The Mediterranean sun lazed across the sky, shimmering off the crests of the water and shining off white cliffs, filling the air with light. The only shade in sight rested under a small collection of broad umbrellas standing guard over small tables on a wooden balcony overlooking the sea. Most of the tables were empty, the tourists having left for now, leaving two women at one table alone with their discussion. One of them was tall and dark, with sharp features and sharper eyes that made the waiter feel like prey when they paused on him for a moment too long. The other was shorter, with a lighter complexion hidden under a wide hat and large sunglasses that hid everything but her perfectly sculpted body and invitingly warm lips. Both of them wore light, airy fabrics, in light shades; though the taller woman was showing less of her legs than the other. The waiter brought them their drinks, trying not to look directly at either of them for different reasons, then slipped back inside.
“He seems nice,” the shorter woman said, slowly running her finger down the side of the goblet and down its stem. “Do you want this one?”
“I have more important work than that this afternoon, Babylon.” Babylon huffed and delicately lifted her goblet to take a sip.
“You’re so much less fun since you stopped being a demon.”
“I didn’t want to be a demon in the first place. I was a goddess.”
“Yes, yes. Weren’t we all, in some way or another. The way my old priests and priestesses used to scream my name, I still get a rush just thinking about it. But you seemed fine with it while you were the Devil at the Crossroads.”
“Speaking of priests. How’s that son of yours doing?” Babylon sighed and set her drink down.
“He still follows his own path. Which is to be expected, I suppose, if he wasn’t such a little prick about it.”
“This is the problem you run into when you mate with mortals.”
“Don’t go acting like you’re little miss innocent yourself over there. I know all about you and your witches.”
“I don’t bear them little spawn to aggravate me decades later.”
“No, of course not. You like your pets to remain pets. I understand, there’s a certain appeal to it. Of course you know I’ve had my share of toys. On that note!” She turned and lowered her sunglasses to peek over them at the other woman. “I hear you’ve been on the trail of a new Anchor.”
“Where do you hear these things?”
“I have my ways, dear,” Babylon said, waving her hand as she leaned back into her chair. “People like talking to me, especially if they think I’m not really listening. Is he fun? Jules was fun.”
“I thought you usually just broke stubborn and left it in a heap.”
“This one is different.”
“Oh, so he is fun?” The taller woman glared sideways at Babylon, who giggled.
“He isn’t of much interest to you, I’m sure. He made that very clear. But he’s powerful. And there’s something off about him. I can’t place it, but there’s some way he feels…connected, in a more visceral way, to our realm than the others have.”
“You think this is going to be the one? After all these centuries?”
“Yes. He has the power I need, and I already have a witch working on him. He’s getting close.”
“And if you can’t get him to subscribe to your plan?”
“Then I’ll have to make him desperate.” The taller woman grabbed her drink, finally, and finished it in one tilt.
“There she is.”
“Who?” Babylon smiled and picked her goblet back up.
“The demon I started having these drinks with.” The other woman chuckled. “Listen, Hecate. All this stress, it isn’t good for you. What if you finally get to be a Spirit of the People again, but lose sight of what you want out of it?”
“You think I’m working too hard. But you weren’t made second act to a bunch of upstart, petty little kings from another land.”
“I think you’ll find I’ve had many kings try to get one over on me.”
“Were you under them at the time?”
“Sometimes. But the point is, you need to make sure this is the goddess you want to be when you get what you want. Because once those people lock you into whatever you’ve been showing them…”
“I remember.” Babylon nodded, then waved toward the door. Soon the waiter slipped back out, picking up the empty glasses.
“Another for you ladies today?” he asked. Babylon looked to Hecate, who thought for a moment before giving a faint nod.
“That would be delightful, young man,” Babylon said, smiling, as she slid her finger across his arm. “As long as it’s you bringing it.” He smiled, then cleared his throat, nodded briskly, and ran back inside.
“Don’t break him before you get what you want from him,” Hecate said.
“Do you need help with your new pet?”
“I don’t think so. But I’ll remember you offered.” Babylon purred and turned to face the water.
“Good. I miss Jules. Another Anchor might be nice.”
1 November 2005
The field was engulfed in swirling, wrathful, chaotic energy as Hecate stood in the darkness of the trees across the street. The hound sat next to her, and with one hand she slowly scratched the short, shadowy fur behind its ears. The burst of energy when Alethea was stopped sent debris in every direction, and while none of it reached the pair, the hound's fur slightly shifted in the pulse of energy while the goddess' robes remained unaffected. They watched in silence as Matteson took the ghost into his arms, as Lori was rushed off the scene, and then as Matteson and Alethea finally stood. The hound whined.
"Yes," Hecate said, eyes fixed on the pair as they approached the newly-formed gateway to the Other Side. "This is a very promising specimen, indeed. That degree of power, that kind of power, honed to the right purpose, could be just what we need." The hound nodded, then turned his gaze to Jackie. "Hm? Oh, yes. I suppose we should show our little witch some appreciation. But her work is far from over; for now, let us see how she handles this mess." They returned to their silent vigil, glancing away only briefly to see Matteson leave before watching Jackie begin the rites to repair the land.
31 October 2005
Rick had come down the hill, and didn't think to look at the front of the house as he pulled into the driveway. He noticed Alpha was gone and, assuming Matteson was out grabbing a few more things, pulled as far forward and to the side as possible to leave room for Alpha and how ever many other cars their friends could cram into the space. He climbed out, went around to his passenger side to grab the small stack of pizzas and breadsticks, and continued whistling the tune that had been on the radio as he made his way onto the porch. He hadn't even thought to look where he was going until he approached the door, which he suddenly realized was torn from the hinges and broken inside the house. He froze for a moment, then glanced around and noticed the living room windows shattered with all the glass on the outside of the house and scattered on the porch. He looked back and forth between the door, the windows, and the broken glass, his mouth moving silently as he tried to find words to react appropriately. Finally deciding he needed to at least move, he slipped inside the doorway, gingerly stepping over the pieces of the door, and set the boxes down on the couch as he took in the room.
There was a large chunk of broken drywall next to the love seat, the television was broken, and the XBox looked like it would prove no better if he bothered to put it back in place and try turning it on. He confirmed that all of the glass was blown outward, with no shards remaining inside the house. He yelled for Matteson and Jackie, and ran into the next room where he found a broken table with shattered glasses, broken alcohol bottles, spilled liquor, and blood stains. He screamed their names again, and as he ran back into the living room he froze at the sight of a large, bearded man carrying an empty mug and looking around confused. He turned to Rick, his eyes narrowing.
"What the hell did you people do?"
"What do you mean!? Who the hell are you?"
"I'm Kyle!" The two stared at each other for a moment, Rick's expression blank, until the larger man groaned. "I fucking live here! We've met!"
"Oh! You're the other roommate!"
"The other--MY NAME IS ON THE BILLS!"
"I mean, I don't see how I could possibly-"
"What the fuck did you do to my house?"
"Okay, so, one, I literally just got here, I promise the place looked like this when I arrived. So I mean, I'm sorry you came home to find this, but it wasn't me."
"I was off today."
"Wait, you were here for whatever did this, and you didn't notice?"
"I was in a raid," Kyle muttered, before sighing and pushing past Rick to get to the kitchen. He started brewing a new cup of coffee and looked around. "There goes our security deposit."
"Matteson said you guys didn't have a security deposit."
"Oh, you know that, but you can't be bothered to remember who lives here?"
"I feel like you're really trying to hold me accountable for all of this, and I'd like to remind you we don't even know if Matteson and Jackie are alive, so, you know. Priorities." There was a crunch in the living room and both men spun around to find Charles and Bob, looking around. When he noticed Rick and Kyle, Charles walked toward them.
"Hey Kyle, you finish that raid today?" Kyle nodded. "Cool. Rick, hey, uh...did Matteson say what the theme for this party was? Because I'm not sure he pulled it off."
"No party," Kyle said, waving one hand while he stirred cream into his coffee with the other. "Tell everyone party's canceled. We need to call the cops." Charles went pale as he realized the situation was not under control, but pulled out his phone and, taking a deep breath, began typing a group text.
"Oooo, uh, about that," Rick said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Matteson really doesn't like cops, and if I'm honest, this doesn't look natural."
"And what do you suggest?"
"Let me just, you know, call one of them first? See if they can explain?" Kyle sighed and waved his hand.
"Look. As long as this shit gets cleaned up, and I don't have to pay for it, you assholes do whatever you need. Stay safe, Charles." With that he vanished back upstairs, as Rick began dialing.
15 May 2005
Jackie Veracruz arrived at the Crossroads, led by Hecate's hound, as Hecate sat on an ornate throne made of the still-moving limbs and occasional head of the undead. The Queen of Magic waited silently, sipping from a goblet of wine and looking out over her realm. As the hound made its way to sit beside the throne, Jackie hesitated.
"Welcome back, Jacqueline." Jackie took a deep breath and looked up at the goddess, who was now so large that the mortal had to keep a bit of distance just to see up and over her knees.
"Thank you, mistress. I was growing concerned."
"As you should. You're fortunate I called you back here at all, after you hid from me in the arms of that Anchor."
"Don't bother, child. I gave you power, and knowledge. I invested in you for years, turning your feeble attempts at magic into a force that has changed lives. I watched you grow from a scared child to a formidable young woman. I warned you about the greatest danger to magic that exists in this world when it was right in front of you, and you repaid it all by using him to hide from me. There is nothing you can say that will make that action acceptable to me." She glared down at Jackie, who was now trembling and looking down at the ground in front of the throne. "But, there is something you can do that I will accept as payment." Jackie slowly looked back up to meet her gaze.
"What is it?"
"You will bring him to me."
"You...you mean John? The Anchor?"
"I told you that Anchors and Warlocks are mine. He is a liminal being, and as such under my purview. I have use for him."
"Right, yes. But, how?"
"You must go to him. Nudge him, guide him. Make sure that he finds his way to me."
"What if he doesn't want to?"
"He is mine, child, just like you. I will use him while he is useful and discard him if he is not, do you understand?"
"I...but that-" Hecate snapped her fingers, and Jackie froze. Her eyes glazed over and she stood, upright, staring blankly forward.
"I have waited too long for someone as useful as him to come along, and don't have time for your hesitations." Hecate held out her hand, palm up, and as she curled her fingers in Jackie began to float up and toward her face. When she was finally hovering at eye level, only a few feet from Hecate's face, the goddess smiled. "Now then. You will go to live near John. You will watch him, you will guide him to me, and you will do it all without delay. Do you understand?" Jackie slowly nodded. "Good. And to make sure you behave, you will not remember anything from this visit except that you have been welcomed back. Is that agreeable to you?"
"Good. Now go. You have much to do." Hecate flicked her hand, and Jackie went flying. She landed softly, as if the road were made of cushions, and then slowly stood and continued to stare in her daze. The hound moved forward and led her slowly back down the path from which she came.
"You're very interested in this boy, Hecate." She growled.
"And you're very interested in trespassing on my realm, Muninn." The Two, in human form and as tall as Hecate, stepped out from the shadows behind her throne and made their way around to face her. Muninn, the man, smiled.
"All realms are our realms. All roads are our roads."
"What do you want?"
"She is of interest to us," the woman said, glancing down the road. "And I wonder if you aren't a bit harsh on her."
"I should wish I could be as harsh with you, Huginn. What business do you have with her?"
"That is our business. But I would advise you to not let your distrust of ravens make you forget your place."
"I assure you I have never forgotten my place. But it has changed before, and it may yet change again."
"Yes," Muninn said, turning away. "I'm sure it will." With that, the two visitors became ravens and flew out of the Crossroads. Hecate threw her goblet in their direction, then leaned back in her throne to think.
23 December 2004
Alethea was sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan, staring out at the water that had not yet begun to freeze, when a massive black dog walked up and sat next to her. She turned and looked at it. It wasn’t just black, she realized; it was almost as if its fur was composed of shadow rather than hair. Its eyes were red, and seemed to burn from inside its head, as it looked directly at her. In that moment, she was certain that not only did it know she was there, but it knew her, could see her in a more true and powerful way than anything else ever had. She recoiled at the notion.
“Now now, I know he’s imposing, but he’s just curious.” Alethea turned to find the source of the voice and caught sight of a massive woman, at least nine feet tall, with skin that shone like bronze and three faces with different crowns on each.
“Have you come to take me away?”
“Where to, my dear?”
“Well, it’s...I haven’t crossed over yet, and I thought that’s what was next for me.”
“Crossed over? Oh you poor thing, you should know by now you can’t do that until your business on Earth is complete” Alethea turned back and looked out at the lake.
“But he’s dead.”
“Is that all you wanted, though? Did you really stay bound to this world for so many years just to kill an old man?” Alethea rested her hands on her belly and looked down.
“I...well, no, but—” She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to find the three-faced woman now a normal height and kneeling beside her.
“Roger was not the only man who let you down, was he?”
“How do you know?”
“I know much, my child. I know about you, and I know about John Matteson; and I know how to bring you together, if you will let me help you.” She removed her hand from Alethea’s shoulder and stood, then held her hand out as if inviting Alethea to take it. The girl began to reach out, then stopped and looked up at the woman.
“What do you get out of helping me?”
“Is there a price too high to finally bring your child into the world, and be free of all this pain and these men?” Alethea paused, then took her hand, and they vanished.
2 November 2004
It was just after midnight, and the great black hound was whimpering as it nudged the couch with its nose. As it felt its master's hand rest on its head, the hound went silent and looked up. Hecate began scratching behind its ears as she looked at Jackie, asleep in John's arms.
"You were right to show me," she said, the eyes on one of her faces scanning the pair of humans. "This is most unsettling. It seems our ward here has chosen to toss us aside in favor of this Anchor."
The hound began to growl at John. "Now now. He's just misguided," she said, lightly rubbing one finger along his cheek, "poor dear probably has no idea what he owes me." John shifted slightly as she pulled her hand away, and she slowly walked around to their feet. The hound followed, then whined inquisitively.
"Oh, yes," she answered, "I'll have to decide what to do with the girl. But that can wait. I have use for a liminal being like him, as soon as I know how to bring him to heel. But it seems Miss Veracruz has been holding out on us." The hound looked up at her. She smiled down at it and patted its head. "I trust you can find another useful source?" The hound began to sniff around, then barked excitedly, its tail wagging. "Very good. Lead the way."
John partially opened his eyes and slightly sat up to look at the now-empty room. Jackie whined and turned over.
"What is it?" she asked weakly, still mostly asleep.
"Sorry, thought I heard something." He turned back, pulled her close, and drifted back to sleep.