Nine

Cass walked side by side with Marco, his shoulder occasionally nudging hers, jokingly trying to make her lose her balance. His crooked grin only widened every time her knee wobbled slightly, trying to get used to walking on the uneven cobblestone in her wedge heels. Usually, Cass was smart and kept to flats, but it was Paris. She just couldn’t seem to resist cliches lately. Zara walked a couple steps ahead of them, and Cass sent envious glares as the girl sauntered casually in stiletto heels, not even twitching.

She’d met up with the twins again two days after their night out, the twins claiming to need a day and the night to sleep and recover–surprisingly, Zara’s demand–and the next night neither had picked up their phones. So Cass had gone shopping, managing to find indoor complexes until sunset and then greatly appreciating the city’s very late store hours (she wondered if it was humans or vampires who kept so many places open until one or two in the morning).

“So, he hasn’t told you much, has he?” Marco noted when Cass had finished summing up anything Lars had told her about this new world. Cass shrugged. Lars had told her everything necessary to move about without trouble, which was definitely enough. He’d told her necessary information, and otherwise he’d seemed too busy to lecture her like one of her college professors.

“Enough to live by,” she countered. Marco opened his mouth, but it was Zara’s voice that chimed next.

“Marco will now proceed to lecture you on some history,” she twisted back to tease, “he’s a total geek about it.” Marco just nodded proudly.

Actually, it probably wouldn’t hurt. “Lars mentioned that this is where vampires originated, that we feel sort of territorial about it?” Cass prompted, and he nodded.

“Each Supernatural species has a Genesis, when that species originated or was created,” Marco explained. “The Vampire Genesis was during Caesar’s war with the Gauls, in the nifty fifties BC, and the Witch Genesis was way farther, like in 1300 BC.”

Cass caught Zara’s twitch as the blonde seemed to finally lose her footing a bit, and pressed her lips together to avoid laughing victoriously. Especially since she then felt her ankle roll under her.

“And then there’s the Provenance, which is where the species originated from,” Marco continued, slowing his words. “The Vampire Provenance is France–the former Aquitani region, aspecifically–and the Witch Provenance is in what’s today known as Egypt, but at the time was the Agypten region of the Hittite Empire.”

He swallowed, and Cass wondered if there was more.

“and keep your back straight, it’ll help you balance,” Zara threw over her shoulder, though with more force than Cass thought strictly necessary.

“So, those points are super important to Supernaturals, Genesis and Provenance, kind of like longitude and latitude.” That wasn’t it, he still worked his jaw as if chewing something, keeping something back. But it wasn’t in a secretive way, Cass realized. He just didn’t want to speak the words.

“The base of a witch’s power is in the bloodline,” Zara called, still facing ahead. “They can improve their power with practice and such, but not usually by much more. Each generation’s power increases, so the older generation, the more power. That’s what he means with the Genesis and Provenance being like longitude and latitude,” Zara glanced back at her, eyebrows raised. “It’s how you can estimate a witch’s power, and a lot of details about other beings, too.”

“You keep talking about witches,” Cass mumbled, slightly nervous.

“They exist, it’s stupid to be completely ignorant,” Zara tossed, her hair swishing as she whipped her head back to face ahead of them. That seemed to end the conversation, but Marco nudged her shoulder again, shooting her a relaxed smile. Cass went to return it, but stumbled. Again. This one was hard, and her arms flailed at her side to balance quickly.

Separating her eyes from the stones under her, Cass looked up at the heavy feminine sigh. Zara’s fingers wrapped around her elbow, and the blonde half-dragged the other girl just a few more steps to the side until they stood on smooth cement. Cass sighed in relief.

Zara let go, gesturing pointedly at the sidewalk in front of them. Cass walked much smoother, though still her steps were a bit uneven. The twins fell a couple steps behind her, though she could practically feel their eyes on her as their light voices quieted.

Cass let the peace of the middle of a weeknight drift around her. The city was far from asleep, but there was a significant lessening of the crashing pounds of electronic music, the constant chatter of hundreds of conversations, and just the general energy. Cass found she rather liked it. The night air was chilled, and though the temperature caused no discomfort, she did feel the icy tendrils whisper across her skin as she walked. She felt them as if something solid was brushing against her, her mind assuming it was a slight breeze that was just a bit on the cold side, rather than her skin prickling or the hairs rising in an actual, physical reaction. That was how she felt lately, and Cass found it fascinating.

But then something changed. Cass felt the air shift and whirled around, abruptly stilling all of her movement when she realized that the twins stood stiffly with nine figures in a loose semi-circle around them. Zara’s back was to her, directly facing a man who stood in the middle, while Marco was a step behind her shoulder, his body angled to the side as his head kept turning minutely. None seemed to be paying Cass any attention, even when she felt herself lean forward.

“Freaks,” the man Zara faced greeted, baring his teeth. Both twins stayed silent, but Cass watched Zara’s hands curl into fists, and Marco’s fingers discreetly skim her wrist.

“Don’t look angry, sweetheart, we just saw you and had to say hi,” a younger male voice chimed, this one closer to Cass. Her gaze flitted to see a guy looking maybe a year younger than herself, a malicious smirk twisting his face unnaturally in the unbalanced lighting. “See how you’re doing, and such.”

Cass could hear Marco’s teeth grinding. Her own eyes narrowed and she took two measured, silent steps forward. No one moved, but Cass knew the twins were aware of her movement. She inhaled just as silently, hurrying to bit back a slight gasp at the scent that filled her nose and clouded into the back of her throat. A thick, musky scent battled violently with the sharp sting of sulfur, and copper blinking through them both. A scent eerily similar to Marco’s and Zara’s, but much more prominent. The nine…beings… before them weren’t vampires, then, but they certainly weren’t human. If they were, all Cass would smell would be blood, and maybe shampoo or perfume if she got closer. Were they witches then? Did witches have a scent? Something else entirely?

“Just keep walking, man,” Marco’s voice was practically a growl, low and sharp. Even Cass felt a sliver of hesitation, an instinct in her spine coiling and assessing him before deciding whether to engage. “Paris is vampire city, any actions with consequences that may agitate the population would be unwise.” Cass nearly snorted at the pathetically thin veil over the threat. The nine figures—seven men and two females, she noted—didn’t move much, though a few shuffled and Cass felt the tension increase, spanning over no longer two clean-cut sides.

“That doesn’t really include you though,” the man in front of Zara shrugged. She growled, her fists now apart from her sides and freely displayed.

One of the women was on the edge of the semicircle, and the edge of Marco’s periphery vision. Cass saw her slink forward, body coiled, eyes glued to Marco’s back. Cass felt herself stepping confidently, boldly forward before she’d told herself to move. Several heads turned to watch her, including Marco’s but not Zara’s, and Cass stopped a couple steps behind Zara’s other shoulder, staring intently at the sneaking woman until the other broke eye contact, stepping backwards and straightening.

The men’s and Zara’s voices tangled again, becoming faster and slowly more agitated, but Cass tuned them out to try to observe and understand what the hell was going on. Marco leaned back, murmuring lowly so that only she could hear, “you don’t have to be here, we’ve been handling ourselves longer than you’ve been alive.”

Harsh. Cass scoffed quietly, upper lip curling at the lack of gratitude. “Besides,” his tone softened immediately, “this isn’t your fight, you don’t need to be caught up in it.” Damn right.

“What exactly is this fight, Marco?” she murmured back, turning her head against her better judgment and locking her gaze onto his. She should have been paying attention, since this bunch clearly didn’t intend to act fairly and she didn’t even need instincts to know that watching their movements and her back should be her priority. But Marco’s blue eyes shone in the dim light, bright fires that spoke volumes. Cass had never really been a believer in the whole “eyes are windows to the soul”, because all she saw when she looked into eyes was their color–perhaps it could be interesting if there were flecks or blends of multiple colors, but still just color. But as she stared into Marco’s then, the words dominating her mind were not ‘blue’, ‘bright’, or even ‘pretty’. The tip of Cass’s tongue coated with ‘sad’, ‘fury’, ‘shame’, ‘disgust’, and ‘fear’.

A snarl and simultaneous yelp broke the trance, and Cass instinctively stepped back as she looked to see Zara on her back against the cement, face contorted in anger but arms locked above her chest successfully pressing back a…was that a fucking lion?!

Cass felt the half-scream of surprise and confusion spill from her throat, her body locking as she stood. Marco, however, shoved her back a few steps before lunging at the animal shoving its weight onto his twin, teeth missing her skin by centimeters, but claws managing to carve shallow tears at her torso. The girl’s mouth was pressed, refusing to let out any sounds of pain or fear.

Marco was biting into the lion’s shoulder at the edge of his mane when another slunk into Cass’s vision, teeth bared and coiling to pounce at Marco’s back. Cass moved, barely blinking as she suddenly closed the four feet of distance between them. The lioness was larger than any she’d ever seen at a zoo or even nature documentary, its shoulders at Cass’s chin and muscled enough to probably shove a small car. Its coat was different, a darker, reddish amber that seemed to have defined streaks of dark red–but Cass didn’t get to study more, because it was dark and the animal was lunging. Her instincts took over, ducking to miss the swipe of claws at where her neck had been, and jumping from the position to scratch at the lion’s face and sink her nails into her neck. But instincts only took her so far, and Cass had never fought a freaking lion, so her back was slamming into concrete and she gasped purely out of habit. The lioness then backed off, snarling and facing both Cass and the twins, all three standing in the middle of a semicircle now consisting of six men. And three snarling, huge lions.

While Cass was to the side slightly, Marco stood right at Zara’s back, but the girl’s shirt was dripping in blood and she was bent forward, hunched at wounds that would take more time to heal. But she didn’t have more time. Cass watched as all three lions lunged at once, and Zara seemed to fall before the animals even hit them, Marco crouching defensively.

Cass snarled, her skin bristling and adrenaline searing through her, readying herself to respond to the threat to her life. She felt a burning in her fingers, spreading up her arms and tangling across her chest as a bright red haze covered her mind, intensely aware of every inch of her body and whether it was coiled to spring and fight back, or about to feel claws and teeth and raw muscle shatter it. The ball of burning energy tightened in her chest and she stopped breathing, the human habit erased by pure instinct and survival, and her entire torso felt wrapped and bound into the fire.

And then the haze flooded before her eyes. But it wasn’t red. It was black…but a backness she saw through, a sort of cloud spreading out and away from her like a wave. It sucked the atmosphere with it, and Cass couldn’t have inhaled even if she wanted to. She felt her ears pop and felt as though her inside were expanding while the shell of body was squeezed into a narrow, small steel box.

And then the pressure was gone. Cass swallowed gulps of air reflexively. Blinking a few times, she whipped her head around to assess what the hell had just happened—and if she was still about to get her stomach ripped apart. The semicircle of people was destroyed, several bodies lying a few yards down the street, some twitching and emitting low noises and others still. Cass flicked her eyes closer to herself, to where the three lions had been. The woman and two men were lying inches from her feet, gasping, all three sets of eyes wide and faces painted with shock and fear, shakily climbing to their forearms or knees.

“What the hell are you,” the woman closest murmured, voice shaky and breaking, and Cass thought she saw the glimmer of tears in her eyes. She didn’t bother to answer that she was actually a very young, very threatened vampire, opting to simply snarl and bare her teeth, leaning forward. The woman gasped and threw herself back, crawling backwards and scraping her forearms in her haste. The beings were scattered and began to slowly move. Cass didn’t even risk a glance at the twins, though she could feel them and even hear them moving next her, until she couldn’t see any of their nine opponents anymore.

When she did turn her head, Marco was staring at her wide-eyed, eyes flitting over her constantly and never resting on any inch, his mouth a straight line. But his expression wasn’t harsh, and Cass felt relief brush her, not at all calming her but at least taking part of the edge off. One arm was stiff, extended slightly from his side towards her, as if he was debating reaching out and touching her. She was glad he didn’t, but she tried not to eye it for too long. The other arm was wrapped around Zara’s proud, upright shoulders.

His twin’s expression nearly matched his, but her eyes were hard and her front angled slightly more into her brother than facing Cass. Zara looked defensive, calculating, fearless, as usual, despite her brother’s arm and her own blood still brightly drenching her shirt and one upper leg of her jeans. It was even in her hair and smeared on her forehead.

Zara spoke first, surprising all three further. “Thank you, Cass,” she spoke, her voice even. “I don’t know what you did—and I don’t think you do either—but thanks.”

Cass nodded, swallowing and feeling some strength return to her, her shoulders straightening. “Do you have any ideas?” she muttered darkly, grimacing in confusion. Zara nodded slowly, lips pursing.

“Power,” she said easily, tilting her head and looking down at Cass’s hands. “Just looked like raw power…like a Display, almost.”

“You were glowing for a few seconds after,” Marco added, though his voice was quieter. “Your whole body just had this…well, it was black. Like a black ring of light,” his words tripped over themselves, knowing how contradictory they were, but he didn’t change them.

But it clicked in Cass’s mind, and she looked sharply at the ring on her finger. The black diamond. “Lars said it was special,” she breathed her thoughts aloud. Zara stepped forward, twisting out of her brother’s grip, and grabbed Cass’s hand to study it.

“Did he tell you what it does?” she demanded, voice tight. Cass frowned and shook her head.

“When he gave it to me, he was trying to prove I could trust him,” she explained. “He just said that it was special, and not to let it go. Zara, honestly, I don’t think he knows much about it either,” she reasoned. It appeared that Lars was rather slow at informing her lately, but this was too big to not tell.

But it had protected them. The three were safe, one way or another. Perhaps he’d known that? But why not just say so…Cass felt the tide of a thousand questions swirl and crash and reform in her mind, closing her eyes briefly.

“I need to go,” she said hurriedly, already walking past them before the sentence was fully out. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she tossed over her shoulder. She needed to sort it, process. And ask her undead sort-of guardian what the hell was up.

“The shifters turned human when that power hit them,” Zara murmured, stepping back and turning to face her brother straight-on, nearly nose-to-nose. He raised his eyebrows, nodding.

“You think…?” he trailed, and she nodded, swiping her tongue over her teeth and then pressing them together in thought.

“I think it can help us,” she stated. But not yet. Not with how raw that had been, and Cass had had no control and seemingly no knowledge. Zara almost laughed to herself. Finally, a girl Marco liked who might actually not be crazy or a bitch. And might actually be able to finally help them.

“Well, sis,” Marco sighed, smiling gently. “Let’s make sure we don’t lose our lovely new friend,” he grinned cheekily, but the words were completely genuine.