Chapter 8. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

It was Déaþscúa who woke them. Darkness clung to the windows outside but the fire still burned with a steady flame that the man prodded with a chair leg. KT felt completely drained and Kai looked no better. Both were pale and moved with a lethargic stiffness. Déaþscúa wasn’t very sympathetic.

“Come on,” he urged them. “We have work to do. You’re involved now despite my wishes so you’d better pull your own weight.”

Kai pulled himself up then stood face to face with the older man. “We want answers before anything. All of this is just too convenient. We just happen to walk into one shop owned by a mythological cannibal and before we’re killed you swoop in and save us. For all that I know, this could all be a setup. You’ve already betrayed us once by leaving us with that witch.”

Déaþscúa threw the chair leg into the fire with a sigh. “I don’t understand people sometimes. You hunt me down against my will, and your better judgement, then complain and question everything I do. Either follow me and trust in my decisions or leave me be. You can’t have it both ways. If you’re to be near me, your only chance of survival is to place all of your trust on my shoulders. Even that may not be enough but it’s too late now. Annis has eyes everywhere. You’ve made yourselves prime targets.”

KT looked to Kai. She trusted Déaþscúa in a strange way but Kai had always been cautious of the man. She couldn’t even explain why she had such faith in him. She supposed that he was like an anchor throughout these turbulent events, an unmoving pillar that prevented them from being washed away in the tide of chaos that they had witnessed. On the other hand, maybe the unquestioning trust came from some kind of magic. How could she know? All she knew for sure was that they were in a dangerous position and he was the only thing that stood between them and death. The butcher had taught her that much.

Kai clenched his fists. His eyes were closed. KT thought that he was going to lash out. He had always had a bad temper. That was why he had put so much effort into crafting his laidback persona. He lowered his head. “I want to be stronger. These past few days have shown me that I can’t even protect myself, let alone my family. I…I need your help to train me. You have my word.”

“Mine too,” added KT. “I’ve seen the things that you fight against now. I’ve seen the pain and fear they cause. I want to fight them too. If I can stop one monster from killing then that has to be worth something.”

The man nodded. “Good. The SUV is out front. I’ll fill you in on the road.” 

KT held out his coat for him to take back but Déaþscúa motioned for her to keep it. “You need it more than me at the moment. Now go to the SUV. I just want to check something before I leave. Don’t worry, this isn’t another trick. Jearl isn’t waiting out there with a tranquilizer gun.”

Reluctantly, KT followed her brother. They left the hellish butchers and were greeted by Jearl. He gave both teens thermal flasks filled with hot chocolate then hopped into the imposing vehicle’s driver seat. 

*     *     *

Déaþscúa watched them from the window. As soon as they were safely seated in the back of the car he turned back with a face of stone. He looked over the room then wandered through the house. All of the cupboard doors and desk drawers in each room opened as he entered. The room where KT had fallen had an old phone on a table. He pressed the button for voicemails and a smooth female voice started to speak.

Christie, Déaþscúa is back in Scotland. I have to act fast. I am close to gaining the powers that I need. I require your contacts. Gather up any useful pawns and send them to the village. I am heading to the old MacFeelan fort to draw upon the curse. Join me once I return. The final pieces are soon to be in place. Oh, and Christie, delete this message. I know I have been gone for a long time but you will hear my voice in person soon enough. I don’t want to find any more shrines this time either.”

The message ended. Beside the phone was a dogeared picture of Annis. Déaþscúa could almost have felt sympathy for the man had he not been a homicidal psychopath. His eyes lingered on the picture for a moment before he turned it over. It looked as though Christie had written a poem across the back but the writing was too bad to even try to read. 

He continued through the house. In what looked to be a seedy living room he found a cabinet filled with spirits. They rose up and floated around him before drifting away in different directions. Several seconds later there was a series of crashing sounds throughout the house followed by the shattering of glass. He thumbed his lighter and a tiny flame sparked to life. He knelt down and held it to the carpet.

“You deserved a lot worse, Christy. I hope your soul burns longer than your body will.”

Déaþscúa emerged from the shop and climbed straight into the passenger seat. He nodded to Jearl who immediately started up the engine and pulled away. In the rearview mirror the sky was already darkening with smoke. 

Déaþscúa cast aside his own dark clouds and tried to put on a friendly face as he answered Kai’s previous questions. “Despite what you think, my finding you was as close to a coincidence as fate would allow. I’d only just learned that Christie was back in Glasgow and thought that I’d pay him a visit to see if he had any information on his former lover. When I entered his shop I could feel your auras, which was a shock since I thought you were still under Elizabeth’s care. The strongest aura was Christie’s so I followed that. That was also how I found you in the freezer.”

“Did you find out anything about Annis? About where our dad is?” asked KT.

“I always find what I need,” Déaþscúa smiled. “It seems that some old friends of mine have either just been attacked by Annis or are going to be soon. We’ll be heading up there as soon as I’m confident that you two won’t die the second I blink. For that to be the case you’ll need protection and weapons.”

“Are you sure you want to visit Delonne, Guv?” piped in Jearl. “He ain’t exactly friendly and you know how he is with you and the Grand Moot.”

Déaþscúa shrugged. “I have money so he’ll accept. It just means that I’ll have to listen to his constant preaching.” He opened up the glove compartment and took out a leather-bound book which he threw into the back. “Here, read this. It’s a good drive so you may as well learn what you can in that time.”

KT opened the book to see that it was a series of handwritten notes outlining threats that they were likely to encounter and how best to overcome them. The way that it was written led her to believe that Déaþscúa had written them as a manual, a prima into the dangers of his world. The pages were slightly faded, giving it an aged look. Clearly he had written it a while ago for someone else’s use. She held it between herself and Kai, allowing them both to read as the car barrelled east out of the city.

*     *     *

They drove through the early morning, rushing to meet the rising sun as it arced through the cloud laden sky. The SUV thundered across a motorway, the different signs indicating that they were heading straight to the capital city of Edinburgh. It didn’t seem long since they had left behind the suburbs of Glasgow when they entered into those of Edinburgh.

Jearl slowed to a less erratic pace as they entered the city and the traffic increased. KT closed the book to instead admire the architecture of the buildings around them. Déaþscúa seemed impatient to be wherever it was that he wanted to be. He signalled for Jearl to pull over and let them out.

“We’ll walk from here. Pick us up from Delonne’s at five.”

“Aye aye, boss,” the scruffy man saluted. 

They left the car and Déaþscúa led them through the clusters of stone structures for another ten minutes until he stopped outside of a tailor’s shop. He entered and strode straight to the counter. It was a small store with clothes and materials hanging from every wall. Spools of thread, measuring tapes and scissors littered the room yet everything felt orderly and carefully arranged. 

The man behind the counter was a black haired man in his middle years. He was dressed in a well cut suit and didn’t have a hair out of place or a single wrinkle in his clothing. His face was pinched and dark skinned. As his eyes fell upon Déaþscúa, a look soured his features as though he had just tasted something foul.

“Déaþscúa. What do you want?” The man said bluntly. He spoke in a cold, well educated voice that held almost no hint of an accent. His eyes flickered over KT and Kai, causing his sour expression to grow.

“Well Delonne, you own a tailors. I’m certainly not here for your company so take a guess.”

Delonne frowned. “You know my clothes don’t hold a candle te Zehra’s. I can offer you nothing near the quality of what you’re wearing now.”

“It’s not for me. It’s for them.”

The tailor shook his head firmly. “No. I will not help you lead more innocent souls te a gruesome death. You’ve done that enough over the years.”

“They have already tangled themselves up in our world and have nearly died repeatedly because of it. They’re going to be in danger whatever I do so I want them to stand the best chance they can. Are you going to help me keep them alive?” Déaþscúa slammed down a bag as he finished. Inside were several wads of twenty pound notes. “That should more than pay for your best.”

Delonne still looked hesitant but finally took the money. “Fine. What do you require?”

“Something that will stop claws and teeth. Lightweight and warm. I’m thinking La’carta spider silk or something similar. Whatever you can manage in the space of seven hours.”

“Seven hours!” spluttered Delonne. “I cannot create two well crafted outfits in only seven hours.”

“Improvise,” Déaþscúa offered dryly. “Take a stock product and change it. Just say you’ll have it done or I’ll take my money back.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll just about manage. Anything te help preserve young lives,” the tailor relented. Déaþscúa turned and left the shop with nothing more than a nod of his head.

Kai followed Déaþscúa straight out. KT paused. “Don’t you need our measurements?”

Delonne gave her a soft smile. “I got your measurements the second that you walked inte my shop. Not every unusual skill has te have a use for battle. Now listen, girl. Déaþscúa might seem a decent man but he is dangerous. Please be careful. I’d hate te see more innocent blood on his hands.”

KT wasn’t sure how to respond to that. She nodded then quickly left the shop to catch up with Déaþscúa and Kai outside. They were taking a brisk walk down the street, moving away from the city centre. The wind had picked up now, driving cold through KT’s torn clothes and filling her bones with a fierce chill until she wrapped Déaþscúa’s coat tighter around her. The clouds above looked brooding, threatening either rain or a fresh torrent of snow.

“Ailia lives nearby,” Déaþscúa told them as they walked. “Hopefully we can get everything sorted and return to Delonne before news reaches him from Glasgow. He won’t be happy when he finds out.”

“Why?” Kai almost spat. “Jearl mentioned this ‘Grand Moot’ thing wouldn’t be happy either. Why the hell is everyone angry at you for taking care of a sadistic cannibal? He was a monster and it’s your job to kill monsters. Where’s the problem?”

“Prophecy,” Déaþscúa said simply. Seeing the twins’ frowning faces he sighed and continued. “The Grand Moot is our equivalent of your government. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that their word is law. One of the founding Moot members is a near comatose Aevumancer named Protellious Avus. He is known as the Prophet and only regains consciousness to reveal new insights into the future. He predicted that your butcher friend would play a role in the protection of Earth during some kind of apocalyptic event. As such, the Moot gave Christie their protection.”

“So you broke their law?” 

“In a nutshell. They don’t like me very much and now that I’ve potentially destabilised the pattern of the universe they’ll probably be a bit pissed.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “That’s a problem for the future. Ailia is trouble enough for now.”

They walked on through a tangle of streets until they came to a long driveway with a sign above it that depicted a teddy bear wearing a princess dress and another in a camouflage uniform. At the end of the driveway was a small building with dozens of teddies filling every window. ‘Teddy Kingdom’ was printed in large, colourful letters above the door.

“Don’t ask,” Déaþscúa muttered in response to KT and Kai’s questioning looks.

They entered the building and were greeted by hundreds of beady eyes that stared at them from overly cute fluffy faces. Shelves upon shelves of teddy bears lined the walls and seemed to fill every space. Everything was bright and colourful beyond common decency. Asleep in the back corner was a kindly looking old man and at his side, playing with a teddy, was a young blonde haired girl of about twelve. She looked up as they stepped inside and a huge smile split her face.

“Bram!” she shouted as she leapt up and jumped at Déaþscúa, wrapping her tiny arms tightly around him. “You’re back. I thought you might never visit again after you left me waiting for so long but now you’ve visited me twice in one month. Did you miss me? Couldn’t bear to be without me? Eh? Get it. Bear?” 

“Well I certainly didn’t come back for your sense of humour,” Déaþscúa said as he pried the girl from him then placed her firmly back on the ground. He took his phone from his pocket and held it up to her. “What’s this?” he said sternly.

The girl tilted her head to the side as she stared at it. “That’s your phone, silly,” she giggled. He hit a button and ‘Barbie Girl’ was once again blaring from the device. She offered him a mischievous smile. “Your music was boring so I changed it.”

Déaþscúa’s face became stony cold. “Tell me, what part of mind melting guitar solos and pulse racing drum beats are boring?”

“I couldn’t sing along to them.”

“I hate you sometimes,” Déaþscúa sighed.

The girl’s smile widened further. She turned away from him to look at KT and Kai. “You even brought me friends. You’re the greatest, Bram. You’re usually so broody and alone.”

Déaþscúa gave the two teens a long suffering look. “KT, Kai, this is Ailia Vihart. Ailia, this is KT and Kai Redthorn. We’re here to stock up.”

“On what?” Kai murmured under his breath. “Stuffed toys.”

Ailia clicked her fingers. Suddenly the room erupted into movement. Every shelf flipped or turned to be replaced by an identical arrangement but for the replacement of the teddy bears with an army’s worth of guns and weaponry. Kai stared around the room in awe, his mouth open. Even KT couldn’t help but be amazed by the vast array of shining death. There were all manner of guns, some long since outdated while others were modern in appearance and unlike anything they had ever seen before. Swords, axes and other blades were intermingled with the firearms along with shelf after shelf of ammunition. 

“What takes your fancy?” Ailia grinned, giggling at their wonder. 

“Nothing flashy today. A primary and secondary for each and I’ll collect my special order.”

“So no lasers or explosions?” Ailia asked, her smile dropping. Déaþscúa shook his head. “You’re no fun, Bram. Fine. I’ll see what I can do.” She started to crisscross the room checking weapons, all the while humming under her breath. 

Déaþscúa stood fiddling with his phone. KT and Kai wandered the store, taking in the wealth of weapons until KT made her way back to the man. He had put his phone away and was now toying idly with his pistol. 

“Who is that girl? She looks too young to run a gun store.”

Déaþscúa considered his answer carefully. “Ailia is special, I guess you could say. She is an expert on weaponry and is known across the world as a master weaponsmith.”

KT eyed the girl doubtfully. She was the picture of childhood innocence. “Okay. So why does she call you Bram? How many names do you have?”

Déaþscúa opened his mouth but Ailia appeared at their side. Her arms filled with weapons that were stacked up to just below her eye level. The weight would have been more than a fully grown man could have managed. She answered the question for him. “It’s short for Brambles. I had a cat once called Brambles and he was scruffy, bad tempered and got into a lot of fights too.”

“Enough about your pets,” Déaþscúa interrupted. “We need those weapons quickly. The MacFeelans are under attack and need a helping hand quick.”

“I know,” the girl answered. “I got the message a few days back to send them extra weapons. It sounds like there’s been daily skirmishes for almost a week now.” 

She turned to KT, her smile returning at full force. “Here. This is the Wrath Mark II sub-rocket launcher. It has a twelve shot cylinder with each rocket capable of stopping anything in its tracks,” she explained as she handed KT a large gun with twelve small pods circling the central barrel. It was heavy but still managed to be lighter than it appeared. She was then handed two slim pistols and a double-ended sword.

“The pistols are simple lightweight Cobra Renegades with extended magazines while the doublesword is a fast melee weapon with a good range and area of attack. Your body looks like it can handle the flowing movements required to use it effectively. With a bit of practice anyway.”

Ailia skipped away towards Kai, the weight of the weapons not seeming to affect her in the slightest. KT was feeling the strain in her arms already. Déaþscúa threw her a duffle-bag from the corner of the room and she gratefully began to load the weapons into it.

Kai jumped as Ailia sidled up next to him with a sleek shotgun aimed at his chest. She held the gun steadily with one arm while her other hand held an axe. “These are for you. They’re heavy but you look big and strong,” she said with a sly smile. It was only then that Kai realised that she had fangs. He took a hasty step back.

“You’re a monster too.”

“A vampire,” Déaþscúa told him from nearby. “She might look young but she’s actually in her third century of existence. Watch her, she takes a sick pleasure in trying to get people arrested.”

Ailia pouted at Déaþscúa. “You shouldn’t give away a girl’s age, Bram. Even you must know that. And it’s not like I do that just for fun. My body is stuck at this age but my mind is fully developed.”

“No, you do it only for fun. Vampires have no emotions and only take up relationships to amuse themselves.” The girl stuck her tongue out at Déaþscúa before handing Kai the armful of weapons. 

“Here we have a pump action shotgun, a 45mm Magnum and a carbon fibre axe with a silver-alloy cutting edge. Three heavy hitters that are still quick and efficient. There is a firing range downstairs. You two should go and get a feel for your new weapons.”

She took a rifle from the wall then fired it an inch above the head of the sleeping old man. He spluttered awake and looked around blearily. 

“Ah, Déaþscúa. ‘tis good te see ye ag’n,” he said in a thick, drawling accent. 

“Take these two down to the range and show them how to shoot.” Ailia ordered him.

“Aye, Miss Ailia. As ye say,” he answered hurriedly.

Déaþscúa nodded at the teens as they looked to him for consent. After all that had happened, they were reluctant to leave his side, especially to go underground with a stranger. Seeing his assent, they followed the old man into the back. 

*     *     *

Now that they were alone, Ailia motioned for Déaþscúa to join her. She stood before one of the gun cabinets and slid it to one side to reveal the metal door of a safe. She entered a password and fiddled with the dial until the door clicked open. Inside was a single pistol which she reverently removed and placed into Déaþscúa’s hands.

It was a monstrous construct of metal in the design of a revolver. Rather than the single revolving cylinder, this pistol had three. The metal was a shining silver colour while the grip and décor panels were made from dark wood that was a near black in colour. The bullet chambers were long and wide.

Ailia took a deep breath. “Custom 50cal tri-cylinder revolver made from a tungsten super-alloy and African Blackwood. The bullets are armour piercing and the cartridges are filled with multiple rapid detonating charges of ‘lightning powder’ that allow the bullets to easily surpass the speed of sound. The bullets explode on impact and flood the wound with filings from a dozen materials to take down any foe, whatever their weakness. That’s eighteen shots per reload, a single one of which will leave a T-Rex dead before it even hears a sound.”

“The schematics worked then?”

“I had to make a few alterations, but between the ancient designs and your own workings, most of it was up to scratch. The materials were the biggest problem. That gun and its bullets cost a small fortune.”

Déaþscúa fastened a new holster to his hip then slid the pistol into it, slowing only to admire the engraved script down the side of the barrel. “‘Aeternum Nox’. Eternal Night. How poetic of you, Ailia.”

“You’re known as the everlasting darkness,” she said quietly. “And coming from a vampire, that’s quite the title.” Déaþscúa grunted and made his way to join KT and Kai.

He found them in a long, narrow room with multiple rows that led down to targets. They were stood with the old man between them, showing them how to hold the guns properly and how to load them. So far they hadn’t made it past the pistols. Déaþscúa stood at the back and watched as the man directed them how to shoot. They both fired several rounds at the targets, or at least around the targets, then received feedback from the man and were given tips to adjust their technique. KT had the steadier aim on single shots but Kai was able to better manage the recoil when firing multiple rounds back to back.

As they moved onto the bigger weapons, Déaþscúa stepped up to an empty alley and drew his new gun. It was heavy; too heavy for a normal man to use with a single hand. He fired, the recoil thumping up his arm, but it barely moved. Most men would have been left with a numb arm and a good chance of a broken nose from the gun’s buck. He rapidly hammered the trigger three times, the peels of thunder merging together into a single roar. The central circle of the target no longer existed. Neither did the wall behind it.

A louder explosion sounded and he turned to see KT’s target, or what was left of it, in flames. Kai’s target was missing chunks too and a final blast from his shotgun cut it in half. Happy that they wouldn’t somehow shoot themselves, the old man signalled them toward a cluster of straw poles.

The man grinned in Déaþscúa’s direction. “Déaþscúa, why donae ye show them the basics. Ye ken more than I ev’r will aboot blades.”

“You know I’m no teacher, Cathal,” Déaþscúa told the man. It didn’t stop him from approaching the teens and appraising them and their awkwardly held weapons. He tutted under his breath, moving their hands and feet with a series of small nudges. “Loosen your grip. Move your hands further apart. Keep your knees bent. You need to be constantly ready to spring into action while always being relaxed. A split second is all that separates life and death in a fight. You need-”

A screeching siren suddenly blared throughout the building. KT and Kai froze. Déaþscúa showed no sign of worry, merely motioning for the teens to follow him as he moved to the stairs. Ailia and Cathal joined them.

“My sensors have been triggered. Hostile forces are coming down the driveway,” Ailia told them as they mounted the stairs. She took the lead and stood at the front as they gathered together in the centre of the store. Through the windows they could see dozens of men sauntering toward the shop. The door opened and the men entered, each one armed with an automatic rifle. 

“Sorry te barge in on ye but I’m ‘fraid ye have displeased the wrong folk,” announced one of the men. By the way he held himself it was obvious that he was the leader. 

The other men sniggered at this. All of them had their guns levelled at the small group and looked eager for the bloodshed to begin. They were just waiting for the order. 

“You wouldn’t kill a little girl in cold blood would you?” Ailia asked in her most innocent voice.

The men laughed in her face. “We know what ye are, lass. We’re Golman’s new monster huntin’ division, ye see? Gots UV lights on our guns so they’ll be none of yer fancy tricks.” 

Déaþscúa snorted at this. The leader turned to him. “I donae ken who ye be but yer a dead man now.”

“Close your eyes,” Déaþscúa whispered back to KT and Kai. 

*     *     *

KT wanted to listen to him, to close her eyes and block out the world, but she just couldn’t tear her eyes from the situation. She kept expecting to see Déaþscúa leap into action, avoiding the spray of bullets to slaughter the men, but he made no move. He simply stood, his arms at his side, his eyes watching the men carefully.

Ailia stepped forward. “Boys, boys, boys. I’m afraid you’ve brought assault rifles to a finger fight.”

The men looked at her in confusion. She smiled at them and raised her hand. All of the guns jerked in her direction, the men on edge now. Déaþscúa still showed no sign of moving. Ailia clicked her fingers. Every single gun in the shop rose up and swivelled toward the men. Hundreds of barrels stared them down from every direction. The men swung their own guns around erratically, unsure what to shoot at first. Ailia clicked again and hell descended upon the store.

KT saw red. Bullets flew, ripping the thugs to pieces in a heartbeat until every surface of the shop was drenched and dripping with blood. Nothing was left of the men except for a ragged, pulpy mess on the floor where they had stood.

“Such a waste of perfectly good blood,” sighed Ailia. 

KT listened to her vaguely as she threw up. She could hear Kai doing the same beside her. Her clothes and skin were thoroughly splashed with warm gore. 

“Cathal, fetch the mop.”

“Aye, Miss Ailia,” he nodded then rushed off.

Déaþscúa wiped his face clear of blood with an uncaring hand. “Who is this Golman?”

“A mortal who thinks he can carve out a stake in our world. He’s no threat; simply an annoyance. I think I’ll pay him a visit tonight,” Ailia answered with a small, fang filled smile. She licked her lips hungrily, clearing a circle of her face from blood. 

KT had closed her eyes now as every direction she looked in made her want to retch. She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked to see Déaþscúa stood beside her. He took her and Kai’s arms and led them out of the shop. Around the back was a makeshift shower that they stood under as the cold water washed them clean. A few minutes later they stepped out, freezing and soaked, but free of any blood. 

Ailia came out to them, still covered in blood, with the two duffel-bags. “Good luck, all of you. I’ve packed extra ammo for the MacFeelans. I hope you finally catch her this time, Bram.”

“I will.”

They left and headed back toward Delonne’s shop, KT and Kai stumbling along behind under the weight of their new equipment and their wet clothes. Déaþscúa urged them on but their pale faces and shambling walks told him that this was the best speed he was going to get out of them. 

“I told you to close your eyes,” he commented dryly. The looks he received in response were sour at best. 

When they did arrive at Delonne’s tailor shop, the atmosphere had drastically changed since that morning. When they entered, Delonne was red-faced with fury and looked on the verge of throwing them out instantly. He stormed up to Déaþscúa with a pair of scissors gripped in his hands and grabbed his shirt.

“You damn idiot! You may have doomed us all! The Moot contacted me just after you left. You had orders on pain of death not to touch him!” the usually prim man roared at his face, or would have if his head didn’t stop at Déaþscúa’s chest.

Déaþscúa’s voice was low and dangerous. “He was a deranged killer. How many lives has he ruined over the centuries? He was a monster, more so than the beasts I’m usually tasked with killing. He chose to be what he was.”

“That’s not the point! Some sacrifices need to be made! He was key to ensuring the survival of every creature on this planet and you killed him knowing this! How many lives have you ruined? Even if you haven’t just signed this planet’s death sentence, your body count eclipses anything that Christie could have managed. You are the monster.”

Déaþscúa’s mouth rose in a snarl. His words were like razor blades. “He had these two kids in his hands. He was on the verge of killing them. For all your talk of wanting to keep them protected, you’d ask me to let them die? Could you stand there and watch that sick bastard murder a child? Could you? Do your rules and ideals make you feel better about leaving innocents to die?”

Delonne let go of Déaþscúa and took a step back. His eyes flickered to KT and Kai then looked away guiltily. “Sometimes we have to do things that we don’t like for the greater good. You never did understand that though, did you?”

“Do you have the clothes? That’s all I want to hear from you.”

“Yes, I have them. If it was for you I’d have thrown your money back at you,” Delonne almost growled. “Wait here.”

He left and returned a few moments later with two large suit-bags. He handed them over to KT and Kai then directed them to small changing cubicle. KT closed the door behind her and hung the bag up, unzipping it to reveal black cloth. Taking out the individual articles, she laid out a pair of tight looking black jeans with a pattern of skulls and flowers sprawled across the legs in silver thread. Next to that was a plain looking white vest and a dark red leather crop-top with a deep neckline that she eyed sceptically. The last piece in the bag was a black jacket that was form fitting and had several spacious pockets. It too had the silver thread patterns scrolling across it.

As she began to change, she was amazed at how well everything fit. The trousers were tight yet seemed to stretch in all the right places to provide unhindered movement and the crop-top wasn’t too revealing when worn over the vest. She did a few trial stretches and exercises and the freedom of movement was equal to if she were wearing nothing.

She stepped out to find Kai already waiting for her. He had black cargo trousers on with more pockets than he could ever fill. His shirt was also black and bore the yin yang symbol surrounded by strange looking runes. His coat was black leather and ended at the back of his knees. There was a series of straps across each arm and a large collar that led to a cloth hood of the same colour. Across its back was a large skull wrapped in chains. Both he and KT retained their heavy boots.

Delonne nodded approvingly. “Yes, yes. A bit coarse for my usual tastes but I knew that a quality suit would not be appealing for you. They fit wonderfully. 

Déaþscúa threw the weapon straps and holders at the other man. “Fit these onto the clothes. I don’t want them coming loose in combat.”

The tailor looked on the verge of snapping again at Déaþscúa but instead released his breath and set to work on Kai’s clothes. He explained what the clothes were as he worked.

“The fabric in both of your clothes is super lightweight but very durable. Think of it as silk with the properties of Kevlar. They’re all infused with a gel that leaves the fabric impervious to water and they have enough give in them to cope with any movement that the human body is capable of. It won’t save you from life endangering wounds but it will prevent smaller cuts and impacts. Your coat and your top are both leather from a Nemeanling lion and as such is better than most metals for protection.”

“You mean the lion that Hercules killed?” KT asked in wonder.

“Not exactly. Its descendants. The Nemean Lion was a single beast blessed by the gods but its offspring retained many of its powers, the near impenetrable skin being one,” Delonne answered distractedly. He had finished with Kai and now moved onto KT. “But as I was saying, that leather will stop a mortal blow. Miss, you have less of that armour but if you’ve noted that silver thread work, it is a special metal that draws in the energy of any magical attack. That small amount won’t leave you immune to magic but weaker blasts will be defused and more powerful spells at least weakened. There we go. Finished.”

He stepped back and Déaþscúa instantly moved in, passing the teens their weapons. They slid them into place then moved on the spot uneasily as they got used to the feel of the weapons.

“Come on. Jearl is outside.”

Delonne called to them as they approached the door. “Déaþscúa, you realise that I have to inform the Grand Moot about you? They will come for you.”

“They’re welcome to try.”

“They’ll send an army for you. Can you really kill that many men and women who are just doing their job? Does death mean nothing to you?”

Déaþscúa paused, his hand on the door handle. “I am death. It’s my nature. Can a man really go against his nature?”

“You know that’s not true. You’re so much more than that. If only you would accept it.”

“Maybe,” Déaþscúa said then opened the door and left. The three climbed into the SUV, Déaþscúa leaning into the back as they buckled in.

“We’re heading for battle. I hope you two are ready to embrace death too. Be ready to give and receive it.”

KT and Kai gulped nervously but still nodded.

“Good. Jearl, drive on.”

“Rodger dodger,” Jearl agreed in his best radio voice then floored the car.

Previous – Chapter 7.

Next – Chapter 9.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 8. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

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