Chapter XXV: Family Matters
Chapter XXVI: Hopeful Words
Chapter XXVII: All the Night's a Stage


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The Bash on Ash was an unassuming building sitting in a somewhat unassuming district, only one street away from Mill Avenue. Once a person walked off of the Ave in either direction the entire city seemed to change around them. Towards ASU, the buildings became lower and more often covered with glass—and once on campus itself they took on a far more academic feel—the Bash on Ash happened to turn the wayward in the opposite direction. Ash Avenue wound away into the dimming twilight, tufted on one side with the cuddled houses of a residential district as it peeled towards Rio Salado Parkway and the town lake.

The door was watched by a college-age goth girl who looked more stoned than bored. Tattoos covered her forearms, which poked out from beneath an outfit made primarily of tight PVC and a curtain of silver chains that jingled as she moved. Her hair stuck up into a triple Mohawk that spread away from her skull like wings with a short fin down the center. As each person passed, she checked their ID, wrote on their tickets with a heavy magic marker, tore the tickets in half, and then scrawled matching marks on the backs of their hands.

The group let Megan into the front after she complained of needing the restroom; thus she managed to slip through before a minor disturbance halted the line.

“Just a moment.” A scarecrow thin rivet-head wearing silvered sunglasses held her hand up to bar Vex from stepping forward. A leather trench coat two times too large draped over her frail figure. She leaned close to the door girl. “Chloe, they really need you in back… Rachel’s violin has gone missing and she’s really pissed.”

“What the fuck is going on?”

“I don’t know, just get back there.” The rail thin woman took the stool that Chloe vacated. After drawing deep breath she looked into the slowly building cluster of people cramming into the small entranceway. “Ticket.”

Vex held hers up. “What’s that about?”

“Nothing to be concerned about,” the girl said with a wink. “The show will go on.” Ticket torn, hand marked, she gestured Vex to move on while taking Patrick’s ticket and driver’s license.

“It’s been going on for the entire week,” a guy in front of Vex said. An older man in his 30s wearing a heavy leather fedora and an equally heavy jacket sporting all manner of stitched patches. “Bands keep canceling. I guess if there’s a thief that would explain it. Just yesterday I came to see Gin and Blood, but they didn’t show.”

“I keep hearing that,” Vex said. “Bad time to be trying to see shows in Phoenix, I guess.”

“I guess,” he said. “My name’s Logan, by the way.”

“I’m Vex.”

That’s about when he noticed Patrick standing at her shoulder and his face reflected his change of heart. “Ah, very nice name,” he said. “I hope that you enjoy the show.”

“See you around.”

Moments later, Alex and Nathan joined them and she waved everyone to follow her into the main room, where the band would be playing.

Through crowd and smoke, Vex could see the far side of the room with the stage. Large swaths of red curtain had been hung around the sides to give it a theatrical look. Abandoned stage equipment littered the back: a set of drums, a few microphone stands. The room around the stage was large enough to fit at least two-hundred people, already it was more than half full. Benches lined the various walls and two doors exited to the room with where the bar sold alcohol. Not exactly an all-ages venue tonight.

“I never expected it to be so loud,” Patrick said at her shoulder.

Playing through the tall speakers stationed about the room Bauhaus boomed the languid lyrics of “Bela Lugosi's Dead.” The sound filled the room with vibration that competed directly with the rush of voices and chatter between the groups of people mingling with their drinks. The only thing that lacked now happened to be the shuffle of feet and bodies. The scent of clove smoke hung in the air aside the sharp tang of alcohol and desperation. Dark clothing and pale faces swam through the crowd. Vex smiled.

I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead.”

Patrick had to lean close to hear. “Baby, you haven’t heard nothing yet!” she said. “A live band is actually a bit louder than this. Their sound system isn’t the best, but you’ll be able to tell the difference.”

He shouted something back, but she couldn’t quite make it out. Talking in a club was an acquired skill, he’d learn it eventually.

Glancing around, Vex discovered that Nathan and Alex had paired off around a bench. She held a blue plastic cup that probably contained something sweet and strong; Nathan didn’t have a drink. Chances were good that he still felt the need to chat her up about his opinion of her profession—chances were also good that such a conversation wouldn’t go anywhere meaningful. Neither one was likely to change their sides of that fence.

A single spotlight ignited suddenly on stage and swung from the center to the side where the scarecrow thin woman from the front door stood; her mirrored shades glinted like stars in the light. She stalked to the center of the stage with a lupine gait, followed by every gaze in the room. There she took the mike and smiled.

“Ladies and gentlemen! I am sorry to announce that Grim Ritual will not be playing for us tonight—but, just to offer a little rumor control, the Crüxshadows are definitely still on!” Cheering erupted, glasses raised, feet stomped. The woman at the mike chuckled. Her amplified voice cut through the cheers like a knife. “We will be seeing them in about half an hour. First, I would like to present the ethereal violin of Torre de Huesos!”

The woman flourished her hand grandly, the leather trench coat accentuating the motion by swirling heavily about her feet. A smoke machine blew puffs of billowing fog onto the stage that crept around her feet, spilling over the edge and into the crowd as thin beams of colored light shot angled dots onto the stage.

Figures moved in the dark behind the crimson curtains.

The announcer continued as music began to swell in the room. The thin but mounting tone of a single violin.

“Bringing their music all the way from Mexico to our doorstep…”

In that moment Vex felt a prickle run along her skin and conversation emerged again from the crowd. Hushed at first, like patrons timidly discussing books in a library, not wanting to be heard; it fluttered around her like the furtive rustle of pages. The speech had a quality unlike any normal conversation in a club, in fact, she suddenly realized: it wasn’t speech at all. A thousand dark discussions opened their throats in grim speculation all around her.

She found Patrick’s hand and pulled him down, putting her mouth near his ear.

“We have a problem,” she said. “Go get everyone else. Now.”

He withdrew slightly and mouthed, “What?”

She replied by turning him towards where she last saw Alex and Nathan, hopefully they were still there. Without another word, he set off, pushing through the crowd in that direction.

Vex focused on the voices, attempting to divine the meaning of their intrusion. She could sense no menace in them, not the singular thought, nor the one that haunted her. Someone in the room was using magick and it had awoken them. She knew the sensation well as a warning omen preceding extremely dangerous evocations. As the voices surmounted and clarified she scanned the room with her eyes and checked her pockets—suddenly wishing that she could have brought her athame with her. Sadly, most venues frowned upon clubbers bringing obvious knifes and daggers into their abodes, so she’d left it in the cab.

Alex’s hand on her shoulder drew her around. “What’s up, hon?” Not far behind, Patrick and Nathan had taken up positions on either side. Together they loomed like tall, protective pillars.

“Someone here is doing ritual magick,” Vex said. “Can you feel it?”

Megan materialized from the crowd.

“Where have you been?” asked Alex.

“Jesus Fucking Christ.” It was Patrick. He was staring at the stage. “Isn’t that…?”

Vex swung her attention to the stage. The announcer woman had vacated and been replaced by a single figure. A slim girl wearing a long oriental styled dress, a black violin flickered in her hands, and the fog swirled about her feet, crawling up and around her body like white tendrils. Dark brown, braided hair hung across her chest and swung with pendulum timing and her closed eyes were visible behind her round spectacles.

Darlene. The girl from the visions of the boy David. The one who had come and drawn him away—the last remaining participant from the ritual. It was mentioned that she’d played the violin at the rite…and Vex had just missed her when she would have been playing on Mill.

Among the crowd, like doppelgangers preparing to consummate an ambush, the conversational voices took a turn to the sinister, chuckling and gabbing among themselves with words ironic as blades. She’s looking for someone, one said. Maybe we can find them, there are so many ways, another said. Sie weiß nicht, wo sie zu finden. Sie missversteht die Frage. So many souls. Hopes. Wants. They’re listening. Reaching.

Are they coming?

The power twisting through the room continued to accumulate. The faces of the other listeners became slack, their eyes glassy. Some of the voices began to chuckle, others started to whisper warnings and vague omens, others voiced concern, and yet others gibbered madly about things totally irrelevant. This wasn’t a behavior Vex expected from them. Something seriously wrong was going down.

“Patrick!” Vex shouted over the music. His eyes snapped to hers. “Get these people the fuck out of here!”

“How?” he shouted back.

She didn’t reply; she was already rushing for the stage. He’d have to think of something. Using her well-worn experience with crowds in clubs, she pushed between them with careful dexterity. For the most part they slid out of her way, half mesmerized by the power flowing from the violin; but when she met resistance she simply shoved her way past, followed only by angry mutters.

As Vex clambered up onto the stage, she noticed a commotion in the back of the room. Alex was pushing Megan and Nathan—both of whom appeared partially hypnotized. None of the bouncers around the back of the stage even moved to stop her, so immersed in the magick that spread through the room. There, surrounded by the fog and the roar of the voices angrily snapping at her from all directions, she turned and faced the girl playing the violin.

A slip of a girl as Darlene was she was wielding potent magicks. Vex could sense the wards around her—they were strong, but perhaps not strong enough. In ordinary magickal combat the pair of duelists would square off and attempt to break each other’s wards by slinging spells and powers at one another. The wards themselves usually provided proof enough against physical attack—some potent magicks could even stop bullets. Bringing a gun to such a contest was exactly like the phrase, “Never bring a knife to a gunfight.”

Fortunately for her, Vex never played by the rules anyway.

The fire alarm went off. Across the room, Patrick had kicked open the emergency exit. Its wail killed the sound from the speakers, and with that, the spell of the music broke. Startled from her playing, Darlene looked up. The image of the girl faltered for a moment, revealing a different, darker form, like she wore an illusion, only skin deep.

“Unlucky for you, you’ve just wrecked my date,” Vex said. “Lucky for me, these are my ass kicking boots.”

“This will not gain you anything!” she shouted and sneered.

Darlene began to weave the violin bow like a wand, drawing arcane sigils into the air. Untouched, the violin strings warbled out throatless guttural incantations in sync with the motions. Without missing a beat, Vex drew her fist back and launched herself headlong across the stage—into the other girl’s wards.

She sliced through them like a sword through papier-mâché.

Surprise registered on Darlene’s face a moment before Vex’s fist connected with her cheek.

The impact felt like punching a stone statue.

Something crunched. Vex hoped it was the girl’s face and not her fist; in reality, it certainly felt like her fist.

A massive rush of air followed the collision and she felt herself flung across the room and slammed into the far wall. After hitting the floor, she tried to stand up and see what had become of Darlene, but she was nowhere to be seen—only the violin remained, splintered and shattered.

Hands reached around her shoulders and helped lift her up. It was Alex. “Come on, doll, let’s get you out of here,” she said. “I think you’ve done enough for one night.”

“Get me that fucking violin and then we can go.”

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