A Santa Maria story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria series
Rodrigo Valencia stood in the quiet of the darkened nursery watching his adopted daughter, Helen, sleep.
Sleep tight little one. You've been through so much and you aren't even six months old. I promise you that nothing will hurt you. You have Ant and me looking out for you. And both of your mothers' spirits. And Mac, and the Gamin and all sorts of people will be here to protect you, Helen. I love you, little one. You've seen enough violence and darkness already; I will do my best to make sure you never see any more.
A tear rolled down his cheek. He wiped it away, blew sleeping Helen a kiss, and quietly left the nursery.
He joined his partner, Ant, in the living room. Ant was sitting on the couch, shirtless, toweling his hair. A baby monitor sat on the coffee table in front of him. He looked up as Rodrigo entered and he smiled. With a flourish he removed the damp towel and revealed that his normally blue locks were now jet black with streaks of bold red.
"You changed your hair!" he exclaimed. "Why didn't you say anything thing?"
"I was worried you only loved me for my blue hair," he replied with a wry smile.
"Hey!" he said as he moved towards the couch. "That's not fair. It's not the only thing I love about you." He took a seat next to Ant. "It was just what a loved most about you." Rod smiled and kissed Ant lightly on the lips. "Okay, let me take a look." He fussed with the wet strands that hung over Ant's forehead and eyes. "There, okay." He stopped arranging Ant's hair. "I guess I approve. I like the blue better, but if this is what you want, I won't put up a fuss."
"It's not really what I want, but what I need to do. Do you have any idea what it's like trying to get anything done in this city with blue hair?"
"Well, Ant, you can't really blame people. The public of Santa Maria believes a blue-haired psychopath murdered dozens of people. They won't ever know that it was primordial spirits of vampires that did the killing. It has to be that way; you know that." Rod frowned.
"Yes, I know. And I know Jack has sacrificed himself to be that person for them because I was stupid enough to get arrested by the police when Oliver was murdered. I'm the reason Jack is going to be put to death."
"You don't know that that will happen, Ant. Maybe that Californians Against Death group will actually get the death penalty overturned. And more than that, you know this isn't your fault. Jack explained that he knew it had been his destiny the minute he knew you. That he knew he had to do this, that you were destined to lead the Gamin of Santa Maria. You have to trust in Jack Dandelion that he knows what he's doing."
"I do trust that he believes he's doing the right thing, but I don't know how he knew it was his destiny. I'm the leader of the Gamin and I don't feel any special connection to Brady. Jack said Brady and I were tied together just like Jack and I apparently are. I don't feel any different now that I'm the leader, except that maybe Budgie is pissed at me because he didn't get the job."
"Hey, I don't know. Maybe it takes time. I certainly don't feel any different now that I'm Steward of the Council Dictum," Rod said, rolling his eyes.
"Rod, you do realize that is a very honored position."
"If it's so honored, why doesn't the Council Dictum remove the scar the last Steward gave me?"
"It isn't a scar. It's a Mark of the Apostate. And it's quite fetching." Ant reached out and traced the swirling marks on Rod's face.
"It's horrible. I have to see it every time I catch my reflection."
"Well, it's not as if everyone can see it. Just those of us of who are part of the hidden, magical world. And I still think it looks good. Very tribal."
"I'm glad you like it, but how's it going to look, the Steward with a mark proclaiming he broke the Covenant."
"You also saved the power of Santa Maria. That's why they made you the Steward, Rod."
"They made me Steward because there was nothing else to do with me. My little secret society is no more now that Bree's dead and Mac is the Guardian Avatar of Santa Maria. You can't be a secret society of one."
"Oh, Rod," Ant said, wrapping his arms around him. "You don't give yourself enough credit. If you want me to not beat myself up, you have to do the same." He gently kissed Rod on the cheek. "Okay?"
Before Rodrigo could answer, cries erupted from the baby monitor.
"Perfect timing, Helen," Rod said with a smile. "I believe it's my turn."
"You were just in with her," Ant said with a pout.
"Yes, but that was just to watch her sleep. I'll go and check on her. Why don't you make dinner?"
"Okay." They kissed and left to perform their tasks.
The next day saw Everett Jones and Mackenzie Nolan walking in downtown Santa Maria.
"So, where did it happen?" Mac asked. His handsome face wore a look of concern.
"Just down here, past Twelfth and White," Everett gestured down the road as he and Mackenzie Nolan walked down White Ave. "It was in the alley that used to be the backstage access for the old Del Mar Theater. Kids used to have raves there until the murders started. I thought it may be related."
"What exactly did you see, Everett?"
"Well, Mac, I didn't see anything actually. The cameras I have rigged up didn't capture an image, but the sensors I've been putting up-"
"Oh, well since I'm now the leader of the New Dawn locally, I've been modifying some things. Don't worry; you don't have to call me Captain, Mac. Anyways, a few years ago the New Dawn and the Chroniclers set up a system of cameras around Santa Maria. How Martha and Brother Jasper stopped fighting long enough to finish the joint venture is beyond me, but I digress. So, I thought this was a pretty good idea, but there were not enough cameras. So I've been adding more, especially around the areas where the vampire shadow spirit things attacked and I've been including some sensors. This is one of the ones I set up last week. There is no visual image, but the sensors showed highly concentrated levels of ectoplasmic energy output, sharp temperature drop, and a jump in electromagnetic distortion, which increased so much that both the camera and sensors stopped working for two minutes, 39 seconds. The entire phenomenon lasted 11 minutes, 17 seconds."
"And what exactly does that mean?"
"I'd say a ghost."
"We've had about all the ghosts we can handle. And you think this may be related to the Amber Alert that's going on?"
"I hope not," he answered, his boyish face drawn tight with worry. "Here it is, follow me." Everett jogged around the corner into an alley. Mac followed him.
The alley was dirty. Stains of all sorts mottled the cement path. Trash was piled high against the graffiti adorned brick walls. The two men slowly walked through, examining it for any clues. About halfway through, Everett pointed up to a broken brick.
"The camera and sensors are in there. Do you feel a chill, Mac?"
"Yes. The temperature's dropping quickly," he said. His breath became visible as proof of his statement. Everett fished a small device with a screen out of his pocket while Mac pulled his golden bow from under his jacket.
"Readings are the same, the camera is going to knock out- damn it!" he futilely smacked the device with his palm.
"Everett, look out!" Mac moved in front of the smaller man. What appeared looked like an after image of a person, small, just over five feet. As the image grew sharper, it looked as if gale storm winds were swirling clouds inside of it.
A wind appeared in the alley and started whipping up the loose trash. Mac drew back on his bow; magical golden energy formed the string and arrow. He fired and his arrow found its mark, but was absorbed into the creature.
"That should have worked," Mac shouted over the increasing roar of the wind.
"Try it again," Everett shouted.
He did and the same thing happened, but this time the wind really picked up and ice and frost started to form on the bricks and cement. The men were dodging trash and old garbage cans the wind was hurling about. Mac fired again and again his energy arrow was absorbed into the creature.
Then a dark gray jet of smoke shot out from the being, its path completely untouched by the chaotic winds. The smoke was headed straight for Mac and Everett. Mac pulled his companion to the ground and a golden dome appeared around them, which was quickly enveloped by the smoke. Mac's muscles tightened in intense concentration as his tried to mentally keep his shield against the spectral attack. A piercing keen filled the air. Everett covered his ears and gritted his teeth. Mac growled with pain. After a minute, which seemed an eternity, the assault ended.
Trash and its receptacles crashed to the ground. The temperature returned to normal. The melting frost and ice was the only proof that anything had gone amiss.
"We have to take this to the Council Dictum," Mac said.
"What?" Everett shouted. "I can't hear you, my ears are ringing."
"Daphne, it's so good of you to see me," Rodina said with her southern lilt. Her messy, graying red hair was pinned atop her head and she wore a wool coat that you would expect to see your great-grandmother in. "I know you've been very busy."
"Well, you helped save the city and my son and his friends and baby Helen. Not to mention, we've been friends for a long time now. Since my first term as mayor."
She smiled a crooked a smile. "It's funny you should mention that now. That's exactly what I've come to talk to you about. You see, I and few others feel that in light of everything that has happened this past year, you should run for mayor again."
"Oh, Rodina, that's very flattering. I was more than happy to take over as mayor pro-tem after the earthquake that rocked Santa Maria. I was just expecting to deal with the mundane and I ended up with a supernatural serial killer to deal with and discovering my son had become the Guardian Avatar of Santa Maria, not to mention dealing with the public's outrage over the killings. It's been way more than I bargained for and if it was just Mackenzie, I mean he's grown now, but I have two boys to raise."
Rodina nodded. "Yes, that was very noble of you taking in your secretary's orphaned sons."
"Then you understand. I mean, what choice did I have? She was killed here in this office, doing her duty. Her last words were for me to take care of her children. What mother could refuse that? I know it would be easier to have a mayor that already knows about the magical world right under our noses, but I'm sure whomever is elected will work with you just fine. I'm so glad you understand."
"What I understand is that we all have our lot to bear in life, and Daphne, yours it to be mayor again. You will be elected and if you chose to raise those two boys while you're doing it, then more power to you. You're a strong woman. I'm sure can handle both duties."
"Rodina, please. I don't want this to become a thing. I understand a lot of you believe in fate and all of that, but even with what I've seen I'm still a big believer in free will."
"Daphne, I know why the memory charms of the Brotherhood failed. Why all the spells of the fey and ancient Asian alchemy and even my magic failed to remove your memories of the hidden world."
Daphne stopped. She looked Rodina straight in the eyes.
"I don't know what you mean. Lawrence said it couldn't be explained."
"Daphne, I know. I know what you are and why it failed. Lawrence didn't bother to investigate it, but I did. I was never willing to let it go as some random fluke, that somewhere in your ancestry you had a relative who had a strong hex upon them that somehow clung to your DNA, or any of the other oddball explanations that were theorized. I searched and I searched I found the truth."
"I'm supposed to believe that you just figured out some mystery about me now?"
"No, not now. I've known for years."
"Then why didn't you say anything before?" Daphne asked, clearly exasperated.
"It wasn't relevant to me before now," Rodina answered coolly.
"So, you're going to blackmail me then? Force me to be mayor."
"No, Daphne, nothing so dramatic or dark. I'm just reminding you of your duty. Of what you are bound to do. What honor demands of your kind. You should be serving and in my humble opinion, serving as Mayor of Santa Maria certainly counts. If you were mayor, there would be no need for you to go elsewhere. No need for Mackenzie to ask difficult questions."
"I see. Thank you Rodina. I will consider your offer."
Rodina nodded and left an angry Daphne Nolan to steam.
Three times Rodrigo cracked the stone sphere heavily against the ancient wood of his stand. The noise thundered through the recently rebuilt chamber and all arguments stopped. He looked out across the circular room and saw friends and strangers alike. Mac, who was not a member of the Council Dictum, stood in the center of the circle of podiums that lined the torch-lit room.
"Enough debate," Rodrigo shouted. "This matter is urgent. I put to you now, in order to deal with the unknown spectral menace, do we, the Council Dictum of the Seventh Power, wish to formally invite a contingent of the Ghost Lords to reside in Santa Maria and hold representation upon the Council Dictum? Yeah or nay?"
Seven magenta balls of light appeared before the podiums and one blue one.
"The Council Dictum of the Seventh Power has spoken," Rodrigo projected to the chamber. "The Ghost Lords shall return to Santa Maria."
"Then, fair Steward, the Chatu-mu resign their representation on the Council Dictum of the Seventh Power in protest of this gross error in judgment," spoke a dark haired man who stood in front of the single blue light. His face was aged with deep wrinkles and his skin was ruddy and tough. "The problems of the Chatu-mu are once again the problems of the Chatu-mu and the problems of Santa Maria are now your problems alone. May you survive them." With that he turned and walked out.
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2009
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photograph, Copyright 2009