Virginia Dare

Study And Scrutiny 20-10

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The last major fight that I’d gotten into had been at the Wonderland mall. In that case, there had been a lot more room to maneuver than there was in this little classroom, crowded as it was with so many desks and tables. It might have been a good place to learn in (as far as learning from a genocidal psychopath could be good), but it pretty much sucked as far as gladiatorial arenas went.

But I was learning how to improvise.

Hyde was fast. Wicked fast. Not so long ago, he would have taken me completely by surprise as he lunged clear across the classroom in a single leap. But now… well, now I had the reflexes of a werewolf.

He was still at the start of his leap when I began to react. Pivoting on one foot, I hooked the end of my staff around the leg of the nearest desk and hoisted off the ground while continuing the turn. The werewolf strength meant that I didn’t even notice the weight of the desk as it came off the floor and into the air. As I finished the turn, the desk hung loosely off the end of the staff, which was pointed straight at the incoming monster. With a grimace, I triggered the kinetic charge that I had been building up in the staff ever since I took it out. The blast sent the desk careening off my staff as if it had been shot out of a cannon. It collided with Hyde, slamming into his chest hard enough that the forward momentum from his lunge was entirely negated and he was sent flying backward.

He was still in mid-crash when my follow-up leap planted my foot against the desk. The kick was so hard that my foot went through the desk, shattering it into several pieces before colliding with his chest. A second later, his back hit the wall hard enough to send several cracks through it, while I landed in a crouch.

He recovered quickly, that long, nasty proboscis lashing out towards me like a snake. But I was ready for it, my staff spinning up and around to smack it out of the way. Unfortunately, while I was prepared for that, I hadn’t been prepared for the scorpion-like tail with attached stinger that the Aswang produced. It lashed out and down, cutting through the air while I was still slightly off-balance from knocking the proboscis out of the way.

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. Doug was there. Even as that scorpion stinger came lashing down towards me, he stepped up and put his shield in place right over my head to intercept it. His sword cut at the thing, but it withdrew just as fast as it had extended.

By that point, a protective, bug-like exoskeleton had extended over the man’s entire body. I could still see some of the hair that he had sprouted sticking out from between the narrow gaps in the plates. At a quick guess, I would’ve said that the hair served the purpose of providing sensory feedback that the plates themselves took away. At the same time, the Aswang grew a second set of arms from the lower part of his torso. They ended in a deadly-looking set of pincers

Doug followed up his defense with a fast offense. He threw himself at the Aswang, sword arcing up in a wide, diagonal swing that Hyde parried with his tail. One of the monster’s lower pincer arms lashed out before being caught by Doug’s shield. Unfortunately, the pincer closed around the shield itself and tore it away from the boy. Hyde cast it aside, but the shield simply vanished a second after it was away from its creator.

Meanwhile, the other pincer-hand came in on Doug’s other side. But I was already there, catching the flat part of the open pincers with my staff before using It to shove the arm aside. In the same motion, I brought my right foot up to kick against his chest before pushing off with that same foot to turn myself into a spin that brought my other foot up and around to smack into his face.

Doug went for the kill while the Aswang was recovering, shoving his sword up to the guy’s chest. But the blade just clanged off of the hard scales of that exoskeleton, and Doug had to quickly pivot to catch the descending tail once again. It recoiled before striking out a couple more times, forcing him to parry each one while backing up a couple steps from the ferocity of the counter-attack.

Between the Aswang’s four limbs, tail, and proboscis, Doug was about to be quickly overwhelmed. But like hell would I let that happen. I was already there, catching one of Hyde’s grasping hands with one end of my staff before smacking the other end up into the bottom of his jaw with every ounce of my newly considerable strength. It was enough to make his mouth clang shut while rocking his head backward.

It wasn’t enough to put him down though. Not even close. If anything, he got even angrier and more ferocious. I think Doug and I had managed to cross the point from simply being a couple of nameless Heretics among so many that he wanted to kill, to being very specific targets for him.

Well, honestly, if he wanted to kill me, he was gonna have to get in line or take a number.

But that was a line that he clearly wasn’t ready to wait for, as he came after both of us with a noise that sounded like a cross between a roar and a scream. One of his normal hands tried to shove my staff out of the way, while a pincer hand grabbed for my throat. I barely managed to duck aside before the pincer shut with a vicious, violent snap right where my neck had been. If I hadn’t moved, it probably would’ve taken my head off. Or at least cut deep into my throat.

At the same time, his other pincer actually did manage to get hold of Doug’s sword. Shoving it aside, he sent that proboscis shooting out again. But I threw my staff up, setting off a quick blast of kinetic force that sent the searching mouth-tongue-thing off course.

That scorpion-tail came down, but Doug had already recovered. The boy released his grip on the sword and let it disappear while he lunged backward to avoid the blade on the descending tail. It slammed into the floor before pulling back up, tearing a long, jagged hole through it in the process.

Do not let up. Don’t let up. It was like Avalon had said. The biggest benefit I had was that I could go harder a lot longer than most people could. They got tired. They had to rest and recover. I didn’t. I could go at full speed a hell of a lot more than others.

With that in mind, I went after him hard. Throwing myself forward, I parried his lashing claw out of the way before driving my foot into his lower stomach, then his upper chest, then back to his lower stomach in a quick three-point kick before snapping my leg back out of the way. Even as the Aswang grabbed for it, I was already spinning around to put myself out of the way while my staff swung up to knock his grasping pincer away.

Meanwhile, Doug wasn’t resting on his laurels. The pen, which hung from a strap around his wrist, flicked up into his hand and he clicked it a few times quickly. On the third click, a glowing energy-chain appeared in the air. Catching the chain, he swung it up and around, catching Hyde’s tail before giving a sharp yank to tug it down into range. At the same time, he clicked the pen once more before letting it fall back down on its strap as another copy of his sword appeared for him to snatch out of the air. A shout escaped the boy as he drove his sword up and around, cutting into that tail a few inches from the tip with enough force to cleave through it completely. The pointed tail-blade fell to the floor, writhing around a little while the Aswang screamed.

It still wasn’t enough to stop him though, or even really slow him down that much. Which Doug found out quickly when he was back-handed across the face by one of those pincers with enough force to send him crashing backwards into one of the desks.

He lunged for me then, all four of his arms moving to grab me while his proboscis went for my throat. At the last second, I threw myself up and backward in a jump that brought me to land on the top of the table that he had been trying to drive me into. Unfortunately for him, my item-sense had warned me about how close it was.

Landing on the table, I brought my staff up and triggered a blast that simultaneously knocked the man a step or two away from me while sending myself sliding backwards along the top of the table before I landed on the floor on the opposite side.

Without wasting a second, I brought my foot up to kick hard against the end of the table, sending it careening forward into the man, who was just recovering from the kinetic blast to the face. The force doubled him over. It also nearly pinned him to the wall, but he brought his pincer arms up and his regular arms down, slamming them into the table with enough strength to shatter it into several pieces to free himself.

Grabbing four of those pieces with his hands and pincers, he hurled them at me, forcing me to bat them aside with a quick flurry of motion from my staff.

Doug had recovered by that point, and was back on his feet. He’d also used that pen of his to conjure a long trident, a fact that Hyde discovered when Doug drove the trident right into his arm with a scream (from both of them, actually), pinning it to the wall. With the Aswang’s arm trapped, Doug put both hands on the handle of his sword and reared back to drive it forward through the man’s face. He was clearly intent on putting an end to this once and for all.

Hyde, however, clearly didn’t agree. An instant before Doug would have driven the point of the sword through his eye, the Aswang transformed. He suddenly went from being a man with some extra bug-like features to being a wolf with some bug-like features. Yeah, he looked like a big wolf that was covered in exoskeleton scales and had face that looked more like a beetle than a canine. Plus, not only did he have those pincer arms still (they came out of the wolf’s shoulders), he’d also fixed his tail during the change to give himself the blade on the end once more. So he actually looked like a cross between a wolf and a scorpion.

The sword was driven most of the way through the wall, penetrating nearly to the hilt. And before Doug could pull it back, the transformed Hyde struck with that reformed tail-blade. It went right through the boy’s arm nearly to the bone, drawing a rushing torrent of blood. Doug grabbed his arm with a cry then, leaving his throat open for the tail-blade to take his head from his shoulders.

Or it would have, if I hadn’t opened the portals on the ends of my staff to send a rush of sand into the Aswang’s eyes. He reared back with a cry, his tail narrowly missing its intended target. Instead, the tail struck Doug upside the head, drawing a line of blood across his temple and knocking him hard against the wall beside his own sword.

With a howl of frustration, Hyde jerked his head from side to side while blinking rapidly to clear the sand out of his eyes. Except this wasn’t normal sand. I was still controlling it, shoving the grains up into anything vulnerable I could see. Mostly that meant gouging his eyes with it as if he was walking through a blistering sandstorm. Or rubbing them with sandpaper.

But it didn’t stop him. Spitting a curse (which itself looked weird coming from the scorpion-dog’s body), he came for me. The four legs that Hyde now had propelled him right up to me in a split-second, his mouth opening wide to reveal a frankly obscene number of teeth, while his newly reformed tail lashed up and out.

A quick lunge backwards took me out of range of his first strike, and put my back right against one of the student’s desks. He kept coming, and I used the desk as a brief cover, slipping around to the other side of it just as his tail struck out at me, cobra-quick before it was caught by the side of the desk. Not that that slowed him down very much, he grabbed the desk with one claw and hurled it aside while lunging forward at me with the other claw, narrowly missing my arm before I brought my staff up to smack it aside. And judging from how it felt when my staff hit that claw, if I didn’t have the werewolf strength backing me up, he easily would have overpowered me and knocked the staff from my hand. He was strong, fast, and incredibly intent on killing me.

But hey, at least this time it wasn’t personal. He just hated me because I was a Heretic, not for anything particularly unique. Although the fact that that was kind of an upgrade was a bit sad.

We continued a winding route through the classroom that way. He kept trying to pen me in with the desks, or at least use them to take me by surprise, lunging whenever he thought I was about to stumble into or trip over one of them. But I always knew where they were, I knew where everything around me was. With that combined with my reflexes, I was able to work my way through the jumble of desks, chairs, and tables even as they continued to get knocked around.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually gain an advantage that way either. He was too fast, and his shape-shifting meant that he could continually choose to go under or over any of the obstacles. Plus, any damage I did seemed to heal pretty quickly. Not that it was easy to do damage to him in the first place with those hard scales.

But I had to do this. Wyatt was busy stopping that spell from killing all those people. And Doug was still recovering. He had been knocked into that wall pretty hard. Which meant that I needed to deal with this bastard myself. No matter what that took.

Fortunately, I already had a plan for that. And I’d been working on it bit by bit the entire time.

Shifting into his humanoid form, Hyde leapt up and over the nearest overturned desk in his path. His lower right arm came up toward me. This time, rather than using pincers, he’d formed his extra hands into long blades that had serrated edges like a couple of saws.

What followed went so quick, I could barely follow it myself, even with my enhanced reflexes. He came at me with his two arm blades, two hands, tail, and proboscis. Meanwhile, I was left to block with my staff or simply evade. One after another, his attacks kept coming.

My staff whipped up and to the left to catch his arm-blade there, while I pivoted away from his lashing tail. In the same spin, my foot kicked over one of the desks and sent it crashing into one of the others.

He was grabbing for my shoulder with one hand while trying to drive the other arm-blade into my stomach. I caught the blade against the staff, turning it aside while stepping in closer. Even as his hand caught my shoulder (sharp talon-like claws digging hard into the muscle there), I put my foot in his leg to knock him back a step. His claws tore my shirt, drawing a line of blood.

It hurt. I didn’t care. It didn’t distract me. Not now. Not anymore. Between Avalon, Professor Katarin (and now Hisao), And all the rest of the training I’ve been going through, pain didn’t distract me nearly as much as it used to.  

More. He kept coming. Blow from the top – block. Blow from the side – quick step backward. Three rapid strikes from alternating arm-blades, one after another. Block, twist aside, step in and parry to knock his arm out of the way so I could put my fist into his face. Repeat. Again. He was so fast. So furious. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t take the time to do anything other than keep moving. He nailed me a couple times, drawing more blood with each blow. Somewhere deep inside my subconscious, I felt the pain and realized he was doing damage to me. But I shut that part away and stayed focused. There would be time to deal with all of that later. Later.

Block, strike, twist, step forward, retreat a step, catch his tail, flick it aside while driving forward with one foot to keep him off-balance. Turn, flip the staff up and over my back to stop him from catching me there. Side-step, turn, flip up and over the same tail as he swept it around, trying to go in low. Land. Kick. Twist. Put a knee in him. Stumble.

Breathe. Most of all, keep breathing.

It felt like hours had passed. Not because I was tired or anything, but because of how much my brain had been working to keep up with everything that was going on. It was furious, frantic, deadly work. And I couldn’t let up for a second, not for an instant.

Sometime through that, Doug had mostly recovered. But rather than jumping in, he stood there staring at what was going on. I could see his eyes widening with each passing second, and it seemed like he had frozen up.

Still, he shook it off fairly quickly. Clicking that pen of his, he created another sword and went up and over one of the desks to go at Hyde. The Aswang turned partway, smacking the sword out of the way with the flat of his tail.

But that gave me a brief opening. Taking advantage of it, I quickly drove the tip of my staff up into throat. He still had that armor plating protecting it, but the force of it at least knocked him back a step. And he was knocked back even more when I followed that up with a leaping kick that put my foot into his chest.

Hyde stumbled, catching himself with a grunt.

“It won’t matter,” he insisted through a voice that was filled with rage and disgust. “Even if you kill me, it means nothing. The cause continues. Heretics are going to pay for everything you’ve done. He’ll make sure of it. He’ll tear your society down, all of it.” 

“Who?” I demanded, not really believing that he’d give that much away. But it was worth a shot. Sometimes people got braggy. “The other guy you’re working with? Karl Ulsun? Who is he, your brother? Your wife’s brother? I don’t think he’s going to get much further than you have.”

The smile that he gave me then was as predatory as it was unhinged. “Oh, you’ll find out exactly who our friend is when the time comes. When he shows himself to burn all Heretics down.”

“Stop talking to it,” Douglas insisted, readying his sword while casting me a brief, annoyed glance. “It’s just trying to get under your skin, and screw with you.”

It. Not him. Some small part of my brain noticed that particular distinction. The Aswang was a monster, that was for sure. He’d killed innocent children. And yet, using the term ‘it’ felt like taking some of the responsibility away from him. If something was an ‘it’, there was less personal responsibility for their own actions. Calling Hyde an ‘it’ made him seem like a robot, something that could only do what it was programmed to do.

No matter his reasoning, Hyde was a monster. There was no doubt about that. But he was also responsible for his actions. He was a he, not an it.

Rather than getting into any of that however, I simply smiled slightly. “Actually, there is a benefit to getting him to talk, Doug.”

Both of them voiced questions of what I meant by that, with relatively similar levels of disbelief. So at least they had that in common.

Shrugging, I took a breath while putting my foot up on one of the fallen desks. “See, talking to him helped make sure he didn’t realize what I noticed awhile back.

“All these desks are made out of wood.”

With that, I dropped straight into the desk that I’d had my foot on. From there, I passed through to the next desk. And then the next one.

Yeah, I’d spent the last few minutes not just evading Hyde’s attacks, but actually setting this whole thing up. One by one, I had knocked over, kicked, nudged, or otherwise moved more than half-a-dozen desks until they formed a sort-of semicircle. All of them were touching at one spot or another, allowing me to keep passing all the way through them.

I popped up and out of the last desk… directly behind Hyde. Before he knew what was going on, or had even had a chance to react to my disappearance, I wrapped my staff around his throat and jerked backward. He made a strangled noise of confusion and horror.

A plea, a threat, a promise? I didn’t know. And at that point, I didn’t care. Not after all the death he’d been responsible for. His wife and daughter deserved justice. But so did all the kids he’d killed trying to lure Heretics out for his revenge.

He’d crossed the line, and there would be no going back.

Jerking backward on the staff, I twisted while simultaneously triggering the enormous kinetic charge that it had built up by that point. There was a screech from the Aswang, followed by a sickening crunch of snapping bone and tearing muscle.

The resistance vanished. With a final crack followed by a sick slurping noise, Hyde’s head was torn free from his neck, along with part of his spinal cord.

His body fell, collapsing to the ground to leave me standing there with his head tucked under one arm.

I had the sense of mind to throw the head away from me before the pleasure took over. Doubling over, I let out a gasp as my aura flared up. That incredible rush swept over me, and I barely resisted the urge to moan. It was the strongest reaction like that I’d felt since the shark-man. Or possibly since the Amarok. Wow.

Also, there was a disturbing amount of blood and other bodily fluids (or head fluids) that had leaked out over my clothes. I was basically soaked in the… stuff.

“Wyatt,” I managed after catching myself on my staff like a walking stick. Looking up that way, I pleaded, “Tell me you disabled that spell.”

He looked about as exhausted as I would have felt if it wasn’t for the Amarok’s stamina. Eying me, Wyatt nodded. “Yes,” he announced. “I had to wait to disable the last part until he was dead. But… you took care of that.”

“No shit she did.” Douglas’s voice was filled with awe and… well, what sounded like a little bit of fear. “You just–what did you just… how did…”

“She finished the fight,” Wyatt informed him, pride in his own voice. “And she did a very good job.”

“Indeed.” The new voice came from the doorway, where Professor Dare stood. She stepped in, looking at the body on the floor, then to the head on the other side of the room. Moving to me, she asked quietly, “Flick, Wyatt, Douglas, are you all right?”

“We’re good.” I looked around at the others before focusing. “Wh… what about…”

“Harper and Russell are fine,” she assured us. “Hisao is with them. And the other Aswang has been killed. I was hunting the other one and tracked him here. I see you were forced to get involved.”

“He was going to kill a lot more people,” I replied softly. “A lot more kids.”  

“With Heretic magic, Professor,” Doug put in quickly. “How is that possible? How could that creature know magic from Heretics?”

Her head dipped in a bow of acknowledgment. “That is a question to be looked into later, Douglas. By qualified experts. For now, your part is over. Relax. You all did well. Very well.

“Now let’s go home before we have to find a way to explain this mess.”  

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Study And Scrutiny 20-09

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Barely a few seconds after I activated the emergency alert stone that Hisao had given us, it crumbled into dust in my hand. Stopping short for just a moment in the middle of the sidewalk just outside of the school, I stared at the dust while a thousand thoughts went through my head. Most of them centered around wondering what the hell had gone wrong this time.

I looked toward Doug, about to tell the boy to try his own alert stone just in case, while I used my phone to call someone. Before I could get the words out, however, the dust in my hand swirled up into the air, forming a cloud that expanded and grew. The dust cloud reshaped itself over the next couple of seconds, turning into the shape of a man. A moment later, the cloud solidified and Hisao was standing there.

Oh. Well, that was a new kind of emergency response that I’ve never seen before. Maybe it was an Eden’s Garden thing? And the people passing by didn’t even glance that way. The Bystander Effect at work. I didn’t know if they didn’t see Hisao at all, thought he’d been standing there the whole time, or if their brains registered him walking up to us.

Either way, Doug and I were still standing there realizing what had just happened while Hisao glanced around as though looking for the threat. Then he focused on me, just as I remembered to shift back to my actual face. “You know, they said that you were really good at finding trouble, but I thought they were exaggerating just a little bit.”

Flushing despite myself, I shook my head. “It’s not me this time, it’s the others, Russell and Harper.”

I started to go on, but my item-sense abruptly poked me with the arrival of two more people. Turning that way, I saw Dare and Wyatt step out of an empty classroom. Or, at least they stepped through a classroom door. Before it shut behind them, I saw the inside of the Pathmaker building.

“You two responded fast,” Hisao remarked. I saw him give some kind of brief hand signal to Dare, though I didn’t know what it could mean. Maybe he was telling her that we didn’t seem to be in immediate danger? Which made sense, because Dare had looked awfully tense coming through that door.

“Wyatt found me,” Dare replied, her eyes scanning me up and down before she added, “He said there was a problem.”

The security measures that Wyatt had placed on me, I realized. Apparently my stress levels or something like that had alerted him, and he’d run to get Dare. Or maybe she’d been waiting. I mean, I did have that kind of reputation by that point.

“How’d he know about it?” Douglas cut into my thoughts while looking at Wyatt. Obviously, to him, the guy was still a goofy, borderline incompetent and paranoid security guard with no sense of boundaries.

“I sent him a message,” I put in while Wyatt was still opening his mouth to respond. “Thought we could use as much help as possible.”

Staring at me, Doug demanded, “When? When did you have a chance to do that?”

“Magic,” I replied before shrugging. “More important things to worry about, Doug.”

Hurriedly, I explained the situation in as few words as possible, with Doug interjecting now and then to add his own two cents. I showed him what we’d found, and explained how we thought the Strangers couldn’t be identified during the daytime, and that the whole thing seemed to be a trap for Heretics because these Aswang were pissed off about their family being killed.

With Doug around I had to sound less sympathetic about that part, which was easier when I thought about the fact that these guys had actually killed innocent children in order to set their trap. I still felt bad for the guy’s wife and child, but those other kids didn’t do anything either. No matter how much right he had to be pissed off and vengeful, there was no justification for that. None. A woman and child being killed just because of what they were was monstrous, no doubt about it. But these guys had crossed the line. My sympathy for them evaporated when they murdered innocent children.

Apparently Dare agreed, because there was anger in her eyes as she straightened up when I finished talking. “Wyatt,” she announced, “stay here with Flick and Douglas. Hisao and I will get the others.” Glancing to the other man, she added, “Their alert stones?”

“Still active,” he confirmed after tilting his head to focus for a moment. “They haven’t gone off, which means the kids haven’t called for help, their stress levels are still normal, and they haven’t taken any kind of damage. Proximity’s still within a few feet of them, so they haven’t lost the stones either. We can jump straight to them.”

“Do it.” Looking to me, Dare added, “Stay with Wyatt. Don’t go anywhere unless you have to. We’ll get the others. Be safe. Be smart. Got it?” When I nodded, she glanced to Douglas. “Same for you.”

Hisao offered his hand to her then. A second after she took it, both of them turned into dust and then disappeared.

Exhaling, I slumped over to put my hands on my knees, muttering, “God, I hope they make it in time. They’re going to make it in time, they’re going to make it.” Muttering those reassurances to myself, I glanced up to see Doug squinting at me thoughtfully. Meanwhile, Wyatt had taken up what was clearly a protective position nearby and was busily scowling at everyone who walked past.

“Pretty smart, for monsters,” Doug remarked thoughtfully while looking away for a moment. “Luring Heretics out here, setting up an ambush like that. Seems like they know what they’re doing.”

Wyatt snorted in disbelief, head-shaking. “Not that smart,” he muttered. “If it was me, I’d pretend to be a different kind of Stranger. I’d kill the victims some other way, make it look like a vampire or something. That way, the Heretics wouldn’t know I could be out in the daylight, so their guard would be down. See, you both figured out that your Stranger-Sense wouldn’t work on them in the daytime, but they could identify you. So you were careful. But if they’d just pretended to be a different kind of Stranger, you wouldn’t have had that warning. They threw away an advantage like that for no reason. Stupid. Never give an enemy more information that he needs to have, especially if you can give him fake information.”

Well, Doug had stopped staring at me, and was now staring at Wyatt instead. His mouth open and shut, and it was obvious that he was trying to come up with the right words to say to the man that up until a couple of seconds ago, he had obviously dismissed as a goofy little nobody, just like the rest of the school.

Finally, he started with a weak, “You’re really not–”

Then it was my turn to interrupt. My roaming gaze had spotted something, and my eyes widened before I blurted in a quick half-whisper, “Hey, hey, over there!” I was pointing clear across the lawn of the school toward the far parking lot where the teacher’s cars were obviously kept.

It was Hyde. The pseudo-teacher was walking away from a jeep. Actually, he was half-running. It was obvious that he was trying to rush, without attracting too much attention or questions. A couple of people who were walking past called out greetings to him, and he gave them a distracted wave before hurrying on through the nearby door into the school.

“What the hell is he doing here?” Doug demanded. “He’s supposed to be off getting himself killed by Professor Dare and the Garden guy. What’s going on?”

My head shook. “I don’t know, but he’s definitely up to something. You saw the look on his face. Something’s wrong. Maybe he escaped, or…” I was already moving, my hands digging my phone out of my pocket so I could send a text to Dare. But somehow, I knew we couldn’t wait for them to catch up. And for all we knew, they were busy with the other guy. No, whatever Hyde was up to, it couldn’t’ wait. We had to see what was going on in there.

As I hit send on the text, Wyatt caught my arm. “It could be dangerous,” he pointed out tensely, his eyes staring through me. Obviously, there were things he wanted to say, that he couldn’t actually get out with Douglas standing right there.

“I know,” I replied. “But whatever is going on in there might be more dangerous than that. We can’t just wait out here. What if he’s got more victims in there? What if he’s trying to go out with some kind of big statement? He could be desperate, we don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know anything about what’s happening in there. Or who he’s about to kill.”

Wyatt look like he wanted to argue with that for a minute, but in the end all he could do with sigh. “Fine, but both of you stay with me, and take these.” He handed us each what looked like a couple of arrowheads. Pressing them into our palms, he touched a finger against each and activated the spell on them. As soon as he did, I felt a tingle and my hand turned partially transparent, like I was a ghost. Not just my hand either, I realized belatedly, but my whole body. Looking up, I saw set the same thing had happened to Doug and Wyatt.

“We’re invisible,” my half-brother announced carefully. “Just don’t touch anybody else or get too close, or it’ll break the effect.”

The three of us hurried inside then, and Doug and I led Wyatt to Hyde’s classroom. We got to the closed-door just in time to hear a crash from inside that was followed by a muffled curse. Clearly, the man had figured out that we had been in there. He was probably pissed off that we’d taken his stuff.

After glancing toward Wyatt, I stepped to the door and through it with my wood-walking power, emerging into the classroom on the other side. Coming out of the door, I saw Hyde on the other side of the room, next to his desk. Or rather, where his desk had been. At the moment, it was several feet away and turned askew, as if he had kicked it in anger. One of the drawers that I had set aside earlier was laying on the floor, with it contents spilled all over. Meanwhile, the man himself was muttering something out loud in a language that I didn’t understand while he scribbled something on the whiteboard. But he wasn’t using a marker. Instead, he was dipping a small paintbrush in a bucket of what looked suspiciously like be blood, and using that to scrawl runes on the board.

Magic, I realized immediately. He was doing some kind of magic. Which meant we probably didn’t want him to finish the job. Before I could really think about what I was doing, I was already across the room. My hands grabbed the guy’s arm and shoulder, and I bodily hurled him away from the board before he could scrawl more runes. I would have drawn my weapon, or done anything else to put the guy down, but I had no idea how much time I had before he would’ve finished that spell. All I could think about at the time was to stop him from writing anything else as fast as possible.

At the sound of the guy cursing as he crashed into the far wall, the door came off its hinges. Wyatt and Doug were right inside. All three of our invisibility spells had faded.

Hyde was already back on his feet. He glared, first at the other two in the doorway, and then at me as I stood between him and his spell. “More of you,” he snarled, hate and loathing filling his voice. “I don’t care. I don’t care how many of you ignorant, vile freaks there are. You won’t take this away from me. Not this time. You. Will. Lose.”

Wyatt took a step forward, but Hyde made a tutting sound while holding up a finger. “I wouldn’t do that,” he warned flatly. “The spell might not be complete, but it’s far enough to do some damage.”

I didn’t know what he was talking about, but Wyatt looked to the spell on the board and grimaced before shaking his head. “Heretic magic. How did you learn–” He stopped then, focusing on the man. “It’s not enough, you don’t have the energy built up for the spell to get anywhere.”

“Don’t I?” Hyde snarled the words. Then he spoke a single other word, and all around the room, The various posters advertising lab safety, or whatnot fell to the floor, revealing more runes scrawled on the walls in long-dried blood.

“Uhh,” Doug started turning in a circle while pulling a pen out of his pocket. “What the hell do those mean? What’s going on?”

Wyatt answered without looking at him. His attention was focused on Hyde. “The spell on the board targets a small object and makes it burn up. It makes a small, really hot fire for about ten seconds. About this big,” he held his hands together in the shape of a ball about half a foot across. “It’ll melt through steel.”

“Small fire,” Doug muttered. “Could be worse, right?”

“That,” Wyatt replied while pointing to the last part of the board that the man had gotten to, “That’s a multiplier. It means the spell will affect more than one object, probably dozens.”

“Six hundred and twenty one, actually,” Hyde interjected. “Give or take a few. Can’t guarantee that all the students ate their special treats.”

My eyes widened at that. “You got every student in this school to swallow something that’s gonna blow up?”

“Not blow up,” the crazed man retorted. “Just make a little fire this big in their stomachs. Just enough to give them a bit of a tummy ache. Or, you know, burn them from the inside out.”

My staff was out of my belt and in my hand as the man went on quickly. “And those,” he indicated the spellforms that had been hidden behind the posters, “are battery spells needed to make sure that each and every one of those kids gets a real nasty surprise.”

“You’re insane,” I blurted. “Those kids didn’t do anything. They didn’t kill your family, Hyde. Or whatever your real name is.”

“Of course he’s insane,” Doug interjected. “He’s a monster. Why are you acting surprised?” Even as he spoke, the boy clicked the pen in his hand. In front of him, a glowing sword made out of energy appeared, hovering in the air. He clicked it again, and a shield appeared beside the weapon. He took both, one for each hand. 

Ignoring his words, I focused on Hyde himself. “What is this going to prove?”

“Prove?” he echoed before giving a harsh laugh. “You wanna know what it’s gonna prove? It’s gonna prove that you cocksuckers can’t just kill us with impunity anymore. You kill one of us, we’ll find a hundred humans and kill them in retaliation. You murder our families, we’ll wipe out twenty of yours. It’s war, you bitch. We win by making it cost too much for you to keep fighting. You fucks have gotta learn your lesson.”

Raising my staff, I shook my head. “You’re not setting that thing off. I’m sorry your wife and kid died–”

“Murdered!” he interrupted, a crazed look in his eyes. “They didn’t just die, they were murdered, by you motherfuckers!”

Ignoring the look from Doug, I pressed on. “But you’re not going to kill any more innocent people. That won’t prove anything. It won’t help anything.”

“Help? I don’t care about helping,” he snapped. “I care about revenge. And you can’t do anything about it.” His hand angrily gestured to the board. “The only thing you managed to stop me from putting in was the amplify effect. Turns the little fires into big ones. Ten feet instead of half a foot. They’d take out a hell of a lot more people that way. Anyone standing by my little walking bombs… poof. Ashes. Think that’ll be enough to teach you assholes to mind your own business?”

There are so many things I wanted to say to that, but I said none of them. It wouldn’t have done any good.

Meanwhile, the man himself sneered a little when there was no response to his question. “The spell’s automatic now. You can’t stop it. Either it goes off and kills all those kids with the little fires, or I get past you and make one last mark so the bigger fires kill a hell of a lot more.”

“Wyatt,” I quickly asked, “can you stop it?”

He spun on his heel, running to the board while calling back, “Stop him from getting to the board.”

“Oh, we’ll stop him,” I replied while glancing to Doug. “You heard the man. Keep him away from the board.”

“My spell,” Hyde snarled angrily. “You think you can undo my spell? You can’t. No one can. Not this spell. Either it kills six hundred, or it kills a lot more than that, but you can’t stop it.”

“You don’t know Wyatt,” I replied flatly. “And you don’t know us.”

From his pocket, the Aswang produced a small black stone. Grimacing as he held the stone up, he glared at us before crushing the thing in his hand.

My Stranger-Sense immediately kicked on and started shouting at me. But… it wasn’t night yet. Well, not late enough for Hyde to change, anyway. He should still be a normal human for a couple hours, unless that… stone… did something to make his body think it was late enough to change.

As those thoughts ran through my mind, the man’s body shifted. He grew half a foot immediately, hair sprouting on his body. His hands formed long, dangerous looking claws. At the same time, his mouth contorted, expanding a bit before opening both horizontally and vertically, almost like one of those movie Predators. Worse, a thin, tube-shaped proboscis with teeth on the end shot out a foot or so from the open mouth.

The thing the Aswang used to suck the unborn fetus out of a pregnant woman, I realized belatedly. The thought sobered me, and I narrowed my eyes. This fucker had killed innocent people. Whether or not he had good reason to hate Heretics, that was going too far. He had to be stopped. He had to be put down.

“Doug,” I muttered, “I hope you’re ready. Because we can’t let him interrupt Wyatt. Which means this just got a lot more–”

The monster lunged at us.

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Tis The Season 19-03

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Someone was screaming. Only the pain in my own throat revealed who. Me. I felt detached from what was happening, like I wasn’t the one standing there with blood and… and more spread over my face. Like I wasn’t the one frozen in shock at the sight of… of Scott, or what was left of him. A dull, yet somehow almost deafening echo rang through my ears. Part of that was the sound of the incredibly loud gunshot, while part was psychological. Standing there, staring, frozen, screaming. I was broken.

Scott. My babysitter. The guy I’d pretty much grown up with. He’d always been there. Always. Even before Mom disappeared, Scott had been there. Besides Dad, Scott was my one and only constant. He was more than my babysitter. He was my friend. And more than that. He was almost like a big brother. Actually, he was the closest thing to a brother I’d ever had before I’d found out about Wyatt’s existence.

And now he was… he was… dead. On the floor. The hole—the blood—the—him. In my shock, I stood there frozen as more people suddenly filled the room by the door. Professor Dare and Asenath, both there within a second or two of my scream. The latter went through the open front door and into the yard beyond to look for the threat, while Dare went to one knee by the body, her hand outstretched.

But there was nothing she could do. I knew that from the start. Scott’s head was—the hole—oh. I hadn’t stopped screaming. Not that more than a couple seconds had passed, even if it felt like hours in my mind. Everything was going slow. The crash from the kitchen that had to be my father reacting to the gunshot and my scream couldn’t have been more than two or three seconds removed from the actual event, and his pounding footsteps brought him into view a moment later, which itself felt like hours.

Dad was yelling my name. He stopped short at the sight of me, before his eyes went to the floor. A look of incomprehension, followed by dawning horror filled his gaze, and Scott’s name leapt from his lips.

Professor Dare rose, moving so fast she was up before I knew what was going on. Pursing her own lips, she blew out some kind of purple dust. As it struck my father in the face, he slumped to the ground.

Despite myself, seeing Professor Dare blow dust into my father’s face that knocked him out, in the horror of the situation, made my hand reflexively move for the weapon canister at my hip. Before I could get it out, however (not that it would’ve done anything), she caught my arm. Her voice was gentle, yet firm. “Flick,” she said quickly. “Your father is okay. He’ll be okay, I promise. Come here.”

Before I knew what was happening, she pulled me away from the front door, toward the kitchen. My feet moved automatically to follow after her, and whenever my head moved to look over my shoulder at the body, Professor Dare stopped me with a hand to keep me looking at her as she continued to back up. She forced me to keep looking into her eyes while pulling me out of sight of the… of Scott’s body.

“Flick,” she started once we were out of the way. “Sit.” Pulling me to a seat, the professor made me sink it before snapping her fingers. A glass from the nearby cupboard leapt to the sink and filled itself with water before going to her waiting hand, and she held it out to me. “Drink this, please. Slowly.”

Instead, I just stared at the glass in my hand. It started to slip away, almost falling to the floor before she caught it. Professor Dare went down to her knees, and I saw something in her expression. Something more than professionalism. That time, her voice cracked a little bit as she put both hands on my shoulders. “Flick, please. I—I can help you. But I need to know what just happened. I need to talk to you, and you can’t talk until you drink. The person at the door, that was… your friend, wasn’t it?”

I went briefly blind as liquid filled my eyes. Tears, I realized through the haze. And through those tears, I would have slipped off the chair and fallen to the floor, but Professor Dare held me up, supported me for just a second until she took me from the chair entirely. Her arms went around me, embracing me tightly. “I’m sorry,” she whispered close to my ear, emotion shredding her voice. “I’m so sorry, Flick.”

That lasted for… I had no idea how long. She held me as my face hit her shoulder and my sobs took over. All I could do was shake and sob, unable to even try saying anything. After a few long seconds, my limp hands rose before wrapping around her, and I slumped there half on the floor, clutching the blonde woman as tight as I could as my tears continued to pour out freely, soaking through her shirt.

At some point, Asenath returned. I heard her quietly tell Dare that there was no one out there, and that Twister was doing a quick search of the neighborhood. There was also something about somehow convincing the neighbors that the gunshot they’d heard had actually been a car backfiring as it passed.

Finally, through the hard lump in my throat, I managed, “Fossor. It was Fossor. Ammon. He—Scott–”

“It was him.” There was hatred and anger in Dare’s voice, something deeply personal. “Flick, I’m sorry. I–” She leaned back, looking me in my tear-blurred eyes. “I—we didn’t know you were on the phone. We didn’t hear any of your conversation until the very end. Fossor was using some kind of spell to block it. We heard your friend show up and then you suddenly stopped talking. Then we heard the phone fall and you started to say ‘turn around.’ Then you screamed. We came as soon as—but it was…”

“Too late,” I finished for her, my voice cracking painfully. “Even your time stop, the—you couldn’t–”

She shook her head. “It takes a second to start up. I heard the gunshot and… and we had to get to you.”

Falling back against the legs of the chair as I sat on the floor, I slumped weakly. “It was a Christmas present.” My voice felt dull and empty. “Fossor said it was a Christmas present. He made—he got Ammon to make Scott—to make Scott…” I couldn’t get any more words out. The tears took over again.

Senny was by my side on the floor as well by the time I caught myself once more. Her hand took mine, and I could see the pain in her eyes. “Flick,” she started, her voice full of self-recrimination. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. It—like she said, we heard him show up and then it was just quiet. I thought you were–” She hesitated, shoulders shrugging helplessly. “I’m sorry, I should’ve known something was wrong.”

My head shook, but I couldn’t find my voice for a few seconds. “Scott— he’s… his… he’s just… laying there. We—you can’t–” My gaze turned pleadingly toward Professor Dare for a moment. “Help?”

“Oh, Flick.” The pain came back to her eyes. I’d never seen the woman look so… helpless and emotional. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do for him. I wish there was. He’s gone, Flick. He’s–”

She said something else, but I didn’t hear it. I couldn’t hear it. The roar was back in my ears, and my head dropped. I saw the floor, then nothing. Tears took over yet again. I slumped down, falling onto my side as I shook. No, no, no. Scott. Please, please. God, why. Why did I have to lose him too? Fossor took my mother, he’d kidnapped her and kept her away over half my life. He was going to try to take me in less than a year. My whole life revolved around dealing with that. And now he had killed Scott.

Eventually, I managed to sit up and take the glass of water, drinking from it almost mechanically as my eyes continued to stare at the floor. A million thoughts whipped through my head like a tornado. Most were less than half-formed, and many consisted of more vague emotions than coherent ideas. Kill Fossor. Kill Ammon. Kill them both. Destroy them. The rage boiled up in me, overwhelming the grief.

“Scott,” I finally managed after sitting there for what felt like hours. “We–” My throat cracked, and I took another drink of the water. “He can’t just disappear. He des–” Tears came back and I squeezed my eyes shut tightly briefly before giving a shudder. “He deserves better than that. His family deserves better than that. He was adopted, but—but they loved him. We have to—they have to know. Not everything, but… but please, please don’t let them think he killed himself. He was murdered.” The tears were coming back full force as I spoke. “They can’t think their son killed himself. Please, please.”

Professor Dare’s hand touched my cheek as she nodded. “They won’t. I promise, Flick. They… his parents will know he was a hero. I won’t let them think that he—that he did that. It won’t be okay, but that’s the very least we can do. I’ll take care of it. I’ll move him and—and make sure that no one thinks he committed suicide. Will you–” she paused, looking hesitant and, again, emotional. “Will you be okay here with Asenath for a little bit? I’ll be back as soon as I can, but I’ll need to call some help.”

Sniffing once, I nodded before cringing. “My dad. What about when he… when he wakes up?” It felt sick to talk like this, to talk at all after what happened. I knew that both Dare and Asenath had lost people close to them many times. This wasn’t anything new to them. But it was new to me. It was Scott.

“His memory will have to be adjusted before he wakes up,” Dare informed me quietly and patiently. “It’s the only way if you want people not to believe that Scott killed himself, if you want to change it. He can’t remember seeing him there. He can’t remember hearing you scream or—or any of it. We can set it up differently, but your father can’t remember any of that. It’s that, or let things stay as they are.”

Swallowing hard, I nodded. “If I can’t tell my dad what really happened to Scott, I don’t want him to think that he killed himself. I can’t—no. Please. I can’t let Fossor do that to him. And he’d never—never let me go back to school if he knew that I saw Scott—that I saw Scott–” My voice broke once more.

“I’ll take care of it,” Dare promised while giving my hand a squeeze. “Stay here with Asenath, okay?”

Weakly nodding, I lowered my gaze and stared at the floor again. In the background, I heard the two of them murmur to each other for a second, before Dare left the room to into where Scott’s body was. After a short time there, the front door opened and then closed again as she went to… handle things.

For a few minutes, neither I nor Senny said anything. We just sat there. My eyes stayed locked onto the floor while my hands clenched and unclenched. It was all I could do not to break down yet again. But the anger in me was still steadily overwhelming the grief. My voice, when I finally spoke again, was hard. “I hate him.” I spat the words harshly, because being angry felt better than being sad. Being angry felt productive. Being sad felt helpless. “I hate that son of a bitch. I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill them both. Ammon and Fossor. They deserve to die. They’re monsters. They’re both monsters.”

“They are,” Senny agreed. Her voice was as gentle as her hand against my arm. “Fossor is evil. The kind of evil that.. that shouldn’t exist. I’m sorry, Flick. I’m sorry you had to see any of this, that you have to deal with that piece of shit. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to have a regular family.”

“I don’t want a regular family,” I snapped despite myself as the anger twisted inside me a bit more. “I want my family. I want my mom back, with the gifts and abilities that she earned. I want my dad to know the truth. I want to know the truth about the world, and I want to help people. I don’t want to go back to being clueless. I want to take my father into the truth. I want him to know everything, and I want my mom back, and I want…” Stopping, I shook my head violently. “But I can’t have that. Any of it. Not now, anyway. But no. I don’t want normal. I want the truth. I want my family back together, with the truth. I want to save people with my mom, with my dad. That’s what I want, not ‘normal.’”

Before Senny could say anything to that, the front door opened again. There was a brief sound of footsteps before Twister came into the kitchen. She was carrying a small computer pad, which she held out to me. “Flick,” the girl said quietly while meeting my gaze. “You should look at this. Trust me.”

I took the pad with a frown of confusion before turning it around. On the screen there was a video playing. A video of a young, familiar boy playing with a truck on the floor in some kind of big room. There were a few other kids around, but he was in the center frame, and immediately recognizable.

The anger boiled up again, and I almost threw the pad even as the tears returned. “Bastard! Why’d Fossor send a video of Scott as a kid? How did he even get a video of Scott from years long ago?”

“Flick,” Twister said gently, head shaking. “It’s not from years ago. Look at the calendar on the wall.”

Confused, I looked at the pad one more, my eyes searching. Sure enough, there was a calendar there. A 2017 calendar, which was set to December. And all around the room, there were Christmas decorations.

The truck that Scott-that eight year old Scott was playing with on the floor… it was a Christmas present.

Twister’s voice cut through as my brain completely locked up. “It’s a live feed, not recorded. He’ll start getting his memories back over the next few months. Then his tail should come in. Probably doesn’t have the ears, or you would’ve noticed as soon as you saw him after the whole Heretic thing. Tails you can hide though.”

“Pooka.” I managed, as a tidal wave of emotions tore down every wall in my mind. “Pooka.” Turning, I went to my feet so fast the chair behind me fell over. I didn’t care. “Scott—you’re saying he—he’s a… He’s a Pooka?!” My voice was a shout. Still didn’t care. “Scott—he’s not—he’s a—he’s a Pooka?!”
The Stranger sense didn’t recognize Pooka, didn’t register them as Strangers at all, or anything non-human. The thoughts were coming to me in a jumble. My grief wanted to turn into delight and relief, but it was hesitant, terrified that this was some kind of mistake or lie. I couldn’t deal with that. Couldn’t deal with losing Scott and then having that hope dangled in front of me only to be yanked away again.

“Why didn’t you say anything before?” Asenath questioned while I was busy staring at the screen where the eight-year-old Scott was making engine noises as he ran the truck up over a green couch.

Dead. Not dead. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to feel. Could I be happy? Could I be relieved? My body, my brain didn’t know how to switch emotions that fast. I wanted to sob again. I wanted to cry and scream and laugh and… and everything in between.

“I didn’t know.” Twister shrugged. “Not like we recognize each other on sight. But—yeah, that’s him.”

Scott. Scott wasn’t dead. He was, but he wasn’t. He was a Pooka. He was still alive—sort of. He’d get his memories back in a few months. He was a kid again, but he was alive. He wasn’t dead. He wasn’t–

Tears, these ones of much better emotions, flooded my eyes yet again. It took me a second to find my voice, but when I did, a question came. “I—but if you didn’t know, where’d this pad come from?”

“Guy gave it to me when I was checking the neighborhood,” she explained. “Said he wanted you to know that Scott wasn’t dead, that he was sorry he didn’t get back soon enough to help.”

“Get back soon enough to…” I echoed in confusion, my eyes moving from the pad to the girl and back again. “I don’t… Scott’s a Pooka. He—oh my god. He was here on purpose. He grew up with me. They put him here to… to watch Mom. And then to watch me. He knew the whole time. He knew all of it. He was watching me, probably… protecting me. He was—he… but who? Who put him there?”

“I did.” A new voice spoke up. All of us jumped, even Asenath. Turning, we saw a man standing there. A tall, broad-shouldered black man whose form filled the doorway he was standing in, and whose aura seemed to fill the entire room, the entire house.

“And it’s probably time that we talk,” Gabriel Prosser announced.

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Tis The Season 19-02

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As a quick note, there was a brief mini-interlude focusing on Rudolph and Roxa’s old team posted a couple days ago. If you haven’t seen that yet, you may wish to hit the Previous Chapter button above. 

“The amount of stuff you can get used to in such a short time is kind of amazing if you think about it,” I murmured under my breath, only half-aware that I was speaking out loud. It’s not like there was anyone around for me to talk to. It was daytime on Christmas Eve, so Asenath was sleeping. Shiori had gone back to visit her adoptive parents and Columbus until the next day, and Twister was watching over my dad while he spent some time in the newspaper office doing story research for a few hours.

Which left me alone. But it wasn’t that bad. I’d spent a lot of time alone before Crossroads happened. It gave me time to think and get my head on straight. Not to mention shop. Yeah, I sort of still needed to pick up presents for my dad and some others. Which felt bad, but I did have a lot on my mind lately.

Besides, it wasn’t like this town ever got that busy, even at Christmas. There were crowds, but it wasn’t anything like the kind of stuff I’d seen on the news about bigger cities. And the fact that I didn’t have to find a place to park was one less problem to deal with. I just walked into the store and started browsing.

“And what kind of stuff is that, Miss Chambers,” an unexpected voice cut through my daydreaming, making me jerk around in surprise. My item-sensing power had been telling me about people passing by the entire time I’d been standing in front of the shirt display, but this one hadn’t just kept walking.

“Scott,” I blurted, recognizing my former babysitter-turned-deputy immediately, as soon as my brain caught up with my reflexes. My hand stopped moving for my weapon canister and I tried to relax.

Not fast enough, apparently. Scott Utell, standing there in civilian clothes rather than his deputy uniform, raised an eyebrow at me. “Whoa, nice defensive posture there, little lady. Been taking classes up there in that fancy pants private school you abandoned us common folk for?” His tone was lightly teasing.

Flushing a little bit before using the face-shifting power to make it go away, I straightened and tried to change the subject. “Sorry, you just took me by surprise. What-uh, what are you doing here, Scott?”

Lifting the bag that he was holding (my power told me there were a few books, a dvd, two shirts, a game, and some kind of action figure inside), Scott shook it a bit. “Shopping. Why, what’re you doing? Oh, and by that, I mean what are you doing that’s making you get used to a lot of stuff in a short time?”

Shrugging while thinking of an excuse, I replied, “Oh, you know. That fancy pants school. Easy to get used to the crowds and all those rich kids. Then I come back here and this feels like the strange place, even though I grew up here. It’s kind of—um, easy to forget how small and… quiet it is around here.”

I didn’t even have to make any of that up, honestly. It was strange to come back to this quiet, sleepy town after everything that had happened. Granted, it wasn’t really because of spoiled rich kids, but still.

“Yeah, I suppose it would be.” Scott lowered the bag before nodding toward my own empty hands. “Doesn’t look like you’re having much luck with the whole shopping thing, though. What’s the matter, not enough options? Used to those giant four story malls with a whole special store for everything?”

Coughing, I shook my head rapidly while trying not to blanch too much. “No. Please no. Let’s just say I’ve had enough malls for the time being. Just a nice, quiet department store is good enough for me.”

Scott looked interested. “Sounds like there’s a story there. And the Flick I know loves sharing stories.”

It took a bit of effort, but somehow I managed to keep my voice at least somewhat casual.“Sorry, Scott, I’m not really in the mood to talk about it. I just—sort of want to focus on the normal stuff right now.”

That eyebrow of his went up again. “Normal stuff, huh? As opposed to—wait, don’t tell me. You ran up there and found yourself a bunch of trouble, didn’t you? I should’ve known. You help bust the closest thing Laramie Falls ever had to a drug kingpin, I can’t imagine what kind of stuff they’ve got up there.”

Weakly, I gave a slight nod, my voice quiet despite my attempt to sound casual. “You’d be surprised.”

“Maybe I would,” Scott acknowledged, his eyes watching me for a moment. “But if you change your mind and decide you do want to talk about it, well, my ears are always open. Keep it in mind, okay?”

If only it was that simple. “Yeah,” I murmured. “I’ll keep it in mind.” Straightening then, I cleared my throat. “But for right now, I’m gonna hijack you so you can help me find something good for my dad.”

“Hijack me, huh?” Scott shook his head with obvious amusement. “Don’t I have to be a boat or a truck or something to hijack me? I think the word you’re looking for is kidnap, Miss Super-Reporter.”

“Eh.” I shrugged with a faint smile, enjoying the (relatively) normal conversation. “I blame any failures in my vocabulary on you making up words when we were playing Scrabble. I mean honestly, tviuckt?”

Scott chuckled, giving a totally not-at-all innocent shrug. “Way I see it, that just taught you to check your sources before accepting whatever someone tells you. See? Told you I was a great babysitter.”

I rolled my eyes at that, catching his arm. “Right, good excuse. Now come on, help me go shopping.”

******

“Oh, hey, Professor Dare.”

It was later that afternoon, and I had just opened the door at the sound of the bell to find the blonde woman standing on our porch. She wore a nice red coat as an obvious pretense to caring about the weather, though I was pretty sure it didn’t actually bother her, and was carrying a leather briefcase.

“Felicity,” she greeted me with a warm smile, one that felt more open than she normally was at school. “I hope I’m not too early. I wanted to get here soon enough to help out a little bit rather than just eat.”

Behind me, Dad spoke up. “Oh, we never object to help around here. Especially when it comes to anything involving food.” He stepped over, extending a hand as I moved aside. “Lincoln Chambers.”

Taking his hand, Professor Dare smiled. “Mr. Chambers, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Virginia Dare.”

After the brief handshake, Dad paused, head tilting a little curiously as he regarded her for a second. “You know, Flick said your name before, but now I’ve just gotta ask. Did your parents happen to be–”

“History nerds,” Dare confirmed for him with a chuckle. “My mother. She couldn’t resist the chance to name me Virginia. Sometimes I think it’s the only reason she actually married my father, for his name.”

She lied so well and simply that for a second, I forgot what the truth was. Dad, meanwhile, chuckled as well. “Well, I’m just glad they gave you an interesting name. It must be a good conversation starter.”

As he spoke, Dad stepped back out of the way with a gesture. “And please, come on in out of the cold.”

“It does tend to attract questions from the right kind of people,” Dare acknowledged while moving inside. “Ones that know their history. And those are the best ones to have a conversation with.” Her head nodded toward me. “Like your daughter. I find conversations with Felicity are never boring.”

Dad patted my shoulder briefly. “She doesn’t like to blend into the crowd, that’s for sure.” His voice was embarrassingly fond before he shook his head, thankfully not launching into an entire ‘proud father’ spiel about me. “Right, mind if I take your coat? I’ll just put it up in the closet out of the way.”

As Dare shrugged off the coat and handed it to him, Dad started to take it before pausing. He glanced back to her, that thoughtful look back on his face as he gave the woman another quick once over. “You know,” he began slowly. “You look really familiar. Have we met before? Maybe down in Los Angeles. I used to work there before coming out here, and I still fly back now and then to visit some friends.”

Shaking her head at that, Professor Dare replied, “I don’t think we’ve actually met, no. If we had, you would’ve remembered the name. But I have been to California. Maybe we passed by each other.”

Dad seemed to consider that for a moment before nodding. “Maybe. I just could’ve sworn I–” He paused and then shook it off. “Never mind. Let me put this away.” Waving the coat, he stepped over to the closet. “Flick, why don’t you show Professor Dare around a little bit before we worry about food?”

I started to do that, stepping away with her. Once we were far enough away, I whispered, “Is he actually wrong, or has he met you before?” Glancing to her, I added pointedly. “Like say, around here.”

“You don’t need to whisper,” Dare replied in a normal voice. “Your father won’t hear anything we’re talking about.” She looked over to me then before nodding. “And yes, he probably did see me around now and then. Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t recognize me too. After… after your mother disappeared, Gaia thought it would be a good idea to have some of us check in on you now and then. Just in case anything happened. I tried to stay in the background, but… well, there aren’t many people in this town. And,” she added almost as an aside to herself, “Maybe part of me wanted you to see me.”

“Wanted me to see you?” I echoed uncertainly, mulling that briefly before shaking my head. “Why?”

For a few seconds, her only response was a long, low sigh as she watched me. Then Dare raised her hand to lay on my arm. “Because I missed your mother, Felicity. She was… she was a very good student. She challenged the others, made the people around her better. I was hoping she might actually become a teacher. Then the underground became a full scale rebellion and… well, that was never going to happen. But I still had a chance to talk to her now and then. I um—I volunteered to come here because I missed that. I missed her. Same reason I volunteered to pick you up for school in September.”

That made me remember that I wanted to ask Professor Dare exactly what had been going on when I was left alone in an almost empty field with just the bus and that door. I wanted her take on what was up with that, though it obviously had something to do with making sure Mom wasn’t secretly with me.

Before I could say anything about that though, we reached the top of the stairs and I saw my bedroom door open. Asenath was standing there, hand against the doorjamb as she watched our arrival curiously.

Seeing her, Professor Dare paused, voice going silent. Her face softened, and she stared for a moment with obvious emotions swirling through her expression before murmuring, “Gods, I see him in you.”

Equal emotion flickered in Senny’s gaze before she brought it mostly under control. In that moment, I realized that as old and experienced as she was, in some ways, the other girl was still a little girl waiting for her father to come back. She was a little girl who missed her daddy, and hearing someone who knew him say that they saw him in her had to be wrecking her. After all, I knew how it felt to have someone say that they saw my mother in me. Especially after everything that I had found out about her.

Finally, Senny found her voice. “Papa talked a little bit about a girl he used to take care of. I was little, so I can’t remember all of it. But he said she was like a daughter to him, that she was… that she was like my sister. I just… he said she wasn’t a vampire, so I thought she’d died a long time before. I didn’t—I…”

She trailed off like that, clearly unsure of what to say as she stood there staring at the blonde woman.

Clearing my throat after a second of that, I gestured. “Right. Here, I’ll give you guys some privacy and let you talk for a bit. Take your time, use my room and get to know each other. I’ll just be downstairs.”

After looking back and forth between them for a second, I smiled to myself while moving back to the stairs. Heading down, I heard the quiet murmur of their conversation before it faded to white noise.

Dad was in the kitchen, reading the recipe that I’d managed to get Twister to write down for us. He’d wanted to try his hand at making an actual Christmas Eve dinner rather than just calling for takeout or grabbing a frozen family dinner at the store, so I told him that Asenath’s mother (the one that he thought had cooked dinner for us back when I’d visited for my birthday) had sent the recipe for him.

My mouth opened to ask him if he needed any help (with, of course, added teasing about him burning the place down), but before I could, the doorbell rang. Waving a hand as he straightened up, I called, “I got it!” Then I jogged through the hall to the entrance, wondering who it could be. Professor Dare was already there, and Senny said that Jiao wouldn’t be around until the next evening, at the earliest.

Peering through the peephole briefly, I blinked at the person there before opening the door. “Scott?”

“Hey, Flick.” He stood there, in uniform that time. Like earlier, he was holding a bag in one hand. “I’m not interrupting or anything, am I? I just thought I’d stop by and do a little Christmas present delivery.”

“Oh!” Quickly stepping back, I shook my head. “No, come in. Sorry, I just thought we were doing that tomorrow. Gimme a second, I’ll run upstairs and get yours.” Turning, I called, “Dad, Scott’s here!”

I’d taken a few steps toward the stairs when the house phone rang. Dad called from the kitchen to ask if I’d grab it, so I stopped and grabbed the handset off the wall before hitting the button. “Hello?”

“Are you having a nice time at your last Christmas with your father, Felicity?”

The voice… the words… my blood ran cold and I stopped short. Fossor. Fossor was on the phone. He had actually called me. What kind of sick—but I knew the answer to that. Him. He was the kind of sick freak who would find that amusing. My first instinct was to throw the phone against the wall, to break the damn thing or get it as far away from myself as possible. Even just hearing that son of a bitch’s voice freaked me out and made me start shaking almost immediately. I started to snap off a demand about what he wanted, but the words died in my throat. I couldn’t speak, not through any magic of his, but because I was afraid. Afraid of why he was calling.

He continued, clearly amused by my response (or lack thereof). “I asked you a question, young lady.”

Finally, I found my voice. “What-” It cracked a bit and I caught myself. “What the hell do you want?”

“As I said,” he replied smoothly, “I wanted to see how you were doing, and if you were making the most of your last Christmas with your father. It is important to spend the time with family that we can, don’t you think? Almost as important as it is to listen to your father and do as you’re told. Do you listen to your father, Felicity? Or is obedience to the male role model something else we’ll have to work on?”

I couldn’t help it, the words came reflexively before I knew what I was saying. “Yeah? Well it doesn’t seem like Ammon tends to listen to you all that much. Last I saw, he likes going off on his own a lot.”

If he was annoyed by those words, the man’s voice didn’t show it. “Yes, Ammon has been disciplined for his misbehavior. Children will be children, after all. I’m sure you’ll understand when the time comes. But there are times that he does as he’s told, and relays the instructions that he’s told to relay.”

The instructions that he was told to relay? I wanted to hang up. So much of my brain was screaming at me to just hang up. My hand was tight around the receiver, and I had to stop myself from using enough of my strength to snap the thing in half. Finally, I managed a somewhat weak, “What?”

Fossor’s response was a simple, “Don’t you want to turn around and open your present?”

“Turn aro–” Dropping the phone, I pivoted back the other way, toward the door. My mouth was already open, starting to shout, to scream.

Scott stood there. The bag was on the floor, wrapped presents strewn at his feet. In his hand, my old babysitter, my friend, held his service revolver up with the barrel against the bottom of his chin.

“Merry Christmas, Felicity.”

Then he pulled the trigger.

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Mini-Interlude 16 – Nevada

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The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on the staff (specifically, Nevada) both before and after dealing with the Fomorian situation back at Thanksgiving. 

The soothing sound of Dick Haymes’s classic rendition of Buddy Kaye and Ted Mossman’s 1945 song ‘Til The End Of Time’ filled the almost-empty Stranger Truths classroom while Nevada lay on her back underneath a motorcycle that was parked just in front of her desk. An open and clearly thoroughly used toolbox lay beside the buxom blonde, and her grease-covered hands were busily working at the bike’s half-assembled engine before she noticed the arrival of a newcomer.

“I’m surprised that you can stomach listening to this kind of music,” Risa Kohaku announced from her place near the doorway. “Wasn’t this the…” She paused, stepping into the room before closing it behind her. Still, before continuing, the security chief went through half a dozen procedures to ensure their privacy. Finally, she finished her thought. “Wasn’t this the kind of music your old Master used to enjoy while you were still… in his employ?”

Pushing herself back before standing up, Nevada smiled reflexively. It was an old defensive measure she’d learned to deal with uncomfortable or upsetting memories. “You mean when I was a Djinn,” she replied flatly while waving her hand. A minor telekinetic touch shut off the music, leaving the room much quieter.

Wincing just a little at her directness, Risa nodded. “I would have thought that his preference for that music would have turned you away from it. Especially given his… proclivities while listening to it.”

Picking up a nearby wrench just to have something to squeeze, Nevada shook her head. “Not like it’s the music’s fault. Besides, he preferred the Perry Como version of the song. Something about Como being a natural born American while Hayes was from Argentina. Which was pretty funny considering dear old Master wasn’t even born on this planet, let alone America.”

“Sorry,” Risa murmured apologetically. “I know you don’t like to think about those times.”

Nevada shrugged. Her mouth opened to ask what the woman was doing there, but before she could say anything more, the door behind Risa opened abruptly, and Virginia Dare appeared.

“Felicity and Koren,” she announced. “They’re in trouble.”

“What kind of–” Risa started.

“Fomorian trouble,” Virginia interrupted. The tension and fear in her expression and voice were far more plain than Nevada remembered seeing them ever before. “There’s a Fomorian at Koren’s house.”

Those words instantly drained all the amusement and casual atmosphere from the room. Nevada dropped the wrench she had been squeezing so tightly and was already halfway to the doorway by the time Risa caught up with her. The security chief was paler than usual, her expression set in a grim line.

No one joked about the Fomorians. Not after what had happened during the last major altercation with them, including the loss of Desoto.

“Gaia?” Risa spoke tersely as the three of them emerged into the corridor.

“Still busy with the Committee,” Virginia replied, her own voice just as tense. “Ulysses is prepping the portal.”

She explained everything that had been in the message from Flick as they made their way through the hall. Their destination wasn’t the Pathmaker, but the enormous mirrors in the main corridor. As promised, Ulysses Katarin was already there, performing the opening enchantment on the mirror that would connect them to Koren’s house.

“Can’t put it inside,” the big man explained without looking up as the women approached. “Fomorian shit’s already blocking it. The closest I can get is the sidewalk at the front.”

“Do it,” Virginia prompted, her face tight with worry. “Deveron Adams and Wyatt are there too, but..” She paused, shaking her head. “We need to be there, now. Before now. Yesterday, if time traveling back into time you’ve already experienced wasn’t out of the question.”

Ulysses was already nodding, throwing the last bit of magic into the mirror before he stepped back. “Hope we can break that blood shield the Fomorian threw up. Cuz the last time I had to deal with one of those, it took a god damn hour to knock it down, and that was with nine of us.”

“We have a secret weapon,” Virginia reminded him before stepping through the mirror.

“Wyatt,” Ulysses finished for the woman, smiling mirthlessly. “Let’s hope the guy’s as good as Gaia says he is.”

Then they were through the portal, emerging through a simple wooden door that had appeared in the middle of the sidewalk. Across the street, an elderly woman walking her dog gave them a wave, and Nevada briefly wondered what exactly the woman had seen. What had the Bystander Effect turned the four of them stepping through a door that had no business being in the middle of sidewalk into? Maybe she saw them stepping out of a van?

Regardless, they had more important things to focus on. Wyatt was there. His wide-eyed gaze snapped around, focusing on them. “Felicity,” he blurted, “Koren, they–”

“We know,” Virginia interrupted before the man could start rambling. “How long will it take you to bring down the shield, Wyatt?”

Not, ‘can you bring it down’, Nevada noticed. For Virginia, it wasn’t even a question of whether the man could pull it off or not. She simply wanted to know how long it would take him to do it.

Swallowing hard, an act that sent his pronounced Adam’s apple bobbing, Wyatt nodded. “I can. I can do it. I’ve been examining the spell, and–”

“Details later, Wyatt,” Risa reminded him. “Right now, focus on smashing that spell down as soon as–”

“No,” Dare corrected her while shaking her head. “Don’t smash it down. He’ll know we’re coming. Wyatt, we need you to get the spell as close as you can to going down without alerting the Fomorian about what’s happening. Can you do that?”

Again, the nervous man fidgeted and seemed to hesitate before nodding. “Um, maybe. Yeah. I mean, normally I’d have to put my own power into it as I went. But if I leave most of the power out of it and just shape the spell, it might work. But I can’t put enough power in fast enough by myself. After I—umm, shape it, we all have to put power into the spell at the same time if you want it to go down fast.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Risa decided, laying a hand on her subordinate’s shoulder. “Be fast, Wyatt. The Fomorian cannot escape. Not with what it already knows.”

“Funny,” a new voice spoke up from the darkness as the man in the green suit came into view. “I would’ve thought that your first words would’ve been, ‘he can’t be allowed to hurt our students.’”

“It’s implied, Seller,” Risa snapped at the man from Eden’s Garden. “What are you doing here?”

It was Dare who answered. “He’s helping. Flick obviously called for his aid. Which is good. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have all the help we can get to deal with a Fomorian who managed to survive the war and escaped being banished. He’s gone unnoticed this entire time. We can’t just let the ridiculous Garden/Crossroads division matter right now.”

Seller gave a brief bow. “Yes,” he murmured in agreement. “Besides, regardless of where they happen to attend school, I prefer not to leave my more promising descendants in danger. Particularly from a Fomorian.”

Nevada’s head snapped around at that, and she felt her own surprise jump. Her mouth opened to question what he meant,but she stopped herself. She had to focus on what was happening, not get distracted. Even if it was an announcement like that. Because if he was related to Flick, that meant that he was related to… Oh.

Virginia stepped away to use a telepathy power to contact Deveron on the inside to let him know what was going on. She also used the same mental discussion to get a report from the boy about the full situation inside.

Deveron. According to Gaia after a discussion the woman had had with the boy, he was the one who had originally recruited Nevada to join the school. He was the one who convinced her to turn herself into a human, and then a Heretic. After, of course, she had altered the Edge to allow hybrid students.

Before then, Nevada had simply… not really thought about who had recruited her. That was the power of the spell that had been used. Even though she’d clearly thought about the fact that she’d been recruited by a Heretic, she simply hadn’t thought about who it had been. And nothing about the fact that she couldn’t remember who he was, this man who had changed her life so much, had actually struck her as odd.

Magic scared her sometimes. And the fact that it frightened even her, a former Djinn, said… well, it said a lot. And at some point, she was going to have to have a discussion with Deveron about everything that she couldn’t remember.

Soon. She’d talk to him soon.

Meanwhile, Risa and Seller took a moment to put aside their initial hostility and talked about exactly what they were going to do once the spell went down. Then the Eden’s Garden Heretic stepped away to do something of his own that would apparently mask his own presence from the shield.

Of course, since he was apparently related to Flick and Koren, the spell would let him through anyway. But it would also alert the Fomorian to his arrival, so the man was doing something that would hide him from the spell once he passed through it.

Eventually, they were ready. Seller gave a quick salute before moving through the spell to cause a distraction. The man had enchanted a couple of stones, placing one in his pocket while leaving the other with Nevada and the others so that they could all hear what was going on.

“Tell me you’re ready, Wyatt,” Virginia urged, clearly not wanting to wait any longer.

“Ready,” the man confirmed.

Dare sent the message through to Seller, and the rest of them took a moment to gather their energy for the last push to break the blood shield. Meanwhile, they listened as the emerald-suited man announced his arrival to interrupt the Fomorian, who was apparently trying to convince Flick or Koren to choose which of them would go with him. Nevada tightened her fist, snarling under her breath while focusing on her own power.

Then Seller’s voice announced that if Dare was going to do it, she should do it right then. And on cue, Nevada, Ulysses, Risa, and Virginia all helped Wyatt by pouring their power into the spell that the enchantment expert had created. The invisible wall vanished, and they were through. Through and ready to make sure the Fomorian didn’t escape, and never hurt one of their students again.

******

“Where are they?” The booming demand came from the doorway that led into Koren’s house, and Nevada looked up from her slumped over position to find Gabriel Ruthers standing there, flanked by Gaia.

“The Fomorian, Chambers, and Fellows,” the man demanded before Nevada or any of the other exhausted and clearly bloodied figures could respond. “Where are they? If you let them escape–”

“Felicity and Koren are fine,” Virginia snapped. The woman was busy holding her hand tight against a deep wound in her own stomach until it could heal. “Physically, anyway. And the Fomorian’s body is in there.” She nodded over her shoulder to the kitchen. “He’s dead. But he got off a message. We’re not sure what it said, but… probably too much.”

“If they’re fine, then where are they?” Ruthers’s voice was dark.

“Eden’s Garden,” Risa answered without looking toward the man. The woman’s vision would take awhile to return after the fog that the Fomorian had released into her face had eaten away most of her eyes. “Koren’s mother was… critically injured. They took her to Eden’s Garden to have her turned into a Heretic so that–”

What?!” Ruthers’s voice turned into a bellow. His fury was palpable. “You allowed them to—what kind of failur–”

“Gabriel,” Gaia snapped. “Leave. The situation is handled. You and I can discuss it further later.”

At first, Nevada thought the man was going to blow his gasket and start screaming at Gaia right there. His face reddened and he glared at the woman for a few seconds before taking a visible breath. “You, I, and the rest of the Committee. We will all discuss this. And everything else.”

“I can’t possibly contain my excitement at the prospect, Gabriel.” Gaia replied flatly. “Now leave, and let me attend to my staff. There’s clearly no need for your presence here.”

“We’ll see where my presence is required, Gaia,” the man retorted.

“We will most certainly see.”

Then the man was gone, just as abruptly as he had arrived. Gaia let out a visible breath before stepping further into the building. Her attention was on the rest of them, her voice soft. “Are all of you all right?”

“We’ll be okay,” Ulysses replied for them, shifting his half-mangled form with a grunt. “Can’t say that tangling with a Fomorian is any more fun than it used to be, though.”

“No, I can’t imagine it would be,” Gaia murmured before stepping over to lay a hand on Nevada’s arm. “I’m going to discuss things with Seller, and find out how the others are. Tristan was pulled along with Felicity’s travel to Eden’s Garden.” She paused briefly. “And so was Roxanne.”

“Pittman?” Ulysses blurted. “How—oh damn it, she was touching him, wasn’t she?”

“They were surfing,” Gaia confirmed. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to reach them in time to prevent it. And now… now I fear what might have happened if she wasn’t pulled the entire distance. If she–” The woman stopped, obviously not wanting to put voice to the fear.

“Go,” Virginia urged. “Make sure they’re okay.”

“I have to ask,” Gaia started first, focusing on Nevada. “You… you were the one who killed him, weren’t you?”

Nevada nodded. “Yeah. Well, we all killed him, but that last hit, that was me.”

“And did you… gain anything from it?” the headmistress asked carefully.

Risa interrupted. “Why would you even have to ask that? Heretics don’t get powers from killing Fomorians. That’s one of the things that makes them such a pain in the ass. We all know that.”

“Normally, yes,” Gaia confirmed. “But I thought perhaps… Nevada’s uniqueness would be different.”

“You mean the fact that I used to be a Djinn, and that it’s magic that made me human,” Nevada realized before shaking her head. “No. No, I didn’t get anything from it. At least, I don’t think I did. I don’t feel any different.”

Gaia met her gaze intently for a few seconds before nodding. “If that changes… tell me. If our hybrids are going to react to Fomorian kills any differently than a normal Heretic, we need to know about it.

“The last thing we need, at this point, is another surprise.”

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Winter Wonderland 18-01

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“And after a week in Rome, we’re gonna go up to Germany and see the old nuckelavee massacre memorials.”

Sands, who had been going on for awhile by that point about all the things that she and Scout were going to do with their father over the holiday break, blinked sidelong at me. “Uh, Flick? You okay?”

No. No, I wasn’t. There was so much I wanted to say to both of them about what I had found out. But I still wasn’t willing to put them through that right before they went on vacation. That wouldn’t be fair. Instead, I gave an awkward shrug and smiled apologetically at both Sands and Scout, who was standing nearby while giving me a curious look. “Sorry,” I murmured. “Just thinking about going home.”

It was the next day, Saturday morning. I’d spent most of the previous night walking around the school grounds with Wyatt, talking to him about… well, everything. And now, in a short while, I’d be heading home for the winter break. Which meant three whole weeks away from Crossroads. I honestly wasn’t sure how that was going to go. Part of me had been afraid that Ruthers and the rest of the Committee would swoop in at the last second to tell me that it was too dangerous for me to be away for that long, with the Fomorians out there. Supposedly Gaia and Dare had convinced them that the immediate threat had been dealt with since the Fomorian who had known about us was killed. But I didn’t exactly trust that to last forever. Every noise I heard, I thought it would be someone telling me to stay on the island.

“Oh…” Sands looked a little abashed. “Dude, I’m sorry. Going back and having Christmas with your dad while you know your mom is…” She winced, lowering her head briefly before putting her hand out on my arm. “It sucks. I know that’s a stupid, fucking inadequate way to put it, but it does. I—I’m sorry you can’t tell your dad the truth, Flick. I mean—I’m sorry he wouldn’t remember or believe you. It’s–” She stopped talking, looking ashamed for a moment that she couldn’t find the right words to say.

And that, of course, didn’t help my own feelings of shame for how I felt about her father. She was trying to help, and all I could do was think about how angry the thought of the man she loved most in the world made me. It felt like lying to her. Fuck, was there no way to get through this without hurting her? Either I didn’t tell her about it and hurt her by keeping it secret, or I hurt her relationship with her father by telling her what he had done. Which just felt… vindictive. Fuck, she was right. This sucked.

“Thanks,” I finally managed to get out while meeting her gaze. The next bit I could actually say with complete truthfulness. “I hope you guys have a really good trip. It sounds fun, going all over Europe.”

Sands brightened and started to explain more about all the stuff they were going to do, the moment of awkward seriousness fading. Scout, however, continued to watch me with a somber, yet curious expression that made me think that she knew there was still something I wasn’t telling them about.

Before I could find anything else to say, however, I felt someone approaching. Well, okay, the truth was that I could sense the clothes the person was wearing as it entered the range of the item-sensing power I’d inherited from fighting the skeletblineists. It was something that I’d noticed wasn’t always active. If I wasn’t thinking about it, I wouldn’t constantly know about absolutely everything that was in range. But when something or someone new that I wasn’t expecting entered my range, it tended to warn me. Which was convenient.

At least it seemed like that would make it hard to sneak up on me. Unless the person was completely naked at the time, in which case, ew. And clearly that would mean that I’d have whole new problems.

Turning slightly at the feel of the clothes and shoes approaching, I found myself looking up at the man who was responsible for my conversation with the twins being so awkward and confusing: their father.

Professor Mason stood there. As always, I thought he looked more like a football player than a teacher. He was tall (at least a couple inches past six feet), with a heavy, muscular build and dark blond (almost brown) hair that reached his shoulders. It was normally tied back into a ponytail, but at the moment it was worn loose. He actually looked a lot like Christian Kane if the actor had been a few inches taller.

“Hey, girls,” the man greeted his daughters with a smile before his attention turned to me. Something uncertain crossed his expression then before he nodded. “Morning, Flick. You ready for a vacation?”

Words sprang to mind and inched their way toward the tip of my tongue. None were all that smart or nice, and a few probably would have resulted in a lot more problems for all of us. So I clamped down on it and offered the man as much of a smile as I could. “Sure, though it kinda sounds like you guys are gonna be the ones that have all the fun. I mean, a European trip? I’ve always wanted to see Europe.”

The man gave a slight smile, hand gesturing acceptingly. “Believe me, you’ll get your chance. Hell, if nothing else, maybe you can come with the twins for a couple weeks over the summer if they wanna go back.”

Wait, was he offering to take me with his girls over summer vacation? I was confused. Wasn’t this the same guy who had been working to have Sands and Scout taken off my team and away from me because he was afraid that being around me was too dangerous? Was he just saying this as a completely empty gesture, or… I didn’t know what else. He seemed pretty sincere, but then, what else could it be?

Luckily, Sands interrupted before I had to find a response. “Well, duh! Of course we’ll wanna go back, old man.” Giving her dad a punch in the arm, she grinned at me. “See? Told you Dad was the best.”

Swallowing slightly, I managed something approaching a smile, weak as it was. “You’re pretty lucky.”

For a moment, Professor Mason simply rubbed both his daughters’ heads, smiling faintly down at them. Then he glanced to me before giving the girls a little push. “Listen, could you two give Flick and me a few minutes alone here?” He shrugged easily and stage-whispered, “Just private teacher-type stuff.”

The twins both blinked at each other for a brief moment before looking toward me. “You good, Flick?” Sands asked, sounding somehow strangely uncertain about the idea of leaving me with her father.

In spite of myself and my hesitation (and deep, troubling thoughts about the man), I nodded. “Sure, I’ll try to catch up with you one more time before we all take off, but in case I don’t, have a great trip.”

Both of them moved over to give me a quick hug, Scout holding on longer while leaning up to whisper in my ear very quietly. “It’s okay.” Then she patted my arm before moving away with her sister.

That left me standing in front of Professor Mason. For a few seconds, the man just stood there looking at me, like he was waiting to see if I said anything first. When I just remained silent, he let out a long, low breath. “Flick,” he started slowly as though testing out the words. “I think I owe you an apology.”

Well, that made me blink in confusion. Of all the things I’d expected to hear… “Err, an apology, sir?”

He nodded, his eyes still not leaving mine. “Yeah. I don’t know if you umm… I don’t know what you’ve heard. But I um–” The man paused, looking distinctly uncomfortable for a few seconds before managing to push on, stating as flatly as possible, “I’ve been worried about my daughters being on the same team as you, Flick. Well, the same team as you and Avalon. You two… this whole year you’ve been attracting a lot of trouble, a lot of really dangerous attention. And I know, that’s not exactly rare around here. Believe me, there’s plenty of students besides you guys that have their own problems.”

Before I could say anything in response to that, the man pushed on. “But, somehow, the stuff that’s coming after you two, it just seems…” He breathed in and then let it out again. “It seems more real, more dangerous. And I just—I’ve been trying to get my girls away from that next semester. Not because I don’t care if you’re hurt, or if anyone that replaced them would be hurt, but because… they’re my daughters. I didn’t really focus on anything else. All I could think about was protecting my kids.”

Folding his arms across his chest, the man looked away for a moment while clearly gathering himself. His voice was soft and thoughtful. “I haven’t always made the best decisions, even when I thought it was the right thing to do. Sometimes when you care so much about protecting the people you care about, it–” He stopped talking then, grimacing for a moment before looking straight at me. “The point is, taking Sands and Scout away from your team would be wrong. They’re your friends, and… and I’m not going to ruin that for my own peace of mind. I’m not going to throw someone else into danger just to make myself feel better. You—they’re your team. Just–” Taking in a breath before letting it out, the man looked briefly emotional before managing to control it. “Just be careful, and keep each other safe.”

It took me a second, but I eventually managed to make myself nod. “Yes, sir. Of course I’ll help keep Sands and Scout safe, just like they help keep me safe. They’re my friends. We protect each other.”

Before the man could say anything else in response to that (and before I could manage to work my way through my complete confusion and uncertainty about what was going on), my eyes caught sight of Professor Dare making her way toward us. Her eyes watched me briefly as if checking to make sure I was okay with the conversation before she spoke up. “Liam, Miss Chambers, is everything all right?”

Professor Mason glanced to me before giving me a slight nod. “Yeah,” He murmured. “Everything’s fine.” His hand found my shoulder, squeezing slightly. “I meant what I said before, Miss Chambers. If you want, and if you get your dad’s permission, we’d love to have you come with us this summer.”

“Thank you, sir.” I met his gaze, steadily refusing that quiet voice in the back of my mind that still wanted to see the look on his face if I flat out asked if he thought tattling about my mother’s friendship with Alters was a good idea after all the problems it had caused. “I hope you guys have a great trip.”

Then the man was leaving, jogging to catch up with his daughters. As he left, Professor Dare moved closer to me. Her hand found my arm while she looked after Professor Mason, and she touched something in her pocket (my skeleblineist power told me it was a round, mostly smooth stone) before asking in a low, confidential tone, “Are you really okay, Flick? Did he say anything— do anything-”

“It’s okay,” I assured her, even though I was still mostly confused as to what had prompted all of that. “He just wanted to come tell me that he wasn’t going to take Sands and Scout off my team after all.”

Professor Dare raised an eyebrow at that, her eyes curious as she looked that way briefly. “He’s not?”

“Apparently.” I shrugged helplessly before looking over at the woman. “I mean—um, sorry, Professor, did you need something?” Realizing belatedly, I started a bit. “Oh! I called my dad last night and asked him about having a teacher visit. He-uh-he didn’t actually find it that weird. Which I think says more about me than it does about him or you. But anyway, any time you wanna come over for dinner and meet Asenath, it should be okay. That is—you know, if you still wanted to do that. But if not, I’ll just-”

“Flick,” Professor Dare smiled. “Calm down. Breathe. Of course I’ll visit. I want to meet Tiras’s daughter. I have your phone number. I’ll call and set it up as soon as I see how things are going, okay?”

After I nodded, she went on. “I didn’t come to talk about that. There’s something I want to give you.”

“Give me?” I echoed, blinking at her. “You don’t have to give me a present or anything, Professor.”

Chuckling at that, Dare shook her head. “It’s not exactly a present, Flick. Think of it as… a bit of extra protection. Just in case you need it.” She nodded toward me. “May I see your staff for a moment?”

“Oh, uh, yeah.” Reaching into my little container, I pulled the staff out and offered it to the woman.

Accepting the weapon with a nod of gratitude, Professor Dare turned it over in her hands. Her expression was curious as she examined the thing. “Nevada upgraded this for you, didn’t she?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I quickly nodded. “She connected it to my sand container. And made it turn into a bow.”

Glancing up to me, Dare paused. Her eyes seemed to search mine for a moment before she smiled faintly. “Good. Every little bit helps. And speaking of little bit.” Sliding the staff down to get at one end, the woman took a black marker from her pocket and showed it to me. “This isn’t a normal marker. It’s something Heretics call a ‘field-engraver.’ Basically, it’ll let you put spells that actually require a written component on your weapons or anything else that might be a bit hard to actually write on. Or when you don’t want the writing to be permanent. Since you probably don’t want a bunch of useless writing filling up your staff after the spell’s used up. Once you activate it, the writing will disappear.”

After explaining that much, she took a minute to carefully draw out an elaborate design toward one end of my staff, showing me as she went. It looked like a circle with a triangle around it, then three squiggly lines leading out from the middle of each side of the triangle. In the spaces between each of those squiggly lines, she drew an angled equals sign, all pointing in the same direction. At the point above and to the right of the whole thing (where the equals signs were all pointing), she drew something that looked like an upside down pitchfork with an infinity symbol drawn around the handle.

Once she had finished, Dare ran her thumb over it before looking at me, her expression somber. “If you touch this here, right on the infinity symbol, and invest enough power into it while saying the words that I’ll give you, your weapon will be able to harm incorporeal creatures for about fifteen minutes.”

I blinked once, then again while my eyes snapped from the spell to Dare. “You mean incorporeal, like-”

“Like ghosts,” she confirmed. “Listen, from what you said, I don’t think Fossor is going to do anything. I don’t think he’ll come after you. Not yet, anyway. But just in case… use it if you have to, all right? When you get back, we’ll make sure you learn how to do it yourself. It’s advanced magic, but you’re already starting to learn that from Gaia anyway. Again, only in an emergency, all right? If something happens and you can get away, don’t stand there and fight just because you have this. Use it to get away.”

Swallowing, I took the staff back as she held it out to me. “I—yes, Professor. I understand. Trust me, I don’t have any intention of being that stupid.”

Dare took a few more minutes to teach me the words to the spell. What she’d done was basically almost exactly what Gaia had done with the animal spell. She did most of it herself and just left the actual last second casting part to me, like preparing the gun in every way except pulling the trigger.

By the time she was satisfied that I had the words down pat, Avalon had joined us, standing off to the side while watching silently. Dare took a few more seconds to remind me that she’d call to see about dinner, then laid her hand on the top of my head. “Flick,” she said my name softly. For a moment, it looked like she was going to say something else. But in the end, she just murmured, “Have a nice holiday. You deserve it.”

Then she left, and Avalon and I stood there for a few seconds in silence. My roommate just waited, arms folded while she stared at me expectantly.

“So,” I finally managed, “Three weeks apart, huh? I bet you’ll be glad to have the room to yourself. Think you’ll be able to resist selling off all my stuff or remodeling everything while I’m gone?”

For what had to be a solid thirty seconds, Avalon didn’t say anything. I trailed off from my awkward teasing, and she just continued to stare at me. Her mouth opened once before shutting, and it looked like she was struggling with something. Finally, however, she pointed to the staff in my hand. “Good, you’re ready.”

“Ready?” I echoed, blinking uncertainly.

“You didn’t think I was going to let you go without one more training session, did you?” The other girl gave me a hard look before pivoting on her heel to walk away. “We’ve still got an hour before you leave. Time to try to whip you into shape one more time.”

My mouth opened, but she interrupted without looking back. “Don’t say it, Chambers. Just follow me.”

Closing my mouth, I smiled just a little bit while I watched Avalon walk ahead of me. Then I followed.

Spending my last hour at Crossroads letting my roommate beat the crap out of me? Yeah, that sounded fun.

And the fact that I wasn’t being in any way sarcastic about that might’ve been one of the strangest parts of the entire semester.

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Interlude 17 – Virginia Dare

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Please note that there was a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on Wyatt posted a couple days ago. If you haven’t seen that yet, you may wish to click the Previous Chapter button above. 

May 18th, 1611 – London

Crash. Scream. Laughter. Shriek. Thump. Shout. Angry bellowing. Sarcastic retort. Crash.

All of that and more filled the air at nearly the same time, forcing Virginia Dare to snap her gaze from one noise to another. Her head twitched back and forth, the enhanced wolf-hearing that was such an asset in the forests she had spent so much time in becoming a liability here in the incredibly crowded, oppressively loud city of London. Every time she jerked her head to look at and subsequently dismiss one potential threat as its sound reached her, four others assaulted her ears from various directions.

It was safe to say that the twenty-three year old woman was out of her element. Growing up in the New World, making her way with Tiras through the small settlements of the colonies and the wilds where the Natives lived had not prepared her for seeing any of… this. There were so many people. More than she thought could possibly live in one place. How did so many people all manage to eat enough food to survive?

And the smell. That awful, rotting smell that permeated everything. Garbage from the buildings and houses was simply dumped into the street and then (eventually) carried off. Rats and other vermin scampered through the shadows, feasting wherever larger piles of rotting trash had gathered.

A sound to her left, a voice actually addressing her. Through the noise and confusion, Virginia snapped her gaze that way, wide eyes taking in the sight of a fresh-faced young man who appeared to be about sixteen. Which, in reality, was about as old as Virginia herself appeared to be, thanks to the Amarok blood that made her age more slowly than a normal person. At least, that’s how Tiras had explained it.

She missed her vampire mentor. It was his work, his effort in teaching her how to survive that had allowed her to make it this far. And yet, whatever evil had been after her for so long refused to stop sending its minions after the girl, and she refused to put Tiras in danger any longer by staying with him.

That was also why she had sailed clear across the ocean, back to the land of her parents. If her blood was supposed to cause some great destruction just because she was the first English child born in the new world, she would leave that continent and hope that she could evade her tormentor that way.

“I said,” the young man spoke louder over the sounds of people shouting back and forth throughout the crowded city street. “You look new here!” He gave her a crooked-toothed smile. “Are you okay?!”

Virginia didn’t bother to ask how he could tell. She knew that her clothes (mostly leathers and animal hides), the fact that she openly wore a sword on her hip (a gift from Tiras), and simply her expression itself all worked together to make the fact that this city was strange and new to her patently obvious.

“I’m quite all right!” she called back to the boy before gesturing at the crowd of people that still hadn’t abated at all. If anything, the crowd was growing even larger. “What happened, was there an attack?”

The boy gave a laugh. “Attack? No. Nothing happened. This is just London! You uh…” He paused, looking her up and down before shaking his head. “Come on, it’s quieter if you get off the main path!”

At his gesture, Virginia followed the boy. He led her through the awe-inspiring mob of people to a side street. This one was even narrower than the last, and still had people rushing back and forth. But it was at least quieter, as he had promised. The noise fell to a dull roar in the background, allowing the two of them to talk at more normal levels rather than continuing to scream directly into their ears to be heard.

“Whew, that’s better, eh?” The boy gave his head a sharp shake. “My name’s Giles. What’s yours?”

“Virginia,” she answered simply and curtly before her sessions with Tiras about being polite kicked in and overrode the wolf-blood’s wild nature. “Thank you. This place is… louder than I expected it to be.”

“You get used to it,” Giles promised, his curly black locks bouncing a little as he gave a loud laugh. “Or I have, at least. Anyway, you look like you could use a place to stay. Maybe even something to eat if we’re lucky. It’s not much, but Mum keeps our stomachs as full as she can, and she won’t object to another mouth to feed if that mouth comes with hands to help her set the table and do a little cleaning.”

Virginia hesitated slightly before meeting his gaze. “Actually, I’m trying to find St. Bride’s Church.”

That was where her father had worked as a tiler and bricklayer before joining the Roanoke expedition. She’d memorized the name as a child, longing so much to see where her parents had grown up, what their lives had been like before they went to the new continent and had their lives broken by her very existence and the monsters that ultimately killed them while searching for Virginia herself.

“St. Bride’s?” Giles echoed, his tone curious before he gave a quick nod. “That’s over on Fleet Street.”

Virginia’s expression was blank. Her mouth opened and then shut before she managed, “And that is…”

Laughing, an act he seemed to take any excuse to indulge in, Giles spun on his heel. “Right, follow me. I’ll get you there in one piece. Can’t be too careful, city’s a right dangerous place. Fun, and well worth living here. But you’ve got to know where to step, and where not to step, if you follow my meaning.”

As Virginia again began to follow the boy, he continued the conversation. “So where’d you come in from, anyhow? If you don’t mind me saying so, you don’t seem like any girl I’ve ever laid eyes on.”

She smiled even as the wolf’s sense of smell drew her attention toward a building where meat was being prepared. “I’m quite certain that I’m not,” she murmured before answering, “The New World.”

That made the boy spin around, facing her. “Truly?” he blurted while pacing backward, his eyes as wide as hers must have been while she had been staring at the crowds. “You’ve been to Jamestown?”

Only long enough to find passage aboard a returning supply ship, Virginia thought before simply nodding. There was no need to get into details about her history. “I have. It was… quieter than this.”

Chuckling, Giles gave another easy nod. “I bet.” Whistling low then, he shook his head in wonder. “Now Mum’s definitely going to want to talk to you. So will my father. They might just let you stay with us without work if you tell them stories of the colony. Mum would be forever in your debt for what that kind of news would do for her gossip with the other women, and Father’s just as curious.”

Before she could even respond to that, he had already moved on, babbling away. “Like I said, Mum always needs new gossip. She loves it, she does. And in a city this big, there’s plenty of it floating around. Hard to find news outside of the city though, especially about the colony. That’s why they’re gonna love you. But in the city, that’s another story. So many people just moving in and moving in. Place just keeps getting bigger. There’s more than two hundred thousand people here, you know?

She hadn’t known that. Not only had she not known that there were that many people in London, she wouldn’t have guessed that there were that many in the entire world. Virginia had grown up first in the tiny, forgotten colony and then in the wild, rarely venturing far into civilization until just recently.

Still, she managed to swallow back most of her surprise. “That’s a lot,” the girl murmured quietly.

Giles’s grin grew larger, and he started to respond excitedly before stopping short. A frown touched the boy’s face as he turned to look up and down the narrow side street that they had been making their way down. “That’s funny,” he murmured. “Where is everyone? Francis usually opens up the pub by now.”

The building that the boy pointed toward was dark and apparently empty. The entire narrow road was silent. In the distance, Virginia could hear plenty of conversations, both public and private. The rest of the city remained as busy and loud as it had ever been. And yet, this particular street was utterly silent.

And… she sniffed. Death. The rotten, awful stench that filled the entire city to her sensitive nose had distracted her, just like the noise from the rest of London had deafened her to the silence within this particular street. And yet, through it all now that she focused, she could smell more death than she had smelled since that fateful night at the colony. The night that her parents had been killed along with all of her friends. The night everything had changed for her, when the monsters had become all too real.

“Giles,” she started while tugging the sword free of its place at her hip. “Go back the way we came.”

But he wasn’t listening to her. Before Virginia knew what the boy was doing, he was already moving up a nearby set of steps to the door of a large building that appeared to be some kind of warehouse.

She hissed his name again, but the boy’s only reaction was to glance back her with a blank look before continuing to the door. His movements were sluggish, his earlier joyful personality somehow faded.

Suppressed. He was under a spell of some kind, Virginia realized even as Giles opened the door into the warehouse and calmly walked inside. She didn’t know how, exactly, but he had been enchanted. She’d seen that kind of spell before, or one similar to it. One of the shamans that Tiras had taken her to in order to learn her own magic had performed something like that to direct people away from his hut.

This one, however, had led Giles into a dark and quiet building, and she very much doubted that it was for anything good. Showing her teeth in a low wolf-growl as its spirit tried to rise up in her, Virginia immediately followed after the boy. The idea of leaving never entered her mind. Giles had been kind to her, had been helping her. She wasn’t just going to leave him to whatever this magic-user had in mind.

Inside the warehouse, the stench of death was even more overpowering. Virginia had barely taken a step inside before the wolf in her was struggling to leave again. Whatever was in here, whatever was happening, the Amarok within her blood wanted nothing to do with it. She had to forcefully clamp down on the wolf instincts, taking a moment to get herself under control before continuing on.

And then she stopped. She had been right about this being a warehouse. It was one wide open room, one that would normally be filled with crates of supplies. Now, however, there were no such crates. Instead, human bodies littered the floor. No… littered was the wrong word. The corpses weren’t simply tossed into random piles. They were clearly strategically positioned. Some were set together, side by side. Others were positioned in groups of three with their heads touching one another, legs facing outward in a sort of tri-pointed spoke formation. Still others were curved into L shapes on their sides, curled up into balls, or broken entirely to force their bodies into awkward or impossible contortions.

All were naked, and blood connected each body to every other body. Lines of the blood were drawn from corpse to corpse, with various designs spread throughout the open space between them as well as the walls and, as she looked up, the ceiling as well. There were faces drawn in the blood along with runes and more that she couldn’t make out through the dim lighting, even with the Amarok’s vision.

Finally, the fragile bones of small animals, likely vermin and birds, were arranged just as carefully throughout the room, some on the blood and others around it. Here and there, some bones lay in neat piles, while others were clearly meant to be seen as specific designs similar to the blood runes.

Giles was moving carefully, yet inexorably toward the last remaining open spot within that room of death. A knife was waiting for him, left right where his enchanted mind could use it to end his own life.

She caught his arm before he could take another step. As the boy distractedly tried to pull free, Virginia yanked him around. The strength of the Amarok quite thoroughly beat the boy’s own strength, and she easily hauled him back to the doorway. “Giles,” she informed the boy flatly. “I’m very sorry for this.”

Then she beat the boy upside the head with the hilt of her sword, dropping him to the ground in a heap.

“Well, that wasn’t very polite, was it?” a voice from the far side of the room opined. When Virginia snapped her gaze that way, her gaze took in the sight of the man who stood there. He wasn’t a warrior, that much was clear from the start. His form was too soft, his skin unhardened by either work or battle.

Yet, she also knew from the first sight of him that he was likely the most dangerous being she had ever laid eyes on. And that included any and all of the monsters that had destroyed and murdered her colony.

“Now I’m going to have to kill the boy myself,” he complained before pausing to correct himself. “Well, not really myself…” At a gesture from the man, a handful of shimmering, almost see-through figures appeared hovering in the air around him. “But you know, personal effort. I put a lot into that spell. Do you know how much work it took to make sure each person that came through would position themselves exactly the right way before they…” He drew a finger across his throat demonstrably.

“Ahh, well. I suppose the spell will be even better once we add in the blood of a… what are you, again?”

“My name is Virginia Dare,” she informed him, vaulting over the short railing to land in the middle of the room. Her foot kicked one of the carefully positioned bodies out of the way before her sword lashed out to break apart one of the intricate piles of bird bones. “And you aren’t killing anyone else, necromancer.

His soft hands clapped a couple of times, mockingly. “Very good. Too many of your people wouldn’t know what any of this was. But you–” He paused, sniffing a little with a slight smile of appreciation. “I smell wolf blood in you. But you’re not a werewolf, no… you’re one of those… oh what do they call themselves in your language? Heretic, I believe?”

She had no idea what he was talking about. Tiras hadn’t talked about ‘heretics.’ He had mentioned others like her, others whose blood mixed with monsters and allowed them to become something more than human.

Still, she wasn’t planning on asking the necromancer any questions. Even if she could trust the answers, which she doubted, there were far more important things to focus on. Such as ensuring that this spell of his, whatever it was, was never completed.

To that end, Virginia kicked aside another body before turning to cut her sword straight through the neck of a third. A normal blade of its size and shape would have had to saw for some time, yet hers cut straight through, severing the head from the body immediately.

And yet, the necromancer simply chuckled. “My dear, you are wasting your effort.” To demonstrate, he gave a snap of his fingers. Immediately, the bodies that she had kicked aside hauled themselves back into position, while the one whose head she head removed reached dead hands up to push it back on. In front of her staring eyes, the flesh literally knitted itself back together.

“But, just to show that there’s no hard feelings,” the necromancer added thoughtfully, “I will do you the favor of not killing the boy. After all… your blood will make a much better addition, I believe.”

Flipping her sword around once more to direct the point at the man, Virginia hissed, “You’ll find that I’m not easy prey, necromancer.”

“Well, of course not,” he replied with studied patience. “If you were, your blood wouldn’t make an excellent addition to the spell. Do try to keep up.”

Before she could say anything in retort to that, the soft-looking man gave a flick of his fingers. “Bring her,” he ordered the ghosts that hovered on either side of him.

The two spirits flew at her, arms outstretched. Before they could reach her, however, Virginia pushed her thumb against one of the runes on the hilt of her sword. A softly murmured incantation made her blade begin to glow with a soft violet light.

As the first ghost hovered in front of her, Virginia flicked her hand through it. The ghost gave an eerie smile as her hand passed through, then reached for her arm to hold her.

Which was precisely when she drove her glowing sword up into the thing’s chest. It made a noise, eyes widening as the enchanted blade actually seemed to hit something solid. The magic she had learned thanks to Tiras’s connections with the shamans allowed her weapon to harm the ghosts as if they were solid.

The one she had just driven the sword into made an ugly, awful howling sound before it literally blew apart. Meanwhile, the second had only just realized what was happening when her blade cut through its normally intangible neck and destroyed it as well.

“Now, you see?” The necromancer was still smiling. “I knew you would be interesting. But, sadly, I don’t have more time to indulge myself with this game. Time is precious, after all. Especially when one is dealing with powerful magics. So–” Raising his hand, he snapped his fingers once more. At the gesture, the room was suddenly filled with ghosts. There were at least thirty of them, far more than Virginia could hope to fight off before they would get hold of her, rip her weapon away, and finish the job.

“Ahem, as I was saying.” The man pointed his finger at her. “Bring. Her. Here.”

She could run. Escaping was still a possibility. And yet, if she did so, the necromancer would finish his plot. If not with her, or with Giles, then with another body. He would complete his spell, and that was something that she couldn’t just walk away from.

So, as the horde of dead spirits rushed toward her, Virginia did the only thing she could allow herself to do: she moved to meet them.

The necromancer was right, she wasn’t a werewolf. But she did share many commonalities with them. Including one in particular. As the space between the nearest ghosts and Virginia shrank, she drew her sword back and disabled the spell that allowed her to harm them. Instead, she activated a different enchantment. This one caused the blade itself to turn into flame, its heat almost searing even to her.

Then she used the gift that made her so like the actual werewolves. In mid-step, Virginia’s form abruptly and almost instantly shifted. One second she was human, and in the next, she was a full grown wolf with the hilt of her sword held tightly in her teeth.

She leapt through the outstretched arms of the nearest ghosts, passing through them easily even as they turned solid while trying to catch onto her. More of the spirits tried to catch her, but she bounded through and around them, the agility and speed of the wolf allowing her to run circles around the confused ghosts.

Instead of escaping, however, Virginia tilted her head once she reached enough open space to slow down. The burning blade cut into the bodies that she was running past, the magical flames taking hold almost immediately. Fire spread quickly, especially once she reached the wall and began to run along it, dragging the flaming blade through the material there.

The necromancer shouted something, trying to direct his troops. Yet the Virginia-Wolf evaded the ghosts, spreading fire throughout the room so quickly that less than twenty seconds had passed before most of it was burning and there was smoke everywhere.

It as hard to see, even harder to hear, and impossible to smell. But she knew where she was going. She’d planned the route ahead of time, and her memory was good. Three more steps brought her back to where she had started, and she could see Giles’s unconscious figure laying just by the doorway. One more leap, and she shifted her body back into its human form. One hand caught the sword as it fell from her mouth, while the other caught hold of the boy. Then she gathered herself and leapt through the closed door, slamming into it with all of her strength.

The door blew off its hinges, and she practically flew across the narrow street to hit the far wall before collapsing. Coughing hard to get the smoke out of her lungs, Virginia dropped the boy and turned.

She had barely lifted her eyes before a hand slammed into the side of her head, sending blinding pain shooting through her as she was literally hurled a good ten feet down the empty road. The sword fell from her hand, and she groaned.

The man wasn’t soft. He had smacked her once and literally knocked the fight out of her.

“Do you… have any idea… how long I spent preparing that?” He asked while stalking toward her prone form, his amusement now totally absent as the building burned behind him. “Do you have the slightest idea how much time, effort, and… power you’ve cost me, or how long I’m going to have to wait to do it again?”

She reached for her sword, but the man stepped down on her wrist. She could feel the tendons snapping in it. “You,” he hissed while raising his hand, “are going to pay for your interruption, Virginia Dare.”

The hand started to come down, but there was a sudden cracking sound, and a whip lashed its way around the man’s wrist. He made a noise, before abruptly being yanked backward away from her and sent stumbling into the wall.

Virginia lifted her head, and her eyes found a beautiful red-haired woman. Her eyes were focused on the necromancer as she snapped the whip back. “You won’t harm this girl, Fossor. Nor anyone else today.”

The necromancer… Fossor, apparently, gave the woman a hard stare. “Scáthach,” he spat the name with obvious hostility. “Do you truly believe you can break me alone?”

The red-haired woman didn’t flinch. “Do you truly believe I can’t?”

For a few long seconds, both figures stood there and stared at one another, each silently daring the other to either move or back down. In the end, however, it was Fossor who flinched. Cursing, his hand raised and a horde of his ghosts flew into sight, obscuring him from view. When they faded, the man was gone.

Virginia had just slumped back down, breathing out before the woman reached her. She stood there, hand extended toward her. “What you just did was very brave.”

Swallowing, Virginia reached up to accept the hand. “Scáthach?” she used the name that the necromancer had called the woman.

“Actually,” her new mentor corrected gently, “I prefer the name Gaia these days.”

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