I took the dinner dishes to the kitchen and started washing them, mostly to watch John and Jackie as long as I could out the back window. I didn’t know what else to do. There they were, running off to some new supernatural danger, and Rick and I were just…here. Left behind. Waiting on the hope that they’d be back for us. Rick came into the kitchen with the last of the cups and then stood watching out the back door.
“I feel like a dog watching its humans go to work,” he finally said. I nodded.
“I get that.”
“You know they left us behind because nothing’s going to happen here.”
“We don’t know that, actually.”
“What, that that’s their reason, or that nothing’s going to happen?”
“Either. Both. I don’t know. I just.” I let my hands sink into the water and stared out the window at the dark trees. “I understand that we both need to be our own people and have our own lives, and the relationship is the place where those lives intersect, but. It’s hard sometimes to believe he’s really letting me in when he keeps this stuff so closed off from me. I want to trust him, to not assume he views me as outside of this stuff, but sometimes it really seems like he does.”
“Yeah. You know that’s the main reason I haven’t proposed to Jackie?”
“I didn’t! I just assumed you weren’t thinking about that yet.”
“I’ve been paying on a ring over at the Eastwood Mall, you know, far enough from town she wouldn’t just run into me there.”
“Don’t tell me that was the unavoidable appointment in Ohio you had to do before coming here!”
“The last payment was due. The ring’s in my bag, hidden. I’m not gonna ask her while we’re here, you know, this is for Matteson’s birthday. That seems rude.”
“Oh, Rick, that’s exciting! I’m sure—”
We were interrupted by the creak of the front door. We stopped, looked at each other, and then I grabbed a towel for my hands and he pulled his gun from the back of his pants.
“Are you really going to shoot someone?” I whispered.
“Last time we encountered the cult, I hesitated,” he whispered back. “It almost got me killed. I swore I wouldn’t hesitate again.”
We heard footsteps in the foyer. He raised his gun to point it at the door and waved be back. I stepped behind and past him, locking checking the lock on the back door as I passed it. I didn’t see anyone out there, but I was also pretty certain we’d locked the front door, and yet…
Thick black smoke started to seep into the room under the kitchen door. I sniffed the air but didn’t smell any fire, and when I looked to Rick to see if he noticed he was still fixed on the door itself. I pushed back against the wall and lowered myself to the floor as quietly as I could. From under the breakfast table I could see the smoke moving, almost like it was alive. It didn’t rise like regular smoke, and it didn’t dissipate. It just flowed, and twitched, as if looking around for something. Then it fixed on us and shot forward. I didn’t have time to react before it surrounded me and the world started to fade. I heard the door, and three gunshots, and then everything went dark.
“Oh HELL no,” Jackie exclaimed, stepping back away from the stone. I stared at the marking. Not here. Not this close to our cabin.
“The paint’s still tacky,” John said, poking the spiral. “This was just made. They’re active here now.” Shit.
“Maybe we should go,” I said. Everyone turned to me. “Look, it’s just, these folks are dangerous, and we’re trying to have a nice relaxing weekend, and I’m sorry if we can’t do that at the cabin but we could find some other place?”
“This cult, they kill people, Alice.”
“Yes! Yes, so we should call the police—”
“And they use magic and they bind elder gods to power their magic and they won’t stop, not until they’ve stripped the world of its magic.”
“Or someone stops them,” Rick said.
“Oh God, you want to stay, too?” I asked.
“I can’t just walk away this time.”
“You can and you should,” Jackie said, pointing at him. “You’re not equipped to deal with them and almost got yourself killed last time you came barging in!”
“And what, huh? Leave the rest of you here to deal with this!?”
“We have Alpha. If you and Alice go back to town—”
“I’m not doing that, Jackie! I’m not running away and leaving you to face these bastards without backup!”
“Not here,” John said. Everyone stopped. “We can talk about this somewhere else. We don’t know who or what is listening here.” We all begrudgingly agreed and headed back to the cabin. No one talked on the way back, I assume they were as lost in their thoughts as I was. The Brood was here. Now. I couldn’t wrap my head around what to do with this situation. On the flight to England, I’d heard so much about them, how John broke his leg fighting one of their bound gods, how they’d enslaved the minds of an entire town, how they’d been hunting people as far away as Pakistan. And now here they were, a brisk walk away from my family’s cabin, where we were expected to sleep at night, and the rest of them are just…trying to fight them. I didn’t want to be here, but at the same time, I didn’t want to leave everyone else behind.
Back at the cabin, we gathered in the living room and sat uneasily for a few minutes. John finally broke the silence.
“What do we know so far?”
“You said they just made that spiral,” Rick said. “So they must have made it recently.”
“Because they intend to use it soon,” I said.
“Beltaine,” Jackie said. “They’re waiting for Beltaine.”
“And what’s that?” Rick asked.
“It’s May 1. The Celtic traditions believe it’s one of the four main liminal days of the year, when the veil between worlds is thin and magic is easier.”
“You haven’t mentioned Beltaine as important before.”
“I don’t practice the Celtic traditions. My holidays are different. But the fact remains that the veil only exists because people believe it exists. So if a large number of people believe the veil is thin on May 1, and they do—that calendar has been co-opted by a lot of European pagans whether they have ties to the Celts or not—then the veil is thin on May 1.”
“Happy birthday to me,” John muttered. I patted his knee.
“Do we know how to stop them?” I asked.
“It depends on what they’re doing. But I know a fair bit about countermagic and Matteson is what he is,” Jackie answered.
“And I have a gun,” Rick added. Jackie glared at him. “So overall we’re pretty much ready for whatever they have going on.”
“I thought you weren’t carrying that around anymore.”
“It isn’t that gun. I, uh…bought my own.” Rick scratched the back of his neck as Jackie threw her hands up and leaned back into her chair.
“I can’t believe you!”
“We run into dangerous shit, Jackie! And no one’s jumping to give me any other way to deal with it!”
“And I don’t know how to control my magic, but I have it on good authority that it’ll be available if I really need it,” I said.
“No, Alice,” John said, “you, at least, should go back. I don’t want you in any danger.”
“Oh it’s too late for that! You think I can be safe here, ever, if we let them take this place? This is practically my second home, I’m not just leaving it, I’m not.”
“You didn’t sound so certain in the clearing,” Rick said.
“I had some time to think about it.” There was another long pause.
“Okay. If we’re all in,” John said, “we need to sort out a plan.”
When I returned to the living room, John was still sitting there. He looked like he’d cried while I was gone, and he was smoking another cigarette. I hoped he hadn’t been chainsmoking the whole time I was gone. I brought a book with me, and dropped it on his lap when I got back. He stared at it for a moment before picking it up and turning it over a few times.
“You know what that is?” I asked, standing in front of him.
“Uh, yeah. I do.”
“You know, I had to plug the title into translation software to find out what it was. But you, you can read that language, right?” He nodded. “And you’ve probably read it. And know full well that it’s a detailed study of various supernatural threats, right?”
“Yeah. I have. It’s less comprehensive than it thinks it is.”
“See, see? That? I don’t think you understand my position here, John!” I knelt down and took his hands in mine, pushing the book back down onto his lap. He looked into my eyes, finally. “I am diving into a complex and dangerous world, and so much, so much, of what I know and what I do and what I believe hinges on trusting you. You’re the expert, you’re my guide in this. You know enough about it to have informed opinions on the quality of expert texts. And I want to explore it with you! I want to explore everything with you! But it’s not just that I trust you, it’s that I have to trust you. I need to rely on you in this. And when you withhold information, when you don’t tell me the truth about the dangers we’re facing together, it makes it real hard to do that.”
“Alice, I…I’m sorry.”
“I need to know that you’re not holding anything back here, okay? I want to be able to trust you.”
“Okay,” he said. I gave him a weak smile, squeezed his hands briefly, then walked over to the couch to sit down. “Alice?”
“You know, the Hudsons are in this book.” He turned it back over, and flipped through the pages until he apparently found what he was looking for. “It was written shortly before Cromwell’s government came into power. Describes them as bloodthirsty dogs of the crown, committed to taking any steps necessary to protect England’s interests. Talks about them enslaving spirits from around the world and using them to boost the estate’s power.”
“Oh. I did meet some spirits who were…employed by the Hudsons.”
“Don’t call it employment.”
“What did they do to you while we were there?”
“Where are you going with this, John?”
“I’m not trying to accuse anyone of anything. I’m just saying, in order to be there for you, I need to know what your connection to it all actually is. And the night before we left England, something changed in you. There was magic in you that wasn’t there before, and a whole bag of magic items among your luggage.”
“You knew about that?”
“One thing I learned from my father was to always know more than I let on. I’m sorry I lied to you about that.”
“It’s okay. Um…okay. Well. My grandfather was supposed to be the Lord Hudson of his generation. But he, um, he disagreed with some aspects of the job. So he left the task to his brother, Michael’s grandfather. But when he left, he bound the family to a magical oath. The magic in our branch was locked away, and the English branch was forbidden to reveal it to us. But I found out on my own, and the spirits weren’t bound to that same oath, so they gave me a way to access the magic in an emergency. And Melinda gave me some items to use if I need them. Just in case.”
“Do you know how to use any of it?”
“No. Not yet. Jackie is going to help me.”
“You told Jackie?”
“I…yeah. I was going to tell you, I just hadn’t yet, I guess.”
“Okay,” he said. We both sat for a while before he stood and set the book down. “I’m not used to talking about some of this stuff. I’ll try to do better about that, okay?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Are you hungry?” he asked. I laughed.
“Then let’s go,” he said, reaching his hand out to me. “We can do more of this later.”
Personal notes regarding the interaction of the physical and metaphysical
17 March 2007
John had been concerned about me ever since we returned from England, and I could hardly blame him. I was having trouble adjusting to the new connection I had with the flow of life around me and was still uncomfortable with what I’d learned about my family history. I tried to think of it in terms of the Hudsons, how it was this other group that was maintaining the Bride and using them like some kind of tool for personal power, but I couldn’t shake the knowledge that I was part of that heritage, that I had the Bride’s blood running through me sure as Michael did. And then the magic sitting there, just beneath the surface of my sense of self, crying out to connect with any living thing nearby, was making me tense and disrupting my sleep whenever John wasn’t there to quiet it. I needed help, I knew that, and didn’t want to rely on just constantly hanging on my boyfriend’s arm. The point of this, after all, was to help me handle the supernatural with or without him. So on St. Patrick’s Day, since we all had plans anyway, I arrived a bit early to talk to Jackie before we met up with everyone else. Sure enough, when I arrived, John was upstairs getting ready, and we had a little time.
I told her everything. I didn’t mean to, I was intending to just tell her about how I was sensing magic more now and needed help processing it, but I ended up telling her about the Bride and Roderick and my grandfather and what those spirits had done to me at my request, and she just listened. I realized near the end what I was doing, and made a point to ask her not to tell anyone, not even John, about some of this. She was reluctant, but she agreed. We heard the shower stop running, and Jackie took my hands and looked me in the eye.
“I’ll help you, as much as I can,” she said. “We’ll resume work on your meditation, and now that we know the nature of it we can really target the exercises we do with it, okay?” I nodded.
“Thank you,” I said.
“But look, I really feel like this is something that shouldn’t be a secret.”
“No, I know, I just. I’m not ready. Not yet.”
“Okay. Well, do you remember what we were working on before?”
“Yeah, I—” I started to answer, before there was a sound like a distant thunderclap, and a sudden crackle in the air that made both of us tense up. For a moment, it felt like the magic was gone again, and then it came boiling back up. Jackie’s eyes grew wide. “Did you feel that, too?”
“Yeah.” She let go of my hands and we both jumped to our feet as we heard John coming down the stairs. “Did you feel that?”
“No. But it was probably something I did,” he answered, rounding the banister at the bottom of the stairs. We both watched him, waiting for more explanation, as he made his way to the recliner and lit a cigarette. “Sit down, you’re freaking me out.”
“What did you do?” I demanded. He sighed, then took another drag before answering.
“It was nothing. Hecate came by, she stopped time so we could talk, I didn’t want to talk so I broke her spell, that’s it.”
“And we felt that all the way down here?”
“I’m surprised you felt it. But I mean, she is a goddess, breaking her spells probably sends some ripples.”
“Hecate was here? Now?” Jackie asked. John nodded, and she ran upstairs.
“That’s a Greek goddess, right? Of magic?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Was it really her?”
“Oh who knows?” he answered with a shrug.
“What does she want with you?”
“Nothing she’s getting.”
“John, this sounds serious!”
“Look, I can handle her, okay? You don’t need to worry about it.”
“You can’t handle her!” Jackie said, coming down the stairs. John groaned and threw his arms up like this was an old fight. I wondered why it wasn’t one I’d been involved in so far. “She is the very embodiment of magic! She is the liminal spaces!”
“Yeah, and I break magic and close liminal spaces! It’s not that big a deal!” He said, picking up his cigarette again. Jackie stormed across the room and nearly jammed her finger directly into his eye.
“You keep downplaying this and people are going to get hurt! She is far more dangerous than you realize! You know she was behind the whole Lori situation?”
“Wait, who’s Lori?” I asked. “What situation?”
“My ex,” John said. We heard footsteps on the porch. “I’ll tell you about it later, okay?” I nodded as Rick, Charles, Tony, and Bob opened the door and filed in. Jackie and I met eyes for a moment, and I knew we were both concerned, but we smiled and greeted the boys all the same. After all, tonight was supposed to be a time to relax and not think about magic, and dammit, that was just what I needed now.
17 February 2007
I had trouble looking Michael in the eyes after my encounter with The Bride, and I knew better than to risk speaking about it after having promised not to. I knew I couldn’t tell the Hudsons, but I didn’t know if I could really tell anyone, so I just didn’t. John was concerned and said I seemed distant that night. I’m sure I was. I assured him everything was okay, and it had just been a more difficult trip than I expected. He didn’t press for more than that, and I found myself pressing close to him when we went to bed and greatly comforted by his arm holding me. That close to him, the suddenly unavoidable noise of the animals outside died off, and I realized that even in his sleep his nature was enough to stifle the magic churning in me. I slept soundly.
The next morning we all enjoyed a magnificent breakfast, and then John and I were given a ride into London. We were told Benedict and Akshainie were going somewhere else and we would fly out after the plane returned, so we said our goodbyes to them before we left, and took the day to just be tourists. It was great to be away from the estate and get to actually enjoy England for a bit, and we hit as many of the sights as we could. I avoided talking about the trip, and John seemed to enjoy not having to talk about magic. He did comment at one point that London was a deeply haunted city that was surprisingly full of supernatural beings doing work in human guises, and I asked him not to identify any of them for me, and he never mentioned it again.
We were having an early dinner in view of the London Eye when I received the call that the plane was back and refueled and ready for us. We arranged a place to meet the car, and were driven straight to the plane. Our luggage was already loaded on board, including the bag of things Melinda had given me. Michael was waiting to see us off, and we had a pleasant chat before boarding. He was eager to see us again, he said, and I expressed a similar interest and tried not to betray how unsettled the idea of returning to the estate made me.
John fell asleep on the plane, and I sat at the window looking out on a dark sea and thinking about the future. I had chosen to dive deeper into the supernatural world, to experience magic, to know the truth about how the world works behind the scenes. And I was still unsure if I’d done the right thing.
Beyond the door was a large bedroom. The walls were still the large stones of the basement, with tapestries and erotic paintings hanging around the space. The place was illuminated with torches that were already burning and, I suspected, never needed changed. There was a vanity, and a toilet and bathing area, and a sitting area with a bookcase of tomes that all appeared to be hundreds of years old. But the focus of the room was a large magic circle engraved into the floor, with various magical symbols and shapes worked into it. The whole thing faintly glowed, and within its space was a king-sized bed with large posts on the corners that supported a cloth roof and walls of curtains. On the bed was a naked man, who looked similar to John, though admittedly with some features from what would be my ideal man. He sat up as I entered the room, and my eyes were fixed on him as soon as they found him. I felt Roderick’s hand grabbing my shoulder and startled to a stop, and only then realized I had been walking straight toward the man. He smiled and slipped off the bed, walking toward me. In my attempts to avoid meeting his gaze again, I noticed the cabinets, and ropes tied to loops in the ceiling, and another vanity and a table of various makeups and sex toys all contained in the circle.
“You don’t usually escort the new blood, Roderick,” the man said. His voice sounded ethereal, genderless, and had an echo like it was being said by a legion at once.
“That’s because she’s not here to play with you,” Roderick said, his hand tightening ever so slightly on my shoulder. “She’s here to learn about you.”
“Oh, but I could teach her so much better if she was in here with me,” the man said, running his finger through the air. It was sending sparks as it moved, pushing against some sort of barrier, and I realized he had made it to the edge of the circle.
“What are you?” I asked.
“I’m fun,” he answered, with a smile.
“That is a fertility spirit,” Roderick said, “what names they used before coming here are long lost. Most members of the estate who know of them simply call them The Bride. If you enter their space, you will succumb to your base desires, and you will absolutely leave that space pregnant.”
“Wait, what?” I asked, turning to Roderick. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s my service to the Crown, it seems,” the man said with a wistful sigh.
“They were a deity, once,” Roderick continued. “Dominion over the spirits of the land was part of the nature of British rule; they started that practice at home. Each of them was given some task to serve the Crown, and this one was enslaved to the Hudson estate. Every Lord Hudson is introduced to them, and at least once every few generations, the firstborn of the family must be spawned in this room.”
“So a bunch of the Lord Hudsons are nephilim?” I asked. Roderick nodded. “From this guy?”
“I’m not a guy,” the spirit whined.
“That is true,” Roderick said. “This spirit takes on the form the human perceiving them most desires. It prefers to take on whatever gender can sexually reproduce with the human, if that’s an option.”
“So the Hudsons keep a shapeshifting spirit as a sex slave? Why?”
“Power,” the spirit said, “and it’s not such a bad role. You ever try it? I can show you, I’m not always the slave, you know.”
“Humans born within a few generations of a nephil are far more powerful. Sometimes you get a Warlock or Anchor, but most of the time, you end up with a natural inclination to magic that is beyond what a human without supernatural lineage can manage. After hundreds of years of this, the Hudsons—and you—have so much magical potential in your genetic makeup that you’re nearly supernatural beings in your own right.”
“So why keep doing it?” I demanded.
“Why not?” the spirit answered. “I’m here either way, and humans do so like what I have to offer.”
“Your offense is expected,” Roderick continued, ignoring the spirit. “Your great-grandfather was made aware of his inheritance as the next Lord Hudson, and since it had been a few generations, it was demanded of him to bear his firstborn child here. He opposed the idea outright, and appealed to the Crown to set The Bride free. His request was denied—the Empire needs its premier mages to be more powerful than anyone else, after all—and he chose to leave the office to his brother rather than perform this duty.”
“Does…does Michael know?” I asked, softly, turning to look at The Bride again.
“Not yet. He will be informed soon, though I expect The Bride to look surprisingly like another local spirit when he comes.”
“You’re not going to ruin the surprise, are you?” the spirit asked, pouting. I hesitated to answer, my eyes slowly drifting over their body. God, just looking at them was intoxicating.
“It is not her place,” Roderick answered, snapping me out of my reverie.
“Wait, no, I can’t—” I started, turning to Roderick. I felt, more than saw, a stern gaze from him, and fell silent.
“I am showing you this for a reason, and it is not that.”
“Then what is it?”
“You are entering a world that is far more complicated and dark than you realize. Your line was separated from it specifically to keep you safe, to shield you from knowledge of how much of it works. But if you continue down this path, you must know. You must know what you were being kept away from, that you will encounter things you will not know how to keep away from, that you will find things that disturb you and, perhaps, things that will endanger you.” He bent forward, placing his forehead against mine. I felt a comfortable warmth, like he was trying to ease my mind. “The Hudsons are bound by oath not to make your magic available to you or to make you aware of the magical side of reality. But I am not bound by that oath, and I cannot let you dive into this world without knowing what it is.”
“Thank you,” I said, closing my eyes and leaning into the posture. “I—I don’t know what to do with this.”
“You have to choose, Alice Templeton. You have to choose how much of this world you want to engage with. You must choose whether to keep the limitations put on you by your ancestors, or embrace the power within you.”
“Wait,” I said, snapping my eyes open and straightening up. “I can do that?”
“I know how to remove the spell that blocks your access to magic. And I know how to make you forget you ever learned any of this. I will do as you request.” I heard the crackle of power and realized the spirit was pressed against the barrier.
“Are you okay back there?” I asked, not wanting to risk looking at them again.
“I’m just very interested in where this is going!” they said. “I want to watch. Can I watch?”
“I don’t want to forget. And…I don’t think I want magic. I think I want to keep a little separation there. Is that possible?” I asked. Roderick nodded. “Okay. But I’m afraid. What if I’m really in danger and John can’t help? And what do I do if I have kids and they aren’t ready to handle this?”
“Oh!” the spirit called. “I know this one! I know how to do this!”
“What are you talking about?” Roderick demanded.
“Bring her in here!”
“I can drop the glamour and you know how to keep her pants on. But I can help, if you’re in here!”
“And how would you help?”
“Humans, they only think of fertility as sex. But it’s about producing, it’s about sustaining and growing! I can give her a valve, let her power grow enough to break through just a little when she really needs it. And I can change the spell so it ends with her, so her descendants have full access to their magical nature. With your help, of course. You know the original spell, after all.”
“I hardly think—” Roderick began.
“Yes,” I said, turning to look at The Bride again. To my surprise, they had changed form. There was no apparent gender, but they looked an awful lot like some kind of blend of John and Jackie. I felt no sexual compulsion. “I want that. I want what they’ve described.” I turned back to Roderick. “Can the two of you actually do that?” Roderick sighed.
“Yes. I suppose we can. But you must not allow the Hudsons to know of anything that has transpired down here, do you understand?” I nodded, and Roderick let go of me. I stepped through the barrier, and Roderick followed. The Bride led me to the center of the circle, and began running their hands over me until they reached my gut. They stopped there and stared for a moment, then looked up at Roderick.
“You did amazing work on the original spell, you know,” they said. “I don’t think this would have cracked on its own for at least another hundred generations.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere. Tell me what you need from me.” The Bride waved him over, and held his hand to my stomach. The two of them began speaking quickly, more quickly than I could follow, in sounds that didn’t even resemble any language I’d ever heard. After a few moments of that, I felt a tingle over my entire body, and a warmth that started where their hands were and spreading through me. Then they let go and stood, and I realized I felt a bit different. Like I could feel the magic, beneath the surface of my being, just waiting to be released. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, and suddenly realized I could hear the heartbeat of something small off to the side. My eyes flew open and I looked toward the wall.
“You’re attuned to life magic,” The Bride said. “You’ll learn to tune it out, to an extent.”
“What is that?” I asked.
“If that will be all,” Roderick said, straightening up and resting his hand on my shoulder.
“Well,” The Bride said, sitting seductively on the bed, “while you’re here, certain offers are still on the table.”
“Thank you, but no,” I said. I nodded to Roderick and we both began to make our way out of the circle.
“Come back any time!”
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.
It had taken a bit of convincing for the priest to talk to me alone, but I finally managed to get him to sit down with me and talk after everyone else left even if it was still out in the sanctuary. He seemed more willing to talk once I suggested that it was about a cult operating in the area, and he began there.
“What is your connection to this cult, I’m sorry, what was your name, young lady?” he asked, kneeling backward in the pew in front of me.
“Alice Templeton. My connection to them?”
“Yes. Have you been approached by them? Do you know someone who has fallen into the cult?”
“Oh! Actually no, sorry, I’m actually involved in investigating them.”
“You’re here from America?” he asked. I nodded. “It seems awfully strange for you to come all this way to investigate a group to whom you have no direct tie.”
“Well, I’m actually here as part of a team that was hired by a local with a vested interest.”
“What kind of vested interest?”
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss my client’s interests.”
“Well then.” He turned to sit in the pew, sideways so he could still see me, but he appeared a bit less invested. “What does this investigation have to do with me?”
“It’s the nature of the cult. They’re called the Brood of Nachash, and they have a theological mandate to overthrow all organized religion, by force if necessary. We’ve learned that they are planning a strike against the Church of England.”
“Oh my. Do you really suppose they would be interested in our little church?”
“It’s hard to tell. They have certainly been active in the area, so we can’t discount the possibility.”
“You seem very confident in that claim. Are you certain they’ve been active here?”
“Yes. We apprehended a few cultists last night in the midst of a ritual.”
“This sounds very serious.” He steepled his fingers against his mouth for a moment, then stood and straightened his shirt. “Perhaps we should send your warning along. Come with me, we should waste no time.” He began walking toward a door near the stage, and I followed. “Is there any way I can talk to the cultists you apprehended? It may be a long shot, but perhaps they will be willing to tell me something they have not told you.”
“That…won’t be possible. I’m sorry, they are not available for outside questioning at this time.”
He led me to his office, and indicated a pair of chairs facing his desk, where the phone was sitting. I sat down as he closed the door.
“So you managed to capture a few members of the cult last night, you said? During a ritual?” He hadn’t walked away from the door yet, and as I turned to respond to his question I saw him pull a small leather book and a pen from his pocket.
“Four of them? And you got them to talk to you?”
“We managed to get some information from them, yes. Did I say there was four of them? I don’t remember saying that.”
“Hm.” He jotted down a note and then closed the book and set it aside. “Here’s the thing, Miss Templeton,” he said, calmly, as he locked the door. I gripped the arms of the chair as I suddenly realized I didn’t know another way out of the room. “You and I are both aware those cultists are dead, are we not?”
“How do you—”
“We are connected. Or were. I felt something disrupt our network, and then they died shortly after I reconnected with them. Quite strange.” He slowly paced toward me, and I stood and began backing away. “I was planning on following the trail to where they died today, learn a bit more about who found us and what they learned, and then you just come waltzing in saving me all that effort!”
“Look, I don’t know what you think I did, but—” I tried to buy time as I made my way around his desk and found myself pressed against the wall, but he wasn’t waiting for me to finish.
“Well, let’s see.” He muttered something and held out his hand. A fireball formed over it, and he threw it in my direction. I screamed and ducked and it hit the wall above me. “You weren’t the one who cut off the network. And I doubt you were the one doing the actual questioning; though if it had been someone powerful enough to break a ley line, I doubt I would have felt it happen when it did, which suggests at least two others in your team, yes?” He continued to make his way slowly toward me. “But they sent you here alone. I wonder why.” Another fireball formed over his hand, and he played with it as it danced along his fingertips. I made a dash around his desk, on the opposite side as him, trying to get to the door before he could react, but the fireball hit me square in the side and I crumpled to the floor with a yelp. I slid myself away as best I could as I tried to catch my breath. He formed another fireball.
“Please, no, listen—”
“I am only interested in knowing who you’re working with, and what you’ve learned about the Brood. Is that what you’re planning on saying, Miss Templeton?”
“I…I don’t, I just—”
“It doesn’t sound like you’re ready to talk. We can work on that.” He raised his hand as if to throw again, but there was a sudden crackle in the air, like there was when Matteson cut off the ley line. As soon as that hit, the fireball dissipated and the priest screamed in pain, stumbling backward. I don’t know where I found the strength, but as soon as I knew he wasn’t prepared to stop me, I made for the door again. He roared and grabbed a knife from a high bookshelf as I fumbled with the lock, yanking the door open just as he gathered the energy to lunge at me. I heard him hit the door and I ran as fast as I could, holding my side and crying. The tears were making my vision blurry, and I heard the knife clang into the ground behind me. Then there were footsteps in the hall, the priest rushing after me. I stumbled and tried to push myself forward when I felt his hand close around my ankle. I spun around onto my back and kicked, but he deflected the blow with his other hand. Then he grabbed the knife, and as he started to straighten I saw an opportunity and kicked for his groin as hard as I could with my free leg. He howled and let go, falling backward and dropping the knife. I pushed myself to my feet, grabbed the knife, and continued running. I heard him screaming after me, but I got outside before he caught up to me, and collapsed into the grass beside the sidewalk. I gripped the knife, watching the door, but the priest didn’t emerge. As soon as I caught my breath, I slowly rose and stumbled away, holding my side. Once I was a safe distance, I leaned against the wall of what looked to be a florist and pulled out my phone to call Matteson.
Biology major on the edges of the 'burgh.