Ghosts (Chronicles of Isis)

Her entire body was chilled.

The Spanish sun beamed down on her as she tore off the helmet and secured her motorbike. It should have permeated her golden-touched skin and warmed her fully, but instead it bounced off as if she was shielded. There was nothing that could permeate the chill currently going marrow-deep, and fine tremors quaked through her entire body.

It took Isis three tries to unzip the leather jacket that clung tightly to her form as she strode quickly across the flattened stone cul-de-sac driveway out front of the sweeping Spanish villa she and Santi had taken up in. The scent of the sea wafted on the air, normally a soothing balm, but today just an irritant.

Her black leather pants clung to her legs, first sticky and now stiff with dried blood. Not hers, never hers, but that of others. She had been hunting again. Rogue Cardinals, errant threats, assholes who decided to piss her off. The Ravens were deployed right now, and Isis had taken to hunting on her lonesome.

She always came back home with ghosts in her head.

As soon as Isis stepped into the expansive entryway, she pulled off her boots and shirked off her jacket, dropping them unceremoniously on the tile of the floor. She could see straight through the open floorplan and into the living room, the back wall of which was floor to ceiling windows and archways leading out onto a sweeping veranda. Beyond that was a vast pool, the sloping grounds, and finally beyond the cliffs, the sea. It usually calmed her, but today there were ghosts riding her hard.

Her fingers fumbled as she tried to pull the zipper on her pants and she cursed silently under her breath. It was still slick with blood. Finally, she yanked it down, pinching her own skin in the process, and muttering additional obscenities under her breath.

She made quick work of peeling the pants off of her legs, and whipped the black v-neck over her head in the next breath, leaving her clad in a utilitarian black sports bra and briefs. Blood speckled her sun-kissed skin, and the bags under her eyes were unforgiving.

She walked slowly but with purpose from the front entryway and into the open living room. The sun beamed in through the wall of windows and the white gauze curtains wafted in the wind. Her shoulders started to ache as her muscles quivered.

Where normally she would languidly traipse through the house, today she walked with purpose to the back veranda, where she found Santi, just as she suspected. The enormous couches were positioned under the shade of the covered veranda with a perfect view of the pool and the sea below.

Her breath caught in her chest and for a moment, the ghosts were quiet, and her body still. The sun cut in at a slant and highlighted the deep brown of his hair and what occasionally appeared to be tawny undertones. The golden hue of his skin gleamed, and he appeared like a sun-kissed god. His studied nonchalance was as affecting as always. The perfectly tailored slacks, the slightly open shirt, and the amber glass of whisky in his hand. He could just as easily be a Duke from days past, or a pirate ashore from the seas. She knew he knew she was there, but he gave her this moment to gather herself.

Her breath hitched and the ghosts came home to roost, burdening her with their presence.

Her shoulders shook as he put down the whisky, his brow furrowing with concern as Isis stepped into his arms. Santi pulled her into his lap and lay down across the gargantuan couch with Isis draped across him, chest to chest. One arm banded around the small of her back, the other around her shoulders, his hand in the thick morass of her hair, as he pressed her slight weight into his body, a tactile reminder that she was alive and with him.

She broke silently in his arms, the perfectly silent sobs overtaking her. She had learned young that audibly crying led only to reprimand, and had quickly taught herself that if tears were to be had, they must be had silently. She had never trained herself out of it.

The salty streams streaked down her cheek, soaking through the white linen of his shirt as wracking sobs overtook her, and finally, the ghosts were at bay if only for this moment.

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The Cardinal Killer

The air always felt better in Greece, charged with... something. Isis had never quite been able to put a finger on just what made this country so very different for her, but it felt like power. A sleeping power that charged the air, sizzling and dancing and arcing and waiting to spark.

She langoured in it as she walked through the alleys of Monastiraki Square. Nestled beneath the rolling hill that lead to the ruins of the Acropolis, the marketplace bustled with activity. All sorts traveled its stalls, and you could find any trinket your heart was set on. Old coins, old paraphernelia, totems. Some sellers claimed to have artifacts, of the mystic or god-related variety. Some knew exactly what it was that they had, and others were hoping to sell some old clay to a sucker of a tourist.

However, the idyllic and bustling nature of the historic market had been marred in the past weeks. A string of murders had occurred within the loosely constructed boundaries of the market, in the shadow of the Acropolis. Nobody had put any of it together, not at first. But there were certain signs, certain calling cards, that Cardinals left.

And so, it had been only a matter of time before word reached Isis that some of Zeon's Cardinals had been set loose in the ancient city. It was a series of events that was starting to replicate over the world. It had been shown in the past that Cardinals shaped themselves in the image of the Liafador who lead the individual sects.

Zeon was mistress of rage and bloodlust. She had the same killer instinct that Isis did, but it was steeped in passion and rage and a quickness to action Isis' was cool, calm, calculated. Because deep under the surface of her icy exterior, she knew that she had the same capacity for violence that Zeon did.

But her Cardinals were Cardinals no more. She now headed the Ravens, a small elite sect that had broken off during the multiple Liafador upheavals. Their current mission involved hunting down and swiftly disposing of errant Cardinals. Cardinals that posed distinct danger to civilians, Cardinals that posed distinct danger to Liafadors. Cardinals that had lost their way from the flock.

Which brought her back to the reason she was here today. Zeon's Cardinals were developing her bloodlust, her rage, her thirst for violence. And innocent civilians were dying to sate these thirsts. It couldn't be tolerated any longer. And so, the hunt began.

The worn soles of her leather boots moved with an easy silence across the ground, as her calm stride ate up mileage. Her gaze wandered every now and then; a trinket that caught her eye, a street urchin casing potential marks, an errant child whose grabby hands were reaching for something.

Amber eyes scanned every nook, cranny, and crevice. The Cardinals were all trained with blending in, and so if there was one present in the market as she suspected, they would be nearly undetectable to all but the most discerning eye.

Children continued to run about, and Isis approached a table. There was a grey-haired, heavily wrinkled woman behind it. There was a slight hunch to her back, and she favored her left leg, but she was full of life. Her wares were little clay pots, statues, and effigies.

She approached, bantering back and forth with the crone-like woman, as throngs of people mulled around her, tourists and natives alike. Isis finally left the booth, her pocket a little lighter, and continued meandering about.

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up, and she paid apt attention to an instinct she had learned never to ignore. Three women dressed all in black were moving with a swiftness that was out of step with the lackadaisical nature that both tourists and natives perused the wares of the market.

They branched out instinctively as soon as Isis laid eyes on them, confirming that they were Cardinals and had felt her gaze. She looked around, trying to pinpoint who their current target was. Who would she choose for some joyful afternoon murdersports? The pretty little coed. By the looks of her, American. Short, blonde, alone. Silly, stupid girl.

If the Cardinals were smart, if they were logical, they would abandon their hunt and regroup. Isis suspected that Zeon's bloodlust was poisoning and infecting her Cardinals, but she had no idea how deeply it may have taken root.

She tracked the three Cardinals as they left the market. That answered that. They would retreat to their nest, wherever they had holed up, and regroup. The bloodlust didn't control them, not yet. But she feared that the lack of boundaries that had been set for them would lead to more frequent killings. They had to be stopped, and messages had to be sent.

---

A supermoon hung low in the sky, illuminating the exterior of the sinfully luxurious house that Zeon's Cardinals had utilized as their base of operations. A heavy air hung around it, one that had nothing to do with the natural power that Isis found in Greece's air and everything to do with darkness and death.

She moved with a silence and grace that a Cardinal would never be able to sense, let alone replicate. She'd wanted them to spot her earlier, wanted to spook them badly enough that they became careless. And some part of her, buried beneath her icy facade, had wanted them afraid. She'd wanted them to know that they were being hunted by the renegade Liafador. The one who killed the Cardinals.

And here she was, the daughter of death, about to bestow a final peace to the errant Cardinals. The security in the house was nonexistent, as she expected. A single Cardinal could take out entire troops hand to hand, and even armed if they were using proper tactics. An intruder in an unsecured house stood no chance at all, and so they hadn't bothered to wire an alarm.

She slipped onto the veranda and pulled open the French doors, lined with columns. The house was a pastiche of modern and ancient Greek and Roman architecture, and it was an eyesore to her. But she could see how the Cardinals had been attracted to it. Luxurious and secluded. The perfect murder nest.

She wandered from room to room, with purpose, her blade in hand. She could use any of her numerous powers to kill them, but had determined already that they weren't worth the expulsion of energy. This was a personal mission, a personal betrayal, and so a personal death was the final reward for each Cardinal.

A dagger, plunged straight into the heart, and then drawn across the carotid artery in their throats. Deadly, bloody, painful. Nothing less than what they deserved. Seventeen in total, all gone now.

She felt no remorse, no regret as she left the house. Instead, her head was held high and her heart lighter. The Cardinal Killer had left a clear message for her beloved cousin: She was coming for any Cardinal that strayed, and there would be no mercy left in her wake.

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