2 August 2006
Kastor emerged on a rooftop across the street from Matteson’s rented house and sat down next to the ravens.
“You really must explain to me some time why you care so much about the Mattesons,” he said, watching through the window as the Anchor climbed back out of the bed, threw some clothes on, and stormed out of the room.
“We owe you no such thing,” the blue raven said.
“Oh, come on! I mean, I get it, you guys take an interest in basically everything that humans do, but you can’t deny there’s something special about the way you handle John and his dad.”
“We wouldn’t dream of denying it,” the other raven answered.
“But you aren’t going to explain it.”
“It will be obvious in due time.” With that, the ravens took flight, and Kastor sighed and returned to the grove.
1 August 2006
The light from Helios shimmered on the surface of the water, reflecting bright flickering shapes on the figures dancing under the shade of nearby trees. Kastor was playing an aulos as he pranced around, accompanied by four other satyrs with instruments, keeping time to the clapping of nymphs and dryads. Other satyrs laid among the nature spirits, the whole assembly sharing fruit and laughing along to a tale being spun to the music by a centaur. Mid-dance, Kastor stopped playing and caught a hitch in his breath. He stepped aside from the group, who continued on without interruption, and glanced over to a tree from which two ravens were watching.
“It’s time, isn’t it? Is that what that feeling meant?” he asked. Muninn nodded.
“Your year has passed. You are relieved of your promise to Alethea-as-Lori,” Huginn answered. Kastor grumbled, looking back to the party with a longing stare, then turned back to the Two.
“The witch said he was okay though, right? It isn’t a pressing issue anymore, is it?”
“We will not decide what is important for you,” Muninn said. “I will only tell you that Alethea poses no further threat to John Matteson.” Kastor looked to the dancing figures again, then cursed under his breath and set his aulos down.
“I better check in on him, anyway. Fool human,” he muttered, walking away into the forest.
29 October 2006
Henry’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. The nurse had gone to call Matteson, but they didn’t know if he would get there in time. He’d left a couple hours earlier, shortly after dinner, at Henry’s insistence. Before that, they had talked for hours. At first it was small talk, about what Matteson was doing when he wasn’t at the hospital, which hospital food Henry disliked less. Before long, though, Henry had grown more serious.
“Listen, John,” he’d begun, “he’s coming. He knows about you.”
“Who?” Matteson leaned forward and rested his hand on the rail of the bed.
“Your grandfather. I tried to keep your gift a secret.” Henry coughed, then took a deep breath. “I don’t know how he found out, but he did, and he’s coming for you after I’m gone.”
“I’ll be ready for him.” Henry shook his head.
“No, no, you can’t assume that. Never assume that. It’s dangerous.”
“What don’t I know?”
“Much. But it isn’t always about what you know. Listen, Jeremiah is ruthless, and driven, and patient. He may wait years before he moves, but I assure you, during this time he’ll be looking for a way to strike at you that you can’t just blow off.”
“Anything you can tell me would help.” Henry was breathing heavy, and reached for his cup of water. Matteson got it for him, and the two sat in silence for a moment as he drank.
The monitors were showing signs of distress, and the nurses outside were just starting to move. They seemed like a dream, slowly rising to their feet. They looked urgent, and I’m sure for them they were rushing, but time was moving slow. Henry noticed, and wondered if this is what time always looked like in the moments before one dies.
“It isn’t,” the man answered. Henry turned to see a robed man, his hood low over his face, his hand reaching out to Henry’s. Beside him was a young woman, with faintly glowing blue skin engraved with flowing runes. “We told Death to let us handle this one.”
“Why?” Henry asked, his voice weak and hoarse. The woman gave a weak smile, then walked around to the other side of the bed. The second hand on the hallways clock finally ticked. As the man’s hand touched Henry’s, Henry was flooded with memories. The things he had told Matteson, everything he could recall to mention about Jeremiah. The things he had forgotten to tell him. The face of his ex-wife. The moment he first held his son. The memories came in a flash, and then were gone again, back into the depths of his mind as the man’s fingers curled around Henry’s palm. “Who are you?”
The woman leaned down and whispered into his ear, and as she spoke, Henry’s eyes grew wide. When she finished, he stared into her eyes, then turned his focus to the man. His eyes began to water.
“Yes,” the man answered. “We are.” Henry slipped his hand out of the man’s grasp and rested it on the man’s cheek, then did the same to the woman’s cheek with his other hand as tears began to roll down his own.
“Thank you for visiting. Are you going to take me, too?” The Two both nodded, and Henry smiled. The second hand ticked again.
The nurses ran into the room just after the monitors around Henry’s bed began to sound alarms. They moved around his bed, pushing Matteson’s empty chair aside to access their patient and see if anything else could be done for him. Just on the other side of the doorway, Henry and The Two watched.
“Will John be okay? Do I need to stick around?” The man shook his head, and the woman took Henry’s hand and patted it.
“Your son will be fine,” she said. “You’ve trained him well, you’ve left him excellent records, and you’ve earned your rest.” He looked back toward the room, then slowly nodded, and the three of them walked away.
30 october 2005
"This is it, isn't it?" Huginn asked. The Two were in raven form, perched in a tree and watching the window of Lori's apartment where she was screaming and throwing things from her broom closet.
"Sure is," Muninn replied.
"How can you remember her memories, but not Aaboukingon's?"
"Aaboukingon is fully spirit. There was no human to access. But her..." The Two sat silent for a moment, as the screaming died down and was replaced with sobbing.
"Are you telling me Lori remembers all of this?" she asked, turning to the other raven.
"Everyone in her situation remembers. Not everyone chooses to recall." Huginn shuddered.
"That must be horrible!" Muninn nodded. "And you get stuck feeling all of that? From everyone? At the same time?"
"I also remember all of the good, all the time." Huginn sighed, and looked back to the window.
"I suppose that's something. For you, anyway. But for her-"
"She has complex feelings about the miscarriage," Muninn interrupted. He took a moment to scratch his beak with his foot, then turned to Huginn. "But that will become apparent very soon."
23 august 2005
There are places in the Metaphysical Realm that are barren for a season. Sometimes a culture will dream up a land for their dead, or their stories, or their heroes, and then slowly forget or die off and leave the realm of their imaginations untended. Sometimes the Ravens fly silently over a waking void, a place they know will soon house some new dream that is only barely beginning to form in the mind of a single individual. These places are generally avoided by spirits, or at least those who know how to access them at all. They are reminders of the frailty of dreams, the reliance the spirits have on the whims and imaginations and fears of a race that could not truly see them even if they wanted to. For the Ravens, though, these lands are scattered oases, wellsprings of energy and lonesome creativity, places where they can fly without worry, walk without hassle, live in quiet connection to the fundamental nature of the Realm itself. They are quiet, isolated, secure.
"Look, the deal was just that I didn't tell him anything, right? So maybe you could?" Kastor was standing on a massive stone, floating in the void. Above, the moons were constantly changing, some vanishing, some being created, some shifting in size or shape or brightness. A purple tree with orange leaves floated nearby, in which the Ravens sat.
"Why would we do that?" Huginn asked. "This sounds like a personal problem."
"Look, I don't know what your connection is to this, but it's no secret that you both seem awfully invested in the Mattesons. Hell, I only met John because of a bet about who could find out what was so interesting about them to you."
"Did you win the bet?"
"You're damn right I did! Admittedly, the standards for success were not high. But the point is, you care about this guy, and there's some spirit trying to do...something evil with him! Or to him! Or whatever!"
"Ghost," Muninn said, glancing up from preening his wing. "She's not a spirit."
"So you've been paying attention! Why is this not concerning to you?"
"It's already done. She confirmed her pregnancy today, with a test from Walgreens."
"Wait, she what? She just wanted to get pregnant? She threatened me just to get a cub?"
"No, but it need not concern you. We are aware of the situation and will act if necessary."
"Thank you for your concern," Huginn said. "Keep your distance, as promised."
"Okay, but if this goes south, I want you both to know I'll hold you personally responsible!" Kastor said, straightening up and putting his hands on his hips.
"Mm. And what will you do about it?" He stood for a moment longer, then slouched slightly, then stood straight again and wagged his finger at them.
"I will be very disappointed in you both! And I'm Mediterranean! Don't think my disappointment can be ignored!"
"We will be sure to bear that in mind, Kastor."
"Good! Good," he said, nodding. He turned around as if to storm off, then stopped and looked around. "How do I get out of here?"
"You could wait til the author finishes worldbuilding and just walk out?" Muninn offered. Kastor threw his head back and groaned.
"Oh come on! Authors are the worst! You didn't tell me this was some potential novel!"
"We didn't invite you!"
"Just jump into the void," Huginn said with a sigh, "it's still in a rough enough state that you'll land somewhere else." Kastor grumbled as he walked to the edge of his stone, then pointed at the Ravens as if to remind them he was watching, then dove off and vanished. "Does this book ever get written?" she asked, after he was gone.
"No," Muninn replied. She took to the air.
"You're cruel! What if he'd actually stayed here?" He laughed and followed her.
"Kastor doesn't stay anywhere, and you know it!" They vanished, and the moons continued their slow shift in silence.
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.
11 December 2004
The murder-suicide of Rufus and Elaine Matteson drew the attention of the local news, not least because the circumstances seemed highly unusual. The damage to the apartment and the way Rufus was damaged was enough to prove that forces other than the knife in her hand were involved, and no one could quite place what they were. A local paranormal blog had begun offering suggestions, but police were disinterested in those suspicions.
In their attempts to get the best coverage of the event, the local news had turned to interviewing anyone who might have had insight into Rufus, Elaine, or the event itself. One neighbor was of particular interest for having claimed to hear terrible noises coming from the apartment, noises that seemed entirely unnatural. He was an elderly man, a widower of twenty years, who had not drawn the attention of anyone since his daughter went missing in 1961. He explained to the news crew, as well as the police, that it sounded like a tornado had ripped through the Matteson apartment, along with screams no earthly voice could muster. There was, of course, significant doubt about his story. It made for good television, but the police could hardly do anything with ethereal screaming.
One thing that did catch the attention of the people walking past one little electronics store uptown, however, is that when he came on screen and his name was given, they heard a similar scream which shattered the windows of the shop. Without any discussion among them, each witness quietly chose to forget the incident and get home quickly. From a nearby rooftop, two ravens observed the shop and then one's gaze followed down the street, tracking something no mortal eyes present could see. The other looked to a massive black dog, hiding in an alley and watching.
It was, at first, a slight surprise to the ravens to realize how rarely anyone seemed to notice them. Sure, they made no overt attempts to be seen, but they somewhat expected humans to look around more, take in their environments more, bother to care about what was happening around them. They should have known better, and they very quickly did, but that first time warranted some excitable discussion between them.
The one made some sense, at least. He looked normal, if a bit large; but his companion had a distinct blue tint to her, flowing strips of faintly glowing color just barely perceptible among the black feathers. If nothing else, the idea that people could glance right past a bird with an otherworldly, shifting glow, and never seem to notice was a testament to something buried deep in the minds of mankind.
They were always together, just out of sight. On the night when a single woman first uttered the name of Hekate and a goddess was born, the ravens were there to greet her. When Father Josef Klappenger went scurrying down the side of Hörselberg hill clutching an infant, they were in a tree that he leaned on to catch his breath and resist the urge to look back. When Jackie Veracruz and John Matteson first stood on the fire escape of an apartment in Chicago, the ravens rested on a roof directly ahead of the humans, among a flock resting on its way south. When Father Benedict de Monte walked silently away from the fire outside of Southport, North Carolina, thinking himself the only living soul to know how the blaze began, the ravens were turning their attention to another form moving through the water.
That is not to say they were never seen. The annals of human history record them, sometimes in a manner that would reflect on the species as a whole, sometimes as a singular or dual part of the supernatural world. They were not the archetypes of ravens; whatever ensured that ravens would exist seemed to take little notice of them. But they were the Ravens, the mold by which much of human thought on ravens would be fashioned. As mankind found less and less reason to know every living thing observing them, the ancient witnesses drifted further into the background. Eventually, they were lost to even the most observant eyes, becoming little more than ambiance. The ravens did not seem to mind. They continued to watch, selecting their entertainment with no apparent system or guide that any human would be able to detect. It would be a long time before anything changed much for them. But change was coming, and they had known it for some time.
It was part of the long night in Norway. The ravens were preening when a cleft opened in the side of a mountain and three figures stumbled out into the snow. Benedict and Daniel were on either side of Matteson, his arms over their shoulders and his left eye bleeding. The black raven turned away. The other leaned over to him.
“It’s nearly time,” she whispered. Voices carry in this place, she knew, and it was not suitable for the humans, or near-humans, to hear her now. “Are you ready for this?” There was a long pause.
“Yes.” Benedict, Daniel, and Matteson passed under the ravens and managed to find the car they had left waiting. Benedict was urgently explaining the dangers Matteson faced with his wound exposed to this weather. Daniel was trying to offer comfort. Matteson didn't seem to hear either of them.
“You don’t seem ready,” she said as the car started and then drove away.
“I…I’ll be fine. It’s just hard.”
“We aren't trapped in this flow yet. We can go somewhere else for a while if you need.”
“No. It’s nearly time. We move forward.”
“You mean I move forward.”
“I'm with you a little while longer, yet.” As the car vanished into the long night, she sighed.
“To the next moment, then.” The birds took to the air, and then vanished.
3 January 1906
From Joanna's bed, she could look out the window and see the river as it returned to normal over the last few days. She was still on bed rest, recovering from the hypothermia she had when the driver brought her to the doctor's home. The driver had told the doctor that he saw her walking along the shore when she slipped and fell into the river. She had decided it best to let them accept that story.
Across the river, news had reached Allegheny that Dr. Price, Rev. Halzberg, and Old Tom had been lost in Madison and three bodies that seemed to be theirs had been found, badly burned, in what remained of the Matteson estate. The city was in uproar, many blaming the Wozniaks for the deaths and others trying to defend the family. Either way, there was rumor that the Wozniaks were looking to leave Allegheny out of fear, and other whispers that Pittsburgh was filing paperwork to absorb the city while the populace was too fractured to stop it.
It was too early for the doctor to confirm Aaboukingon's words about Joanna, but she rested a hand on her belly and wondered what she would do all the same. As she watched the water, she noticed her ring on the nightstand beneath the window. It looked odd today, almost as if it was growing dull. Hesitantly, she reached out and touched it, only to watch it collapse into a small pile of sand. She choked back a tear, then turned to ring the bell beside her bed.
"Please," she asked, when the doctor's wife opened the door, "could you find me a small container? I should like to collect that." She indicated the sand, and the other woman looked at it puzzled for a moment before slowly nodding and leaving the room. She returned with a small glass vial, which had previously held some medicine or another but had since been cleaned out, and Joanna carefully gathered the sand into it. After making a crude label for it, she marked it "Abe" and strung it onto a necklace. She would need to have it available if she expected Aaboukingon to turn it back into her wedding ring.
12 April 1929
As the evening crickets began their songs, the water of the Ohio River stirred. The water began to rise, and slowly form into a more human shape. As it stepped toward the shore, the look of it changed until a Native American man stood on dry land. He looked around, then knelt and scooped up a handful of sand. He smelled it, then turned back to another mound of water rising from the river.
"How long has it been?" he asked.
"You've been gone twenty three years, Aaboukingon," a voice from the trees answered. He turned and looked, finally spotting two ravens sitting on a branch. One of them had a faint blue glow to it.
"No, no, that-that doesn't make sense! I was only gone a moment!"
"For you. Humans do not operate on our timeframes." Aaboukingon dropped down, sitting on the ground and looking out toward the water for a long moment. Finally, he turned back to the trees, his eyes beginning to water.
"You. You saved her. Is she still alive?"
"Yes," the black raven said.
"Where is she?" The two ravens looked at each other, and then the blue one sighed. They flew down to the ground, changing into human forms just before touching down. One was a man, dressed in a hooded robe that cast a shadow across his entire face except his mouth and chin. The other was a woman, floating above the ground, composed entirely out of flowing blue energy.
"I'm sorry," she said, floating over to Aaboukingon. "You're too late. She's been forced to leave the river." Aaboukingon stood and wiped at his face as he began to pace.
"No, no. I came back. I told her I'd come back!"
"She couldn't stay."
"Does she know? Will she know I came back?" he asked, stopping in front of the woman.
"Not yet," the robed man answered.
"Will you tell her?"
"She will know." Aaboukingon covered his face with his hands. The woman came beside him and wrapped her arms around him, letting him cry. Finally, he stepped back, and turned to the robed man.
"Will she return?"
"After a fashion."
"Can I wait for her?"
"Not here. Your river still needs you. But ask the others, and they will tell you what they see." Aaboukingon wiped his face again and stood for a moment, before nodding.
"Of course. I will do as you say." The robed man nodded, and then Aaboukingon turned and walked back into the water, vanishing beneath the surface. After he was gone, the woman floated back to the robed man.
"When does she return?" she asked.
"Too soon," he said, turning and walking away from the shore.
28 December 1905
The property owned by Aaboukingon and Joanna Matteson housed a beautiful yard bordered by a creek and a number of old, strong trees. A great many animals made their homes in the forest that stretched beyond their land claim, and little attention was paid on most days to the birds who gathered nearby but did not sing. The pathway from the road was largely in shade, a place of quiet serenity opening to the estate where both husband and wife were asleep late into the morning. Abe had only just mustered the energy to move about the house unassisted, and Joanna was busy fretting over him. He probably could have been more active, if Joanna wasn't so insistent on his need for a little more rest to ensure he didn't strain himself. All things considered, it was little surprise they did not pay mind to the ravens watching the shadows from their perch beside the house, even though one raven had a faint blue glow to her. It was less of a surprise they did not see the men who moved through those shadows this morning.
I would have warned her, if I could. I made to move, to go to the window and speak of all that was coming, but the other looked at me with knowledge and pain in her eyes and I knew I could not. We knew what was to come of this day, and the need for it to happen as it had always happened.
When Old Tom, Reverend Halzberg, and Dr. Price arrived in Madison the afternoon prior, they began to ask around after Miss Wozniak. Few in the small town knew her name, but on further questioning did mention rumors of strange recent occurrences centered on one estate. The trio were able to gather enough information to be certain they were on the right track, and spent the night making their plans. The doctor brought his gun, the reverend a glass flask of grain alcohol, and Old Tom an early-model lighter and enough malice for the lot.
The door was unlocked as Joanna had last entered in haste. Quietly and slowly, the three crept in to find any sign of magic. After what they'd found at Manfred's house, they expected the usual sort of things, stacks of demonic books and runes carved into wood and circles painted onto floors. They heard someone moving around upstairs and made their way to the study. Once there, they set about digging through for anything that looked arcane and, turning up nothing, began to bicker about whether this was even the right house. Meanwhile, we flew around the property until we found a branch to see through the right window.
"You already remember this," my companion said. "From every perspective there."
"You're just as connected to this as I am."
"Yes. But I don't need to watch. Why do you?"
"I have to know," I answered. "I have to know it from my own perspective." She began to preen, occasionally glancing up to watch.
"I'm sorry, I don't believe I heard you knock," Joanna interrupted, standing in the doorway with a folded sheet. The men stopped and turned.
"Now, Miss Wozni-" Reverend Halzberg began.
"Mrs. Matteson, actually." Joanna stood just a little more upright as she glared at the reverend. "Shall I fix you gentlemen a pot of tea before you go?"
"I'll recognize no union between you and some red devil!"
"I suppose it best I never asked that of you, then." She cocked her head slightly, peering at his hand. "Is that a flask, Reverend? I do hope you've not soiled your gut on my account."
"S'not fer drinkin, you harlot!" Old Tom shouted.
"I'm afraid you're being very rude. Please, what brings you all here?" Dr. Price held his hand out toward Old Tom as if to stop him and stepped forward.
"You must know, young lady, that your...consort appears to be at the center of some very troubling events in Allegheny," he offered.
"As do you three. The difference being that we left Allegheny."
"The problems, you see, did not."
"Perhaps you should look for a more local cause, then." Old Tom pushed past the doctor and pointed violently at her.
"It's that boy you brung round! He hexed the damn river, s'what he done!"
"I assure you, he's done no such thing."
"Then why's it--"
"Dying," Aaboukingon said as he walked around from the stairs. "The river is nearly dying, elder. But have no fear, it will recover. I'm not the only soul it has."
"You should be resting, dear," Joanna said, rushing over to him. He waved the concern off and turned his attention to Price, who had raised his gun toward him.
"Have you come with such violent intentions, doctor?" Joanna, seeing the gun, gasped and stepped back.
"I mean to save my city. I don't intend to do anything unnecessary," Price answered.
"This entire journey is unnecessary. The river will survive, and so will you, if you respect them."
'What do you mean, calling yourself a soul of the river?"
"Exactly that. I am one of the spirits that call the water home; we push the floods out, we sing a song only the fish know, we have watched tribes come and go." He began to step forward, with a gaze so steady that all but Price stepped back away from him as he advanced. "I saw your fort rise and your city grow, your boats and your trains and your bridges, what are they to me? Trinkets, passing like everything else. The river is stronger than you know, gentlemen, and though we pass through dark times now, we will outlast every building you could ever hope to raise on our shores." Price fired a shot, the bullet passing through Aaboukingon's head unhindered, leaving momentary ripples on his face. Joanna screamed as the round shattered an ornamental vase in the room across the hall.
"Devilry!" Old Tom shouted. Price stumbled backward, cocking his revolver for another shot. Halzberg scowled and began praying, clutching his flask tight.
"You should go," Aaboukingon growled. Joanna noticed a bit of blood dripping from his slightly shaking arm.
"I'll take no orders from demons!" Halzberg shouted, throwing the flask at a nearby bookcase. The glass shattered and the alcohol splashed across the books and onto Halzberg's sling. Price raised his gun again, and Joanna dove forward to shove Aaboukingon aside. She made contact just as Price pulled the trigger, the bullet ripping through her chest. Aaboukingon hurried to her side, frantically checking the wound. She stared at him, eyes wide in shock and trying to catch her breath. He was trying to encourage her, begging her to hold on, promising to find a doctor or someone, anyone, some way to help. She reached up, slowly, and wiped a tear from his cheek.
Price leveled the gun at him, firing again, and hit Aaboukingon's shoulder. There was no ripple this time, just lead tearing into flesh and blood, causing Aaboukingon to fall forward onto Joanna. She let out a soft whimper, and he met her gaze, then scowled. He turned and stood, his whole body trembling, staring at Price with a gaze that pierced to the bone like the cold of the river under ice. Price frantically tried to cock his gun again, but before he could, Aaboukingon's hand shot up and Price choked as he rose off the ground untouched. Aaboukingon yelled as he slowly closed his fist, Price shriveling and gasping for air as water began to seep out of his skin. Blood began dripping from Aaboukingon's eyes as the other two men tried to inch away from Price, crying out for Aaboukingon to stop. Price let out one last breath as his skin began to crack and tighten like leather. Aaboukingon fell to the ground, coughing up blood. Price, now a dried husk, fell with a dull wet thud into a puddle of the water from his own body.
Old Tom ran over with his lighter, striking it until he had flame and setting it to the books hit by the flask. As he turned to run out, he bumped into Halzberg, whose sling quickly caught flame from the lighter. The Reverend began to shout and stumble backward, and Old Tom took that as his queue to run. Aaboukingon pulled himself up to one knee. As Old Tom went to pass Aaboukingon, the younger man grabbed him by his ribs with one hand and threw him back into the room. He slammed into Halzberg and both collapsed into a heap. By now, Joanna was taking sharp, shallow breaths, and watching Aaboukingon as her eyes began to glaze over. He grunted as he forced himself to his feet, then lifted Joanna and carried her out of the house as the fire spread behind them.
We flew around the house again, using the smoke to mask our movements as other animals left the area. Not that they were watching us, anyway. I watched as Aaboukingon tripped and stumbled, shaking his head to maintain focus and looking around as though lost.
"He isn't doing it," the other warned as we passed overhead.
"I know! But he has to, how else-"
"Do you remember what she saw?"
"Nothing! She has no memory of this, and his mind is..." I landed and tried to think. She landed next to me and nudged me.
"Hey. Hey! They don't remember. We know what needs to happen." I took a deep breath and watched as Aaboukingon fell to one knee and began struggling to stand.
"You're right." We flew down and landed in front of him, and he staggered for a moment as he stared at us.
"You...you're the Two!" He said, his eyes growing wide.
"Why are you-"
"No time. Just follow us." With that, we took flight again, and began leading him on. He struggled, but kept pushing forward. Sometimes we had to circle back, make sure he didn't lose us, but we knew the journey wasn't far. Joanna looked like she was already dead, but we could all feel her barely hanging on. We landed on the far bank of the creek, and watched as he dropped to his knees and lowered her in. Running his hand over her, he called the water to follow. The water flowed up and over her chest, washing over the wound and glowing. Finally, her breathing returned to normal, and as she sat up she saw him briefly smile before passing out on the bank next to her. By that point, we were back in the trees, out of her sight.
"What now?" I pointed toward the car that pulled up to the edge of the property.
"The trio arranged an escape," I answered, "But they aren't the ones who'll use it."