A "Santa Maria" Story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria Series
Rodrigo winced at the pain as his chest smashed into the floor, knocking the wind out of him. When he could breathe again, Rod rolled over and looked around to see where he was. In the dim light, he could see stacked boxes and crates lining the walls. The few windows were near the roofline, and grudgingly admitted light through their dirty panes.
A warehouse. Wait where's Ant? Was he here? Yes. He was. I remember him holding me. Rod pushed himself up into a sitting position. "Where the hell did he—" he spoke aloud, then suddenly stopped as Ant and Bree appeared in front of him. Ant was holding her and they both fell the ground. Rod scrabbled with arms and legs, trying to move toward them. Blood was pouring from a gash in Ant's forehead, running down his face in crimson rivulets. Bree looked battered and broken; her clothes were torn and bloodied, her limbs askew, and she was covered in fine, white dust. "Ant? What happened? Is she alive?" he asked as moved toward them. "Are you alright? What happened?"
Ant sharply sucked air through his teeth. "I'll be fine. Her," he said as he moved his arm from her waist to her neck, fingers searching for a pulse, "I'm not sure about yet. She has a pulse, but it's weak."
"Damn. You have to skip her to a hospital." Rodrigo's brow furrowed. "She's barely breathing."
"I can't. Not yet." He reached up with his hand to silence Rod's protests. "I just double skipped. It's always a bad idea, but sometimes the risk is worth it, like now. I don't have the energy to skip again. Not so soon."
"You have to try!"
"Rod, sweetness. Sometimes magic isn't the answer. I'll call 911. Hold her."
Rod reached down and rested a hand on her head and with his other he grasped her closest hand. He half heard Ant making his call for help, but all Rod could really focus on was Bree. "You have to live. You have to get better," he said, tears welling in his eyes.
Patrona Garcia rolled with her fall, tumbling through the misty shadows of the spectral side. She quickly scanned around her. Lord Roberts was close to her, lying prone in the shadows. He must have pushed me through. Voices, some familiar and some not, began to speak. She watched several ghosts speed off into the darkness. "Someone. Please. I think Lord Roberts is hurt," she pleaded. Two figures approached, a woman and a male ghost.
"Garcia, I'm coming," the woman called out.
"Thank you, Lady Maureen," she called back. Acolyte Garcia stood and approached Lord Roberts, followed shortly by Lady Maureen and her ghost. Once her elder was kneeling at Lord Robert's side, she asked, "Is he alright?"
"I think so. Just looks like a strong blow to the head, likely debris from the exploding statue. The only concern is that his ghost doesn't seem to be present." She turned to her own shade companion. "Tald'Gahr, heal his wounds." Immediately the spirit shifted and enveloped the unconscious Ghost Lord's body. She then stood and turned to face Patrona. "Are you alright, Acolyte?"
"Yes, just a bit startled. What happens now?"
"We regroup, heal, and then I would imagine we move directly to the portal."
"Ahead of schedule?"
"Yes. Clearly someone has figured out our plans, and they feel strongly enough about it to violate the Covenant. I can't even guess how long we'll be covering up an animated statue. The Council and the Maven Praesidium are slow to act, but given even a day with this information they could decide to act against us. No, I think we will be moving swiftly before we can be stopped. We must recover the Shaman's energy. We've lost too much, especially now, to fail."
"Did we capture enough ghosts?"
"Not as many as we hoped, but enough to break open the portal." Lord Roberts began to stir as Maureen spoke. "Good. He's waking up. You should go tell the others to prepare to cross back over."
"Yes, Lady Maureen," the acolyte responded, and then began the task of telling the Ghost Lords to prepare for their return to the land of the living.
Eleanor had just finished the ritual when a knock came at the door. "Enter."
Duncan opened the door. "Reverend Lady, a spirit has arrived. It says that everyone left needs to go immediately to the portal."
"What? I see. I'll gather everyone."
"Acolyte Brandis is doing that, Reverend Lady."
"Fine. You should stay."
"I want to go."
"You don't understand, Duncan."
"That Patrona lied to me, that I really don't know what's going on? No, Reverend Lady, I do. But Bree is involved in all of this and I have to go. If she's there, if she's in danger, I need to be there. That's why I started all this."
She stared at him. "Fine, Duncan, but this will likely be dangerous and I won't be able to protect you. Do you understand this?"
"Fine. Let's go."
"Where's that ambulance?"
"They're coming, Rod. She'll be fine," the blue-haired Ant said, trying to comfort him.
Rodrigo squeezed Bree's hand tighter. "She has to be fine. She has to heal."
"If they aren't here soon, I can try and skip again, but remember she doesn't react well to it."
"I know. This is so crazy, Ant. This whole world. We never wanted to be part of it. I would be happier not knowing. Ignorance is bliss. If I'd never met Bree, she wouldn't be lying her now, dying."
"First off, you don't know that. If you'd never met her, she might already have died. Second, if you weren't part of this world you'd never have met me." Ant smiled.
Rod sighed. "Yes, okay fine. I'm happy that I've met you. In fact, I'm probably falling in love with you. However, can we deal with Bree and the fact that we don't even know if the Ghost Lords captured any spirits and what exactly all that means?"
"Sure. Sorry. I was just hoping to make you smile and take your mind off your worry for a minute. She'll be okay. Hey, look at her. I think she looks better."
Rod looked down at her. "I don't know. Maybe. Where is that ambulance?"
"I'll call again. Stay strong," Ant said with a smile.
Darkness. She was awash in darkness, floating.
"It's time, Bree." The voice, melodic and strong, came from far off in the darkness.
"Time for what?"
"Time for you to embrace your destiny. Time for you to do what must be done. I've guided you as best I could, and now you must rescue me."
Bree attempted to orient herself in the blackness, trying to find the voice. In the distance she thought she saw a point of red light, twinkling like a lone star in the pitch of night.
"You're the Shaman," she asked of it.
"Yes. You must come to the land of the Téjon and stop the Ghost Lords from finishing what they tried to do so many years ago. You must stop them from killing me."
"But why me?"
"Because you were born with the gift, but it is more than just that. Your family has been here a long time. Not as long as mine, but your blood is tied to this area much as mine was. You also have a good heart. You are my choice. I've waited a long time, but now you must wake and save me."
"But how?" she questioned the red light, which seemed to be growing brighter.
"You already know. Your Kindler is healing you now, though he doesn't know it. Now, Bree, you must wake up and come to me."
"Wait! No, tell me more!" The red star of the Shaman began to fade and the blackness it was surrounded by followed suit. The darkness gave way to Rod and Ant were above her, coming into focus. "Oh, boys. We have to go."
Ant and Rod were excited.
"Bree!" Rod exclaimed. "You're awake! Go? You're not going anywhere."
"No, we must. We have to stop the Ghost Lords. We have to get the Chatu-mu. Now."
"Bree, seriously, you're in no condition. Besides, Ant can't skip for awhile. He needs to rest, as you do.
"No. We have to save her. I'll go without you. I have to do this."
"I have a car outside," Ant offered. Rod shot him an angry look.
"Seriously Rod. I'm fine. You're healing me. Now, I have to go. Are you coming?"
Reluctantly they both nodded.
Enid and Mac entered the Council Chamber to find chaos. Members of the council and the Maven Praesidium were shouting at each. Enid put her fingers to her mouth and issued forth a loud, sharp whistle. Everyone stopped.
"Right then, loves. It doesn't matter what all this kerfuffle is about, but the time has come to act. The Ghost Lords are up to their necks in evil. They're harvesting ghosts like corn and you should all be worried about that kind of power. What could they possible need an army of ghosts for?"
"Enid, you're independent and this is not even a formal meeting. You've no right to speak. Besides, there are no Ghost Lords here to answer your accusations. You come here with no honor." It was Brother Addams that had spoken, of the Chroniclers.
"Or perhaps you just don't want mentionin' that you've been making deals with the Wight that's runnin' them Ghost Lords," she shot back.
"How dare you—"
"Don't be tellin' pork pies in this hallowed place, Brother." Mac shot her a questioning look. "Lies, don't tell lies here."
"This is ridiculous," he replied.
"Perhaps, Brother Addams, Enid doesn't mean to insult you, but is just concerned that everything I've been trying to warn you about is coming to pass." It was Jack Dandelion, the gorgeous blond leader of the Gamin who spoke. "I know all the objections. I know this not how things would be done in other Places of Power. I know that outside of Santa Maria, the Ghost Lords are considered a powerful and respected society. But the here and now is very different. Their leader has defied death by becoming a Wight, and while that's not a violation of the Covenant, you all know it is an evil deed. They've taken one of mine, and who knows what became of her. You know they bear a hatred for the Chat-mu. We cannot just sit by and debate. We have to investigate. Take action. Find out what they are up to."
"What speak of is tantamount to civil war." It was Hildy Summers, a member of the Maven Praesidium, who spoke. She was picture of the 1960s hippy: woven poncho, beaded necklaces, and long, braided, salt-and-pepper hair. "I understand the need to do something, to feel useful, but at the cost of abandoning our principals? I say it isn't worth it. What you can do, once an official meeting is called to order, is call for an inquiry." Enid rolled her eyes.
It was Mac who spoke up next. "How much time will that take? I know I'm new to your world, very new, and maybe I just need to learn that it's better to follow the rules while people die and atrocities happen. Maybe I need to learn that's fine. I can just pretend that it wasn't my fault that I stood by and did nothing because I was simply following the rules."
"Young man, you are correct. You are new and your sarcasm is not appreciated. You simply do not understand the history. All young people feel a need to be outraged and feel as though they must act immediately for any good to be done. You will see, in time, that these rules are in place for a reason."
"No, I don't think I will." Before Mac could continue, another burst into the room, a young girl. She was wearing light-colored jeans and an orange tee-shirt that was stained with blood, but it was not apparent if it was hers or someone else's. Half of her long, dark hair was burned, along with part of her face. She stumbled as she entered the chamber.
"The Ghost Lords have attacked the Chatu-mu. Alice is dead, and they're trying to get through the portal." She fell to her knees. "Please, stop them." Martha Trujillo, speaker of the New Dawn ran to the girl's side. She pulled a small device which looked similar to a remote control from her pocket. She then began waving it front of the girl.
"My God," Mac said. "See! Look what standing around had gotten us!"
"Tsk, tsk, moppet," Enid chided. "Tis'nt the time for 'I told you so.' It is the time for each of you to decide what you are going to do. As for us, we're going." With that she pulled Mac from the room as Jack Dandelion winked out of the chamber.
Bree, Rod, and Ant walked down the warm, dark tunnel.
"I can't believe… I've never seen a dead body before. There were so many…" Rod spoke.
"Try not to think about it; try and put the image out of your head. And know that they died for what they believe in," Ant said.
"Yeah, and all the more reason to stop these Ghost Lord bastards," Bree said. Rod didn't comment further, but his expression showed he was still quite upset. They continued down the tunnel, which was carved from rock and sloped gently downwards. The farther they traveled, the warmer it became. After about twenty minutes of walking, the heard noises farther down the tunnel.
"What was that? It sounded like grunting."
"I don't know," Ant said. "Most know that the Chatu-mu were protecting a portal, but I've no clue to as where it leads. I don't know where we are, which will make skipping difficult."
"It's certainly lighter and warmer here. The source of the light seems to be around the bend," Bree said, and then picked up her speed. "Let's see what it is." As they rounded the turn in the tunnel, they entered a large cavern. It was filled with stone pillars of various heights, interconnected with a spider's web of bridges carved from stone. Some of the bridges terminated at openings in the sides of the cavern, such as the one in front of them, each about halfway up from the ground. The light source appeared to be magma, which covered the base of the cavern. The trio moved cautiously out across the bridge. All around the cavern were ghosts, who emitted bands of claret-colored energy. The energy bands appeared to be holding strange and disturbing beasts to the ground.
"What the hell. What are those things?" Rod asked.
"I don't know," Ant said. "I feel useless. They look like some sort of half-mole, half-human creatures. I wonder if they walk upright."
Bree continued to look around the large cave. Near the center she spotted several figures on a pillar that was larger than most of the others. "Look," she said, pointing. "Oh, no. How? Crap. They have Duncan! And, oh!" She grimaced. "What the fuck is that thing?"
"It must be the Wight." Ant smiled. "At least I know something. It is an undead creature. It leads the Ghost Lords."
Bree shuddered. "It's horrific looking," she said through a scowl.
"We need to get closer," this time it was Rod speaking. "And look, that's Lynn there, or rather Eleanor." They continued along the bridge, watching their enemies. Rod turned his head quickly. "Look." Ant and Bree turned their heads. Enid and Mac were approaching from another, lower bridge. "How they hell did they get in here? Crap. Look, Mac's firing his bow!" Their eyes followed the golden shaft of energy as it shot from the bow and traveled towards its target, the Wight. Unfortunately, one of the Ghost Lords standing with the Wight saw it, too, and jumped in front of the energy. The robed figure crumpled to the floor.
From that moment, things happened very fast. Several ghosts descended on Mac and Enid. Golden energy shot forth against the attackers, both from Mac's bow and Enid's hands. Bree started running towards the center pillar, followed by Rod and Ant. On the center pillar, the Ghost Lords had been taken by surprise.
"Lady Maureen!" Patrona shouted as the elder crumpled to ground after being hit by the golden arrow of light. Eleanor clapped her hands and Duncan grabbed his head in pain. Lord Roberts turned to the Wight for guidance.
"This is over, Wight!" Everyone turned and looked at Eleanor. "You're not what the Ghost Lords are about. You've corrupted and perverted us and it is over. I won't let you consume what is left of the Shaman. We should be freeing her after what you and your henchman did to her and the Chatu-mu!" She pulled a dagger from her robes. Lord Roberts advanced on her, but she was too quick. The dagger went in and crimson blossomed on his robes.
"No!" Patrona screamed. Duncan just stood there, dumbstruck.
"Betrayal is not forgivable, Eleanor," the Wight hissed. It slowly raised its arm as she pulled her blade from her contemporary. Lord Roberts fell to the floor with a thud. Patrona ran at her, but Duncan reached out and grabbed her. A beam of the dark red energy of the Ghost Lords shot forth from Eleanor and was met by a similar one emanating from the Wight. "You need not be conscious for the transfer. I can take your will easily, and you know it."
"What are you doing, Duncan?" Patrona yelled as she twisted, trying to break from the Initiate's grip.
"The right thing," he shot back.
"Achim, stop him!" she shouted.
"Achim's gone, Grace." Her eyes went wide. Duncan then pulled back and punched the woman. She went crashing to the ground of the pillar and lay still. Ghosts started howling. The Wight and Duncan both looked up and saw Bree, firing off energy at the ghosts in the cavern.
The Wight hissed, "It would seem I don't need you alive, Eleanor." The energy of the Wight surged and knocked Eleanor backwards and over the edge of the pillar, sending her falling into the lava below.
"Bree! No! Leave!" Duncan shouted. The Wight raised his arm at the bridge Bree was on and it exploded. Bree screamed as she fell, as did Duncan. A ghost swooped in and caught her. It flew her to the center pillar and restrained her there.
"Now, we can begin," the Wight croaked forth. It turned its horrific countenance towards Duncan. "And if you want her to live, you won't interfere." He waved his hand and Duncan was knocked to the ground, far too close to the edge for his comfort. The Wight began chanting and Bree fought against the ghost that held her.
Ant and Rod looked down helplessly from the broken edge of the bridge. Enid and Mac continued to fight off ghosts. It was then that the tide turned. Several people came running and flying into the cavern: samurai warriors, street punks, and geeks armed with odd technology and jetpacks. Green electricity crackled through the air, issued forth from the high-tech guns of the New Dawn. Whenever a ghost was hit by it, it faded away. Diasuke and members of the Order of Ri-Riu jumped and tumbled, swords glowing, slashing through and dissipating ghosts. The Gamin blinked in and out, transporting people to and away from the ghosts. They also engaged the Ghost Lords who were scattered about the cavern, along with members of the Légion de la Magique Fée who were attacking the robed villains.
As the number of ghosts dwindled, the bands restraining the beasts weakened and then vanished. Some of the beasts jumped into the fray. Others began chanting and stamping their feet. Their stamping reverberated throughout the chamber. With all the new combatants, Enid was able to free herself and flew over to the center pillar, dodging ghosts and allies. She blasted the Wight with golden energy, but was caught off guard when the energy coalesced in a sphere around the undead creature and transmuted from golden light to black smoke. The sphere then spun towards Enid and encased her. The Wight slumped somewhat after its reversal of Enid's attack. Enid screamed in pain as the sphere began to shrink.
The ruby on the pedestal was glowing now. Tendrils of red energy were twisting their way towards Bree, who continued to struggle against the ghost. More bolts of golden energy fired past Bree at the Wight, but he deflected them. Grimly determined, Mac kept firing, aiming past the struggling woman at the powerful Wight.
That's it, Bree thought as she fought against her captor, the ruby is her! They want her as part of me to control her power, not destroy it.
The chanting was getting louder and the cavern was beginning to shake. Duncan slowly began to get up, concentrating on the spell Achim had taught him. A bright light flashed and the Wight brought his arms up to shield his face. Two golden arrows fired into the Wight, one right after the other. It stumbled back and teetered on the edge of the pillar.
Seeing his opponent ready to fall, Mac attempted to get another shot off. As he aimed, a ghost swooped down and attacked, forcing him to defend himself before he could finish the leader of the Ghost Lords.
Duncan launched himself at the Wight, knocking it over the edge, but its skeletal hand reached out and grabbed a hold of him and they both went tumbling over the edge. Bree screamed. Energy burst forth from all around her, destroying her ethereal captor. She dropped to the rocky floor and cried out, tears streaming down her cheeks. The chanting was becoming deafening and cracks began to form in the stone bridges and pillars, drowning out even Bree's continued shrieks.
Diasuke jumped down next to Mac and slashed through the ghost attacking him. The bridges and pillars started coming down. Bree crawled towards the red gem as the pillar that held them began to crack. As she reached out for it, part of the pillar collapsed. Lord Roberts's and Lady Maureen's bodies fell with the shower of stone. Bree crashed against the new side of the pillar and screamed. In a lucky grasp, she found purchase. She dangled by one arm; the other, smashed against the pillar, hung useless and broken. She looked up and saw the last Ghost Lord's arm hanging over the edge. She also saw the ruby, which was wedged into the stone but was quickly being shaken free. She knew she couldn't reach it in its niche. It was all she could do to hang on.
I have to save it, save her. How? I'll never get to it.
But then the ruby fell free, and as the gem tumbled over the edge, Bree stretched and caught it in her teeth. It was instinct.
Still looking up, she saw Ant and Rod "pop" into existence. Rod was reaching down for her when the loud crack came. The roof of the cavern had given way and debris came showering down on everyone.
Rod sat, exhausted but otherwise unharmed, by Bree as she lay in her hospital bed. He looked up as Bree's mother entered the room.
"Rodrigo, you are so sweet to be here." Despite the lines of worry etched deeply in her face, she still managed give a small smile to her daughter's friend.
"Of course, Mrs. Montgomery. What's the news?"
"The same. They say there is a good chance she'll wake up. We are so lucky. She could have been killed. So many others were lost in the earthquake. I cannot thank you enough for getting her safely out of the mall."
"Of course. I just wish I had been quicker."
"Rodrigo, don't blame yourself. You got her out and to the hospital. Thank you. Now, go and get some rest."
"Yes, Mrs. Montgomery." He stood and hugged the older woman and left the room. Ant was waiting for him in the hall. They embraced and kissed. "Any news?"
"No. No sign of Mac or Enid."
"What are we going to do, Ant? Santa Maria will never be the same."
"No, Rod, it won't. But it doesn't have to be worse. The Ghost Lords are defeated. We will mourn the people we've lost. Love the people who are still here. We will rebuild and shoulder on." Ant kissed Rod again. "Yes, it was horrible, but now it's over."
Rod held onto Ant tightly.
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2007
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2007