Hecate had been very insightful. Jeremiah was unfamiliar with the concept of an Anchor before, but once it was explained to him, he understood why Henry had promised the boy would be more prepared to face Jeremiah than Henry had been. He’s assumed this whole time that was just an exaggeration, or possibly just hopeful arrogance about the way he’d raised John, but it sounded like he could be a real problem. Jeremiah was ecstatic.
Not at the prospect of having to fight an Anchor, of course, but rather the redemption of his bloodline. Jeremiah had spent decades believing his only surviving legacy in the world was a frail, albeit resourceful, mortal. That no matter what he managed to accomplish in his life, it would all go to dust the moment he died and his memory was held only by a human who hated him. It had affected his drive after a while. It almost seemed pointless to seek anything grand or magnificent, if there was no way to secure it long-term, while his own flesh and blood was constantly harassing him. But the knowledge that there was an Anchor out there, who didn’t yet know him, who might yet be turned to continue his purposes, that lit a fire in Jeremiah’s chest. It was time to step out of the shadows. To begin pulling on the threads he’d been weaving for so long, and make real changes to his fortunes. With Henry gone, and a grandson who could make real waves in both the physical and metaphysical realms, there was something approaching hope.
And, hey. If he refused, if he insisted on chasing his father’s folly, then Jeremiah would have something interesting to do with his time. And a true conquest over an Anchor was bound to improve his standing in the world of spirits. However this played out, Jeremiah intended to take the opportunity to get what he deserved. The tricky part, however, was knowing how to confront John.
He tried to go to the house, first, since it was listed as John’s inherited residence. To scout around and learn more about his grandson. Stop by some time when he wasn’t home, pop out of the metaphysical realm in the house, dig through some information, and leave to formulate a plan. His suspicions were verified when he tried; having an Anchor living in the house had completely destroyed the wards keeping him out for so long. What he hadn’t anticipated, though, was that having an Anchor living in the house also made it impossible for him to step sideways on the property. Or within a few dozen yards of the property. He could get in, of course. Locks and doors and windows were only so strong, after all. But that path would require damage, and damage was too much of a risk. He couldn’t show his hand that clearly just yet.
Then he saw the girl from the funeral come out of the house and head down the street.
Jackie, he had learned her name was. He watched her from the side of the road and considered a very short list of reasons she would be at the house when John wasn’t. The particulars didn’t matter, however; what mattered was that they were close, very close, and that gave him an opportunity.
So he tracked her for a couple days, forming a plan. It wasn’t difficult, ultimately. She was quickly shown to be a mage of some sort, one who was actively seeking out loci and trying hard to reach through to the spiritual realm. It seemed like she was looking for something. Jeremiah didn’t know what, and didn’t much care. He got his hands on a map of the local ley network, sorted out how she was searching, and which sites had the best chance of success. Some local spirits knew of a locus that was particularly weak, one she would surely be able to punch through, one she would spend time at. One where he would be very powerful. One where he could prepare to confront his grandson.
On June 16, she arrived at the site. And Jeremiah was already in the metaphysical realm, waiting for her.
18 May 2007
“You know, I’ve been tracking down experts on matters of the supernatural for a few decades now, which probably doesn’t sound long to you.” Jeremiah lifted the poker from the fire and watched as it started to cool. “But in that time, I’ve noticed that most beings who know a lot about human interactions with magic are eager to talk about it. So imagine my surprise when I go to find spirits who know about people that can degrade magic itself, and they don’t want to say a word!”
“Fuck off,” the naga growled. Jeremiah turned to face her, holding up the poker. The woman was hanging upside down, her arms bound behind her back, a metal stake stabbed through the fleshiest part of her tail and holding her to the ceiling.
“It’s amazing how people always find a way to get that one out, no matter how bad things are for them. Don’t you think?” The naga responded by spitting at him. Jeremiah stabbed the still-glowing poker into her side. The naga hissed but managed not to scream. “They really do train you well in Iravati. I’ll have to visit some time, learn some other stuff. But why all this effort? Why not just tell me what you know? Do you have some kind of arrangement to keep quiet about them?”
“I have nothing to say about them! They are a blight upon the world and that is all I care to know!” The naga gasped for air. These outbursts were growing more difficult.
“Now I doubt that very much.” He set the poker back in the fire and began testing his knives. “The rivers tell me your city has had notable dealings with beings like the ones I seek, and you’re a herald tasked with knowing what comes and goes. Are the rivers wrong?”
“None of their kind come to Iravati. Not in my lifetime.”
“Do you know the last time one did?”
“It was…centuries ago, I think. It severed Iravati…from the world of man.”
“How?” Jeremiah walked to the naga and grabbed her by the hair. She took a sharp breath, but said nothing as he pulled her face closer and showed her the knife in his other hand. “What do they do? Are they all the same?”
“You’re not going to get more than that from her,” a voice said from behind him. Jeremiah turned to find a dog sitting next to the fire.
“Are you the famous Hound?”
“I am a hound. Word has it you only speak English and Aquan, and The Hound considers both languages beneath him.”
“And why should I take the word of a knockoff dog, when all the rivers speak of Iravati and its connection to the magic destroyers?”
“Iravati is a victim, which the rivers know well. The Anchors, however, are the purview of my Mistress. You are dabbling in matters far beyond your ken.” The dog howled, and the room shook. The walls melted, and beyond them lay a great landscape of roads and trails, pathways marked in the very fabric of the world. He could make out hundreds of gates, some closed, and some open, each situated directly on a path. Jeremiah looked around in every direction. “We can give you the information you seek. For a price.”
“So this naga is no longer useful to me?”
“That naga was never useful to you.”
Jeremiah considered these words for a moment before swinging the blade and slicing open her throat. He let go of her hair and walked away as she sputtered and gasped, the ichor flowing over her face and dropping in loud plops on the ground. He wiped the blade clean on his pant leg as he approached the dog.
“What is this price?”
“There was a mishap. Some beings useful to the Mistress have wandered off. Simply retrieve them and bring them to the Crossroads, and she will tell you more about the Anchors.”
“That sounds like work suited for you more than I.”
“There is very little separating us in the eyes of gods. Do you want your information or not, Riverborn?”
“Very well. Tell me about these lost beings.”
25 August 1979
Jeremiah knew a few things for certain. First, Elizabeth was going to be no help in getting Henry off his back, as she seemed perfectly content with the path Henry had chosen. Second, the oath Jeremiah had taken when Henry was born was somehow reflecting any damage he did to Henry back to him. Third, the books he’d inherited from his mother, which may have contained information he could use to circumvent that oath but which certainly contained information on hunting and killing supernatural creatures, was missing from where he had left it stored. Fourth, Jeremiah had never actually bothered reading any of those books, and therefore was woefully unprepared for how to handle someone who had. And finally, when Jeremiah returned to the house after seeking some healing magic and finding his books missing, it was warded against him; this seemed to indicate that either Elizabeth or Henry, or possibly both, were actively reading and using the books.
It wasn’t quite powerlessness that Jeremiah felt in the wake of these realizations, but it was a hell of a lot closer to it than he ever wanted to be. He found himself inching even closer to that point when he felt a bullet rip through his shoulder.
He was in Cincinnati by that point, considering his options and finding that he didn’t like any of them. There was nothing for it, he’d decided; like it or not, he was going to have to learn more about his nature and the world of magic. Thus far he’d only bothered with the stuff that was immediately useful to him, like his control of water and ability to sidestep reality. But now he didn’t know. Could he be killed so easily? If so, was it possible that the simpering little bastard he’d left behind, with no power to call on and no will to wield it, had now claimed the upper hand over him?
Is that all it took?
He was willing, albeit hesitantly, to explore that notion further, but suddenly found himself busy scrambling off a park bench and grasping the surprise wound. He frantically looked for the source of the shot, and found it when another was fired. This one just missed him, but more importantly, Jeremiah was watching where it had come from when the muzzle flashed. In one step he was out of the physical realm; then it was a mad dash aided by some water spirits hanging around for the river, and another step out to catch Henry turning to leave the roof.
Jeremiah threw a punch with the uninjured arm, sending Henry crashing to the ground. He felt the blow resonate across his own face, causing him to stumble backward. Before he regained his footing Henry was up again and landed a blow where the blood was starting to stain Jeremiah’s shirt. The pain shot through Jeremiah’s arm and chest, and he barely managed to focus his vision enough to dodge the kick from his son. He pushed, not directly against Henry, but willing the water in Henry’s body to throw him backward. It worked, and Henry crashed into the door of the roof access stairs. He felt the impact on his own back, but Jeremiah noted that he wasn’t also thrown. There were limits. He could work with limits.
Henry was trying to catch his breath from the shock of the impact when Jeremiah produced a knife and lunged. He tried to pull himself away, but Jeremiah was faster than him. Jeremiah grabbed him by the neck and slammed his head against the door again. Henry’s vision was blurred from the impact, and Jeremiah pulled him close enough to smell his breath.
“How do you think this ends, boy?” Jeremiah hissed.
“You can’t kill me. Anything you do to me comes back on you. You’re marked.”
“And you think you can use my curse against me? You think you can use my mark to benefit yourself?” Jeremiah brought the blade in, slowly, and carefully cut a line down Henry’s face. Henry screamed, but Jeremiah pushed through the feeling of the same cut opening on himself. “Your mom may be right, Henry. I may be some kind of Cain. But you? You are no Lamech.”
Henry felt the knife pull away from his face and closed his eyes, focusing on setting the pain aside long enough to finish the task. When he opened them again, however, Jeremiah was gone.
2 May 2007
Jeremiah stepped out of the metaphysical realm into a clearing in the Allegheny National Forest. The energy in the site was deadly calm, but focused on a low stone altar in the center of the clearing. He made a wide arc through the clearing, looking at footprints and the remains of magical signatures. Those remnants were the most interesting aspect of all to him; usually when someone used magic in a site, even a weak spellcaster, the mark of their magic remained loud and clear on the site for weeks at minimum.
“It wasn’t time that degraded these signatures, was it?” he asked, mostly to himself.
“No,” a feminine voice answered. He spun around and looked into the trees for some sign of who was talking to him. “Did you come here because you thought it was?” There. Two ravens sitting on a branch, one with a faint blue glow beneath its feathers, both unmistakably spirits.
“What business is this of yours?” he demanded. The blue, apparently female, raven laughed. The other, in a masculine voice, answered.
“All things are our business, Jeremiah. What business is it of yours?” he asked.
“It’s a family affair.” Jeremiah turned back and began walking toward the altar.
“Oh yes. Always a family affair with you people,” the blue raven said. Both ravens took flight, making a spiral around the clearing and landing on the altar. Jeremiah stopped and put his hands in his pockets.
“How do you know me?”
“We know everyone. That’s part of the deal.”
“The deal that allows things like you to exist,” she answered. Jeremiah quickly pulled his hand from his pocket and clenched his fist in their direction. Nothing happened. “Oh, you didn’t think we were made of wet matter like normal birds, did you?”
“It was worth a shot.”
“I very much doubt that.”
“What happened here?”
“I don’t think that concerns you yet.”
“Will you tell me when it does concern me?”
“We won’t have to,” the other raven replied. “Besides, you’re not really here to learn about all that. You’re here because you’re trying to find your grandson.”
“Is he near?”
“Not near enough to be a danger to you.”
“He is no danger to me.”
“If you insist.” The bird began preening as Jeremiah stepped forward, running his hand along the edge of the altar.
“He did this?”
“Not all of it,” the blue raven answered. “But he did destroy the magic at play here.”
“Is that not all of it?”
“That’s never all of it.”
“It must have strained him to do this much damage to this much magic.”
“Why do you only talk in circles?”
“We don’t. Sometimes we give people direct information. Sometimes we say nothing.”
“And why do I not deserve direct information?”
“It isn’t a matter of deserving. It’s a matter of the way things must be.”
“And how must they be?”
“You,” the other raven said, looking back to Jeremiah, “must take a lesson from this and prepare yourself accordingly.”
“And what lesson is that?”
“Your magic will not save you from him.” The ravens took flight again, this time circling Jeremiah once and then going straight up and vanishing from the world. Jeremiah watched them, then touched the stone again.
“Then I suppose I shall have to find something that will.” He placed his hands back into his pockets, turned away from the altar, and walked to the edge of the clearing where he disappeared.
8 August 1979
Elizabeth had a hell of a day at work, and wanted nothing more than to slip into a more comfortable outfit, pour a drink, and listen to music until she passed out. Henry was still away, and she had just picked up a new record the day before, and she even had tomorrow off. It was shaping up to be a good night, despite everything. She walked into the dark living room, locked the door behind her, and threw her keys in the bowl on the little table nearby.
“You didn’t make yourself easy to find.” That voice. Elizabeth would never forget it as long as she lived. In one movement, she had spun to face it and drawn a pistol she kept under her dress just in case this moment ever came.
“And you still ain’t taking hints, Jeremiah,” she hissed. There was a click, the sound of the lamp, as Jeremiah turned it on. There he was, in the flesh, just sitting in her living room as if he belonged there. Elizabeth corrected her aim, now that she could see his forehead.
“I don’t mean to impose, Liz. But I have some concerns about our boy and thought I should try talking to you about it.” He tapped his fingers on the wound that was still healing across his face. “Where do you think Henry is right now?”
“Ain’t none of your business what I think or know about that boy anymore. You turned killer and ran off.”
“Can’t I show a little concern? For his safety?”
“Not now. Not ever. You had your chance, when I was in court, when we were driven out of my home, when we struggled to pull a life together here! You didn’t give a shit then, and you expect me to believe you give a shit now?”
“Now listen,” Jeremiah started, pressing his hands into the arm rests. Just as he started to push against them to stand, Elizabeth pulled the trigger. It was too high, she hadn’t adjusted properly when he started to lean forward, but it hit bone and left a bloody mess on the wall behind him. Jeremiah slumped back into the seat and grabbed his head, screaming curses.
“Why should I listen to you?”
“Henry did this!” He screamed, pointing at the older wound on his face. “He’s come after me, Liz, and I can’t have that, you hear me? You stupid fucking mortals are picking a fight you can’t win!”
“You bleed like someone who can lose to us mortals.” She cocked the hammer back and leveled the gun at him again. “You run along now, Cain, unless you wanna bleed some more. You lost your home, you got your mark, and don’t you ever forget that you earned it by what you did to your family.” They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Jeremiah growled.
“You’ll regret this.” With that, he vanished.
“No,” she said, “I won’t.”