Another fireball scorched the land and I pulled further into myself. I could hear the others nearby. They were shaking, crying, some even praying. As if that did anything any more. When this had started, people had said the gods had abandoned us. I wish that had been true. It would have been a lot better. The very earth burned as we tried to hold out in one of the bomb shelters left over from one of the last wars of man. The faded yellow of circular symbol above the door was a reminder of the times when only man had tried to destroy man. One of the little ones crawled into my lap. I wrapped my arms around them without even checking to see which one it was. There weren’t many these days. Only three of the very young children were left in our group. It had been bad enough when the attacks had just come like this. Fire from the sky, storms, seas that literally fought us. Those things are bad enough. Then they started to come in the night taking the children and leaving sticks or leaves in their wake. We’d broken into the library to find out what was going on. Of course, the Tuatha de Danaan were stealing children. Glancing up, I wondered whether the one attacking now was Apollo again or a different one. Did it even matter? The gods didn’t abandon us, didn’t turn their backs on us. They turned on us.
He took a deep breath.
“Do you trust me?”
I looked this man over, knowing that I was still shaking and covered in blood.
He stepped a little closer, holding out one hand.
“Do you trust me?”
“Look, I don’t even know who you are and-”
He cut me off, closing the distance between us. His hands went to my shoulders.
“You have to trust me, or else you’re going to end up in a lot of trouble. Do you think people are going to believe you if you say he was a vampire? I don’t. Now come on.”
Reluctantly, I followed him towards the truck he’d left at the mouth of the alley. He was probably right and that was the problem. No one else would believe me and I did have to trust him.
“Where are we going?”
I asked it as I slid into the passenger’s seat.
“Somewhere where you’ll be safe while you get some training. The fact that you survived that means you’re good enough to learn to hunt those things.” He grinned a little and tossed me a jacket. “Throw that on so everyone we pass can’t tell you’re covered in blood. We’ll get you clean clothes on the road.”
Cedric rolled over and woke with a start. He ran his hand along the empty side of the bed. Still warm. He smiled slightly and moved to sit on the edge of the bed, stretching. With one hand, he grabbed the discarded shirt from the floor and pulled it on. He slid his feet into a pair of slippers and padded out into the kitchen in their small apartment.
Yulia sat at the table with a mug of tea in her hand on the small tv on the counter turned on. She was watching the news with her knees pulled up to her chest. Cedric winced as he heard the now familiar voices of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. They hadn’t been air long, but he and Yulia had both come to associate those voices with bad news.
“We have no comments from the military at this time, but we can confirm that the device does appear to be there.”
“According to the news coming out of Moscow, you should be able to see it with nothing more than binoculars and pick up the signal with a ham radio if you’re tuned in-“
Cedric put a hand on her shoulder.
“What’s going on?”
“They got into space. They’ve got… They’re calling it a satellite.”
She stood, moving to the coffee pot and refilled her mug. Cedric watched her, noting the worry on her face and in the way she was holding herself. He started to open his mouth when there was a knock at the door.
“Dammit. Turn off the tv, Jules. I’ll deal with them this time.”
But when he opened the door, it wasn’t the neighbors with their little anti-communist vigilance committee.
“Good morning, Sir. Are you…”
The suited man with his dark sunglasses glanced down at a clipboard.
Cedric looked at that man, at the one standing beside him, and his shoulders slumped. “Yes, I am.”
“We’re here to speak with Yulia Petrovna.”
The temptation to set up a magical way to slow the boy down was rising. The location wasn’t far, he’d said. It was in a static location, he’d said. What he hadn’t said was that it was only accessible by passing through the gods only knew how much moorland and swamp. Kate certainly wasn’t fastidious, but she would have murdered for a pair of wellies in that moment. She was trying to extricate her cloak from a particularly clingy thornbush when Gawain stopped.
“We arrive, Sir.”
She gave one more tug and caught up with him. Before them lay a perfect circle of destruction. It looked like the whole of the area had been sliced off with a hot knife. Only the bare, burnt, barren patch remained.
“This…this is horrible. And no one knows what happened?”
Gawain shook his head, keeping well back.
“No one, Sir. A sprite passing through reported it, else we may have never found it.”
Looking again at the circle, Kate knew one thing for absolute truth. This had been formed by magic, and not the kind she had seen her brother using. Faerie Glamour could do a great many things, even shape a seeming of what she was looking at. But it certainly did not feel like this. This magic made her skin crawl and the closer she got, the more she wanted a long, hot shower to scrub and scrub until she finally felt clean again. This was mortal, pure and simple. Well, not pure. Unless it was pure destruction. A smile slowly crossed her face, despite the carnage. At least this was something within her bailiwick. She turned to look at Gawain, arms crossed over her chest.
“First thing’s first. I’m not Cliff. I’m Kate, his twin. Second, you’re lucky I’m not Cliff. He’s shit with mortal magic and that’s what this is. Any questions?”
His eyes were huge and he was looking her over in confusion.
“Identical twins. He’s my brother. I need you to send word to someone in charge. Whoever makes sense. Let them know this is mortal work and…” She stopped, kneeling to look more closely at the bare, scorched earth. “And quarantine anyone who’s touched it, entered it. Anything like that. You got me?”
Kate rubbed her temples, standing.
“Where’d I lose you?”
“Did you understand the rest?”
“Oh!” He bowed quickly. “Yes, Si- Um. Lady. I will go quickly. Do you intend to stay here?”
He gave her a look that screamed as loud as if it was lit up in neon and thirty feet high ‘please say no.’ She just sighed.
“There are things I can do to figure out just what happened here. So, yes.”
He hesitated then.
“Lady, if I may?”
Eventually, she decided, she would figure out how to get him to call her Kate.
He fidgeted nervously, bouncing on the balls of his feet and looking more like a nervous teenager than she’d seen him thus far.
“Why… If we were mistaken, why did you not correct our perception of your identity?”
That hit her. Why hadn’t she? She could have just said ‘oops! I’m his sister, take me home!’ and everything would have been fine. Why had that not occurred to her? She took a breath, trying to find the answer.
“Because… I felt I had to.” She looked at the blighted soil and then back at Gawain. “And I was right, so don’t argue and don’t tell anyone. But if Cliff does show up looking for me-”
“Then I shall endeavour to bring him hence, Lady. Subtly.”
“Oh good. Th-” Again she stopped herself. “Take care.”
As he jogged off, she turned back to the circle and frowned. This was a hitherto unknown level of worrying. She could almost feel the bog iron and salt. And she was purely human.
“Gods…” she muttered, kneeling down once more to check the edges. “Geometrically perfect, or as close as makes no difference and strong enough to kill a Changeling like Cliff… But why?”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
Danny stood in the doorway to his room and stared at the spirit sitting on his beanbag chair like he owned the place. The boy slammed the door and turned around, stalking into the kitchen.
“Mom, Coyote’s back.”
Danny’s mother turned away from the sink, and from the two bird spirits having an angry conversation on the counter.
“Oh, he is, is he? And what did he have to say?”
The boy scuffed his foot on the floor and then sighed.
“I dunno, I slammed the door.”
The look on his mother’s face was one of abject horror.
“Come on, time to run damage control.”
She strode to his room and pulled the door open, not at all surprised to see Coyote lounging on the beanbag chair with the Xbox controller between his paws.
“Hello, Coyote. Did you have a particular request or are you just here to play?”
“Well, I was hoooooping that Danny here could help me out with something.”
She turned to her scowling son and grinned wickedly.
“Have fun and try not to get arrested this time.”
There are two kinds of ghosts in the world. It’s a fact I know as well as I know my own name, and a fact I know far better than the hallways of the old house I was trudging through. Somewhere in here there was a prospective student for Sycamore Hill Academy, but only if I got to her before they did. And as usual, the darker side of things had a head start on me.
The briefings for prospective student meetups are surprisingly well-prepared, all things considered. Most of our incoming students don’t exactly have the most thorough records. I had a short file on the girl. Seven years old, name Sara or Sarah, likely to hide from strangers but she likes dolls.
The stairwell ahead was dark but I could hear small feet running on the next floor up. She had to be running from something. Picking up my pace, I barrelled up the stairs and fished blindly in my bag for one of the pre-made sachets. If what I thought was here was up there, I would need it. When I reached the top of the stairs, I turned and darted into the hallway. It was like my sense left me. Something caught me in the shins and I fell forward, arms pinwheeling madly while the floor came rushing up to meet me.
I must have hit my head because the next thing I knew, a teenager had a hand over my mouth and was examining the cloth ball I’d held. Looking him over, I frowned, trying to place what seemed off. Then I had it.
“You’re not dead.”
“And thanks to me, neither are you.” He crouched by my head, staring down at me with brown eyes that oddly reminded me of dark citrines. “What are you doing here?”
“Doesn’t matter. What are you doing here?”
He smiled slowly.
“I live here.”
That set me back on my heels and I reexamined him.
“Okay, let’s try this again. I’m a recruiter and I’m looking for the little girl. Do you know where I can find her?”
He stood and offered me a hand up.
“Yeah, but you’re going to have to convince me first. I take care of her.”
Mason tossed the empty can of spray paint into the trash and turned to gaze at his masterpiece. The sigils were woven into the mural so carefully he doubted anyone would see them, but they would be charged by every kid who came out to this park to play and in turn, the sigils would keep the kids safe. He’d been seeing some of them starting to experiment with magic which was all well and good, but some few of those kids might start finding the darker stuff and he wanted to keep them safe for as long as he could. Pulling up his hood, he stepped away from the wall and started the long walk home. A few kids were already arriving after school, happily yelling the rhyming spells all children seemed to learn. An old woman sat on a park bench feeding the pigeons and quietly exchanging gossip with them. The birds went everywhere and they certainly had the best gossip in the whole city. He hopped onto the 131 bus headed towards his apartment. The whole city was humming under his feet when he stepped back out onto the sidewalk and turned the corner towards his building. There would be a thunderstorm later. Definitely a good day to put some jars on the roof to catch water. And he could recharge those crystals he’d borrowed from Amily. Perfect. Mason smiled to himself as he drew a circle on the doorknob with one finger to unlock it. He had a lot of things to do before Amily got home.