Southern Discomfort

Gangsta Gangsta

vintdawg.jpg
Weeeeeeeell…
Here’s a little somethin’ bout a wizard like me
Never shoulda been let out the 12th Century
Vint Dawg would like to say
That I’m a crazy muthafucka from the British Isles way
Since I was a youth, I read the runes out
Now I’m the muthafucka you commune about
Casting a spell or two, that’s what the hell I do
You don’t like what I’m invokin’? Well, BUGGER YOU
This is a gang, and I’m in it
My White Council fuck you up in a minute
With infriga, forzare, ventas servitas, and fuego
And then you say, “Godsdamn, he loco!”
Everywhere we go, they say “Daaaaaaamn!”
The White Council be fuckin’ up the program
And then you realize we don’t care—
We don’t just say no, we too busy sayin’ “YEEEEEEAH!”
About drinkin’ straight off Mac’s brown bottle
Do I look like a muthafuckin’ role model?
To apprentices lookin’ up to me
Life ain’t nuthin’ but witches and money
‘Cuz I’m the type of wizard that was built to last
If you fuck with me, I’ll put my wand up your ass
I don’t give a fuck ‘cuz I’ll keep spellin’—
Yo, WHAT THE FUCK ARE THEY YELLIN’?!

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Hunger

With the bodies disposed of, and the van dropped off at company headquarters, Rosario headed home. As she walked, she unbuttoned the top button of her black uniform shirt. She knew Matthew was upset with her, and likely Radagast would be as well. But she couldn’t care about that right now.

Tonight had been close. Too close. If Xarina hadn’t been there to swipe the plate away- No. She can’t think about that. There are too many people who depend on her. She could only keep her family safe as long as she was still herself. And this contract with Gunderson was worth it. It had to be. She’d risked so much.

Her mind kept returning to the women in the study. She hadn’t wanted to help them. She wanted to join in. The promise of fresh meat, of hot blood, of filling the hole left by the constant aching hunger… There was something about this entire evening that called to a part of her she’d been trying desperately to ignore.

She let herself in through the back door of Radagast’s house and made her quick, silent way into the kitchen. In the antique icebox (Radagast’s new Maytag had mysteriously exploded one afternoon when the wizard had attempted to make pudding) she found an uncooked steak, bloody and far too tempting. She tore into the raw meat, abandoning any semblance of manners as the juices ran down her chin.

Slowly she came back to herself, crouching on the floor of the kitchen like some feral thing, blood dripping from her chin and hands onto the cold stone floor. She dreaded the day when steak wouldn’t be enough.

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Old Faces
After the events of Ortega's dinner party

The Vintner residence was serene this early summer evening. Xarina and Rosario had washed and stored all of the dishes while Radagast retired to his study to ponder some documents. The girls had returned to their rooms after a quick run around the neighborhood and a hot shower (for Rosario, at least—Xarina still insisted on bathing herself in typical cat-fashion most days). Radagast had questioned the wisdom of allowing Xarina to take her evening constitutional in jaguar form, but Rosario had assured him that no one was likely to object—most people wouldn’t think twice about a young woman running around the block with a big furry companion, she said, and would most likely think the werecat was merely a large dog. To assuage the old wizard’s concerns, Xarina had hesitantly acquiesced in allowing Radagast to place a subtle veil on a collar she could wear while running that would blur the perceptions of any passers-by who might otherwise take an interest.

The low drone of a radio piping pop music filtered down from the girls’ rooms into the parlor of the estate, but Radagast paid it no mind—he’d become accustomed to far worse clamor when Nick lived here, what with all that Fnord nonsense upon which he’d been so fixated. The wizard busied himelf about his study, pausing momentarily to admire the souvenirs he’d collected over the centuries. On an oaken table to the left of his desk lay a collection of ritual athames from the British Isles, their shine protected by an anti-tarnishing charm carved into the table’s surface.

Across the room, glass cabinets inscribed with protective wards held other wonders: Egyptian scarabs of varying designs and materials; belt buckles that once belonged to decorated Mandarin warriors; a collection of Roman coins which remained in shockingly good condition considering their age; a book of shadows procured from a lost sect of Italian bruja; a set of handcarved stakes and Romanian crucifixes left over from the war with the Black Court; and a small silken pouch of dirt he’d kept from when his business with the Council took him to a Nazi concentration camp in Poland. An old scar on his midsection, wide and deep, began to itch; absentmindedly, he reached beneath his robe to scratch at the tough, knotted flesh. He seemed to have forgotten how he got the scar, and it bothered him only occasionally.

He’d lost his brightest apprentice at Belzec, and this soil, mingled with her blood, was all that remained of her. With each passing day, it got harder and harder to remember her smile, her voice, as if time itself had taken another piece of his memory as payment for letting him draw breath at a new dawn. For just a moment, though, staring at that silk bag, he could remember Aislinn’s face. Tearing up at this remembrance, Radagast made the sign of the Rays of Awen above the pouch, kissed the amulet around his neck, then dusted off the glass curio cabinets and tottered over to his bookshelves.

With a heave and a wheeze, he pulled a heavy volume off the shelf and brushed a thin layer of dust from the cover. It was a treatise by Merlin Arthur Langtree on the legal peculiarities of the Unseelie Accords—a document with which Radagast had once been intimately familiar, but hadn’t had need to study in any detail in quite a few years.

That had changed drastically in the last 24 hours. Rae Lawrence was determined to become a signatory to the Accords, a decision from which Radagast had hoped to dissuade the young practitioner. But Rae’s determination was iron-set, and Vintner couldn’t find it in his heart to deny her request for his aid, especially knowing her motivation. I’ve done some foolish things myself in order to protect those too weak to protect themselves, he thought. And here I go again. Can’t teach an old magus new charms.

Hours passed as Radagast pored over the text, considering his options. He was loathe to advise Rae to ally directly with a fey court in order to gain a sponsorship, for fear of her changeling charges meeting the very fate they sought to escape. Seeking a favor from any of the vampire courts wasn’t advisable, either… not even the White Court, especially given the ardent interest House Raith’s emissary had expressed toward Rae.

The sun had long since set, and though night’s darkness had settled across Charleston, the sweltering summer temperatures had not abated. Radagast didn’t mind the warmth, much preferring it to the chill of winter, all things considered—cold made his joints ache and slowed his blood flow, an unavoidable inconvenience of his advancing years. But the humidity and heat made him drowsy, and before he knew it, he’d passed out with his face buried in Langtree’s words.

And then he dreamed.

*

A figure draped in dark purple, almost black, robes strode toward Radagast from the darkness. The features of his face were familiar, even friendly, but his eyes bespoke a dangerous malice. His neatly trimmed black beard, tinted with subtle streaks of gray, brushed up against a talisman hanging from a silver chain around his neck: an inverted pentagram carved from serpentine and circumscribed in lustrous obsidian. In his left hand, he clutched a staff of gold topped with a ruby prism.

“You are not real,” Radagast said to the vision.

“Reality is subjective, old friend,” said the dark man. “Anything is possible in a dream.”

“I killed you.”

“You buried me,” the man said with corrective emphasis. “There is a difference. Perhaps your mind is too weak to recall it when you are awake just yet, but in your dreams you can see clearly again. Soon your conscious mind will begin to remember.”

“I could never forget the harm you visited upon me, Illuviel. I will carry that scar upon my heart to my dying day. So speak whatever foul desire you harbor and let us be done with this farce. When I awake, you will be but a memory again.”

The dark man’s eyes glittered from an unseen light in the dreamscape. “Your new protege needs a sponsor. Our people could provide that. For a price, of course.”

“Oh, I’m sure you could. But Rae Lawrence’s soul is not on the table. Nor that of her charges.”

“You might change your mind about that soon. In any event, I don’t want that weakling’s soul… or yours. I only want your magic—for a time. War is coming, Vintner. And though the most vicious battles rage elsewhere in this wretched world, Charleston will not be spared. Let us put aside our differences and assist one another. Our enemies are soon to become your enemies, if they haven’t already. What furthers your goals furthers ours… for the immediate future, at any rate.”

“I could never put aside the enmity which exists between us, Illuviel. You killed my niece. My only living blood relative save for her son, and my brightest student… you took her from me, devil. Aislinn will never again draw breath, never again know the touch of a loved one, never teach her own apprentice. I shall never forgive you for that. Whatever hell Nicholas sent you to, you deserve every torment it holds.”

“I do not ask for anyone’s forgiveness, wizard, least of all yours. Only your good sense. You cannot win this battle. Not without me.” The dark man gazed into the distance, as if peering beyond the veil of dreams into other realities, seeking other minds to inhabit. “Where is the wayward child, incidentally? It has been so long since I visited the boy. A pity your bloodline’s talents never manifested in him. He might have been more… pliable than his mother was.” He smiled, an expression that seemed preternaturally sinister.

“Nicholas is forever beyond your reach, Illuviel. Michael’s aegis protects him from your foul influence. My grandnephew will never become a wizard, ‘tis true, but he has made me quite proud nonetheless. Though he wielded that blade for but a day, he has served mankind well. He is marked by the sword of Hope, eternally protected by its forger’s grace as thanks for his service.”

Illuviel’s smile disappeared. “Ah, yes, Roland’s accursed saber. I understand it has made its way to Russia now. Wielded by one of our alumni, as it were. I wonder how long it will be before he returns to us? Once we sink our fangs into our prey, we never truly let go of it. Of course, you of all people realize that, I’m sure.”

Radagast stepped toward the dark man, raising his walking stick and drawing the sign of the Rays before him. “Return to your banishment, Illuviel. I proved my authority over you long ago. By my command, return to whatever sulfurous pit you crawled out of, and never return here again.”

The dark man closed his eyes. As he did so, another pair opened higher on his forehead—eyes that burned orange. Between them, a sigil of green fire burned into his alabaster flesh, forming the shape of the inverted pentagram. Dark wings tipped in midnight-blue feathers unfolded behind the unwanted visitor.

“As you wish, Radagast. But one day, you will beg for my aid. And when that time comes, my price will be much, much steeper. Mark well what I have said, wizard.”

The dark man disappeared in a gout of smoke and hellfire.

Radagast awoke.

*

The study had cooled somewhat; Radagast looked over at the grandfather clock by the curio cabinet. 3:00 in the morning. His neck and back ached from sleeping hunched over the desk and book. Yawning and scratching once again at his scarred belly, he closed the volume and returned it to the shelf.

As he passed the curio cabinet, making the sign of the Rays before the sacred bag of soil once more, Radagast thought he remembered dreaming something just moments previously, but could not for the life of him remember what. Shrugging and balancing himself on his cane, the old wizard closed the door to the study and locked it.

The wan moonlight entering the empty room from the window illuminated little in the study, save for a single silver coin that glimmered within the cabinet.

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Friendly Correspondence

There was a dangerous sense of calm in the dusty old study of the Vintner residence this chilly autumn evening. Nick had peeked in once or twice to check on the old wizard, and immediately realized that now was not a time to intervene. Chilly silence pervaded the lamp-lit room; once, Nick swore he’d seen a thin layer of rime frost encircling the desk as he’d passed by the doorway, ice crystals glinting on the floor in the dying light of the setting sun.

For half an hour, the elderly man had stared at the letter which had arrived only a few days prior. The handwritten note was from the elder Francis Rutledge. In summary, it announced his promotion to Margrave of the Southeastern American Colonies, and carried a message of “fair warning” that relations between the Red Court and White Council were “strained beyond repair”. Rutledge went on to so generously offer to “ignore your presence here in the Holy City. After all, what problems could a man of your advanced years and senility possibly pose to anyone?” He advised Radagast that if he should choose to become a “nuisance”, it would put Rutledge in an “awkward position”, and that the scions of his House “do hope any future unpleasantness can be avoided.”

Suddenly the layer of frost on the floor evaporated; the temperature of the study rose by nearly thirty degrees, and a burst of unseasonable humidity filled the air. Radagast flicked a hand toward a silver candleabra sitting on his desk, and the wicks of the five white candles it held burst into flame. He reached for a sheet of vellum, drawing his quill and inkwell across his desk with another casual and nigh-imperceptible magical gesture.

As the quill scratched harsh but ornate strokes of calligraphy across the vellum page, plumes of smoke rose from the letters, mingling with the fumes from the candles. I’ll show him unpleasant, thought the old wizard. I shan’t tolerate bullies.


Buen Saludos Cordiales Francis,

How gentlemanly of you to inform me of your recent elevation to Margrave of this lovely region of the Colonies, and in such a humble fashion as handwritten correspondence. I trust that this newfound prosperity suits you and your estate well in Charleston.

I have, indeed, retired from the White Council, revoking all oaths and privileges associated therewith, in hopes of living out my days peacefully and at leisure. You are too kind to permit my doddering presence amidst your ambitious operations in the Southeast. Your warning is well noted; I should never hope to prove myself a nuisance without due cause.

Rest assured that I, too, have had my share of unpleasantness during my centuries of practice as a Wizard, and little desire for more in my final years of life. Indeed, one need only look to the awkward situation in which the Black Court of Eastern Europe was left after Lord Stoker and I finished our work there in the 1800s to know how much I simply detest unpleasantness.

One can only hope that no such unpleasantness will ever be visited upon myself or those whom I hold dear, in this city or any other.

Regards,

Radagast Vintner, D.S.D., C.S. VII

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Shake it off

Matt,

There are so many things that I want to say to you, to somehow try to explain what I did, but in the end you are absolutely right. It’s about trust. Right now I don’t trust myself. I’ve been trying to hold this thing together, and I’m unraveling really fast. I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. And in that moment I took it out on you, and that wasn’t fair. I’m sorry…I just..

Rae crumples up the piece of paper and throws it to the floor, which is already littered with at least a dozen wadded up balls that had missed the wastebasket. She could not find the words to fit, to convey how sorry she was. Matt had every right to be angry with her. For the past few weeks she had been acting without thinking, reacting instead of waiting. She had alienated the people whose help she needed. And she has no one to blame but herself.

Wallowing in self pity seemed to be a recurring theme for her these days. But she knew she had to try something. The thought of Matt not being around,sat like a lead weight in her chest. Who would eat the honey pies? She smoothed out a fresh sheet of paper and started to write.

Matt,

I realize now that there is nothing I can say that will make what I did ok. You were absolutely right. I know that this letter won’t change anything, but I hope that you might be willing to let me try to make it up to you. If I’m completely honest, I miss having you around.

-Rae

She read it over a few times. Short, and to the point. This could work. Everything else she had written was full of excuses, as she was trying to sort through the tangle of emotions that had her knotted up for weeks now. Matt deserved better than her self-pity.

She yawned and looked at the clock. 5am. Had she even slept last night? Well it was too late (or rather early), to do anything about it now. Running her shop was the one responsibility that she could still get right (mostly). As she went downstairs she fished her earbuds out of her apron pocket, and fired up her IPod. However, instead of the Alanis Morsette she had kept on repeat for the past day or so, something much more upbeat was playing.

I stay up too late
Got nothing in my brain
That’s what people say
That’s what people say

She had too much to do, to worry about the music. She started to fire up the espresso machine, when she noticed that she was bobbing in time with the music.

But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind, saying it’s gonna be alright
Cause the players gonna play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate
Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off

By the time she was wiping down the tables, the song was on repeat, and she was singing along.

I never miss a beat
I’m lighting up my feet
And that’s what they don’t see
That’s what they don’t see
I’m dancing on my own
I make the moves as I go
And that’s what they don’t know
That’s what they don’t know

She danced around Simon in the kitchen, snagging a fresh honey pie off of a tray, and packed it into a pastry box, and placed the letter on top of it. She grinned at her assistant, and returned to her prep.

But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop grooving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind, saying it’s gonna be alright

She felt as if she was shedding all the extra emotional weight that had been piling up, and her spirit felt whole again. She couldn’t undo anything, and she was starting to accept that. Now she could move forward, as herself, no doubts, and no excuses. She was smiling so much, that it hurt.

Cause the players gonna play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate
Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off
Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake
Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off, Shake it off

She turned off her IPod as she flipped the sign from CLOSED to OPEN. She still did a little dance heading back behind the counter. She smiled at Simon, who was arranging the pastries carefully in the case.

He smiled back at her saying “Good to have you back boss”.

When the first customer walked in the door Rae greeted them with a cheerful “Welcome to the Stars and Scones!” For the first time, in a long time, she truly meant it.

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It's hard to rely on your good intentions

I want to move, but I can’t. I’m watching Matt the bear fling a redcap away from him, blood spraying everywhere. I want to run but I can’t. I can’t look away. I want to run…

“Boss?”

I want to run but I can’t. The smell of blood…

“Boss!”

Rae shook her head, a small vial in one hand, key in the other. She blinked a few times, her apprentices face a few inches from hers.

“Simon…what time is it?”

“5am. On Tuesday.”

“Wait its Tuesday?” She dragged herself to her feet and immediately regretted it, as dizziness overtook her.

“Yup” He grabbed her arm to keep her from falling over. “When was the last time you slept?”

“Saturday. Maybe”.

“Boss, I’m saying this as your friend, you can’t keep doing this to yourself”.

She gently placed the vial into the grey messenger bag sitting next to her. It was nearly halfway full of identical each of them labeled. Fear, despair, flight, confusion. She frowned down at the one in her hand, not sure what to write on it.

“Simon, I need to do this. I’m the one who started all this, I need to help. The most important thing about having powers is to be prepared”.

“I get it, I get it” he held his hands out in front of him in a placating gesture. “It’s just, I’m worried about you. You’ve changed since I met you. I mean a lot” He started lining up muffins in the display case. “And I’m not sure it’s a good thing”.

“Yeah well, I don’t think I’ve done one good thing recently” She sighed as she slung the bag over her shoulder. “I guess we should get ready to open”

She pulled her mp3 player out of her pocket and jammed the headphones in her ears. The display read TOAD THE WET SPROKETT-GOOD INTENTIONS. It had been on repeat for the last few days, and it suited her mood just fine.

It seemed like the customers would be drinking regular coffee today.

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Of Glory Obscured
The trumpet's blast

By the time Laylah returned home, she was exhausted. Being an Emissary of Power really takes it out of a girl. She skipped her usual routine of evening prayers. The angel Gabriel was on her mind, but not in any way that resembled reverence.

She was asleep quickly, her dreams filled with cheering, rose petals flung at her feet, and dancing with a tall handsome trumpet player.

Those delights didn’t last long, however, and soon Laylah’s dreams turned dark and twisted. Images of the dancing at Oberon’s court, the ride on the turtle’s back, the shriek of the serpent as it relinquished its prize. In the background, black-winged shapes clawed at her, pulling at her clothes, her skin. Just when she thought she was safe, back at home in her own bed, strong arms pulled her and she could hear the rattle of buckles on a straight-jacket.

Laylah woke, drenched in sweat, gasping for air. She reached for the thread-bare rabbit that had been her companion for as long as she could remember. “Mr Simigdáli, don’t let them take me again.”

The church was empty and Laylah had to search for the priest so he could hear her confession. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been 10 days since my last confession.”

“Tell me of your sins, my child.” The familiar voice, usually so comforting, sent a chill down Laylah’s spine. He hadn’t been in the parish when her father had been killed. He knew nothing of her incarceration in that place. And this was just crazy talk.

“I had lustful thoughts. I acted with hubris and pride, putting myself over others. I enjoyed the adulation and vanity.” Laylah twisted her rosary between her fingers and awaited her penance.

When she stepped out into the sunlight, she raised her face to the sky and let the warmth chase away her doubts and fears. It would be all right. It had to be. The wizard was counting on it.

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Letter to my Master
[written in Mandarin Chinese]

Dear master,

This city is full of demons and sorcerers. There are internal struggle being waged. My oath is to protect and serve. I know that with firm correctness is no error – but what is the right thing is what? Report will be unbelief and marginalized. Some police know something. They asked me to report, but they give me any guide, there is no knowledge. A little witch seems ready to tell me more. But she warned that the danger will come to my knowledge I have in this regard. Please master, I need your guidance. Correctness is to follow in the ancient emperor’s words. Today, expressly to follow, adhere to the law. However, in this city, at least, there are other emperors – and other laws. How can I do? One thing I know is that I must, at least, in accordance with the spirit of the law – to protect and serve the innocent people.

Last night, dancing party with sorcerers and demons with names from British play writer Shakespear. I go with little witch to protect and see. She make pact with someone to take a girl as ward. Later on she tell me that the sorcerers have laws. She says them at me. They are good laws to protect innocent people. But which laws do I follow?

Your humble servant,
David Wang

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Shit shit shit...what do I do?
The dangers of the Disney Playlist

“_Hakunah Matata what a wonderful phrase_”

Rae sat cross-legged on a stool behind the counter, an urn of freshly brewed coffee in front of her. She griped the key that hung around her neck, head bobbing in time with the music.

“_Hakunah Matata aint’ no passing craze_”

Her eyes slid closed and suddenly she was 6, dancing in front of the television, singing at the top of her lungs. It must have been the 4th time that she had watched the Lion King that week but her Grandmother just laughed at her fondly before heading downstairs to take care of customers.

“It’s our problem free, philosophy! Hakunah Matatta”

She let the memory of childhood joy fill her up, until it spill out, through her fingers, into the key, toward it’s intended destination. Right as the song changed.

“The snow glows white on a mountain night, not a footprint to be seen”

Angry voices, disappointment, frustration, bitterness

“A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen”

She ripped the buds out of her ears. “Why is this on here?” Her voice echoed in the empty shop.

The song had originally inspired feelings of validation, of pride in not only her magic, but also in her business and the community she had created.

She was listening to it before her parent’s last visit. She was determined to let go of any past bitterness toward them, to start fresh.

Don’t be nervous, she had said to herself. They’ll love what I’ve done with the place, they’ll see how my abilities have grown, and they’ll finally accept me. They’ll tell me about what it means to have magic, more about the magical community, and I won’t feel so lost.

The music was still going, and could be heard faintly. “Let it go, let it go, they’ll never see me cry”

The visit had ended in tears, soul crushing disappointment, and the wifi being down for a week.

Rae buried her head in her hands. “Shit…”. Before the visit she felt as if she was treading water, and now she was drowning.

Julien had been by earlier, and tried to explain as best he could the situation. In trying to save Lindsey from becoming the Spring lady, she had claimed her. As far as he knew that had never been done by any wizard who was not a member of the White Council. The political ramifications of that action were still unknown, but he was looking in to it.

“I just wanted to protect my friend” she whispered into the darkness. “I don’t know what I’m doing anymore”.

She poured herself a cup of coffee, her soul yearning from the joy she felt just a few minutes prior. She pulled out her cellphone, and stared at it for a moment, taking a sip. It tasted of uncertainty and fear.

“Let it go,” she whispered before hitting dial. The light of her phone created a blue glow around her as it rang once, twice and then…

“Hi mom. Do you have a minute?".

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The Big Picture
wherein nothing much is revealed

Laylah kicked off her shoes and headed for the refrigerator to down a can of Cheerwine, not even bothering to pour it in a glass. A flicker of light caught her eye and she looked up and saw the angel sun-catcher hanging at the kitchen window. She blew out a stream of air, ruffling the wisps of hair on her forehead. “I know I’m supposed to be patient and wait for the big picture, but I’m really worried about Rosario. She really thinks those oranges will help. And maybe it will, for people like her, who don’t want to, you know. Eat people.”

Laylah shuddered. “But those other vampires? C’mon, giving up people for oranges? Nobody likes oranges that much. Well, maybe Mister Avett. He seems like a man who enjoys fruit. I wonder what he turns into? Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Giving up feeling a pulse beneath your lips, the warm blood trickling down your throat?” Her fingers trailed down her neck. “I know they don’t sparkle!”

Walking to the living room, Laylah picked up a framed picture of her and her father, Hektor, his arm around her gangly, pre-teen shouilders, smiles on both of their faces as they posed in front of an old church. “Poor Rosario. How horrible to have a father like that. I don’t trust him one bit.”

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