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A Santa Maria story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria series
There stood Melanie Montgomery, fangs barred.
"I believe you have my niece," she snarled. "Anyone who tries to keep her from me, dies."
Ant extended his arm and firmly grasped Rod's shoulder. Rod continued to cradle a crying baby Helen in his arms, shielding her from the attackers.
Mac reached out with his power, the power of the Avatar, and struck the shadow creature that was slashing at his mother. His fist, surrounded in golden light, struck at the darkness of the creature. It howled in pain and recoiled in response to the attack. The others near bay retreated a small distance.
Jack Dandelion skipped to Brady, who was frozen with fear.
"Cease your attack, fools. There are too many of my lovely soldiers here for you to hope to defeat," Melanie snarled around her fangs. Mac stopped. He reached back with his other hand and applied pressure to his mother's wound. She gnashed her teeth and groaned in pain.
"We will never stop fighting," Rod shouted to creature that murdered his best friend.
"Why? Why prolong the inevitable? We found a way around the city's natural defenses against vampires. We out number you almost ten to one. Surrender."
"You don't get it Mel. You struck down your sister, my friend, but that doesn't defeat us. It doesn't drag us down. It just makes us angry and more determined than ever to destroy you," Rod spat. Ant squeezed his shoulder.
While Melanie and Rod exchanged words, Jack whispered to Brady. "I know you're new and you haven't done it alone yet, but you have to skip yourself out of here. It's the only way to survive. Just focus on Rodina. Put the rest of this out of your head. Just focus. You must do this to save us."
"I'm not interested in your soliloquy, Rodrigo. Now hand over my niece."
"No. Absolutely not!" Rod shouted, "You will never have Helen. We'll all die first."
"Very well then. It is your choice. You will all die first."
"Wait," Jack said. "He does not speak for all of us. I have no intention of dying for this baby. Can we make a deal here?" Mac shot Jack a glare, his face awash in anger.
"Now this I didn't anticipate. Jack Dandelion turning turncoat," Mel said. Her eyes narrowed as she focused on the beautiful blond haired man.
"I didn't say I was a turncoat, just this isn't a cause worth dying for. You've offered me nothing to help you get your niece. I just want to negotiate for me and the other two Gamin to be able to leave safely," Jack said.
Melanie cocked her head to the right. "This isn't like you, Dandelion. He described you much differently. What's your game?"
"No game, Melanie. You've just pushed me to the breaking point."
Brady vanished from the room. Jack yelled, "Ant go!" Before he was finished Ant, Rod, and the baby Helen winked out of existence.
"Noooo! Attack them!" Melanie screamed.
Jack skipped and reappeared next to Mac and his mother. He grabbed them and all three disappeared before the shadow creatures could do much damage. Melanie continued to shriek and wail.
"Bring her here," Rodina said gesturing towards an array of brightly colored pillows near her. Mac carried his bleeding mother to pillows and gently laid her down atop them. "Stand back, Mac," she said as she kneeled next to Daphne. "Let me do my work. She isn't so bad off. I can heal this wound, but it won't be for much good. The defensive runes here will only shield and protect for so long. The power Melanie is wielding is great. Far greater than mine. We need a solution and we need it now."
"I know, Rodina. I know."
"Then go figure it out and let me save your mother's life."
Mac turned from his mother and faced the room.
Rod was pacing while rocking Helen in his arms, but she still wailed. Everett was working a table in the corner. It was covered in all sorts of wires, circuits and parts he couldn't fathom. Mitsuko, Diasuke's little sister, was curled up asleep in a papasan chair. Ant was sitting with Brady, whose face was cut with a big, dopey smile. Jack was approaching them. Mac followed.
"You were brilliant, Brady," Jack said with his trademark charming smile.
"I can't believe I did it!" the boy beamed as he spoke.
"You did. You really did and you were great. A natural I'd say," assured Ant.
"Hey guys, I don't mean to break up the accolades, but Rodina's pretty sure Mel and the shadow vamps will be able to find us soon enough. We have to figure this out or we make a prophet out of here; we all will die," Mac said.
"I agree, Mac," said Jack, "it's just that Brady's never skipped before. That's what I was doing talking with Mel, stalling. Trying to buy Brady time to skip. We can only take two others safely with us, so he had to skip himself away, but I wasn't going to leave him."
"And I appreciate it, Jack, sir," said Brady with a smile. Jack rustled the boy's hair.
"Anytime, Brady. Gamin means family and you don't leave family behind. You'll learn that soon enough," Jack said.
"If we survive," the boy said, his smile fading.
"Oh, we will," chimed in Ant. "I haven't come this far to die now. None of us has. And I didn't rescue you from those creatures at the jail just to let them get you now. We'll figure this out. Right guys?"
Both Jack and Mackenzie nodded in agreement. The baby having quieted down, Rod wandered over to join them.
"If only the city would kick them out, like it's supposed to do," Brady lamented.
"Well, it isn't because Santa Maria's power is gone. It left with the Shaman's spirit when Bree freed her during the battle under the city," Ant explained.
"Did it?" Rod asked.
"Well, that's our best guess," Mac said.
"Maybe that isn't what happened. What would happen if Santa Maria awoke again? Would the power get rid of the vampires?" Rod asked.
"I don't know," Jack said. "It's never really happened before. They just couldn't come in. Melanie at the very least, being a Montgomery, we would have to destroy her and her power is great. Far more than a new vampire should have. Maybe she gets energy from the Shadow creatures somehow?"
"Wait," Mac said, "Rodina, could that communication spell you detected transfer power as well as allow people to talk?"
"Yes, if that power is telepathic or astral in nature. In fact, a few other types might work through that spell as well. Why do you ask?"
"Because I think Melanie is getting power from the ancient vampire in the prison. If we destroy him, we knock out her power," Mac answered.
"But, Mac, that's a prison for the things that the Avatar couldn't stop or destroy, right? How are you going to destroy it?" Rod asked, his face lined with worry.
"With your help, Rod."
"My help? Mac, I think you've lost it if you think I can do anything against a vampire."
"No, you won't fight him. You'll super-charge me; awaken all the potential of my power. My bow, too. I think then I could do it."
"I think you're overestimating my power. I need Bree to do anything truly astonishing. It took her power for me to open that gate to Arcadia for Aubrey," Rod said, his eyes starting to tear at the memories of his lost friends.
"I think Bree made things easier for you when you could channel her energy, but Rod you must realize that you've had this gift all your life," Jack said, "You've inspired, ignited passions, and gotten people to believe in themselves. Remember, Bree was not the only one who was being watched. A Kindler is a rare thing indeed and many wanted to make sure you survived. I believe you can do this." Jack smiled at Rod.
"Well, I can try. Wait. No. Maybe? This could be it." Rod smiled a little, just at the corners of his mouth. "I think I know what we have to do. Okay, everyone, pay attention and stop me if you think any of this is off."
They talked over Rod's idea and formed a plan, hoping he was correct in his ideas.
Jack Dandelion and Mackenzie Nolan, who was glowing with a golden aura, walked through the odd prison deep beneath Santa Maria, weaving in out of the strange spheres and their prisoners until they came to the cell that was their destination. In the round cell was the man with marble white skin and hair whose beauty made Jack Dandelion look like an average Joe. The naked prisoner smiled when he saw Mac and his companion.
"Come to check my bonds again, my handsome keeper?"
"Actually, no. I'm here to set you free," Mac answered with a coy smile. The man blinked his gray eyes once and stared at Mac and his companion.
"Surely you jest. Why in the name of all that is dark would you do such a thing?"
"It's what must be done," Mac said. He gestured at the sphere and it vanished with a soft pop. The pale prisoner was on Mackenzie in flash. Jack barely had time to register the attack, let alone act. Mac, due to his status as an Avatar, was able to fling the vampire off him, sending him quite some distance. The vampire's alacrity was impressive, in just seconds he was barreling down on the duo.
Mac had his bow drawn and fired just as his attacker closed. The searing, golden light of the arrow stopped the marble white creature, which howled with rage and pain as the energy bolt Mac fired burned into the vampire's chest. Mac took the opportunity to fire a second shot and even got a third off before the powerful villain struck out at Mac, sending him crashing into another sphere. Still smoking from magic arrow attacks, he grabbed for Jack and as soon as he made contact they both disappeared from the prison.
Ant, Rod, and baby Helen skipped into existence in a dark meadow next to an adobe wall.
"You couldn't get us closer?" Rod asked.
"I didn't want wink into existence in the middle of the field and chance a security guard seeing us."
"You really think the Mission has security guards?"
"Yes. Now hang on a sec," the blue-haired man said before vanishing. A few moments later he was back again. "Okay, looks good. Let's move." The two men ran from the wall out into the field. When they were near the center Rod stopped.
"I think this is it. When I saw it happen it was daylight and well, it was in the past, so I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think this is correct," Rod offered. He kneeled down and gingerly placed baby Helen on the ground. He then placed one hand palm down on the earth and the other he did the same, but upon Helen. Rod then closed his eyes and his face screwed up in concentration. He stayed that way for several minutes.
"Is it work-" Ant started to ask.
"Shh!" Rod interrupted. A few minutes later a faint white nimbus began forming around baby Helen.
"It's working, Rod! Hot damn! You were right! We actually have a fucking chance!" Ant howled in victory.
Melanie clawed at the front door. "Just come out. Why prolong this? I'm draining the power from these pathetic runes. In fact, I should thank you. They made you much easier to find." She cackled and then slammed her fist against the door. "Now let me in!"
Hundreds of Shadow Vampires swam eagerly about the house, just waiting for the runes to collapse so they could tear apart those inside.
Mel was taken by surprise when Jack Dandelion and her master appeared just feet from her. Shadows leapt at Dandelion, but he was gone as quick as he came. Melanie took in her exquisite master's form, howling as she realized he was injured.
"Master!" she cried as she rushed to him.
He looked her in the eye and spoke to her mind. "It is some sort of trap. They set me free, but I have not figured out their angle yet, be on your guard!"
She nodded and thought her response back, "Yes. They are just a few minutes away from being exposed; the power in their defensive runes is almost gone."
"Good," he replied.
That is when the deafening cry of anguish began. All of the Shadow Vampires were shrieking in pain. Mel turned to face them, scanning the wriggling mass of shadows for the source of their pain.
"No!" the marble white vampire screamed in her head. "It's back. The power is back! Santa Maria is purging us! Help me!"
Mel grabbed at her vampiric master. "What can I do?" she pleaded.
His response was to shriek and stumble. Mel saw just beyond them Mackenzie Nolan, Guardian of Santa Maria and Avatar, firing golden bolts of power into her Master. She screamed in outrage and used her preternatural speed to put herself between the energy arrows and her Master. She took one straight to the chest and it sent her flying onto her back. Above her she could see the fleeing Shadow vampires fleeing in every direction, but they were not going far as they were beginning to ignite in bursts of golden-red fire.
She scrambled to her feet and saw that her master too was igniting. She threw herself on him, trying to extinguish the fire. Mac kept firing bolts, hitting both vampires. Soon the night sky was a glow with burning Shadow creatures and Mel's clothes had caught fire as well. She kept flailing at her master trying to smother the flames while he howled in pain. It wasn't long before he exploded, sending her thudding against rune-protected building. Mackenzie fired one more arrow and struck Mel in throat, severing her head from her shoulders. Both her body and tumbling head exploded.
"Okay, just sign there," acting mayor Daphne Nolan said, pointing to a signature line on a document on her desk, "Ant and it will be official. You'll be a dad. And I think a good one, if you'd just dye your hair any other color than blue."
"I like the blue hair," Rod chimed in.
"Well, she has a point. It might be safer. After all the mundane folks of Santa Maria believe there was a blue-haired serial killer loose in the city." Daphne got a sad look in her eyes. Ant signed. "There you go."
"Thank you. You're now parents. Congratulations."
"Thanks, Mrs. Nolan. I'm glad we can be here for Helen. I'm also happy that she's going to be a nice, normal girl," Rod said, smiling at the cooing baby he held in his arms.
"Well, Rod, I don't know about normal. Even if all the power that was Santa Maria has left her, she still comes from a genetic line that produced a Shaman so powerful her dying spell created the area's power, a Ghost Lord that was so powerful that he became a Wight and created Shadow vampires, and a hell of a powerful Kindler. Not to mention whatever she may have gotten from Bree. No, I suspect Helen is going to be anything but normal."
"So it really was baby Helen that was carrying all the power of Santa Maria?" Daphne asked.
"Yeah," Rod said, "I'm pretty sure it was to protect her because she was in danger where she was born. Or maybe that's just how a spell that traps an unborn baby in limbo for hundreds of years works. Rodina is going to be investigating it thoroughly. Maybe she can come up with something conclusive."
"I'll be sure to follow up with her-" Jack Dandelion blinked into Daphne's office before she could finish her sentence. He carried a large backpack over his right shoulder and his normal long, flaxen hair was cut short and dyed blue. The same blue as Ant's hair.
"Everything is ready, Daphne. Thank you for helping with this," he said with a charming smile.
"What's up with the hair, boss?" Ant asked. Jack stopped smiling.
"Ant, the time has come for my destiny to be complete. I was trying to tell you before, but when I met you, when I took you in, I knew that it would be fate to die for you. It is that way with all leaders of the Gamin. We die for our family."
"What? What are you talking about? We just survived the vampires. And the earthquake and Ghost Lords before that! You're not in any danger." Ant said, with his voice raised.
"I know that. I've known how I was going to die for years now. It comes to us in dreams long before the event. I never understood it until the police and media thought you were the killer. I am to die for you, in your place."
"What, this doesn't make any sense. What are you talking about?" Rod asked, his face smeared with confusion.
"It's simple," Jacks stated. "Someone has to swing for those murders. We can't tell people that it was vampires. I've had a long and full life and Ant, my time has come. I am going to be a serial killer. I am going to be captured and convicted and put to death by the state so the people of Santa Maria can have justice; so they can rest easy and sleep through the night. It is only fair. We caused this problem; we have to help fix it."
"But we couldn't have known the Wight would survive in the Spirit World or that earthquake would happen and damage that ancient vampire's cell! You don't have to do this, Jack!" Ant shouted.
"But I do."
"No, we can cast a spell and make someone look me. Or make a golem or homunculus of me. Something! Please!" he shouted, with tears starting to stream down his cheeks.
"Oh, Ant. I can't ask nor make any innocent person die for what the vampires did. Could you live with yourself if you did that?"
"No. No, of course not. It's just so many people have already died, Jack. Not you. Please, I don't understand," Ant said through sobs.
"You will. Just as you will understand that Brady is who you will die for and once you have been leading the Gamin for awhile I'm sure you will come to understand all this much better."
"Leading? What? No, stop. Besides, what about Indigo or City Wolf? No, just no. You're not doing this."
"Ant, as of today you are the leader of the Gamin. You will need to protect them as all the others start coming back to Santa Maria now that it is once again a Place of Power. Don't make this harder than it needs to be, Ant." He turned to Daphne. "Where do you want me?"
"Twelfth and White is where the patrol is based. Thank you, Jack. I'm sorry it has to be like this." He simply nodded to her and winked out.
"No!" Ant shouted.
Rod grabbed his hand. "Don't skip after him, Ant. He's made up his mind. I wish it was different, but it sounds like he has known and made peace with this a long time ago. I know it sucks. So many people, so many of our friends have died, and Jack is just a much a victim as anyone who was slaughtered by the Shadow vampires. He believes in you and I think you'll make a fine leader. We've had a lot of endings and we're going to mourn for a long while I imagine, but Ant we have to look forward, too. You and I and Helen are a family now. Santa Maria's supernatural community is going to be in full swing again and we'll have to help Mac with whatever he needs to do as Guardian of the city. I love you."
"I love you, too, Rod, but how am I supposed to live with the fact that Jack is dying for me?"
"By doing him proud. And he said you'd grow to understand in time. I imagine that's true. Come on, Ant. Enough endings. We need to focus on beginnings."
Rod leaned in and kissed his blue-haired boyfriend.
"Okay," Ant said wiping away a tear, "Beginnings".
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2008
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2008