BEFORE THE DAWN

By fantomas

fantomas@who.net

 

 

 

 

Kevin found himself drowsing on the beach, under the warmth of a midday sun. The light coming through his eyelids made his capillaries visible, giving it all a tint of red. He was almost asleep when he felt a soft kiss on his stomach, just above his more ticklish abdomen, and he smiled as the kisses continued, moving up his chest. “Toby,” he sighed, reaching out and touching his back. He opened his eyes just as he kissed his chin, his jaw, and Kevin grabbed his head and guided him towards his mouth for a proper kiss.

 

He knew this was a memory or a dream, but the kiss itself wasn’t right. For a single second he’d allowed himself to think it was Toby, but he knew that it wasn’t. He was suddenly, perfectly furious.

 

He shoved him off, shouting, “Leave me the fuck alone!” Kevin quickly rolled up to his feet, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “I told you to stop this shit. Stop trying to be him!”

 

Toby stood up, wearing nothing but his oddly modest black swimming trunks, brushing sand off his hands. “What are you talking about, Kevin? It’s me.”

 

“Fuck you, Ambrosius! You think I don’t even know my own boyfriend?”

 

Toby glared at him, but the look was foreign to his face. Just like that, Toby’s eyes changed, became as cold as arctic ice, and suddenly he wasn’t Toby anymore. Ambrosius was now standing before him, dressed in black pants and a tight black t-shirt. It wasn’t weather appropriate for this baking stretch of Laguna Beach, but it was also irrelevant, as this wasn’t real. Kevin knew he was asleep now, but he also knew he couldn’t wake up, not until Ambrosius let him. “I am tired of your immaturity, Kevin,” Ambrosius growled, his voice low and unpleasant.

 

Kevin couldn’t help but stutter a laugh as he backed up a couple of steps, trying to put distance between him and Bro. Not that it mattered; not that it made a difference. He just liked to fool himself, give himself brief moments where he could honestly believe he had some freedom. “My immaturity? You’re the one who keeps infiltrating my dreams, trying to seduce me as Toby.”

 

“I’m trying to make it easier for you, I’m trying to be kind, but you keep playing these games.”

 

“Me? You’re the asshole who -” Kevin didn’t even get to finish the sentence. He never saw Ambrosius move, but suddenly he was right in front of him, and had a vise like grip on his jaw.

 

“You’re mine,” Ambrosius snarled, the look in his eye more lethal than passionate. “Do you understand? I own you, mind, body, and soul. I let you have these … moments of choice, but you have them at my sufferance. And I’m getting tired of suffering.”

 

Kevin tried to punch him, but he couldn’t. He thought it, but he couldn’t move his arm. He was frozen like an insect in amber, capable only of feeling the pain as Ambrosius tightened his grip on his jaw. “So that’s your big master plan, huh? Raping me? Sure, that’ll make me like you,” he spat contemptuously, using anger to cover the fear that made his stomach knot like a fist. Since he became aware of Bro’s continued erotic obsession with him, he was afraid it would eventually come down to this. He’d tried to mentally prepare himself for it, but how did you? It wasn’t exactly like bracing yourself for a beat down.

 

“Rape you? You wish. Don’t you get it, Kevin? I could make you my perfect little serving boy, and you’d love it.” The look Ambrosius was giving him was oddly intense, like he could have just ripped his jugular vein out with his teeth. “I could make you a mindless slave who would live for nothing but me. And while that would please me for a while, it gets boring. Is that what you want? To be a boring … normal? You are destined for better things, Kevin, if you’d just stop fighting your destiny.”

 

“I don’t have a destiny.”

 

“Of course you do. You’re my aspirant. If you stopped fighting me like an immature little boy, you’d realize that together, we could own this world. You could live forever, eternally young and beautiful, and get revenge on anyone who ever hurt you. Are you honestly telling me that’s not what you want?”

 

It sounded good, but he knew that things didn’t work like that. And right now, the only person he wanted to get any revenge on was him. “I want Toby.”

 

Bro briefly rolled his eyes. “And once you’ve mastered your true powers, you can have a thousand Tobys.”

 

“I don’t want a thousand of them, I just want him. I don’t want you.”

 

Ambrosius glared into his eyes like he thought he could change his mind by staring holes into the back of his skull. Then suddenly he smiled in that cold, reptilian way of his, and let him go, pushing him back at the same time. Kevin stumbled in the sand, but fought to keep his balance. “Ah, to be so young and naïve. Do you really think love matters at all? Grace loves me, in her twisted way, and yet we hardly belong together. Neither do you and Toby.”

 

“Whatever,” he scoffed.

 

“Think about it, Kevin. How much have you hurt him?”

 

He glared at him, wondering if he could sneak in a punch. Probably not. “I’ve never hurt Toby.” As soon as he said that, the lie burned furiously in his gut, and Ambrosius looked at him like he could feel it himself. “Not intentionally.”

 

“You broke his heart, and you continue to break his heart. And that’s only natural. You’re a young, vital man who has his whole life ahead of him, and Toby wants to domesticate you. He wants a white picket fence and two cats and a hybrid in the garage. Is that what you want? I doubt it. Sometimes love, as beautiful as it is, isn’t enough.”

 

“Which is just what I expect a twisted, loveless fuck like you to say.”

 

Kevin knew saying that would get him hit, and it did, but he wasn’t prepared for how hard a hit it was. Ambrosius’s fist connected with the underside of his jaw, making his mouth snap shut violently and sending him falling back on his ass. He was probably just lucky he didn’t accidentally bite off his own tongue.

 

Ambrosius glowered down at him, his disdain so pure he could almost feel it like a cold wave. But after a moment, he seemed to get a hold of his anger, smirking slightly and briefly looking away. “Why do you want me to hurt you? To cement your anger towards me? To give you a reason to hate me?”

 

“I don’t need a reason to do that.”

 

Ambrosius crouched down to be closer to his level, and Kevin pulled himself away with his hands, wondering if he could get away with kicking this bastard in the face. No, probably not. It hadn’t worked before, and he didn’t see the point of continually repeating actions that did nothing but make him feel more powerless. “I know you don’t believe me, but I do get it. You love Toby and he loves you. But you’re doomed to failure as a couple, and I think you know that. You’ll have what, a couple of years together, and then everything will fall apart. Would you really give up eternity for two good years? Letting Toby go now would be humane - if you loved him as much as you claim to, you’d stop his pain and let him get on with his life. Once you learn to control your powers, you could even make his life better, Kevin. But right now, all he does is hurt because of you. Don’t you want to make that stop?”

 

Ambrosius was trying to manipulate him - he knew that, and he was telling himself not to fall for it. But …

 

Oh god, Toby. Yes, he knew he had hurt him. He hadn’t meant to, but he had. And Toby’d never have been mixed up in any of this shit if it wasn’t for him. Was he out there now blaming him for everything that had happened? Everything would be better if Ambrosius had never been resurrected, but Kevin was also painfully aware that things would be equally better if he could just wish himself away. Toby wouldn’t be hurt, Ambrosius wouldn’t be free, and life would continue as it should.

 

Could he do that? Could he learn how to use his powers - Ambrosius’s powers - to undo himself, make himself disappear, make it so he never existed? In one single stroke, it would change everything.

 

There was only one way to find out, wasn’t there?

 

Kevin closed his eyes, fighting back the tears that wanted to come, and mentally bid goodbye to Toby, who was the only person who ever made him feel truly loved. His parents never managed it, no one ever had, not until he met him. For a moment he allowed himself to remember the first time he realized it. He’d had a fight with his step-father - of course; all they ever did was fight - and he showed up on Toby’s doorstep in the middle of the night, with a black eye and a couple of drinks in him. (He didn’t want to crawl off to Toby’s like a stray dog, so he stopped at a bar and had a couple of drinks to kill the pain while he weighed his options. It was then he discovered that he had no options.) He told Toby not to ask, he didn’t want to talk about it, he just needed to know if he could stay with him tonight. Although Toby briefly looked angry - had he guessed about the black eye? - he said of course he could, and put an ice pack together before going back to bed. Toby held him as he tried to sleep, but Kevin just stared at the wall in the dark, feeling Toby’s breath against the back of his neck as he drifted back to sleep. It suddenly occurred to Kevin that Toby loved him and would do anything for him; all he had to do was ask, and the idea was just a little bit terrifying. For some reason that made him cry, although he was careful to be quiet so he didn’t wake up Toby - he didn’t want him to see him crying anyways, as he was afraid he’d get the wrong idea. But it occurred to him that he didn’t deserve this, he didn’t deserve a guy like Toby. Toby was his harbor from the world, from life - no one had ever made him feel so safe. There was no way in hell he was walking away, no matter how much the idea of someone loving him that much freaked him out.

 

Yet it would have been better for Toby - better for everyone - if he had. He had to do this over, make it right. He had to walk away from everything, even his own existence, if only to make sure that Ambrosius was gone and that he never hurt Toby, intentionally or unintentionally. If he honestly loved him, he could do this.

 

Swallowing back the fear, the sorrow, and the rage, Kevin said, “Yes.”

 

 

****

 

“Van, you gotta do something about Toby,” Adam complained, storming into the kitchen. He came over to the table where she sat picking listlessly at a croissant, her pathetic little midnight snack, wondering how she could undo the damage.

 

She looked up at him, and wondered, for about the millionth time, if he ever wore a shirt. Although she supposed that if she had abs like that, she wouldn’t wear a shirt unless it was absolutely mandatory. “What did he do now?” she sighed, dreading the answer.

 

Adam scrubbed a hand through his hair, which was still sleep mussed … or maybe not. Maybe that was his look today. “I went to the bar to see him and Marco told me he’d taken the week off sick - again! But he wasn’t here. I just found him in the woods, you know, where the hot spring is? I swear he was collecting saint.”

 

“What?” Had she heard him right?

 

“Yeah, I know!” Adam agreed. “I tried to ask him what he was doing, but he told me to mind my own business. When I didn’t, he told me to fuck the hell off! Since when does he use that kind of language? The guy’s usually so clean he squeaks when he walks.”

 

“What did he do with the saint?”

 

Adam threw his arms up in an all encompassing shrug. “I dunno. I took off before he did. I don’t think he’s doing it - I mean, I’d know - but I don’t like the idea that he’s mixed up in it in some way. I mean, he’s turned totally Goth on us since Kevin left.”

 

Well, she wasn’t sure about that, but she knew what Adam meant. Toby was furious when Ambrosius took Kevin, and he grew even angrier when she told him honestly she wasn’t sure there was anything she could do. She looked -  she scoured the book, and found nothing helpful. She asked Grace, and she said, “Kill Kevin,” which didn’t solve any problem but Ambrosius getting more powerful. Toby then demanded that she teach him magic. Toby, the magic hater, suddenly wanted to fight Ambrosius on his own terms. She refused, worried about why he wanted to attack him and then pointed out she couldn’t really teach him moon magic, and didn‘t know enough about sun magic. He knew she was making excuses to put him off, and didn’t talk to her for two days, just stomped about like a sulky teenager.

 

And then, mysteriously, he got better.

 

That should have been her immediate tip off, but at first she wanted to believe that he had come to his senses and gone back to his magic phobic ways. But he started to get distant with her, didn’t seem to be the guy she had known for almost half her life now. Oh sure, he still had the intensity and quiet thoughtfulness, but his occasionally goofy sense of humor had gone missing, and he didn’t seem to care so much about … well, anything, except his desire to find Kevin and get revenge on Ambrosius, which seemed to have become one and the same thing in his mind. She knew he loved Kevin and hated Ambrosius, she got that, but this was driving him to some very dark places.

 

It was only happenstance that she was in town one night and caught him coming out of the dive shop. It was funny for a couple of reasons: Toby, to her knowledge, had never gone diving (he was a surfer), and it was after hours, so the shop was supposed to be closed anyways. She went in to speak to Diana, only to confirm her suspicion - Toby was learning magic from her.

 

She claimed to be “touched by his grief” and was teaching him “parlor tricks”, minor things that couldn’t harm a fly, in hopes that he’d eventually realize how foolish he was being. She was reassuring and kind, as beautiful as always, and Van was certain she was lying her fucking ass off. When she asked how she knew anything about sun magic, she said she’d found a book at the historical society, but Van had been through their entire collection herself and she knew she hadn’t missed anything.

 

Just last night she’d found a spell in the book of the moon that would allow her to be invisible, at least for a little while. It took some bit of preparation, and she’d be racing against the clock, but she decided to give it a try tonight. As soon as she told Adam she was going to go look for him and he should stay here and phone her if he came home, she went upstairs and put the spell into motion. She’d already gotten the items she needed; all she needed to do was arrange them in the proper order and say the words. She performed it, feeling weird that she didn’t have Toby around to assist her. Although she felt weird for a moment, she didn’t appear invisible to herself, so she thought perhaps it hadn’t worked. But once she went downstairs, she walked straight into Adam’s line of sight and made an obscene gesture at him. Actually, she made a couple. He didn’t react to any, so she figured she was actually invisible to everyone besides herself.

 

She knew she should probably be out looking for Toby, but that wasn’t her intention. She headed to Diana’s, as she had a sneaking suspicion he’d end up there if he wasn’t there now. So she lurked, feeling like a voyeur, peering in Diana’s windows. She was home, she could see that, but she seemed to be alone for the moment. When Van heard a car drive up, she almost ignored it - after all, Adam seemed to indicate Toby was on foot. But the crunch of footsteps on gravel made her look back, and she saw …

 

Ambrosius.

 

At first she thought she might be hallucinating, but he was walking right towards her, looking straight through her to Diana’s house. The momentary twinge in her stomach disappeared as soon as she remembered he couldn’t see her, and she stepped aside so he didn’t walk into her. Since he disappeared with Kevin, she hadn’t seen him, and he hadn’t changed a bit. Except maybe his clothing was more expensive than before.

 

Before he reached the door, Diana opened it, looking as ethereal as ever in a gauzy, lightweight dress. “You’re late,” she told him, with the smallest of smiles.

 

“I had some things to work out with Kevin,” he replied. Diana held the door open to let him inside, and Van quickly followed, almost treading on him. Luckily she didn’t, and she stepped off to the side as Diana closed the door, both remaining totally oblivious to her presence.

 

“How is your little boyfriend?” Diana said it in a mocking way that made Ambrosius shoot her a briefly evil look.

 

“I’ll have you know he’s finally come to his senses.”

 

“Ah. So you brainwashed him?”

 

That made him scowl at her. “No. He’s simply realized he’s not getting anywhere by fighting me.”

 

“I see. So flowers and sonnets did work?” Diana smiled while Ambrosius continued to glare at her, and Van realized this was some kind of in joke between them, although Ambrosius didn’t find it especially funny. “How would you rate his abilities?”

 

“He has a lot of raw power. He doesn’t know how to channel it or use it, but he should have the basics down soon enough. He seems eager to embrace it now.”

 

“Will he be ready?”

 

“He should be.”

 

Ready for what? Holy shit, what was Kevin doing? And since when were Diana and Ambrosius on such friendly terms? She suddenly got a horrible feeling that she had been used - that they had all been used.

 

Ambrosius leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest. “How goes things with Toby?”

 

Diana smiled slyly, her eyes bright with mischief. “What he lacks in native talent he makes up for in enthusiasm. He really wants to hurt you.”

 

That made Ambrosius smile coldly. “At least the feeling’s mutual. When will his corruption be complete?”

 

Corruption? What the hell were they doing to Toby? It was all she could do not to start throwing things and demanding answers.

 

“Very soon. He seems to have a remaining core of decency, but that should be gone after the ceremony. Then he’ll be ours to use as we see fit.”

 

Ambrosius nodded like a pleased master. “He’ll be powerful enough to neutralize Van?”

 

“As soon as we have his soul, yes. Then he’ll be nothing but an empty vessel for sun magic.”

 

They were using Toby to get to her?!

 

“Good. That little witch is annoying. Are you sure she’s not related to you and Grace? She has too much power for a dabbler.”

 

Diana shook her head. “As far as I know, she’s unrelated to either of us. Or you. I can’t find a connection to any of the covens that used to dwell on the island, even the known bastard offshoots.”

 

“What about Kevin’s family?”

 

“Ah, interesting. I haven’t looked at the Archers. I’ll do that.”

 

The Archers were part of a coven? Kevin was related to witches? What the hell was this? If Kevin was related by blood to one of the old covens that used to rule the Cove, that would explain how he had any power at all, especially since he hadn’t seem magically inclined before Ambrosius made him his aspirant. But clearly Diana and Ambrosius knew more about him - about them - than they ever let on.

 

Ambrosius shifted impatiently, his eyes briefly scudding over to the clock Diana had on her mantel. “Do you have the amulet?”

 

“You couldn’t even be polite and make small talk first?” Diana teased. “Eager to get back to our young swain, are we?” She left the room, and Van was torn between following her and finding an object with which she could kill Ambrosius. If he could be killed - she wasn’t sure he was anything approaching mortal anymore.

 

She’d just spotted a letter opener she bet she could jab in his neck when Diana returned with a necklace. It looked like burnished brass, clearly very old, filigreed and ornate in its way, although it was unclear whether it was made for a man or a woman. She handed it over to Ambrosius, with a warning. “Are you sure about this?”

 

His responding smirk was smug. “I’ve been planning my revenge against Grace for a very long time. I know exactly what I’m doing.”

 

Van’s mind was racing, reeling with all this disturbing information. Ambrosius and Diana were using Toby in hopes of turning him against her; Kevin was related by blood to one of the ancient covens; they planned to rob Toby of his soul through some ritual; Kevin was playing along with Ambrosius for some unfathomable reason; and Ambrosius was still scheming against Grace, with Diana’s help. Could things get any more complicated?

 

Ambrosius left and she followed, glancing back at the clock to see how much time she had left. Not much; not nearly enough to follow Ambrosius like she wanted to. She could have turned back and confronted Diana, but she didn’t see that as being particularly productive. No, she had a lot to think about, and she had to decide on a course of action.

 

Van started walking back to the hotel, and felt when the spell wore off. It was like a shiver through her skin, an odd wave of feeling that wasn’t entirely unpleasant. She took the long way back to think and try to put it all together. Had Diana been working with Ambrosius the whole time? She knew she had no love for Grace, but still … Van felt betrayed, used. She always had a feeling there was something big going on, bigger than she could comprehend, and now she had a feeling she was  seeing the edges of the big picture.

 

Oh yes, pictures. She’d just started painting a new one last week, and now that it was starting to come together, she had no idea what it meant. It was someone’s back, someone heading down a narrow and seemingly torch filled staircase. She understood it was important but wasn’t sure how until she realized it was Kevin’s back - Kevin going down a staircase she had never seen before. It was a vague picture, without much in the way of explanation or reason, but it felt … significant. It felt like the beginning of something, but she wasn’t sure what. She was going to show it Toby, ask him if this meant anything to him, if he knew what it meant … but she hadn’t seen him all week.

 

It was a clear night with a hint of a chill in the air, the stars overhead as sharp and bright as broken glass, and she wondered if it was an omen.

 

The flicker of fire caught the corner of her eye, and she turned towards the beach on her left hand side to see a small bonfire on the sand. There was a shadow of a person standing in front of it, and on the wind she could smell burning driftwood and … was that saint?

 

“Toby?” she asked, heading down to the beach.

 

Yes, it was him. Half way down the beach she saw his profile in fire, his eyes reflecting the light like a mirror, but he didn’t seem to notice her until she was standing right next to him, and even then he pretty much ignored her until she almost shouted his name. “Toby!”

 

Was he stoned? In spite of the bonfire, it was hard to tell. His expression was oddly slack, almost as if he was already getting his soul hollowed out. “What are you doing here?” he asked flatly.

 

“You’re in danger,” she blurted, wondering if it was too late. She had no choice here - she had to tell him, and just hope that she could still reach him. “You’re being used by Ambrosius.”

 

Toby looked at her sharply, some expression coming back into his face. His cheekbones looked extra stark. Was he eating? “Hardly. I’m trying to stop him, unlike you.”

 

“I just overheard Diana and Ambrosius talking. I think they’re going to use you as some sort of sacrifice. You’re being set up!”

 

His eyes narrowed to dark slits. “What the hell kind of bullshit is this? Why do you want to stop me?”

 

She grabbed his arms and wished she could just will what she’d seen into his mind. Wait, maybe she could. She had everything she needed for a reveal spell, right down to salt water and the smoke of burning saint. “Toby, look at me,” she ordered, as kindly as she could. “You know I would never lie to you.”

 

He gave her a bruised look, almost pouty. “I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

 

“Believe this.” she said, and recited the spell, feeling the power like a surge of electricity passing through her and straight into him, like a lightning bolt. He reacted as such, pulling away from her, grabbing his head and making a noise of pain as he stumbled dangerously close to the fire. After a moment, he started heaving for breath, like he’d inhaled too much saint. “What the hell ..?” When he looked at her, he appeared to be back to his old self again; that strange, growing blankness had disappeared from his eyes. “What … how could they do that? Why did I fall for it?”

 

“What happened? How did you find Diana?”

 

He searched his memory, a hand to his temple like the flood of knowledge had hurt him. “I … she came into the bar one day, and I recognized her from the solstice thing. I’d been having these dreams about Kevin and Ambrosius, nightmares, I hadn’t been sleeping really well. She said she could help me get Kevin back … damn it, I was an idiot.”

 

“No, you were set up. They decided to target you to get to me. Why I don’t know.”

 

“They’re afraid of you,” he said almost casually. Was that true? It must have been. But why? She wasn’t like Grace; she didn’t have seemingly unlimited power at her fingertips. She was still learning what she could and couldn’t do. She couldn’t even read the entire book yet. Toby looked at her imploringly. “Kevin’s related to witches? From here? He’d never even heard of Dante’s Cove until I told him about it.”

 

“How much do you know about his family? His father?”

 

“His father committed suicide when he was very young. His mother got rid of everything related to him, photos, books, and never talked about him at all after she remarried. That’s all I know.”

 

It wasn’t much to go on, but just the fact that after his father died - did he really commit suicide? - his mother got rid of everything related to him … why? That seemed suspicious somehow. She wondered what his name was, if his last name was really even Archer.

 

“He’s working with Ambrosius,” Toby said, and it took her a moment to realize he was talking about Kevin.

 

“He could have been lying,” she offered. But even she knew that couldn’t be true. Why would he lie to Diana about that?

 

But Toby got a strange look in his eye. “He’s up to something.”

 

“Ambrosius?”

 

“Kevin. Maybe he thinks he can, I don’t know, overpower Ambrosius.”

 

That actually sounded fairly plausible. She couldn’t imagine Kevin just rolling over and accepting servitude that easily. “He’s insane. He’ll get himself killed.”

 

Toby looked remarkably, powerfully sad. “Maybe he knows that.”

 

Van grabbed his upper arms again, trying to will her confidence into him. “Don’t give up yet. We can help him. We can … I bet we can beat Ambrosius at his own game.”

 

“How?”

 

That was an excellent question. Toby could go around pretending to still be “corrupted”, they could lure Diana and Ambrosius into believing their plan was still in effect, and then … she didn’t know. Turn the tables on them somehow. She just didn’t know how to do that.

 

But didn’t she know someone who might?

 

 

****

 

Marco watched Kai getting dressed, and wondered why he had to have such great chemistry with a totally amoral prick.

 

Kai was becoming very much a bad habit, to the point where it occurred to him that taking up cigarettes would not only be healthier but a better waste of his time. Not that the sex wasn’t fantastic - that was the problem, in fact. It was fucking incredible, no pun intended. He’d attempted to break things off with Kai about three times now, and each time it never lasted long. There was nothing here, they were pretty much fuck buddies, minus the buddies. They had nothing in common beyond sex, and if Marco was totally honest with himself, something about Kai just repelled him. He had all the morality and conscience of a shark.

 

Kai, for his part, didn’t care if he liked him or not, just as long as he dropped his pants. Kai was untroubled by just about everything. Marco got the impression that he thought worrying was for suckers or perhaps poor people, certainly not for him. Kai seemed to think he could bribe, finagle, blackmail, muscle, or fuck his way out of any situation, and the horrible truth of the matter was he probably could. Marco abhorred people like that.

 

So why did he find him so damn irresistible? Damn it! He was sure he was beyond thinking with his dick. He tried to tell himself that it was the whole “keep your friends close,  but keep your enemies closer” thing, but if he was any “closer” to Kai he’d be wearing his skin for Halloween, so that was a lame ass attempt at an excuse.

 

As soon as Kai was gone, he got up and looked out the window at the sea below and beyond. In the early morning light it looked as placid and smooth as glass, which he knew wouldn’t last for long. The sea was as mercurial as many of the people around here.

 

He ran a hand over his face, feeling the stubble he had yet to shave away, and decided he couldn’t put off the call any longer.

 

Marco sat on the edge of his bed and pulled on his boxers in some stupid reflex before picking up the phone on the nightstand and dialing a number that he had memorized to the point where he could call it half-conscious if he needed to. There were two brief, oddly European rings, and then a machine clicked on. That’s all you heard, the click - there was no message. If you called this number on purpose, you knew; if it was accidental, you’d probably be confused and hang up. “This is Laveau,” he said, rubbing his dry eyes. “I’m still not sure how we survived the Libra Solstice, but there seems to be a reawakening of the covens. Vallin seems to be getting stronger; he must have an aspirant with a connection to the bloodlines. Neville remains insanely powered, but something seems to be holding her back, perhaps her lingering bitterness with Vallin. She has a powerful aspirant as well, and Diana had returned, probably just to stab her sister in the back. She seems more powerful than she should be. The predictions were right - power is gathering, people with even tangential connections to the old covens are coming here, and none of this can be any good.” He sighed, bracing himself for saying what had to be said. “I think it’s time. Let me act. At least let me take out Vallin. If Neville doesn’t return to seclusion, I can do her too. But we can’t let this go on much longer. Soon Vallin will be too powerful for myself alone, and we’ll need to risk exposure to shut him down. And if we fail … I don’t need to tell you what will happen. Just give me the word as soon as possible.” He then hung up the phone, long enough to break the connection, and then picked up the receiver once more and punched up the number to the local coffee shop, letting it ring once before he hung up again. He only needed another number on there in case someone broke into his place and hit redial. It was paranoid, yes, but dealing with creatures such as these, you could never be too careful. Which was why he had a sword on the wall. He’d told Kai it was an old family heirloom and he accepted that without question, mainly because he was more interested in getting undressed, but what Kai didn’t know was the sword was not only special, but the only weapon he dared to leave in plain sight, mainly because it was his weapon of last resort.

 

If he was just Marco, simple bar owner, he’d never have to think about these things. But as Marco the witch hunter, he knew that constantly looking over his shoulder and preparing for disaster were the only things that ever kept him alive.

 

 

****

 

 

 

Toby felt oddly numb, sitting in the parlor of Grace’s home as Van told her what she’d overheard, and what she was hoping they could do about it.

 

He didn’t even feel the intense, angry drive that had fueled him since Kevin had been taken. He was exhausted, wrung out, making him wonder what Diana had actually done to him. He knew magic was nothing you should fuck around with, especially if you didn’t know what you were doing, but he didn’t know what else to do. He’d never felt so helpless in his life and he hated it. It got to the point where he didn’t think he could take it for one more minute, and those vivid nightmares he kept having about Kevin and Ambrosius made things worse. The nightmares varied, but followed one of two general scripts: Ambrosius hurting Kevin, torturing him, killing him, in agonizing, vivid detail that would have made the makers of Saw seethe with jealously; or Kevin coming on to Ambrosius, fucking him, declaring his undying love for him. Certainly the first was the worst one, but the second felt just as agonizing to him.

 

Van suggested that the nightmares were deliberately inflicted upon him, by Ambrosius or Diana (but probably Ambrosius), and while he wasn’t sure how he could have done it, it was easy to believe now. He felt like he was going crazy, and he was an easy target for the seemingly sympathetic Diana.

 

He didn’t know Grace at all, he only knew her through Van, but he knew enough to honestly dislike her, which he hid as best he could. At least being a bartender taught you to hide your loathing very well.

 

What didn’t he like about her? It was hard to pinpoint, but her obvious arrogance, which Van overlooked with an enviable ease, rubbed him the wrong way. Also she looked at him like he was little more than a piece of meat, an object that would have been worthy of contempt if it had an ounce of value. He didn’t know if she didn’t like him in particular, or just disliked men in general.

 

“Describe this necklace,” Grace said to Van, the first thing she’d asked since Van had launched into her story.

 

Van did the best she could, but the necklace was rather vague in design. It was mildly ornate and pseudo-Victorian, with a small oval pendant - locket? - that Van forgot to mention. He interrupted and added it in, as he had seen what she had seen that night, and could at least back her up. Although Grace gave him a briefly evil look, she seemed to acquiesce as soon as he described the locket. “Hmm, I wonder …” she said, thinking aloud, looking across the room at one of her many odd curios.

 

“What?” Van prompted.

 

Grace seemed to decide on what to tell them, but Toby couldn’t tell if it was the truth or not. “That sounds like a resurrection amulet. It can be used in a ceremony to bring someone back from the dead, and keep them under your control.”

 

Van’s eyes briefly bugged out. “Are you talking about zombies?”

 

Grace smirked smugly. “Hardly. They’re not brain dead flesh eaters, simply deathless servants to their master. They could think to a degree, even talk, but only the removal of the amulet would genuinely kill them. You could shoot them in the head all you wanted, but all you’d have would be a mess to clean up as long as they still had the amulet.”

 

“How would he use that against you?” Toby asked, genuinely curious.

 

Grace’s smile was disarmingly cheerful. “I have no idea. But planning isn’t poor Ambrosius’s strong suit. He acts impulsively, and usually lives to regret it.”

 

“What were they doing to Toby?” Van asked. “How and why do they want to take his soul?”

 

Grace settled back in her floral armchair, clearly relishing her role as a teacher. “My guess is they wanted to make your friend there a kind of supernatural time bomb. There are many ways to steal or imprison a soul, child, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you the how.”

 

Toby really didn’t like the sound of this. “What do you mean a supernatural time bomb?”

 

“Magic has a price. I assume Ambrosius wished to have lots of power to take me on - or perhaps Diana is worried about what I’m going to do to her - but there’s only so much power they can take on before it damages them. So you can use vessels as a kind of storage unit, to accumulate and hold power, until you wish to use it. The vessel has to be soulless to hold the power and have it without being able to use it. Then, when you wish to attack, you release the power within the vessel.”

 

Great - he was being hollowed out like a gourd. “What happens to the vessel after that?” Van asked.

 

Grace’s smile was small and very cold. “They die.” At Van’s horrified look, she simply said, “I told you magic always has a price. It’s why no one person has the full powers of Tresum at their beck and call. It’s too much power for a single person to survive. We do not create the energy, we simply channel it, bend it to our will.”

 

“And like electricity, you can overload a circuit and fry it,” Toby sighed, running a hand through his hair.

 

“I assume it was Diana’s plan. In one fell swoop, Ambrosius gets rid of you, and Diana has enough power to take me on. Ambrosius could never be that clever.” Grace almost sounded impressed. Toby felt like mentioning the power was supposed to “neutralize” Van, not her, but didn’t see the point in bursting her bubble. He had a sneaking suspicion Grace had a nasty temper.

 

“What can we do?” Van asked her. “Is there a way we can get them to think this is still happening when it isn’t?”

 

Grace gave her a brilliant, toothy smile that made Toby feel a chill slither down his spine. He had no idea why, but Grace looking that self-satisfied put him on edge. “Of course there is. Dear Diana isn’t as clever as she thinks, and Ambrosius is too blinded by his own lascivious urges to be much of a threat. Speaking of which, who is that whelp Kevin related to? I have no memory of a coven going by Archer.”

 

“Whelp?” Toby repeated.

 

Van threw him a “don’t freak out” look, and then stepped between him and Grace, so he was out of her direct line of sight. “We don’t know. Kevin never had much contact with one side of his family, so he probably doesn’t know either.”

 

“Which side - mother or father?”

 

“Father.”

 

“Ah.”

 

Grace had said that like it was significant, so much so that Van couldn’t let it go. “Do you think that means something?”

 

Grace paused before she replied. “Being a warlock is … difficult. We women are more in tune with the powers of Tresum, and are generally more cooperative; power flows better among our lines. Warlocks have a tendency to compete with each other and destroy each other. Which is just like a man, isn’t it?”

 

Toby ignored the androgyny and concentrated on what she’d said. Could Kevin’s father have actually been a warlock? The idea was so absurd it was laughable, and yet it was no more absurd than anything else. Maybe he didn’t commit suicide at all; maybe that was just a story that was told to cover up an even uglier truth.

 

“It would also help explain Ambrosius’s hopeless obsession with such a -”

 

“No more insults, please,” Toby interrupted, sure he was about to hear one. What did she have against Kevin? Had they ever even met?

 

Van got things back on topic. “Is there anything we can do to save Toby and get Kevin back?”

 

There was the longest of pauses, and since Grace had stood up, Toby could now see her expression. She gave him a wide, almost predatory smile, and he felt his blood turn to liquid nitrogen. “Oh, I’m sure there’s a way to help your little friends. And make Diana and Ambrosius pay.”

 

He had a feeling the latter was the most important thing to her.

 

 

****

 

Marco was surprised that Toby actually bothered to turn up for work after so long an absence, but he looked so rough that he didn’t bother to chide him about his suddenly slackening work ethic. In fact, Marco picked up the smallest hint of magic on him, and wondered if he was being targeted by a witch. Ambrosius? Most likely. He’d taken his boyfriend, hadn’t he? He’d have to gloat, as well as make sure he kept Toby out of the picture as far as Kevin was concerned - Ambrosius had become more sadistic with age. You’d think after all that had happened to him he’d be more compassionate, but oh no. It proved he and Grace had been a perfect couple, sexual issues aside - they were both utterly arrogant and convinced of their innate superiority over other people.

 

It was a shame Toby got caught up in this. He liked the guy. He was a good employee, good with customers, and cute as hell. If there was any way he could help him without exposing the nature of who he actually was, he would, but the problem was - and he had learned this from very hard experience - that once you told someone about who and what you really were, you exposed them to danger. The vindictive witches had absolutely no problem in killing off your friends and family if they couldn’t get to you. That was why he was a perfect candidate for the cabal: he had nothing. His family had been wiped out in some kind of insane witch war, and his brother was even turned into a vampire, although he honestly expected no one to believe that. He hardly did himself, and he’d not only ventured into the lair of some vampires, but he had killed them. If he didn’t quite believe it, what chance did a civilian who never knowingly encountered one have? He had a feeling Kai would have believed him, if only because Kai had apparently encountered every single kind of perversion that existed on this earth. He wouldn’t distinguish between people who liked to pretend they were vampires and the actual things.

 

He almost jumped when the cell phone in his pocket vibrated.

 

It was his special one, the one with the number known only to the cabal. Were they responding to his request? He ducked behind the nearest vacant cabana before pulling the phone out and answering it.

 

But it wasn’t a vacant cabana. Grace stood inside, almost laughing at the poor little witch hunter. This pretty boy was the witchfinder general? Undercover as a bar owner - that was actually kind of clever, as she’d never have guessed to look for him here. But after what Kai had said about him, she grew suspicious. He seemed far too smart for his position, and the curious things he said - warning Kai to stay away from Ambrosius, for example - just gave him away. At the very least, he was a man who knew far more than he should have about what was really going on.

 

What would she do without Kai, her eyes and ears in the Cove? Not that he knew that - he was simply a gossipy little pervert whose only allegiance was to money. He was her mole and was too egotistical and self-impressed to even realize it. They, of course, were the best kind.

 

Her first impulse was to kill Marco, but she was glad she hadn’t, as she could use him far more efficiently. She listened to his side of the conversation, wondering if he’d ever realize that he was talking to her, not whoever he thought he was talking to.

 

“Her?” he replied in disbelief. “Why? Okay, I’ll get to it as soon as possible.”

 

She knew the little witch hunter was troubled by his orders, but he would follow them, as he was trained to do just that. And depending on how well he did, he might just live for another day.

 

 

****

 

Kevin wasn’t sure if it was a curse on the house or a curse on him, but he couldn’t leave.

 

He’d tried, but every time he got within arm’s reach of a door or a window leading outside, a pain augured through his brain like someone was trying to lobotomize him with a power drill. Painful really wasn’t the word; crippling was. It’d drop him to his knees, and he’d tried to force himself forward in spite of it, but the pain would only intensify tenfold. Once he even passed out, and woke up on the couch with Ambrosius standing over him, shaking his head. He reminded him that the avatar “owned” the aspirant, and he wasn’t going anywhere until he allowed it.

 

But Van was Grace’s aspirant, right? She seemed to live her life just fine. This was just Bro being a possessive, sick bastard, although what did he expect from him really? He didn’t even have a phone (just a cell phone that only seemed to work for him) or an internet connection, so he wasn’t communicating with the outside world at all. Kevin knew they were in a fairly remote spot, but he couldn’t imagine that the hotel was more than a few miles away. Talk about being so close yet so far.

 

But Ambrosius did leave. He also occasionally slept. And when he was outside his direct observation, Kevin had been working.

 

Bro had some books, not all of which he could read, but some that he could had spells in them, things like that. He’d been working on them, starting small, gaining confidence and, oddly enough, gaining more of an ability to read the damn books. Around Ambrosius he still pretended to be a really inept beginner, but he felt himself growing more powerful inside. It was weird - and a little scary - but he was starting to feel the magic around him. It was like a palpable force, an object he couldn’t quite see but could feel, almost wrapped around him like an invisible cloak. In a way it scared him, because the magic filled him, ran through his veins like blood, and he not only felt good, powerful, but he felt like he was home. It was opening up something up in him, a locked place he hadn’t realized existed, and it was frightening. There were dark things in him that felt overwhelming, and he had no idea where they were coming from, or if he could even totally control it.

 

He kept fucking up on purpose around Ambrosius, lowering his expectations of him, because this would only work if he took him completely by surprise. No matter how powerful he felt, Ambrosius was much stronger than him. For now.

 

Kevin usually slept when Ambroius was gone, because he had to sleep sometime, and Ambrosius was unlikely to invade his dreams. But he wasn’t sure about that anymore. Because the dreams he’d been having were disturbing, but in different ways.

 

There were two different kinds, ones that were fragments of disturbing visions that didn’t always make a lot of sense, and then there were ones about Toby. Such as tonight’s. He watched like a disembodied spirit as Toby entered his bedroom, clearly upset about something. If the fact that he slammed the door and stomped inside didn’t give it away, the fact that he turned and punched the wall did. He pulled his punch so he didn’t break his hand, but he still put an impressive amount of power into it. He then leaned his forehead against the wall and made a small noise of pained despair. It made Kevin’s heart hurt to hear it - he so badly wanted to go to him and hold him, tell him that it was going to be all right even if it was a total bald faced lie. But of course he couldn’t, he was just an observer.

 

Toby was struggling not to cry when someone knocked on his door. He didn’t answer, but Adam opened the door and came in anyways, already talking. “ - it can’t be true. This had got to be some fucking joke.”

 

“It doesn’t matter if it is or it isn’t, this man has ruined everything he’s touched,” Toby said, anger shining through the tears streaming down his face. Kevin knew somehow that he was talking about Ambrosius. “He just has to stick in the knife, he just has to -” Toby turned away, his voice dissolving into a tortured sob.

 

Adam did what Kevin wished he could, he put his arms around him, crushing himself against Toby’s back, telling him, “Don’t. It isn’t worth it.” What had Ambrosius done now? That fucking bastard - did he ever stop?

 

Toby seemed to resist a little at first, but then he relaxed against Adam’s embrace and put his hands over his arms, struggling not to cry. The pain on his face was raw and horrible, making Kevin furious. What had Ambrosius done?! He fucking had him as his aspirant now - why the hell didn’t he leave Toby alone?! He had to stop him, no matter what he had to do.

 

Toby struggled to get his emotions under control for a while, Adam just holding him, sometimes saying comforting things, his eyes closed and his forehead resting against the back of Toby’s head. Although he sympathized with Toby, Adam was also enjoying this contact with him, this closeness he’d been longing for. Kevin felt that old jealous twinge, but he let it go.

 

He shouldn’t have.

 

Adam softly kissed Toby’s neck, telling him it was going to be okay, and Toby turned. Kevin thought he was going to push him away gently, discourage him as kindly as possible, but Toby just looked at him for a moment, his eyes glittering like diamonds in the rain. Kevin actually gasped when Toby kissed Adam full on. Of course Adam responded in kind, and Kevin watched in horror as they kissed passionately, Adam pulling at Toby’s shirt and actually ripping it at the seams as he pulled it over Toby’s head, the two hardly stopping the kissing during it. Adam had no shirt to lose (of course - he hardly ever did), just loose linen pants.

 

They fell on the bed, Toby pinning Adam down with his body, which he clearly loved, their hands frantic on each other‘s bodies. As soon as Adam slid his hands inside Toby’s pants, cupping his ass, Kevin turned away in disgust, actually forcing himself awake, unable to believe that Toby would do this to him. But he didn’t put it past Adam at all. After being such a fucking jerk for so long, he finally decided he had to have Toby, and he wouldn’t stop at anything. It’d be just like him to take advantage of this situation and do this.

 

Except this scenario was just a little too perfect, wasn’t it? If he stopped and thought about it, putting his emotions aside, he could see that this seemed like something Ambrosius would cook up. He couldn’t seduce him as Toby, so now he’d turn around and make it look like Toby was cheating on him. It had Ambrosius’s fingerprints all over it.

 

Kevin pretended to be asleep when Ambrosius came home. If he checked, he would have found he was “sleeping” fully dressed, but from the noises in the front of the house, Bro was arguing with someone over the cell phone. Kevin snuck out, listening carefully, but Ambrosius seemed unaware he was anywhere near. “I don’t care what you have to do,” he was shouting. “Find it!” Kevin had no idea who he was talking to or about what, but he didn’t much care either.

 

He waited until Ambrosius slammed shut the phone and retrieved a glass of something, possibly scotch considering the amber color of the liquid. He gulped it down in one swallow, his shoulders tense. Something going wrong for Bro? Aww, what a shame.

 

And here was one more.

 

He’d been muttering the spell under his breath, feeling the power gather in his hands, and now they almost glowed with energy, a fiery red orange that ironically felt cool to him. Ambrosius must have sensed the shift in magical energy, because he turned around, startled, but Kevin didn’t give him a chance to react. “Be gone!” he shouted, aiming all that gathered energy at Ambrosius.

 

The energy hit like a bullet to the chest, and in the blink of an eye both the energy and Ambrosius were simply gone, the suddenly abandoned highball glass dropping out of the air and shattering on the floor. In a strange way it was almost anti-climactic. It wasn’t like he wanted to see him explode all over the room, his guts dripping from the ceiling, but … okay, yeah, he would have loved to have seen that. If there was a spell that guaranteed that, he so totally would have used it.

 

“Fuck,” Kevin whispered in the silence. Part of him hadn’t expected it to work, and now he was shaking from the exertion, the fear, and the thrill. That was almost as good as sex.

 

But was he totally gone? Was all his baggage gone with him? Kevin walked towards the door, braced for the pain that would drop him to his knees, his heart in his throat. But as he opened the door and walked outside for the first time in weeks, he started laughing. He did it - holy shit, he beat Ambrosius. He let out a victory cry at the evening sky, and took in a deep breath of fresh, clean air. God, air had never tasted so good.

 

Now, to finally go home.

 

 

****

 

The lights went out at midnight, but Marco continued to wait, as no one went to bed right away, or fell asleep the second their head hit the pillow.

 

He hated breaking into a house like a common thief, but it was rarely wise to confront a powerful witch openly, especially if you had some doubts about their power levels. Although he was sure in a straight fight he could probably win, you guaranteed victory by using the element of surprise. Most witches didn’t expect an attack on them 24/7, and everyone let their guard down when they were sleeping. It may have felt sneaky and cowardly, but it didn’t pay to get cocky, and these kind of sneak attacks guaranteed longevity.

 

Marco still didn’t understand why the cabal wanted him to neutralize Diana, but he had no reason to really question it. She was a wild card, a rogue element they didn’t need. And after all, his was not to ask why.

 

His was simply to do or die.

 

 

****

 

Grace had made him do a couple of weird things, but this was probably the weirdest.

 

Toby finished burying the shard of glass with his blood on it underneath a tree on the south side of the hotel. According to Grace it was a protective ward against losing your soul - it “bound him to the earth“. Supposedly, somehow. He felt as much like an idiot as he had when they did that ritual at her house. Van took part in it, said it was okay, but Toby didn’t trust Grace. He knew he should; he knew if Van trusted her, that should have been good enough for him.  So why wasn’t it?

 

Maybe because he had felt magic, felt how powerful it could be in your hands, how intoxicating. He always knew it was dangerous, but now he honestly understood he had never grasped the true magnitude of the danger. He still thought he was an idiot to get involved in this. Did he really think he had a shot at getting Kevin back? Against Ambrosius? What a laugh.

 

He was walking around to the front when he saw a shadow and froze. “Who’s there?” he asked, hands balling into fists. After being set up by Ambrosius and used by Grace, he had no faith that his luck would suddenly turn good.

 

“Toby?” Kevin asked, cutting across the back garden.

 

Toby just stood there for a moment, frozen in shock, half convinced this was a hallucination. But a knife blade of light from the kitchen window was thrown across his face, and he could see clearly that it was him. If this was a hallucination, it was an extremely vivid one. “Kevin?” he gasped, finally making himself move.

 

They met half way, embracing like drowning men making one last grab for life. “Oh god, I thought I’d never see you again,” Kevin told him, fighting back tears. Toby himself felt a sob coming on, but did his best to hold it back. Yes, this was Kevin in the flesh. This was too real for any hallucination or nightmare.

 

They kissed hungrily, desperately, negating the need for words. This was what Ambrosius could never genuinely recreate, the feel of Toby’s body, the smell of him, the taste of him, his touch, the warmth and texture of his skin, the softness of his hair, the scrape of stubble against his cheek. He would know Toby if he was blind. Holding back tears was starting to be painful, and Kevin wasn’t sure why he even wanted to cry. Maybe because he was afraid he’d never see Toby again before he tried to undo his own existence. He wanted to say goodbye, tell him that he would be the only thing he’d really miss, but he also knew this was dangerous, because being here with Toby made him want to stay.

 

Kevin slipped his hand under Toby’s shirt just to touch his skin again, to feel the taut muscles in his back, and when they broke away from the kiss Toby leaned his head on his shoulder and sighed in a way that suggested he was trying very hard to rein in his own emotions. “How did you get away?”

 

“I surprised Ambrosius. I used a spell on him that sent him away.”

 

Toby raised his head and looked at him warily. A couple of tear tracks glinted wetly on his face, and Kevin had the urge to kiss them away, feel the salt of his tears sting his lips. “Away where?”

 

Okay, that little detail was a pisser. “I don’t know. I just aimed for as far as I possibly could. I’m hoping Taiwan, but I’m still new at this.”

 

“You don’t know?”

 

Kevin was forced to grimace in embarrassment. “To specifically target a location, you need a lot more power and control than I have. But I know he went far, Toby. I felt it. I mean, I felt the power leave me … it’s kind of hard to explain. It was a rush.”

 

Toby frowned in concern. “How much magic have you been using?” He then shook his head impatiently at his own question. “Come on, we need to get you inside. Maybe Van will know where we can hide out.”

 

Although Toby had grabbed his arm and started to steer him towards the hotel, he stopped and pulled on Toby’s arm to stop him. “Hide out? Why do we need to do that? I can kick his fucking ass.”

 

Suddenly there was the sound of slow clapping that sounded somehow sarcastic, and they both looked sharply at the trees, where the sound was coming from.

 

Standing there, partially hidden by midnight shadows cast by the cold crescent moon, was Ambrosius.

 

No - no! He couldn’t be here! Instinctively, Kevin stepped in front of Toby to protect him, and raised his hand, calling up the power he still had left. “No fucking way. You can’t be here!”

 

“Ask Van. You can send me anywhere - I can send myself right back. You passed your first test, Kevin. You should be proud.”

 

“Test?” he repeated in disbelief. “That wasn’t a test. I beat you!”

 

“You needed to learn how to target spells before we could continue. You succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. So my suspicion was right - you have been playing dumb. Did you really think you could deceive me? I know you better than Toby ever could.”  He held up his hand towards him and made a fist. “Come with me, Kevin.”

 

Pain sliced through his brain, exploding behind his eyelids and making him see white. He didn’t realize he had dropped to his knees until dew from the grass began to soak into his jeans, and he was only dimly aware he was screaming as he tried to fight back the urge to crawl to Ambrosius’s side like a whipped dog. No, he didn’t want to go; he didn’t care if his brains exploded out his fucking ears, he wasn’t going.

 

The pain eased as Toby rushed Ambrosius, but before Kevin could utter a word of warning, Ambrosius simply held out his other hand palm out, and Toby froze as if he’d run into an invisible wall several feet in front of the warlock. Toby seemed to collapse in slow motion to his knees, trying to move arms that seemed held fast by invisible assailants, and it sounded like he was struggling to breathe.

 

“Don’t hurt him!” Kevin shouted, anger making the pain subside just a bit more. “I swear to god I’ll fucking murder you if you don’t let him go!”

 

Ambrosius just smirked, like the mere idea of it was funny. But only for a moment. Then his smirk collapsed and he looked off to the side, unpleasantly surprised. “What are you -”

 

He didn’t finish the question. His voice seemed to seize up his throat, and he went still in an unnatural manner as the pain in Kevin’s head  suddenly disappeared along with the urge to return to him. He collapsed to his hands and knees, sucking in a couple of well needed breaths before scrambling over to Toby. He was coughing, but seemed otherwise okay. Kevin gathered him in his arms and murmured, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” And he was. It convinced him he really needed to do what he set his mind to do, otherwise Toby’s life would remain this hideous, painful mess, all because of him.

 

Finally he saw who had interrupted Ambrosius. It was Grace.

 

Although he felt a cold twinge in his gut at just seeing her - Ambrosius claimed she had killed him, although he had no memory of it - her focus was totally on Ambrosius, her lips curved into a wicked little smile. “Ambrosius, you’re so predictable. I knew you’d have to show Kevin just what you did to his little boyfriend. Too bad it didn’t work.”

 

What? What was she talking about? He’d have asked, but he knew he’d have been ignored.

 

“What … have … you … done?” Ambrosius asked, spitting out every word like he barely knew how to speak. Whatever Grace was doing to him, she had effectively shut him down. Could she teach him that?

 

Grace grinned savagely, showing her teeth like a wolf. “Destroyed everything you‘ve tried to do, my dear. Don’t expect Diana to save you this time - it seems she’s run afoul of a witch hunter.”

 

Ambrosius’s eyes widened in horror. “A … witch … hunter? … Here?”

 

“Right under your nose. He’s a clever one, I’ll give him that, but if you weren’t so fixated on your little puppy, you would have noticed you were being watched. But as usual, you were distracted by your … urges. I mean really darling, do you think this is a good way to treat your aspirant? You’re asking to be betrayed. I’m just sorry Kevin won’t be around to do it.”

 

“What?” Toby asked, glaring at her. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

 

She looked at him, that razor blade smile affixed to her face, and her eyes started to glow a faint yellow. “That’s not Kevin, Toby. It’s Ambrosius trying to fool you. He wants to kill you, Toby. First you, then Kevin.”

 

“What?” Kevin exclaimed. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

He felt Toby stiffen in his arms, and he looked to see that something had happened to Toby’s eyes. There was just the tiniest bit of silver, like a mirror, hidden within the darkness of his irises. He knew somehow that Toby had been “possessed” by Grace - she was throwing a major spell on him. “Stop it!” he demanded, jumping to his feet and facing Grace. “Let him go!”

 

Kevin took a step towards her, but stopped, as something seemed to be holding him back. Once again he tried to conjure up his powers, only to find them cut off. Grace had shut him down as easily as she had shut down Ambrosius. She smiled at him, and said, “No. Toby, you know what you have to do. What you’ve wanted to do for a very long time.”

 

Toby stood stiffly, his expression blank, his eyes glinting like glass. “Toby,” Kevin shouted, hoping to break through the trance, spell, whatever this was that she had on him. “Don’t listen to her! It’s me!”

 

But Toby didn’t seem to hear him; he didn’t react at all. The spell he was under was so powerful he was trapped in the world she had made for him. Anger burned inside him, almost making him feel powerful enough to move. “You bitch! What have you done to him?!”

 

She chuckled, finding his rage hilarious. “Just what Ambrosius would have done, only in reverse.”

 

“Kevin …” Ambrosius croaked. “… leave.”

 

If Ambrosius was actually telling him to escape, things must have been really terrible.

 

“Oh darling, he would if he could, but I’m afraid your puppy isn’t going anywhere.” She then fixed her gaze back on Toby. “Kill him. Kill Kevin.”

 

“No!” Ambrosius screamed.

 

Kevin was only able to move enough to face Toby as he advanced on him, a cold, murderous look in his silvered eyes. “Toby, don’t do this. It’s me! She’s doing this to you - fight her!”

 

But Toby didn’t react at all, he just continued coming towards him, and Grace laughed.

 

****

 

To Be Continued ….

 

(Not really - this thing is already too damn long! It’s just not Dante’s Cove if we can’t end on a cliffhanger.)

 

 

(But if you want to know what I had planned for the rest of the “season”, read below.)

 

 

 

 

 

What happens next: Van interrupts the party, as she is wont to do, and doesn’t quite understand what’s happening, but freezes Toby and throws up a defensive spell against Grace. This disrupts her hold on Kevin, who is furious that she tried to use Toby to hurt him, and turns a surprising force of magic on Grace, which actually stuns her. Van is afraid he might actually be hurting Grace, so briefly Van and Kevin find themselves facing off. But they both forgot about Ambrosius, who blindsides Van with a spell and grabs Kevin before he can react, teleporting them out of there. Van demands an explanation from Grace, who blames everything on Ambrosius, and Toby - thanks to Grace - has no recollection of what actually happened, and is more than happy to blame Ambrosius. But Van is suspicious.

 

Ambrosius is still not loved by Kevin - who, to his horror, is starting to feel drawn to him as his abilities increase - but Ambrosius finds it easy to convince him that they have a common enemy in Grace after what he’s done to Toby. But Ambrosius is soon distracted when he discovers that Diana is missing and the evidence points to the probability that she was killed by the witch hunter, making him redouble his efforts to find him. He’s also sure Grace is responsible for the death of her sister, but can’t prove it. Marco realizes he was set up, although he’s not sure if it was by Grace or Ambrosius, but he starts shadowing Kai after hours to see if he’s the one who sold him out. Van remains suspicious of Grace and what happened to Toby, and begins secretly working with Toby on some magic spells. Ambrosius, anxious to keep an eye on the competition, strikes up another relationship with the wary Adam, hoping to eventually use him against Toby, but Adam grows increasingly uncomfortable with what he wants him to and admits everything to Toby. Kevin’s ability with magic increases exponentionally, more than Ambrosius was expecting, and unknown to him Kevin starts meeting Toby in dreams. He tells Toby what Grace really did, and how Toby may still be under her control. Toby tells him about Ambrosius’s attempts to manipulate Adam, which Kevin was unaware of. Marco discovers that Kai is working for Grace, but decides to use him to set Grace up. Wanting to help Toby, Adam decides to approach Ambrosius on his own and see if he can find out where he’s stashed Kevin, but Ambrosius catches on, and decides to hold Adam hostage. His intention is to tell Toby to leave, get off the island and stay off, or Adam dies. Van and Toby decide on a plan of attack in an effort to save him, but know there’s very little chance it will work. Kevin learns of the plan and decides to help, but Ambrosius tells him that to move to the next level of his magical ability, to be strong enough to break Grace’s hold on Toby, he needs to sacrifice someone to Tresum - and he’s brought him Adam. Ambrosius  has also used the mysterious necklace, but he’s used it against Van instead of Grace by bringing Cory back from the dead. At first she thinks Cory’s just an apparition of her guilty conscience, but then he attacks her on the stairs. She rips the necklace off and “kills” him, but not before falling down the stairs and being knocked unconscious. She’s taken to the hospital, and Toby decides to go after Adam himself.  While leaving, he encounters Kai, who says that Marco wanted to give him something the next time he saw him, and gives Toby a small box that Kai says is a belated birthday present. Toby knows his birthday hasn’t passed, but accepts it and waits for Kai to leave before opening it. In the box is an odd kind of crystal, and a small slip of paper with the legend “Keep this with you always” on it and a mysterious phone number written on the back. Toby knows the stone’s mystical, but not how, nor why Marco would have it or give it to him. But he puts it in his pocket as he heads off to rescue Adam. In the meantime, Marco confronts Grace, who is not at all threatened by him and laughs him off, but when he uses an amulet against her she attacks him. Before he’s killed, Diana shows  up again, pissed off and ready to kick her sister’s butt.

 

And there’s where the cliffhanger really ends. :D

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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