I stared at the old church. The white walls and stained glass had stood the test of time. I was not happy to see the loaded parking lot. It only made the job more complicated. Add a "just married." sign on the back of the limo, and you have all the ingredients for disaster.
Not that disasters are foreign to weddings, the groom can go missing, or the bride gets cold feet, and the ever-entertaining person who comes to profess their love at the wrong church. Today I am the disaster, and not for any of the above reasons.
A brief stop to check my appearance. Above-average height, roguish good looks, messy dirty blond hair, and piercing hazel eyes. Good looks did nothing for my nasty attitude.
"Whisper are you sure about your intel?" Wires get crossed sometimes, and mistakes get made. I didn't want this to be one of those times. Judging by the make and models of the vehicles, these people have power and influence. One dead person could rapidly shift my status to fugitive.
A deep sigh came from the other side of the receiver. "Our target has hit three other weddings in the area. All of the victims were upper-class brides, attacked with a bladed weapon, by an unknown humanoid. This wedding fits the bill," Whisper replied.
"You had better be right, or we are going to have problems on both sides of the border." Georgians are sticklers for manners and invites. I was about to make a grand social faux pas.
"The end will justify the means, Cyrus. Hey, maybe you will meet someone."
Heavy boots striking the blackened asphalt could be heard now, as the bright white doors of the church grew closer. "You can't be serious. Preparing to breach doors in, three, two, one."
The door bulged out and then splintered apart, spraying wood all over the entrance. A cloud of sawdust masked my entrance, causing the back rows of the pews to cough.
The sound of creaking wood saw every well-dressed southerner turn to face the door from the pews. I felt exposed under the dour stares of the angry onlookers.
"Switching the tactical camera on," Whisper said.
For a moment I thought we had gotten wrong. My target was not in attendance, and angering these people was the only thing I had accomplished so far.
The bride's glare had all the fire of a thousand suns, her body trembled with rage, and her foot stomped, causing it to echo around the room.
"Oh hell NO! Not on my wedding day!" she shouted in a shrill musical twang.
"Cyrus the organ player, his jacket is torn to shreds," Whisper said snapping me back to the present.
The organ player stood and cackled with glee. It turned to show its evil visage and flexed the spindly arms. It threw the tattered jacket aside, revealing the sharpened bones on its elbows.
The groom screamed like a woman took off to the back offices. The bride was alone, frozen in fear and at the mercy of the sharp elbow.
There was no time to waste. "Everyone out now," my voice echoed around the building.
People were now rushing toward the exit trampling one another. Screams of despair reverberated around the church. The sharp elbow was slowly walking towards the woman clad in white. It started to twist its head around to reveal the second face, amid the cracking of bones. Sharp elbows do this to paralyze their prey with their fears.
It howled in victory as it raised a bony elbow ready to strike the woman down.
"Not today." I didn't plan on being a human shield, but this girl didn't deserve to die, least of all on her wedding day.
The bony elbow found a weak spot in the armor biting into the soft flesh. I growled in pain fumbling for the revolver on my left side. I watched as the creature prepared to strike again. My hand closed on the grip, desperately hanging on to the focus required to charge the firearm.
My appearance snapped the bride back to reality, just as the familiar tingle of energy ran down my arm and into the pistol. The barrel gleamed in the fluorescent light, as it slid from the holster. A sickly green rune adorned its forehead glowing softly. It opened it's mouth as it prepared to strike again. I seized the opportunity to shove the barrel of the gun into its mouth, causing it to gag.
"Time to die ugly. Pleascadh." A bolt of energy fired from the spellbinder revolver, ripping the sharp elbows head to pieces. Chunks of bone and brains littered the areas. Unfortunately, the laws of gravity took effect, and as the corpse fell, so did the boney blade lodged in my shoulder. Blood poured from the wound vigorously now, pooling at my feet. I bit down on my sleeve as I snapped the bone off the corpse, and grunted in agony.
"Cyrus, are you okay?" Whisper sounded worried. "Emergency vehicles en route can you make it another two minutes."
The hardwood of the podium held me up. "Come on Whisper, we both know I am too mean to die. Our sharp-elbowed friend is a long way from home."
I could hear sobs coming from Whisper. "You are too mean to die. One minute until help arrives. Did you notice anything odd?"
I missed the question because it was getting hard to think straight. "What?"
"Stay with me, did you notice anything odd?"
"Glowing... Dot... On the forehead." I heard the medics arrive just as the world faded to black, "Help." was the last word uttered from my lips.
The steady beeping of the heart monitor and the sterile smell of the hospital greeted me upon returning to the land of the living. Cool air wafted up the loose hospital gown, causing me to shiver involuntarily.
Throbbing pain in my right shoulder brought me back to complete awareness. Lifting my right arm proved fruitless as it only increased the suffering caused by the wound. None of these were good things, except the being alive part.
In the world of bounty hunters, and mercenaries, hospitals are a bad thing. From time to time, one will acquire warrants for various reasons. After a messy incident at a church, you can be sure the police will be checking me out. Hospitals also make you a sitting duck for your enemies, and they will come to visit for all the wrong reasons.
My gear is missing, along with my smartphone, and the special healing elixir kept in a vest pocket for emergencies. There was no point in drinking it beforehand my injury was too severe.
Sobbing grated on my eardrum and a simple turn of the head saw the unfortunate bride still wearing her wedding dress, sobbing in her hands. Silky brunette hair once elegantly styled was messy enough to make Medusa feel sorry for her. She had been crying for some time judging by the mascara stains on her fingers.
"Did you lose someone?"
The unfortunate bride looked up. One could argue she was in worse shape than I was. Puffy reddish-brown eyes, tear-stained cheeks, quivering lips, showed she was grieving. Even in this state, she was still prettier than anyone I knew.
"Y'all are awake. Sorry for the bellyaching I thought Kirk Delford loved me. I should have known he was up to no good when he asked for a prenuptial agreement. That low snake in the grass was probably after my trust fund," the unfortunate bride said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
Comforting people is not something I do. Whisper said people would find better comfort with an angry grizzly than with me. She was not wrong. I should call her.
"I need a phone. My analyst is probably going out of her mind with worry. She needs to know I am okay."
The unfortunate bride looked up. The tears had ceased for the moment, and she daintily cleared the bright red nose, "Is she your wife or something?"
"No, she saved me from the streets. Do you have the phone or not?" The attack bothered me more than the wound did. Sharp elbows are nothing more than supernatural spree killers. So why leave everyone alive and go for the bride? It didn't make sense.
She handed me her phone. I dialed Whisper and put her on speakerphone.
"Tagma bounty hunting and mercenary contracting. How may I help you?" Whispers voice cracked, and she sounded like hell.
"Whisper it's me. I need you to locate my phone and gear."
"Are you even fit to be walking around? By the Creator Cyrus, the world is not going to end if you rest for a day or two." there was relief in her voice.
The unfortunate bride giggle, "You tell him, girlfriend."
Whisper went silent for a few moments. "Oh my god, you met someone? I am so relieved..."
Time to stop this train before it leaves the station, "Whisper that was the unfortunate bride. Her fiance took off and left her alone with the sharp elbow."
"Excuse me I have a name," the unfortunate bride said. Her angry stare didn't bother me.
"Yes you do, its the unfortunate bride." I try to keep real names out of it. It uncomplicates things.
Forgive my rude foundling. I am Whisper Tallpines, technical analyst, and elder to the Haida people."
"I am Grace Bucannon. What are y'all hiding?"
"No, no. Whisper is a Haida first nations." I forgot most Haida live off the coast of BC. Very few, if any southerners would know about them.
"Oh so she is an injun," the unfortunate bride said.
"Young lady, how would you feel if I called you a dumb inbred hayseed?" Whisper was not going to beat around the bush about the perceived insult.
The unfortunate bride glowered for a moment. "Why I would be madder than a wet hen? Oh... I suppose calling you injun was a tad bit rude."
"To say the least. For future reference, I prefer Whisper or Elder Tallpines."
I had about enough of this, "This has been fun and all, but I need my gear, and we have to figure out why the damn sharp elbow didn't go all spree killer in the church." Something told me this job was far from over.
"Is he always like this?" Grace asked.
Whisper joined her, "Cyrus gets this way when he thinks something bigger is going on. He is a good boy when no one is looking. He never forgets mothers day. Why I remember the first..."
"Whisper shut up. No one needs to know that." How in the hell did the conversation end up here?
"I think it says a lot about you. Please continue Elder Tallpines." Grace's tone was regal now.
"Cyrus does have a point. I got to embarrass him in front of a pretty girl. That is another item crossed off the list."
"I thought you were done with that stupid list of yours."
"What list?" Grace asked.
"Cyrus was a unique child and had special needs. He never got to do normal teenage things. I made a list of all the things we should have experienced as parent and child."
"Can we please focus on the job?"
"Anyway, your green dot was dominance magic at work."
A nurse came in, and we were silent as she checked on things. "The doctor will be in tomorrow morning to check on you."
"Where is the gear I was wearing?" Replacing my equipment would cost a small fortune. Losing it was not an option.
The nurse waved her hand. "Oh, that stuff? We have it in a special lock-up. Sheriff Collins graciously decided to let you keep it on account of the fact you are a hero and all."
"I don't see how that is any of your concern, since it belongs to me." In my mind she had no business asking.
She looked over at Grace. "Girl, your man is all kinds of ornery. He certainly is no gentleman."
Grace gave the nurse a flat stare while crossing her arms. "Don't I know it." Her tone had all the ice of the Northwest Territories in winter.
The nurse sighed in defeat. "Fine, I will be back in a few minutes."
The steady beep of the heart monitor was the only noise in the room once more. I got the impression both Grace and Whisper were not very happy with me. Grace kept glaring at me from the corner of her eye, and Whisper was silent in anger.
When the nurse returned. "I would make him sleep on the couch for a month if I was you."
Grace smiled evilly. "I do believe the punishment would fit the crime."
The nurse patted her shoulder sympathetically before leaving.
"Speaking of which, only friends and family are allowed to visit. How are you still here?"
Grace looked impish. "I told them you were an old boyfriend, who heard Kirks plan to steal my trust fund and came to save me from a loveless marriage."
Whisper was laughing. "What a beautiful story, too bad Cyrus knows nothing about romance."
A normal man would have been offended, but I couldn't argue with the truth. My hands fumbled in the vest for the small vial. My hands closed around the small glass container and pulled the stopper out. The bitter liquid caused shivers at how horrid it tasted.
"Alright, the sharp elbow was crashing weddings and attacking brides only why?"
Whisper clicked and clacked on her keyboard. "Well, the green rune on the sharp elbows forehead was dominance magic. We could be dealing with a puppeteer."
The medical staples popped out one by one, and a fresh scar appeared in their wake.
"It certainly would explain why the sharp elbow was here. The Great Lakes region seems like a long way to go for a puppet. So why do it?"
Grace was trying to fix her hair now. "Not to be vain, but we southern belles are in high demand. Many a man kicked themselves in the behind for letting us go."
Whisper jumped on it before I could say anything insulting. "Spurned love is a powerful motive. It could be worth a look."
"Yeah, we should. In the meantime, we need to get Grace some protection. Nothing ticks a killer off like the one that got away, he/she may try again."
Grace imperiously pointed at me. "It is going to be you."
"Finding a puppeteer requires some footwork." I was so close to never seeing the unfortunate bride again. Then Whisper butted in.
"Cyrus would be more than happy to do it. I think he should meet your parents. They would probably like to meet the man who saved their daughter's life," Whisper said in a sly tone.
"Whisper is this about the damn list again?"
"Not entirely. Georgia has the lowest magic usage per capita in the States. The local police are ill-equipped to deal with our kind of threats," Whisper replied.
"We have decent magic users," Grace said.
"No offense Grace but Cyrus has more experience. The winters in Canada bring out the worst magic has to offer. I will send a list of every creature Cyrus is familiar with."
I stretched out my toned body and inspected the specially designed gloves and revolvers. Everything appeared to be in working order.
"How do I look?" even I can be vain from time to time.
Grace's eyes looked at me funny as if deciding something, "You are rather fetching in your attire, too bad your attitude sucks."
"I will take that as a compliment."
"Why am I not surprised."
"Cyrus mind your manners. Make sure you treat the Bucannons with proper respect and don't destroy the city. I don't want a repeat of Castle Downs."
Grace cocked her head to the side as we both headed to the door. "Castle Downs?"
An evil laugh escaped my lips, "Castle Downs was a good time, well for me..."
Whisper growled, "CYRUS, I want your word."
"Fine, you're taking all the fun out of this."
"That's why I am here, Cyrus. Call me back when you reach Grace's house."
The call ended, and we drove off to see Grace's parents. I just hoped the meeting went well.