One of the first things I did after Kami put me up in some fancy hotel near his club was to call Danielle. Her phone didn’t even ring, a recording kept repeating that all circuits were busy and to try again later.
Kami had recommended I get some sleep, but yeah that wasn’t going to happen. I was far too keyed up. Besides, without the circles in my bedroom acting as their usual anchor I might slip out of the world again.
Since I couldn’t reach Isaiah as he was on his way to some super-secret hideaway I called his lawyer, Mrs. Feingold. Though technically she was my lawyer now too. I wondered if I’d woken her up, yet she sounded as sharp and focused as she had earlier.
“Feingold here. Who is this?”
“Hi. It’s Jordan Emrys.”
“Ms. Emrys. I’ve been expecting your call. I would have contacted you sooner but I am lacking your cellular number.”
“Oh. Well my phone is at school so it wouldn’t have helped much.”
“Is Isaiah still safe? Whateley was attacked too. They were after Danielle.”
“Mr. Cohen reached the first rendezvous and is still in transit to the secure location. He should send an email when he arrives. I presume Mr. Kurohoshi informed you of the assault on the academy. The DPA notified me of the event and that Isaiah’s ward, Ms. Thorne, is unharmed. The provided details were rather lacking.”
“Kami says Danielle is okay, yeah. A magic bomb wiped out the defenses and knocked out power. Kami thinks it likely that the bomb is like one that the DPA was investigating from the craziness here in L.A. on the day Soren started this whole mess. We sent Diego - he’s a former DPA agent who was working the case and also a wizard - to look further into that connection. Maybe he can trace it back to the people behind all this. He’s on his way to San Fransisco to talk to someone who may know who could have built the bomb or if not who, at least how.”
“Yeah. He was just let go, long story. But I trust him.”
“Hmm.” If Feingold had her own opinions on events, she definitely was keeping them to herself. “We should prepare for the DPA meeting scheduled for later this morning.”
“Uh, about that. I’ll be on a plane heading back to Whateley shortly before dawn.”
“You were instructed to not leave the city.”
“Tell them all that changed when my school got bombed! They can interrogate me all they want when I get there.”
“Director Goodman won’t like this.”
“Tough. The attackers waited until I wasn’t at the school. I’m going back to keep them from trying again.”
I really thought she’d argue with me on that, but surprisingly she didn’t. “In that case we will need a statement for me to deliver at the morning conference on your behalf.”
“Fine. Tell them my powers flared while in a simulation at Whateley which caused my connection to the world to get all scrambled. As a result I got a peek at the assholes invading Isaiah’s home. Next thing I knew I was at the warehouse. Arriving at Isaiah’s place with the DPA team I detected the field of death surrounding the house and stopped his team from getting killed by it. Pushing into that field took a lot of juice and I don’t remember the details all that well. Next I knew I was on the floor besides my friend and his murdered assistant while their agents stormed in.” Okay, so that wasn’t entirely true. I remembered finding Isaiah there desperately trying to control powers unleashed through his hand and surrounding him with as much light as I could.
As for the triggered memory of Aradia’s death, that was mine and none of the DPA’s damn business.
“Alright,” Feingold said, “I’ll work with that. The situation at the school is becoming jurisdictionally complicated as it is and we can argue that your presence there has compelling public interest.”
“Good. And if Isaiah flips out about me trusting Diego with this, tell him Diego is Erica’s father. He’ll understand.”
“I will pass that on. Have a safe flight, Ms. Emrys. I would suggest having me conferenced in during any conversations with authorities when you arrive at the academy.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind, thank you.”
She hung up.
After taking the pre-dawn flight from L.A. to Boston Logan airport I tried calling Danielle again. No luck. Calling the main switchboard at the school yielded the exact same recorded message. I also spent a ridiculous amount of money to take a private air taxi from Logan to the small airport near the school in Berlin, New Hampshire. Any other method of getting there would have taken far too long.
Given that the money I was getting from the not-so-mysterious benefactor to pay for my tuition fees also provided a yearly stipend to do with as I pleased, the cost was covered without any difficulties. But still, good grief, I’ve taken entire vacations for less. It did take some doing to get arranged since I didn’t have access to my credit card, but after spending some time on the phone with the bank that managed the stipend account all payments were finally authorized.
The charter flight company had also kindly pre-arranged a taxi to get my baggage-less butt out to the school and if the scruffy cabbie thought it odd for a teenage girl to show up via a private flight without any luggage he didn’t comment.
With a school like Whateley I wondered if such an arrival wasn’t really all that unusual.
The Army checkpoint visible on the road into the academy made the reason for the shut-down of communications all too clear: the armed forces had taken over. Given Kami’s military background that answered the question of just how Kami had been able to get his information on the attack: he must have some serious connections and informants within the ranks.
Leaning forward I tapped on the plastic separating me from the cab driver. “Just stop before the checkpoint and let me out.” The poor guy had already started to slow down at the sight of all the concrete Jersey barriers blocking the road, not to mention the uniformed men standing there waiting to point business ends of serious hardware in our direction.
“You sure, Miss?”
“Yeah. I’ll be fine. Really.”
The driver checked me out in his rear-view mirror and decided not to debate the matter, perhaps because I’d just taken off the somehow-still-working deviser hair-band and sunglasses Kami had returned. Standard mousy-brown hair faded away to reveal not-so-natural fiery hair with its complementary golden glare. I tipped him out of the cash Kami had fronted and after a hasty u-turn he scurried back the way we had come.
I approached the checkpoint bearing only a smile and the same club attire I’d rummaged from Isaiah the night before, tasseled boots and all. It was either wear this stuff or change back into the dress I had manifested with and somehow I had thought that the clothes belonging to Isaiah’s ex would cause less attention.
Yeah, tell that to the men in all the airport terminals who had blatantly ogled as I went past. Ugh. One had gaped so hard that his wife got mad and yanked his chin to get him to stop staring.
Two Bradley vehicles were parked on the other side of the barriers which meant there were two squads guarding the road. Considering there were only six visible soldiers meant twelve more were out of sight hiding in the thick trees lining the street. I knew this sort of thing because of the combat driving class: the Bradley was one of the vehicles we got to take for a spin in the sims and it held a squad of nine. At the time I’d wondered why the heck a high school would be teaching kids how to operate military equipment; I didn’t question the utility of it now.
The soldiers standing around didn’t return my beaming smile. In fact when I was within twenty feet of their barricade they shouted and sighted down the barrels of M16s all aimed right at me.
Is it odd that my reaction was not so much one of fear as annoyance? That’s probably rather messed up.
A skinny guy in his mid-twenties shouted, waving me off. “Go back! This area is off-limits!”
“My name is Jordan Emrys!” I yelled back. “I’m a student at this school!”
“Approach slowly and show ID!”
Crud. “My ID is in my dorm room. Call Mrs. Carson or Natalie Usher of the DPA! They’ll vouch for me.” Holding my hands out I walked closer.
One of the squad squinted past his sights and paled. “Sarge, that’s her! From the briefing!”
The sergeant frowned. “Ain’t she supposed to have wings?”
I rolled my eyes. “If it’d make you feel better, I’ll pop ‘em out! But I need to get in there.” I pulsed a flash of light causing many fingers to twitch dangerously against those triggers. Uh, maybe I should have kept my impatience in better check. Good grief, these guys were spooked.
“No ma’am,” he gulped. “Alvarez! Form up yer squad!”
A voice from beyond the trees yelled a reply, “Yes Sergeant!” They began shouting orders as more camouflaged figures emerged from cover.
“Ma’am,” the sergeant said slowly, pulling back my attention. “It’s my duty to take you into protective custody. Step carefully through yonder gap there.” He pointed to the small space between the barriers.
“Am I under arrest, Sergeant?” I asked, not liking the sound of this.
“No ma’am. Our orders are to keep you safe. Come this way and get out of the open.” He pointed towards the Bradley.
“Oh. Yeah, sure.”
I was bundled into the back of the transport while four young men and one woman all not quite out of their teens openly gawked at me. I’d like to note that despite the cold not a single one offered me their jacket. Not that I needed it, of course, but I felt awfully exposed as they kept staring at the gap revealed by the off-the-shoulder low-cut shirt. Even their corporal, the guy named Alvarez, couldn’t resist glancing over every time we went over a bump in the road. As for the female soldier she didn’t give me very friendly looks either. Go figure.
At least it was a short drive and they were too entranced by my cleavage to try and strike up any conversation.
The scene awaiting us at the end of the road could have been straight out of a movie. Helicopters had landed in the grass besides Dunn Hall and a ton of military and DPA vehicles were parked all over the place. Several tented pavilions had been erected in the space between Shuster Hall and the medical building with their sides clearly labeled ‘CDC’. Geeze, the Center for Disease Control was here? Why? All the windows of the buildings had been boarded up and metal bins full of shattered glass lined the walkways. Yikes.
Passing through the main gates was odd as well - there were magic protections up but they felt more like a detection screen than anything substantive. In other words, they were flimsy as hell. Pulling up to Kirby Hall - the mystic arts building - I could sense that the source of the current wards was coming from the roof of the barrel-like building. The resonance was familiar, but I couldn’t put a finger on it nor did I want to flare up and get a better read while surrounded by anxious troops clutching their guns.
As we all disembarked two people hurried out of Kirby and down its steps. One in uniform (whom my escort immediately saluted) and the other in jeans under a long green overcoat who I recognized immediately. “Circe!”
“Jordan! Thank goodness.” The dark-haired sorceress pulled me into a tight hug, surprising the heck out of me. I could feel worry surging under the strict discipline of her will.
“What’s going on? I thought the attack was over.”
She was about to answer but the officer cut her short. “Not here.” The guy was tall and his African-skinned features had to have been chiseled from stone. Seriously, the angles of the cheekbones were incredibly sharp and the chin could have been used as a wood-worker’s square.
The fact that Circe didn’t argue with him worried me even more than the crazy scene. “Very well,” she agreed. “Jordan, meet Major Barrett. Major Barrett, this is our wayward student Jordan Emrys.”
Cool eyes regarded me. “Ma’am.” He gave me a quick look over, and was obviously not impressed. He then addressed Alvarez. “Corporal, another squad has been dispatched to Checkpoint Alpha. Yours is now assigned to protective escort of Miss Emrys. She is not to be out in the open without you first determining that it is safe for her to do so. Even within the security perimeter. Is this understood?”
“Yes, sir!” Alvarez saluted again.
I wanted to ask Circe what the fuck was up with that but she shook her head before I could try. For once I didn’t open my big mouth anyway.
With Alvarez commanding two of his Privates to move ahead of us we all went into Kirby. This was somewhat awkward as the soldiers didn’t know the way to where we were going so Circe had to call out directions at each turn of the corridors.
Finally we reached the more public Mystic Arts conference room. The squad posted up to guard the different approach paths while Alvarez joined us inside and gawked at the room’s table. The long wooden surface had been engraved with Celtic runes and knot-work which all gathered at the center into this small tree growing right out of the table, tiny leaves and all. A number of different colored stones resting in its branches pulsed at different rates when Circe waved a hand towards them before motioning us into the chairs.
“Alright Major,” she said as she took a seat herself. “The room is secure.”
Major Barrett grunted as he sat as if not entirely convinced. But he looked to me anyway. “Before anything more is said, Miss Emrys, I would like to go on record with you so there are no misunderstandings.”
“I have my orders. I am told they come direct from the President. They are to keep you safe and I will do so to the best of my ability. But I do not for a second believe that you are an actual angel sent by God to Earth. You are clearly a meta-human and have powers that mimic such a being from legend. That by itself is fine, I have no issues with this as mutant Body Image Templates have been known to match mythology. But I do not accept superstitions from ancient and almost certainly exaggerated myth.”
Circe raised an eyebrow, failing to suppress an amused smile. I wondered if the Major had given her a similar speech assuming he’d been properly briefed about her being the actual Circe from Odysseus’ famous voyage.
“I hear you, Major,” I said while meeting the challenge offered by his focused gaze. “A year go I wouldn’t have believed my story either. What’s important is that there are those who do believe and keep trying to hurt people because of it. As for my own thoughts I can only go by my actual experiences. Which are frankly nuts yet have been darned consistent while still leaving far too many questions unanswered. All I can do is try to help keep everyone safe while attempting to figure this crap out.”
He studied me for a moment before a slight smile cracked at the corners of that sternness. “I can see why Director Smith liked you. Alright, we can work with that. Go ahead professor, fill her in.”
Circe didn’t hesitate. “Last night at approximately oh-two-thirty a device unleashed an unprecedented amount of psychic energy outside the campus wards. The concentration immediately out-stripped the ability of the wards to hold the wave at bay. The local ley energies under the school have been drained below sustainment levels as a result of those efforts. Think of it like a forest fire consuming a single candle: all the wax fueling that candle was used up at once.”
Skipping the fact that Kami had already told me as much, which would have caused all kinds of uncomfortable questions from the major as to how Kami knew, I quickly asked, “The CDC is outside. Why?”
“Almost everyone who was here is still unconscious and not responsive to various attempts to awaken them. That includes all the animals: birds, rodents, even insects are all asleep.”
“Who’s awake? Are they okay?” I wanted to get all the stuff I already knew out in the open. Major Barrett looked the type who could sniff out falsehoods and he was standing there attentively hanging on my every word and reaction.
Circe put a hand on mine. “Danielle is fine. As are Zap, Haruko, Jenna, and Magnus. They fought off the attackers who arrived by using portals after the wards fell.”
Wait. Magnus? Huh? “That’s all?”
The Major spoke up. “Unique circumstances protected them. No one else had such protection.”
“Where is Danielle? I want to see her.”
Smiling, Circe said, “She’s on the roof about to take over from Zap to maintain what magical sentries we can. The sunset is removing Zap’s power source of the Sun, not to mention the poor boy is simply exhausted. With the ley-lines depleted we needed other sources even to do that much. I called some friends - witches - to assist. Danielle claims she can tap the Mother’s power more directly though she didn’t know how long she could hold it open.”
Erk. That almost sounded like trying to break the Third Seal. But I couldn’t say that in front of the Major. Damn.
“That seems dangerous. Is she really up to that? And controlling it?” I stared intently at Circe. Did she know who Danielle was? Considering all that had happened, it wouldn’t surprise me if the ancient sorceress had figured it out.
Heck she might have known from the start.
Circe nodded slowly. “She appears competent and has promised that should she get too famished from the exertion she would cease and eat.”
“Oh. Well okay then.” I fought to keep surprise from showing. Circe knew! Famished…famine. Clever. I didn’t want to risk saying something revealing so I changed focus. “Are the sleeping people going to be okay? Or did the blast damage their minds?”
Circe rubbed a tired face. “Given the magnitude of the attack their minds should have been savaged by the psychic wave. I’m not an expert on psychic matters and thus have had to rely on external experts.” She looked at Barrett.
“The evaluation of the CDC’s own psychic was that everyone is under a deep compulsion to remain asleep,” the Major said. “The attempt to determine a counter failed. And by failed I mean the psychic also fell into the same state.”
“Shit,” I said. “What about Louis? He’s the strongest psychic ever right? Isn’t he okay?”
Shaking her head sadly Circe said, “He is also unconscious. Hard to believe but true.”
“Wait a minute,” I said suddenly confused. “How were Danielle and the others protected from this thing?”
“Jenna was taking care of your cat inside the wards within your room. How they protected her from an outside event is still a mystery we have yet to solve. Zap was astral traveling to talk to an Egyptian deity when the attack hit and thus psychically returned after.” She ignored Barrett’s scowl at the mention of a god. “Danielle and Haruko received some surprising help.”
“Magnus woke Danielle and got her outside in time to use his shields to protect them from the blast. Haruko had gone with her.”
I stared at Circe dumbfounded before blurting, “But he hates her! And how did he know there was to be an attack?”
Barrett interjected. “That is an excellent question. One which he has refused to answer and therefore he has been remained into custody under guard.”
“Jordan,” Circe said more gently. “The only thing he has said is that he will only talk to you should you come back, and now you have.”
Geeze, no wonder Barrett wasn’t happy. Only willing to talk to me? That would seem awfully suspicious. “If the shockwave knocked even Louis out, how was Magnus able to defend against it?”
“He pushed his shielding ability to its breaking point.” Her expression fell further, and not just from tiredness. “I believe he has burned it out completely. The magical spark is spent and sadly may never recover. Which is why I severely disagree with the Major about the boy being any kind of threat.” She threw an angry look at the Major which he ignored.
If he truly understood who she was he’d be shaking in those military boots of his. Circe did after-all have the reputation of turning warriors into things like, you know, pigs. Or chickens. I’d once gifted her with Greek wine but maybe barbecue sauce would have been more appropriate?
All humor aside I sat there trying to process everything. Magnus, the guy who hated all the fae, had fried his magic talent protecting my fae-reincarnated niece. And somehow he had been able to shield against this insane psychic nuke where Louis had failed. That didn’t make sense. If there was one thing I was good at it was perceiving how strong was someone’s inner light and therefore their spiritual or magic talent potential. Louis was on an entirely different level than Magnus. Even if the boy had focused every last ember he possessed there should have been no contest between those two.
That had to mean something. Circe, deep circles under her eyes showing the strain of the previous night and following day, let me sit in thought. The Major was about to say something but she gestured for him to be quiet.
Also confusing was that Jenna had been protected inside the circles in my room as those were designed to defend the outside from what was inside (i.e. me) and also to anchor me to the physical world to prevent sleepwalking to other realms by accident. I’d have to grill her later about it though because certain things Louis had said when offering comfort on the roof over Hawthorne Cottage barreled sharply into focus. Fuck.
Smacking the armrest of my chair with a hand, I got to my feet. “I need to see Louis. In his tank. Now.”
“Why?” Circe asked. “What is it?”
“He’s not unconscious because of that damned bomb. He’s out because he can’t forgive himself.”
“Forgive himself? For what?”
The water of Louis’ basement pool was awfully discolored and hiding his large squid-like body. The Major, Circe, and my newly assigned squad had made our way there past huge stacks of pallets being distributed to all the cottages and the teachers’ homes. Saline and glucose solutions had been trucked in to keep all the sleepers hydrated and maintained with baseline nutrition.
Far more than the hospital in Doyle kept in stock had been needed.
Seeing all of that had me a bit on edge and so the clouds of mucus filling Louis’ tank really pissed me off.
“Major!” I snapped.
“Yes, Ms. Emrys?” The creases of his eyes tightened.
“Get some privates in here. My friend does not deserve to choke in that mess.”
The Major stood even straighter somehow yet didn’t argue. “Corporal!”
“Sir!” Alvarez came to attention.
“Inform Captain Gomez to send a detail in here asap to clean this up. Your squad remains on task.”
Noting my surprise the Major simply said, “From the background reports, Louis Geintz has aided our country on numerous occasions. We will take care of him as best we can, Ms. Emrys, now that we are aware of his needs.”
Circe shook her head. “I should have thought of it.” Unlike the Major’s, her shoulders were slumped. She looked like she was barely on her feet.
“When was the last time you slept?” I asked her.
“Yesterday morning.” She gave a wan smile. “Carson and I stayed up late discussing events and were still awake when the failsafe monitors stopped pinging. She flew back immediately; it took me awhile longer to get here. But enough chatter. If you can help Louis, please don’t let us distract you.” She looked back at the olympic-sized pool.
I did too. Which is about when I realized I’d need to swim down to him if I wanted this to work. That always seemed to be the requirement for doing the whole Vulcan mind-meld (spirit-meld?) thing and here I was not exactly wearing a swimsuit.
“Fuck it,” I muttered and plonked my butt on the surrounding concrete and began taking off the boots.
“Ms. Emrys?” the Major prompted curiously.
“I have to touch him. And I don’t want to waste time with getting my bathing suit.”
The squad members in the large room grinned widely at the girl quickly disrobing in front of them.
“On point soldiers!” Major Barrett barked. Guns and faces flinched and returned to guarding positions.
I considered giving a warning to the guys to not freak out when I lit up or if I disappeared, but screw it. With a deep breath and in just a strapless bra and panties I dove headfirst into the pool. The water was slimy and warm but I didn’t care.
With a pulse of light I manifested the wings and used them to shove myself downward through the goop before placing a glowing hand gently upon my friend’s broad forehead. With that contact I sent myself off to wherever his spirit dreamed.
It had only taken a few minutes for the towering walls of solid stone to get old.
The fortress of Louis’ mind appeared as a medieval castle, one with several layers of walled defense. My nose still smarted from smacking into those dang stones when I arrived, having made it somehow past the outer wall. The turrets and spires rimming the edges above made it clear that there were many more seemingly impassable sections before one would ever reach the true center.
In contrast to the total stillness within, from beyond the outer wall could be heard a howling wind full of voices screaming in pain and despair. From where I stood it was pretty darn loud, I could only imagine how bad it would be if I lowered the shackled drawbridge and went out there. Not that I wanted to, of course, as I was pretty sure I needed to get to the center and not out.
“Dammit Louis! It’s me! Let me in!” I shouted for the umpteenth time. No response, of course.
What was disconcerting was the lack of anyone manning the defenses. There were wagons loaded with barrels of who-knows-what, spears stacked against the walls, row after row of quivers of arrows and regularly spaced longbows, all that kind of stuff yet no actual defenders anywhere to be seen. The air directly above was clear and blue but just over that outer wall it went utterly black as if a photo of a gorgeous summer sky had been neatly ripped along that edge.
I’d tried to fly up and over the battlements but no matter how fast I went up the ground simply followed right behind. I could feel the wind and motion upward, yet those darn walls kept apace anyway. Kicking the wall didn’t help either and had just made my toes hurt in concert with my nose.
Though it did give a poignantly painful reminder of a different barrier I’d once smashed myself to pieces against and the advice Zap had given at the time.
Duh. I wasn’t looking at this properly.
Pulling over a barrel I swept out my skirt to perch on it and think. At least I’d shown up here wearing more than I’d gone in with. I had found myself attired in a plain brown peasant’s gown with two slits along the shoulder-blades providing accommodation for the wings.
This whole place was a construct of Louis’ subconscious. If I pushed it I could probably force things and will myself further inside just by burning through the walls, but that was awfully like trying to help someone by punching one’s fist through their skull and really didn’t seem like a good idea. So what was there to see and hear? Shoving aside my own worries and frustrations I tried to just look and listen with whatever senses were available.
Surprisingly unnoticed things became visible. Long silver ribbons more akin to tentacles wavered in the air passing through both the inner and outer walls. Thousands of them, translucently waving about. One was within reach so I grabbed hold of it.
The imperative smacked hard like an anvil smashing into my head. Good thing the ol’ concrete block is made of sterner stuff because the command just shattered and the pieces crumbled around me as an actual rain of manifested pebbles.
Another impulse crashed into me with similar result. The command was on some sort of repeat. The pebbles started to rise up to my ankles as I forced myself to hold on to the ribbon. Peering along its strands I caught a glimpse of where the silver cord went: directly into one of the kids I had tutored in Algebra. He was still in his bed, I.V. drip already inserted, overwhelmed by the cord’s constant demand.
It’s what I had feared. Louis was stuck in a loop telling everyone to stay asleep. Didn’t he realize that the danger was already over? Yet there was still a storm outside his mental walls, like a bad memory stuck on repeat.
Ignoring the continual rocky barrage, I reached out to the storm trying to get a feel for it as well.
Braced as I was against the slumber directive I wasn’t prepared for the opposite. With a startled ‘eep!’ the ribbon pulled me right through the walls. Imagine getting flushed down a (thankfully clean) toilet, spiraling around with the water before being sucked under and taking a tour of the underlying plumbing of a personality.
It was like that.
Random glimpses of Louis’ life flickered by. Him discovering his abilities along with the slow dawning horror of just how powerful he actually was. Images of a young man fighting to help others, lending his strength to buttress the minds of those struggling against villains or even just their own painful pasts. Then in a desperate moment when confronting a summoned insanity, banishing a mind from a terrible dimension utterly foreign to anything a human should ever hope to comprehend. The resulting psychic shock dramatically increasing his ability while at the same time warping his body into something the nature of our world would never have birthed.
At the center, underneath the incredible determination and even below the pain of total physical isolation, lay the cancer of self-doubt. The worry that he himself was a threat just as potent as that awful creature he’d fought. A worry he had struggled against for years, always triple checking every motivation and goal when using his power to make sure the intended effect was as pure as it possibly could be.
Except now he thought he’d gone too far and that fearful guilt was tearing himself apart.
Three beings floated in a starless space: one an angel pushing light against that darkness, one a man dressed in khaki slacks and a tie spotted with tears of sorrow, and one a creature no longer constrained by the limits of a small pool and struggling water filters.
“You shouldn’t be here,” the man said to the angel as he curled further into a floating fetal ball.
“Neither should you,” said the angel, wings stretching further against that oppressive dark.
“No. I belong here. I can’t hurt any more people from here.”
“That is not true. Your absence hurts those who care for you.”
“I went too far. All those minds, I replaced their will with mine.”
“They were about to be wiped out. You pushed them to sleep, deep enough to be safe.”
“Pushed? No. Forced, hammered, and conquered. I ripped away their choice. I enslaved them! I had to go so deep that they may never be free!”
“There was no time. It’s a miracle you were able to do what you did.”
“NO!” he shouted as a wave of anger pulsed forward trying to cast out the light that had invaded this space.
The light refused to budge. “All the children and the adults, they still live. Their minds are intact. Only…you must let them go. You must let yourself go. It’s the only way to free them.”
Flinching the man pointed accusingly at the creature. “And let myself be that? Are you mad?”
Soft illumination expanded to reveal the silver lines connecting the man and all whom had been saved. “They are still bound to your will. As your guilt insists on sleeping so too must they.”
Horror dawned with the light’s revelation. “Then,” he whispered, “it’s hopeless. My will has written itself into theirs. They are lost.” He then cried, “I am lost.”
The light shone brighter still. “Beloved Louis, that you hurt and agonize so shows you are anything but.”
“It’s too late! To unplug from them is to unplug my own self! Go! Get out of here!”
The angel’s wings pushed against the emptiness to reach her friend. Arms enfolded not the man but the creature who’s many eyes swiveled to stare at her in shock.
Into a warped and misshapen ear she spoke firmly. “You once said to never push away one’s friends. To never believe they couldn’t help. Those words were full of wisdom. We often speak the truths we ourselves need to hear. Louis, I will never stop being your friend. Now let go of your fear. It is not who you are. Your belief in it is all that sustains it and all that still binds you to those you have saved.”
The creature rumbled and sent its thoughts directly into hers. “Will I still be human?”
“With your pure heart you will be that and so much more. This I promise you.”
A hesitant tentacle reached out and took hold of the multi-colored ribbon tying the creature to the floating figure of a man and all the silver lines spilling forth from him.
The angel burned brighter and held the creature tighter still. “I’ve got you.”
With a cry to shake the heavens Louis pulled himself free.
Water billowed upward. Not with pain, not with sorrow, but with a booming bubbling laughter sending fountains bursting from the surface and splashing over soldiers trying to skim the water free of its crud.
A large eye rolled towards me, crinkled with merriment. I was still under the water hugging what may have been a limb of some kind or maybe a nose, I wasn’t sure which.
I was fine with that.
Of course I wasn’t expecting it to toss me, wings and all, out of the water with another rapacious bellow of amusement. I mean, I almost hit the ceiling!
“Hey!” I shouted downward with a grin. “Careful!”
He gurgled a giggle then quieted as those many eyes slid shut.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.” A man with a very silly grin in a full-blown tuxedo appeared in the air besides me. He too was glowing brightly. “I think you’ve made me rather drunk!”
A rather wet Major called out from the edge of the pool, hand trying to shade his eyes from all the illumination I was spilling outward in spite of myself. “Is he alright Ms. Emrys?”
“I think so, Major! He’s just a bit tipsy! Get people to check on all the kids and everyone pronto. They’re probably waking up really confused!”
The Major paused to stare, an odd expression crossing his usually stoic face. He then busied himself with the squad’s radio and walked out of Louis’ room.
Circe stood there looking up at us two crazy glowing idiots. From what I could tell the large splashes of water had chosen not to invade her personal space. Probably wise of it.
Though a single brave drop rested upon her cheek.
Much to my annoyance Circe wouldn’t let me go immediately to see Danielle. No matter how much I pouted.
“Not until you’ve eaten and regained your equilibrium,” she said sternly. “Danielle is actively working her craft to secure the school and should not be interrupted until her chosen shift is complete.”
“And when will that be?” I whined before suppressing a giggle at how childish I sounded. Circe was right: I was effectively as energy drunk as Louis.
With astral paint he’d just drawn whiskers on Circe’s face that I was pretty sure only I could see.
“Mrs. McPherson and her coven should arrive within the hour. They will relieve Danielle after they too have had a chance to eat.”
“McPherson? Tamara’s mom is coming?”
“Yes. She has pledged her support to protect the school. Now come. While you are getting resettled I’ll return to watch over our friendly fae.” She gestured to Alvarez. “Secure the way, Corporal. Make sure Jordan eats and keeps her feet on the ground. Then take her to see Magnus Erikson; we need him to talk.”
He fidgeted with wanting to salute but settled for an officious nod before giving his squad their orders. The Major had left us to coordinate all the support needed to manage hundreds of confused kids and Whateley staff wondering why they were waking up in the early evening instead of morning. Not to mention all of them freaking out about being stuck with all those I.V.s.
The Major was going to have his hands full dealing with an entire school of powered mutants panicking at the sight of those medicine drips not to mention all the soldiers everywhere. Mrs. Carson too for that matter. Too many of these kids had experiences in their pasts which would cause todays events to be quite triggering.
Louis’ projected image blipped all blurry before settling into a much more focused and serious expression. All traces of the energy drunkenness had disappeared. “There are some who will need to be handled very carefully. I should go.”
“Don’t wait for us. Go help them,” I told him. With a quick nod he disappeared.
“Jesus,” muttered Alvarez. “He teleports too?”
Patting the stripes on the Corporal’s sleeve with a still glowing hand I moved past him to head towards the elevators, letting the wings fade out as I did so. “Nah, he’s still in the tank. His mind is the part that gets around. C’mon, I need to go to my room first and get some fresh clothes. It’s upstairs.”
We went up together while I got my energy under control. Circe got off on the first floor to head back to Danielle but I still had half a squad as official escort. She also handed over my student ID. Which was kind of her as without it I’d have had to kick down my own door.
When we arrived at the top and stood before the regulation-required door to my room I turned to the squad. “I’m going to take a shower. I am still covered with goop. And no, you guys aren’t coming in while I do that.”
“We’re supposed to-”
I interrupted. “I don’t care, Alvarez. I presume the entire school was swept to make sure there weren’t any other hidden assassins lurking about?”
“Then you don’t need to come in. I want a moment of privacy. This is not negotiable.”
I also wanted to know why the door and the walls were covered with fresh sparkling designs forged from spiritual energy. Angelic words praising Elohim were written in an elegant yet primal hand to bestow the space beyond with all the holy protections of the Host of Kerubim. The handwriting definitely wasn’t August’s. Or Kokabiel’s or mine for that matter. The symbols flowed with curved grace punctuated by sudden slashes of movement.
This was someone else’s style entirely.
Alvarez opened his mouth to argue further but the harsh brightening of the small space as I braced myself to argue changed his mind.
“We’ll be right here.”
With a swipe of the ID granting access, I stepped carefully inside. The door closed firmly behind.
Whereupon I was immediately attacked by a leaping twenty pound furry missile emitting a loud series of meeps.
Purring fuzz clambered up my arms to give a real solid whack of a headbutt against my forehead before moving into his usual spot over shoulder and chest. He didn’t seem to mind the leftover slime from the tank. “Love ya too, bud!” He rumbled happily, rubbing his face all over my neck and cheek.
From my bed came a sleepy voice. “Jordan? Holy crap, is that you?” Jenna, clearly waking up from a sound sleep, tried to scramble out of the bed and managed only to wrap the thick purple comforter around her legs. She yelped in surprise before slipping face first onto the floor with a tremendous thump. If she’d been wearing one of her wigs it totally would have fallen off.
Alvarez, of course, immediately pounded on the door. “Aradia! You alright?”
“I’m fine!” I shouted back, trying very hard not to laugh. “I uh, tripped! All good now!” With hands full of loving fluff I giggled at Jenna as she tried to get free of the evil blanket trap.
“Dammit. Hey! No laughing!” Once extricated and on her feet she wrapped me (and the kitty!) with a massive hug. “You scared the shit out of us. What the hell happened?”
“Nice to see you too,” I grinned, awkwardly returning the hug while juggling the big furry lug who couldn’t stop rubbing his face against whatever part of me he could reach. “And I think I can ask you the same question. They said you weren’t one of those knocked asleep.”
“I wasn’t. I was just trying to get some rest after a fucked up night and day.”
She let me go. Khan didn’t.
“Who’s Mr. Shouty outside?” she asked, sticking out a thumb towards the door.
“Military escort. They’re afraid they may not have the chance to get shot by anything else that attacks me so are anxiously awaiting my return.”
“Ah. Huh.” She gestured at the piles of books on the floor as well as the balcony doors which were all boarded up where windows should have been. “Sorry about the mess. I got the glass cleaned up at least so Khan wouldn’t cut his toes.”
“Thanks! But why are you in here and not in your own room?”
Lifting the blanket off the floor she tossed it back on the bed before sitting and crossing her arms over purple flannel pajamas (hey, those were mine!). “Safer in here. And I thought…well, I thought this is where you’d arrive when you finally got back to Earth.”
I sat next to her so she too could scritch the eager-for-attention kitty. “Makes sense. But I popped back in Los Angeles. Back where I did the first time.”
“The first time?”
“Yeah.” I stared at the triple circles on the floor. “I haven’t told you everything about how this all started.”
“Kinda figured you’d tell me when you were ready. Didn’t want to push.”
“You’re a good friend, Jenna,” I said, chewing at a lip with indecision.
“I can wait,” she said seriously. “Really, it’s cool.”
“No it isn’t. The entire school just got attacked because of my crap. Well, mine and Danielle’s. She’s wrapped up in it all too.”
“Haruko said that the summoner dude with his fire elemental was here to kill her.”
“You guys took down a fire elemental??”
She grinned. “Danielle spun up a blizzard and had them on the ropes. I got there a bit late from having to throw some switches to get electricity flowing to Doyle and Hawthorne again from the emergency generators. But I was in time to pop the sonuvabitch that conjured the fire thing across the jaw. Bastard’s going to need dentures.” She held up a fist for emphasis.
“Yeah. And while we were doing that Zap was playing whack-a-mole using lightning on these powered armor guys trying to rob Admin. But the heavy hitters were the two sent to take out Danielle. This Azazel creep is real determined to hurt you through her, huh.”
I shook my head. “I think Soren took care of that jerk. From what I’ve been told Soren summoned another angel to kick the bastard’s ass.”
“Then who and why the fuck?” Dark circles surrounded her eyes and not from her skin turning to stone. She was tired, pissed off, and under all of that, scared.
“Because Danielle isn’t just a friend. She’s my niece - my sister’s daughter.”
“Your sister? But she said her mom was dead and that her only other real family, some uncle named Justin, had died too.”
Biting the lip harder still I braced myself. It was time for truth. “Technically true. But Justin came back.”
She looked at me funny. “Back from the dead?”
“Is that like going to be common now with all your weird angel and horsemen stuff? I mean didn’t you say that you’ve died before too?” Her eyes went wide as she put two and two together. Jenna at times was awfully smart. “Wait a minute. You’re fucking kidding, right?”
“No.” I sighed. “I came back like this. Darn near thirty years younger and…” I paused.
She gaped while I looked away and internally cringed. Khan nudged my cheek again and I clung closer to him.
“Damn. That’s messed up.” Jenna stood up as if to pace across the floor but stopped. “You okay with this?”
“With what? Dying and coming back? Beats the alternative I guess.”
“Not that. With the whole skirts, bras, and using the other side’s restrooms. This certainly explains why you knew jack-all about makeup.”
“That’s just it. I…I don’t mind. Not really. There’s a freedom in it I didn’t have before in a way. Though I think the emotional overloads are part of the whole being an angel bit and not just the hormonal changes.”
“Wow.” She crossed her arms and stared at the floor. I scritched the kitty more, not knowing what to say. Finally she shrugged and looked back at me. “Okay.”
“Yeah. Fuck it. Shit happens. I’m not happy you didn’t tell me sooner, but I get why. New life, new name, new start at Whateley to figure yourself out. That was the plan, wasn’t it?”
“Was the hope, yes.”
“But the crap keeps piling on. The beast by the lake that attacked Danielle and the mind-wiped assholes shooting her and at us. Saving her spirit from the crazy fae and then rescuing Ester out in the desert in Syria. And Danielle got targeted again last night. Because she’s your niece. All while you’re learning to sit to pee and dealing with all the retards going googly-eyed over your fantastic boobs and red hair. Jesus, you haven’t had a break at all.” Pulling the desk chair over she spun it around to slump onto it backwards.
“They’re after Danielle for more than just being my family.”
“She’s also the Third Horseman.”
“Danielle is the reincarnation of the fae responsible for sealing away most of the world’s magic energy. Causing the famine of magic that drove the fae the rest of the way off world.”
“Yeah. The ones behind the attack think they’re trying to stop the Apocalypse.”
She blinked then frowned. “Okay, but aren’t they though? I mean…” She fingered the simple golden cross danging against her neck.
“I think it’s more complicated than that.” I swallowed as something broke inside that had been building up ever since seeing Isaiah on the floor covered with Tracy’s blood. “And I’m so sorry.”
“Everything.” I couldn’t help it. Eyes became faucets and my nose wanted to dribble something fierce. Like a dam burst and along with the waterworks a flood of words came blubbering out. “I’m so sorry! For not telling you, for pretending to be something else. And for bringing so much danger to you, to everyone. You could have been killed! Twice! If it wasn’t for Louis everyone would have lost their minds last night when that damn device went off. And this is all my fault! I should have hid away at the beginning. I should never have come here!”
Khan squirmed free from trembling hands, landing on the bed and trying to nudge my side.
“I told you before,” Jenna said icily, “to shut the fuck up with talk like that.”
I blinked through the tears. She was glaring at me, eyes flashing with raw anger. “Jenna…”
“Shut up! You just shut up!” she snapped, pointing a tense finger. “You’re supposed to be here! You were meant to learn to live as this new self of yours and get your shit together. We were meant to meet and be best friends! And don’t you fucking dare start thinking of taking that away! Don’t you fucking dare start thinking it would be better if you weren’t around like my brother did! I won’t hear of it, got it? I fucking won’t.”
Shit. She was the one trembling now and fighting off her own threatening tears. Sniffling, I got up to move through those waves of rage blended with love spilling out of her to pull her close. Her strong arms squeezed around me fiercely and her cheek buried itself against my chest.
“Okay,” I murmured. “Okay.”
From between the boobs came a muffled, “Damn right.”
It took Khan meowing loudly about his food bowl being horribly empty for us to stop clinging to one another.
With another loud reminder from Corporal Alvarez to get my ass in gear I hurriedly showered and changed into more casual clothes, even if Jenna decided to play with the whole ‘you used to be a guy’ thing by suddenly giving me advice on how to make my previous outfit even more sexy.
Secretly I think she was envious of the high-heeled boots. Because let’s be honest: they totally rocked.
Once back into jeans, running shoes, and a purple t-shirt we (including the full soldierly escort) headed over to the Crystal Hall for some dinner. The kitchen was staffed by military cooks who were busy fixing up their standard fare from supplies that had been trucked in. Power apparently had only been fully restored right before sunset so most of the food stock in the kitchens couldn’t be safely used. Stuff in the freezers had melted too and left quite a mess for more hapless privates to clean up.
Hearing about the massive loss of ice cream was truly heartbreaking.
The buffet line was also a sad sight due to the utter lack of the usual fantastic fare the amazing Whateley chefs always provide. We students were as spoiled as the foodstuff the military had thrown away. But what was served was hot and it was plentiful so no one was going to starve. Though it felt sacrilegious to eat overly greasy fried chicken and flavorless mashed potatoes under our shimmering dome of the Hall. I just hoped our chefs were kept restricted to their beds so they wouldn’t see the travesty being inflicted upon their sacred cooking spaces.
The squad arrayed around us - not to mention all the other soldiers occupying the Hall - made it difficult to talk freely but Jenna filled the awkward silence with descriptions of Danielle’s summoned tempest and about the two interlopers that a handful of teenage girls had beaten into submission.
She enjoyed emphasizing that to not only the soldiers but to me as well with a wicked grin. Yeah, she was going to tease me forever for having once been one of the guys.
That was fair.
As we started in on dessert (a sad pile of powdered grocery-store donuts) I realized I still had a question for her. “Hey Jenna. Circe said Magnus saved Danielle and Haruko from the psychic bomb, and Louis knocked everyone else out to protect them. But how’d you make it through the blast?”
She paused shoving a donut into her mouth, causing thin gold hoop earrings to bounce against her still-bald head. She’d decided that if any group could deal with a shaved head it should be the military and had left the itchy wig behind.
“I was in your room, remember?” She gave me an odd look along with a quick shake of her head. “The circles protected me.”
“Oh.” I frowned, still rather puzzled at the weird angelic graffiti on the walls lining the door into the room. I had a working theory that maybe Tsáyidiel had somehow done it while I was between the worlds - perhaps as an attempt to guide me back. Though the theory didn’t feel right either.
Popping an entire donut past her teeth Jenna spoke while chewing. “We should talk later about your cat though. I think the experience may have been triggering for the little guy.”
“Khan freaked out?” I asked, suddenly worried. He had seemed fine but was that just because we were there? “Should we not have left him alone?”
Jenna put a sugar-coated hand atop mine with a laugh. “He’s alright. Really. Don’t stress. We’ll talk later about it when things calm down.”
Being totally confused it took me a moment to realize she was squeezing my hand in time with her eyeballs shifting left and right at the soldiers surrounding us.
Oh. She didn’t want to talk about it in front of them. Okay, I’m slow. I nodded acquiescence and she stole the last donut. Of course now I was horribly curious about what she wasn’t telling me. Blah!
“Mind if I go check on Brendan while you go have your chat with Magnus?” she asked, ignoring my worried befuddlement.
“Go ahead. But don’t tease him too much about you not being knocked unconscious while he was out cold.”
She chuckled. “Aww. See that’s why we’re friends. You know me too well.” Blowing me a kiss she got to her feet. “I give you no promises!”
I stuck my tongue out at her but smiled as she walked off.
Seeing that the squad had also finished their meals I stretched and stood as well. “Okay guys, let’s go see what Magnus has to say for himself.”
Alvarez nodded and they all got up. “I’ll notify the Major that we are on our way. He will want to observe.”
“Yeah, whatever. Let’s go.”
Between the may-have-been-too-tight-a-choice t-shirt and the obvious protective detail all the soldiery eyes in the cafeteria followed us as we walked out.
If I happened to put an extra sashay into my hips just to tease the whole lot of ‘em would that have been wrong? I mean, they were going to stare anyway and I really needed to get a handle on dealing with it.
The guy who as a result missed his mouth with a chicken leg and smeared his cheek with grease was also pretty darn funny.
Hospitals. I still didn’t like them.
They all look the same, long bright hallways punctuated by nurses’ stations with their clipboards and computer terminals and door after door of rooms where folks get stuck hoping for miracles that far too often never arrive.
I’d mostly lived in one while watching my wife slip away, so my mood had suffered greatly by the time we arrived to the room where they were holding Magnus. The guards outside snapped to attention and saluted as we approached and with a nod from Major Barrett opened the door for us.
What I saw inside didn’t improve things.
Magnus lay there with all these bandages covering legs, arms and his torso from where he’d sustained nasty burns. There were a pair of smaller bandages on a face resting fitfully as he tried to sleep. The I.V. line running from the pole needed to slip under a metal band clasped around his wrist. Matching bands surrounded his other wrist and his ankles.
The military bastards had cuffed him to the bed.
“Major,” I said with forced calm I did not in any way feel.
“You will get those cuffs off of him. Or I will do it for you.”
“I remind you that he has been deemed a security risk. Our information details the possibility of individuals being under foreign mental influence and thus unknowingly being a threat.”
“Have you scanned him for Azazel’s taint?”
“No. But that doesn’t mean-”
“They. Come. Off.”
Magnus stirred and opened his eyes. He looked awful. Behind the exhaustion lay a fear, a deep terrible fear. Dammit what the hell else had they done to him?
Barrett clearly wanted to argue but changed his mind. Retrieving a key from the guards lurking inside the doors he proceeded to remove the cuffs before stepping back.
My hand hesitated before touching Magnus’ arm; I didn’t want to hurt him with the touch. “I will talk to him. Alone.”
The Major shook his head. “That cannot happen. Your protection is our responsibility.”
I was about to tell him to shut the fuck up and remind him that if I wanted I could blast a path through the walls when Magnus coughed.
“It’s fine, Aradia,” he said weakly, his voice not much more than a gasp. “You’re here. I’ll talk. They won’t believe me anyway, but you will.”
“You want to know how I knew to save Danielle.”
He shook his head and winced from the motion. “You really look like her. No gold in the hair though, hers is more like mine. She’s intense too, but in a much more graceful way.” He sighed and glanced away towards a blank wall.
Somehow I knew exactly who he meant. “Gabriel. You saw Gabriel.”
“Yeah. In a dream.”
I knelt beside the bed and gently brushed some of that red hair away from his eyes. He let me, looking like nothing more than a broken puppy. “I can’t feel it anymore,” he whispered. “Been trying.”
“The magic. It’s gone. But it saved us, saved her. I did it.”
“Did Gabriel tell you what would happen?”
“She showed me. The attack on the school. Danielle burning alive.” He shivered and fell silent.
Feelings of guilt washed over me. “You kept her safe.”
“I couldn’t let that happen.”
“I should have been here.”
“But you weren’t.”
He didn’t say it as an accusation, but I flinched anyway. “No. I was stuck far away.”
“You choose that? To be away?” It was an odd question and intense green eyes demanded an answer.
“Consciously? I don’t think so. But I was needed where I was too.”
“Gabriel talked about choices. Said they’re what matter, not circumstances.”
“I made mine. And now the magic is gone.” Those scared eyes of his closed. “Could be permanent. That’s what the doc said.”
That didn’t feel right. Gabriel had visited him and guided him towards saving not just Danielle but probably everyone else in the cottage. If she had been asleep with the rest, that’s where the damned assassin would have found her. That elemental of his would have burned the cottage to the ground with everyone in it. No one would have been awake to put out the flames.
Would Gabriel have asked Magnus to sacrifice his magic? I’d only encountered her once, but that was enough. She was a being overwhelmingly filled with a mercy and love on a scale beyond imagining. If she had given someone else the dream - or even just visited me outright - then Magnus wouldn’t have needed to fry his talent. There had to have been other possibilities. Which meant either there were reasons he needed to lose his powers or Gabriel trusted others to fix it.
Others like me.
I straightened and looked to the Major. “You have your answer. Magnus is a hero not a threat. His prior knowledge was divinely inspired by the angel Gabriel.”
He scowled. “You know I can’t accept that.”
“If you can’t believe that angels exist then you’ve really not been paying attention. Call us what you will, aliens in disguise or crazy meta-powered entities, I don’t care. But he was touched by one and given a glimpse of a horrible future. One which he bravely averted.”
“So he says. There’s no proof.”
“Nor do you have proof or any evidence that he’s lying. Are we still in America, Major? Innocent until proven guilty.”
I swear I heard the guy grind a layer off his back molars but he said nothing.
“If that’s all,” I said, “then why don’t you and your boys take off. Go interrogate those assassins which a trio of highschoolers captured for you. You’ll find Magnus had nothing to do with them.”
“And what are you going to do?” he asked.
“Try to help Magnus.”
“By opening up to a possibility of a miracle.” With that I let the wings flow out behind and reached for Magnus with a hand more made of light than flesh.
I didn’t get the usual reaction. If anything the direct opposite.
Magnus screamed, thrashing and trying to turn his face away from me.
“Gah!” I cringed and hastily tried to shut down. Instead of burning brightly the wings folded up with rather long soft white feathers.
“Christ!” Magnus shouted as adrenalin pumped past the pain meds. “What the hell ya doin’?”
“Trying to help?”
“By burning me more?”
“This usually works.”
“Well quit it!”
Barrett, unsure whether it was safe to step between us, barked at me instead. “Aradia! What are you doing?”
I gulped. “Uh, normally I just touch someone and poof into a spirit space and, you know, help things.”
Lowering the arm Magnus blinked. His pupils had contracted to tiny dots. “Now I can’t see.”
“Sorry! I don’t know why it didn’t work.”
“If you made me blind too,” muttered Magnus, wincing while shifting again on the bed.
Barrett leaned over to examine Magnus. “Flash blindness. Should wear off within a minute.”
Okay, what the hell did I do wrong? I meant to connect, see his spirit, and go from there. Like I always seemed to do.
Or always seemed to do with people who were unconscious or trapped inside weird crises of spirit. Crap. Magnus was still awake.
“Sorry Magnus. I’m an idiot.”
Taking a step back I focused on just opening my own vision instead of the full deal. I didn’t need to go anywhere. He was right here. “Shut your eyes again. Don’t want them recovering only to be re-blinded.”
He grumbled but snapped them shut to block out what he still couldn’t see.
I however could. The room was still there but blending through it were swirls of energetic symbolism, the writing that defined the pattern of all things. The walls, floor, bed - these were simple and static. But superimposed on the burned and annoyed kid in front of me was a mesh of intersecting words and lines all interwoven into a glowing whole. It was beautiful in its complexity, pulsing not just with a heartbeat but with light. That light flowed out of the stream that lay behind everything, that massive intent keeping reality together.
I did my best not to focus on that intent, if I did I could lose coherency on Earth and flow somewhere else altogether yet again. It was hard to resist, like someone telling you not to think of an elephant. Because it was right there and somehow seemed to be waiting for me.
Magnus. Needed to focus on Magnus.
I didn’t need to examine his memories or how his pattern fit into the tapestry because the damage was clear enough: his structure was badly scorched as if someone had piped natural gas through the veins of his spiritual flow and lit a match. The resulting fire had fried those channels, leaving the wreckage of charred piping behind.
Including the spark at his center - the stove’s pilot light that allowed him to use his powers. Instead of glowing strongly like it should have within a spellcaster of Magnus’ talents, it had gone out.
He must have heard me gasp. “Shit, am I dying?”
“Not dying.” I swallowed.
“I told you already.” He sighed. “They warned us in class not to push things too far. This can’t be fixed.”
“Gabriel wouldn’t leave you like this.”
“I made my choice. Just leave me alone,” he groaned. “Go ahead and send me home.”
“No point in being at this school now. I can’t even see the magic anymore.”
He couldn’t see it but I could. Little flares still fizzled along his energy paths, visible representations of the damage to his spirit. The complexity was astounding, layer after layer of patterns forming strands which in turn were layered atop each other to build the core piece of his being. The structure was trying to effect repairs to itself, but it was starved for the resources with which to do so. Circe had taught that the magic spark was a gift received upon birth in the moment when spirit and body merged, a miracle of that blend of soul and the physical that was the gateway allowing consciousness to manifest within each individual person.
Magnus was still alive. Still conscious. He had to still have a spark somewhere buried under this mess.
Kneeling beside him my wings spread wide around the bed like a huge receiver dish, letting the light his spirit gave off collect and focus into my perception.
He flinched as I did so but I ignored him. Because I found it.
Buried underneath the ash a single crystal pulsed quietly. Not a flame, not a fire, but a dim and tiny star still flickering in time with the heartbeat of his soul. I had to do something though because it flickered threateningly as if it too could fizzle away.
I just wasn’t sure what I could do.
Reinforcing the efforts at self-repair seemed a safe place to start. Very carefully I let light flow to those spots - not to cleanse but just to augment his own spirit’s work. Reading the words comprising the pattern was akin to reading the sentences in a book and finding all the areas where spilled coffee - or burnt ash - had smudged things. If I’d had the skill I could have completed those sentences myself, speaking those words anew - but I was like a child holding a crayon attempting to fill in missing gaps of Shakespeare.
I didn’t dare. Not without Raphael’s expert guidance and he still hadn’t been heard from since fleeing after Tsáyidiel’s restoration. Instead I let Magnus’ spirit slowly absorb the light which did seem to increase its healing efforts - and more importantly eased the strain on his spark.
Oh. That made sense. The spark was his gateway to power and his spirit needed that power to heal its spirit body and energy channels. But its need was so great that it was snuffing out a source already almost entirely used up.
Could I help that spark? Except this wasn’t like those moments with the Grigori or Tsáyidiel. For them I’d somehow written my own angelic name across the hollow internal spaces where their connection to the Throne and the Light beyond had hung empty. But Magnus was human and his soul already filled that function all on its own.
If I tried to write my name in there to rekindle that spark he’d become bound to me just like Kokabiel and Tsáyidiel. If that would even work, and the more I saw the more I was convinced it wouldn’t. His pattern would reject such an attempt outright. The human soul was a unique and independent shining thing, a majesty and universe all unto itself.
Messing with it without knowing exactly what I was doing was a thought akin to blasphemy.
What was it he had said about his dream? Gabriel talked about choices.
“Magnus?” I asked while intently monitoring that tiny inner ember.
“What? It’s hopeless, isn’t it. Just say so.”
“Why did you save Danielle?”
“I told you already.” The ember flickered.
“You hate the fae.”
“I don’t want anyone to be enslaved. But August said a fae once saved us. They can’t all be bad then, right?”
“You risked death to save her,” I said, pushing him further. “Or did Gabriel tell you you’d live through it?”
“She just showed me what would happen. That asshole was going to burn her alive! The scream, oh god, the scream!” Magnus squirmed on the bed despite the pain of his burns, reddened eyes glaring at me.
Major Barrett risked grabbing my arm. “That’s enough!”
I ignored him. He didn’t have the strength to pull me away no matter how hard he tried. “Magnus! Why did you decide to save her! Why did you rush across campus and risk being burnt up yourself?”
“Because she’s just a girl! She hasn’t done anything! Killing her was wrong! I don’t care what she is, someone had to do something!”
The ember burned brighter, shimmering closer to a full spark. But it still needed a nudge and I softly blew more light across it.
“You chose to act, you chose to help her. Focus on that! Would you do it again? Even though it destroyed your magic? Tell me!”
“Yes! I would sooner have died than to see her burn!”
The beauty of that choice burst into flame. His light and the power I channeled from above vibrated against each other, finding a perfect resonance which took even my breath away. In that moment they were one.
“Hold onto that Magnus! Don’t let go!”
Reaching swiftly I worked to cup that new inner fire, allowing it to burn as bright as it needed without overwhelming his damaged pathways. Slowly, ever so slowly, I let a trickle of the majesty of his choice touch those scorched channels, feeding them gently with the fuel they so desperately needed.
His choice of self-sacrifice began re-knitting his spirit. It knew the words I had lacked, and with me holding it steady so as to prevent the geyser from sweeping all into ash, his spirit began to glow anew.
He felt and heard it too: that symphony from on high eternally sounding its vast celestial chorus. An infinity of notes of which his soul was a sacred part. Size and scale mattered not, for within that music his choice chimed its own glory and in its own way made the whole even more perfect than it had been before.
How long we were lost within that music I cannot say. Time was only one more instrument playing its own sequence in harmony with the rest, guided by the conductor’s intent holding it all together.
When I snapped out of it Magnus’ chest was rising and falling easier than it had before and his eyes were closed. His inner spark shone brightly and the surrounding pattern sparkled with freshly forged lines holding steady within that glow.
His spirit was healing properly.
Major Barrett had taken a seat on one of the two visitor chairs and seemed lost in thought, brow creased. To my surprise the other was occupied by Mrs. Carson. She regarded me coolly.
“Hi,” I said, suddenly quite mentally tired. And not from tapping the light, if anything from the opposite. The effort to not blaze up in full glory in response to what I’d witnessed had drained my focus. Doing so could have undone everything Magnus had just accomplished so I’d fought to be a witness, acting in restraint instead. Trying to put away the wings I listed sideways as the room spun.
Strong yet compassionate hands held my shoulders keeping me upright. “Careful now. Did you overdo it?” Mrs. Carson stood over me, reserved judgment replaced by simple concern.
“No,” I shook my head. Which was a mistake as it just caused things to blur more. “If anything, underdid it.” I struggled to find a way to explain.
“He’s healing isn’t he?” she asked as she guided me over to the now empty chair which was totally not designed for folks with feathers sticking out of their backs. I managed to sit on the front edge of its cushion, squishing feathers behind and around.
Magnus had opened his eyes though he obviously still couldn’t see well.
“Hey Magnus,” I said.
“Jordan,” he replied. “You…did you…?”
“Fix everything? Not quite. But you’re healing. You’re going to be okay.”
“I heard…” He paused, expression one of confused wonder.
“I know.” I smiled.
“Was that God?”
“Your choice touched His light. Leave it at that for now, okay? And don’t use your magic. Even if you want to or feel like you can, don’t. You need to heal the rest of the way. If you go and try to do stuff you could still burn things out.”
The boy nodded, smiling with rekindled hope and, dare I say it, awe.
Mrs. Carson looked at me oddly, her more advanced years becoming visible despite the youthfulness of the face. “In cases of magic burnout, introducing more magic flow has always made it worse. What did you do?”
“I don’t channel magic. The light is something else. You can’t fix an electrical wire by pushing more electricity through it, you have to repair the wire. His spirit was trying to grow more wire, I only helped it touch the source it needed.”
She thought for a moment before nodding with a knowing smile. “And here I thought you’d gone and done something outrageous and reckless yet again.”
“Uhm, of course not?” I tried to look innocent. The way she shook her head made it obvious my attempt did not succeed. Oh well.
“Speaking of reckless,” she said as she handed me a piece of paper with tape securing its fold. “I was just visiting August a few doors down.”
Taking the paper, I frowned. “August is in the hospital? What happened?”
“According to them, ‘curiosity almost killed the cat’. They asked me to give that to you the moment I saw you.”
I’ve never had the patience to carefully unwrap Christmas presents and always ended up just tearing them open. This was no different, but fortunately the message hadn’t crossed the ripped chunk of paper stubbornly sticking to the tape.
The note, in handwriting much cleaner than my own, read, “Jordan - I’m not supposed to act on what I’ve seen of the future, but if Gabriel can meddle so can I. Get your butt to her realm pronto. Michael is coming.”
Closing my eyes I shifted the inner vision to look towards that familiar place: a dream all its own where Tsáyidiel and all the fae who had followed me out of Arcadia danced between the lush trees. Through my connections with them the realm always felt close. Above its forest a mighty star slowly descended, six lines of power streaming behind in a long tail reaching to much higher places. It was more a comet than a star.
And like a comet I knew it too was a harbinger of fate. “Uh, I need to go.”
“Really?” Mrs. Carson scoffed in bemusement. “What now?”
“Gabriel’s dream pocket. The Archangel Michael is on his way there.”
Mrs Carson’s eyes widened. “How soon until he arrives?”
“Soon enough,” I answered. “Is flying currently allowed on campus? He’s getting awfully close.”
Mrs. Carson turned quickly to the Major. “Major Barrett,” she said formally.
“Ma’am?” He blinked at her suspiciously before he too got to his feet.
“Please inform your men that an angel is about to fly across the campus. They are not to interfere.”
“Ma’am we decided on the red flag for a reason. We also have orders to keep Ms. Emrys under protection.” The Major, probably without realizing it, took a ‘command’ stance with hands behind his back and feet firmly planted.
“She is about to travel where your men cannot, Major. And I will not risk our country offending an official and prince of the Heavenly Host by preventing her timely arrival and proper welcome. Nor would the President. I doubt the Commander-in-Chief would be pleased to hear you were responsible for an otherwise avoidable celestial diplomatic incident.”
That last bit stumped him and he shut up.
I glanced at Magnus. “Seriously, don’t try anything with your magic, okay? You need to let things settle.”
“We’ll take care of him,” Mrs. Carson said reassuringly while guiding me to the door. “Now go.”
Once outside I didn’t hesitate. Releasing the constraints on the power in order to fly was like taking a deep breath after holding it for far too long. Trying to keep it dampened while still flowing for Magnus had been really weird. But blazing again without holding back cleared away the odd dizziness and I instantly took to the air to make a beeline to the top of Kirby Hall.
I had to see Danielle before I did anything else, even if Michael had to wait a minute. Because dammit, I’d almost lost her again.
Kirby Hall was this Tudor-style beer barrel protruding from the ground and on the roof was a cleared space perfect for magic circles. Like the one Danielle was standing within while directing earth-shattering energies into reforged wards.
Seeing her there in full glory made me so proud.
Arrayed around her were thirteen sky-clad women led in a chant by Tamara’s mother Marilyn. We’d met a couple months ago when Tamara was recovering from a case of demonic possession.
Danielle was the most beautiful of the lot. Of course it was hard to compete against a fae bathed with power, wintry eyes burning fierce while her snow-touched hair billowed within the flow of its own wind. Most of the gathered women from Tamara’s coven gazed upon her with sheer adoration.
Okay, so Danielle’s natural glamour may have had a lot to do with that.
I landed carefully outside the circle, not wanting my own light to interfere with their efforts. I may have just worked a miracle but it looked like Danielle was in the middle of performing her own. The pool of energy normally under the school had obviously been used up in the attack last night, drained to the last drop by the previous wards doing their best before simply running out of manna. A reservoir like that usually took years to fill but Danielle was like a towering waterfall of sheer magic.
Where was she getting that kind of juice?
Peering past the the sheets of glittering crystal energies I saw to her source and nearly panicked. Locked away deep below the earth lay Siabh’s ancient Seal. I recognized the pattern from the visions of the past as Aradia had helped Siabh work the casting. Two cracks had formed in that edifice and begun leaking magic and Danielle had somehow grabbed hold of one of those escaping tendrils.
Understanding hit me like a truck. Two Seals had already broken, mine and Camael’s. While the bible referred to seven of the dang things as Aradia I only remembered four:
The first to keep angels (and others) from crossing over in true manifestations.
The second to bind Azazel and his dark chaos.
The third to save the blood of Gaia’s heart from running out.
And the fourth to bind all the angels, gods, fae, and any other mystical beings still walking upon the earth into human lives and human memory and thus preserve the first three.
All were forged on that same fateful day out of the combined intent of those involved, and therefore all were connected. Break one and the rest must weaken.
When we were fighting to rescue Danielle from the fae queen only the first had been shattered from when I spread wings to catch her fall. Siabh must have used that first crack in Gaia’s wellspring to save Arcadia from my complete and utter fuckup.
Now Danielle used one of two cracks to work her magic in support of the school. How much was her pulling on that tendril weakening the rest of the Seal? I tried to get a better look but the paths to viewing Siabh’s spellcraft twisted and warped, spiraling between a multitude of layers of dream and stone. What I could make out however was that Danielle had taken hold some distance from the source: the leak, while insignificant compared to the whole still locked away, had pooled into an icy vision that Danielle herself maintained.
She wasn’t touching the seal, in fact she couldn’t. It was bound into its own space, isolated and secure. But as her soul was Siabh’s she had her own connection and through that she had opened a space within herself to gather that escaping energy and make use of it.
I was seriously impressed.
While the thirteen women were too focused on what they were doing to notice my arrival, Danielle did and sent a mental thought straight to me.
I hadn’t known she could do that.
“Jordan! Thank goodness you’re okay!”
“Hi hon. I could say the same for you!”
“Yeah, it’s been nuts. And as you can see I’m kinda busy.”
“Unfortunately so am I. I have to go to Gabriel’s realm again. Like right now.”
“I hope not. I just couldn’t leave without seeing you. Especially when you’re being so incredible!”
Despite all the sparkling energies I could still see her wide grin. “Coming from an angel with flaming wings that’s quite a compliment.”
“Right now you’re kicking my ass in the awesome department, no lie. I’ll come see you when I get back. There’s a lot to talk about.”
“Isn’t there always? We never get a break.”
“No we don’t. Love you.”
“Love you too!”
She returned her attention to conducting the spellwork of her entire crew and I took to the air.
Something had changed within her and not just the gaining of the ability to channel such crazy power. Her mental contact had a surety to it as if a number of inner doubts had resolved themselves and in so doing forged a stronger will. She felt a lot like Siabh of old but was still all Danielle.
She was right. We definitely had a lot to discuss.
Foregoing stairs and any interruptions from recovering students I coasted straight to the balcony atop Hawthorne. Stepping inside I gave Khan a quick pet and kiss atop his forehead before moving him off his favorite sleeping spot. I ignored his meowing protests and donned the leather and metal bracers which a crazy sorcerer had sent me only a few weeks ago. Khan had instantly decided they made the perfect place to sleep and so wasn’t too happy with being dislodged. He gave me a loving nudge anyway. All I knew about the bracers was that they had been found in an alcove near a powerful book written by an angel and their golden metal had their own angelic script woven through their pattern declaring things like ‘shield’, ‘protection’, and ‘glory of the light’.
I was pretty sure that with the way things were going I needed all the help I could get and ought to keep them on. With that done I turned around within the triple circle and willed myself to move into the world of dreams.
Getting to Gabriel’s realm had become all too easy.
Michael stood upon the high rock with Gabriel’s ocean and clear blue sky spread out behind him.
The scenery, as amazing as it was, paled in comparison.
Under a simple white and sleeveless tunic were layers of solid yet flexible muscle. He was tall without being giant, thick without it interfering with agility. Blond hair the color of a candle flame rested upon square shoulders to frame a clean-shaven face adorned with twin sapphire eyes taking in the sights of the grassy clearing that led to the thicker forest beyond. Golden bracers covered otherwise bare forearms with the same intricate designs as the threaded metal cord at his waist. Six wings of perfect ivory edged with matching gold fluttered behind in tune with the calm sea breeze. In a word he was breathtaking yet it wasn’t his physical self that left you wanting to fall to your knees in adoring supplication.
It was his aura.
Try to remember the time you felt safest and the most loved and secure. Maybe it was in your mother’s arms when a small child, or when tucked into bed with your spouse gently snoring behind you. Or when out with the closest comrades and having that knowledge that no matter what happened these were the people who would support you through thick and thin. No matter what they had your back.
Now magnify that a billionfold.
When people discuss angels Michael has often been described as a powerful warrior, the one who cast Lucifer from Heaven and the leader of the Host who marched against Evil with a capital ‘E’. But the term warrior was lacking and missed out on the truth which stood so magnificently upon that rock.
Michael was a Defender.
You just knew - with all your heart and soul - that he was the ultimate bulwark against the dark. That he would move faster than thought to crush any and all threats to the good before ever so gently carrying you to safety because he treasured with all his heart those who were on the side of light.
And woe unto you if you were not.
It was no wonder that Tsáyidiel - in his dark-winged human form - knelt before him with bowed head and trembling shoulders. I wanted to too. Between the trees in the forest behind my little fae had gathered together with equal awe and fear. There’s a reason why in the Bible the first thing angels would often say to cowering mortals was ‘Be not afraid’.
Except Michael didn’t say that when he addressed Tsáyidiel.
“I know you.”
The voice was deep but not too deep and spoken quietly yet the words carried enough force for Tsáyidiel to flinch. “Yes, my Lord.”
“You served under Gabriel’s captain. Kafziel.”
“A long time ago, Lord.”
“You fell.” If a phrase alone could cut this one would have.
Tsáyidiel lowered his head further. “Yes, Lord. To my forever shame.”
Michael paused, those blue orbs measuring and weighing what was before him.
“Yet now you shine. How?”
I felt this was my cue and stepped forward to put a hand on Tsáyidiel’s shoulder. “Because such pain should never be eternal.”
Until that moment Michael had mostly ignored me and my arrival although that wasn’t quite right. He had been fully aware of my presence but his focus had remained on Tsáyidiel because of the Kerubim being a possible threat. With my statement however I gained his full attention.
That aura of security that had surrounded me wavered with a sharp uncertainty as the archangel’s wariness and guard completely shifted into an unsteady balance of confusion.
He tried to comprehend what he saw. “You…you did this?”
“Through me the Light did this.”
Michael, steadfast Defender of Heaven, took a small step back in shock while he gazed back and forth between me and Tsáyidiel - obviously examining the lines of power that tied us together and all that they implied. Then he looked towards the forest and all the fae who were also similarly connected to me.
As he scowled my heart sank. His ire lifted his wings on a hot wind of growing anger.
“You allowed the fae to profane this sacred place with their presence? Do you not know where you stand?!”
What? Uh oh. “Lord Michael,” I said quickly. “Please allow me to explain, it’s a long-”
He cut me off with a raised hand of determined command. “Cease! Step forward!” The gentleness was gone. His barked words carried an impulse to obey that washed through me demanding compliance from my very spirit as if plucking at the strings of a guitar to make the required sound. My feet wanted to move forward and my wings wanted to push against the air to get there even quicker.
I however did not.
“Quit that!” I growled with an anger of my own and with a pulse of light forcefully shoved away his energetic command. Having resisted Louis’ mental demands earlier had left me weirdly more ready to resist Michael’s more powerful onslaught.
Tsáyidiel gasped and Michael blinked with surprise as his hand slowly lowered. He stared at me for a long count to five or maybe even to ten.
“I believe,” Michael said, “that you and I should talk.” His imperial demeanor faded and as it did I managed to catch a glimpse under the armor of that powerful presence. It was only for the briefest of moments but I was trying hard to follow Tian’s advice and pay close attention.
The Defender of Heaven was worried.
With teeth still gritted from the attempted mind-control I forced myself to nod. “Yeah. I think you’re absolutely right. Tsáyidiel, please gather everyone deeper into the forest out of earshot. ”
Tsáyidiel didn’t hesitate to get out of there. “Yes, my Lady.” He launched into the air and streamed into the forest. That left me and the troubled archangel standing alone.
I took a deep breath before letting it out slow before addressing Michael. “Right then. Who wants to start, you or me?”
At the corners of his mouth appeared a slight smile. “I believe the lovely lady has the privilege.” As if the entire scene hadn’t been weird enough, the way he said that caused my cheeks to flush.
What the heck?
Deciding that honesty was the best policy I proceeded to spill all the beans as best I could. Lying to Michael seemed like a really bad idea so it took awhile.
He listened patiently to the entire saga while we sat together on the rock without offering any comments or questions. With the intensity of those blue orbs though and given what I myself had been able to do I’d give high odds that while I was relating the memories he was watching them directly at the same time in full surround sound and high-definition.
Which likely meant he was indulging me by letting my blather go on and on, wanting me to feel more comfortable about it. Quite a switch in demeanor too: from absolute imperiousness to warm yet concerned and friendly guy. If not outright flirty.
I hoped I could keep him in the latter mode. His reaction to the fae being here was still scary.
Since I gave it to him straight I had to mention Isaiah and Azrael as well as Danielle and Siabh, along with all the times I’d written the name Amariel into the heart of an angel or a fae. And of course I had to talk about Gabriel.
“I haven’t seen her since she threw me back into the world, but she’s still around. She just visited a boy in his dreams and nudged him into fulfilling his heroic potential. He saved a lot of people from something pretty horrible.”
Michael smiled. “That’s good to know. And tells me a number of things.”
“Chief of importance is that she is well. Many of us had become concerned.”
“Also it is clear that her disappearance from Heaven is part of a much larger plan. Your story and existence clearly declares the boldness of her current endeavors.”
“Triggering the Apocalypse on the world is rather bold, yeah.”
He shook his head. “That is a minor footnote of what she has put into motion.”
Say what? “I doubt those on Earth consider it such. I certainly don’t.”
“In time you may agree more with me.”
“You trying to win some cosmic cheesecake too?”
“Cheesecake?” He tilted his head and looked at me oddly.
“Nevermind,” I sighed. I could try to push for an explanation but immediate concerns really did need to take precedence. Not that he’d likely answer directly anyway. “So about the fae being here. I didn’t know where else to take them.”
He pondered before finally nodding. “I suppose not.” He stood, rising to sandaled feet with a smoothness and military grace that would have been the envy of Sensei Ito.
If he had, the old sensei would have made students practice nothing else for weeks.
“Come Amariel,” Michael said while offering a hand up. “You should see Gabriel’s dream for what it truly is.”
His grip was gentle yet also like taking hold of Mt. Everest. The strength within simply was, like a force of nature or the course of planets in their inevitable paths circling the sun.
Once on my feet he released his hand and flew towards the distant mountains. I followed. I hadn’t scoped out the true scale of the realm before much to my embarrassment. It was larger than I’d thought and those mountains weren’t just painted backdrops.
In fact they were massive.
As we approached the line where trees stopped growing and bare rock began he slowed to descend. Set within a tremendous boulder standing upright were two undecorated rectangular slabs sitting side by side.
They clearly were a pair of smooth doors.
“Ask them to open,” he said with an odd measure of reverence. “This place reacts to you as if you were her.”
“Why? And why do so many folks keep mistaking me for her anyway?” This was one of the big questions I still hadn’t gotten any answers to.
“Your pattern. Open the rocks.”
Right. He obviously wanted extra whip cream on that cheesecake. After an annoyed glance in his direction that he totally ignored, I hovered lower and put a hand on the cold and blank stone.
“Please open,” I asked it simply. What more could I have said? Abracadabra would have sounded foolish.
Considering his comment I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but the instant creaking of heavy stone as they folded inward still caused me to twitch back a few wingstrokes. Behind those many stories tall doors lay a smooth corridor heading back into the utterly dark mountain.
“Follow.” He flew forward straight into that darkness.
Taking off after him, the light flowing off my wings shining only about twenty feet ahead as we went as if the place, while it didn’t mind the light, also didn’t want untoward illumination ruining the hushed ambiance of our approach either.
I didn’t notice exactly when the floor disappeared out from under us and the walls to the sides pulled away followed by the ceiling itself. He kept going for what seemed like a long time, though without any references I had no idea how fast or slow we’d been flying.
Eventually he stopped, both of us hanging in the midst of what had to have been the largest cavern I’d ever been in. And one which was utterly silent.
With the way he floated there and the reserved expression crossing his features it felt like we’d entered somewhere sacred.
Turns out we had.
“Shine forth your light, Amariel, and bear witness.”
Releasing the inner gate holding back the brilliance caused the sphere of illumination to expand outward. There was so much space in here that I stopped to look at him with confusion but without a word he gestured for me to continue.
So I did. Like a miniature star I willed light to pour forth unrestrained and gasped at what its rays revealed.
Imagine an underground stadium many sizes larger than the Grand Canyon curving ever so slowly towards a bottom platform an uncountable number of miles below. That would be a start to understand the scale of what arrayed itself around us. Instead of stadium seats circling the ring level by level there were individual alcoves each with its own pedestal. And upon each pedestal stood an angel. Male, female, and indeterminate they stood.
With the light-enhanced sight I could make out each one clearly. The details were so perfect that they breathed and occasionally turned their heads as I looked past generating a discordant feeling that they had somehow been trapped down here. But as I focused more deeply I saw that wasn’t the case.
The angels were all formed from memories. Gabriel’s memories. Some smiled or even smirked with joy, others were calm and beatific. Some mourned and others raged without a voice to shout out their fury. They lacked substance yet were clad in real and solid pieces unique to each, the solid items floating in perfect synchronization with its surrounding holographic-like projection. A circlet here, a breastplate there, bejeweled necklaces, many patterned robes, and all the swords. So many angelic swords held by countless ghostly fingers which had once known exactly how to wield them, all with a distinct heavenly purpose etched in sacred words along the blades.
In the reflected light those blades caught fire with all the colors an eye could see and many with flames far beyond any human spectrum. They were beautiful, as were the faces of those who held them—though not all had human-style forms. Some were dazzling wheels comprised of eyes or chimera-like conglomerates of animals. Others were simply glorious fountains of pure energy who shone and danced in patterns beyond description.
Billions upon billions of them. If not trillions. More than there were grains of sand on the beaches surrounding her realm.
With absolute reverence, Michael spoke. “Behold. Our beloved Gabriel’s Monument of Remembrance.”
The solid items anchored each alcove’s resonance and I understood. They were the last remaining fragments of the angels themselves. Each piece of armor, each weapon, each bit of decorative jewelry, all carried a small part of a whole now lost, lingering with shards of that original power. A power preserved by this place so it would never be forgotten.
Without thinking I put a palm over one of the braces on my forearm because they too vibrated in response to the undeniable purpose of this place, and their own pain of remembrance lanced through me before I could even call Michael for help.
Corpses, each belonging to those who had once been his most beloved brothers, piled atop each other in an endless mound under bare and bloody feet, their viscera painting their armor, their tabards, and all their once-beautiful feathers with the horrid effluence of their demise.
In the distance the last of his squad could be seen reaching the safety of the defending Host in accordance to his shouted instructions before he alone had charged into the center of this branch of the Rebel’s forces. With the madness of his rage he had bought the defenders time to regroup by diverting Asmodeus and his army’s attention away from walls still waiting for reinforcements against this unexpected sally sent forth by those who had set brother against brother.
Every Rebel which stood against him had been cut down with a swiftness granted by the purity of the furious fire swelling from within. For his wrath was the Lord’s and his skill the Lord’s vengeance. Each drop of their blood was a sacrament, his offering to the Most High as he sliced angel by angel at the sickness which had polluted the glorious harmony of the Throne.
His blade screamed the Lord’s torment and judgment as it mowed down the offending sources of His pain. An agony seen all too clearly threatening to rupture his Lord’s heart of hearts as brother slaughtered brother covering the field with dismemberment and destruction, a profanity visited upon the sacred.
The stacking bodies scaled into a burnt sky hanging over the outer planes of Heaven. When Gabriel’s horn blew the sweet sound of reinforcement’s arrival the remaining rebels split their hasty retreat to race around the mound for none dared offer challenge to the crimson-soaked destroyer standing defiantly at the terrible plinth.
Thousands upon thousands hurried past and he glared at them all with the singular promise of utter destruction to any who came within reach.
His sword’s flame, once anointed with the purest of lights granted by the Lightbringer himself, now burned with a fire matching that which had pumped through the veins of those it cut down. Formerly bright white feathers also had drunk deep of the fallen blood to carry their stain forevermore.
Even Lucifer’s brilliance later proved powerless to cleanse the taint soaked into the depths of Camael’s battle-scarred wings.
Michael had caught me when my own wings failed. The buried heartbreak stored within Camael’s bracers had bled forth with a weight and burden I had been unable to bear.
He was polite enough to give me time to get myself back together after carrying me back to the forest. When the tears wore themselves out I sat silently in the dirt amidst the tall pine trees watching as the sunless light above dimmed towards night. When enough coherency returned for me to realize how long we’d been resting there I looked to him.
The archangel gazed back with a measure of pity and a deep sorrow all his own.
“Almost all of those remembered here died in the First War,” he said solemnly. “What has come after has been kept to a tiny fraction in comparison with the devastation caused by that conflict. The one whose bracers you wear struck down more of our brothers and sisters than any other warrior from either side.”
“How could such a thing have happened?”
“Ideas have great power. And some ideas are not compatible.”
I shook my head, trying to sort through what was me and what was Camael’s lingering memory. “Camael hated his enemies with a terrible fury - a hatred unlike anything I’ve ever felt. Yet Gabriel loved them all.” Many of the faces lying dead under Camael’s feet had alcoves of their own within the mountain. Gabriel’s monument knew no sides, only loss.
“She is our heart. Gabriel came into being when the potential for the Throne was forged. She gifted us with the love needed for its fruition. The strength of her love is what bound all our purposes together in perfect harmony, coalescing our words into the Throne whereby the consciousness of Elohim could manifest.”
“I don’t understand.”
He looked out at the forest, but not at its trees. “Consider: a child first learns vocabulary before they are able to weave them into coherent statements. The first of us were like those first words, distinct but aware only of our own purposes. Prince Helel - you know him as the Morningstar or his title as the Lightbringer - saw in the light a greater possibility, a greater story. He saw the potential of our purposes combined and created a path whereby the fullness of that potential could take shape and actively guide us towards that greater destiny. We tied ourselves together, dedicating ourselves to the use by that higher purpose. It is the strength of Gabriel’s love which binds us together and allows Elohim to be. We are Him, and He is us. And in that unity He is more.” As he spoke of Gabriel and Elohim, the flames of his love glowed fiercely with the absolute purity of his devotion.
Michael’s beautiful wings then dimmed as his thoughts shifted. “Our harmony suffered the later loss of those who felt Elohim’s plans conflicted too greatly with their own. Even Gabriel’s love was not enough to overcome their pride and their lust for power and glory.”
“Oh.” I’d touched Gabriel’s love before, it was indeed all that Michael described and more. Grace personified, a tender caring beyond anything else I’d ever known, a love which uplifted without end. To reject that, to cast such a love aside, was simply incomprehensible. Yet that’s what the rebels in the vision of Camael’s slaughter had done. His fury against those he cut down echoed that incomprehensibility, for how could someone reject love itself?
“Gabriel’s disappearance is therefore most troubling. While she has gone off for short periods before she has always been easily found. Most often it is here that she comes, wandering through the forest and stones covering these remembered wounds. This is why Raphael, our beloved healer, searched this place first when concern reached a point of action.”
“Like I told you, I met him here. He helped me a great deal and then fled.” Truth be told Raphael witnessed Tsáyidiel’s restoration in the light and with a cry flew off horrified at what I’d done. After that he stopped taking my calls.
“Our brother returned to the city and has locked himself within his tower ever since. He refuses to come out or answer any questions.”
Guess I wasn’t the only one he’d shut out.
Michael continued, “Disturbed by this I followed his path for if there is any threat to Heaven then it falls upon me to deal with it.”
I had to ask, even though my stomach swirled with the fear of what he may answer. “Am I a threat?”
A hand stronger than galaxies squeezed mine. “That remains to be seen, young one. Gabriel has clearly set events in motion that carry severe risk. Angels regaining their words by being reforged in the light is unprecedented and this will cause strife among our numbers.”
“Why? If they can be healed, what is wrong with that?”
He let go and studied me. “When a tool has proven itself flawed and broken with use how can it be trusted to resume its task? If the original was weak how much weaker must it be after any repair? We angels uphold existence. If we fail then everything falls.”
I didn’t like that analogy and countered with one of my own. “You know how humans grow bigger muscles? They use them enough to cause the fibers to tear. Then those rips are repaired with even more fiber which in turn makes the whole even stronger. Their pain fuels their growth.”
We sat in silence and I worried that I’d upset him. Then those gold-rimmed wings stretched towards the purple and pink covered sky and lifted him off his feet.
A serious expression regarded me. “I return to our beloved city with much to consider. Should you see Gabriel please tell her I look forward to our eventual discussion regarding her activities.”
“Is that it?” I asked as I stood up to face him. “There’s a lot going on down here and I’m fumbling around in the dark. I could use some help. Heck, I could use a lot of help.”
He pushed a reddish-gold lock away from my eyes with a tenderness bordering on sorrow. “You have enough light by which to see if you but keep your eyes open.”
Conflicting emotions swarmed within and with them came an image of Michael cradling Gabriel in his arms while she too had cried unending mournful tears against that wide unyielding chest. I choked up, fighting against the pull of that tender memory.
“Amariel,” he said, and in saying the name pulled me back to the here and now. “Things shall be what they shall be. But remember this: I will do all in my power to prevent another war from afflicting our people. No matter what I must do - or whom I must do it to.”
I didn’t know what to say to that.
He added one last thing before those mighty sets of perfect wings pulled him higher into the sky. “Keep the fae away from the Memorial and they may stay. As for you, best not delay your return to Earth.”
“You are about to receive a communique of some importance.” So saying his many wings beat mightily once and he faded past the borders of Gabriel’s realm.
I quickly relayed the instructions regarding the fae to Tsáyidiel via our energetic link. I really should talk to him more often. Not that he’s ever complained, but thinking about it now I felt guilty. Or maybe that was just from still being awash with the confusion of the day’s overwhelming emotions. Nor did I have time to figure that out. With a surge of will I stepped back into my bedroom where Khan sat waiting.
The phone immediately began to ring.
I stared at the insistent receiver. If it wasn’t for being worried that something more had befallen Isaiah I might have just let it go and ignored it for the rest of the day.
After one more ring I picked it up.
Paradise lay just out of reach behind a wall of solid glass.
Thick trees and ferns with verdant greens sharper than mortal eyes could fathom swayed over a bed of tropical flowers arrayed in rainbows which had never known the Earth. Crystal dew pooled upon luscious fruits and crisp leaves, sparking refractions from the brilliant aurora flowing through glittering sky.
Fists pounded numbly against the unyielding and transparent barrier, stuck behind it in a colorless and tasteless space filled only with grey shadows shuffling to and fro against a fog neither cold nor warm.
Even the shout escaping her throat was dull and distant, lacking texture and meaning for the emptiness within swallowed everything.
Down that hollow throat she fell, the suffocating gauzy walls of the passage twisting and smothering until she was suspended by its web like a fly caught in amber staring motionless beyond its golden prison.
Only then did Erica awaken to a space not unlike where she had just been.
The small studio apartment was bare. A full size mattress rested on the floor, one folding chair tucked under a folding table, walls and cupboards remained bare, and entire sections of the beige carpet still showing the vacuum patterns of the quick clean it received before she moved in.
Two items of importance were visible. First was an expensive gourmet coffee machine on the kitchen counter next to the provided refrigerator. And second was a new wide-screen laptop who’s shipping box and packing foam still waited patiently besides the exit that lead to the trash bins which were their destiny. All sat in dimness behind the thick blackout curtains preventing the noon-day sun any chance of entrance.
A single towel also hung over a slender shower and bathtub combo, which was moved onto the closed toilet seat while Erica took a scalding hot shower. Skin much younger than it had any right to be reddened under that heat. Steam covered the mirror and allowed her another few moments of peace as she dried, dressed, and finally settled onto the metal chair with a mug of coffee still tasting bitter regardless of how much raw sugar was added.
This past night’s dream of entrapment didn’t bother her; it was par for the course and nothing she hadn’t gotten used to since her return. The one from the day before though, that one still lingered.
As he had known it would.
“Why do you torture yourself so, ma fleur?”
“I’m not your flower, Galen.”
“Yet your fields are full of such lovely blossoms.”
“How did you…shit. I’m dreaming.”
“Of course. Only by sweet and tender moonlight may our wandering paths mingle since your much lamented departure.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Would you believe that I missed you?”
“Pity. After all we shared. And for so long.”
“Long enough for you to tire of your toy and flush it back into the garbage with the rest.”
“In my defense the replacement pet did prove delectable. Nowhere near as hardy as you, sadly. Or sharp tongued.”
“See? You illustrate my point exactly. And now you are once again among the mortals. Have you told them the truth yet, I wonder?”
“The truth of what?”
“Of how many years were so precisely recorded by that wonderful little time-piece of yours, dearest one. Ticking such precisely measured moments as you partook in our revelries and sampled the treasures of all we are and offer.”
“The subject hasn’t come up.”
“Ah how I have envied you mortals your ability to speak such untruth directly. What a marvelous and terrible power. I must admit your performance of youth and innocence before the budding Seraph was simply breathtaking.”
“You fae deceive readily enough. Omissions and evasions are your bread and butter.”
“Aye, weaving rainbows of assumption and delusion is indeed a favored artistic form. But an outright lie? Such a thing frays the spirit. We are beings of order imposed on chaos, lies lead naught but to our dissolution. Unlike you humans who are such a splendid mix of the two, blended so thoroughly that the combination is in all practice of a different nature entirely.”
“Stop babbling and get to the point. What do you want?”
“To save you from drowning in the mundane; to lift your spirit once more to heights unimagined.”
“Spare the bullshit and speak clearly or I’ll force myself awake just to shut you up.”
“Sadness wounds me. This lack of poetry brings pain to a yearning heart. But so be it, I shall endeavor to be blunt. I am here to make you an offer. I am here to take you home.”
“Don’t be stupid. You know I can’t go back. The Queen-”
“The Queen has forsworn harm upon you therefore I too am bound. So swear fealty to me and my house and return not as a slave but as the lady upon my well-tailored and gallant arm. We shall set the Court afire with our dance and our feet shall sow the bone and ash left in our wake.”
“Is it? I like you. It was not entirely by choice that my favor shifted to another. Your evolution still intrigues me. The Queen shared that fascination but alas a wandering angel came and stole her pretty jewel away.”
“Some fascination: opportunistically taking advantage of a child on a whim. She used me up for my knowledge of this world before tossing me to her wolves. You remember those, don’t you? With their teeth and claws that shred the flesh of dreams?”
“Never a whim. Scented potential. She had plans for you until the bumbling Bene-Elohim interfered. If you act now you can turn this to an advantage. Accept my offer, rise to a loftier position at my side, and turn the dust upon your tongue into the ambrosia you deserve. Think on it, but do not tarry. The timepiece of this possibility slips steadily towards closure. Our Queen is on the move and waits for no one.”
The hot mug clenched between trembling palms still refused to feel warm. Galen had not been a major player at the courts although he yearned to be. The offer was an obvious manipulation for his own gain. Except that did not mean two could not profit from such an arrangement. After all, how long had she spent dreaming of claiming her own stature amongst those whose disregard she had constantly suffered? All while knowing that she herself had more magic potential than they if only she had been allowed to use it.
More importantly, how long could she now hold out before giving in just for a small taste of the raw magic that had once glistened across his oh-so-sumptuous skin? Her senses ached to again feel so alive and so enraptured, screaming as they were now from the chains of this stolid physical mundane reality.
The computer’s chime reminded that this day was not her own to immerse solely in the endless debate raging within her head. Her mortal father’s flight had arrived. He would soon be at her doorstep with expectations of assistance for his attempts at redemption both in his career and as a parent.
Which meant she had research to do.
For Erica Lain, known to some as Fields, had vowed to never venture blindly into any situation ever again.
A young woman perhaps in her mid-twenties with a long blonde ponytail affixed by a purple scrunchy climbed into the car Diego had chartered for the afternoon and evening. Being the pilot project for the online service Uber the vehicle was a black towncar and looked more official than the company had in mind for its future. But to get the service off the ground style was important.
As the woman smoothed out the skirt of her magenta sun-dress Diego stared at her with a measure of confusion.
“Erica? Is that you?” His daughter should have had dark hair and dark eyes, not these Norwegian features.
The returned grin was sharp enough to answer the question all on its own. “You really think I’d attempt to go to a nightclub as a fifteen year-old? Get real, father. No one would be that stupid.”
He frowned. “There’s no aura of glamour upon you.”
Erica snorted. “Like I’d risk a whiff of that when dealing with this Bishop guy.”
“Oh.” Diego leaned forward to tell the driver where to go. “Head to Beyond Silk. It’s in the Tenderloin.”
The business suit clad chauffeur acknowledged and pulled out into traffic to head towards the Bay Bridge connecting Oakland to San Fransisco.
His passengers leaned back in their seats to share an uncomfortable silence. Only when the car reached the start of the bridge and its deep fog did Diego brave conversation.
“How are you?”
“What do you care? I’m good enough to do as you asked.”
“You’re my daughter. Of course I care.”
“Really. So tell me: is this guy we are meeting really capable of curing my condition? Or are we going more for you to weasel yourself back into the good graces of the DPA?”
“That’s unfair. I sought out Kurohoshi to ask-”
“To ask what?” she interrupted, blue eyes flashing. “It’s awfully coincidental that Aradia was there don’t you think?”
“We owe her a debt. Fortune has aligned in this.”
“No. ‘We’ don’t owe her. That debt is mine alone.”
“I cannot see it that way. She saved my daughter.”
She sneered. “That’s your guilt talking.”
Diego winced. As sets of the bridge’s pylons slipped past through the mist he asked quietly, “What can I do to make things right between us? What happened to the little girl who used to laugh and spend her afternoons with me painting cartoons out of magic?”
“You left her behind for your true love: your books and your damn career. Then you cheated on your wife - a woman who had never been altogether stable - and left your precious little girl solely in that psycho bitch’s hands.”
“The courts ruled in her favor. I tried to fight the restraining order but you know your mother. The judge was directly in her pocket!”
“Really? You forget that I know how fucking powerful my father truly is if only he stopped pretending! Or have you conveniently forgotten how many of your ‘hidden’ books I read before she kicked you out?”
“Those were warded and never meant for a child’s eyes. Even you could not have accessed them.”
She gaped at him in astonishment. “My god. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“You truly never understood the extent of my talent! Because your own ego couldn’t begin to conceive of being made so small by comparison.”
It was his turn to scowl. “That sounds like an ego-driven statement all to itself.”
“Oh please. I was five when I realized I could decipher the contents of your computer’s memory by analyzing the electrical flow within each individual register. Your wards may as well have been written in crayon compared to breaking encryption ciphers using a mix of code, math, and magic. I hid how smart I was purely out of self-defense. Neither you nor mother would have tolerated being lesser than your own offspring. You two couldn’t even tolerate each other.”
“I would agree on that with regards to your mother.”
“You were only happy when you believed you were showing off to a wide-eyed child hanging on to your every trick of magic. And I made all the right ooh and aah exclamations to keep you pacified after already having consumed most of your library whenever both you and mother were at work. I even cheated on the examinations to get into Whateley and got away with it.”
“Absolutely. Showed enough talent to get in but not enough to freak anyone out. Otherwise I would have been banished to Hawthorne Cottage out of fear just like they did to Aradia.”
“Then they failed you in not seeing through your illusions.”
Another pylon went past but Erica was staring angrily at her lap. “They didn’t fail me. I failed them. Though it took a long time to see that.”
“As I failed you.”
“Yeah well shit happens,” she snapped. “That’s a lesson learned quickly when stuck as a slave to the fae.”
“If I had known-”
She waved an annoyed hand. “Stop. Just stop. You didn’t want to know. You could have used oh so many ways to keep in touch but didn’t. And we both know why. Use of magic to violate the court’s ruling would have destroyed your career if discovered. I’m honestly surprised you haven’t yet yelled at me for taking the cursed pendant that got you fired.”
“You are a child. The fault was mine.”
“Was a child. If you can’t understand that then tonight will not go well.”
“Even given the four years lost with the fae that only makes you nineteen. You’re still young.”
“So you say.”
The car reached the end of the bridge and entered San Fransisco proper. Both stared out the windows at the hill-strewn terrain, lost in their own thoughts.
“What’s the game plan?” she asked abruptly, breaking her attention away from the wilder scenery.
“As you have so aptly noted I am currently unemployed. If Bishop can help your condition I am prepared to offer my services in exchange.”
“Seriously?” Erica looked sharply at her father. “All your services?”
She blinked. “That’s a surpris…ingly good excuse for him to talk with us. But what about the questions regarding these bombs?”
“I hadn’t worked it out yet.”
“Then leave that part to me.”
“Yeah. There’s always blackmail.” The pretty white teeth she flashed were purely predatory.
Diego shivered. He was no longer sure who would prove more dangerous: the obvious underworld criminal they were about to meet or his own daughter.
He had a feeling he wouldn’t like the answer.
Walking into Beyond Silk caused Erica’s skin to crawl and not just from the overtly gothic Victorian decor. Though the overdone vibrancy of the blue and dark bronzed chaise lounge chairs lining the candelabra lit hallway might have been enough to creep one out all on their own. No, it was the static hum of energy surrounding everything that crept like ants down her arms. If it had been electrical the air would have smelled strongly of ozone.
Instead it reeked of magic.
Her father had called ahead and arranged to speak to the proprietor and thus the bouncer at the front entrance allowed them entrance despite the club not opening for another hour. Beyond the gargoyles guarding the front’s red brick edifice they were diverted up a narrow set of stairs and creaking wood-floored hallway to a small office. A single desk of carved wood dominated the room, a slick bone white all-in-one computer resting on its surface next to an office phone, one with more buttons and features than anyone would ever use. Behind the desk lurked a tall black leather chair and a small veranda supporting a full crystal decanter and its matching glasses. The muscle-bound escort offered a pair of maroon wingback chairs facing the desk and informed them that they would be seen shortly.
Diego examined the lighted wall sconces, pointing out that each contained not only a candle but a dimly glowing crystal.
Erica however ignored him and closed her eyes as if to settle in for a quick nap.
Twenty minutes later their individual reveries were broken by a deep baritone.
“Apologies for keeping you waiting.”
Diego twitched as if trying not to jump out of his chair. Erica simply opened her eyes to examine the newcomer. An exceedingly tall and overly skinny gentleman ducked under the door frame and walked behind the desk. He had made no sound across the hall when he had approached despite wearing perfectly polished black dress shoes that matched the antique-styled dark slacks and jacket with their beige silk vest.
Diego cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Quite alright.”
The man slid into the chair behind the desk which eerily also didn’t make any sound. “Ah, forgive. I have you at perhaps a disadvantage as I know full well who you are, Martin Diego. I am the one called Bishop.” He’d pronounced Martin as ‘Marteen’ and his voice was almost unnaturally deep, bouncing through the room as a direct vibration against the chest.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Diego. “Allow me to introduce my daughter Erica.”
Erica smiled those pearly whites. “Charmed, I’m sure,” she practically gushed.
Bishop’s thick eyebrows arched slightly. “Takes after her mother I presume?”
“Oh I hope not,” Erica laughed lightly, crossing smooth legs under the dress.
Their host curled an olive-toned finger over his chin. “Tell me, what can I do for the DPA today?”
“We’re here on private business,” Diego said quickly. “I am no longer with the agency.”
“Really.” Bishop’s response dripped skepticism.
“In short I was let go. Due to an indiscretion.” Diego leaned forward, tapping a bejeweled ring against the chair’s armrest as he did so.
“An indiscretion.” Bishop looked between them much like a wolf wondering which doe was worthy of hunting.
“Demonic in nature,” added Erica cheerfully.
Bishop didn’t even blink. “I see. Someday I’d love to hear the story in full but you catch me on a rather busy day.”
Diego tried to speak but Erica was faster. “My father is here on my behalf truth be told. We were given to understand that you may be able to help with a rather unique problem.”
“I am but a simple operator of one of the city’s night spots. What assistance could I possibly offer? A wedding perhaps?”
“Hardly,” Erica responded with a small snort. “Try faerie sickness.”
The elongated man tilted his head with rising interest. “Say more.”
“Many years worth of spiritual exposure to a fae realm. Leaves a mark.”
He considered before nodding. “Weaned away slowly?”
“Cut off suddenly.”
Bishop raised that single long finger. “Bear with me a moment.” Picking up the phone he didn’t bother to dial. “Conor,” he said into the device, “We’ll need a little longer than I thought.”
Replacing the phone upon the cradle he stood and picked up the decanter. “Care for a sherry?”
Erica and her father exchanged glances. Diego answered for them. “Sounds lovely.”
Smoothly the man poured the deeply red liquid into three of the glasses. “Barbadillo and worth every penny.”
While Erica just smiled as she took the offered glass, Diego caressed his with care and said, “That is an excellent choice.”
“Naturally.” Bishop settled back into his chair and took a long sip.
Diego’s finger slowly swirled around the top edge of the crystal - a maneuver which allowed his ring to pass over the wine before he too took a swallow. Erica followed suit without hesitation.
“Quite good,” said Diego. “Thank you.”
Bishop nodded and took another sip before returning his attention to Erica. “Tell me.”
“I was spiritually kidnapped by the fae,” Erica answered bluntly. “And recently released.”
“Surprising. They are not known for letting go of their conquests. How did you accomplish it?”
“I didn’t. Circumstances beyond my control set me free as a byproduct.”
“Hmm. And what do you think I can do to help? Fae-sickness is not the kind of addiction we are used to dealing with by those who frequent my club. Thus I am dying of curiosity.” The man smiled again. It still wasn’t entirely friendly.
“If we knew of a cure ourselves do you think we’d be here asking?” Diego shook his head. “But I am prepared to do whatever I must to help my daughter.”
“If only I could believe that,” Bishop said with a shrug. “But as I said, your reputation does precede you Señor.”
Diego frowned before his eyes fluttered and rolled up into his head. Both he and Erica suddenly slumped deeper into their chairs.
They had fallen unconscious.
Bishop was still contemplating his knocked-out guests over his glass of sherry when his black shirted bouncer arrived in answer to his summons. “Sir?”
“The DPA is up to something, Conor. Either them or perhaps the fae. Take these two below and have them prepared. We need to find out exactly what they are up to.”
“That depends on what we learn.”
As Conor moved towards Diego the computer beeped loudly. A girl’s amused laughter sounded from its tinny speakers.
“I wouldn’t do that just yet Conor,” said the voice from the computer.
Conor jumped in surprise but Bishop raised a non-plussed finger. “Ah. Intriguing. Erica I presume?”
“The one and only. Feel like continuing our conversation?”
“You have my attention. And curiosity. Who is the woman I was just talking to then?”
“Oh that was also me. But the body is this perky girl who believes she’s at an audition with a really creepy director. She’s bled through a couple times as you may have noticed.”
“Possession? But Erica Lain is supposed to be human, not demonic.”
“Yeah but the story about the fae is no horseshit. I figured out a way to ride people remotely as an attempt to escape. You should see the scars they gifted me when they found out and dragged me back. And as for being human, I’m far more human than you are.”
“Oh? Hang on please. Conor, leave these two be for now. I will call again should I need you. And do shut the door on your way out.”
The guy bowed and did as he was told.
“There,” said Bishop. “Now we have privacy. So tell me: if I am not human what am I?”
“Some kind of vampire would be my guess. Your pattern is similar to some other non-humans I’ve met but it’s being artificially sustained.”
“Very perceptive of you.”
“How’d the drug pass my father’s spell test?”
Bishop took another sip of sherry and relaxed further in the chair. “It wasn’t in the wine before he drank it.”
“Like to like teleportation? I didn’t sense it.”
“The resonance of the spell perfectly matched the background radiation here.”
“Clever. Can we cut past the mutual admiration society now and talk business?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Whether a cure for the fae sickness exists for starters.”
“I believe it can be managed.”
“Now now, don’t be hasty. Information exchanges should be equal don’t you think?”
“Hmm. Alright, I’ll give you this: I was freed by an angel who seriously rocked a queen’s boat.”
“Oh yes. Their feathers are stirring something fierce. Which is information a Nephelim such as yourself should find rather valuable to know.”
Bishop put down his glass. “I am beginning to wonder whether letting you in here was in truth a mistake.”
“Then let’s mitigate things to mutual benefit. Your turn.”
“Fae sickness results from a human’s magical wellspring having been overly swollen by total immersion in fae energies, say from living too long in one of their realms. This cannot be undone. The arteries and veins of power will have shifted their structures to demand resonance of a different frequency than is naturally generated. It can therefore only be continuously filled from an external source. I can only imagine how dull this world and its energies must seem to you in comparison.”
“You certainly do seem to know a lot about energy flows. The crystals that line the walls of this place indicate that a tremendous channel mechanism is built right in. Is it safe to assume your nightclub generates a lot of magical mojo? Drained slice by slice from the festivity attendees without their awareness?”
“You are not helping my opinion of the situation by recognizing such a feature. Need I remind you that your father snores unconscious at my feet?”
“We’ll get to him later. Besides, I see a flaw with the implied suggestion.”
“I wasn’t aware anything had been implied.”
“You may be able to feed off the human flow your club provides but your production here is still not of the fae. And as you put it my well is poisoned by their cursed taint specifically.”
“What if I were to postulate that I could provide stored fae energy at regular intervals instead? Given enough you would not only maintain your condition in comfort but also have quite a power edge over other practitioners.”
The speaker crackled with static then quieted. “I didn’t escape one prison just to exchange it for another. I refuse to be an addict tied to yet another supplier. Full cure or no deal.”
“I tell you true: such a cure is beyond those of us who walk this world. And thus I grow more concerned about your slumbering father’s fate.”
“And yet he could help you.”
“Really? That seems unlikely.”
“If he were to tell his old friends at the DPA that you assisted with a small and separate matter then certain consequences could be avoided.”
“Be careful how much you threaten, girl.”
“I haven’t even begun to offer threats. You’ll recognize it when I do.”
“Amusing. Very well, we can play a little while longer. To which matter do you refer?”
“A device was used to attack Whateley Academy last night. I’m sure you’re familiar with the place. The device had tremendous psychic potency and managed to strip the most rock-solid wards I have ever seen within seconds. While it is clear that in your own dependent condition you would be unable to channel such power yourself you might have expertise on how such a thing could be created. The DPA is keen to discover its origin.”
That caused Bishop to go silent with thought for a good five count before replying. “And if I did have insights to offer?”
“Then I believe I could find a way to deflect their possible interest in a certain container about to arrive by ship for which a rather large sum of money has been paid to ensure the usual customs inspection are skipped. If I’m not mistaken its port of origin was in Turkey.”
Bishop burst into laughter, a booming chord of merriment. “My dear girl. You have managed to not only surprise but cause outright astonishment.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“As well you should. I haven’t felt such in centuries.”
“Then do we have an arrangement? With the additional requirement that my father and the annoyingly cheerful actress be released unharmed.”
“Counterproposal: the actress goes now, your father will remain my guest until the cargo is safely in my hands. Certainly you can understand my position and requisite guarantee of conformance.”
“When do you expect to take possession?”
“You don’t already know? Should I be disappointed at this lack?”
“I could be asking to be polite.”
“If all goes smoothly - which would be in your best interests - your father can complete his stay by dawn. Agreed?”
“Are you requesting my assistance on keeping the exchange uneventful?”
“Why would I bargain for that which I believe you would do gratis?”
“Good point. But the information about the device is given now.”
“That is fair. However I am curious about something.”
“Given your father’s nature and loyalty to the government, how were you expecting to discuss matters with me tonight regarding such things which he should never hear about?”
“I trusted you’d arrange a way for that to happen.”
Another chuckle. “Perfect. Very well, we are agreed. Amusingly enough you have in a way already given the answer to how such devices could be created.”
“To harness and channel sufficient power to do as you describe would require something akin to a god. Or, as you’ve mentioned, an angel.”
It was Erica’s turn for a long consideration. “I see. Alright then. The car is waiting outside if you’ll get the woman loaded up. Your shipping cargo will be safe from interference. Another car will arrive before dawn for my father.”
“Excellent. Though if you don’t mind I do have one additional inquiry I wish to pose.”
“Go for it.”
“What makes you think I haven’t taken offense at what you’ve accomplished tonight? This is a dangerous world after all.”
“Yes it is. I think I’ll answer that in two parts.”
“I await them in earnest.”
“Firstly, I’ve been in your computer now for quite some time. Along with the network it’s plugged into. You’d be surprised how much information such access can provide someone unscrupulous enough to create file-drops which would go to various parties in case of untoward circumstances.”
“Ah. You were correct with your statement regarding threats. And the other part?”
“If you endeavor to have me killed you’d also be removing your only current source of bewilderment.”
Another thundering laugh. “Erica Lain it has been an absolute pleasure. Conor will deliver the first tender package immediately.”
“Good to hear.”
The computer speakers crackled and went silent.
Bishop stared at the two comatose guests still resting in the chairs.
“Interesting woman, your daughter,” he mused to Diego’s sleeping body. “Should she survive what is to come she could be a useful ally.”
Long fingers reached out towards the phone to summon his waiting servant.
“Should she survive.”