"What does sapphire mean? Like is it just like yours?" Brandon asked as they crossed the train tracks, both literally and figuratively, into the hood.
Crash shook his head. "No. Each stone is different. It's just like people. Even if you had a moonstone, it would act differently than mine. I'm not quite sure what the sapphire means for you. But you might want to wait to put it on."
Brandon stuffed it back in his pocket. He looked around. "This looks like the neighborhood from this article." He pulled out the paper and unrolled it. "Is this," he scanned the article. "Is this The Heights?"
Crash sighed and glanced over at Brandon. "Yeah, I got a lil spot over here."
"Are you from here?"
"No. I'm from North Carolina. You?"
"I'm from South Carolina, but not here. My people got ties in Charleston. I went to school in Terraton. I wanted the whole HBCU experience, you know? Once I started riding, I made my way here. Just searching for a high. Forgin seemed to be the place where the high was steady. I guess it's cause The Met is only a quick drive away."
The Met was another name for Columbia, South Carolina. It was the capital city, and in recent years had become a hub for gang activity, gentrification, and businesses openings and closings.
"Our people have strong ties in Charleston. Some of the most connected in the diaspora. It's no surprise that you're...whatever you are."
Brandon didn't know how to take that so he stayed silent. He continued to scan the newspaper as they walked across the apartment complex. "This says somebody just got shot over here."
It wouldn't surprise Crash if someone got shot while they were walking. "You scared?"
"No. I just wanna know how long we're going to be out here, in the open. I'm alert."
"We're going to see an associate of mine. Her name is Kyra. She stays up here." He pointed ahead of them. "Up by the park. You see that white sign up there? That's the park. Her building is right behind it."
"I thought we were going to your house."
Crash paused to pick up a basketball that was in their path. He started to dribble it as they walked. The bouncing created a calm cadence for them. "No offense, but I don't let everybody in my house. That's why we're going to see Kyra. If she says you're cool, we can get started. I got a weird feeling that everything is about to change."
"Is Kyra like you? She believes in the stones, universe, demons, and all that?"
Crash shot the ball in the air a few times, catching it before it could hit the ground and repeating the action as he pondered how to answer Brandon.
"If that's how you want to categorize us, then yes. You might want to start including yourself because I can tell that you believe more than you did last week."
He passed the ball to Brandon who caught it easily. Brandon laughed as he spun the ball on his finger before dribbling it between his legs. "I'm just thinking about it all. It really feels like I'm waking up from a long dream. Like my head was foggy and now it's clear."
He passed the ball to Crash. He quickly put the paper in his back pocket before gesturing for the ball.
Crash tossed it to him. "You play?"
"Not in a while. I was always the player off the bench. Not a starter, but I could play my role."
"You play?" Brandon was eager to learn more about Crash, but he could tell that the brother, his brother, didn't like to talk about himself. That would have to change if they were supposed to go on a demon hunting mission.
"Not really. I just like the feel of the ball in my hands. I like the music it makes."
"You look more like a football player anyway. A big linebacker. I can see you just leveling dudes."
Crash dribbled the ball behind his back. "Naw, I didn't play sports. I wanted to, but..." He trailed off as his grandmother's screams echoed in his head.
He missed the dribble and it hit his foot. Brandon jogged after the ball and caught it before it was in the parking lot.
"You good? I ain't mean to throw you off." He asked once he was back with Crash.
"I'm good. I just didn't get the chance to play organized sports as a child."
"As a child? Bruh, you can't be that much older than me and I'm twenty-six. You talking like you're in your seventies."
"I'm thirty-one. But experiences ages us, shapes us, makes us who we are." He grabbed the ball from Brandon and tossed it in the air.
Brandon looked up and waited for it to come down. It didn't. "What the hell? Where's the ball?"
"We're here," Crash said instead of answering Brandon.
They'd reached the building behind the park.
"She stay upstairs. Come on," Crash motioned for Brandon to follow him as he took the steps, two by two, until they reached the landing.
"You're not going to knock?" Brandon asked.
Crash raised an eyebrow. "She knows we're here. Just wait."
A few seconds ticked by. Then several minutes. Finally the door swung open.
Brandon coughed as the aroma of marijuana reached his nostrils. The cloud of smoke billowed out and he waved his hand in front of him as he tried in vain to disperse the smoke.
Crash rolled his eyes at Kyra's theatrics. "Come on and invite us in. You doing too much," he said with a hint of an attitude.
The woman appeared out of the smoke, literally. She was tall, brown-skinned, with dark brown mysterious eyes, shapely hips, and her full lips were turned up in a disinterested smirk. Her locs flowed down past her shoulders and cascaded among her...
Brandon turned his eyes away. The woman wore nothing but a white wife beater and orange lounge shorts. Her feet were bare he noticed, but they were adorned with bright orange nail polish.
Crash knew why Brandon had turned his head away. He'd done the same thing when he'd first met her. Her nipples were pierced, poised, and proudly greeted them through the thin fabric of the wife beater. What she lacked in cup size, she made up for it in hips and personality.
"Who is this?" Kyra asked. She had a raspy smoker's voice, but Brandon didn't find it unappealing.
"This is Brandon."
Kyra cleared her throat. "Thanks for the respect, but look up," she told Brandon gently.
He raised his head and focused on her eyes. He was taken aback because he could've sworn that they were brown, but now they were a clear blue color. He was frozen. He wanted to back up and run back down the steps, but he couldn't move. He was rooted in place. He watched as her eyes drank him in. His heart was pounding against his ribs. Then, just as quickly as it had started, it was over. He blinked and was met with soft, mysterious, brown eyes.
"I know you," Kyra said as she leaned against the door frame.
"I don't thin--"
"I know your soul," Kyra said as her fingers clenched the frame. She turned toward Crash. "I need...time." Her words sounded strained.
Crash looked her over. She seemed more drained than he'd ever seen her. He nodded. "Invite us in."
Kyra was grateful for her door frame as she waved Crash and Brandon in. She was careful to avoid touching either one of them. Crash because of who he was. Brandon because of who she was. Once they were in, she closed the door behind them.
Crash led Brandon over to where a loveseat sat against the wall.
Brandon was getting ready to sit down when something stopped him. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned around sharply.
Crash looked up with a worried look on his face. "What's up?"
"Somebody touched me." Brandon looked around wildly, but he didn't see anyone. Not even Kyra. "Crash, I swear I felt--" He looked back and Crash was no longer sitting on the loveseat. There was no loveseat. There was nothing. He was in an empty room.
The smoke was gone. He could breathe clearly. He called out for Crash and Kyra. No one answered. His voice echoed throughout the apartment.
"Crash?!" His only answer was his echo.
He took a deep breath and steadied his fraying nerves. "This is okay. I'm okay." He felt a sense of calm overtake him.
"Where should I go?" He looked around the apartment. He didn't have a clue what was happening. He had no clue what to do. Just like week, he was begging for money to score, money to eat, hoping that the shelter had a bed where he could sleep...and now...Now, it was like he'd never stuck that needle in his vein. He could remember doing it, but he couldn't remember what it felt like. He saw a shadow bouncing off of the wall of the hallway and decided to go there.
Candles lit his way down the hall. He was careful not to knock one over. He didn't know where Kyra was, but he knew she wouldn't appreciate him setting her home on fire. He was hypervigilant as he walked down the hall. When he made it to the second room on the right, the shadows disappeared. He took that as a sign that that was the room he was supposed to enter.
That room, too, was bare. He looked from the doorway and shook his head. There was nothing in the room. Nothing that could have made the shadows. Nothing. He was about to continue down the hall when he felt a force behind him. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. For the first time since entering her apartment, he was scared. He turned around slowly.
He sighed in self-disgust as he realized that there was nothing and nobody behind him. He ran his hand over his hair and sighed.
"I'ma just walk in." He walked in the room and looked around. Nothing and nobody.
The room quickly transformed for gray, barren, and sad into a clear, green, flower filled meadow. He felt his spirits lift immediately. He could actually feel the wind on his face. It was crisp, cool, and comforting. He sighed and smiled as he caught another breeze. He quickly recognized that he was standing on top of a hill. He decided to take advantage of his vantage point. He trekked to the top of the hill and was shocked that he wasn't out of breath once he reached the top. "This is beautiful," he said aloud as he surveyed the scene. The flowers were all different colors. They swayed as the wind blew. Their fragrance was sweet, but tangy at the same time. It was a perfect mixture of masculine and feminine energy. He saw a large tree and decided to rest against it.
The exhaustion had come fast and heavy and he was on his knees gasping for breath before he could reach the tree.
"Shit," Brandon rasped out as he rubbed his chest.
"You'll never make it to the tree on your knees," a voice called out.
Brandon looked around. He didn't see anyone. He closed his eyes. "Get up, Brandon."
He opened his eyes slowly. He recognized the voice. It was familiar. He just couldn't place it.
"Get up, Brandon. You've held yourself back long enough. Get up." That voice was different, but still familiar. Where had he heard them before. He gathered his strength and stood.
"Let's go. Get up the hill."
"Move your legs."
"You're almost there."
The voices intermingled, alternated, encouraged, and made demands as he clambered up the hill. With each step, he felt his feet grow heavier. His chest grew tighter. When he was finally at the peak of the hill, his shirt was soaked through. It clung to his body. The wind was gone. The air was no longer sweet and tangy. It was hot, muggy, and stale. He raised a shaking hand and tried to wipe the sweat from his face, but it didn't do any good. The salt stung his eyes and the sweat he did wipe was quickly replaced with new streams. He felt his stomach clench and turn. He knew what was coming. His mouth salivated involuntarily. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
He didn't know how long he dry heaved. He just knew that when it was over, he was glad. He heard water bubbling and slowly made his way toward the sound.
It was a creek. A small creek. A tree hung over it and provided him with much needed shade and a slight breeze had returned.
"Thank god," he said as he fell to his knees beside the creek. He quickly dipped his hands in the water before splashing some on his face. He'd never felt anything so wonderful. Using his hands as a cup, he scooped several handfuls of water to his mouth and drank it. He was reaching for another handful when he caught sight of his reflection. He stood quickly.
He was wearing a dingy green shirt. It was caked in dirt, torn in some places, and hung off of his limp frame. His jeans didn't look any better. He looked horrible. His skin was gray. His eyes looked lifeless. His lips were chapped and cracked in some places. He looked at his arms. They were covered in track marks. His hair was wild, dry, and falling from his head with each breath he took.
"No. I don't look like that. I quit," he said as he stomped the water. The ripples disappeared quickly, but when the water was still, his reflection was still there. Only now, he was wearing the necklace that he'd found in his pocket. "Sapphire," he whispered before bringing his hand to his neck. The necklace wasn't there.
"What's going on?"
"Are you sure you want to know?" It was the voice from earlier. He searched his brain trying to place it. He kept drawing a blank.
"He's not sure. He's too busy thinking." It was the second voice from earlier.
"I want to know," he declared. "I want to know."
"You already know." The wind whistled and Brandon heard soft footsteps behind him. He resisted the urge to turn around. He kept his gaze on the water. He saw himself smile as he was joined by two people: a man and a woman. Both black. Both looked like they could be his grandparents, but there was something else about them. He knew them. He knew the old man's white eyes. He knew the old woman's kind, but stern smile.
He watched as each of them placed a hand on his shoulder. He watched as his reflection transformed. He was now wearing the clothes he'd dressed himself in. The necklace still hang from his neck. He didn't feel the weight around his neck, so he knew that it was still in his pocket.
He closed his eyes and exhaled. "I know." He opened his eyes and saw that his reflection had changed once more.
Now, he was bare-chested save for his necklace. He wore only a warrior dress. He clenched his fists and felt an immense weight pull his arm down.
He raised his arm. That was real. In his hand, he held a sword. It glowed blue in the sunlight, but had a gray-ish tint to it. He turned it over. It felt natural. Like, he'd been born holding it. He swiped through the air.
He smirked in satisfaction.
"Are you ready?" The old lady asked him.
Brandon nodded and turned around. He was ready.
"You know what to do," the old man told him.
Brandon nodded again. He found that he did know what to do. He gripped the sword tighter and rocked on the balls of his feet.
The war cries travelled up the hill. He heard them first. Then he heard the running. It sounded like a stampede. He nodded and held his sword across his body. He was ready.