Briskly walking through the hall at the end of the day, I check every open doorway before passing. My agenda consists of doing everything in my power to avoid a conversation. I want out of here. I need out of here. After the incident, my work was completed in record time. I deserve an award.
My feet quietly step along the floor, leaving trails of haydust, which fly off my clothes and float to the spotless white tile in my haste. I’ve always had the ability to be quiet, to sneak and be undiscovered, apart from those who hunt me. I know who they are now.
Stealth is part of who I am and where I come from, my heritage. I was taught at an early age to fight for my life in a realm where predators and preys co-exist.
Memories swirl in my head, clogging my thoughts with too much information at once. Choice had sent me here in his cloud of screaming voices. I was Fate’s prize, his object of attention, and in a jealous fit, Choice thought it best to send away. What I don’t understand is why he didn’t just kill me.
My thumb skims my wrist, over the tattoo that feels slightly raised and glows a brilliant gold. It’s a symbol of who I am, a keeper of my soul. I had debated about taking Pinky along for the rest of the day. Eventually, I knew I couldn’t leave him. He’s my Qilin, my soul in the form of a spirit animal. If I left him, my soul would continue to be at risk, and risks aren’t something I can afford.
However, in this realm, my actions won’t be seen as ‘taking what’s mine,’ of what I lost. It will be seen as theft. Or kidnapping. Is it kidnapping if someone steals an animal?
It doesn’t matter. Not really. I have every intention of running as soon as I get back to the bar. I want to return to my home, to my father. It’s where I belong – the only place I fit in.
As I returned Pinky to his rightful place, I questioned how we were separated in the first place. Before the Choice’s dust storm hit, I had moved my Qilin to my wrist for safe keeping. Perhaps, when Choice sent us here, we were separated by plan. It makes sense, since they found Pinky in the woods. It also would attest to the fact that he was in such good condition when he was rescued at the same time I arrived here, wandering aimlessly without a previous memory to call my own. I didn’t even know my name. Of course, I didn’t have a name on the Divine Realm anyway. I was called Wisp, because of what I am. I’m the last of my kind.
Choice did that – he took my memories. Best guess, he did so I wouldn’t have a fighting chance against those who want me dead.
Even when I didn’t, Pinky knew who I was. Was he searching for me? Or did my father, Fate, manage to reunite us.
Either way, I feel whole with my Qilin inside my wrist. I feel my personality, the hollow feeling in my chest filling and reminding me of who I am and where I came from. I feel like…me.
I round the last corner and my spine stiffens when my name is called behind me.
Reluctantly, I turn on the balls of me feet, graceful like the Shadow People.
“Are you all done for the day?” Norbert asks as he towel dries his hands. He pulls a white envelope from his back pocket and passes it to me, the edges now wet and revealing the crisp green dollar bills inside. “Today’s mula.”
I nod, murmur my thanks, and tuck the damp envelope in the waist of my jeans. He wads the wet paper towel in his hands, and throws it inside the room he just exited. I hear the rustling of the garbage can sack and Norbert fist pumps his score.
I can’t help it. A grin spreads across my face, despite my eagerness the leave. I try taking a step backward but he closes the distance between us, hands on his hips with a friendly sloppy smile. I’m not getting out of here without small talk, no matter how many times I flick my eyes behind me. Norbert has every intention of holding some sort of conversation with me. A part of me feels bad – this is the last time I’ll see him.
“How are things goin’, dude? You getting along okay?”
I fidget. “Yeah. Yeah thanks for asking. I – erm.” I look behind me once more. “I have -”
“Listen,” he says, kind-hearted. “I want to thank you for taking that job off my hands. Horses aren’t my thing. And let’s face it – that wild one gives me the heebie jeebies.”
I bite my bottom lip to hide the next smile. His eyes flick to it and his tongue darts out to lick his own bottom lip. He stares a little too long for my comfort, and I clear my throat. “How’s your mom?”
“My mom?” he frowns. “Oh, dude. You mean the wicked step witch.”
I look to the ceiling, the smile forcing itself upon me. To have that retort come out so naturally, so fast, means he’s most likely calling her that in person. “Ah, come on. Mrs. Seimans doesn’t seem that bad.”
“Dude.” He raises an eyebrow and cocks his hip to one side. “You don’t even know the half of it. My dad was better off single before that wrinkly crone met him on that single’s cruise.” He leans forward, eyes wide. “I swear to you, she put some sort of spell on him. No one gets hitched that fast, man.”
I huff. I get the feeling ‘man’ is meant as a gender neutral word for Norbert, but still, my metaphorical hackles raise and I fight myself, biting my tongue, to hold back from correcting him.
“A few weeks, huh?”
A memory surfaces, but only the voice of a conversation Fate and I had once.
You will be hunted wherever you go. It’s important to trust no one. Where there’s a friend, there’s a foe. There are no coincidences, young Wisp. You don’t happen upon someone or something. There is only fate, and the choices you make to get there.
Just like Norbert’s father, did I ‘happen across’ his step mother? Gosh, I hope not. I’d prefer it if the batty woman kept to herself and stayed out of my fate.
“Yeah, man.” He crosses his arms over his lengthy torso. “Showed up with him after his cruise, hitched. She like, cemented herself in his life like she’s been there all along.” He slowly shakes his head. “It’s just wrong dude.”
“Jinx,” I correct, unleashing my tongue a little too harsh.
“My name. It’s Jinx.”
He barks a short laugh. “I know that, dude. I did just call you by name a moment ago.”
I sigh, realizing the nicknames are never going to stop. I don’t think he knows he’s doing it. It’s burned into his personality.
“Anyway.” He reaches forward and plucks a strand of hay from my shoulder and his scent swirls around me. He smells of a spiced mint and dusty cat litter. “I was thinking we could like… get some grub together.”
My frown is instant. “A meal?”
He shrugs. “Yeah, dude. You eat, I eat. Might as well do it together.”
I tilt my head to the side. “Are you asking me on a date?”
He straightens his spine, confident. Poor Norbert. Perhaps if I were anything but what I am, I’d consider it. He’s a nice guy, if but a little dense, and deserves more than what another realm’s creature can provide. How do I not break his heart?
I blow out a sigh and scratch my cheek. “Maybe.” I nod, knowing it’s a lie. I won’t be returning for him to have the chance.
A part of me feels bad – I hope he doesn’t take my immediate absence as me running from his date proposal. The last thing I want to do is hurt his feelings. “But not tonight, okay? I have some … errands to run.”
His eyes brighten with hope, a stab to my chest. I reach forward, awkwardly, intent on touching his shoulder for comfort – more for me than for him, I think.
Looking to my arm, his mouth drops open. “Dude! That’s a wick tat!” He reaches for my wrist, but I pull back and try to cover it with my free hand. He snatches my fingers and brings the tattoo closer. “The Crone has a star just like this, right on the back of her neck. Hers isn’t as cool as yours though.” He frowns and twists my wrist so the light catches it just right. “Hers is faded black, like in an old world ink or something.” Reaching forward, he pokes the floating triangle. “And it doesn’t have this. What does the tattoo mean?”
“Erm – I’m not sure.” Another lie. If I told him it meant the six elements, he’d have more questions. Not to mention, I have no wish to compare my tattoo to the woman he calls The Crone and the woman who put a ‘love spell’ on his father. I don’t need him thinking I’m . . . evil and supernatural.
I pat my hip. “But hey, I have to go.”
I snatch my hand back and he scowls, his hand still suspended. “Right, sure dude.” He waves an awkward salute. “I’ll catch ya later.”
“Yep,” I say hestily. “It’s a date.” Turning, I cringe at the word, realizing it’ll have more meaning to him than what I meant it to have. I return to my brisk walk and leave the building as fast as I can, mentally checking off my to-do list. I need out of here. I have to run. Home. I need to go home, where I belong.
The shop door pings as I enter Lunaire, the bell just above my head. I look at it with a glare, daring it to make another ear splitting sound, and then look around. The shop is empty of customers, but Irene and Reese are on the floor. Books are scattered everywhere surrounding them and empty Chinese food containers sit off to the side, forgotten.
They glance up from the pages of the books splayed open across their laps and wave me over.
I’m shocked at how fast they found answers. The sun had dipped below the horizon moments ago. I honestly didn’t expect answers until tomorrow morning, figuring Reese would pull an all-nighter in an attempt to search for the truth, but come up empty handed in the end. I should know better than to think Reese would ever come up for breath without answers.
Making my way to them, I put my hands on my hips and raise my eyebrows to the books – an array of black or brown leather books in various sizes, each with colorful titles. Some of the spines are old, ripping at their leather seams, while others look and smell new.
“Hey Jacob!” Irene says with that bright smile I remember so well. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“That’s because you never come around anymore,” I grumble, grouchy.
I have yet to get Jinx off my mind, and the pack has yet to allow me to forget. Every five minutes my wolf urges me to seek her out, but when she’s at the rescue, it’s Chloe’s job to keep an eye on her. My level of restraint impresses even myself right now.
I bend my knees and lower myself to a crouch. “You found a mate and then you disappeared.”
She points at me, her light brown cheeks flushing. “I joined another pack. A pack you’re close with. You could always come around too, instead of having them come to you.”
I smack my lips and my brows furrow. Deciding to change the subject, I lift the edge of Reese’s book in her lap, catching the title Whispers to Mist. “What did you two find?”
“Well,” Reese blows and holds up her book so I can get a better look at the cover. “It’s all in here. Evo was right about the Onmyoji.”
I frown at her perfect annunciation, just as I did for Rex. It would seem that everyone can pronounce the Japanese name except for me. To me, it’s a mouthful. “It’s in that book?”
She nods and Irene takes a turn. “It’s the only source of information we’ve been able to pull from.” Her eyes cast a faraway look. “And to think, it literally just came last week. I had it on special display – I wasn’t sure where Katriane wanted it to go. I didn’t even know she ordered it. She hasn’t been here for weeks.”
“Is Kat here now?” I ask, looking toward the small hallway in the back.
“No,” she says and tugs on her ear lobe. “I don’t know when she’ll be back either. Shame, because she could really help with this.”
I note the frustration Irene tries to hide and chew on the inside of my lip. “What did you learn about the On-my-whatever.”
“Onmyoji.” Reese grins and flips to a page. The same five point star on the dead person’s skin is etched in a beautiful hand drawn ink. “This is their mark. It’s the symbol of five elements, though the book corrects it later, adding a sixth triangle. It also says where Jinx lineage comes from.”
I take the book from her hands and study the drawing. “One supernatural creature at a time, please.”
“Right.” She clears her throat. “But that’s just the thing. They’re tied into each other, in a roundabout way.”
“Are they?” I flip to the next page and run my hand over the raised text.
“Yeah,” Irene whispers. “They’re from the same Realm.”
I flick my eyes to her, stopping mid-skim. “They’re not from here?”
She shakes her head. “Yes, and no. The book says the Onmyoji and the Wisps -”
“Wisp?” I ask, my voice higher-pitched. “That’s what Jinx is?”
Narrowing her eyes, she nods and hold up a finger, asking me not to interrupt. “They were created in the Divine Realm. Onmyoji and Wisp are children of Choice and Fate.”
“Choice and Fate?” I ask, a hint on humor in my tone. “Are they Fee?” Fee are the beings that control each realm, their capabilities far beyond what I could ever imagine. If we’re dealing with them, I’ll drop this case right here and now.
Reese answers. “No, actually. They top them – sort of like their parents. A hierarchy, if you will.”
“Riiight.” Unfolding my legs from underneath me, I sit down on the wood floor next to Reese, across from Irene, and scoot a few books out of the way.
Irene raises her arms in the air and stretches her back, yawning. “There is four of the Divine: Fate and Choice, and Hope and Despair.”
I flip another page without looking at the book, keeping my fingers busy as I absorb the information. “You speak of them like they’re paired or married.”
Irene purses her lips and looks to Reese, but speaks to me. “In a way, they are. Fate and Choice are both male, and Hope and Despair are female. Fate and Choice are opposites, and same for Hope and Despair.”
“A Yin and a Yang, sort of,” Reese says. “The perfect match.”
“Exactly.” Irene raises from her cross-legged seated position. “You continue,” she says with a wave of her hand. “I’m making coffee.” Stretching while walking, she disappears down the short hall.
Reese taps the book in my lap. “It says in here that you can’t have one, without the other. An opposite, a balance. Though they are delicately connected, one cannot exist without the other. But,” she holds up her other finger. “There is a catch.”
“And that would be?” I ask, pulling Reese’s finger off the page.
“Their opposite is their enemy. They haven’t gotten along in any recording of history.”
“Ah.” I nod. “That indeed, sounds like marriage.”
She smacks me on the chest with the back of her hand. “As I said, the Onmyoji and the Wisps are children of Fate and Choice, but each favor one over the other. Fate favors the Wisps and -”
“Choice favors the Onmyoji.”
Her head bobbles. “As the emotions grew high with Fate and Choice, Fate sent his beloved Wisps to earth, to Japan, in the 6th century, giving them human form to blend in, and a spirit animal to guard their soul incase body needed to be seperated from soul. Their soul’s spirit animal is called a Qilin.”
“What do you mean human form?” I lift a hand and rub the space between my eyebrows with my eyes closed. A nudge on my shoulder and the scent of coffee is the only reason I reopen them. This sounds like it’s going to be a long night.
Irene hands me the cup of steaming coffee.
Reese blinks at me like I should already know the answer to my own question. “Wisp’s original form is mist.”
I sigh. “And the Qilin? If Jinx is a Wisp, her spirit animal – her soul or whatever – wouldn’t be far from her.”
Irene sits down, returning to a cross-legged position. “We’ve already thought about that. Reese said a feral horse had a fascination with her?” I nod. “We think the horse is her Qilin. It says the spirit animal will only respond to their owner and will fight back until it’s dying breath to guard what they are – the soul.” She leans forward and peaks at the book’s pages. “It also indicates that a Qilin can transport. Though it wasn’t real descriptive of it.”
It all clicks together. “And the Onmyoji?”
“Natural enemies of the Wisps.” Reese takes the offered cup from Irene. “When Choice learned what Fate had done, he sent them to the Earth Realm. It’s said he had a secret agenda, that Choice dips more in the dark side than the ‘free-will’ side,” she says, raising her free hand to make quote marks in the air. “They’re called Whisperers on the Divine realm – voices that carry in the wind. Deadly creatures, though their words aren’t lethal here like they are there. When Choice sent them here in the 6th century, though he did not send all of them, he also gave them a body with the condition that they hunt the Wisps from existence.”
Reese takes a sip and Irene picks up where she left off. “When they arrived, they formed a religion amongst the people, and the people believed them to be a priest of some sort. Their mission was to destroy each spirit – the wisps. Over time, the wisps became extinct here on Earth, so they began hunting others they didn’t feel belonged.”
I tilt my head back, relax my lips, and blow out a breath. So these Whisperers banned together, renamed themselves to be easily accepted by humans, and have been hunting supernatural creatures for centuries. “It’s like a fucking fairy tale.” I rake a hand over my face and peek at Irene from between my fingers. “Are they immortal?”
She shakes her head no and I feel relief flood my chest. They’re hunters, passed down from generation to generation. That, I can work with.
“Where does the blowing heads off people thing come in.”
She leans forward and grabs the book from me, flips pages, and passes it back. “When a Wisp turns to mist, they can enter a human body – anything really – expand their mist, and blow themselves outward. It’s like a bomb.”
I look at the pages, a detailed and gory battle drawn. “I see,” I mumble. “How dangerous is it to follow a Wisp?”
Reese shrugs. “It’s not. Wisps are kind-natured. They only attack to preserve their life.”
Like hell I’ll tell Cinder that he may be right about the girl after all. There’s no need to inflate that man’s ego more than it already is.
We spent the next half hour pouring over the books and every angle. My head feels like it’ll explode with all the information. Battles and religion, and realms and the Divine. It was too much. I pass the book back to Reese and peel myself from the floor.
“I think that’s enough for this evening.” I arch my back and twist my torso. Out of the corner of my eye, a movement catches my attention and I pause mid-twist.
Jinx walks by the window of the shop, her focus solely on the sidewalk. She doesn’t stop or look inside. In fact, she seems to be quickly walking somewhere, her thoughts consuming her attention from her surroundings.
What a coincidence that the very person I need to follow happens to cross my path before I leave to search for her.
Calling all writers and authors.
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