A cool breeze hinted at Autumn’s approach being only weeks away, although the direct sun had yet to relinquish its warm grip on Summer. The campus had been busy with the rush of vans and cars signaling the arrival of students both new and returning in a frenetic dance of luggage, computers, personal accessories, and even a few fancy stereo systems. By now almost all had moved into their respective cottages and gone through the required orientations for the upcoming school year. I say ‘almost’ because we were missing one very important student.
My niece, Danielle, had yet to arrive.
The uneasy feeling in the stomach couldn’t shake the impression that something bad had happened, but as no one had said otherwise I was trying to ignore it. It’s not like I could call Mark and ask what was up, not after Director Goodman had made it painfully clear that any such actions would jeopardize the cover story for my new identity. Whether I wanted to or not, I had to keep quiet and go about being just another student at the school preparing for the upcoming term.
I walked out of Kirby Hall after picking up my updated and official class schedule and spotted Maia doing the same. As soon as she stepped into sun she smiled and spun about with arms wide in the warmth, her maple bark-colored skin and leafy-green hair soaking up the rays. That’s not a euphemism, given her tree nymph mutation she literally was pulling energy from the sunlight.
“Maia!” I called out to her, trying to get her attention.
“Oh, hey Jordan,” she said, eyes unfocused and dreamy.
“You heading to the cafeteria?”
“Hmm… sure. Is it lunchtime?” She blinked and lowered her arms.
“Yep. You should probably eat. Were you out here getting your classes too?” I waved the printout of the schedule the rabbi had handed me.
“Nah, I got mine a week ago. I was just scouting out my classrooms so come Monday I’ll know where all the rooms are.”
“That’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll do that this afternoon.”
We walked together along the road towards the Crystal Hall and past Administration. The flag on the pole today was red which was not too surprising considering some students’ parents liked to drop their kids off personally to remind themselves why they were spending all their money on tuition. They knew it was a school for mutants and special kids and everything, but that didn’t mean they were ready for the truly different ones. Seeing your own child about to attend classes with velociraptors can be unnerving, not to mention the poor kids sporting far too many tentacles. I couldn’t help but grin at the thought of how the jerk preppies at my old high school would have reacted to my new classmates. They likely would have fled in horror to the security of their BMWs and immediately crashed into each other in the ensuing panic.
“Kinda late for schedule changes, you having issues with yours?” Maia asked curiously, looking askance at my evil smile.
I shrugged, letting go of the amusing daydream. “Well, first the administration insisted I TA a pre-calc class after hearing about my helping Tamara pass her Algebra final. Then they wasted a few days debating the results from all the additional powers testing stuff. They’re mandating I not use any powers in the lab or even martial arts until I learn better control. The effects on others is considered too risky. So I’ll be doing independent lab-work with the rabbi instead.”
Maia flushed at being reminded of the effects that had overwhelmed her that time in the cafeteria. I had powered up to deal with a demon-possessed bully, but she had experienced the backwash. She hadn’t asked me to do it again since, and I hadn’t offered - it had been a rather awkward moment. Her enjoyment of the sun just now? Yeah, it was like that - except tripled.
A Lincoln Towncar with tinted windows drove past us, pulling into a visitor spot out front of the administration building. A professional driver stepped out and politely opened the rear passenger door. My heart leapt as a familiar white-haired young lady came bouncing forth, her neck craning about to take in the sights.
My grin returned, much wider this time. “Finally!”
Maia followed my stare. “Someone you know?”
“Uhm, yeah. I was hoping she’d get accepted.”
She smiled. “Cool!”
The driver went around to the other side. My old friend Isaiah stepped out, dressed to the nines as if on his way to court.
I stopped dead in my tracks. What the hell was Isaiah doing here? Where was Mark?
“Something wrong?” Maia asked, sensing my mood shift from joy to alarm.
“Maybe. She’s not with her… uncle. Instead she’s with a lawyer.”
Danielle and Isaiah climbed the steps to Schuster Hall while the driver plopped back into the car with the flair of someone expecting a long wait. He hadn’t even gotten any luggage out of the trunk. Not a good sign.
“Hey Maia?” I said, glowering at the back of that car. “Mind eating without me?”
“No worries, but what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know yet. But thanks!” The last was shouted over a shoulder, feet were already running towards the Hall to find out.
Sprinting into the foyer, I caught sight of the two being escorted up the stairs by Mrs. Shugendo. I knew where those stairs lead as Mrs. Carson’s office was up there. Great.
If Isaiah was here, could there be some legal problem with Danielle’s application? And still, why wasn’t Mark with them? He was supposed to be her guardian, had his injuries been worse than they’d let on?
Pulling out a shiny new smart-phone, I made the only call that might get answers without screwing things up. When she answered I didn’t give her a chance to even say hello.
“Natalie! Why the hell is Isaiah here?”
“Jordan! And a good morning to you too! Where are you?”
“Administration. Danielle and Isaiah just went upstairs with Mrs. Shugendo.”
“Mmm… well, they have an appointment with Mrs. Carson at eleven.”
“You aren’t answering the question, Natalie. It should be Mark here with her, and the driver should be busy unloading her bags but isn’t. What gives?”
There was a long pause.
“Natalie? You there?”
“Yes… look, Jordan, there are things I was told not to tell you…”
“By whom? Goodman? Shit.”A surge of anger threatened to release a torrent of energy, but it got shoved down in time. Brightening the foyer with mystical light would definitely be a red flag violation.
Natalie sighed. “I suppose since they are already here that cat is out of the bag. There were legal complications - the courts enjoined Mark from taking custody of Danielle. I’m sorry.”
The senior running the front’s information booth looked up at the loud outburst. I turned to face the community message board on the wall instead.
“Child Services got involved, making the case that the DPA - including Mark - had been careless with her safety, and even laid the blame for your death at their feet.”
I resisted an urge to put a hole in the wall right through all those stapled messages.
“Natalie. If she got shoved into foster care… and you didn’t tell me…”
“Jordan. You need to be calm-”
“Calm? You want me to be calm? Did the system just fuck over my niece? Yes or no!”
“Your friend Isaiah Cohen intervened. From what I understand, he blitzed the court system with a towering stack of motions; the judge granted his petitions and awarded him with full custody. Now breathe in, slowly.”
“Why… why didn’t anyone tell me about this?”
“We were directed not to because you are still considered dangerously volatile.”
“Did this screw up her application to the school?”
“Not at all. Just possibly delayed things.”
She sighed. “Mr. Cohen. He’s refusing to sign the paperwork, as he’s not convinced Whateley will be in her best interest.”
Fuck. I bet I knew why, too. “Let me guess. He thinks she should stay with what semblance of family she still has. And Isaiah probably has a plan on how to let Mark visit her to maintain the continuity of his support.”
“You people are idiots.” Thumbing ‘End Call’, I ran for the stairs.
I knew what I had to do.
It didn’t take long to reach Carson’s reception room. I took the stairs three at a time.
Natalie must have figured things out as the path to Carson’s closed inner door was already blocked by a young blonde woman with an expression that would be the envy of many drill sergeants. Her reputation was well known: ‘Hardass’ Hartford - the Assistant Headmistress.
“Stop right there, Ms. Emrys!”
“There’s a man in there I need to talk to. Now.” Our eyes locked, stubbornness to stubbornness.
“Mrs. Carson is in a private meeting. Furthermore there are instructions in place to prevent you from interfering. Security is already en-route, young lady.”
Rumors claimed Hartford was an exemplar, certainly her physical beauty attested as much although her cold anger ruined the effect. I wondered how much detention they’d nail me with if I smashed her through the door.
As I took a step forward she placed herself in a fighting stance. “Go ahead and try me if you dare.”
I grinned with a better idea.
Inhaling as deep as possible I shouted at the top of my lungs, “Isaiah Cohen! Get your ass out here! Isaiah!”
“Why you little…” Hartford lunged and tried to grab me, but I managed to dodge her hands and shove a chair between us.
“ISAIAH! Get out here, dammit!”
“Cease this nonsense! Immediately!” Mrs. Carson’s command boomed across the office.
I backed up. “I will if she will!”
“Amelia.” Mrs. Carson said in a tone brooking no argument. While Hartford’s anger was scary, Carson won. The Assistant Headmistress glared daggers of hate in my direction but lowered her hands.
Standing behind Carson was Isaiah. He was staring with open curiosity.
“Do I know you?” he asked me with a touch of amusement.
Danielle wedged herself past him and instantly blurted, “Jordan!”
Isaiah frowned. “You know this girl?”
I spoke up. “She does. So do you. And we need to talk.”
Mrs. Carson tapped her cheek contemplatively, then inclined her head in my direction - so very slightly that I might have been the only one to notice. “Yes, I believe the two of you really should chat.”
As far as I was concerned, Mrs. Carson had just proven herself wiser than the entirety of the damn DPA.
We were shown to a conference room. Mrs. Shugendo took Danielle to give her the campus tour, but only after getting Isaiah’s permission - and after Danielle had given me a hard and long hug. I whispered to her that it would all be okay, and with a nervous nod she left with Mrs. Shugendo.
Mrs. Carson was the last one out, closing the door as she went. We were alone, just Isaiah in his perfectly tailored suit-coat, tie, and suspenders, me in my jeans and t-shirt spelling out ‘DOOM’ in the classic game’s iconic lettering.
He studied my every move from behind rimless glasses. He was slightly shorter than me with clean-shaven and sharp features under a professional hairstyle. It was obvious that in the last ten years or so he hadn’t gotten to the gym much. Not that he was fat or anything, he just had that middle-aged stomach spread that we all fight against. Well, that I used to fight against.
Clearing his throat, he said, “Alright, you wanted to talk. So talk.”
I pulled out a twenty dollar bill and slid it across the table. “You should take this first.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I should?”
“Retainer. Gives you attorney-client privilege.”
“If you wish to sue the secretary for assault, you’ll need a different attorney. My practice is in California, nor does assault fall into the purview of my law specialty.”
“What? Sue Ms. Hartford?” I couldn’t help but laugh. “As funny as that would be, no - that’s not it at all. Besides, she never touched me.”
He crossed his arms, revealing a rather expensive watch. Huh, he’d gotten a new one since the last time I’d seen him. “Young lady, get to the point please. You’ve already caused quite an interruption to my day.”
A snerk at his calling me ‘young lady’ almost escaped, but business first. “If you want to know what the DPA has been hiding from you, take the twenty. I want you covered by that client-attorney privilege.”
Eyes narrowing suspiciously he picked up the money. “I’ll need to know your full name.”
“My driver’s license says, ‘Jordan Elin Emrys’.”
“I see. Then, Ms. Emrys, for at least the next thirty minutes, I agree to be your attorney - with no guarantees of any action other than providing counsel. Speak.”
“That’ll do,” I said, still trying to figure out the best way to do this. “I’ll, uh, get to the point. Your friend Justin Thorne - he’s alive.”
Hope flickered briefly before raw anger slammed over it as he crushed the twenty. “If this is some kind of sick joke, you will not like the consequences…”
“No joke, Isaiah! Just… just listen, okay? I don’t know what all they’ve told you - and I do know that Danielle was sworn to secrecy and was intimidated pretty seriously about it. But as only one part of the whole mess was specifically declared to me to be ‘classified’, I think I can tell you the rest. They just won’t like it.”
He had been about to angrily interrupt but the mention of ‘classified’ information gave him pause.
Into that opening I plowed ahead. “Justin got home from work on that crazy day in L.A. to find the door of his house blown off, with a trail of tornado damage running to Danielle’s room. She was gone-”
He cut me off with a sharp gesture. “I already know that much. What has not been made clear are the circumstances of his death two days later.”
“Yeah, sure, he was attacked when he tried to go home, but did they tell you that in rescuing Danielle that first night how he’d been changed?”
“Majorly. Not mentally, mind you, but physically. Completely transformed.”
He hesitated, still furious but willing to think. “That could explain the MCO agent pushing the DPA in odd directions at the custody hearings.”
MCO? “Wait, the MCO was involved in trying to shove Danielle into foster care?” The bastards!
Isaiah noted the emotional reaction. “They were quite insistent, yet also seemed rather frustrated as if there were things they were unable to say in open court. If anything, the whole case smelled of them trying to put pressure on the DPA.”
I growled. “Goodman is going to get an earful if I ever get him on the phone again.”
“The DPA Director? You know him?”
“Look, dude… just let me tell the damn story from the beginning.”
He put the twenty into an inner coat pocket. “I’m all ears.”
I started over.
This time he let me get all the way through. His brows had narrowed even further when I got to the part of Justin choosing a new name. What I didn’t describe was the ritual details in the storage unit as that was the classified information I’d been warned about - and I didn’t want to give Goodman any playing cards for when I reamed him over how close Danielle had gotten to being lost into foster care. I also didn’t mention to Isaiah about being an angel - I figured that would blow my credibility out of the water as far as he’d be concerned. One step at a time, right?
Oh, and I only said they had arranged a scholarship for me - he’d disapprove heavily about taking any money from a guy like Callas Soren, you know, the suspected terrorist who started the entire mess.
I knew Isaiah would be mad about what had happened - what I didn’t expect was to be the major target of that rage.
“You expect me to believe this? That you, sitting here before me as a girl not old enough to vote, are actually my friend Justin Thorne?”
“Look, Isaiah, I can prove it - ask me anything! Stuff that only I should know! Ask me about random stuff from all the role-playing games we did in college, anything!”
“In a world where the capacity for mind-reading has been proven, you think that’s acceptable? For all I know, you are another ploy by the DPA to manipulate my ward! An attempt to get Danielle isolated where they can control her, and maybe use her as bait again like they obviously did to Justin. This school is full of talented psychics; you could easily pull those memories straight from my mind!”
“Whoa, whoa… I’m no psychic! Crazy energy slinger, sure, but not psychic! And what the heck do you mean about using me as bait?”
“Sending Justin home with a single agent, especially with said agent being family, is absolutely absurd given the dangers of the situation. Dangling bait on the line to see what monster might bite!”
I thought about it and also got upset. “If they did, then Goodman is a double bastard for using Mark like that. Dammit, Isaiah - Mark almost died!”
“Yet you claim you saved him.”
“I tried to! How much I succeeded or not, I don’t really know. An ambulance showed up in time and they’re the ones who really saved him and got him stitched up.”
He studied me. “All of this is academic. I know for a fact you cannot be Justin.”
I blinked. “What?”
His face contorted with fury. “Because my best friend, the man I trusted as a brother, would have never kept me in the dark - he would never have let me believe him dead!”
Isaiah’s rage slammed into me like a thunderbolt. “But…”
“No buts! I don’t care if you have Justin’s memories, stolen somehow maybe, it doesn’t matter. My brother is dead!”
Guilt flooded me.
“Dammit, you’re right. You’re right! I should have called you!” I shouted back. “But you know why I haven’t? Because it might have risked Danielle! Look - you are the executor of my estate. The DPA set me up with a whole new identity to try and hide me from the scum behind the assassin sent to kill me. If you knew I was alive, how could you legally process my will and get Danielle the funds she needed to live? Let alone allow her to come here, a school where maybe - for the first time in her life - she could be accepted for who and what she was! Not to mention it might have jeopardized your law license to perpetuate a knowing fraud on the court. I couldn’t do that to you, that license is your whole life!”
“If the government purposely declares someone dead as a matter of national security, then legally they are dead. It wouldn’t have mattered if I knew or not as a matter of law.”
I spluttered. “But… but that’s not what they told me…” I sat back in my chair, flabbergasted. Why would the DPA have encouraged such a lie?
Isaiah removed his glasses and slowly rubbed his forehead. “The Department of Paranormal Affairs has a track record of obfuscation. The Director likely believed that the fewer number of people who knew, the better to sell the cover they were creating.”
“And I fell for it. Wanting to protect you and Danielle. Fuck, I’m stupid.”
He stared at me like he was seeing me for the first time.
“Now you are starting to sound like my friend.”
He still put me through the ringer, of course, asking me question after question to verify that I was indeed Justin transformed. No topic was off-limits either, and the jerk had me in tears recounting yet again the loss of my wife and sister.
We even argued about some of our past escapades as we clearly had different memories of certain events. For those we had to agree to disagree, although with my exemplar memory I was damn sure I had things correct.
After over an hour of this I was starving but he was still going strong and now probing trivia from our role-playing game exploits.
“In your Arthurian Campaign,” he asked, “what did Gawain do when we all burst into Arthur’s bedroom and found Lancelot and Guenevere in his bed instead?”
“C’mon, man. Let’s break for lunch. How much more of this do you need?”
“Are you saying you are unable to answer?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake. He picked up the entire four-poster bed and chucked it. Which is how Morgause’s infertility charm that kept Gwen barren all those years was discovered. Can we eat now?”
He nodded, still maintaining his lawyerly poker face. “Food would indeed be welcome. But don’t think this break is in any way to be construed as me accepting your story.”
I sighed. “Fine. Though I’m really not sure what else I can say to convince you. Look, there’s a restaurant over at Dunn’s Hall. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll buy.”
“I can pay for my own.”
Shaking my head I said, “Not happening. It’s the least I can do - you saved Danielle from Child Services and even flew all the way out here. I know how busy you are. ”
When we got to Carson’s office, Hartford icily informed us that Mrs. Shugendo and Danielle were still touring the campus and that Mrs. Shugendo would provide Danielle with lunch. The Headmistress had left instructions that I should escort Isaiah for his inspection of the campus and to meet back here by three.
On the way to Dunn’s we passed a few Thornies who all cheerily greeted me by name (or by calling me ‘Red’, the nickname I was having a hard time shaking off). After the fourth one, I had a disturbing thought that they all had assumed that Isaiah was my father. The mere notion gave me the willies; I’d have to disabuse everyone of that later somehow because yeesh.
As for Isaiah, he stayed mostly quiet and observant while I pointed out the sights - until we were led to a booth in the back of the restaurant away from everyone else (as had always been his preference) and were ordering our lunches.
I went first. “Could I get the Italian sandwich and an iced tea? Thanks.”
The waiter looked at Isaiah expectantly. With a smug smile my friend simply said, “She’ll order for me.”
Good grief. Another test.
Thus began my interrogation of the poor waiter on their selection of juices before settling on ‘cranberry, with just a little bit of ice’, followed up with asking what soups they had today, and finally choosing the chips and guacamole appetizer with a crispy chicken sandwich.
And no, the bread did not have any rosemary or thyme in it.
The waiter looked back at Isaiah just to be sure, and got a wordless nod of acceptance before heading off. I sat there awkwardly for a minute while Isaiah just stared in thoughtful consideration.
“You going to say something or just glare at me through lunch?” I said grumpily.
“What is? This restaurant?” I made a show of looking around. “Looks pretty normal to me.”
“You are. Your mannerisms and speech patterns are those of my friend, but not entirely.”
“Not entirely? Well sorry, but it’s hard to be exactly the same as you were while wearing a bra and a school skirt.”
He shook his head. “That’s not it. Justin was always more introspective - whereas you waved back at those other students with open and unrestrained affection. Not to mention you’ve been wearing your heart on your sleeve during our entire conversation.”
I grumbled, “You try dying and coming back like this and see if it doesn’t change you.”
“Dying?” He sat up straight, hard focus returning. “You said ‘transformed’, not dead.”
“Urm, yeah.” I rubbed my face. “While pulling Danielle out of that storage unit, I uh… I died. And came back. Didn’t figure that out till much later when I finally remembered Gabriel.”
“The archangel. She caught me and threw me back. Maybe she’d passed her limit of souls that day, you know - catch and release?”
His lawyerly calm took a serious hit from hearing that. Score one for me!
Making sure no one was nearby to overhear, I decided to give him more details. And because he latched immediately onto the idea of someone actually speaking to an angel, I had to mention Raphael too. Which meant, of course, I had to fill him in on the powers I’d been manifesting, the triple circle in my attic room, and what had happened with both Evie and Tamara. When our food arrived he was sitting there stunned into silence trying to process it all.
As I took a large bite of my sandwich, he exclaimed, “You’re telling me that God gave you a new life?”
“Mmmph!” I shook my head, swallowing what I could. “Not exactly.”
“If Gabriel, one of God’s most trusted angels, sent you back - how could it be otherwise? You said this Nick person saw Justin’s body disintegrate.”
“Yes… but… look, I don’t really know, okay? With what I can do now, I’m wondering if I somehow created this body after plunging back - or perhaps Soren’s ritual did it. Gabriel caught me before I reached the light, yes, but she just watched me fall back here.”
“And you’ve spoken with Raphael.”
“In dreams, sure - and when he helped me clean the filth that had invaded Tamara.”
His eyes boggled from behind his glasses.
“What?” I asked.
“You… you had contact with two divine beings! Did you not ask if it was all true?”
I was confused. “True?”
“The Torah! God, Heaven, the Host! Why mankind exists! The nature of the Creator!”
“Uh… it didn’t come up?”
He gaped at me in astonishment.
“Hey, don’t look at me like that,” I said defensively. “There were other things I had to worry about! Besides - after they fixed the middle circle and I could get back to that dream-place, Raphael hasn’t been there. So it’s not like they gave me the chance to ask anything else.”
With an unsteady hand he took a long pull from his juice, emptying the entire glass in one go.
“Do you,” he said while shaking his head, “have any idea how big this is?”
“What, me coming back to life? There are mutants and super-heroes doing all kinds of crazy stuff. Just look at the papers!”
He slammed the empty glass back on the table causing me to jump. “Not like this!”
An angry finger pointed at me. “Divine intervention! The Host taking direct action influencing things here on Earth! According to the Torah the Age of Prophecy is over, and yet-”
“Dude. Judaism isn’t the only faith that ties to angels. I know you were raised Jewish and all, but people believe angels are behind all kinds of things.”
“This is different,” he said with certainty. “Otherwise the DPA wouldn’t have bent over backwards to keep you hidden. Giving you a new identity like this means they had pressing reasons on a larger scale to do so. Otherwise you would just be in protective custody, be given a superhero watchdog, that sort of thing.”
He had a point. Mark pushed the ‘hide by faked death’ angle immediately after encountering the gryphon. And the Director himself had then watched over me while I slept, not to mention went out of his way to get me set up at Whateley. Hey, wait a minute…
“You realize,” I said slyly, “that you just acknowledged I was Justin?”
He frowned. “I did not.”
“Nope, you did. I quote, ‘Giving you a new identity like this’…”
“Oh c’mon, man!” I couldn’t believe how stubborn he was being. “Look, tell you what. Put it aside for now and after lunch I’ll take you to see the rabbi. Would that help?”
“A rabbi?” He arched an eyebrow.
“Yeah. Rabbi Emmanuel Kirov. You’d like him. I bet you two could babble in Russian at each other. He’s my adviser and is trying to guide my powers development.”
He nodded. “That sounds good.” Taking a bite of his own sandwich he added, “And I still have questions regarding this school and whether it’s appropriate for Danielle.”
I wanted to bury my face in my hands. “How can you argue it’s not the best chance for her future?”
“This place is too dangerous,” he answered simply. “Your own story just now proves the point.”
“My… my what?”
He ticked the items off on his fingers. “A child who is a psychic projector almost triggers ragers across the campus. Another child was possessed by a demonic entity. The best of their magic staff is concerned you might blow up New England. And that’s just your first couple of weeks here, it doesn’t even begin to touch the previous events at this school. Did you know the campus was assaulted by Syndicate forces not so many years ago? Or that it has housed Class X entities? I’ve done my research, obviously more thoroughly than you have.”
Class X what now?
“Whether you are or are not Justin Thorne reincarnated does not matter. Danielle’s safety is now my paramount responsibility.”
“Think about it though,” I said, putting aside wondering what the heck a ‘Class X’ thing was. “Whatever happened in the ritual that did this to me also did some major things to her. Her power potential reaches the upper echelons of their charts - how safe will she be if she isn’t taught how to use and control them properly? I don’t know of anywhere else she can get such training. And with the possibility of that assassin deciding to go after her too, is your home as secure as this campus both physically and magically? For that matter, how many magical healers are employed at Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica?”
His expression hardened. “That poor girl has lost too much family. The courts prevented Mark from taking custody, but I can make sure he can visit as often as he’d like to give her some continuity-”
“Dammit, Isaiah, I am her family. That’s why I agreed to attend high school as a freaking student again - so I could be there for her!”
We glared at each other. To my surprise he broke the staring contest first. With a sigh he looked down at his sandwich. “Let’s eat and go see your rabbi.”
“Fine.” Angrily, I tore further into my sandwich. He ate his more slowly, with eyes haunted again by pain… and maybe, just maybe, hope.
Fortunately Rabbi Kirov was in his office when we arrived. After being introduced to Isaiah, Kirov waved me towards the newly crafted circle in the back half of his room so he and Isaiah could talk without me interrupting. A week ago he had prepared his office so I’d have another “contained space” I could use to power up without flooding anyone else with supercharged backwash. So far it had done the trick.
With the rabbi switching to incomprehensible Russian as I walked to the circle, it was fairly obvious that the front office had told him to expect our visit. I just hoped that a fellow stubborn ex-soviet Jew could penetrate Isaiah’s thick skull and help him see reason. I mean, I knew the school had its risks (hey, I’d lived them) but it seemed much worse for Danielle to not be surrounded by the support this place could provide. Not just from me but from all the teachers and staff who genuinely cared for their students and their progress.
The world she had entered as an even more enhanced mutant was going to be a lot more demanding and she needed the best foundation possible with which not just to survive but to flourish. The same went for me, which is why I didn’t argue much over being shunted aside so they could talk privately. The more practice time I could get in the better.
Folding legs under my skirt on the floor within the markings, I traced a hand over the white lines and Hebrew letters. I’d been studying Hebrew each night from one of the books Soren had sent, finding my improved memory making foreign language acquisition so much easier than my previous attempts in my first go through of high school. God, I hated memorization back then. Vocabulary lists were such a pain in the ass.
As such I could read what Kirov had inscribed: an invocation calling on God and four of the archangels - Uriel, Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. Scattered about in immaculate Hebraic script were also the names of a number of other angels along with symbols designed to resonate Kirov’s intent of power-containment. As he’d explained, the whole design anchored on the names of the Most High: the higher name JHVH (whom he called “Hashem”, as you were never supposed to speak the name aloud) and Elohim, a name of God for when He acted within creation.
It was all rather baffling but he had said not to worry about that for now. The important thing, he had said, was the intent and the faith infusing the working: his belief and love for God.
Putting aside my own confused feelings towards the Almighty, I tried to control my breathing as Kirov had instructed: in and out, nice and slow. We had determined that the best way to ‘open up’ to that brilliant inner pillar was to focus on what mattered most to my heart. It sounds cheesy, but yeah - love opened that inner pipe wider than any other emotion.
Naturally, I thought of Danielle. It always did the trick.
The resulting flood slammed into me, threatening to spill out and turn me into a gigantic white LED. It wasn’t just a physical sensation but an emotional one - driving my feelings through the roof beyond all the best highs I’d ever had in my previous life. Natalie had expressed concern about this - something about it stretching my capacity for emotional states beyond what was ‘healthy’.
I was more worried about it becoming addicting. But only after I’d recovered, because in the moment? It felt beyond natural.
It felt divine.
As the tingling sensations rammed their way under my skin, the energy rush pushed hard against some sort of built-in limiter. The tremendous pressure behind the stopgap was incomprehensible, so I was quite thankful it was there. Kirov had agreed there could be a risk of burnout should whatever this limiting factor was be breached - and he had anecdotal stories of previous rabbis reaching too high resulting in their death or madness. Kirov also expressed a further worrisome possibility: if unrestrained angelic energy ripped through my mind it could carry away my humanity.
As it was, containing even as ‘little’ as slipped through was problematic, which the current flickering under my skin demonstrated. It’s hard to hold in check the very thing that makes your spirit sing.
The rabbi had challenged me to channel only enough energy to light a single tea candle, which he had placed on a small aluminum tray. You know, without melting the entire thing into a sticky pool of wax. I’d spent a lot of time scrubbing that damn tray after each failed attempt. Still, I’d been getting better. The first try had caused hot white paraffin to explode all over my shirt and onto the nearby bookshelves. Getting to the point where it would only melt without bursting had been a minor victory in my opinion.
Little surprise then that after all the guilt and anger of the day I was having no luck. Every attempt to only send a trickle down my arm had the energy surging off on its own in random directions. I kept having to cut the flow completely and start all over.
The heated discussion in Russian behind me wasn’t helping much either. The more I thought of the possibility of Danielle not attending the school, the worse my control until finally I’d had enough. In a moment of internal pique I blurted loudly, “Screw it!” and let the resulting flash pulverize the candle to smithereens.
What I hadn’t noticed in my focused concentration was that the rabbi and Isaiah had walked over to watch. With that brilliant flare of power, wax exploded all over Isaiah’s pants and shoes. Chagrined, I looked upwards and accidentally blinded his astonished face with the light still streaming from my eyes.
“Oh shit. Sorry!” Eyelids snapped shut to cover the dang high-beams, and with an effort I forced the plug back into the incoming energetic torrent - something that was getting harder to do every time.
Once the tower was locked down, I found Isaiah examining the quickly hardening wax splattered on his tailored slacks and designer Italian shoes. I waited for him to yell at me for making a mess.
The rabbi must have let slip about me being an angel and channeling from on high, as Isaiah said only one word in quiet awe:
Isaiah agreed to sign Danielle’s papers. He may have still been on the fence after his discussion with Rabbi Kirov and during the rest of the campus tour that I dragged him through, but when he saw Danielle’s face back at Mrs. Carson’s office I knew his objections had all become moot.
If I hadn’t just spent a couple weeks with kids who could literally light up (myself included), I’d have said her beaming grin was ‘glowing’. Her excitement was palpable - she launched into an exuberant monologue about the magic labs, awesome dorm rooms, and even gave a lavish description of the Crystal Hall Cafeteria.
My friend, bull-headed trial lawyer that he was, had met his match and was overcome by a bubbling teenage girl. The stubbornness in his cheekbones melted away before her giddy onslaught. He was doomed.
Behind his back there was an exchange of knowing smiles between Mrs. Carson and Mrs. Shugendo before he was carefully guided into Mrs. Carson’s office where the papers awaited only his signature. As they went in I overheard her mention there may also be a case she could use his help on - and the help of his ‘prestigious law firm’. Unfortunately she closed the office’s door before I could hear anything more. As it was a bouncing Danielle distracted me with a squealing embrace.
“He’s gonna sign! Oh my god, I was so sure he’d refuse! And I can’t believe you told him who you were!”
I laughed. “Hi to you too! Slow down, hon, and don’t forget to breathe.”
Mrs. Shugendo cleared her throat. “First things first, young lady. We have a room for you in Dickinson Cottage; I presume you have some luggage waiting in the hired car?”
“Hmm?” She released her hold on my ribs. “Oh, yes! I’ve got a bag of stuff; not a lot, though, Uncle Isaiah didn’t let me pack everything. He’ll probably ship more out.”
“You don’t need much,” I said. “We all have to wear uniforms anyway.” I gestured down at my blouse and skirt.
Mrs. Shugendo magically produced a school I.D. card with Danielle’s picture on it. I gave the dean a suspicious look, but she just smiled professionally at me. I guess both her and Carson had been confident that Isaiah could be won over. If I was a paranoid sort, I’d have wondered if my appointment with Kirov to get my updated schedule hadn’t been deliberately timed for me to see Danielle and Isaiah arrive.
Nah, that had to have been coincidence.
Handing Danielle her new passport to all things Whateley, Mrs. Shugendo said, “Have Miss Emrys take you to Dickinson and help you with your things. Your I.D. has already been activated to work at the cafeterias; I suggest you both get some dinner and then come back here by six-thirty so you can say your goodbyes to Mr. Cohen. I believe Mrs. Carson intends to dine with him while discussing other matters.”
“Other matters?” My brow furrowed suspiciously.
Mrs. Shugendo raised an eyebrow of her own in response. “School matters, Miss Emrys. Move along, you two.”
“Hmph,” I said. “C’mon, Danielle. Let’s get your stuff.”
She looked between me and Mrs. Shugendo in consideration before she agreed. “Yeah, okay!”
We trooped out of the office and down the stairs to where the bored driver was trying to nap. Danielle giggled as she rapped loudly on the trunk. “Wake up, dude! I want my things!”
The guy stumbled out of the car, looking at us both in some confusion. “Where’s Mr. Cohen?”
“He’s got a dinner date with the Headmistress,” I said. “If you need to eat, hit one of the restaurants. He’ll be back some time after six-thirty.”
“I… oh. Thanks.”
He popped the trunk and Danielle grabbed her travel bag.
“Your cottage is this way - around Kane Hall there and close to Dunn.” I pointed in the general direction.
She nodded, but her mind was stuck on other things. “Jordan? You told Isaiah who you were! I thought the DPA said that could mess things up.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, well, he needed to know. Pretty sure Kirov even let the whole ‘being an angel’ thing out of the bag too, but Isaiah was too lost in thought on the way back over to talk about it. There are also some questions about what the DPA has been up to about all this. More importantly, you okay? Sounds like the past couple weeks were pretty crazy.”
“Oh my god, you have no idea! Child Services filed court motions to stop Uncle Mark from getting custody! And wow, I’ve never seen your friend Isaiah so mad as when Mark called about it. He was livid! He pulled an all-night typing marathon and marched into court the next day. He refused to let me go with him, so I had to spend the day with his secretary, Tracy. She’s nice.”
“I hope he took his blood pressure medicine properly during all of that.” When we were younger we could pull all-nighters and suffer practically no ill-effects, but those days were long gone. Isaiah had already worked himself into one heart attack a few years back (which he had joked was a rite of passage for all serious attorneys) - all of this new stress had better not trigger another one.
Which just left me feeling even more guilty about having not told him earlier that I was alive. Crap.
“He seemed okay, just tired. But, as he put it, he ‘totally kicked ass’ in court - shutting down their motion, preventing the MCO from dragging the DPA into it further, and protecting me by taking custody. We talked before he did that too - he said it’d be my choice, but made sure I knew what was going on and the risks before I decided. Uncle Mark is really sad about it, though, I could hear it in his voice when we spoke on the phone.”
“Is Mark alright? He get out of the hospital yet?”
She nodded. “Yeah, he’s doing better. Stuck at a desk at work, but busy. He wouldn’t say on what, of course. I had lunch with him there a few times.”
“You went back to the DPA?”
“Diego wanted to start my magic training, and Isaiah agreed it was a good idea.”
“He did? Even after the custody fiasco?”
She grinned. “After I accidentally filled his living room with snow when taking a nap, yeah.”
I stopped walking. “Wait a minute, I thought I was the trigger for you doing that.”
Pausing her own step, she shook her head. “You were - but then I started having these dreams.” She looked off to the side. “They’re… they’re kind of intense.”
Frowning, I asked, “How so?”
She stared over my shoulder towards the late afternoon sun. “Diego thinks they’re from a previous lifetime. We think my spirit was a sidhe in the distant past - and between my mutation plus the whole crazy ritual abduction thing and the power overload, it’s woken up.”
The implications started to sink in. “Are you…”
“Am I okay?” she interrupted. “Yeah, I’m alright. I’ve even learned some magic from those memories, which is pretty cool. Diego said that he knows other sidhe have gone to school here, and that the teachers would have experience on how best to help me with it all. It’s just… weird, I guess. I have moments where I feel like I’m someone else, you know? Yet I’m still me.” She shrugged.
I stared at her. Was this the same little girl who had clutched at my hand only a couple months back? She’d been through yet another scary episode when Soren kidnapped her, but now she stood there exuding a cautious confidence and those new icy-pale eyes held a spark of firm determination.
“Speaking of feeling like you’re someone else, how are you doing?” she asked. “With the whole, uhm, transformation thing. I mean, you look great - and really natural in that skirt.” She giggled, prompting me to stick my tongue out at her.
“I’m still me, if that’s what you’re asking. Just slowly getting more used to it all. It’s been a busy couple weeks for me too, actually.” I smiled.
“Really? How so?”
Visions of Evie’s dark projections and Tamara’s demon flashed within my mind. “Eh, I’ll fill you in later. Most importantly is that Khan is doing well! He’s been making friends with everyone in my cottage, pretty sure he’s more popular than I am.”
She laughed. “That’s no surprise, he’s an awesome kitty.”
“You better believe it! Now, let’s get you to your new room. You’ll probably have a roommate too.”
“Huh. I hadn’t thought of that. Hope she’s nice.”
Danielle’s roommate was polite, albeit non-forthcoming on details about herself. She looked Japanese but had a west coast accent and said she was from Seattle. Her name was Haruko Kurohoshi, and she was a freshman like Danielle.
I wondered if the girl was disappointed that she had been assigned a roommate at the last moment instead of having the room to herself for the term. She didn’t say anything to that effect, but she certainly stared at us both rather intently. I even wondered if I had started glowing or something, but nope - she was watching Danielle just as cautiously.
Haruko also had a set of Japanese swords on a stand resting atop her dresser: a katana and a wakazashi. With the way the wrappings on the hilt showed the wear of use, I didn’t think the blades were merely decorative. She had been reclining on her bed reading a Japanese manga book when we arrived, and hadn’t gotten up.
While Danielle busily unpacked her suitcase (which I swear must have been a Tardis or a Bag of Holding, because good grief more things came out of it than could possibly have fit in there), I got the sheets onto her bed, clean cases on her pillows, and blankets all set up. Once that was done I took a seat on the comforter in cross-legged bemusement while Danielle changed her mind at least five times as to which drawers in her dresser should hold what items, and whether her metal band poster (Iced Earth) was better suited to be over her desk, or maybe over her bed, or even perhaps the empty wall space next to the door on her side of the room.
In the middle of these indecisions Haruko spoke up after having remained silent since the initial introductions.
“Neither of you are human.” Haruko hadn’t even taken her eyes off her book to say this.
Danielle and I quickly glanced at each other, then at Haruko. Danielle asked, “How can you tell?”
Haruko waved a hand casually. “Your auras.” She pointed first to Danielle. “You’re obviously a fae of some kind, likely full sidhe even. All your clothes are either silk or pure cotton from what I can see.”
Without waiting for Danielle to acknowledge the statement, Haruko turned serious and introspective eyes towards me. “As for you, at first I thought you might be a dragon, but that’s not right. If I had to guess, I’d say a kami of some kind.”
“A ‘kami’? What’s that?” Danielle asked.
This I thought I knew. “Isn’t that Japanese for a god?”
Haruko nodded. “A god or goddess, deity, a principle, yes. Also, my dad’s first name.” She grinned.
“He’s an interesting guy. But don’t try and change the subject, fess up!” She tapped fingers against her book expectantly.
I sighed. “They say I’m an angel, and I’m running out of excuses to disbelieve it.”
That earned a smug smile of satisfaction. “Then I was right.”
“So what are you, then?” Danielle asked with curiosity.
With a shrug Haruko replied, “Human.”
Frowning, I opened my mystical sight to take a look at Danielle’s new roommate, or at least her energies. Lines of dark blues, purples, and greens swirled around her - she was obviously a practitioner of some kind - but oddly all the lines were pulled towards her mid-section. An energy formation the size of a bowling ball sat there, and it was slowly sucking in all the energy Haruko’s spirit was generating.
“Human, sure,” I said, “but a magical one. And what the heck is sitting inside you?”
“You can see that?” Haruko sat up, turning on the bed so her feet dangled off the side as she placed her hands protectively on her stomach. “It’s my egg,” she said proudly.
“You’re pregnant?” Danielle boggled, while I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. The bowling ball - I mean, ‘the egg’ - was definitely attached to Haruko’s spirit and feeding off of her. But just on the excess, if that makes sense. Haruko, as a wizard or mage, had extra energy beyond the lifeforce needed to live and the egg was slurping it up.
“In a sense, yes,” Haruko said. “I’m an avatar - and I’m host to a dragon egg. Someday it will hatch and then I’ll have my own dragon just like my dad.” She grinned at the thought, rubbing at her stomach before she made a rueful face. “Until it does, though, I can’t cast any magic or do anything other than see things. All my mana is feeding the egg so it can grow. Dad says I should be able to do stuff even he can’t do, because my dragon and I will bond even deeper this way.”
“Wow. That’s pretty cool.” Danielle grinned. “We’ll probably be in the same magic classes, neat!”
Haruko shrugged again. “At least the non-lab one, unless my egg hatches this year - though Dad said it could take a few.”
I smiled. “I’m only in the starting ‘Principles of Magic’ class too; this is my first year here. They banned me from the regular lab.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Why?”
Danielle snickered. “Probably to keep other students from exploding. Hey, you hungry? We should totally go eat!”
Haruko stared with even more interest. “Sure, I’ll go. But I want to hear more about students blowing up.”
I groaned as I hopped off the bed, causing Danielle to giggle all the louder as we went out the door.
Both freshmen were overwhelmed with the variety of food offerings and couldn’t decide what to get. Haruko seemed rather pleased at the selection of sushi, and Danielle gushed over the salad and vegetable bar. That was a total surprise, as only a few weeks ago I had needed to cajole and plead to get her to eat anything green. She had declared that holding a chicken nugget in each hand achieved a balanced diet.
As for my own choices, it was no contest when I spotted lamb kabobs and Greek salad on the menu. The freshly grilled onions, peppers, and mushrooms looked particularly delectable. Thus I was first to escape the cavalcade of possibilities and grabbed an open table, being sure to take one down in the freshmen area.
Naturally, I had just taken a large and juicy bite when Jenna piped up from behind, her tray overflowing with steak, mashed potatoes laden with butter and sour cream, and a healthy helping of caramelized green beans.
“You do know the junior tables are further up, right?” She grinned and plonked her tray down next to mine.
“Mrmmph,” I acknowledged before I could finish chewing. “Yeah, but a… a friend of mine is starting here as a freshman. She just arrived and is with her new roomie getting food now.”
“Friend, huh? Cool! Known her long?” Jenna asked casually and vigorously attacked her plate.
I tried to think fast. “Distantly, yeah. Her mutation first hit when she was younger, but apparently kicked up a notch recently. I was surprised to see her moving in earlier to Dickinson.”
“Last minute, eh? She’ll be busy tomorrow running around getting her schedule and everything, what with classes starting again.” Jenna scrunched her face.
I laughed. “You’re not looking forward to the start of the school year?”
“What, me? Not exhilarated at the prospect of sitting at desks designed for smaller kids, homework, quizzes, and boring teachers? Never.”
Puzzled, I asked, “They won’t get you a larger desk? I’d have thought they would accommodate those with such needs.”
She sighed. “Oh they do, but it’s always a hassle at each class. If there’s more than like two of us over six feet then it’s a scramble as to who gets the larger ones that are there, and then requisitioning more requires a form that needs signatures and stuff. I’m tall, but some are much bigger. Like Tank.”
The mental visual of Brendan, a.k.a Tank, trying to fit his seven and half foot tall frame into a child’s desk got me to snicker. “Yeah, he’d break anything normal sized just by trying to sit.”
She nodded and chewed a hunk of beef before swallowing. “He’s thinking of forming a combat team this year - and he asked me to join it.”
“Yeah. Students can form teams and practice fighting in the sims, you know, learning group tactics and strategies. That extra training can really help out in the combat finals.”
Once again I was reminded of how unusual this school really was. The closest to ‘team combat training’ at my old high school was probably the water polo squad. Given the bruises I’d seen on the players, the term really could apply.
“Actually,” she continued, “he wanted me to talk to you about it too.”
“Me?” I paused, suspending my fork and its tasty bite o’ lamb.
“Yep.” She nodded. “We were discussing what happened in the gym, from when I kicked you through the wall? And he said he had some ideas about your powers and how they could really help make a team something awesome.”
I shook my head. “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m not even allowed to practice doing stuff with others around. It’s dangerous.”
“He knows that, but hey, all it did was make me a lot stronger. He’s wondering what other powers it could boost. And if you could control it…?” She left the thought dangling, but there was clear excitement in her voice about the possibilities.
I pondered the implications. If I could master the ability, and grant more ‘boost’ as she put it to a teammate, the results could be… oh. Ah shit. “Jenna, don’t talk about that with anyone else, okay?”
She looked at me funny. “What?”
“A power amplifier. That’s what he’s thinking? I hadn’t thought of it that way, but if he’s right? It would paint an ‘X’ on my back for every supervillain in the world to try to kidnap and force me to power up whatever abilities they, or their henchmen, have. Think about it.”
Her eyes narrowed as she considered the ramifications.
To drive the point further, I added, “The only way to compel me to do that for them would either be mind control - or taking those I care about hostage.”
She paled. “Oh.”
Giving her a rueful smile I said, “It was an interesting idea, really it was. But long term? Best kept under wraps, and maybe left untried.”
She shook her head. “I’m not sure I agree. You should practice it, even if just in secret. Leaving any potential advantage undeveloped is foolish. Sensei Ito, in fact all the teachers here, would agree. Both Brendan and myself would be willing to volunteer to help you out, at the least.”
Dang. She had a point. “But not as part of an official combat team.”
That got her to grin again. “Fair enough. Maybe we could work something out with the powers testing techs, all ‘off the record’ and such.”
“Might need Kirov’s supervision, or even another protective circle to help. Aha, there’s Danielle and her new roomie!”
I waved at the pair as they emerged from the mass of students who had descended upon the cafeteria lines in a sudden rush of hungry adolescents. Haruko spotted me first, nudging Danielle to change directions and they started to walk across the Hall.
They were halfway over to us when a disdainful voice caused Danielle to stop.
“Oh great. They let a sidhe go here?”
Danielle turned towards the source, a boy perhaps fourteen or fifteen with a thick scraggly mop of red hair barely held back by a rubber band in a makeshift ponytail. “You have a problem with sidhe?” she asked frostily, her pale eyes matching her tone.
The boy stood up and moved to block her path as his expression hardened. He was taller than her, still lanky but clearly well-muscled under a charcoal Minnesota Vikings t-shirt. “Yeah, maybe I do.”
Danielle, undeterred, stared up at him. “And why would that be?”
The boy tightened a fist. “Because not all humans have forgotten your tyrannies.”
She tilted her head. “Tyrannies?”
He took a step closer. “I know the stories, passed down in my family for generations. You sidhe treated us humans as slaves - or worse.”
I saw her hesitate, and just for a moment a flicker of… was that guilt? But her expression sharpened, emphasizing the angular fae features all the more. “That was a long time ago.”
Even among the chaotic blend of auras in the room, I sensed Danielle gathering energy from all around her.
I was halfway out of my seat before Jenna’s strong hand shoved me back down. Jenna shook her head at me, mouthing ‘not yet’. Chewing a lip hard I acquiesced and stayed put.
“Time alone does not merit forgiveness, elf.” The boy smirked. He opened the fist and with a gesture the air shimmered between them before solidifying as if made of glass. The edge of Danielle’s food tray was nudged by the manifestation. “In fact, why don’t you eat outside somewhere else.”
One of the guys at this boy’s table said, “Magnus, dude…”
“Shut it, Ken,” Magnus snarled. “The sidhe aren’t human and would enslave us again if they could. Isn’t that right, elf?”
A light dusting of snow swirled about Danielle, her skin going even paler than that of the light-skinned redhead blocking her path. Her voice was quiet, yet pierced the room all the same. “I’ve spent practically my whole life dealing with the prejudice of others because I am a mutant. And now, after all those years, I’m finally at a place that’s supposed to be supportive… and you’re throwing more prejudicial bullshit in my face? Because of my specific mutation?” The anger in her voice grew with each word.
The boy snorted. “Manifested sidhe were never human to begin with, changeling. Those with the Sight know the difference is all the way in the soul.” His shoulders tensed with further concentration and the air to her sides glinted, the glassy barrier expanding around her and leaving only one path open behind her.
She gave him an evaluating look as if measuring his power - or his worth. It wasn’t an expression that belonged on a fourteen year old.
Jaw muscles clenched with worry. Danielle’s appearance reminded me of Circe’s disapproval as she stood over me in the forest while detailing her opinion of my actions that day. It was a face full of age, wisdom, and ruthlessness.
“And you think you can enforce such a banishment?” Danielle’s voice shifted - every word becoming crisp and focused, and each dripping with disdain at the temerity of her accuser.
Magnus puffed himself up so he could tower even taller over her. “I’m not afraid of a little snow. You can’t breach my barriers, they’re immune to fae magic.” On closer examination each snowflake was fading immediately upon contact with the glassy walls.
Her lips curled into a small cruel smile. “Oh you foolish boy, it’s not the snow a warrior needs fear in winter. Fires can warm your toes, but if you are not prepared? Why, you simply starve.”
She didn’t move but I saw it. A spell flowed into the floor, right under the barrier between her and Magnus, and up through his shoes and into his feet.
What the hall heard, however, was Magnus’ stomach emit a mighty gurgle. His eyes went wide as all concentration vanished - taking with it his manifested barriers. A blank and needful expression fell onto the salad-filled plate on Danielle’s tray.
She laughed. “You’ll find no meat on this plate, warrior. But look - your own has plenty.” She pointed back at his own steak and french-fries filled tray, and with a groan Magnus charged at it to grab huge handfuls of beef, stuffing it all into his face like a starved animal.
Danielle stepped around him as if he was no longer worthy of her consideration. Haruko, who had been standing behind her the whole time, quietly slid what looked like a small jade knife back into her sleeve before catching up.
By the time Danielle reached my table and sat down, her expression had returned to her usual self and seemed utterly unconcerned by what had just happened. “Hiya Jordan! You going to introduce me to your friend?” She waved at Jenna with a happy grin.
Jenna and I gave each other a look. Back at Magnus’ table, the boy hadn’t stopped with his own food but was starting a brawl with his buddies due to trying to steal all of theirs. And when they managed to shove him off, he attacked the plates of a nearby table of girls who shrieked mightily at the assault on their dinners.
As upper-classmen attempted to subdue him, Magnus’ eyes rolled up in his head and he began swinging in a mindless rage. He fought and struggled against the holds piled on him until security showed up, tasered him, and carried him out of the cafeteria.
Danielle shrugged, turning to her salad. “Huh. Didn’t realize he was a berserker type.” Then she caught my glare, and had the grace to give a sheepish grin. “Oops?”
Jenna burst out laughing, clasping a hand on Danielle’s shoulder. “That was great! I’m Jenna, by the way.”
I just sat there stunned by what I had just witnessed.
This was going to be a very weird year.
Right as we were finishing our now-peaceful meal, a security officer returned to take our statements about what had occurred. Danielle professed naive innocence - as whatever spell she had used had already dissipated before Magnus could be examined by any magic experts. Nothing specific could therefore be proven.
Haruko commented she saw a spell rise from the floor under the ‘big lunkhead’, but that she couldn’t identify the source. Jenna mentioned how Magnus had insulted all the sidhe students at the school, of which there were a few, and any one of them could have done it.
I kept my mouth shut.
Clearly irritated, the security officer re-iterated to Danielle the prohibitions against casting magic on other students and marched off with a scowl.
Once he was gone the other girls giggled loudly.
“Well, I need to get going,” Danielle said as she stood up. “I better get unpacked and hopefully meet everyone else on my floor.”
Haruko rose with her.
“I’ll come visit you and Khan tomorrow, okay?” Danielle said.
“You’re going to be busy, hon. You need to get your uniform, sort out your classes, get your books, and you should attend as many social event things for freshmen as you can. You’re gonna be stuck with ‘em for the next four years after all.” I grinned.
“Huh. Hadn’t thought of it that way. Maybe in the evening?” She gave me a hug from behind as I was still seated.
Patting her arm, I said, “Sure. But only if you have time. And if you need me, you know where to find me, okay?”
“You bet!” With that she skipped and Haruko walked purposefully out of the cafeteria.
Jenna glanced at the clock hanging above the fray of hungry students. “Oh crud! I’m late!” She pushed her chair back, gathering up her tray which was overflowing with empty plates.
“Late? What for?” I was curious.
“Team meeting. With Brendan.” She flushed and to cover it up quickly blurted, “You want to come?”
“Nah, thanks though. I’ve got something else I need to do.”
“Alright.” She paused, realizing she couldn’t also give me a hug while holding everything.
I laughed. “Get going, silly.”
“Bye!” She hurried off and I quickly followed suit to get back to Hawthorne.
I hadn’t joined in on all the laughter about what had happened with Magnus, for what I had seen in Danielle bothered me. I mulled over my observations on the walk back to my cottage, but in the end simply sighed from not being sure what one could do about past-life personalities poking through in the present.
A package I had asked Mrs. Cantrel (Hawthorne Cottage’s house mother) to order for me had arrived earlier and now seemed as good a time as any to deliver it to the intended recipient. Said recipient might even be able to offer advice on how best to help Danielle with this new twist on what had happened to her that fateful day in Los Angeles.
Thus after retrieving the package I found myself standing again in Kirby Hall outside a faculty member’s office, this time holding a medium-sized (and still sealed) box. I had overheard earlier that most faculty would have extended hours tonight to help deal with last-minute class scheduling. And no, it wasn’t Rabbi Kirov’s office.
It was Circe’s.
Her office was behind a solid and closed wooden door sitting at the end of the hallway. Large elegant script was etched into the wood itself: ‘Mystical Arts - Chairman’s Office’. Yep, it was warded too as a quick shift of sight to the etherial side of things revealed a dizzying array of Greek words blending into loops and patterns of mostly dark brown, greens, and cyan.
Deciding knocking first might be a good idea I did so, careful not to leave any dents by accident.
A commanding voice calmly replied from within. “Enter.”
Easily holding the package with one hand, I opened the door and walked inside. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see in the office of perhaps the world’s oldest legendary sorceress, but I will admit surprise.
It was much like the office of any of the professors at my old college. Standard desk with a monitor and keyboard next to papers stacked in neat piles at the edges, the usual utilitarian bookshelves full of journals, binders, books of various sizes, and tasteful artwork of mountain or ocean views decorating the few spots of otherwise empty wall-space.
No pots of strange herbs, cauldrons, or odd-shaped flasks emitting dangerous fumes, nothing like that at all.
“Ms. Emrys.” Circe sat in a modern executive leather chair, dark and curly hair pulled back in a frizzy ponytail. In her hands was a Chinese food take-out container and a pair of chopsticks. I’d obviously interrupted her dinner.
“Uh, hi. Mind if I come in?” I asked.
She raised an eyebrow. “I already said to enter. Is there some difficulty with your schedule?”
“Huh? Oh, no. Actually, I came here to give you this.” I hefted the box a little higher.
Frowning, she set her food on the desk and walked over to take the package from me. “What is it?”
I stumbled for words. “A bit of an apology of sorts, and also a thank you.”
Setting it down on one of the faded fabric guest chairs, she looked back at me. “Mind clarifying? Hand me the scissors from the shelf there.” She gestured towards, of all things, a white Tigger mug resting on one of the bookshelves from which was sticking forth a number of pens along with the handle to the aforementioned scissors.
I obliged and handed them over. “I feel we may have gotten off on the wrong foot the other week, what with the whole incident in the forest and all, honestly likely due to my smart mouth. And the thank you is for the outer circle forged on the floor of my bedroom.”
Cutting through the packing tape, she opened the top of the box - revealing the contents as being a single case of wine. Greek wine, to be precise.
Pulling out a bottle to examine it, she chuckled. “Retsina. You do realize that trying to bribe one of your instructors is likely against school policy? And buying alcohol at your age illegal?”
Flushing slightly I muttered, “It’s not meant as a scholastic bribe, and I asked Mrs. Cantrel to order it for me. I’m well aware what my license says about my age, even if we both know better. And I expect you to grade me as fairly as any other student. I was merely hoping to clear the air, and if possible, talk to you.”
A woman who had witnessed thousands of years of humanity contemplated me for a moment, and her eyes crinkled with amusement. Putting the bottle back in the box, she gestured towards the other guest chair. “Why don’t you sit and tell me what’s on your mind?”
We both sat while I tried to organize my thoughts. “Too many things,” I began, words spilling out quickly and gaining further speed, “I mean - between this whole being-an-angel stuff and having the potential to be a danger to the campus if not the world, I keep wondering what you might know about Nick Wright or his former mentor Callas Soren and whatever dangerous game that guy is up to, and about the MCO and it’s attempt to use Danielle’s guardianship as a pawn versus the DPA, plus there’s now a worry about Danielle and her being a sidhe with obviously a rather strong past life and what that could mean for her.” I inhaled deeply after that mouthful.
Circe put a hand on her desk, pausing before speaking. “You’ve had a lot of changes, all within a very short amount of time.”
I laughed, albeit with some bitterness. “That’s an understatement.”
“And yet, everything you just mentioned is an external worry - either about others or your impact on them.”
“Crisis management. If your house is on fire and on the verge of collapse, worrying about having to wear different underwear fades in importance, don’t you think? I’m just painfully aware of how little I know - and that’s what scares me.”
“A proper attitude in the short term, but longer term what isn’t dealt with will fester.”
“Yeah, it will. The trick, though, is surviving long enough for that to be a problem.”
She smiled. “True enough. So let’s tackle your list, shall we?” Looking at the ceiling, she contemplated her next statement.
“Angels, or Ángeloi in Greek - the messengers. I’m afraid I haven’t had much in the way of direct dealings with them, so not sure what to tell you other than what my own mentors, from rather long ago, told me.”
“Your mentors?” I asked curiously.
“You’d call them members of the Greek pantheon - gods and goddesses. Their advice when it came to the agents of El was simple: avoid them.”
I sighed. “Pretty sure I don’t have that option.”
“I was warned to beware their unleashed power, and that only some of them are genuinely concerned for this world. Also that there are angels… and then there are true powers. Like the archangels, manifestations or emanations of much wider energies and concepts.”
“Are they more powerful than the pagan gods?”
She shook her head. “It’s not an apt comparison. The deities of the Greek, Norse, Egyptian, or for that matter Hindu pantheons could be considered as more powerful on Earth during their heyday - in other words, more able to effect direct change here. It’s perhaps a matter of attunement of attention. Each - pagan deity or angelic - within their own bailiwick would likely be supreme, be it in their own realm, or level of awareness, describe it as you will.”
With a frown I said, “Yet you were concerned enough about my potential to oppose me attending the school - and then put in the ‘failsafe’ circle around my bed. What if you were right? What if I’m too much a danger to be here?”
Circe stared, dark eyes scanning and obviously seeing far beyond what even my own mystic sight provided. “You need to understand that each belief system has its own version of how the world was created, its own metaphor of emanation and the process thereof. Just as a Titan walking the world would be disastrous, so too would an angelic of sufficient power. A primal force, no matter its wrappings, is a potential threat. We’ll be discussing such beings and their impact on the world - like the Sundering - more in Mystic History.”
“Am I a ‘primal force’ then?”
“That remains to be seen.”
Great. Just great. “The Sundering? What’s that?”
“In short? It was a catastrophic event that wiped out most of the available magic in the world. It caused the Five-Fold Court that used to rule to collapse completely, the mystic creatures to flee or die outright, and all of this left the world to humanity.”
“The Five-Fold Court?” I had never heard of such a thing.
“Before the continents split off the five Courts ruled, formed between the royal fae, dragons, djinn, mer-folk, and at the center coordinated by the spirit of Gaia herself. But it degenerated, fragmenting amid internal strife, until the world broke apart - resulting in severe losses of magical energies. Enemies of peace - both from this world and from beyond - caused mass exodus and death, until only humans were left.”
“Oh. Is that like Noah’s flood?”
She shook her head. “No - that likely happened after. The fae were already gone by that point, as I understand it.”
“Huh.” More questions danced through my mind. “There was a kid in the cafeteria being a jerk to Danielle - I think his name was Magnus - he said that the sidhe once enslaved humanity. Is this true?”
Rubbing her forehead, she sighed. “I believe humans were treated as lesser beings, yes. And some of the royal courts were not very nice places. It is likely that many humans were, if not outright enslaved, at least treated as such.”
Crap. “I think Danielle is a reincarnation of one - of a sidhe. She thinks so too.”
“Mutants have taken on the external appearance of the ancient sidhe, but not all are truly fae. In Danielle’s case, however, either she is or she has a piece of the spirit of one. Unfortunately such things are always hard to determine. Has something happened to confirm her theory?”
“Uh, earlier tonight I got a strong glimpse of her previous personality. I think she was a power of some kind - and old.”
Circe pursed her lips. “We’ve had other students who have struggled with integrating such past experiences or the spirit shards that contain them. Did Danielle mention her dreams?”
“Actually, yes. She says she’s learned some magic from them too.”
“That’s good to know. I’ll inform her teachers and they will work with her to help her through it. Have her also let us know if this former being, to her, seems separate - as in a different presence in her mind. That could indicate having a spirit shard entwined with her own, as opposed to being a full reincarnate. As for how all this can effect the girl you have known, that will depend on the strength of her own will - whether the old personality and worldview will end up dominating or whether Danielle, immersed in our modern world, will maintain. But realize that the best outcome for her is likely a merger of the two. Danielle is young and children at such an age are already going through a lot of growth and change. The benefit is that they are therefore extremely adaptable, especially when given the right support. Be there for her, listen to her, and let her explore who she is - and who she may become. Try not to hold on to who she was; that’s a mistake many parents make even under normal circumstances. And warn her not to make use of any techniques she sees in her dreams without expert guidance, or the results can be unpredictable.”
I nodded. “Okay, not sure if she’ll listen, but I’ll tell her.” What she said about it all made sense, though the thought of Danielle becoming haughty and superior like in the cafeteria didn’t sit well with me. But what star student or athlete didn’t get on an ego kick unless the parents (and even friends) managed things properly?
Shaking my head, I tried to move to the next item from my list of many worries. “What about Nick and Soren? Nick mentioned having once been your student here, and that Soren was a guest lecturer at the time.”
“Mmm. Nick was a precocious young man, albeit a sharp one. I believe he ran into trouble with certain authorities in college and was somewhat forcibly drafted into working with them. The details are not mine to share, so that’s all I’ll say about it. Soren, however, is an interesting individual - he’s lived a long time, and I suspect much longer than he admitted to me.”
“How long was that?”
Circe picked up her box of Chinese take-out (which was probably cold by now, oops), and poked at it with the chopsticks. “Well, let’s just say we had differing viewpoints and opinions about a number of Roman emperors.”
“That’s pretty old. Uh… no offense.”
“None taken.” She chuckled. “I got over being the oldest person in any room a long time ago.”
“Any idea what Soren would be up to? And why the heck he’d do this to me?” I gestured at my body and all its new feminine glory.
“The man always struck me as someone who wished to be perceived as the ultimate neutral - working with heroes and villains both, trading information and knowledge. But under it all, there was a sense of being deeply driven by some specific quest. Whatever it was it gave the very meaning to his existence. You have to understand that for those like him and me, living as long as we have, we each need a reason to keep on going. Many who have the power to do so lose the will to continue over time, allowing themselves finally to end. For some of us we redefine that reason with each age we live through - adapting and growing, choosing the next thing as we go.”
She swallowed a noodle, then added, “For Soren - whatever his reason is - I don’t think it ever changed. It’s the same now as it was when he was doing deals with the Roman bureaucrats, or with the medieval feudal lords and popes, or perhaps even the ancient Pharaohs. He does his best to never let it show, but you don’t live as long as I have and not learn to read people - even people as careful and skilled as he is.”
“In other words,” I said, “he didn’t do this to Danielle and me lightly or on a lark.”
“No. Through you, he’s manifested an angel here on Earth. The repercussions of such a feat are likely to be profound.”
“Do you still think I’m a threat to the school?” I asked her bluntly. I had to know.
She paused, a bit of noodle clamped between the sticks in her hands. “Yes.”
My heart sank.
“Don’t take it personally, Jordan. You are caught up in something that far exceeds yourself.”
“Should I leave? Go hide out somewhere?”
“Events will seek you out without you doing anything to invite them no matter where you are. You are marked by circumstance - and nothing you can do will prevent them from unfolding. The only thing you can do is try to be ready as best you can. Learn from the rabbi, learn from me and your other teachers, explore your dreams for insights, and practice your arts diligently. The school has accepted the risk of your presence, now make the most of it.”
Circe’s office door opened and a young boy with a disheveled mop of dark hair stepped inside. Seeing us both he froze, afraid of interrupting.
I took that as my cue and stood up. “Thank you for talking with me. And I guess I’ll see you in class on Monday?”
She smiled. “That you will.”
As I moved past the boy (who was now staring at me, with eyes most definitely NOT looking at my face), Circe called out to me again.
“And Jordan?” I glanced back and caught her grin. “Next time you want to bring me a gift, I’d prefer a nice scotch. While the modern production is a lot better, wine from ancient Greece was often nasty stuff and mostly tasted like pine-soaked shoe leather. It was just safer to drink than the water.”
“Oh. I, uh, right… good to know.”
Nodding to the boy who now was too baffled by the thought of a student giving teachers booze to keep his attention on my chest, I walked out.
After such a day, I was glad to get back to my room for a quieter evening of playing fetch and chase with Khan. Eventually he decided I was too tired to continue and graciously spread out on the bed, expecting me to do the same while giving him belly rubs. He also kept lovingly head-butting at my forehead as if to say that everything was fine and to stop worrying so much - because how bad could it be since he was there with me?
He made a strong case.
The phone rang, interrupting our rather serious mutual effort to watch how much kitty fluff could waft through the air just from scritches. It was Isaiah, he was downstairs and ‘requesting permission to ascend’. Mrs. Cantrel must have stopped him from just going on up - she had him on speaker and verified that it was okay. As tempting as it was to give him the run around as payback for his earlier grilling, the idea was too tiring.
My friend came up and I let him in before remembering I had already gotten comfortable - in other words I was wearing only sweat pants and an over-sized girl’s ‘sleeper’ t-shirt. This one had the face of a blue dragon on the front, and judging by how his eyes tried to pop out of his head my new figure must really have made it look three dimensional. Have I mentioned yet that Isaiah always had a thing for pretty redheads? Yeah, well, whatever he had been thinking on the way up in the elevator clearly had gone right out onto the balcony because he marched straight over to look for them through the glass.
“I… I’ll be heading to the airport here shortly,” he said after managing to find his tongue. Khan hadn’t moved, and therefore was obviously innocent of stealing it.
“Gotcha.” Sitting cross-legged back on the bed I pulled a pillow into a hug in an attempt to cover up a bit more.
His reaction as he turned around left little doubt that the maneuver had backfired. “This is incredibly awkward, you know,” he said in a strangled tone. “You looking like that. Sitting on a bed no less.”
With a groan I buried my face into the pillow.
“I’ll say this much, you certainly do look the part.” He chuckled.
“The part?” I looked up.
“Of an angel.”
“Oh.” We hadn’t had the chance yet to discuss that bit of information, but it was a much safer topic so I went with it. “I don’t think that’s really settled in yet. Who knows, maybe they’re all wrong anyway.”
He moved over and leaned against the desk, crossing his arms. “The rabbi seemed rather certain.”
“It’s not like I’ve got wings or anything,” I muttered.
“Wings don’t make an angel.”
“Oh, like you’re an expert on angels now?”
He laughed. “Hardly, though I believe I will endeavor to do some research. As, from the titles of the books on your shelves, you’ve already started to.”
“Trying. There’s not a lot that’s coherent about them.”
“You’ll figure it out. Also, out of your entire crazy story? That much makes sense.”
“Angels make sense? You lost me there.”
He shook his head. “Not angels in general. You.”
“Okay, now I’m totally confused. Because from where I sit? The universe of logic and reason got kicked to the curb weeks ago.”
“You being an angel. It fits.” He watched my face intently.
Whereupon I managed to furiously blush. The pillow required further inspection via re-insertion of face.
“It’s true, Justin… Jordan. Sorry. Look, we’ve been good friends, like brothers, for a long time. I’ve seen you go through some awful things - just like you’ve seen me do the same. Between that and throwing the worst I could come up with at you whenever I was running the game sessions, I believe I’ve gotten a pretty good glimpse of who you are.”
“I screw up all the time, so I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Sighing, I turned one cheek to the pillow so I could at least see him.
He was grinning. “And that is indeed part of why I’m right. Granted the whole situation you’ve found yourself in is utterly nuts, and you better stay damned focused to get through this. I’ll help as best I can, of course.”
“Thanks. And thanks for saving Danielle from the MCO and Child Services. I don’t know what I would have done if that had happened.”
“You would have raised hell to get it sorted out. Given everything that’s happened, maybe literally!” he said with another chuckle. “Anyway, I need to go and catch that last flight home. I already said goodbye to Danielle, she’s a good kid.”
“The best.” Putting the pillow aside, I slipped out of the bed. Usually we’d part ways with a solid bro-hug, but the situation now had us standing there like idiots. I offered him a hand instead.
He took it and made an effort to hold on with a stronger grip than his instincts were clamoring for. “Whatever you need to go be, be it. Embrace it. Just work to understand it all as deeply as possible - and always remember: you are not alone. Take care, Jordan.”
With that my best friend departed.
As a lawyer he was fearsome and utterly relentless, but underneath? Underneath the jerk had gotten me crying again. I blamed the pillow. Totally its fault.
I mean that.
All through brushing my teeth and readying for bed thoughts kept returning to Isaiah’s statement about understanding everything. There were just too many questions. What exactly did it mean to be an angel? And perhaps more immediately relevant, what did it mean to be one manifested on Earth? I was pretty sure even the rabbi didn’t have any good answers for that.
I drifted off to sleep full of those kinds of questions. You know, just like every night since this mess all started.
Consistency is important, right?
Thick clouds dark and full of moisture flitted past, parting to reveal a soft crimson sun dropping below the horizon outlined by far distant waters that lay beyond many tall barriers of earth and stone. A snow-crested mountaintop dominated the scene as its peaks raced upwards, all veering off to one side to reveal a secluded valley. Unlike others nearby it was not covered in snow but instead full of verdant vegetation and brilliant flowers arranged in rows and sections that bespoke of a master’s hand cultivating and placing each and every growth with purpose and deliberation.
Wanting to examine things further, I found I could not - for in this dream I was not in control.
I was a witness.
Damp earth caressed her toes as they alighted to the earth and soft wings reminiscent of a dove’s folded across her back. An elegant hand reached out to caress the petals of a single white flower - a white echoing the shade of her own feathers. Pale yellowish-green stems stretched forth from within the center, becoming thicker orange tips waiting to cast forth its bounty to the winds.
She smiled taking in its fragrance and beauty, reddish-copper hair falling forward over a shoulder as she did.
Behind her an entirely different red cast a harsher ambiance upon the surroundings, for her companion’s still out-stretched wings were not white, neither were they soft or gentle. Sharply edged feathers withdrew, glistening in the setting sun as if wet and dripping with the blood who’s color they bore. Feet, bound in black leather and gold, hovered above the surface in refusal of landing.
He spoke first. “I sense nothing. How can you be so sure the Second is here?”
“You look with your eyes, but I see with my heart. He is here.”
A grunt of acknowledgment was given. “Will he agree to aid us?”
“There are times when asking the question is more important than the answer. Now, give me a moment.”
Closing emerald eyes, she stood and slowly turned, sweeping arms in a graceful circle before stopping with a warm smile. “This way.”
They passed through the fields - through the well-tended rainbow effusion of flowers, wending their path between low-height shrubberies until meandering between ancient trees of oak and pine. Despite their shared feature of wings, they could not have been more different: her skin pale under a gown of iridescent white trimmed with gold, whereas he was armored in a polished obsidian breastplate sitting atop leathers only one shade lighter than his dark skin. Where her hair was bound by a thin circlet of shining ivy, his crown was more a helm with plates covering his face and leaving only a T-shaped slit for eyes and nose. A single raven braid fell down his back between the wings to bounce against the scabbarded weapon beside it.
Reaching the end of the valley, she guided them along the bottom edge of the boulders lining stones that thrust upwards to form the surrounding mountains. A shimmering blue stream trickled from out of the rocks, but closer inspection revealed a much larger opening leading deeper into a dark cave.
Within that cavern an unwelcoming presence could be felt emanating waves of raw displeasure. Her companion shifted, a hand going up to grasp the hilt of the sword.
Ignoring the feeling, she called out in a voice loud yet tender. “Beliel, my brother, might we come in and visit? We’ve come a long way.”
There was a long silence, but she gestured for her companion to wait even further.
Finally a deep booming response echoed outward. “You, I know. Him, I do not.”
“He is Camael, of the House of Light, Regent of the Seat the First left behind.”
A gruff grunt declared, “Only you may enter.”
The one named Camael turned to her. Under his breath he said, “I mislike this, Lady Gabriel. Your safety is my task. And he is…” The angel left the rest unspoken.
Placing a hand on his tall shoulder, she smiled at her defender. “I am as safe with him as I am with you, dear Camael. Worry not, but do wait here.”
Eyes unhappy behind the helm, a reluctant nod was given.
Bending over to pick up the muddy train of a once pure dress, Gabriel carefully entered the caverns below, picking her steps carefully over the loose stones and gravel lining the path. While there was no light beneath the earth, she had no problems making her way deeper and deeper until reaching the large cavern underneath the mountain.
A presence barely fitting inside the cave shifted its weight with an exhalation that would have knocked a lesser being off their feet.
Still smiling, she shook her head. “Are you going to tower over me from up there in the dark the entire conversation, or can we at least be comfortable?”
Another grunt answered, though this time more of uncertain embarrassment. Air rushed in from the entrance as the immense presence shifted, shrinking itself down. A fireplace wedged into the cave-wall roared into fiery manifestation with smoke curling upward through a separate passage carved into the roof of the nook.
Mighty claws had done the work of excavating the space, leaving marks of their efforts upon the stones. A single broad wooden chair sat before the fireplace covered in the pelts of at least three dark bears. Against the wall near the fire was also a large pile of bones - of both beasts and men.
A tall figure cloaked in yet more furs stepped out into the light of the flames, a tall and imposing muscled human shape with a clean-shaven head and a face yielding a visage equally carved from stone.
“Oh, Beliel,” Gabriel said softly. “What did you do to your glorious hair?”
Powerful shoulders shrugged uncomfortably. “It kept getting muddy and stuck with twigs. You should sit.” He pointed to the only chair.
Folding the edges of her garment under her, she sat on the ground beside the oaken seat. “No, brother. That is yours.”
He glowered, as if not sure what to do or say. “Would you like tea? It’s all I have. Freshly gathered.”
“Whatever that is, it sounds lovely.”
Beliel moved over to the fire, hanging a beaten metal pot filled with water over the flames. “Why are you here?”
“I wanted to see you.” She watched as he bent over the fireplace, wincing when the fur over his shoulders parted revealing several scars upon his back. When he turned around, all traces of her sorrowful expression had vanished, again showing only warmth.
He shook his head. “You didn’t come down to Earth to see me.”
“Well, no, you’ve got me there. I’m here for other reasons. But once I sensed that you were nearby, I had to come. Would it be wrong to mix business with the pleasure of seeing you once again?”
He picked up a large earthen mug, scowled further, and wiped it out with some linen that may or may not have been clean. “I don’t like visitors.” Grinning, he pointed towards the high pile of bones nearby. “And others don’t like it when they visit either.”
“Quite a collection. I doubt my own bones would add much to it.”
His eyes flashed with pain. “Not yours. Never yours.” Reaching into several leather pouches, he produced a variety of dried leaves and berries, crushing them into the empty mug.
“Honestly, brother,” she said while watching him work, “I could use your help.”
“No, you couldn’t.”
“Yes, I could. I’ve been sent down here to deal with something - and, seeing as you’ve been here awhile, your insight and even your assistance would be very useful.”
The pot started to boil, and he casually picked it out of the fire with his bare hands before pouring the bubbling and steaming liquid into the mug. Setting the red-hot pot aside, he offered the mug to Gabriel. “Here.”
“Thank you.” She took a sip of the heavily steaming concoction, and her face brightened immediately. “Why Beliel, this is marvelous!”
For a moment altogether too brief, a hint of a smile lightened his face. Her heart leapt with joy to even see that much.
“Yeah. It’s good. It’ll improve if you let it cool for a minute.” The thick wood of the chair creaked and groaned as he settled himself upon it, looking not at her but staring into the flames. “I’ll ask again. Why are you here?”
She lowered the mug with a sigh, placing it beside her. “There’s an issue. With the Grigori.”
“The Watchers were sent here to help the humans. With the disaster that befell this world and the loss of its manna - likely due to the world spirit’s slumber not to mention the more magically entwined races using up the reserves and thus for all practical purposes wiping themselves out - the humans are all that’s left to defend this realm from Beyond. It was agreed they needed guidance.”
He snorted. “The Council decided to meddle.”
“We couldn’t just leave them like that,” she protested. “The Primal Chaos needs to be countered at all levels, and this world was undefended.”
“And what ‘issue’ has occurred with these Grigori?”
“Well,” she hedged, “at first they just wanted to come home, even though their task wasn’t yet complete.”
“Which was denied.”
“Yes, it was. They’d only been down here for a handful of days at that point.”
Beliel closed his eyes and rubbed a slow hand down his face. “And now? For Michael or the Council to send you here…”
“I volunteered. It was either that or Michael himself would have come.”
They both left it unsaid what that would have meant for the world.
Peering through broad fingers, he examined how she sat on the dusty floor, replaying in his mind her every move since arriving. “You’re scared by something, sister. And not by me.”
“Never of you,” she said, meeting his gaze directly. “I’m scared by what they’ve done.”
“They’ve bred. With the humans.”
He blinked. And then he laughed, a hollow and empty laugh echoing from one end of the cave to the other.
“It is no laughing matter, brother,” she said quietly yet with an edge to her words.
“Yes, it is. The Council is blind to its own blindness. You - and they - forgot or never understood the differences in temporal perception between these lower realms and your lofty perches.”
“What do you mean?”
“A handful of days for you there, safe in that blindingly bright city the Lightbringer and I built for you all, is thousands of trips around the primary of this lowly blue marble. Magnitudes more for realms further away, such as Hell - which I came to know all too intimately before abandoning it for here. These Grigori likely wanted to go home because they’d been too long from it - too long from the Presence. And you denied them their return.”
Gabriel bit her lip, looking away from her brother and into the flames licking at the blackened logs.
His voice became harsh. “You have no concept of what it is like to be denied the Presence, Gabriel. To be this distant from Him for such a timespan. You may as well have cut off their wings yourselves and thrown them down here like the rest of us.”
Her eyes flashed. “You were never cast out, brother - you left on your own. Before I could beg you to stay, like the First did before you.”
“After what I did, I may as well have been.”
“That wasn’t your fault.”
The wooden end of his armrest snapped free in his hand, the sound cutting her off. They both stared at the shattered wood clenched in his fist.
“I will not speak of it.” He said, fighting with a deep inner rage. He threw the splinters into the fire.
She swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
A long awkward silence followed. He finally broke it by saying, “Your tea is getting cold.”
“So it is.” Gabriel picked up the mug again. “Beliel… you’ve been here awhile, I can tell that much. You know this world better than I do. The one mortal we pulled to the Garden testified with his limited understanding of the state of things, but I need to figure out what to do about it all - how to handle these crossbreeds, these Nephelim. And how best to protect the humans.”
“Mankind breeds rapidly. They are also foolish and latch on to abominations.”
Tilting her head slightly, she asked, “How so?”
“Do you know why I keep this valley so secluded? Why I don’t go visit these beings and their glimmering little souls? I’ll tell you. Because I did once. I was spotted by them in passing while hunting wild beasts. They figured I must be a god, for they started leaving offerings of that which they had seen me hunt.”
“Sounds innocent enough.”
“You’d think that. Except I went away for a hundred years, having found something of interest elsewhere for that time. When I returned, well…” He fell quiet, eyes glaring into his memory.
“What? What had happened?”
“Someone, perhaps a revenant or a djinn, maybe even a fae, had taught their wizards how to harness the power released by a soul as it separates from the physical body. They were using it to fuel their arts. And they thought such magic flowed from the acceptance of their offerings.”
Gabriel paled. “They were sacrificing their own? To you?”
“Their children. Their babies. Believing that I wanted such… evil.”
“What did you do?”
“I took care of it. All of it.”
“Oh brother…” Her hand wanted to reach out and touch him, to give comfort, but he quickly stood to put himself out of reach.
“Think well on it, Gabriel. The very idea itself had to be wiped out. And there’s only one way to accomplish such a thing. Remember this when you go solve your Grigori problem.”
Fears filled her heart. “Will you help me?”
A tear fell into the tea held now with two hands - even an expected answer can be painful to hear. “I know you defended your realm in Hell when you were there. Is this world you have adopted not also yours to defend?”
“No. Nor are you the first to ask me to save it from the insanities and desperations of others.”
Gazing up with dampness on her cheeks, she asked, “Who else has come to you?”
“The fae royalty, in their battles against each other. And later in their struggle against the minions of our ancient foes that the fae’s foolish infighting had let loose. I tell you now what I told them: I am here because I wish to be left alone. If this world collapses, I shall find another. I am done with conflicts. I am done with politics. Of Below, of Above, and of here as it sits lost in the middle.” Turning away from her, he added more quietly, “Seek perhaps whatever fae have survived, maybe they can help you thread the needle and prevent Michael from taking matters into his own hands. But I will not. So finish your tea and go.”
Gabriel stared at her cup before draining the last of its contents and setting it carefully atop a small rock. Rising to her feet, she ached to embrace him but his stance made it clear such a gesture would not be welcome.
“Thank you for seeing me, Beliel. I’ve missed you.”
“It was… good to see you too, sister.” Broad shoulders hunched in on themselves, but still he didn’t turn to face her.
She spoke softly to his scarred back. “The Gates were never locked against you, brother. And I continue to hope, as I always have and always will, to see you walk through them again one day. For my heart will never stop loving you.”
Composing herself against his silence, she turned and walked barefoot out of his refuge. As she reached her armored companion who had been standing outside in the evening twilight, she thought she caught a whisper echoing from the cave saying that he loved her too, but she could not be sure if she had heard it or if it was just an echo of her own wish to hear what they both knew to be true.
Two sets of wings took to the air, one pure and one marked by blood. As they rose higher Gabriel wondered to herself how much longer her own white feathers would remain so pure before they too became stained like the edges of her dress that even now was being washed by the moisture from the clouds they flew through.
A conscience, she knew, could not be so easily cleansed.
The clouds faded away. I was sitting once again on the rock that hung over a beach being caressed by the ocean whose location or name I still did not know.
There was no sign of my fellow angelic visitor to this place. Raphael still hadn’t returned.
If forced, waking was possible - but instead the waves rolled in, one after the other, while high above those now distant clouds floated past, never granting any views of their peaks. Whether towers and buildings still rested there upon them could not be seen.
It was clear as the toll of a bell that the dream of Gabriel had been true - a relived memory from long ago. It tasted of ages past, yet the passions had never faded and were as sharp now as when they first spilled forth.
What had happened after? And most of all - why had I experienced this? Had Gabriel gifted this memory somehow when we met and if so what else had been shared?
Would I like what was found if I tried to remember more?
The crashing of waves and the whisper of the cool breeze brushing past yielded no answers. But with this one shared memory I was sure of one thing:
Whatever heavenly schemes had caught me in their net, they had been brewing since before recorded history.
Perhaps even since the beginning of all things.