The Sun Also Rises

My limbs tingled from the cold and numbness of immobility but I forced them to obey my command. I leaped over the fire and reached for my blade. Nightshade's hilt slid into my hand with urgency as if she'd been straining to help me. Underneath her blade, the burlap sack rustled. I untied it and freed Poe. "Help Rick down," I ordered. He nodded once and took to the sky.


A hand landed on my shoulder. I whirled around to face a Mill Wheel vamp. He yanked me into a bear hug. Poor sucker must have been young or stupid. My blade sank into his gut and he exploded into a shower of ash. The other vamps were distracted with the fight, although that wouldn't last forever. Some were already down for the count, the winners joining in the tussle between Julius and Bathory. It didn't matter who won that fight. If either were left standing, I'd lose.

What I needed was to get out of there, but I couldn't leave Rick, Soleil, or the book. Think! I noticed Silas then, sniffing Soleil like a dog whose master comes home smelling of another pooch. The nightmare was still inside her, throwing off her scent. "Smart doggy." I smiled and sprang into action.

Rounding the skirmish, I shuffled to her side. I pressed Nightshade into Soleil's chest. At the site of the knife, Silas growled at me menacingly. I wondered how much of himself Silas had left when he shifted. "Don't worry. I won't hurt her."

"What are you doing?" the tenor voice asked through Soleil's mouth.

"Banishing you." Nightshade glowed ever brighter.

The nightmare growled and squirmed against Soleil's bindings.

"I sentence you to an eternity in hell." I felt rather than saw the immediate results of my sentence. My blade suctioned to her chest and then slowly, like a worm being drawn from the dirt, the nightmare wrapped around the blade, inch by inch from her chest. Tighter it squeezed until it poofed into nothingness. Soleil took charge of herself.

"Ew. I need a shower," she said, shivering.

"Just what I had in mind." I cut her free and pushed her down in the snow.

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"The mud, Soleil! Get it off." I turned my back to her and faced the brawling vampires. One by one, they noticed me, turning fanged faces in my direction. Even Bathory and Julius recognized the threat, pausing their war and fixing deadly eyes on me. I raised Nightshade. "Any time, Soleil. Could really use some help here."

"Almost there." I glanced back to see her rubbing herself with snow, steam filling the space around her.

Glancing back was a big mistake. Bathory barreled into me, thrusting Nightshade above my head. In no time, I was at the bottom of a very large heap of vampires. Fangs ripped into my flesh. I heard Soleil scream and knew she was in the same predicament.

I was battered and bleeding. And then, like a far off memory, Rick's words came back to me, "An entire universe of magic is at your fingertips." He was wrong. It wasn't at my fingertips. It was in the air I was breathing, the night air that surrounded us. Night air that was the source of my power.

The magic slammed into me like a tidal wave when I called, the air thickening to the density of pea soup. The power yanked me from under those vamps with windy tendrils that circled the camp, casting the undead aside in a wintry hurricane. The vamps covered their eyes against the blowing snow.

I used muscle and the mounting storm to reach Soleil. "Come on. You've got to flame out now!" I yelled. My power was already draining. The vamps were pushing through the wind to get to us. I couldn't hold them back forever.

"I can't," she yelled. "I tried. The mud's effect lingers."

Bathory and Julius reached for me, leaning into the wind and snow. "Sorry, Soleil, but desperate times call for desperate measures."


"I yanked her into my arms. Holding her, screaming, in front of the vamps, I used Nightshade to slice a shallow cut across her chest, shoulder to shoulder. She screamed, but the cut paid off. Sunlight bled from the wound, and then the sun rose. Far from the dingy gray of a winter's morning, a blazing hot ball of orange swept through the clearing. Vampires burst into flame. Bathory wrapped one dying vamp around her like a coat and fled into the darkness of the woods, Julius right behind her. All of the vamps scattered or burned in the sunlight. When all were gone, I released Soleil, spinning her around to check her wound.

"I am fine!" she said, clutching the cut. "The vampires are gone. We are saved!"

"Sorry I had to do that."

Gradually, she began to pull her light back inside and heal herself. "It is nothing. I should have thought of it sooner." Her rose colored lips pressed together.

I nodded, turning in a circle to assess our surroundings in Soleil's fading light. A few vamps lay burning near the fire. All the others had made for the shelter of darkness. My eyes swept across the trees, looking for any stragglers that thought they might try to return for the Book of Flesh and Bone. I raised Nightshade when I saw a man stagger from the woods. Only, it was Silas, human again, naked and shivering. Soleil's light had broken the moon's hold on him. She opened her arms and he ran into them. The embrace was desperate, therapeutic. How long had Silas been possessed? Soleil captured? Seeing them together was a beautiful thing.

The romantic scene in front of me brought my eyes up to the cage where Poe was nudging Rick with his head and beak. "He will not wake," Poe said, worriedly. "I cannot cut him down like this. I might kill him."

I nodded, sheathing Nightshade and rushing to the place the rope was tied to a nearby tree. I worked the knot free, then carefully lowered the cage. When Rick was at my level, I could see how bad he'd been hurt. His fight with the nekomata had left him with an arm bent at an awkward angle, probably broken, and long shredded wounds, still oozing blood. I swung open the door and he collapsed into my arms. With two fingers I felt for his pulse. Weak. He was barely alive. I positioned myself to feed him my blood, then stopped. Was he human? Did the candle burn all the way down? If it had, my blood could make him sick. I had to find out.

"I need to get him home." I looked from Soleil to Silas to Poe.

It was Poe that came to my aid. "I can not deny a witch who knows what she wants." He rolled into a ball, stretched and gathered himself, morphing into a beautiful black stallion.

"I love you, Poe," I said.

"I know," he answered.

Calling on my witchy strength, I slid Rick's body over Poe's shoulders and pulled myself up behind him.

"Can I trust you two to protect the book?" I looked at Silas and Soleil.

Soleil spread her arms to display the gash across her collarbone. "There is no place safer than with me. I will keep it for you. Save your caretaker."

I nodded. "Silas, which way to Rick's cottage?"

The detective looked at me with pity. "About a mile that way." He pointed into the trees.

Just as I thought. We were near Avery's cottage in the woods behind Rick's place. Using every ounce of strength I had left, I gripped Rick against my chest and prodded Poe forward, praying for the first time to my goddess mother for help.

By the time I reached Rick's house, my arms and legs burned. I was exhausted, mentally, physically, emotionally. But I refused to give up. This man in my arms who had always seemed larger than life, now so human, so fragile, was suddenly more important to me than anything-even the Book of Flesh and Bone. I still couldn't believe I'd left the tome under Soleil's watch. If you added up all of the minutes I'd been in the same room as the fae, it wouldn't equal a day. Maybe not the smartest thing I'd ever done, but necessary.

The door to Rick's cottage was hanging open. But then Silas's werewolf probably didn't have good door closing skills. I thanked Poe, and half carried, half dragged Rick inside. A ring of skulls glowed from behind the couch. At the center, the three-inch thick, purple candle I'd seen before with the scarab beetle imprint had burned down to its last inch of wax. A tiny blue flame struggled at the top of a pool of wax.

"Rick? How do I stop this?" I jostled him carefully in my arms.

His eyelids fluttered. "Out the flame."

"Put out the flame before it burns down? And you'll get your power back?"

His head listed to the side, in what I interpreted as a nod.

Carefully lowering him to the floor beside me, I licked my fingers and shot my hand out to snuff the candle. Bad idea. My fist bounced off the barrier of the skulls and a magic zap landed me on my ass.

"Rick?" I shook his shoulder. "How do I get to the candle?"

He opened his eyes and looked up at me, the ghost of a smile crossing his lips, a deep breath of air escaping through his nose. "You don't." His gray eyes were wet.

"Bullshit. There has to be a way."

"Only I can do it."

"Then do it! You'll die if you don't."

He shook his head. "I do not want to live this way. I've loved you too long to spend a lifetime watching you love someone else."

I lowered my head until my mouth was almost touching his bloodied face. "You won't have to. I promise you, I am yours. Only yours."

"You are saying this to save me. I don't want your pity. I want your heart."

I lifted his hand and placed it on my chest, my eyes searched each of his as tears welled and spilled from my face. "You have it. How can I prove it to you, Rick? I am yours." It wasn't enough. If I was going to give myself to him, I had to give it all. "I... love you. I love you. Not the memory of you, not what you do for me, but you. I think I always have. I was just confused because everything happened so fast. I didn't want to get hurt again. Everyone I've ever thought I've loved, I've lost. My mother, Gary, a dozen boyfriends, even my father has pulled away from me. I just couldn't open myself up to it. You suffer enough pain and the walls come up. It's a protective instinct. But I'm opening up now. Fuck, I am wide open. I've painted a bull's eye on my chest, okay. I love you. I do. Please don't hurt me again." The last part came out on a whisper that cracked in the middle like a brittle bone. With my whole self, I begged him to stay with me, tears falling, lips hovering over his, and my body tensed as if one heavy word from him would break me. My muscles shivered with the strain of waiting for his answer.

He swallowed hard, closed his eyes, then opened them again. "On one condition."


"Marry me."

I froze. Warring empires collided within me; fear of commitment battled a love that was ancient, although new to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the candle flicker. There wasn't time for logic, only feeling, only intuition.

"Yes," I said, breathless. "Yes, I will marry you."

Our eyes locked and a current of magic traveled through me. I wasn't sure what it meant but I suspected my promise was binding. His fingers reached out, knocking one of the skulls aside, breaking the protective ring. I did not hesitate. I threw myself into the candle, snuffing it out and knocking it to the floor. The hot wax splashed over my fingers, burning me, but the candle was out.

I turned back toward Rick but he looked the same, weak, in pain. "Did it work?"

"Yes, mi cielo, it did. But it will take me some time to recover." He held up a hand. "For now, I am...human."

I knew what he meant. From his hair to the way he stretched on the floor, was as mundane as it could be. While the candle burned down over the last day, he had transformed into a normal man, and although I'd stopped the magic in time, it would take just as long for him to transform back. Unless I helped him recover.

Glancing down at myself, I noticed I was covered in blood, mud, and other unidentifiable but grotesque things. I stood, then helped him to his feet, half dragging him into the bathroom, where I situated him on the floor.

"Rest here for a minute."

Eyes already closed, he dipped his chin in response.

"I'm going to give you a bath."

Rick's eyes popped open, and he raised an eyebrow, a smile breaking through the exhausted expression on his face.

I winked at him and started the water to warm it up. While I was waiting, I started peeling off bloody clothes, leaving them in a pile next to the toilet. Thankfully, most of the blood wasn't mine. The last thing I removed was Nightshade. I leaned her against the wall near the cabinets.

"We got our caretaker back," I whispered to her, glancing at Rick, who'd fallen asleep against the wall. The hum that came from her thin bone edge seemed to say she understood.

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