The names in this story are of Celtic origin and so can be unintelligible to the average English-speaker. As such, I take pity on you, the reader, and save myself the trouble of doing so later on after you flood me with e-mails asking how to pronounce the names. Here is a pronunciation guide for this story.
Caitlain (kāt-lăn/ kāt-lawn)
Cathrach Dorcha (käth-räkh dor-chä/kăth-răk dor-chă)
Avenger of the Slain
They watched him out of the corners of their eyes as he stalked up to the sheet-covered lump in the middle of the rain-slick pavement, his long, black coat and hood being tugged by the wind whistling between the three-story buildings. The stench of putrid garbage and rotting flesh was a miasma almost thick enough to cut with a knife. Add in the stale vomit, urine, and the kimchi from the Korean restaurant and you had to blink pretty fast to keep your eyes from watering. Everyone was breathing through their mouths and taking shallow breaths. Despite that, they all watched him warily.
He would have smiled to himself if he were here for work. They were reacting to him on a subconscious level, unaware of why he gave them the willies, even if they knew why he was there.
He was at the sheet. Once white, it was now mostly the deep, deep red of a spilt life. He was used to seeing the results of crime and as a reporter for the Cathrach Dorcha News' crime desk he thought he had seen everything. Until he got the call that night.
He knew the detective at his shoulder well, a tall, burly man with salt and pepper hair, cheerless merry green eyes, and a clean-shaven face with its share of wrinkles after twenty-five years in the CDPD. He nodded brusquely at the coroner who lifted the corner of the sheet just enough to show the once beautiful face and coppery hair now frozen in horror and pain, rain-wet hair the color of dried blood. So much blood in the alley told them that she was dead only a few hours, since the rain had come with sunset and dawn hours away. He lifted the sheet farther and saw the raw meat mess the killer left of his sister, only leaving the face and neck unmarked. It was a scene he had seen twice in the last month.
"Nothing new?" he demanded of the detective who was using every ounce of will power to hold himself together. He was present at Caitlain's birth, christening, confirmation, wedding, and divorce.
Detective Sean Cassidy could stand no more and so only shook his head as he turned his back on his goddaughter. "Nothing," he rasped, his breath shuddering on the ragged edges and the sheet was laid back across her face. "The sicko doesn't have a pattern other than picking pretty, young woman. The ages are a decade apart, the features are random, the areas they live are different, and, until tonight, we had no overlapping shopping or living habits. The first victim also worked at CDU, but then so do fifteen thousand other citizens of our fair city. Caitlain and Maeve MacShane never crossed paths, as far as we know. MacShane was part of the housekeeping staff in the female dorms while Caty was an assistant professor."
The detective covered a sob with a cough, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping his face. "We don't know yet. She was seen leaving CDU at five, doesn't have a boyfriend, and her ex is still in Dorcha State finishing his fifteen-to-life."
The other man tugged his hood closer, shoving his hands into his pockets. "He will kill again, Sean," he whispered direly. "He will do this again and unless he fucks up he will keep doing it."
"The FBI thinks he will make a mistake, Seosamh," Sean said earnestly, trying not to sound like he was convincing himself.
"The FBI thinks he will screw up ... eventually," Seosamh replied sourly, turning away from the sheet-covered lump to glare at his uncle.
"How do you know that is what they said?" Cassidy demanded, shocked.
"I have my sources, Uncle," Seosamh quipped mysteriously, his eyes bleak. Looking down at what remained of his big sister, the person he loved most in this world, the icy anger spread to engulf him. "Let me know when I can make arrangements for ... you know."
He walked away, ignoring Sean's reply.
It was a longer drive to his condo than he remembered it being. There was little hope he would not be reading about another victim in a week. And a week or so after that. This particular sicko had visited four other cities, each one seeing no fewer than sixteen victims before the killing stopped and another city was chosen to play host to some of the most vicious murders the FBI had seen.
And nothing would be done. Caitlain would simply join the list of victims.
Seosamh could not... would not stand by and watch the bodies continue dropping, letting the bastard vanish again.
Screeching of tires on wet pavement, honking horns, and shouted curses greeting his decision, he turned around, heading for his priestess' house on the edge of Cathrach Dorcha; a large colonial mansion fronting a sacred grove protected by magic and state law.
The house was dark but as he drove up the unpaved drive, the porch light went on and the door opened on a large man wearing a black loincloth, holding a shillelagh. His chiseled features were grimly foreboding even as he turned his head back into the house and said something. More lights flared in the windows of the living room and one of the upstairs bedrooms.
Seosamh brought the car to a stop. A woman shrouded in a white, ankle-length robe appeared at the door behind the man, her fiery hair mussed. The sight of her eased the pain in his chest he had not realized was there.
"Seosamh," she said, her voice lyrical, tinged with a hint of Ireland, "I cannot tell you how sorry I am."
That stopped Seosamh in his tracks. "You knew?" he demanded angrily, causing the staff-wielding man to step sideways.
"Arghus, gently," she murmured, laying a hand on his massively muscled arm, pushing him back out of her way. "I was awakened an hour or so ago. Arghus almost had me calm enough to sleep when he felt you coming. Niamh is getting tea ready. Come, tell us while we wait."
He was halfway through when Niamh came in with the tray of tea. She had a graceful presence that made Seosamh sure she would become high priestess after Airmeithinion.
It was her Goddess' grace that brought him to Airmeithinion's home so late. When he finished telling them the death toll of this killer, they were all pale.
"I know what is in your heart. I can only caution you that what you ask is not done lightly," Airmeithinion warned grimly, her pale eyes flicking over to Arghus, who shook his head just as grimly. She sighed resignedly. "Niamh, go call the priests. Warn them to bring their guardians. We may need them."
Seosamh sat in the living room, sipping tea in silence. Thinking about what he was doing, making sure his request was formed properly. Airmeithinion, Arghus, and Niamh were gathering supplies and changing into their robes when the first priests arrived. Faol and her guardian were joined by Aisling, Cynbel, Caiside, Macha, Siobhan, Kevan, and Nuallan and their black dogs, making the house claustrophobic with the aggressively burly guardians and the powerful priests.
Airmeithinion finally emerged from her bedroom and came down in her brilliantly white robes, Arghus following with a slim wooden case Seosamh had seen maybe three times since he became a member of this circle a decade ago. Druids don't like killing to sacrifice. They learned their lessons centuries ago. Feed a God on blood sacrifices, blood will be all the God demands.
But some things still required blood. Human blood. Most of that blood was freely given; only punishments took it by force. Tonight, the blood would be given freely. Celtic Gods were still fond of revenge and battle.
Airmeithinion led them out back to the woods along the well-worn path to the clearing several hundred feet into the oaks, hawthorns, and ash. In the center of the clearing, beside the pile of rocks from which a spring bubbled, was a waist high block of moss-covered granite. It was here when the first druid found the grove a millennium ago and it would be here that Seosamh O'Niall would ask for his vengeance.
"Form the circle. Seosamh, strip and in the center," Airmeithinion said sharply, a worry creasing her brows. "Black dogs, a step behind your charges. I am hoping you will not be needed, but I have never performed this particular rite myself so we will be cautious."
Seosamh stripped quickly, goose bumps springing up in the chill autumn air. He stood before the altar. Airmeithinion approached, already chanting in rapid Gaelic. The air became thick, pressing down on him, constricting his lungs, making him feel faint.
"On the altar, Seosamh," Arghus said, outside the circle. "Quickly!"
The air was pulsing, pushing Seosamh onto the altar, forcing him onto his back with every beat. Airmeithinion approached with the slim wooden case. She extracted a long, slim dagger etched with Celtic runes. Before he could even flinch in defense, she slashed him across the chest and each shoulder. When he brought his arms up in reflex, she slashed both forearms.
"Onto your stomach," Arghus said, voice tight with stress. "Now!"
His mind slow with the pulse of magic and loss of blood, Seosamh flopped over. The priestess quickly slashed his back, making him cry out in pain. With each slash, the magic became more urgent. With blood sheathing his arms and chest, trickling down his back and sides, he could feel the presence of... something. It was suddenly with them in the clearing. Perhaps this was a bad idea, he suddenly thought.
"Oh, now you think it a bad idea?!" a booming voice asked in something close enough to Gaelic that he understood it. "We weaned you off of blood sacrifice for reasons, silly mortal. You are lucky that I have been waiting for this or I would make you and your foolish friends pay for this dearly, Airmid's daughter or not."
There was a gasp and the priestess was suddenly the focus of nine sets of eyes. Then they realized that there were more people in the clearing then when they started. A tall, muscular man who looked like he just came from a dinner party was standing beside Airmeithinion, his flame hair braided down his back and his curly beard suavely natural in its disorder.
Bright green eyes gazed at Seosamh, head shaking. "I know your priestess was trying to summon Arawn, but I have been waiting for someone, anyone, to call on us for aid in this. I know this is a matter of death and vengeance, but it is too important to let him run wild with it. It goes beyond avenging your sister's death, however brutal," he declared flatly. "This savage is no mere serial killer and it will take a more-than-mortal agency to overcome him. And so, I have come to put you in the hands of the Morrigu. You interrupted an important dinner, so I will let Morrigan explain."
Three women in armor and baring weapons appeared behind him, heightening the powerful presence. One was black-haired, one blonde, and one white. All three had varying shades of green eyes and were all very beautiful with similar features. They wore leather vests covered with chain mail, wrist guards, leather pants, and steel-toed leather boots. Each held a sword with a dagger and throwing axe on a wide leather belt wrapped twice around their lean waists. All three had blue tattooing visible on their arms.
As soon as the red-haired man disappeared, the black-haired woman approached him, laying her hand on his chest, pushing him flat. The blonde and white-haired women arrayed themselves evenly around the block of stone.
"Listen carefully, Seosamh O'Niall, for what you have come here to request this night is not free," she said, her voice a purring contralto. Her jade eyes flashed with fervent emotion even as she sheathed her sword and drew her dagger. The others did the same, standing over him with drawn blades. "In order to exact vengeance for your sister's death, a blood price must be paid by you. Our help does not come cheap and it does not come without bending certain rules concerning our meddling in your world."
"However," the blonde woman continued, her high voice sweet, "this beast who hunts in this place has already broken the rules when he savaged Caitlain."
"And more rules will go by the wayside should he finish his task," the white-haired one added, her voice harsh and grating despite it being very feminine. "What will be demanded of you to end this would be beyond any normal man."
"So we will grant this boon under conditions," Morrigan announced, her eyes roving the clearing. "Since you endeavored to aid him in this folly, it will fall to you to aid him hereafter."
"Meaning what, Lady Morrigan?" Airmeithinion asked, her normally sure voice quavering slightly with the beginnings of fear.
"You allowed him to offer himself unto Arawn, knowing it likely he would fall to the Ankou," the blonde snapped, her sweet voice scathing.
"Lady Fea, I know this man; I know his love for his sister," the priestess pleaded, one hand outstretched beseechingly. "There was no way he would turn aside from this. Nothing would have stunted his yearning for justice!"
"We know; we have watched this one for a while now," the white-haired woman said caressingly, as she ran the flat of her dagger over Seosamh's arm and gazing at him with passionate agate eyes.
"Lady Nemain, I don't understand," Airmeithinion said, confused, looking at the Goddess.
"We know," Morrigan said with a sad smile, "but we also know you have been grooming this one to become a black dog."