If I'd thought the Cornwall's neighbourhood was bad, I hadn't seen anything yet. The monsters had been drawn to the legions of humans who congregated downtown.
There were some creatures I recognized from before, but my dad had to name many of them for us. The vampires hissed and paced around me like caged tigers, waiting for an order to strike— leery about leaving my side now that everyone knew tonight's fate hinged on me.
And I would have restitution soon.
The fires were more pronounced here. So many more people ran. Their screams erupted so much louder as they were stalked by everyone's worst possible nightmares, multiplied many times over.
I caught sight of long blonde hair behind the furry leg of a hideously large spider. When I said big, I meant it. The thing fully standing had to be twelve-to-fifteen feet high.
I could see Corrine fighting it, as she fought alongside her three sons. They battled with no fear, just absolute persistence.
"Both the Foxworth and Jericho Covens are here," Kev said, as he looked around and then pointed. "There's the Council."
Vampires I didn't know blended into the chaos around us, a few trying to prevent a demon from attacking a group of humans trapped in a closed off doorway, another group hissing at a pack of hellhounds.
A blast of milky white energy shot past me, and I turned to see Catalym with an inspiring snarl on her deceptive lips. When I met her, she was quiet, almost shy. But this woman before me now was her complete antithesis; a formidable adversary.
Ryder burst into sorely misplaced laughter from the other side of something that looked like a twenty-foot troll. The monster's singular eye stared down at Catalym, his head cocked a second before her power hit him on her mate's behalf.
His large body flew away from them, and collided with three banshees who didn't have time to react. He sat up, his one eye zeroing in on her with a vicious snarl. Neither Catalym nor Ryder looked the least bit scared of the menacing creature. All in a day's work for a vampire, I supposed.
Then the banshees shook themselves off, crawling from under the troll with vicious intent in their eyes. Oh, this would be bad.
"Help them," I called to Holly and Marcus, who didn't need any more prodding from me.
Milindya shielded Kelly and blasted anything that came too close to them, the look of cold determination chilling to see.
A blast of hot fire shot past, just missing those of us remaining in the eye of the storm. Ivor snarled at the demon that had attacked another faction of the Cornwalls. Taking one look at Ivor it backed away, cowering in fear.
"Thanks!" Corrine called, her candid tone undermining the situation. The woman would've made me laugh, if such an action at this time had been possible for me.
I turned just in time to see a flash of black hair, and I knew I'd found the puppet-master. Now I just had to find the dummy. The others followed when I ran down Nelson Street, never letting my eyes lose Coren.
Ivor threw magic ahead of us, stopping Coren short. He turned, eyeing us.
"Coren, why'd you run?" I called, my voice going cold as I walked. "Do you fear us now?"
"I run from no one." Coren snapped arrogantly, but we both knew it was a lie. "And I fear even less."
"You had no idea what you were doing, did you?" I accused. "No thought as to what would actually be brought into being after my sister opened the box. It was all okay, just as long as you got back at the Cornwalls for 'stealing' Sara and Kelly from you, and ruining your chances for survival against the Council."
He couldn't hide it; the way he stared at me suggested his shock that I'd known his true reasons for this paramount catastrophe. "She didn't say it would happen this way. I just wanted what was mine." Coren's gaze shot in every direction at once.
Not that this endeared him to me in any way.
"You did this, Coren. Had you left my sister alone, none of this would've come to pass." Sara growled, and I turned toward her with "fun" thoughts in my head. Her glittering caramel eyes were filled with death and malevolence, mirroring my own. Gene held her by the arms as if he meant to restrain her. Silly man. I wondered how long it would be before she forcibly shed him. Her muscles vibrated with the need to act, telling the story of how much she needed this.
"Oh, daddy," I sang. Ivor turned to me with a smirk. "I know how you can make all of this up to me."
"How?" he asked. I had no doubt he already knew, but for Coren's benefit, he would play along.
"While I may have the power now, I'm not sure about the best approach for what I have in mind."
"Oh, I think I can manage that." Ivor nodded with approval. He didn't move, nothing about him changed. However, a potent spell the vampire had no chance of battling encircled him.
"What are you doing?" Coren assessed it critically, running through his options, but there wouldn't be any that Ivor would extend to him.
And how did I know this? Because in that moment, when I'd been so focused on him, it dawned on me that I could read his mind. While this was an amazing this discovery, Coren wouldn't have been my first choice of a being to realize it with.
"Giving Sara her heart's most fervent desire," I said, and an understanding light entered her eyes.
Sara laughed darkly from behind me. "Oh, I like where this is going."
"Pandora, be realistic. What do you think my fledging could do to me?" Coren replied, filled with sarcasm. "Just like with your mother." I growled at the mention of Lillian, and what he had done to her. "She couldn't stop me, and by the end, she'd begged for her life. Did you know, never once did she even care to mention her daughter, or ask that I leave you alone. She was a selfish bitch to her very end. But you knew that already, didn't you?"
"Don't let him do this to you, baby," Kev murmured to me, his hand discreetly rubbing my lower back.
Despite it, my teeth clenched in an effort not to fly off the handle, showing him he had succeeded in hitting just the right soft spot.
"Oh, that did it," Ivor said bitterly.
My eyes clenched shut, and before I knew it, I had teleported for the first time; from my dad's side to Coren's.
"And what are you going to do, little girl?" Coren taunted, but I knew I'd scared him.
My fist snapped back and ploughed through his face with enough force to send him careening backward into the spell. The heavy stench of burnt flesh erupted as he came into contact with the unearthly magic and raw, undiluted power that ran through his body.
The resulting scream made my lips part in a parody of a smile. The two rows of serrated teeth would ruin any effect of amusement.
"And just think, asshole, my sister could've done this to you, if she hadn't been stupid enough to let you put that collar on her." I sneered.
"Because she didn't know any better. Her kind is not accustomed to questioning your authority. You took advantage of her ignorance to the ways of this world. So this is for my sister, not only me," I said coldly. "Oh, and guess what? Your tool used you just as much, and you've fulfilled your purpose to her. How does it feel?"
I shoved my hand against his chest, releasing a continuous stream of raw electricity to plough right through him. Having him pinned and riddled with seizures still didn't make me happy.
I wanted —no, needed— him to suffer.
His death wasn't enough. Eternal hell-fires wouldn't cut it. Nothing on this earth I could do to this man would make up for what he'd wrought.
When I let up for a brief moment, he took the chance to ask the most idiotic question I'd heard thus far.
"Are you going to kill me?"
"No." I snapped, and the look of relief was immediate. "But, Sara will when I'm done with you. I want her nightmares to stop, and I think gutting you like a pig is a very good remedy for that."
Coren stared up at me disbelievingly, and then glanced at my dad. "You can't do this to me."
"Why do they always say that?" Ivor laughed with delight. "Boy, I can do as I please in regard to you. You might be almost seventeen centuries old," gasps galore from the vampires upon hearing that tidbit, "but I've been around since before the Golden Age. When Sara is done feasting on the very marrow of your bones and you are no more than a husk, I will drag whatever is left of you to my home."
I let Coren drop to the ground like the garbage he was. Ensuring I had left enough for Sara to take her frustration out on, I moved out of the spell. I knew my dad would never let it harm me.
Coren —idiotically enough— tried to follow me. While I manoeuvred through it just fine, I heard his pain-filled shriek and smelled the new surge of burning flesh and hair. I didn't bother to look back.
Stupid is as stupid does, I supposed.
Something made me look further down the alley. There wasn't any movement, or anything to give me a reason to, but I did. Shrouded in inky darkness was a figure who watched the proceedings with interest.
Then she noticed me watching her and turned tail to run.
"Dad, stay with Sara and make sure Coren stays dead this time around!" I called over my shoulder, already running.
"Right, boss-lady." I looked back long enough to see Ivor do the silliest thing yet. Did my dad just salute me? When this was over, if I and the world still lived, his television privileges were up for definite revaluation.
Feet pounded at my side, and I turned to see Kev alongside me. I had foolishly expected to do this alone but I should've known better. My entire life, I had relied on no one, thinking I would be alone forever. But he had changed that. I just hadn't gotten used to it yet.
Kev took my hand, and kept in step with me. "Can you kill her?" he inserted into my head.
"It isn't a matter of if I can, but how fast I can do it," I replied. I just hoped that I wasn't being too overconfident.
My twin ran lightning fast down Richards Street, but we had no trouble catching up with her.
Mostly because she stopped.
Her hair flowed around her, lifted by a breeze caused by passing harpies, who went by without a single glance in her direction. Her ink-filled gaze watched them without emotion before she turned toward the sidewalk and calmly strolled into the small park on the corner of Richards and Davie Street.
She had chosen her battleground.
The mercilessness superiority on her face would have been terrifying to a lesser woman. Yet she didn't frighten me; short of my death, she'd already pulled her wildcard.
An explosion to our right charged the air. The surrounding shop windows imploded inward with a rain of glass shards. I stared at a burning figure as it danced out of the building in a ballet of agony, his screams lost in the bedlam.
"Are you happy now?" I called. "Is this what you wanted?"
"What? Do you not like my world, little sister? And to think, this is just the beginning." My twin's cold black eyes raked from me to Kev. The sick light that entered her eyes made me growl. The interest procured from it told me the noise hadn't been a good move on my part.
"No, I much prefer it to stay where it belongs," I replied. "I've learned very well what curiosity can inspire."
"But where do you belong, Pandora? And what about your new dog? It was so easy to get the two of you together, it was— what's the term Coren used? Pathetic." My twin laughed. "I had thought Coren's plan was weak, but now I see the brilliance of it."
"What are you talking about?" I demanded.
"I have watched you for so long, showing me how predictable you are. I planted the idea of going to the coffee shop in Kevlar Brandenburg's mind and made him teleport there mere seconds before you walked in the door. We needed a way to draw you out for longer than a few short moments." She nodded in his direction. "The two of you sucked at each other like leeches and distracted each other."
I burst out laughing. "Well, good for you. Sorry to tell you, but despite what you may think, higher powers than you drew us together."
"The earth-bound angels gave me Kev to destroy you, Pandora. Your brilliant idea was already thought of by the divinity, which your kind despises. No matter how you thought to manipulate us, all you did was aid the divinity."
"She doesn't. We've just come from their council. Sorry to ruin your day," Kev needled.
She snarled, her fists beating at her thighs in frustration. "Why won't you just be miserable already?"
Oh, I was plenty miserable, but she didn't need to know that. "I don't have the luxury."
"Neither do I." Pandora threw her hand out and magic whipped past me, hitting Kev. His hand ripped from me as he flew backward.
I wanted to turn and help him, but she moved toward me. I stared at her bare neck as she came; the collar was gone.
"You're free," I stated.
"You had Coren killed. Your vampire girl freed me. If you had come after me first…" She trailed off evilly.
Well, that sucked. I rolled my eyes as the fount of knowledge gave me that information too late.
Hasdiel entered the mix. "You have to think about what you want to know. Most times, the powers of the earth only offer when asked, until it decides it wants to give these things to you."
"I thought both you and Iaoth weren't allowed to interfere?"
"We aren't. I'm only telling you something you already know."
While I watched, her black mini-dress changed to the same ensemble I wore, her hair tying itself at the back of her head, like mine.
And what would be the purpose in that?
Unlike me, Pandora wasn't a stranger to combat. And when she hit, I went down. I reached up for her throat, but her quick hands closed around both of my wrists and ruthlessly beat them against the cement.
The sword I'd managed to cling to clattered away, out of my reach. Damn it!
"I want your life, Pandora. I deserve it after everything I've been through. There is only one way to do that. And you just gave me the last piece I needed to get what I crave most." My twin pulled an amulet out of her pocket, one I had never seen—or had I? "Did you know, it is my body itself that is the reason I am stuck there? One would think it isn't possible to fix that. But to all those willing to search— there is always a solution, if you know where to look."
Something about the aged pendant reminded me of Celtic artwork, done in platinum. It was strung on a braided, black cord that looked burned or singed in some places.
I could see Kev pull himself to his feet. He looked around to see us and called. "Pandora?"
He stumbled forward, holding his head. Blood dripped from between his fingers while he walked.
"Yeah, Kev, just give me a minute to kill this bitch," my twin said, precisely how I would have said it, if I had chosen those words.
Her hand curled tighter around my neck, and her power began to cover me like molten acid.
"I will have him," she whispered to me, so quietly Kev didn't hear her. "Your new friends, condo— your career, will be all mine."
"You're going to pretend to be me?"
"Oh, no, sister dear. I will be you."
"How you plan on doing that?"
Pandora didn't answer, but more power spiked through me and I lost my voice. I tried out telepathy again, but short of a subtle flicker in Kev's eyes, he didn't respond either mentally or physically.
"Come here, Kev," she commanded. He knelt at my head, looking resigned "I need to get this around her neck."
"Oh sure, just tell me what to do," Kev replied in a dead voice.
"Here, why don't you put it on her?"
"How do I get rid of this spell?" I shrieked at the knowledge.
I waited for some definite answer, like the instances before, but this time nothing happened; only a blank, silent screen behind my eyes. Despite it, I felt the knowledge hovering there. It waited for me, and I had a suspicion it wanted me to figure something out.
A surge of warmth told me I was right. I thought about what it had shown me. The second rush said I'd followed the right path. It wanted me to do nothing.
"Oh sure, sure." Kev took it from her. "Whatever you ask— Pandora."
I stared at him, wondering why he referred to her by our full name— after so consistently calling me an endearment, or simply, Pan.
The amulet dangled above my face. "What does that talisman do?" I asked the knowledge, hoping it had something to give me.
And it did. It showed me a book from my years as a teenager, one, my dad had brought when teaching me how to cope with my emerging powers, and to know some of our history and origins. Within seconds, the entire contents of that text was my own.
My eyes widened. This talisman was meant to take one consciousness and place it in another's body, while trapping the victim in the spell-caster's form. In my body, she would trick fate.
And I would be dragged back to hell in her place.
We stared into each other's black eyes, and something inexplicable passed between us when Kev's large body flew over mine. He tackled my twin to the ground with a new chorus of animal snarls.
He had her on her back in seconds, and held her down.
"You know, I can smell the difference between the two of you. Did you honestly think people in the real world would fall for such flimsy trickery?" Kev snapped.
Relief surged through me prematurely.
She cocked her head to one side, looking him in the eye. "Yes, I did."
Her concentration broke while focused on the more immediate threat, and I became reasonably free of her power. Merely hampered, but not stopped altogether.
I began to crawl toward the sword, sparing them a brief glance just in time to watch my twin rake Kev across the face, creating long gashes with her nails.
"I will have her life, and she will be no more, Kevlar Brandenburg. You cannot stop me."
"Do you think I would let you have her?"
"I know you want to kill me. But you need me to close the gate."
I growled at the reminder, and it made me hesitate. But the knowledge inserted itself. The images it showed confused me at first, but then it all made sense. A sense of irony filled me.
Oh, this would be good.
Everyone would be happy; my Ivor, Kev, myself, and the world. Everyone but Pandora would win.
My fingers were only an inch from the hilt when a loud, enraged sound made me jump. My head turned to see Kev's back arch at an impossible angle. His skin flushed burnt crimson, and then so dark it went so red it was almost black. I watched his spine protrude and grow. Claws burst from his clenched fingers, and his roar grew in volume and severity.
And with that, Kev finally lost it and shifted for the first time.
Kev pushed up with his huge, thick arms to crouch over his quarry. Muscles rippled beneath his skin, and his shirt ripped until it was no more than shreds as the change completed itself.
Somehow, the baggy jeans stayed in one relative piece.
I smiled, seeing that he would be as big, if not bigger, than my dad. As long as Pandora's rival form also mirrored mine, Kev would significantly dwarf her.
"I hadn't accounted for this at all," she said, filled with agitation. "I didn't know a vampire-demon could be capable of this."
"So you think that's all it is then?" Kev asked. "I'm a full demon now, just like your father. You do know what that means?"
"The smell— I thought I got it wrong." Pandora crab-crawled away from him. "How?"
"Call it celestial intervention." Kev replied.
He bent down and closed his fist around the collar of her shirt.
"Kev?" I called. The last of my twin's magic fell from me and I stood.
His head swivelled and the reptilian eyes regarded me with something I'd like to think was affection. "Yes?" He called back in a perfectly rational voice; so drastically different from the last words to leave his mouth.
"It's okay, doll, step away from the mad, evil genius over there," I assured. "I've got this."
Kev didn't question, releasing her. He took a step back the moment Ivor appeared right behind my sister.
"You don't have to take part in this, dad. Don't make her hate you more than she already does."
"Yes, I do". Ivor's arms clamped around his child and pulled her away from Kev. She turned to see her assailant, and her eyes went wide with shock at his interference.
"You promised!" She shrieked.
"As did you, and you broke every one of them," Ivor responded. "The contract is fulfilled and you're going home early."
Pandora tried to struggle, but failed. She wasn't a match for him, and she never would be.
"Thank you, dad," I said.
Ivor grimaced. "Okay, enough with the…"
"Mushy stuff," I supplied, and he nodded.
"Yes, that. Now it is time for your chosen compromise, Pandora," Ivor said.
"What compromise?" my twin asked.
"Not you, my other daughter," Ivor snapped, and then turned to me with a sheepish look. "Now I see why I should've chosen different names. I just never considered the two of you meeting when you were born, and I wanted something—"
Ivor didn't have to say it, I knew. He'd wanted a bit of "home", and that would never be what my sister provided for him. It pained me to know that inside my dad was a good man —demon— who tried to do his best with what he had. And she would never see that like I did.
"What compromise then?" Kev cocked his head.
"Pandora will be leaving something of herself with us," I replied.
"I will not," Pandora hissed, laced with indignation, her forked tongue darting from between her lips.
Well, at least I knew where she got the dramatics from.
Ivor just chuckled at my thoughts and shrugged. "I get bored. As a child, she was greatly amused by the stories I told her of your television shows, and I would show her what I could. Can't you tell?"
"That's where you got them from?" She shrieked.
"I wanted you to know things about your sister."
"The same way you did with me, when you told me stories before you put me to bed," I whispered, and he looked up.
"Yes," he said hoarsely, with more emotion than I'd even seen from him, certainly more than I thought him capable of.
Knowing the "family reunion" was over, I walked the last few steps, and my twin twisted her body until she was out of my father's grasp.
Too bad, it had been deliberate on his part.
She leapt forward, and I sidestepped, swinging the sword down and cutting through. The ruby-red liquid arched from her severed arm. The resulting screech was so inhuman; it pierced my ears, her outrage different from the sounds of glee around the park, as the war continued completely unheeded by us.
When her black eyes found mine, she started to snap at me, but Ivor yanked her back by her good arm. He wasted no time, and they were gone in a black puff of nauseating smoke.
"Dad, cut the bloody dramatics," I called out.
"What just happened?"
I turned back to Kev, who had shifted back.
The sword disappeared from my hands, but it wasn't by my doing. The powers that be decided I was done with it, and it had been recalled— I hoped the collar had, too.
"She's gone, but our job isn't done yet." I gingerly picked up the arm, trying not to let my stomach roll at the thought. This was wrong on as many levels as it was right.
"We have to get back to the cavern."
Where Lillian's remains still lay strewn over the floor.
Kev took hold of my hand, and together, we teleported back to my mother's hallway. My amulet hung in the air in front of us by an unseen hand, but I knew who to thank for that one.
"Thanks, crazy angel voice."
"No problem. And I have a name you know."
"I know, Hasdiel, but I prefer your nickname."
"I've never had one before." Hasdiel laughed. "Good job, you two. You both did better than we ever could've expected, or asked for. Now finish your work."
We walked into the dark dankness of the cavern. I tried very earnestly not to look at the small pieces of white that littered the floor, or the bigger piece of meat two of the puppies fought over. Even with the entrance opened, none of them had left their cage.
I cut around the body of water and darted around the corner, carrying my bounty. The dogs waited for me to hand it to them, but I didn't.
"What are you going to do with it?" Kev asked.
"Close the gate."
An occasional flash or shadow still escaped the opening of the Urn. They rushed past us, howling out of the cave. I never knew when to expect the next one, and it made me nervous.
With shaky hands, I gripped the severed arm and, simultaneously, picked up our salvation. I sandwiched my sister's hand between mine and the Urn's lid.
It proved difficult to grip both, especially with my fingers slick with a demon's thicker blood, but I managed. Kev watched with morbid fascination, possibly, even satisfaction.
The closer the lid got to the Urn, the harder it became to move it; like unseen, protesting hands pushed and tried to stop me.
I shoved back, putting all of my supernatural strength behind it, refusing to be thwarted.
The air stilled just before the two surfaces made contact.
"Pan?" Kev asked uncertainly, and I turned.
And time as we knew it stopped.
My hair flowed out around me, now frozen in place. Kev reached for me, and we stared at each other. The pressure in the cavern increased, working toward a precipice that would end hell's reign on earth. Three long heartbeats dragged by before time and movement shifted back into gear.
While the silence had been absolute, when sound returned, it became deafeningly loud. The screams of the humans stopped and then they turned mechanical, because the side making the protests had switched.
The monsters had been recalled.
They'd begun to come in by ones and twos, the same as they had escaped. Their claws tried to slash at me, their jaws snapped huge teeth, knowing exactly who I was.
Monsters, I hadn't even seen during the fight rushed past me, and I felt a little bit sicker as each one served as a final reminder of just what my sister dealt with, and whose fury she'd have to deal with now at her failure.
When the last had gone through, the lid shut beneath our hands with a heavy thud. The appendage I held disappeared also, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I wasn't sorry to see it go.
Kev pulled me into his arms, and placed his cheek on my hair. His breathing was erratic, as if waiting for the final act that would never come.
"It is done," Hasdiel said to us.
"Thanks," I responded.
"And with that, our job together is finished. I will take my leave now. You have a new family, one that will understand and love you for who you are."
"Will I see you again?"
"Probably not, though one never knows."
"But you do know, don't you?"
"Now, now, my sarcastic demon, you know the rules. Not even the earth can tell you everything. Go now, Pandora, go forth and live."