#### STRONG LANGUAGE WARNING #####
Terry stood in shock, staring after where the man had just risen from his fresh grave. She blinked twice before letting out a string of curses and grabbing at her bag. Weaving through the tombstones, she reached her car and started it anxiously.
Pausing, she laid her head on the steering wheel. "Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit," she muttered, staring at her knees. Taking a deep breath, she regained her composure and turned her car to face the main road.
The thought struck her like a bowling ball being heaved at her head. "I don't know where he's going," she said weakly, lightning cracking back in the direction of the city.
"Where does a fresh corpse go when he hops out of his coffin???" She glanced around helplessly. Something sticking out of her bag caught her eye and she reached over and wrenched it out. It was a cutting of the article declaring that her four mentors and their male friend were found brutally murdered in their loft apartment. Apartment. She scrounged for the address she kept in her wallet, shrieking with slight glee when she found the grubby slip of paper. She read the address twice before dropping her wallet in her lap and lowering her foot on the accelerator peddle. It was only a 10 minute drive to the interior of the city, Terry hastily pulling into a spot opposite the apartment building. As she slammed the door to her car, the skies opened further and she was thoroughly drenched by the time she crossed the street.
The front door stood ajar, Terry stopping to stare for a minute before barreling up two flights of stairs. At the top of the landing, she slowed her pace, panting heavily as she searched for the right door. Stopping outside apartment 3F, she peered inside and stared at the tableau before her. The man was facing the broken window, soaking wet and bent slightly.
Terry took a cautious step inside, the apartment looking different from the time she had visited it before. Then it had been over-flowing with personal belonging, bits of clothing strewn over furniture, books on every surface, and the sink filled with dirty dishes. It hadn't been sloppy, it had been well loved and well used for the four girls and this man. Terry took another step forward, inhaling sharply when the man wheeled around, his eyes red and watery.
"It can't be true, they weren't supposed to go." His voice was wavery. Terry looked around dumbly, finally noticing the large difference between then and now. Furniture was overturned, pieces broken off and at the opposite end of the room. A section of the counter had been broken off, raw cement exposed and there were blood stains on the cabinet paneling and in the sink. One of the window panes had been smashed and rain was leaking in, an annoying drip on the hard wood floor.
"What happened??" Terry's voice sounded raw and surreal, not to mention very far away. She met his eyes again and felt as though her stomach would turn inside out.
"They knew too much," he began, his voice more mournful than usual. "About the drug rings and prostitution circles of this city. They kept getting girls out and clean, reforming them and giving them lives. The drug lords found out and sent out their hell hounds for them, all four of them. They killed them for the good they had done, and me for being there." He stared at the ground, before moving slowly down the hall and stopping outside a bedroom.
"That's horrible," Terry whispered, feeling her heart sink. Looking up at where he had disappeared, she stepped into the hall, only to have him sweep by again. He had stripped out of the rotted and damp suit jacket and shirt and was holding onto a black T-shirt and leather jacket in one hand. In the other was an 8 by 12 photograph, all of the faces smiling widely. He set it on the broken counter, stalking off towards the bookshelf next to the window.
Terry stared at the four women who had helped shape her life. Air was smiling so gleefully, her eyes had become tiny half-moon slits. Water was next to her, clutching the smaller girl around the next, her own smile moderate in size. Fire was sitting at the bottom corner, the corners of her mouth turned up in the closest thing to a smile that came naturally to the girl. At the opposite corner sat Earth, her mouth also turned up in an adoring smile, her left arm draped over the man's shoulder. His own smile was shy but small and sincere. Terry looked back up at him, watching as he took things off the bookshelf and put them in the pockets of his black jeans and the leather jacket. He glanced over his shoulder and locked eyes with Terry.
"Who came to purify the apartment?" he asked, his voice low but steady.
"The elders, the watch-towers, the oracle, me and another novice," she recited, remembering the protective circle the women had made in front of the window. They had also blessed the spots where the bodies had been found, lighting a small white candle in the spot.
"Eleven people??" He asked incredulously. "Eleven people?!?! Son of a bitch, how dare they."
"No one knew the whole story," Terry explained, trying to rid the room of the sudden static of anger. "Those drug lords or whoever, I guess they own the paper. They said the girls and you had died of missed bet payments and other shady dealings." She watched in horror as he clenched his fists and turned a look of intense rage on her.
"They were private, the girls. Don't forget, you knew them best. Most of the women in the coven didn't know them very well. But the elders and the watch-towers and the rest of us... We did. We knew them, even if we didn't know what really happened." He unclenched his fists and Terry let out the breath she didn't know she had been holding.
"But you're here to fix that, aren't you? You're going to set it straight."
"Yes, I suppose that would be why I'm back. But they deserve so much better than me. I guess necessity really is the mother of invention. Everyone else in this city is too damned stupid or scared to do something. So it falls to me and I'm glad for once, for the violence. Maybe then everybody else will wake up."
Terry stared at her wrists, muttering, "How sad it is when a dead man must avenge himself."
He reached out, turning the scars upward. "Yes, it is sad. But sadness is a part of life and death. I intend to complete the cycle."
"If you need me, I'm novice oracle Teresa. Light a flame, whisper my name, and I'll know."
He smiled as if out of recognition for the little rhyme all novices learned in the coven. "I go by many names. At least, they all called me something different. Aileen called me Alex. Helen called me Xander. Nirvana called me Lex and Anna called me Lexer. You can call me what you want." He dropped her wrists and turned back to the bookcase.
"What do you want to be called?" Terry queried, which made him turn in slight shock.
"Call me Lex. You seem more like Vanni anyway."
"Vanni?" Terry cocked her head in confusion.
"Nirvana, Vanni, Fire. Whatever you know her as." He shrugged.
Terry stepped backward and hugged her waist dumbly before the idea blossomed. "How do you know where to find these guys?"
"I don't," he replied simply, turning fully to face her. "But I have a feeling that somebody wants to show me." As if it were called, the large black crow she had seen on his left shoulder in the graveyard flew through the missing pane in the window. It took it's former perch on his left shoulder, settling it's wings.
Lex reached up and stroked the bird on it's beak. "They say that crows help dead souls to their final resting place. Help them find peace. And sometimes a crow will bring someone back, to finish what was left behind. Helen told me a story of a man and his fiancé who were murdered for fun. The crow brought him back and he laid waste to those who had hurt him and his love. When it was all said and done, he went back to sleep and hasn't stirred since. He's at peace, just like every other man who was raised before him. Just like I'll be when this is all over with. And then the world can wait for the next crow."
"They're going to be more after you?" Terry hugged herself tighter as if to shut out the idea of more people rising from the dead.
"It's human nature to hurt people in an attempt to be stronger," he explained patiently. "It's what the crow was made to do. And we as lesser being cannot deny it's allotted path. Does that upset you?"
"It scares me the same way an earthquake would. Something you know is coming and can't stop." Terry picked at the mauve nail polish on her fingers nervously as Lex turned back to the book shelf and picked something up. When he turned back towards her, he held a white mask over his face. It was a clown's mask from an operetta or some theatrical production. It was all white save a vertical line through each eye and black lips curved in a smile with a horizontal line halfway across the cheek from the corners of he lips. Terry could see his brown eyes through the holes of the mask but not see his mouth.
"Help me," he asked plaintively, hidden behind the mask. The crow cocked its head and riffled through it's feathers impatiently. 'Best not deny it,' Terry thought and nodded, turning on her heel and striding into the bathroom the five people had shared. Crouching, she withdrew Earth's bag of theatre make-up from under the sink and pulled out two pots of greasepaint, a sponge, and a thin brush. Closing the bag, she set it back in the cabinet, staring at the things the four girls would never use again. Hair gel, body spray, four separate bags of make-up and the theatre make-up in it's neutral washed-out grey. None of it would ever be used again. Closing the cabinet doors, she strode back out to where she had left Lex. He had put the mask back on the bookshelf and was now leafing through a booklet of CDs.
"I still remember all their favorite songs. Vanni had good taste and Helen wasn't that bad. But Anna made us suffer through these songs she loved and eventually, we'd get used to them. Sometimes, I think she knew things before they'd happen. Not oracle-knowing, but just an inkling. She'd listen to this one song over and over again. She always said it made her so sad, but she never knew why. I remember the words, and I think now, I understand. They were wonderful." He closed the booklet forlornly and faced her, his attention instantly drawn to the make-up she held in her hands.
"Hold still," she said in her sternest voice, as if commanding a little child. He hadn't moved and inch away from the bookshelf, so she set one of the pots of paint and the brush down, unscrewing the lid to the paint she held in her hand. Setting the lid face up on the bookshelf, she swabbed the sponge in several circles in the white paint, making sure that there was a good coating on it. Carefully, she reached up and spread the paint in a half circle around his left eye. The crow hopped off Lex's shoulder and glided serenely to the broken counter to watch the proceedings with a glossy black eye. Terry repeated the process with the paint, spreading it from the bridge of his nose to connect with the previous streak of white. She did it again, coating his cheek and half of his chin, leaving a delicate clean line under his jaw. Now cautiously, she loaded the sponge with paint and brushed several strands of thin brown hair back from his forehead and coated it with paint. She performed this process with the other half of his face, leaving small flesh colored circles around his eyes. Gently, she swabbed the sponge in the paint, meeting his eyes for the first time. There was a fleeting look of trust before he slowly shut his eyes. Gently, she brushed the sponge over each eye-lid so that an utterly blank white face was presented before her. Something had steadied her hand with the sponge and made the white paint a perfect oval about his face. Something else possessed her to quickly cap the white paint and drop the sponge, snatching up the brush and removing the lid to the black paint. She vaguely remembered Earth's old trick, licking the brush before swirling it in the paint. She reached out and painted the lines through each closed eye. She outlined the lips and drew the lines extending from the corners, taking extra care to fill in the black paint on his thinned lips. She stepped back, the brush still poised in her hand. He opened his eyes and Terry at once realized something very different about this man and the one she had seen claw his way out of the grave almost an hour ago. There was something harsher in his eyes, and also something sadder, as though the make-up was a sword in one hand and another in his heart.
"Thanks," he whispered, his shoulders squaring unconsciously.
"If you need me," she said involuntarily, stepping backwards. "If you need me at all, just call. If it's for the girls, I'd do anything to help."
"Thanks," he said, just a bit louder than before. "But this is my war. Dead against the living for a blood price. If you want to help, say a prayer for the girls." Terry nodded, numbly registering that she was crying.
"Say a prayer for this city," he assured her. "They don't deserve it, but say a prayer for them." He brushed past her, coat flapping as he walked out of the apartment. The crow followed, cawing at Terry as she collapsed onto the floor.