10 June 2007
Results had been disappointing so far. It wasn’t particularly difficult to find spells to do what she wanted, but they didn’t seem to get me anywhere. Michael had even managed to open a portal into the Deeper Realms, and the two of us spent a week there with tracking spells and a relic that all just led us in circles. Roderick believed that Rick had either been unmade or was being actively hidden from us; I refused to believe the former, and Michael believed we could muster up enough power between us to punch through whatever was doing the latter. There was little evidence to date to suggest he was right.
Melinda was concerned. A few days after we returned from the Deeper Realms, she took me out for a spa day and refused to let me talk about Rick or magic while we were out. I didn’t realize until I was halfway through a massage how obsessed I’d been recently over the matter. Not that it didn’t warrant dedication, but maybe Melinda was right when she insisted I couldn’t let this become my whole life. So I started taking more breaks, and seeing my other cousins, and putting the work aside to get some sleep with more frequency. And the less time I spent obsessing over a solution, the more time I found myself mourning him as if he was never coming back. I needed to find some distractions. I started browsing the library more, and found there was a considerable fiction collection I hadn’t even thought to explore when I was last here. I was on my fourth period romance before I realized that I had narrowed onto a specific subject, but I really didn’t have time to think about why that would be right now.
“A visitor for you, ma’am,” Hendricks said.
I blinked in surprise and turned my attention to him. I hadn’t even heard him enter the parlor, and now wondered how long he’d been standing there. “For me?”
“Yes, ma’am. An Amanda Stow. Shall I send her in?”
“Mandy’s here!?” I set Jane Eyre down and stood, straightening out my skirt. “Yes, yes, definitely send her in!”
He nodded and slipped out of the room, and after a few moments he returned to hold the door open as Mandy walked in. I ran over and gave her a hug, thanked Hendricks, and then showed her to the chairs.
“This place is so much nicer than I was expecting!” she said, softly, as if it was a secret. I chuckled.
“Yes, well. That’s what being a lord will get you.”
“Well. If that cousin of yours is single…” We both laughed as Hendricks returned and set a platter with two cups of tea and a small plate of cookies on the table between us. We both thanked him again, and he was gone.
“Why did you come all the way to England? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
She sighed and picked up a cookie, looking at it absently. “I’m worried about you.”
“That could have been a text, Mandy.” I added a bit of sugar to one of the teas and laid back in my chair while I stirred. “Why are you here?”
“To bring you back.” She took a bite from her cookie and relaxed into the chair. “And maybe some of these cookies, too.”
“I can’t go back right now. There’s so much work to do on this.”
“Hm, yeah,” she said, leaning forward and picking up the book and turning it over in her hand, “looks very important.”
“Everyone needs a break sometimes.”
“Yes, but that’s my point, Alice.” She leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. “You have shut yourself off from friends and family who care about you to go chasing after some solution to Rick’s disappearance. Which is fine, for a little while, but there needs to be a point where you come home and let people be there for you.”
“It’s not so simple—”
“Of course it isn’t. Nothing ever is. He’s my cousin, I promise, I understand.”
“No, there’s so much more than that to it.”
“Is it magic?”
She leaned back in her chair and we were silent for a minute. “The official report is that he was taken by a cult. How accurate is that?”
“He…threw himself and their leader into a portal to stop them summoning something terrible.”
“And have you made any progress on finding him?”
“No. I haven’t.”
“Then come home.”
“Look. I get why you guys didn’t say all that to the police. I get why you didn’t tell me right away. But if this is really a magic problem, and a month of magic research hasn’t yielded any results, then maybe it’s time to do something else. And you’re going to need a support network to get through that.”
“I can’t. I can’t just…” I paused and set my tea down.
“You can’t just accept that he’s gone.” A tear ran down her cheek.
“There has to be a way.”
“And maybe there is. I hope there is. But if there aren’t answers here, then why stay, except to isolate yourself?”
I nodded, and wiped a tear away. Mandy got up from the chair and walked over, offering me her hand. I accepted and stood, and we held each other for a long while as we both started to cry. “I saw it,” I choked out, eventually. “I saw him go and couldn’t do anything to help him.”
“That’s not your fault.”
“I brought them there. I ran when we were confronted by the cult. I—”
“It’s not your fault, Alice.”
My legs went out from under me, and we ended up on the floor, crying into each other’s shoulders. I had tried so hard for the last month to bury these feelings, and now nothing was able to stop them coming out. I don’t know how long we stayed there, but we managed to get calmed down and cleaned up in time for dinner. We went into town that evening, and she spent the night in one of the rooms in the wing where I was staying, and in the morning, Melinda saw us both to the airport to fly back to the States.
Melinda had a long talk with Michael while one of the servants arranged for John to meet with a doctor they knew to patch up his stab wound. My side was still sore, though there was no visible damage, and Melinda told me I should spend the next day resting at the estate. She also wanted John to rest, but he waved the concern off and Michael was all too willing to have him work more as long as he insisted he was up for it.
So, after everyone else left in the morning, Melinda found me lounging and reading in the library. She apologized for pain John and I had suffered from Michael’s plan and expressed hope that everyone was going to be okay today. She then asked me to follow her, and I did, and we walked across the estate and down into the basement, where she threw open a pair of heavy metal doors. Inside were shelves lined with assorted items, books and jewelry and random household items and knives. Just a massive assortment of every kind of thing I could think of, and a few I’d rather not think of in decent company.
“What is this?” I asked. Melinda led me into the room and lifted a jewel-encrusted bracelet that shimmered much more than the low light should have allowed.
“This,” she said with a sweeping motion of her other arm, “is one of our vaults.” She walked over and placed the bracelet on my wrist. It was lighter than I expected, and felt faintly charged somehow. “These things are not fundamentally dangerous, so they aren’t in the high security vault. And they aren’t specifically useful as weapons, so they aren’t in the armory. But they are items we have had need to confiscate or keep out of circulation over the years. That,” she said, pointing at the bracelet, “allows anyone wearing it to summon a protection spell. It will be like a thin magical shield over your whole body that would have been very handy to have yesterday.”
“Why are you showing me this?”
“You are getting involved in a dangerous world. I should have shown it to you earlier, I just…I suppose I wasn’t sure how involved you were actually going to be. But after yesterday—”
“Melinda, it’s not your fault.”
“I know, I know. I just want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And I can’t give you your magic back, but I can offer you some of these.”
“But these need to be out of circulation.”
“These need to be off the streets of the United Kingdom and Her Majesty’s territories. But you’ll be taking them to America, will you not?”
“I…yeah, I would.”
“Well then,” she said with a nod, “let’s do some shopping. Just make sure that boyfriend of yours doesn’t get too much time with them.” We began to work our way through the room, talking about different items and what they did, occasionally pulling one out and adding it to a large purse she’d grabbed after the bracelet. I learned that the knives and sword were not in the armory because their specific magic didn’t lend itself to combat use. Some of the items weren’t even really magical, there were items in there that would serve as a focus for magic or could be used by a mage to store a spell for a single release, but would no nothing for me. We chatted and joked and picked through items for a little over an hour before she was called away by a servant to meet with the crew repairing the wall about something, and I continued to poke around for a little bit before slipping out of the room, turning off the lights, and closing the doors. I looked around the hallway a bit, not entirely sure which way we’d come from, and decided to just start walking and see what happened.
“Are you sure that’s the direction you want to be going?” Roderick asked. I spun around to find the suit of armor standing in the hall a few feet behind me.
“How the hell did you sneak up like that?” I demanded. He shrugged.
“I move how I wish. Do you know where you’re going?”
“I…no. I was going to go back upstairs but I’m not sure this is the way.”
“It is not. However, if you are still seeking answers, upstairs can wait.”
“I most certainly am. You know, you never gave me much to work with when I asked you about my family being cut off from magic.” As I spoke, he nodded, folded his arms behind his back, and walked past me.
“Yes, well. Did you know that your grandfather was supposed to inherit the lordship? Michael’s line was supposed to be the one who became secondary.”
“I don’t think that was ever discussed at home,” I answered, following him.
“I don’t know if he ever bothered to tell anyone. But he was the next rightful Lord Hudson. Threw it all away, including access to magic, because he could not stomach the Hudson family secret.” He stopped in front of a door. With a flourish of his hand he produced and key, which he slipped into the lock of the door but didn’t turn. He looked back to me, his hand hovering next to the key. “Do you think you can stomach it, Alice? Do you think you’re ready to know what your grandfather could not tolerate about this estate?” I looked between him and the door for a moment, then straightened up and crossed my arms.
“Yes, Roderick. If you would be so kind, I would know.” Having received his answer, he nodded and turned the key.
Once I came down from the adrenaline rush that got me away from the priest, the pain became unbearable. It took all my strength to stay focused on waiting for John, and once I was in the car I began to slip in and out of consciousness. I don’t think he even really noticed, he was so bent on finding the priest who hurt me. Which I guess is admirable in a way, but I thought that I may need to have a talk with him about how much attention he should pay to the injured-and-barely-awake person he’s got in the car with him should the occasion ever arise again.
I remember seeing the priest as we were arriving at the estate, and reacting to the sight of him. Then I was being pulled from the car by Melinda and laid on the concrete of the driveway. There was a glow, and I felt the pain fade away and my head grow more clear. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, and as the glow faded I blinked a few times and looked up at Melinda. She was looking away from me, a fearful expression spreading across her features. When I followed her gaze I saw John punch some kind of massive snake-person in the face, the latter screaming as the scales ripped away from his body and he started to look more human.
“Can you stand?” Melinda asked. I turned to her and nodded, and she helped me to my feet and immediately began moving backwards toward the house.
“What are we doing? Shouldn’t we help him?” I asked. Melinda looked at me with wide eyes.
“What do you think we can do?” There was a loud boom and the ground shook, and we both looked to see a pillar of fire in the driveway. John dove out of it and punched the now-fully-human priest again, who stumbled backward. “Listen. Maybe I could take that man, whoever he is. His magic seems powerful, but not abnormal. But your boyfriend? Do you have any idea what complications he would bring to our involvement? Or what will happen if he loses control of himself right now?” By this point we were to the door, and she let go of me.
“I didn’t think he was really controlling it to begin with.”
“It’s…I don’t fully understand how Anchors work, but I know that we have warnings about them. There is some degree to which his ability is active, even if he isn’t conscious of it. And if he loses control of that, it gets very ugly very fast; especially when you consider how much raw magic is pent up in this house.” We turned to find the priest about twenty feet from John, who was holding his side. The priest’s clothes were in shreds, and he ripped off what little was left. As we watched, small shapes all over his body started glowing.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Rune magic, looks like. It’s old, and powerful, and if those are tattooed they’re more durable against antimagic. Probably how he’s held out as well as he has.” The priest raised his hands, and the ground around John started to break and shift. The sky was growing dark, and a wind was picking up. I held close to Melinda, not sure what was about to happen, and then John started to glow. “Have you ever seen him do that?” Melinda asked. I shook my head. “Oh, shit,” she muttered, and she pulled me down as she ducked. There was another large blast, and a flash of light, and the ground shook violently. We were both knocked over, and the corner of the house nearest the fight collapsed. When we looked back, John was dragging the priest by the leg up the driveway. I couldn’t tell if the priest was dead or unconscious, but I could finally see the small knife in John’s side. His eyes were still glowing, and Melinda ran down the driveway waving her hands and demanding for him to stop.
“I could use a drink,” John growled. Melinda put her hands to her side and stood her ground.
“And you’re a walking time bomb right now! You walk into that house in this mode and you’ll disenchant everything we own! Give me that man,” she ordered, snatching the priest’s leg out of John’s grip, “and you stay right here until you’ve calmed down.” As she continued up the driveway, I ran down and threw my arms around John.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I answered, “I think Melinda took care of it while you were off fighting.”
“Good.” He stood there for a moment, holding me, then I drew away and led him to the courtyard where we sat and chatted and waited. His eyes returned to normal after a minute or so, and he was finally calm enough that I thought it safe to go inside a few minutes after that.
Akshainie and the boys left around 9 to go investigate the site Michael had found. Matteson seemed relieved; he was visibly uncomfortable the whole night, but didn’t seem to want to talk about it. I gathered it was the atmosphere of the estate itself, and determined to talk to him about it some time after they returned. In the meantime, however, I was going to have a pleasant visit with my cousins.
My grandfather and Michael’s grandfather were brothers, with mine moving to the United States around the time his inherited the estate. We didn’t talk about why that had happened, but it seemed to have been cordial at least, since our families maintained close relations afterward. But now that I knew there was magic in their blood, and possibly in mine, I had questions.
“Oh, I suppose it would be impossible to hide from you under the current circumstances,” Melinda said when I finally raised the issue. She was Michael’s mother, and my guide to the estate while her husband was tending to some business at Parliament and everyone else was away. Michael’s siblings were away at school, and Melinda seemed disappointed that she hadn’t known I was coming early enough to call them home for the visit.
“But why was it hidden at all?” I asked. We were, by that point, carrying the box I had brought down a hall off of the main house. It was the first chore I’d seen her personally do, and I started to notice that there were no servants working down this hall, and felt it safe to ask in the relative privacy.
“Because it was requested. Actually, there is someone better equipped to answer these questions just ahead.” She stopped in front of a door and handed me the box, before she drew a key from her pocket and opened it. The room beyond was dark and a bit dusty, with cobwebs gathering on the corners of furniture that looked like it had been crafted hundreds of years earlier. She led me in and then took the box from me, setting it on a table and digging around until she produced a visor that I now realized matched a set of armor on display in the corner that was missing the same piece. Melinda took the visor over and reattached it, then stepped back and clapped the dust from her hands. As she did so, a dim light started to emanate from behind the visor, and after a moment of that the armor began to stretch like a man waking.
“Oh, finally,” a male-sounding voice said from within the armor. “That was a nice vacation but honestly, Melinda, would it have been a bother to ask them to carry me around from time to time?”
“And how would you like me to have explained that request, Roderick?”
“Must everything be explained to you people?” Roderick sighed, then waved his hand in a circular motion. As he did so, I felt a faint crackle in the air and all the dust and cobwebs swirled together and vanished, the sconces lit, and every wooden surface began to shine as if freshly polished. The armor walked forward and sat in an armchair before pointing at me. “And what are you doing here?”
“I—” I started to answer, before realizing I didn’t really have a good answer for him.
“This is our cousin Alice,” Melinda stepped in, sitting on a freshly-cleaned chaise. I slipped onto a cushioned bench. “She brought you home from the States.”
“Yes I know that,” he snapped, “but if it was so hard to explain me to her, then why is she here?”
“The young dear has learned about magic, without any involvement from us.” He turned to face me, and while I couldn’t see any real change, it felt like he was narrowing his gaze as he stared.
“And how did that come about?”
“Well,” I said, “you see, I’m dating an Anchor, I think you call it, and his friend is a witch, and—”
“Oh please tell me that isn’t your entire knowledge of magic, an Anchor and an American witch? What is she, Dutch? One of those people trying to reclaim what they think the Celts practiced?”
“She’s Latina, actually.” I heard him groan and his head angled back into the chair.
“She has questions that I think are very sensible ones for her to ask, Roderick, so be nice,” Melinda said sternly, “before I shove you back into a box.” He grumbled and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms.
“Fine. Ask your questions,” he said, finally.
“I guess the main one is, why was I never told about the Hudsons having magic?” I asked.
“Because you weren’t supposed to be told.”
“That was the point, Alice. Your family went to the States to leave the magic behind. It was agreed that, in respect for your family’s wishes, this side of the family would not discuss the matter.”
“How do you know all of this?”
“That’s my job.”
“Roderick is the family memory,” Melinda said. “He knows basically everything about who we are and who we have been and, sometimes, who we will become.” She turned to him. “And your insight has been sorely missed.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure it has.” He turned to face me, but didn’t say anything, as if he was considering me somehow.
“Well,” Melinda said, standing, “I suppose we should let you get comfortable. Alice knows where to call on you now. Though do be careful coming out while she’s in town.”
“The Anchor, yes, I know,” he said, standing. As I took to my feet, he walked forward and rested his hand on my shoulder. “Be mindful of that one, cousin. He isn’t safe, and you will need to decide what risks you are willing to take. Choose wisely.”
“Oh, um,” I said, patting the metal glove, “thanks, Roderick. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Please do.” And with that, we slipped out of his chambers and made our way back down the hall. The place looked different now, more alive, and I began to wonder just how much influence he had on the estate.
Biology major on the edges of the 'burgh.