Drous had only ever considered a community college or trade school. Brown was the kind of school he joked about getting into. The last few minutes of P.E. slowly crept as the gears were turning in Drous's head.
His attention was wrenched away from an amusing thought that he could be valedictorian for his graduating class in 2015. Jenna was passing the drama room and barreling straight toward him with the most powerful expression she had, sadness. Jen was easily upset and hard to hurt, which is why Drous knew something horrible must have happened to make her cry. With a thousand scenarios running around in his mind he closed the twenty foot gap between them in the blink of an eye. He held her shoulders to get her attention, "What's wrong?"
Through the sobs and whines, Drous was able to make out that a young girl in Jenna's class had been found dead earlier in the day. She had been walking to school from her house when she disappeared. The girl was meant to have met up with some other students before school started and hadn't shown. When the truant officer called to check on the girl, the parents called the local cops for a search. Sally Lanning was found dead only hours later, in the ally next to a flower shop. The cause of death was still being held under wraps as well as the circumstances of her demise.
With a reassuring embrace, Drous began to try and calm Jenna. "I'm so sorry Jen." His words were simple but the sound of his voice was like a sedative to Jenna. He continued to whisper the only things he could, sweet little lies. It'll be okay… She's in a better place… Jenna knew that it wouldn't be okay but hearing Drous speak so confidently made hope rise in her chest.
Jenna was now loosing the pink tint on her cheeks and breathing normally when Lance came over. "Hey guys, are you going home early too?" In the fray of her emotions Jenna hadn't heard the announcement about school being closed early because of sally's death.
"What?" She answered her own question by looking around the halls. Everyone was gathering their things from lockers and talking frantically.
Drous looked down at her and said, "We should go…" The pair bid farewell to Lance and walk towards Jens locker. Along the way, they heard many people talking about the poor girl who was taken from their lives. Most of the students had liked Sally or not known her, so she was being praised as a best friend or close confidant. Then Jenna heard the conversation between some of the guys on the wrestling team.
"So why are we getting out early?" The large one asked.
"Some bitch died." Answered the muscled guy.
"At least we get something good from her," The last boy said.
"Who was she?" From the muscled to the last.
"Sally Something, That prissy little blond who was on the cheer squad."
"She had it coming." The large one stated. WHAM! The large one fell to the ground at Drous's feet.
"Enough." Drous said with a calmness that seemed unnatural. "You will not speak that way of the dead." The muscled guy swung at Drous and made a grunting sound as Drous's knee collided with his soft abdomen. Spinning around he grabbed the guy's wrist and pulled him to the ground while his left leg rose to meet the last boy's head. As the two fell Drous turned his attention to the large one trying to stand up. "Leave, Dominic." The large one called Dominic ran to his friends and helped them scurry away.
Jenna knew that Drous was a legend at Parell H.S. for winning fights, but had never seen him get violent before. He walked towards her and took her hands. She found it comforting that he was so fast. "Drous, what the hell was that?" Her tone shocked him more than she thought it would. "How many times have I told you not to fight? Are you really going to do things like this when we're in college?" The barrage of question kept up until they reached Jenna's locker. "And one more thing." She began turning the dial on the door, and whispered. "Thank you…"
The day was done and Drous was more than a little bothered by the events. He looked at the wall clock and remembered the note in his pocket. It's 2:37. I should go to the lunch room. He told Jenna that he was going to the cafeteria to get some juice and an apple so she wouldn't follow him. As much as he loved apples he couldn't have them around Jenna. She was allergic to two things, apples and peanuts. So with her taken care of, Drous headed off to the appointment. With the size of the school it took ten minutes to get there. The school was three buildings that were originally separate schools but in such close proximity that they were eventually joined.
The first building was the high school. The gymnasium was built as a part of this building and had been for a long time. The second building was the middle and special Ed. School. It also had the theatre that the drama department worked in for school plays and fundraisers. The last was the primary school. With three buildings worth of students to feed, most of the first floor was renovated to be a single cafeteria for all of them. The students could come in during lunch or a free period to have a snack, but most of the high-schoolers ate outside in the grass or on the playground picnic tables.
Margaret, Drous's favorite lunch lady was closing the doors to the kitchen when he walked in. She didn't notice him at first but knew someone had come in. "We're closing up for the day." There was some obvious hurt in her voice. "Well, for the summer."
"Come on Marge, just one apple?" A sweet yet sarcastic tone was enough to alert her that it was Drous.
She turned and said "Of course, you can." Margaret produced a blood red apple from the pouch on the front of her stained apron. She knew Drous well enough to have it ready. He'd been coming in everyday after class for an apple since fifth grade. She tossed the shiny red orb to the waiting man. She let out a tired sigh as she was beginning to get mist in her eyes, "So have you heard?"
"Yes," His solemn voice carried low in the vast room. "I don't know what you're going through, but do you want to talk about it?" The memories he had of the old lunch lady were filled with her stories about her granddaughter. When she learned to ride a bike. The time she was hurt in a school play. Margaret cried on Drous's shoulder for almost thirty minutes before she managed to regain her composure. "Just head home and be with your family," She held her shaky pride and took a breath. "You can keep them together and help with the planning. They need you." Drous knew that Marge was going to need something to hold her together as well. Giving someone responsibility in a weak moment can make them strong again. Drous remembered the quote from a book on General Paton and put it to use. "Be strong for your son and daughter-in-law." She smiled and hugged Drous tight. Then, got up and left without another word. Drous let loose a slow breath. "Her memories are with us. We still have her…"
Drous sat on the edge of the table eating his apple and thinking about how many people were affected by Sally's death. Having stopped a few bullies from harassing her their freshman year he was familiar with the girl. He himself had only spoken with her a few times, but knew almost everything there was from Margaret's stories. She was eight teen. She had long blond hair and lime green eyes. Loved to wear pink and blue clothes because she said it made her look like cotton candy. The pictures that Marge had shown him played in his mind like a slideshow. Even if his connection to her was a secondary connection, he still felt a sense of loss. Looking up he saw the clock hands move. 3:24.
Drous tossed his apple core into a garbage bin before he stepped out of the service entrance to the loading dock for the cafeteria. The bright summer sun made him feel better about the meeting. The questions that plagued his mind after P.E. came back. Who? Why? Hot? The shear amount of thinking that he had done for that day was giving him a headache. So he sat on the small brick wall that ran along the walkway to the parking lot. The large oak tree rustled in the swift breeze. The warm light on his face made him loose his worries and enjoy the time he had to himself until his meeting started. CRUNCH…
His muscles tensed and he sat upright facing the direction the sound came from. CRUNCH… Nothing in sight. CRUNCH… Drous scanned the area, still nothing. CRUNCH… CRUNCH… He stood and saw the source of the noise, over the other low wall at the end of the walkway. A young woman's hair was all he could make out from that distance. He stepped forward and she stood at the sound of his feet. A sight to behold, nineteen or twenty she had a pitch black ponytail tied in a black velvet band that hung over her shoulder, a sleeveless pure white dress to her knees, no shoes or jewelry except a silver locket on her neck. With her face and body slightly tanned she looked amazing. Her sweet face was in a sad smile that didn't seem to fit her features.
She sat a bag of chips she had in her left hand on the wall and spoke softly, "Hello Drous Navat." Even her voice showed the mixture of sadness and false joy. The accent that came with it was beautiful but hard to place. Italian maybe? Drous thought.
Drous took up his own fake smile, "Hello." She looked in his eyes as he spoke. "You have me at a disadvantage. I don't know your name." Her smile seemed real for a moment and he pressed on, "Will you tell me who I am talking to?"
She giggled at his question as though it were a silly thing to say. "I am Clothoe, but you already knew that." She giggled again. Drous didn't recognize her but he knew the name from the back of his mind.
He stepped forward and extended his had to shake hers. She smiled the sad smile again and took his hand. Without shaking it or thinking Drous bowed and kissed her hand. Her real smile came back. Why did I do that? He pulled himself back and said "We needed to talk right?" Drous looked at her with curiosity while he spoke in a gentle manner, "What are talking about?"
In the same amused voice she answered, "Your destiny."
Jenna was still broken up about her friend when Drous left for the cafeteria, but she kept her tears back as she gathered the rest of her things. Classes were canceled for the rest of the semester and she was happy to hear it, but she would have gone another four years to bring back her friend. Sally was as innocent as a human can be. She never lied, never cheated, and never even said a curse word. As Jen filled her bag with the little mementoes that she had accumulated that year she saw a note lodged under her notebook. She pulled it free and unfolded the paper. The handwriting was Sally's.
I forgot my homework at your house didn't I?
If you don't mind, will you bring it next Monday?
Oh and happy birthday.
Jen remember the note from April. She began to tear up as her mind wandered to that week. In a daze, she finished taking her trinkets and papers from the locker and staggered down the hall towards the library. She read over the little letter while she walked, taking in the memories. She found herself staring at a bluish green smudge on the top corner of the paper. Sally must have spilt some of her nail polish on it. That color was her favorite, and it had a funny name. Jen realized she had forgotten the name of that color and began to panic. What was it? Cyan? Aqua? Teal? She wracked her brain for the answer. Nerves tearing themselves apart she kept walking not paying attention to where she was going. Then it hit her. Sea-foam green. With the pressure released she sank against the wall she was closest to.
She looked through the glass wall opposite her, and saw that she had traveled a good distance. She was next to the cafeteria. It took her a moment to understand what she was seeing, but it clicked in her head. Drous was letting Sally's grandmother cry on his shoulder. Jenna knew that Sally's grandmother worked in the lunch room but she had never really talked to her. It was amazing to see Drous being so supportive and holding the frail old woman. Jenna knew more about Drous than anyone and she had never seen him as a dependable kind of guy, but here he was. Talking someone through the death of a loved one. Jen watched for a while as he kept say things to the woman, and she saw the old lady beginning to smile as she slowly recovered from her breakdown. The woman had completely stopped crying and walked toward the door near Jen. When she stepped out of the door way, Jen walked up to her and handed her the note from Sally. She said "We're all going to miss her."
"We still have her." Said the proud grandmother. She read through it and traced the nail polish with her finger. She folded the note over and placed it back in Jenna's hands. "Her memories are still here, and this one belongs to you." Jenna clutched the paper memory and walked into the lunch room to talk to Drous, leaving the elderly lunch lady to return home.
Drous wasn't in the lunch room anymore. The table he had been at was tearstained but empty. Taking in the room she saw no trace of him. Where did he go now? The sound of a closing door brought her attention to the service corridor. He's probably on his way home… With that she turned on her heel and left for the parking lot to say goodbye to her remaining friends.
The cars were almost gone. A few of the candy colored machines were still scattered as she glided down the stairs to the sidewalk. Michelle was parked at the front of the lot, her cherry red Mazda playing some soft rock. Six of the girls were crowded around the car with most destitute faces Jenna had ever seen. She walked slowly and with fear of the already happening conversation. The girls were retracing their memories with Sally. Some of the girls were crying, some holding back and Michelle was in a state of emotional shock. She seemed untouched by it. Her slick brown hair was neat and straight. Her rosey colored skirt and T-shirt were perfectly ironed and her face may have been that of a Greek statue with her pale complexion. They all put on warm comforting smile, except for Michelle, when Jen joined the circle. Tracy and Anna hugged her and the trip down memory lane started up again. Good times, bad times, and even arguments were idealized for these friends. Michele stayed frozen in time, then in an emotional burst that could have deafened the others, she cried. The girls wrapped her in human contact and began to weep with her.
After the group cried out all of their tears, they said their goodbyes and went their separate ways for the time being. Michelle offered to drive Jenna home in fear of losing another friend. Jenna got into the red car without hesitation and buckled in. "Are you hungry?" Jenna asked.
"A little. Where do you want to go?" Michelle asked with a shaky voice that showed just how much she had cried.
"Rick's sounds good." The old burger place that was on her mind belonged to her uncle. She always felt safe there and in the vulnerable state they were in it seemed like the best choice.
"Text Drous and see if wants to meet us there." Without missing a beat Jenna pulled out her cell phone sent the message.
"If he doesn't reply in a few minutes just assume he's asleep at his house." She said with an edge of cynicism.
With an accusing giggle, "It's not like he's important to me, but he is a great guy." Michelle shook Jenna's entire being.
"What the hell was that about?"
"You are so in love with that idiot." Jenna's mouth fell open, "You really should try to hide it better. He is pretty dense so it may not have sunken in yet, but he will notice it eventually." The car rounded a corner onto French street. "You need to tell…" Michelle's words were cut short when the car began to swerve. Keeping a calm mind, Jenna grabbed the safety handle above the door and held on. Eyes closed, Michelle could only hear the sounds of metal clashing and asphalt being broken. Jenna watched the street for only an instant, but in that instant, she saw Drous. He was flying toward the wall of a nearby store with blood flowing down his face. Her heart was breaking at the sight of his impending death. She opened her mouth to cry out to him, but was silenced by the recoil of the hitting a large object and sending a shockwave into her body. Then darkness robbed her of Drous's last moments.
"What do you mean 'Destiny'?" Drous asked the white clad woman. "Are you going to propose?" He let out a small laugh but it was obvious that he was getting nervous. The girl named Clothoe was edging closer and she still had that sorrowful smile playing at her lips.
"I do love you," Drous stumbled as he began to back away from her. "But I don't want you to marry me yet." Her playful demeanor gave Drous a bit of relief. Maybe she was just joking? "You are going to be tested."
With a chuckle "Oh, come on. I just got done testing. I need a little time to rest."
"This is no laughing matter my love." The seriousness in Clothoe's tone struck him. "If you don't pass the first test, we will have to wait until your next lifetime. And I rather like this body." Clothoe put her hand on Drous's chest. "It seems strong."
Drous removed her hand quickly, "Okay, that is a little personal." He paused, remembering her words. "What do you mean 'this body'? As far as I know I only have one." If she knew something he didn't she wasn't ready to tell. She stepped back to the low wall and leaned on the edge. Her head cocked slightly to the side, and with a look of puzzlement she let out a long low whistle.
She held out her hand as a crow flew down. The black bird landed softly on her wrist. "This will be a good partner for you." Drous looked at the beautiful black feathers and thought, She ignores me, and summons birds… great. "Her name is Kree. Now for the weapon. I think that a sword would be fine, right?"
"I prefer pole arms, like a halberd or lance, but what does that have to do with the bird?" Of course he was just joking but as the last syllable left Drous's lips the crow grew longer and thinner until it was roughly the length of Drous and the width of a broom handle. It had become metal and was forming a blade near the top, the twin wing like blades that made an "M" shape with a spear head in between. Drous would have thought that the halberd was beautiful with the ornamental feathers and pitch black shaft, if not for the fact that it had been made from a living crow right in front of his eyes. "Wha… What… the… hell?"
Clothoe twirled the stave in her hand while she began to explain, "Kree is not a crow. She is a raven who was given the power to become a weapon for her chosen master." The halberd turned in to a raven almost instantly. And she flew to land on Drous's shoulder. "She will be helping you from now on." In a confused state of mind Drous said something that sounded like Groh? He looked the black avian in the eyes and felt nothing but kindness from them. "She knows you better than you would think. And if you need her power, just ask and she will come to defend you." He slid his hand over the birds back and she nuzzled him in return. "To be her master you must prove yourself. Let the first test begin…" Kree began to grow and fluttered from his shoulder. In an instant she was the size of a small car. Drous was beginning to panic. He looked to Clothoe for some kind of explanation but she had disappeared leaving only the chip bag behind. The giant Kree lashed her beak at Drous who sidestepped it with ease. He knew it was a half hearted attack but the bird was still close to taking off his right arm.
Drous turned to run, he was brave enough and a beast in battle but there was no way he would face a mythical giant raven in an open space and unarmed. He slammed into the service entrance as hard as he could but the lock was already set. Need a weapon. He turned and saw that Kree had vanished. He would have thought she was entirely gone, if not for the pulsing winds pushing the grass down. The flying giant had risen to the sky, hovering a mere thirty yards from the ground. In a flash of feathers and claws, Drous was pulled up into the sky. Damn, I'm not dying now. He was being pulled by his shoulders backwards, at an astounding speed towards the town. Not being the kind of guy to resign to fate, Drous swung a hard kick into the feathered behemoths tail. Her balance was compromised and she veered into a low building. Drous had fallen to the ground but wasn't hurt badly. Kree fell pretty close knocking over a street sign. Drous grabbed the signs post and rushed the dazed bird, "I can beat you, you stupid crow!" Then a soft voice rang in his head as he brought the French Street sign around like a wicked green scythe.
I am a raven.
Kree unleashed a burst of air pressure by flapping her wings that blew the sign out of Drous's hands and sent him flying backward. In the maelstrom of wind time slowed and the sign grazed his forehead leaving a good sized gash. He saw a Volts wagon beetle and a cherry red Mazda twisting in the air next to him. Jenna's bag passed by his right hand. Jenna's bag? He cocked his head towards the beetle. An old guy was unconscious in the driver's seat. He twisted to see the Mazda's cab. Jen was blacked out in the front. Jenna's bag still in the air next to him, he reached in as he saw the enormous shadow of a raven dart at him. He hoped he had the right item when he yanked it out of the purse. Kree's claws got his left arm but he jammed his right hand into her thigh. Then the smell of ozone and burning feathers filled the air. He could still feel some of the stun gun's bite, but Kree had taken the brunt of it. Drous was in tremendous pain but he remembered the time that Jen had tazed him for going through her purse. "Hurts like hell doesn't it?" He laughed as they toppled to the ground and time returned to its normal pace.
The two cars landed with a thud on each side of the street. People were screaming for help and sirens were wailing in the distance. "You did very well, my master." Drous turned and saw Kree shrinking to the size of a normal raven. "I can't wait to see how far you will go this time." With that she perched herself on his left shoulder.
"So we're friends now? You just about killed me and those innocent people!" A warm sensation started to flow from the bird's talons into Drous's arm. His wound closed and the feeling spread all over him. He was tired and sore but not physically damaged anymore. "That's a neat trick; can you mend them as well?" Drous asked while pointing to the other people who had been hurt in the accident. Kree flew to each of the three people and healed them in the same manor. Drous pulled the two girls from their car. He sat with them until the ambulance came.
The hospital was filled with people rushing around and looking franticly for a missing patient. "Where is Jenna Young?!" a nurse called to some orderlies. The commotion continued, but the sounds didn't reach the girl they were meant for. She was a little preoccupied on the roof. The blue lip gloss shimmered on her lips as she questioned the man she loved.
"Drous, what happened?" Her voice was accusing and stern. "I saw you there, in the accident. You were bleeding all over the place and you looked so scary. Like you were going to do something bad." Her voice trailed off while she waited for a response. He was sitting on the air conditioning unit with his hands folded over his face. "I'm fine but I saw all the blood, you were hurt, so why not let the doctors take a look?"
"I told you I'm fine. Doctor Tao said that it was possible that you were hallucinating from shock." Drous was a horrible liar but he was pretty convincing when he needed to be. "I never got hurt; I showed up after the accident and called 911. Please calm down. You don't need to get too excited in your condition." Jenna walked up to him and grabbed his hands pulling him to his feet.
"Take it off now." Drous looked shocked but she clarified, "Loose the shirt, I want to see for myself." She was turning pink again and the sight of her flustered face was comforting. Drous pulled off his shirt, tossing it onto the A.C. and stood still as a statue while Jenna stared him down. He had a small amount of fat but good muscle definition and no cuts or bruises, just a cross shaped scar around four inches wide on his left shoulder. "Turn around." With unnatural obedience he turned and faced the other way. Jen Looked at his back and saw nothing but a little scare on his left shoulder from when they were little. She ran her fingers over the cross shaped lines. "You got this one because of me…" Drous stood silent. "I was falling from my parent's balcony and you caught my arm. The metal railing went all the way through but you didn't let go." She wrapped her arms around him and he felt her press into him through the paper gown. "What are you hiding from me?"
They stood there for a while in silence. "I have to let you know that I will not let you get hurt again." Jenna still held him tight. "I have gotten into some trouble and I don't know what I am supposed to do about it." He broke her grip and stepped forward to retrieve his shirt. "I'm going to look for a way out of this, so please try not to hate me." He slipped his shirt over his head and looked back at Jenna. Tears were beginning to streak her face.
"I wasn't hurt… I feel fine. Nobody got hurt." She grabbed his hand and pulled it up to eye level. "I already told you, you can't break our bonds! Why are you trying to run away?"She released his hand and swung a hard slap at his face, but he caught her by the wrist.
"I would never run from you!" Drous let her hand slip loose and said calmly, "I can't be without you, but I need time to myself right now." Drous walked past the now sobbing girl and down the stairs.
He rounded the corner and Doctor Tao was there panicking. "Oh, Drous!" She rushed toward him, "Have you seen Jenna?" Drous explained what had happened on the roof. The Doctor sent a couple of orderlies to check on her and continued to speak with Drous. "You know that the worst thing that a man can do to a woman is make her cry." The Doc was always there for Drous and Trell when they were sick, but she had a bad habit of wanting to lecture them about something or other. "I am really worried about the two of you." Drous studied her for a moment, light skinned and black hair. The Chinese accent was faded from years in America, but she still seemed young in appearance.
"I am not going to be the reason she dies…"
"What do you mean?" she put her hand on Drous's shoulder. "You didn't cause the accident." Drous pulled free of her touch and scowled at his own reflection in a polished silver door.
"I'm supposed to watch out for her. I have to be better." The realization that his actions had hurt others was beginning to sink in. "If… If I were stronger this would have been avoided." The Doc reached out again, this time taking him by the hand like a child that needed direction. Her grip was incredible for a middle aged woman. "I will get stronger."
"You are strong enough. Try to be happier instead." She turned him around and flicked him on the nose. "That is what is important." She turned and started to drag Drous towards the nurses' station. He knew better than to resist. Doctor Tao had been the one who taught Drous how to fight. For many years she showed him tai-chi and ken-po. He hated the training but did it out of respect for the women who paid his rent. "Trell was asking where you went." Just as she finished, Trell walked out of the elevator down the hall.
Trell ran at the doc and skidded to a stop knocking Drous over. "Is she okay?" he demanded. Doctor Tao explained how everyone was miraculously fine, but they were all staying overnight for observation. Drous was already on his feet by the end of the story.
"I'm good too." Trell disregarded his little brother, not out of anger but because he knew that Drous was as sturdy as a mountain. After the time that Drous got hit by a bull at the state fair and walked off unharmed, Trell was a little less protective.
"Drous, go get her some flowers from the gift shop." He shoved a twenty into his hands. "Get some roses." Drous wasn't going to argue but he had no intention of getting roses. He made that mistake once and new better that to do it twice. A few years earlier Jenna was acting depressed because she didn't have a boyfriend on Valentine's Day, and being the nice guy that he was, he bought roses to cheer her up.
Jenna absolutely hated the smell of roses. She tossed them then got angry at Drous for "not knowing a thing about her." He stepped into the stairwell and started to walk down the first of the twelve flights until he noticed a black shape gliding toward him. "What is it Kree?" She perched on his shoulder as he walked. She established another telepathic link. I came to check on you. Drous laughed at the irony, while trying to ignore the feeling of violation by having a bird hack his mind. "You just tried to kill me and now you want to make sure my feelings aren't hurt?" Kree shifted on his shoulder. It was meant to be a test master. I needed to know if you were worthy to wield my power. He still didn't know what the hell was going on, and he was ready to find out. Eight flights to go. "Kree, what is all this?" The bird was hesitant at first but replied, you are an important existence in this world. What we have to do now is make you stronger. Drous cut her off "Why do I need to be stronger? Why am I so important? And why the hell can you talk?" The pitch black raven let out a cooing sound that may have been meant to comfort. You must become stronger to defend yourself. You are important because you were meant to be, and I talk because you need to hear what I have to say. She ruffled her feathers and waited for a response. Four flights to go. "Fine. Keep your secrets, but don't mess with my family anymore."
Kree flew up the stair case as Drous opened the door to the lobby. "Damn crow…" Her words echoed back, I am a raven. He was in sour mood and clenched the twenty in his left hand hard. While walking in the lobby he saw all manner of people with illness or injury. Some young some old, but none had been chosen to talk with that stupid bird. Drous pushed open the door to the gift shop and a bell went off to alert the cashier.
She was short and slightly overweight, but still pretty. With a set of pruning shears, she tended the flowers a moment longer before turning to her new customer. "Welcome, if you need any help just let me know." She was sixteen, maybe seventeen and had light brown hair in a bun under her nurse's hat.
Drous was a little nervous but asked for help. "What kind of flowers do you recommend?"
"Who are they for?"
"A friend." The girl reached for some roses and Drous continued. "She hates roses." The girl eyed him for a minute and stepped back towards the daisies.
"With these do?" she wave a hand over the blossoms.
Drous reached for another set of flowers. "No, these will suffice." He said as he picked up the camellias that the young girl was tending to when he came in. He sat them on the counter as the young shopkeeper walked around to the register. "What kind of cards do you have for these?" Without a word she pulled out a small book filled with plastic sleeves that contained various cards. Drous looked at a few pages and decided on a bright blue card that matched Jenna's lip-gloss. "I'll take this one."
"I like the color. Should I write the message or would you like to do it?" She pulled a pen out that looked like a hypodermic needle. Drous took the pen and scrawled a short message across the card. He paid the young lady and was stepping out of the door when she called him back. "Tell Kree I said hello." Drous turned to look at the girl, but she was gone. How could she have known about Kree? Drous walked to the elevator and kept replaying the scene in the gift shop over and over in his head. He pressed his memory as hard as he could, looking for clues to the cashiers identity. Name tag. She was wearing a name tag. What did it say? He pushed himself into the elevator and kept trying. A. It started with an "A." Drous was still trying desperately to get the second letter when the doors opened on the twelfth floor. His body was on auto pilot as his mind raced.
He took a deep breath before he entered Jenna's room. "Hey I thought that I wou…" The rest of his sentence dried out in his throat. Jenna had her shirt and bra off while Doctor Tao was checking her respiration. Her breasts were beautiful to say the least. Coco brown just like the rest of her flawless body. As Jenna shrieked, his only thought was, God kill me now because the hell I am about to enter will be too much for me. Jenna was beautiful but the Doc covered her with her blanket and darted for Drous. Her right hand blurred out of existence until it collided with Drous's gut. He doubled over from the impact and dropped to his knees letting go of the flowers. Doctor Tao grabbed them out of the air.
"At least he bought flowers." The doc commented, as she stood over the now gasping Drous. "They're nice."
"Hit him again!" Jenna roared. The doc made no move to further injure the poor guy catching his breath.
Drous choked out the words, "Shou… should have…"
Jenna cut in with a sarcastic and hateful tone, "Knocked?"
"Locked… the door…" Drous corrected. She flung the unopened pudding cup from her untouched lunch tray. It bounced harmlessly off his chest and he picked it up. "I was a little hungry." She was still fuming but a smile crept over her lips for an instant. "I didn't mean too…" He walked over to her bedside and placed the pudding cup back on the tray. "I am so sorry." He began to plead. "Don't kill me…" he was now hanging his head in shame.
Doctor Tao walked over and handed him the flowers with her right hand and covered his eyes with her left. "Put your shirt on dear." Drous was blinded by the doc's hand but the image of Jenna's chest was playing in his heal like a broken record. After a moment of shuffling sounds Doctor Tao removed her hand and stepped out saying. "I have more patients so try to get along."
They were alone now, Drous, Jenna and the awkward silence. Drous was looking out the window at the now dark sky. He was trying not to look at Jenna because her naked body would surely pass through his head if he did. "I got these for you." He sat the flowers on the tray table. "I am so sorry."
"Really, you are such a wimp." She was being more playful than angry now. "You've seen them before, so I won't hold it against you." She was right. Drous had seen them when Jenna lost her top at her parent's pool once, but that was when they were six. He couldn't figure out why she was being so understanding. "So hand me the card, already." She said with a huff. Drous did as he was told, and she began to read the little message. Jenna laughed as she slipped the little blue note under her pillow. "Really? 'Hurry up and go home.' Was the best you could come up with?" The pair shared a laugh and began to reminisce about the day. Jenna cried for a while over Sally's death. Sometime around eleven Michelle came in. "How are you holding up?"
Michelle was a little ragged but no worse for the ware. "I could be better.&r