NaNo 2013

My first NaNo project was a little more than the 50k word count officially set for NaNoWriMo events. But banging out just the 50k was all I could manage in the craziness that is November. So I picked the story back up and took it with me to Camp NaNo in April. It’s still lacking one or two scenes before the close, but once I’ve finished! Holy cats and hooray!  I’ve put the whole naked thing up here in all it’s rough draft glory, should any of you be curious to see how someone else’s word pile looks at the end of November/April/July. I promise, the only editing I’ve done is whatever typo mopping caught my eye here and there, and rearranging the scenes so that everything is in the correct order (and hopefully, editing out all of my along the way notes). If you’re curious about the day by day, blow by blow, you can find that all in my blog archives. Now, without further ado and no more excuses,

Haven: Awakening

Prologue

Rook sat bolt up in bed. She was awake. He had waited nearly 20 years since he first felt her return to this world, and now, suddenly, she was finally awake.

He wanted to fly from his bed immediately, to take to the skies and search for the beacon that would be her fractured mind, but he settled himself back into the tangle of sheets and bodies and willed himself to be still. She was awake, but she was still just a mortal human girl, and drawing attention to her now would only put her in danger. Still, he was unable to return to sleep, so as he lay back, he let himself imagine all the possibilities of her new form.

In the past, she had been short, tall, dark, fair, blonde, brunette, red-head, all number of combinations, but he’d known her each time just the same. How could he forget what was once a part of his soul?

“Maybe this time I’ll even find her before anyone else,” he mused, smile playing at his lips. Ever the optimist. No wonder he’d been kicked out of The Black Legion.

Chapter 1

Brooke got up and went to school that morning, like she did every morning, and like she would do every morning for this very last school year. Her mother was in bed, or wasn’t even actually home, like she was every morning, though for whatever stupid reason, at the start of every school year, Brooke always hoped to see her in the kitchen, just once, making breakfast and ready to see her off. She sighed and poured a glass of orange juice once she’d popped a waffle in the toaster and sipped at it absently. Her thoughts were on nothing, a shapeless void as she stared at the dial on the toaster.

Then suddenly, his thoughts were on the dive the economy had taken, and how business had just dried up, and there hadn’t seem liked there was any other choice but to jump, really. The wind on his face had felt so good, like when he used to go sailing on the Lakes with his uncle and –

Brooke jumped at the popping toaster, startled by her own reflection. It had seemed so real, the feelings and memories of the …accountant? Yes, he had been in his late 30’s when he’d jumped, an act of true hopelessness. He’d left behind no wife, no family, no assets – nothing was holding him to this world.

Nothing but my overactive imagination, Brooke thought to herself. She’d gotten the writing bug sometime this summer, characters just popping unbidden into her mind, gripping her thoughts until something happened to snap her out of it, like the toaster just now. If she cared to, she could re-wind her thoughts and see who had been in them, thinking what things, and if she followed it carefully could see their whole life unfold before her. Some of them were bleak and empty, like the accountant, and some of them were flat tragic, and all of them were dead. She’d thought to worry about that at first, but it was so often the death of a character that came to mind first, like working its way backward that it just seemed the natural way to do it, now. Living her own life in forward motion almost seemed wrong.

She followed the life of the accountant all through the bus ride to school, though there really wasn’t much to it. She jotted down notable thoughts and impressions all through the welcome back orientation, but by the end of it she’d tapped Harold out. His life just hadn’t been that interesting. She felt bad for thinking so, when his end seemed so lonely, but it was true. Maybe she’d invent some interesting life points for him later to make it up to him that in the end he had to die.

The rest of her day was eaten up by syllabi and catching up with friend’s forgotten over the summer, and by the time she’d made it home, she’d quite forgotten about Harold the jumper accountant.

Her mother was in the living room, doing follow along yoga on the Wii she’d gotten “for” Brooke for Christmas. Brooke tried to sneak straight upstairs from the kitchen, but her shadow crossing the french doors was enough to get her mother’s attention.

“Brooke,” she called, “How was your first day?”

“The same as last year,” she said, dropping her backpack on the stairs and heading back for the kitchen. She may as well eat if her mother was going to keep her down here.

“That’s good,” she said absently, debating over which pose to do next.

Brooke rolled her eyes, and continued in the same tone. “I watched a man jump off a building today.”

Her mother made some acknowledging noise as she tried “focus her breathing” and “find her center”. Brooke popped some Bagel Bites in the microwave, then grabbed the shopping list note pad off the fridge and began to take stock of what was low. If her mother was here, doing vaguely domestic things, she’d likely go to the grocery store before going off on her next “weekend” trip. Brooke could take the bus and do the shopping on her own, but she hated all the looks she got, and hated spending any of her step-father’s money directly. She could overlook that he’d moved the two of them into this huge house, with it’s four bedrooms and fully finished basement on the hill, and even was usually able to ignore that most of her world possessions were given to her by him as bribes to like him. But every time she used the charge card he’d given her, she felt dirty, like she was no better than her mother. Oh sure, Brooke was certain her mother liked the man she’d married well enough, but she liked the idea of him more than the actually, Brooke was sure. She liked being whisked to far off places and getting special treatment because she was so and so’s guest and knowing that everyone was looking at her and talking about her and it all just seemed really ridiculous to Brooke, but whatever.

She stopped her bagels just before the timer went off so the ding wouldn’t catch her mother’s attention, and she grabbed a soda and crept toward the stairs. When she picked up with backpack without her mother stirring, she figured she was in the clear and walked up the stairs at normal speed.

Mood pretty well deflated after that pretty typical encounter, Brooke pulled all of her books out of her bag and started transferring various due dates into her day planner. When she finished, she made sticky notes of which chapters were being covered when and put them all in their right places in each book, feeling rather accomplished and responsible by the time she was done. Then she fired up her laptop and started playing on her favorite virtual pet site while Iming her friends about what a drag this class was and how so and so had gotten a new car and the like. She went to bed hours after she’d meant to but not too terribly long after midnight.

She was having the battlefield dream again. She always meant to write it down the next morning when she got up, so she could track and catalog when she had it, but she never seemed to remember to until a week or so later, and by then she could never seem to track down exactly which night it had been. She let the thought go and sunk more fully into the dreamscape, determined to soak up as many details as she could this time.

The plain was littered with bodies, each army retreated into the hills to rest and regroup. On a rocky outcropping near the top of the tallest hill, a figure in a long, black cape stood and surveyed the scene. She watched as the circling crows descended, taking the shapes of pale women when they touched the ground. The moved about the fallen soldiers, kneeling here and there to touch one seemingly at random. But even circling so high overhead, Brooke could something subtle change about each soldier they touched, some virtue going out of the fallen to leave them just so much dead meat.

She banked, wheeling around in a wide turn to bring herself to the rock where the figure stood. She landed near her, taking on a human form herself and standing at the figure’s side, waiting to be addressed. Some nights, Brooke could remember what the figure said, some nights not, but it never stayed with her into the waking world. All she could remember was that this was a memory of an argument long forgotten by either side, one in many that would lead to …something. She woke to the sound of her alarm and rolled over to climb into a shower, an attempt to chase away the fog in her head.

Chapter 2

Rook paced back and forth in front of the bar, supremely agitated. He’d felt her awaken over a month ago, but there had been no other obvious signs after that. Not even any vague, could be taken that way if he really wanted to signs. And he really wanted to. After centuries of tracking her patterns and learning to recognize that particular tug in his gut, he’d finally figured out how to predict when and where she would be coming, and had managed to insinuate himself into the community of the town she’d be born in decades before her arrival. No one here knew it was him, and no one following him would suspect this of being anything other than his usual flights of fancy. It was entirely too soon for him to have known she’d come, but a few years later, he’d been rewarded with that particular tug in his gut – and quite far ahead of schedule, too. Rook had taken that as a sign that he’d figured it out this time, he was definitely in the right place. All he had to do was wait.

He’d amused himself for the first few years assuming his new identity, making friends with the locals and enemies with others, building a reputation- he so dearly loved his reputations. Jon had become increasingly short with him until he’d finally opened Rook’s bar and given Jon a place to find new outlets for his frustrations. It wasn’t that Jon resented Rook, more it was that Rook himself was increasingly frustrated, and as his working partner, Rook left all the being frustrated to Jon. Rook handled all the hostessing, and life went on.

However, no one who had checked in with him in the past decade, nor anyone who had come to the bar had been remotely interesting, at least on a grand scale, and Rook was getting tired of waiting. He knew she was here somewhere and he knew sooner or later her signal would get strong enough for other people to notice – not to mention if she was undergoing her Awakening, there’d be all sorts of interesting powers cropping up in her life, almost certainly at the wrong moments in front of all the wrong people and GAH!

Rook slammed a fist down on the bar, earning nothing more than a raise eyebrow from Jon. “Go take a walk somewhere else, birdie. I’m tired just from watching you.”

Rook’s head whipped toward him and he pursed his lips at Jon and glared. “A lot of damned help you’ve been- where the hell is she? Don’t you have anything yet?” Jon just quietly continued wiping glasses – why were bartenders always wiping glasses? Didn’t he buy a damned dishwasher when he’d opened the place? “Some familiar you are!” he spat, spinning away and plopping himself down in a stool. He was in a foul mood, with no one around but Jon to take it out on.

Jon set down the glass he’d been working on and picked up another. “I’m not your damned familiar Rook, we’ve been over this.” His tone was flat and disinterested, he knew better than to let Rook get to him.

“Oh Sergi,” Rook purred, swiveling around on his seat to make goo goo eyes at Jon. “What ever else did you think dedicated platonic life partner meant? You sure as hell aren’t getting laid in this arrangement.”

“If I am or not is none of your business,” he said, putting the glass down and crossing his arms. “And contrary to your popular delusion people are capable of having sex without your presence.”

Rook shushed him with a little tut tut tut noise. “But is it good sex Sergio? No, no,” he said, holding up a finger. “We both know the answer to that. No need to waste your breath.”

“Every word I say to you is wasted breath,” he muttered, turning away to do anything else but argue with his infuriating little boss. It was too early for this shit.

Rook sighed dramatically and lay back against the bar. “I’m just so bored Jonathan. Behaving was never one of my strong suits.”

“Adversity teaches virtue,” Jon tossed back over his shoulder. He was grateful Rook had let up, he didn’t really feel like using up all of his patience for the day before noon. Why he ever left his room before the bar officially opened was beyond him. Masochism probably.

And then Rook was gone, disappearing in a puff of completely unnecessary feathers. Jon rolled his eyes and went for the broom, knowing Rook would never clean up after himself.

Brooke moved through the next several days on auto-pilot, hearing but not listening, seeing but not absorbing. She’d never been particularly spacey, but lately she just couldn’t hold a thought. Oh sure, when a character came to mind, they were engaging enough, but Brooke just couldn’t seem to care. Their lives were all petty and boring and done, no matter how interesting they might be to the characters themselves. Oh, sure, the events leading to their deaths were all compelling enough, if you weren’t already bored to tears of people dying, which Brooke was. Why she couldn’t imagine someone interesting, with adventures, she’d never know.

And then one afternoon, while she was typing up a particularly insistent character’s story instead of working on her English paper, something very interesting, and very disturbing happened.

Brooke fell completely out of her own head.

There was no other way to describe it, she was in her skull one moment, and the next she was just …somewhere else, watching her body carry on without her. Confused, she tried to push her way back into her head, but she couldn’t. It was full. There was no room for her inside her own skull. Panic starting to set in, Brooke pushed harder, and managed to squeeze out the tiniest space in the back of her head, behind whatever was filling it.

It was an ifrit.

She didn’t know what an ifrit was, or had even heard the word before, but she knew it was an ifrit, and its thoughts were on fire. It burned to look at and to touch and it scared her because it was in her head and it had pushed her out. Freaking right the hell out, she shoved with all her might and felt something give, and suddenly she was back in her body and her hands were her own and everything was just as normal as it had been ten minutes ago.

But it had been ten minutes.

7:01 her clock read. 7. 0. 1. Her last IM had been to Mel at 6:47, and then she’d gone back to her little story. Sure, maybe she’d typed for longer than she’d thought- maybe she was making the whole thing up- but a gnawing feeling in the pit of her gut told her she wasn’t wrong.

There had been something else in her body for ten whole minutes.

Brooke ran to the bathroom and threw up.

She felt cold inside, so she striped down and started the shower, turning it as hot as she could stand. She rinsed the bile from her mouth, then just stood for a minute, letting the water slide down her skin. Her skin turned pink, but the heat did nothing to warm her core. There was a hollow feeling inside, like a place where a fire should be burning that was empty and cold.

It wasn’t gone.

Brooke realized quite suddenly that the cold was from the ifrit, naked and lost without a flame to live in, and cold now that it had been outted from the bright warm place it had tried to curl up in. Brooke cut off the shower and wrapped herself in a towel, darting back across the hall to her room. At a lose for what else to do, she lit the hazelnut toffee candle she’d picked up because it smelled like her favorite coffee shop and stared into the flames.

It was probably her imagination, but she could have sworn she watched the flame jump, and a pressure between her eyes released. Completely spooked, she got up from her desk and turned to take in her room at large, determined to find something else to think about. She picked up her dirty laundry, tidied her bookshelves, re-organized her closet and finally, finally, was tired enough she just collapsed face down on the bed and went to sleep.

The candle flame politely burned a little lower so as not to wake her.

She awoke bright and early the next morning, before her alarm ever went off.

Because it was Saturday. There was no school that day. But she was awake at 6:03 a. m. anyways.

Brooke laid there a moment, trying to will herself back to sleep, but it didn’t work. With a resigned sigh, she rolled over and got out of bed. She even stopped and made the bed, since she had this whole, wide, empty day ahead of her.

It was really time to start hanging out with other people again.

She’d gone a little reclusive when her mother had announced her engagement and their impending move. It wasn’t even particularly far, she was still in the same school district even, but somehow this huge, sprawling house just felt like a prison. She hadn’t invited a single person over since they’d moved, hiding at first behind needing to unpack, then just going MIA over most of the summer, not answering texts or emails, completely ignoring calls, just apathetic.

It was over the summer that she’d started writing.

She’d wondered at first if it was her way of acting out, these crazy voices in her head telling her about their deaths. Or if she was trying to replace the friends she’d estranged herself from. At one point, she was convinced that was it, that it was her valiant effort to work through the mess of growing up without a dad and blah blah blah. She’d even tried imagining his story, this crazy tale of a man that had died when she was very young, leaving her with a gift for hearing the dead…

She’d gotten absolutely nothing good out of it. Each word was a labor, an effort to see what came next and eventually she got frustrated and gave up.

Putting those thoughts away, she resolved to out into the world and make the most of this day, since she was awake anyways. On the bright side, being back in school meant she’d probably be getting up at a more regular time every weekend, since she was getting up for school. That meant probably getting back into regular classes at the dance studio near Early Bird, the coffee shop she liked to hang out at. She’d avoided it since the move, feeling like it was somehow taken from her, but today she would end her boycott, finally admitting that the only one she’d been punishing was herself.

She changed out of her pjs and into some work out clothes digging her mat out of the closet and tying it to her laptop bag. In went the phone and the little drawstring back she used like a purse and she was all set. She bounced downstairs to the kitchen, making herself a faux Orange Julius with a vanilla breakfast powder and some OJ and headed out the door.

She had adamantly refused when her step-father had offered to buy her a car for her birthday, going so far as to avoid even learning how to drive. Her mother didn’t push the issue, being too caught up in the excitement of their relatively new romance at the time, so when Brooke pulled out of the garage, it was on a bike. She took more or less her morning bus route, not quite knowing her way around here yet but knowing that the studio was near school, and school was that way. Once on the other side of town, familiarity began to kick in and she found the studio with ease.

She’d missed the very beginning of the yoga class, but it was the dance session afterward she’d really wanted to catch anyways. She rolled out her mat in the back of the room, running through some quick spine warm ups since her limbs were pretty well loose from the bike ride. When she felt ready, she joined in with the rest of the class, finishing out the stretches and feeling herself settle more fully within her own skin. Then the yoga people were packing up, and any dancers not already there were gearing up for the belly dance basics.

The teacher chatted at everybody as they all warmed up, talking about this event put on here, and that event there, and this workshop would be offered then. All the soccer moms gave happy gasps when the African dance workshop was announced and Brooke rolled her eyes. Supposedly the instructor was super hot or something, but the class always filled up pretty much within the first day of being posted, and Brooke never bothered. She hated feeling crammed into the dance space, and would hate to deprive someone who really wanted to go. She swallowed down her mental sarcasm and focused on the lesson that was beginning.

After class, Brooke wandered down the street to the Early Bird, a little ahead of the usual pack that walked down there because of her bike. Most of the women were older, well above her age group, but she’d gotten involved with the studio when her school had started letting students sub in regular morning yoga there for Phys Ed credits. Most kids weren’t willing to get up early enough to make it, but Brooke had found it infinitely preferable to dodge ball and walking the track, and had started going on Saturdays she was up anyways, like today. Curiosity about the class afterward made her stay and watch one day, and encouragement from one of the dancers from the gypsy style troupe associated with the studio made her get up and try it, and she’d been in love with it ever since. The tribal style dancing seemed to actually work with the music more than any “dancing” that was popular with her friends, and it just felt right inside her body. Plus, a lot of the gypsy dancers were really amazing to watch and at least one or two of them usually made it to every basics practice.

Beating the after-class wave meant that Brooke could have her pick of the seats, and she curled up in one of the overstuffed chairs in the back and got out her laptop. Feeling pleased and languid from class, she opened a blank word file and just let her mind wander. She unfocused her gaze and let it slide over the various patrons, letting them “speak” to her.

With her recent introversion came an enjoyment of people watching – a way to be near people but not have to be with them. She’d let her mind wander, making up stories about who they were when they left the coffee shop/mall/bus stop. Sometimes they would be rather mundane – this woman on the way to dentist appointment, this man going to the grocery store- but sometimes she’d be feeling more creative. The man with the newspaper was meeting someone in secret and didn’t want to be recognized, the women whispering in hushed tones in the corner were planning …something? No, idle chatter, they weren’t brave enough to actually act on their plans against this Ferdinand dude, but they were pretty pissed with him nonetheless.

Then sometimes, things got downright bizarre.

Most of Brooke’s characters were pretty down to earth people. They might have some interesting point to their stories, but they were ultimately just regular joes, nothing out of the ordinary. But sometimes, when Brooke’s imagination really ran away with her, their stories would stray into the fantastical. The women, and Ferdinand, were werewolves. The blonde walking out the door was a witch, balking at her mother’s pressures to be “more traditional”. One of the newer girls from dance class was a shapeshifter, and when she practiced at home alone sometimes she’d let feathers trail down her arm, adding to the grace of the movement. The sisters who ran this shop were faeries, and that’s why their garden always had the best produce. That thought particularly amused her as she imagined the glum look on the barista’s face was from the oldest sister scolding her about the late season tomatoes. Brooke jumped when the girl shot her a dirty look and the thought Mind your own business lashed across her mind with a vicious sting. Brooke curled in on herself, deciding to pull up an old story and work on it instead.

Brooke wrote for about an hour, nursing her tea long and nibbling at her scone absently. She’d been trying to flesh out the hows and whys leading up to young mother’s death but wasn’t having much luck. That was what usually happened when she sat down to a piece she’d walked away from. It was eaiser to find the details if she wrote in the same space, but even then, it usually wouldn’t come back. She went back to the beginning, again, hoping the original thought would spark something.

All her thoughts were on the baby, and if there was any way they were both going to make it. Realistically, she should just give the kid up, there just weren’t enough resources for the both of them. But love wasn’t realistic…

Nope, no good. All Brooke could see was a pair of pale hands, wrapped around a tiny bundle, staring in confusion at her shaking hands, her shivering hands, and being so tired…

The woman and her baby had frozen to death. She’d placed them in the alley near one of the bus stops on a route she commonly took, that’s where she had first heard them, and it was as lonely a place to die as any. Feeling cold just from the thought of that brutal winter, she got up to order another tea.

The girl behind the counter was usually fairly friendly, and when Brooke approached, she ratcheted up the smile a few notches.

“Sorry about earlier,” she said pleasantly. “I’m totally having an off day.”

Brooke returned her smile and nodded, not really sure what she was talking about, but that was often the case when she’d been writing. Especially when working with a new character. Sometimes she felt downright possessed.

“No worries,” she said as she set her mug on the counter. “I’ll take another of the same, please.”

“Sure thing,” the barista said and moved off to start Brooke’s tea. When the bell went off over the door, Brooke turned to see who had come in. The woman looked rough, like she’d pulled an all nighter or something, and Brooke quickly moved to get out of her way. She slid a $5 across the counter for her tea and walked over to the pick up end. She was always happy to over-tip with step-dad’s money. He was happy enough to throw it around, Brooke was just helping him aim.

The barista called out for her sister to come take the register while she finished Brooke’s tea. When her sister emerged from the store room, she stopped, took a quick look around the room and zeroed in on the woman at the counter. Her normally pleasant face fell slightly, a pinching around the eyes, but she moved to take the woman’s order anyways. When they’d settled up, and woman came to wait, Brooke found herself shying away, and immediately felt silly. This aversion to socializing had gone on long enough. She deliberately turned to the woman and gave her a friendly smile.

“One of those days, huh?”

The woman nodded and stifled a yawn. “Yeah, I’ve been really dragging lately. I think I’ve got a cold, or something. Just can’t get going, ya know?”

Brooke nodded sympathetically. “I hear ya. School starting back in this week has been killer. And yet here I am, up early on the weekend.” She laughed and shook her head at herself.

Both sisters then moved to the counter with both drinks, and Brooke and the woman both stepped up to the counter. Brooke accidentally bumped the woman, spilling a little of her coffee over the side of the mug. “Oh, I’m sorry!” she said quickly, reaching for some napkins.

“It’s ok, the surprise and adrenaline seems to have helped me perk up,” the woman answered brightly. Brooke quickly helped her mop up the small spill, curling in on herself mentally. It was stupid to talk to this random stranger, it hadn’t made her feel any better, in fact, now she felt worse. She mumbled another apology and slunk back to her seat, a cloud over her head.

She sat hunched over her coffee, brooding over her stupid mistake. The embarrassment of it all pressed down like a weight, slumping her over in her chair. She set her tea down and flipped her laptop back open to distract her from beating herself up. She let her gaze fall over the crowd, looking for inspiration.

Asha’s sister found a thousand little reasons to stay up front, including wiping down the counter from the spill and going to chat to the woman to make sure she was ok. She had thought there was something off about the woman when she came in, but she chatted amiably enough and the caffeine had indeed seemed to wake her up, so she was willing to let it go.

When the niggling feeling in the back of her head turned into a poking feeling, however, she went back on guard. Something was trying to worm its way in past her shields, so she followed the trail back to the girl while the tea and the laptop. She was surrounded by shadowy tendrils, spreading out and touching nearly everyone inside. Sky above, she had a feeder in her shop. Perfect.

She walked over to the girl, trying to keep her motions casual and her face polite. No need to upset anyone. It was just as natural as a fly around fruit – as long as you dealt with it quickly there was no need to worry. Humans were entirely too sensitive about insects anyways. But this was more than just a shop, this was their home, and it was her right to stake this claim and ask this girl to stop, or move along.

She reached the girl and cleared her throat, steeling herself for the confrontation. The girl snapped her head up, blinking, confused. She’d probably been arm deep in half the people here. Lovely.

“I’m sorry,” she said politely, “I hate to interrupt, but this garden is ours, and we don’t allow feeding here.”

Brooke was startled when the old sister came over and spoke to her, and even more confused by what she said. “It’s a coffee shop, what do you mean we can’t eat here?”

She was taken aback by the girl’s response, but pressed on. “Well, certainly, if you’d like to purchase one of our baked goods, but I must ask that you put your …feelers away.” She felt the tendril that was poking at her withdraw, but a quick glance showed the rest of them still feed. She coughed again, growing uncomfortable. “Um, all of them please. We really don’t mean to be rude, but, well, you’re being rather rude yourself…”

Brooke was completely lost now. The barista was glancing about nervously, stammering, and making absolutely no sense. No wanting to cause a scene, she closed her laptop and made ready to leave. She kept her eyes on the barista, like you would a stray dog, and spoke to her a slow, quiet voice.

“Alright, I’m leaving. No need for any trouble. Could you just put my tea in a to go cup for me?”

Grateful for a peaceful conclusion to the encounter, the sister (Dana) moved quickly to grab the mug and retreat. She darted in too quickly, however, and bumped into Brooke’s arm. Instantly, the situation became clear. It wasn’t the girl, it was a Rider. No wonder she looked so lost. Immediately, she started apologizing all over herself, worried she’d upset a patron.

“Gosh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it wasn’t you. Oh! You don’t either. I’m sorry, I’m being awful rude. You, uh, you seem to have a Rider, hadn’t you noticed? It doesn’t look like it’s in there too deep, I’m sure if you just flex a bit it’ll fall right off.”

The barista was babbling now, and Brooke was getting down right uncomfortable. This was bizarre, totally bizarre. And what the hell was a Rider?

“Um, excuse me? What are you talking about?”

“Oh-Oh! Oh skies, you’re a human, you don’t even know. Damn! I have got to start paying more attention before I speak- Hold on, I’ve got this.” She reached in between the girl’s aura and the Rider, sending a thought like a bulging root. It popped right off, about like she’d expected, then she turned to work on the girl. She sent the root down in past her aura to reach her memory of this conversation and prune it. She should have been paying more attention, she hadn’t realized this girl was human, she shouldn’t have outed themselves like that and OW!

Pain shot up her root thought, pushing her back and out of the girl’s mind. She hissed in pain and reached out for the girl’s arm to strengthen her hold. She was only slightly mollified to know that she’d hadn’t been wrong about the girl not being completely human. Mostly she just wanted this girl gone, but first, she had a memory to alter.

Brooke freaked out when the barista started babbling, then suddenly went slack faced, eyes back in her head. Suddenly she regretted picking this chair in the back corner. No one could really see them but the younger barista, and she didn’t seem inclined to come rescue Brooke from her crazy sister. She felt a funny pressure, like her ears popping, then felt crushed under the weight of a huge tree or a great rock. She pushed back against it, struggling to breathe around the sensation. Something in her snapped, and turned the pressure around, narrowing it into a tiny barb of pain. The barista reached out and snatched Brooke’s wrist, and her gaze misted over red. She had a flash of her dream of the battlefield, of circling high overhead the fallen soldiers, of plummeting to earth and falling into a human shape and feeding, pulling that last little tiny spark of life from a fallen form-

And then big arms were around her, and she was being led around the back of the counter and into the backroom of the Early Bird Coffee Shop.

––

It had been lucky for the girls that Meliki had stopped by to pick up some seedlings to take home to her own garden. The sisters on morning duty were young enough to not really know to handle some of the more delicate situations that could pop up in a non-Haven setting. Usually, that wasn’t a problem, as most of the nastier supernaturals were limited to nocturnal activity, but every so often, something bizarre like this happened. Who could have ever guessed that some untrained kid with a natural talent for death magic would come wandering into their shop at ten in the morning.

The girl had been in and out of consciousness since Meliki had led her to the back of the shop and down into the girls’ little sithen. It wasn’t a true faerie den, just a little pocket Meliki had built for them so they’d have a home away from home when they’d moved into the shop, but it ate the girl’s strange death magic up, and that was all she really needed from it right this second. That, and it kept her isolated from whoever had that tracking ward on her. If someone was willing to send an untrained time bomb like her into one of her businesses, she wanted to be as fully in control of the encounter as she could be, and that included deciding when and where she would release this girl’s energy signatures. Because she would release her, she wasn’t stupid enough to think she could hold a minor captive without repercussions, but she would do it on her on time, her own way.

Brooke awoke with the sound of her blood rushing in her ears. She couldn’t sit up, and wasn’t sure she’d want to even if she thought she could. Her head felt like it was full of cotton, her mouth too. Her throat was raw, like she’d been screaming.

Delicate hands wrapped around her shoulders and guided her upright slightly, enough to slip an arm around her back. Then a cup was pressed to her lips and she sipped at the water greedily. The girl who was holding her whispered soothing sounds, pulling the water away before Brooke could make herself sick. Tentatively, Brooke opened her eyes.

The room she was in was dark, and smelled powdery, like crushed gravel. There was a wet smell she couldn’t identify, it made the air seem cooler, though maybe that was just the darkness. Or maybe it was the water, sitting in her belly like a cold, smooth stone. A lot like a stone, actually. She was pretty sure she couldn’t move now, at least not get up and walk around. She tried to panic but she was just too groggy.

“I’m sorry for the well water,” a familiar voice said. “Meliki insisted, and none of us really know what else to do with you, anyway…” She trailed off, and Brooke swallowed a few times to make her throat work.

“Wha- wher- huh?”

The girl made more shushing sounds and laid Brooke back down. “Meliki will explain. I’ve probably said more than I should have, you shouldn’t have been awake just yet.”

A sudden light pierced the darkness and Brooke winced away from it. The barista – she was able to recognize her as one of the sisters before turning away from the light – pulled away and mumbled something to the woman had just entered the room before making a hasty retreat.

Chapter 3

“We can’t move her now we’ve given her well water – she’s mostly human, she’ll go mad.” Asha spoke in a rapid, whispered hiss, terrified to be speaking up to their leader but concerned that no one was concerned for the safety of the girl they’d suddenly captured. She was fond of the young writer, had wondered where she’d been all summer and had been happy to see her back, even with all the witch magic draped all over her. Young people weren’t always in control of what their elders subjected them to- Asha knew that well. She didn’t hold this girl’s actions against her. She’d watched her for long enough that she felt she knew the girl, and knew she wasn’t happy with whatever change had brought the witch into her life. She was a victim here, and Asha knew she was the only one who could speak for her.

Meliki’s face was a stern, but her tone was soft. “Don’t worry about her, child. I’ve laid my plans carefully.” Asha flinched at the suggestion that she had been implying Meliki had overlooked something. She ducked her head deference and hurried from the room.

Meliki moved to sit cross-legged on the floor by where the girl lay. She took a moment to connect herself to the bare earth beneath her, sinking her fingers into the dirt before she spoke.

“Before you say anything, please refrain from identifying yourself in any way. It will be considered a sign of good faith that I haven’t used your ignorance against you. Knowing your name would give me power over you, and as I understand it, you are a pawn in this game.”

Brooke’s head was spinning. She felt like she had the flu, aches and chills and a headache the size of a mountain. And now this stranger was ranting at her about games and names and she just wanted to throw up and pass back out.

“Please,” she croaked. “I don’t know what’s going on but I’m going to be sick.”

Meliki reached out a hand to her brow, leaving the other firmly connected to the earth. She let the alien magic of the well water in her system drain away into the sithen floor, until she started to feel the girl’s own magic surface again. She didn’t know how much more she could feed to this mini-sithen before its magic started to become tainted. Reluctantly, she pushed a little magic back into the girl.

“I’m sorry, that’s the most relief I can offer you. Did it help?”

The woman’s hand was cool on her forehead, and it helped ease the knot in her stomach. Brooke nodded, knowing it would be felt through the hand on her head. She felt tiny and weak and just wanted to sleep again. That had been good, that had been featureless, devoid of thought or dream, safe. Awake, her brain kept throwing her images of dark wings and reaching hands and everything was red and violent and it made something in the back of her throat start to rise, like bile but sickly sweet and coppery. She shuddered and turned away from the memory, focusing instead on the now. She was somewhere dark and wet with a stranger, a stranger inclined to talk, so let her.

“Tell me what’s going on.”

“Alright,” Meliki said with a sigh. She had been expecting this. “But you must promise to listen.”

Duh, why wouldn’t she listen? But when the woman made no attempt to continue, Brooke cleared her throat and said aloud, “I promise.”

Meliki gave a satisfied hmmm and began.

“The world you live in is not the world you think it to be. The world of your dreams is closer to reality than you think. No, I don’t know exactly what it is that you dream,” she said quickly, when she felt the girl tense under her hand, “but I know that you do dream, because when you are asleep, you are not actively fighting the reality the rest of you feels. When you sleep, when you daydream, you see things that seem impossible, but I promise you, they are very real. The tree you felt invading your mind, the stone that now sits in your belly, those are both the magic of my daughters, the fey who run this shop.”

She paused a moment, letting the girl reflect on her own feelings, letting her heart whisper to her that all this was true.

“All the people you see come and go, that don’t feel quite right, that seem a little “off” to you – they are creatures of legend. Witches, faeries, vampires, shape shifters- and more you can’t even imagine. Mermaids, dragons…” She paused, and let the light from within her shine out from behind her eyes, illuminating the darkness. “Even gods.”

The shock and confusion was clear on the girl’s face, but something else was looking out from behind her eyes, something very, very old. It whispered to her secrets in the night, secrets Meliki could not even guess at. What on earth had stumbled into her daughters’ home?

She drew a deep breath, and continued speaking, before the girl’s ancient eyes wore her down, and she lost her nerve. Her, losing her nerve. Aiya.

“You know this all to be true, you heart tells it to you, does it not?”

Brooke found herself nodding automatically, moving almost as if under the control of something else. Her ears were ringing and her head was pounding even worse than before.

The girl was long gone. She might be aware of what was happening, but whatever lived inside her was pushing its way to the surface, and Meliki was simply not ready for that to happen. She reached for the well water within the girl, twisting it and making it bubble, til it pushed the girl back to unconsciousness.

“Ceira!” she called back up the stairs. “Nanae!”

It was Asha who answered first – she had been sitting in the hall, listening to the whole thing. Meliki hadn’t told her not to, and she hadn’t nothing else to do with her sisters upstairs running the shop, watching for whoever might come looking for the girl.

“Run and carry a message to your sisters,” Meliki said quickly, not caring who it was she spoke to. “Have them call the boys and tell them I need one of them immediately. We have to move the girl to the main sithen, her magic is still out of control.”

Asha nodded, eyes wide and she backed hurriedly out of the room and ran upstairs.

Zig rushed out the door when Ceira called to say they needed him. Never mind that it was barely even noon, if that. He didn’t feel the closeness to Meliki’s fae that he did with the rest of the Spiders, but they were all family, and he took family very seriously. If this girl needed to be moved, he’d move her. If she was another sister waiting to happen, well, all the more reason to drive faster.

Asha came back down stairs as soon the message was delivered, partially to report and partially to do what she could to help the girl. She didn’t know what she good she expected to be able to do, but she didn’t want to miss an opportunity if there was one.

Meliki was bent over the girl, checking her over, when the youngest daughter returned. “Ceira says Zig’s coming.” Meliki nodded and stood up, heading upstairs without another word. With Meliki gone, the well water would calm, but the girl’s own magic had receded and would hopefully stay that way without Meliki goading it on. It seemed her presence offended her magic in some way, though that was hardly surprising, given the polar opposition of life and death. While she paid her respects every Dark of the Moon, her domain was life, at its very earliest, babies and seeds. Beginnings. Of course death magic would be riled by such a power as hers.

Asha went and knelt by the girl’s side, smoothing her bangs back from her face as she started to stir. The earth magic in her was returning the soil, a sign that her own magic was pushing back the well water. Asha was glad Meliki hadn’t instructed her to give the girl more when she woke. The water was for humans they would be keeping, and regardless of the scene she’d caused today, Asha didn’t feel they had any claim over her. She was a free spirit and should be allowed to stay that way. Of course, her magic needed taming, but there were all manner of ways to do that. Binding her to the sithen was an extreme reaction, she’d thought.

But, she reminded herself, she didn’t know Meliki’s mind or plan, or have her advantage of wisdom and power. It wasn’t her place to question.

A groan from the girl pulled Asha from her thoughts, and when he eyes opened, Asha smiled.

“I’m glad you’re awake. I was hoping I’d get a chance to talk to you before Zig got here.”

Brooke blinked in confusion, but Asha shook her head and continued. “He’s a good guy, I’m glad he’s the one that coming. You can trust him, he’ll take good care of you. He’s mostly human, like you are. He won’t forget that, like some of the rest of us might.” She stopped herself, knowing she was wasting precious time. It was only a few blocks from here to the Spider’s den.

“Look, there’s a handful of things to know when dealing with the fey. The first is don’t eat or drink anything, but we’ve already sort of broken that one for you, so it’s best to just take anything they feed you there. It won’t do anything that hasn’t already been done, and it’ll save you the pain of trying to swallow the magic of the place raw.”

“The second is don’t tell anyone your true name. First, last, mother’s maiden, anything. Go by a nick name with us, it’s the polite thing to do, and it should save you some trouble as well. Never tell anyone your true name every again, ok? There’s no reason anyone would ever need to know, no matter what they say.”

“Third, think very, very carefully about the words you say. A fey promise is binding to the letter, and only the letter. And only fey. A vampire, a shapeshifter and a witch can all lie to you, and most will, if they want something from you. But a fey cannot tell a direct lie, and cannot break a promise given, especially the more powerful ones. A good tactic is build a loophole into everything you agree to, like ‘As I wish it to be done’ or ‘according to my will’. Most fey won’t agree to something like that, because it leaves them subject to you. Any fey that agrees to those terms without hesitation has no intention to harm you, or they wouldn’t leave themselves open like that. They also won’t offer you anything for free, like I am now.”

Asha paused and gave the girl a warm smile, though she knew she couldn’t see underground like flora fey could. “The only thing I ask of you in return is friendship girlie. And that you’ll do your best to look out for yourself, because you can’t trust anyone else to, ok?” The bell sounded over the shop door, and Asha knew her time was up. She leaned in close and whispered, “I am called Asha. If you place your hand on the bare earth and say that name, I will hear it, and I will help you if I can.” And then they were on the stairs, and Asha was sliding her arms under the girl’s to help her sit up.

Brooke was beyond overwhelmed. Her brain was just plain shutting down. She felt heavy and too full and like one more thing would just make her burst. All these strangers saying all these strange things and coming and going and now this girl was telling her that everyone might be out to get her and that she couldn’t trust anyone and that she wanted to be her friend and would help her if she could and then she wanted her to stand and it was just too much. Tears spilled from her eyes, silent and free flowing, and she buried her face in the other girl’s shoulder and wept.

Her tears fell on Asha’s skin, and they were cold, and her skin drank them in immediately. They felt icy, like an autumn storm that would turn to snow any day now. Her breath on Asha’s shoulder felt like the North wind, and long winters of grey skies with no sun. She gasped, but kept herself calm. The girl needed stability, and here, in her own sithen, she was the earth. She let the rain/tears fall, let the wind/sobs beat against her, and still she stood strong, a great Northern mountain. She would not yield, she would remain.

Meliki watched as her youngest daughter drew the mountain up from the earth and into her heart. She was growing into a fine woman, a few more summers yet and she might be worth something. She let the girls work it out between themselves, waiting silently, as the earth does.

When the girl drew a last shuddering breathe and grew still, Asha turned her head to address Meliki. “She will be called Rain, her tears taste of the Northern wind.”

Meliki nodded and accepted the choice. “Rain then. Can you stand, child?”

Asha rose to her knees, tucking one foot underneath herself. “Come on, Rain, we need to get you somewhere safer.”

Brooke nodded, albeit a little too rapidly. She leaned on Asha and together they rose to their feet, Brooke’s head swimming once she was finally upright. Asha took both her hands and helped steady her, but it was clear she needed a minute to get her bearings.

Meliki used that moment to clarify some important points. “Child, Rain, how soon will someone come looking for you? You need to be with people who understand magic right now, and I don’t think that means your parents?” She made it a question, hoping the girl would fill in the blanks. She hesitated to mention the ward, not wanting to color the girl’s responses.

Brooke blinked a few times to focus, then finally said, “Not likely. It’s the weekend, my mother is probably off with my step-dad again.”

Step-father, damn. Very likely he was the owner of the ward, keeping an eye on an interesting human. Witch then, almost undoubtedly. Goodie. Depending on how interesting he thought she was, he’d likely be on their doorstep within the hour. Before sundown, for certain. Still, delay tactics were worth a shot.

“Can you contact her, leave her a message so that you’re less likely to be missed?”

Brooke made a rude sound at the thought. “I’m not missed now, I promise you.”

Meliki drew a small hiss of a breath at the oath. Such was her habit to not take things lightly. “Still, child, call her if you can. Better safe than sorry.”

Brooke nodded, agreeing. Now seemed like a perfectly awful time for her mother to finally act motherly, which almost guaranteed she would.

“Alright. Let’s get you upstairs where you can get some signal and we can wait for my boy to get here.”

––

Nanae released the tea she’d been holding in the leaves, waiting for the girl to come upstairs. She’d brewed it the moment Asha had come up, saying that Meliki wanted to move the girl to the Spider’s den. It was silly, but the last thing the girl had asked her for was a travel tea, and she wanted to be able to at least give her that back. Her whole world had been rocked, surely a cup of tea was called for. Ceira laughed at said something about keeping calm, but it had gone over Nanae’s head. Ceira’d shook her head and said it was just a dumb human thing she’d picked up from watching TV. Nanae wondered if she’d pick up any human habits like that when she was strong enough to leave the sithen.

Both sisters were surprised to see Asha with her arm around the girl’s waist, helping hold her weight as she struggled to stand. Nanae let out a little o of understanding when she realized she was suffering from the exact same thing that kept her and Asha tied to the sithen – none of them were strong enough to hold back their own magic without the sithen eating away the extra. They’d had to give the not quiet human girl some fey magic to wrap around her own power so that their den would recognize it, but that had tied to her to their clan’s magic. It would be painful for her to leave it until the well water wore off. But they hadn’t dared risk leaving her magic burning so wild like that. They’d had to keep her drugged until Meliki figured out what to do with her.

With that in mind, when Nanae stepped forward to offer her the tea, she made a point of telling her it was honestly just tea. “I swear,” she said, face solemn. The girl’s eyes flicked to Asha, who nodded opening. Then she turned to address her sisters. “I have given this girl the name Rain, whose tears taste of the northern winds.” She spoke with authority, and after a brief look of shock passed over them at seeing their littlest sister all grown up, they smiled and nodded.

“Welcome, Rain,” Ceira said, stepping closer to the group. “I am sorry for the way we have met, but not that we have done so. You may call me Ceira.”

“And I am called Nanae here,” the other sister said, still holding out the tea. “I’m so sorry I didn’t think before acting, but I hope when the storms of your life settle, you will be glad to count us as friends, and doubly glad you had us to weather these rains with you.”

Brooke felt as if she was missing something, and struggled to remember everything Asha had said about choosing your words carefully with faeries.

Meliki, reading the apprehension on the girl’s face, spoke next. “I am called Meliki, and I swear to you, you have nothing to fear from my children.” The sisters’ collective hiss of breath drove home her point, and she chuckled. “None of them would risk my wrath at being the cause of my word being betrayed, and aside from that, none of them would harm you anyways. We are a peaceful clan, all we want is soil to set our roots in and sky to grow under.” A murmured wave of “[insert “so mote it be” word here] followed her words, Asha turning to explain softly, “That means “it is truth.” It’s sort of a ritual thing.” She ducked her head at her sisters’ reproachful looks at her interruption.

Meliki laughed, a deep belly sound. “Let the youngest one speak. It is good that we have an interpreter in our midst, since the rest of us are all now too old to speak young folk.” Asha blushed, but grinned at the same time. She was used to being made fun of.

“Now then, child. Rain. I will endeavor to remember to call you that, it is rude of me to deny you a name given by friends.” All three sisters smiled at that. “You must call your mother quickly, it will be better if every trace of you is from this place.”

Brooke didn’t know why, or what she was talking about really, but she obliged and pulled out her phone. The three older women moved to the front of the store, but Asha stayed behind. She wanted to make herself as accessible to Rain as possible.

Rain wasn’t too worried about her mom, she’d undoubtedly be gone all weekend anyways. She did send her a voice message, saying she was staying with Megan, because of the birthday party she’d told her about last week. She was counting on her mother’s horrible ability to not remember anything that Rain ever told her.

She hung up and moved out of the backroom into the main body of the shop again. Nanae was at her side instantly, pushing the tea into her hand and guiding her around the counter to sit in a barstool. “Rest, be comfortable,” she told her. She nodded and sipped her tea, still bewildered but rapidly adjusting. Making a normal call on her normal cellphone and hearing her mother’s answering machiene and helped ground her back in reality, as had being in a familiar place again. It was all really fucking weird, but it was now a normal weird. Her brain could only stay on omigodhighalertfreakout for so long.

Asha stayed near her side, though she’d clammed up more now around her sisters. Brooke sort of wished she’d kept talking, it would give her a distraction from her 90 mile a minute thoughts. She supposed she could have asked the faerie a question, but that would require being able to pick on out of the millions rolling through her head. She tried to shut it all out and just focus on the next breath, and the next, and not what was coming next.

She was nervous about meeting Meliki’s other “children”, but if they were as nice as the coffee shop fey had been, she wasn’t too worried.

How fucking weird was it that she was calmly talking about meeting fey. Or rather, that she was more worried about meeting fellow humans than she had been about staying with the faeries. To be fair, Rain wasn’t sure she could say fellow humans anymore, but if they were children of Meliki’s, they were probably about as human as she was anyways.

The oldest sister went to the door, seeing whoever they were waiting for before everyone else. When she slipped outside to go greet him, Brooke’s heart leapt into her throat and started thudding away like it would try to escape. Asha patted her hand sympathetically and pulled her to her feet.

“Remember what I said, Zig’s a nice guy. He’ll take care of you.”

Brooke nodded and forced her feet to carry her towards the door, and whatever was waiting beyond it.

She wasn’t prepared for the Vespa.

When Meliki had talked to her about moving, and how important it would be to move her quickly, she was expecting an armoured car, or a pick up truck, or hell even a talking flying eagle. But not a Vespa. And not for the boy under the helmet to be covered in tattoos and piercings. Rain’s stomach twisted in knots and she had to swallow hard before she could answer his super chipper, “Hey! You’re Rainy, right?”

“Brooke-“ she started to answer, but he shook his head and cut her off.

“You’re Rain, and I’m Zig. Let’s keep it simple like that, ok?”

She had thought they’d said this boy was human, but if he wanted to follow the fey rules, she’d go along with it. She nodded and climbed onto the back of the Vespa, wrapping her arms around Zig and holding on for dear life.

Chapter 4

The ride was a short one, just down Goode street a few blocks, and then a block back off that. Her mother had never cared too much about her hanging out down here, it’s where the dance studio (that really needs a name) was, and Brooke tended to like to go out early rather than later, which helped soothe any parental misgivings.

But she’d never been this far into lowtown before, never seen this particular brick building with the big spider logo in the picture window. It read “Eight-legged Ink, Tattoos, Piercings and More.” She wondered about the more, and giggled a little hysterically at the idea of the more referencing magic or something. If Zig noticed, he didn’t say anything, just pulled the Vespa into an alley that ended in a wooden fence.

“Here we are,” he said, cutting the engine. She got off the back, so he could dismount and open the gate. “Come hold this?” he asked, and when she obliged, he walked the Vespa in and tucked it just inside the fence. “I’ll put it away later, let’s get you inside first.”

She didn’t know why he bothered telling her that, but he was glad he had. So much going on didn’t make sense, she was glad to have something explained to her, no matter how simple. He opened a door her hadn’t noticed in the side of the building and led them inside.

“This is shop proper, we live under it. I’ll warn you, it makes some people dizzy, but Ceira told me you’d had some well water, so it should be alright for now.” He led them down a short hallway as he talked, past doorways that opened into workrooms with benches and various tattooing supplies. An equally tatted up boy was in one of them, resemblance to Zig apparent, even around the darker coloring and long black dreads. They were clearly brothers, or something. He smiled and waved as they passed, then went back to the sketchpad in his lap.

And then they were in the lobby, on the other side of the window with the big spider logo on it. Zig was moving to a nondescript wooden door on the wall that looked just like the one next to it, except the one of the right had a sign with the bathroom logo on it, and the one Zig was opening read Employees only.

For whatever strange reason, Brooke really didn’t want to go down there.

Zig turned to look at her, confused. “It shouldn’t be reacting this way, not to you. Maybe they didn’t give you enough water…How do you feel?”

She answered automatically, eyes locked on the dark stairwell before her. “Apprehensive. I just don’t wanna go down there, there’s nothing more to it than that.”

Zig nodded and stepped more fully between her and the doorway. Brooke blinked and stared stupidly at him moment. “What just happened?”

“General warding. We have enough public in here, when we’re busy, that we really can’t leave this door just “open”. It discourages anyone who doesn’t belong down there from wandering around. But it should recognize you, since they gave you some of Meliki’s well water. Its a distilled form of her power, it should mark you as one of ours. Hmm….”

Zig tapped his chin a minute, thinking.

“Here, let’s try this.” He closed the door again, and reached out for her hand. “I’m going to introduce you to the Underground, ok?”

She nodded and put her hand in his, swallowing hard as she stepped closer to the door. The aversion was gone, but plain old fear of the unknown had replaced it. He gave her hand a reassuring little squeeze and gripped the doorknob.

“I always feel a little silly doing this,” he admitted, the turned to face the door and gripped the knob, though he didn’t turn it yet.

“Door, this is Rain. Meliki asked me to bring her to the Underground, so, uh.. let me?”

He pushed it open, and stared into the darkness, looking for some sign. “Any better?”

“No,” she whispered, and even took a step backward, feeling actively repelled.

“She’s not thinking of herself right. The Underground thinks she’s trying to lie to you.”

Brooke nearly jumped out of her skin when the brother spoke, from suddenly behind her. Zig spun around, also clearly startled.

“Jeezus Tripp! You have got to stop skulking around like that! Make some damned noise when you move, would ya?” He turned back to the door to study it again, muttering. “Ya damned ninja…”

When Tripp didn’t offer up any other help, Zig sighed and turned back to him. “Alright, alright – what do you mean she’s not thinking of herself right?”

Brooke was completely lost. Nothing seemed right, as far as she was concerned.

“She doesn’t believe she’s “Rain”. You told the door you were bringing Rain down, but as far as it can tell, this girl isn’t it. She doesn’t think of herself as “Rain”, she’s still using her given name to identify herself in her own mind.”

He turned to her now, husky blue eyes soft and full of understanding. “That’s a dangerous habit to have, by the way. Someone with a talent for reading minds could pick your name right out of your head, with how puny your shields are right now. Whatever secret is in the depths of your mind is shielded well enough, but all your surface thoughts are wafting around in the air like anybody’s business. I can’t read them, but I can see they’re there, and I can see the “color” of them. You’re thinking of water, but not Rain. Try focusing on that, and it should let you in.”

Brooke nodded, letting go off all the questions he’d given her, and focusing instead on rain drops hitting the pavement. She closed her eyes, and imagined the way they speckled everything until it all became wet, and even then, sometimes you could still see the drops hit.

“Better?” she head him ask, and she nodded, though she kept her eyes closed. There wasn’t any urge to run, any pressure or foreboding, just the smell of wet concrete and the patter-patter-patter of the rain.

“Mmk, just hold that though, and imagine its your name now, cause it is. Whatever it is you’re seeing, that’s you, that thought is you. You are the Rain.”

She nodded, drawing in a deep breath. She could taste the water in the air, feel the stickiness of the air, thick with humidity. She could be this. Water that belonged to neither the earth nor the sky? Falling, falling, falling, rushing out of control to go splat on the concrete? Oh yeah, she could totally relate to that feeling.

“There ya go, Bro. You two should be all set now.”

“Thanks, Tripp,” Zig answered, annoyance plain in his tone. He gave her hand another squeeze and asked, “You ready to try again?”

“Yeah…” she said distantly, still enjoying the feel of the imaginary rain on her skin. She didn’t want to open her eyes just yet, but she stepped forward anyways. She took one step, and another, feeling Zig catch on and move her forward.

“That’s it, there ya go. One more step, okay, now step down.”

Brooke hesitated, foot hanging in the air. Her breath caught, and for a moment she forgot about the rain and all she could feel was falling, falling, diving to the earth-

She took a deep breath, pulling her rain back around herself, and let her foot fall forward.

Rain smiled when she felt the solid step beneath her. She opened her eyes and saw Zig, standing a few steps below her, one hand held out to catch her, the other holding her hand tight. His blue eyes were filled with concern, then warmth when she smiled at him.

“Way to go kiddo.”

Her smile broadened, and she resisted the urge to fist pump or something, but then Zig held up his hand and declared “High five!” She laughed and did so. She couldn’t leave him hanging.

Of course, that threw her off balance a bit and she stumbled, but he braced her, pulling her close to his chest and pushing his hand into the wall to steady himself.

“Here, let’s get you properly downstairs.” he said, leading her down the stairs and taking her back underneath them through an archway. A hallway opened up, ending in halls on either side. He stopped at a door on the wall, laying his hand on the surface. Rain felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, then he opened the door.

“This’ll be your room for now, I’ve “keyed” it to you, so this door will always open to this room.” He turned as he stepped through the doorway, inviting her in. “I know it sounds weird, and I promise, I’ll give you the grand tour when you wake up, but that well water is gonna wear off pretty soon and believe me, you’re gonna wanna be asleep for that.”

Beginning to feel overwhelmed, she stepped toward the door, but Zig was stepping half out again. “Before I forget, the other door in this hall is the bathroom. You’ll probably want that when you wake up.” He felt really sorry for the kid, but there wasn’t a lot he could do for her besides give her a place to lay down and show her where to throw up when her body finally rejected the fey magic the well water was helping her cope with.

Rain followed his gaze down the hall, seeing the other door and making note that hers was on the right, the bathroom on the left. Easy enough. Zig had ducked back inside, so she followed his lead and stepped in.

It looked just like her bedroom at home. Her real bedroom, back at her real house, before Myles moved them across town. A tear slid down her check, followed by another, and another, until she was quietly crying. Zig finally noticed and stopped babbling, coming to her side.

“Hey. Hey kiddo, what’s wrong? You ok?” He put his arms around her, and without thinking about it she just buried her face in his chest and started sobbing.

“Hey. Hey, hey, it’s alright.” He started patting her hair and making useless shushing noises. “It’s alright kiddo. It’s alright. Let it out. You’re gonna be ok.”

Zig had held her till she’d cried herself out, finally understand why the coffee shop girls had named her Rain. Maybe it was because he was looking for it, but he could swear he felt the ice in her tears, and hear the winter wind blowing outside.

He’d helped her lay down, borrowed her closet door to open into the fridge and grab a bottle of water to leave on her night stand, then left quickly, feeling suddenly like he was intruding. He wasn’t surprised that when he’d asked the door to make her a room, it had made a room she’d actually thought of as her own, but he just didn’t feel right hanging around, looking into this girl’s life while she slept.

––

Rain woke and ran for the bathroom without thought. The magic of the Underground led her there, being kind enough to transition straight to the bathroom from her bedroom door. Rain retched and retched until her stomach was empty, but it wasn’t enough. She couldn’t get the churning feeling, or the feeling of “get this out of me” to go away. She lay her head against the cool bowl, hoping that if she didn’t move, the world would just go away.

Instead, someone knocked on the door and brought the world into sharper focus.

“Rain child? May I come in?”

It was Meliki, the woman with all the answers. She’d made Rain feel better at the coffee shop, maybe she could help now. She tried to call out, but instead just vomited again. Meliki took that for a yes.

She felt dreadful for putting the girl through this, but she stood by her decision. She was positive her quick reactions had been the only thing to save Nanae’s life, and almost certainly the girl’s as well.

She went and knelt by Rain’s side, laying her hand on the back of the girl’s neck. She pulled what magic she could, but they were in a space outside of the world, maintained only by magic. There was only so much she could do.

“I’m sorry, my dear, and there’s no need for alarm, but you’re currently being poisoned.”

Rain wanted to sit bolt up and scream “What!” but settled for cracking an eye and giving Meliki a good solid wtf glare.

“Our fey magic is trying to drown out whatever magic you have. The well water we gave you was like a “cheat” to trick your body into believing it was fey – but that’s worn off now. I can give you more, and it will make the pain go away, but you cannot leave the sithen while the well water is within you. Without our magic, you will feel exactly as you do now.”

She eased up on the flow of magic she was pulling from the girl, letting the full weight of the sithen settle on her. She doubled over on herself, hands clutching at her ribs as the magic twisted about inside her. Meliki let the power flow back into herself, knowing it wouldn’t help much, but some was better than none.

“Your parents will eventually come looking for you, but I do not know how long that will be.” Not an outright lie, but it was a bit of a stretch. “If it is soon, we will have to keep you until the well water wears off again. But if it is not soon, I am afraid the wait will not be a pleasant one.”

Rain felt as if her insides were going to burst. The pain was too much to think around. All she heard was relief could happen now, and trouble could come later. She’d take relief now and deal with trouble when she had to.

“W-water, please,” she croaked.

Meliki frowned. It wasn’t enough. She knew what the girl wanted, but it wasn’t specific enough that she could claim the girl asked for the water of her own free will.

“I must caution you, too much water and the effects won’t wear off. It’s purpose is to make mortal humans able to serve in fey sithens – you will develop a tolerance, and you will then be unable to live outside the fey realms-”

“Don’t care, give it to me.”

The girl turned and retched again, a dry, empty sound. Meliki pulled a little more magic from her and reached into her pocket for the vial.

“Here then.”

Rain downed it greedily, sitting up and leaning back against the wall with her eyes closed. She still felt wretched, but she wasn’t going to explode anymore.

“Doubtless, you have many questions, but I imagine your physical discomfort outweighs your curiosity?”

Physical discomfort? That was a mild way of putting it. Rain simply nodded, carefully.

“Then why don’t you return to bed and we’ll see what has happened when you next awake?”

Again, Rain nodded, and Meliki pulled a rare act of blatant magic to move them straight to her room. Rain didn’t question it, she was already nearly asleep again and was grateful to be leaning against a pillow instead of the wall.

The girls called to let her know he was coming as soon as he hit the shop. Sure, they didn’t say so in so many words – in fact, Nanae seemed to think he’d actually sit still long enough for Meliki to come to him. Meliki knew better, and was waiting in the lobby of 8 Legged Ink when he came sweeping in like he owned the place. Typical witch attitude, especially when dealing with non-witches.

“Can I help you?” she said pleasantly enough, looking up from the appointment book on the desk she’d been reading to pass the time. It was filling up nicely, word was spreading. A bright note in what was sure to be a very unpleasant afternoon.

“Yes, I’m here for my step-daughter. Her ward alerted me when she’d been abducted by fey this morning.”

Meliki raised an eyebrow at his choice of tactic. “A bold accusation. Not a very charitable attitude towards someone who kept your step-daughter,” and she said that word rather dubiously, “from being consumed by her own magic-at the risk of my own people, I might add.” Implied by her tone was an accusation that he was the responsible for putting everyone in danger, and that she didn’t much appreciate the risk to her people. Before he could answer, however, she continued, gaze locked on his.

“Feeding your ward to our sithen was an unfortunate side affect of trying to drain off her rampaging powers before anyone came to harm. I assure you, it was not done with ill intent. From what I could assess in the limited time before I had to act, it would cause no harm to do so. If the ward was meant to contain her volatile magic, it was clearly failing, and if it was a simple alert or locator, well, I made no attempt to hide her from anyone that wished to claim her.”

She spoke plainly and clearly; she knew he had nothing to hide. Any careful secrecy on her part was just fey habit, and any ill will simply her responding to what she perceived to be a threat. There was always the chance he didn’t know what he had, but it was highly unlike with witch-kin.

When she had finished her piece, he returned with a list of his own accusations. Let the fey think what it wanted, it was of no concern to him. He just wanted to reclaim the girl and leave this uncivilized place. Lowtown was such a blight on this community.

“You fled the scene, with my doubtlessly incapacitated step-daughter in tow. I can only assume ill intent. Now return what is mine to me immediately.” His words were flat, emotionless, but with no room for argument. Meliki made room.

“I returned to the heart of my sithen, so I had better resources to protect this girl from magic I didn’t understand. I brought her into my home, at further personal risk, because clearly this girl wasn’t under the protection she needed. This district is home to countless of my number,” and yes, she was threatening him now, albeit very subtly, “and I was not about to let some stranger bring it crashing down around our ears. But rather than simply sending her on her way and letting her wander into some other unsuspecting’s territory,” and here, her words with thick with accusation at his negligence, “I did what I could to help a poor, confused child deal with magic she was unprepared to face.”

“An unfortunate oversight on my part,” he answered dutifully. It seemed there would be no depriving this fey of its beloved word games. “I hadn’t realized she was developing this quickly. When I took her and her mother in, I knew the child needed attention, but I haven’t had them under my care very long, and her powers have surprised me.” That much was certainly true. He had no idea he’d stumbled upon so promising a find. All the more reason to collect what was his and continue to monitor her, much more closely now, of course. And to guard her from petty theft, like this fey was attempting.

“Clearly,” Meliki answered, unwilling to give him any more than that.

“Please,” he said, drawing on the concerned parent angle. “Her mother is extremely worried about her. Return the child, and we will remove her from your lands and prevent her from bothering you or yours again.” He would most certainly stick to that bargain. The further he could keep her from anyone else who might have witnessed her abilities, the better.

Meliki didn’t fall for it for a minute. “Her mother’s memories of this event can – and most likely will- be altered. Any distress she is feeling right now may as well be considered imaginary. However,” she added sharply, “the child’s distress is very real, and very much unalterable. I know, because she attacked one of my fey when she attempted to do that very thing trying to help what she thought was a human girl forget an encounter with an astral parasite – one she was left completely defenseless against.” It was a risky move, admitting one of her own wielded a magic against his claimed “property”, but Meliki was very comfortable gambling, especially since he’d taken such poor care of said property. She would weasel what she could out of this deal, anything, everything, and figure out how to best make use of it later. Whatever interest this witch had in the girl, it would in no way benefit her sithen, certainly. There was too much she didn’t know, too much she wanted time to figure out. Meliki never let go of any ground gained lightly.

Her tone, and all it implied, galled him, but he let it go. It really didn’t matter what this lesser creature thought of him, as long as she yield up the child. He continued with the parental charade, not wanting to show too much interest in the girl, but wanting this encounter brought to a swift end.

“If I’d have ever dreamed she’d set foot in a place like this,” and he made no effort to hide his disgust, “I’d have shielded her much more thoroughly. She was more than adequately protected for any civilized areas of town. Clearly, I have been remiss in my parental duties – something I intend to correct as soon as you return my child to me.”

“Your wife’s child, you mean,” she corrected, quick to interject. She’d buy as much time as she could, keep him talking, mentally recording every word to glean over for hidden meaning when she had the chance. It had become clear that she and hers were not a target of any sort of attack – this moron had simply let his own arrogance blind him to the very real threat his possess posed to the rest of the world.

“You want me to drag her down here?” he asked, letting anger seep into his tone. If she wouldn’t respond to pleading, he had not trouble trying something more aggressive. He kept the words that followed milder, but with flares of outrage at the appropriate points. Logic to temper his rising concern. “The girl is a minor, you cannot hold her against the wishes of her legal guardian. If you won’t recognize my claim – one even the human authorities would, mind you- then I will return with her mother and we will leave with our daughter.” He made a point of claiming her as his own again. This fey was being entirely too difficult. It wasn’t pure capriciousness, it was actively fighting him for this girl, and now he was growing suspicious of what it suspected. He needed to end this, now, but with as little appearance of desperation as possible.

“I never said I wouldn’t release her to you,” Meliki said coldly. “You are the one waving about wild accusations of abductions and maligning my honor when you are the one who allowed an untrained time bomb to wander into my territory and attack one of my fey. Forgive me if I seem reluctant to turn my back on you long enough to fetch your precious possession for you.” It was bold to speak to him like that, but nothing she’d said had been untrue. If he wanted to argue it, he’d have poor ground to stand on.

“Surely in the heart of your own sithen you are defensible enough against one worried parent-”

“One agitated witch, who won’t slow down long enough to hear the truth of the matter. You appear to be on the war path, and I’m not eager to reunite you with your weapon, it’s true. I will, actually, insist you produce her mother before I produce her daughter. My kind are honor bound to their word, but the more you speak, the more I fear you will simply turn on us out of agitation once your magelet is returned to you.” It was her last card, but he was clearly done playing.

“Typical,” he spat. “Leave it to a fey to muddy perfectly clear waters with games and technicalities.” He pulled out his cell phone and dialed. “You’re out of games, fey. I’ll ‘produce’ her mother for you, but I’ll be damned if I trust you not to move her while I fetch her, so I’ll stay right here until she comes.” He glared at her while the phone rang, as if not trusting her to not simply disappear on the spot if he didn’t watch her.

“Hello, darling. Yes, I’ve found her. Yes, please come at once. We’re on the corner of 8th and Goode, a tattoo shop. There’s a large logo of a spider on the front. You’ll see my car, love. No, I won’t go anywhere. Just hurry.”

Meliki pursed her lips at him as she spoke, but waited politely for him to finish.

“And what am I supposed to do with you while we wait? This is a business of mine, and it’s late enough in the afternoon that we’ll start to hit our evening rush of patrons soon.”

He returned her gaze cooly, unconcerned. “You could simply give me my daughter and let us leave.”

“Aah, actually. About that…”

Zig appeared from the downstairs, doing his best meek underling act. The witch would have no reason to suspect him of being anything but another fey, and hopefully dismiss him right out of hand. Unfortunately for the strange, Zig had a very powerful weapon up his sleeve. He could lie.

Meliki turned at his “interruption”, hoping things would go as they planned. He dropped his gaze in the perfect show of obeisance and delivered his “unwanted” news.

“I’m, I’m sorry Kuloa, she, the girl- she woke again, and the pain was worse than before. I- I didn’t know what else to do, so I-” He lowered his head completely, begging forgiveness. “I gave her more well water, Kuloa. I didn’t know what else to do, I couldn’t tell what was happening to her-”

All of his stammered was lost under the sound of Myles’ true outrage.

“You did WHAT!?” He lunged toward Zig, who ducked back behind the door, escaping back downstairs. He stayed nearby, should Meliki need him, but his role was most likely over.

Meliki gave the witch cool eyes and a raised eyebrow. His reaction was quite unexpected, and quite revealing.

“She’s been our sithens for at least half the cycle of the sun. You didn’t think we’d leave writhing in agony under the press of so much magic, did you?”

“So you poison her instead!?” His over-reaction could be a costly mistake, he needed to get the situation back under control. A day’s worth of fey magic wouldn’t be enough to bind her, he just needed to get her back as quickly as possible. Nothing had really changed. Now he just had to wrap concerned parent around him that much more thickly to cover the slip. Easy enough.

“I’m not ignorant of your ways, fey. I know perfectly well the measures you take to adapt your captives to life underground. The gall, to make her own of your own-”

“I have no intention of keeping her,” she interjected, surprised that it wasn’t an outright lie. But it was quite true – this girl was not worth the trouble. This witch was clearly overreacting for something so simple. Rain was too important to him for Meliki to want to keep her around. Of course, if the circumstances forced her to, that was another matter entirely. But as of this moment, she had no intentions of keeping the girl, if she could avoid it. Good to know.

She moved quickly on before he could recover from her interruption. “As I said, we were merely trying to accommodate her. I knew when I first brought her inside our walls that she was warded by another. I contest that in no way. But I also recognized the owner of said ward had some interest in the girl’s well being, and as I had no way of knowing how long it would take someone to come find it, I acted in the only sustainable way I know. Yes, she would have survived a single day without my interference – once I’d gotten her magic back under control – but I had no way of knowing it would be a single day, and I was not about to risk further wrath from whoever came for her by allowing her to languish under the weight of our sithen. It’s called hospitality,” she spat.

“Fey hospitality is infamous,” he countered, words full of venom. “Hence my concern.”

Rain’s mother arrived on the scene, bursting through the door, ending all other conversation.

“My baby! Where’s my baby?!”

Zig heard the distressed woman enter, clearly Rainy’s mother, and moved downstairs to go fetch her. He’d brief her on the situation and hope that the kid had a good head on her shoulders.

He knocked softly on her door, not knowing if she’d be awake or not. She wasn’t, or didn’t want to be, but his knocking roused her enough that she called out for him to come in.

“Hey kiddo. How ya feelin’?” He moved to sit on the edge of her bed, patting her leg companionably.

“Surprisingly less crappy than the last time I woke up.”

Her voice was dry and cracked, her throat still raw from screaming and vomiting and whatever else, but still this was better. Zig handed her a water bottled, making a point of opening it for her.

“Sealed and normal, just plain water.”

She drank it greedily, pulling in half the bottle before stopping herself. “As if I care. I don’t know a lot about what’s going on, but I know well water keeps me from feeling like a cat in the microwave, so I’ll take it.”

Zig laughed softly, trying not to shake the bed too much. “A cat in a microwave – yeah, that about sums in it. Still though, I know Meliki told you it’s addictive. It will bind you to her, her magic, and tie you to the Underground foreve-”

“I really don’t care Zig. I know it’s probably just the freaked out talking, but it really doesn’t matter to me if I never see anything of my old life again. Maybe if I could go back in time to before mom met Myles…” She trailed off for a second, and Zig was left wondered how on earth to break it to her that her parents were upstairs as they spoke. She shook herself and kept talking however, sparing him for the moment.

“I know nothing is ever gonna be the same. I’ve figured that much out. I haven’t had much clarity since Nanae came over to talk to me, but I’ve been able to piece together that not everything out there is human, that she wasn’t human, or her sisters, or Meliki, and that I’m probably not either…” That thought was beyond depressing, but she pushed on. “So, whatever else is going on, I get that there’s no going back. There’s no pretending that this all didn’t happen, so if I can’t undo it… This is gonna sound really shitty, but if I’m stuck having to let go of every idea I ever had about the world and reality, I’d kinda like to be able to let go of every idea, and just start over. Life took a real cruddy turn for me, but there’s a bright side to everything, ya know?”

He listened attentively as she spoke, knowing exactly how she felt. He wouldn’t go back to the West Coast for anything, even if he could do so without Clarissa turning him. Honestly, he’d taken almost everyone that mattered with him anyways. But if he was lost and alone in the world, without Tripp… would he care what happened to him? Hell, would he care if he’d been turned? Probably not. He could really see where this kiddo was coming from, even if he didn’t know the specifics.

And then she mentioned silver lining and he just lost his shit. Rain gave him a wtf look. “Dude, what the hell? I get smiling til ya feel like it but I just told you my sob story and you’re laughing?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s just- silver lining. Rain cloud-” And then he was sucked in by giggles again.

She shot him a glare, and he sobered. “You’re right, time to be serious.” He took a deep breath and squared himself, preparing to give her the news about her folks.

“Look, Rain, I can see where you’re coming from, but life is never quite that simply, ya know? Your step dad is upstairs right now, he’s brought your mom, and she sounds pretty bad.”

“My mom?” Rain asked, incredulous. “Why would she bother coming for me? Oh, I guess if Myles is here, she would be too.”

“No, he called for her, actually. I think she might actually be worried about you kiddo.”

Rain blinked at him, unbelieving. Then she shook her head, crossing her arms over her chest.

“No. There’s no way. She hasn’t given me the time of day since Myles swept her off her feet. She’s forgotten about me, almost completely.”

Zig winced at her closed posture. This was gonna be harder than he’d thought.

“But she wasn’t always like this?”

Rain softened, unfolding a little. “Well, no. When it was just us, she was always really good about making time for me, even around work and everything. The whole single mom thing, ya know? She was all I had, and she knew it…” Rain trailed off, more confused than ever. She simply hadn’t thought about it til now, but her mom’s change was more than drastic, it was wildly out of character.

Zig moved a little closer, nothing threatening, but making his posture available for comfort.

“Rain honey, your step-dad’s a witch. And I’m pretty sure he has your mother enthralled.”

Rain gave him a look, clearly lost. Zig bit his lip to keep from swearing.

“Look, there’s not a lot of time to explain all this. Your mom’s up there, freaking out, and the more distressed she gets the harder it’ll be to suppress her memories without seriously messing her up. Your step-dad isn’t going to let her remember anything about magic or witches or fey – if she even knows anything at this point. We don’t reveal ourselves, it’s never worked out well for us. So he’ll have to shut her memories down, but the human mind doesn’t like to let go of trauma very easily. So the more upset she gets, the more he’ll have to cut away. You don’t want to give him an excuse to cut her ties to you. It’s not ethical, but if he had the justification he’d do it. We don’t want to give him that.”

Rain nodded, not completely following but getting that it was a time is of essence sort of moment.

“So what do we do? Do I have to go home with them?”

Zig nodded. “That’s probably the best option, for now. Here, gimmie your phone.”

He held his hand out and she obliged, slipping it out of her pocket and handing it over.

“I’ll plug my number into your phone and you can call or text me whenever, ok? I’ll make sure you don’t stay lost, or get kept out of the loop or anything, alright?”

Impulsively, he reached over and gave her a hug. “It’s gonna be alright kiddo. I won’t let you get forgotten.”

Rain wrapped her arms around him, squeezing her eyes shut against the tears. It had been a helluva day. When she pulled back, Zig let her go, giving her a pat on the shoulder. “Alright Rain cloud. Show time.”

Meliki hoped Zig had been paying attention, and had gone to fetch the girl. She couldn’t drain away this woman’s hysteria for long – not without her witch keeper noticing. She realized belatedly that what she had felt was not the witch feeding her anxieties, but rather relaxing his hold on them, letting her natural concern for her child show through. How many months had he soothed her, smoothing over her worries and distracting her with pretty parties and gifts?

“Oh darling, what have they done with her? Who are these people? Where’s Br-baby, where’s my baby?” She remembered at the last second her husband coaching her not to give away their identities. Who knew what kind of people had her daughter, or how they would use any information against them? Mary had never dealt with anything like this in her life. Sure, they’d lived in one of the poorer neighborhoods, before Myles, but still, it had been relatively incident free. She carried a mace with her and instructed Brooke to do the same and they’d been alright. Now, suddenly, this. Myles assured her everything was likely fine, that when Megan’s mother had called asking if Brooke needed a ride, that there was no need to panic. Children did all sort of rebellious things at this age, and she was probably just acting out against all the changes. But he would find their baby and bring them home, he’d promised her. Now, here they were, back on the bad side of town, in a tattoo parlor with a giant spider for a logo.

What had happened to her baby girl? How had she missed this?

As the wheels started to turn in Mary’s head, Myles changed his grip on her emotions, directing her thoughts back to the fey and her lackies. They were the ones leading her astray, they were the ones responsible for Brooke lying to her mother. Brooke was just young and confused, as long as we keep her shielded from bad influences…

Meliki raised an eyebrow as she felt the witch’s power shift, but said nothing. The mother had stopped sobbing and yelling, that was good enough for her. She was content to let the witch handle his own messes.

“Alright, you’re gonna feel a little woozy, but it’s not worse than being kinda drunk, ok?”

Rain gave him an are you stupid look. “I’m sixteen, I don’t know what it’s like to be drunk.”

Zig tilted his head in confusion. “Seriously? God, kids these days. They’re so boring.”

She pursed her lips at him, rolling her eyes “Get on with it, you said we have to hurry.”

“Right, right. Ok, so the well water still in your system helps your body assimilate fey magic, and in the absence of that magic, you’ll feel a lot like you did when you magic was fighting ours, but not as bad, cause you’ve only had a few doses. But I wouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery til you’ve had a day or two to get it out of your system, ok?”

She nodded and pushed herself to her feet. “Ok. Anything else?”

Zig stood as well, and raised his eyes to the ceiling, thinking. “Nothing I can say for sure in advance. I don’t understand your magic at all, but you’ll know when things aren’t right. Try to call or text as things are happening and I’ll talk you through it as best I can.” He shrugged, turning his attention back to her. “Sorry I can’t offer better than that. If it helps, daddy will probably have your house warded against any other witches, so it should help keep your own mojo in check. It’s probably why didn’t really know you had any, if you’ve been cooped up in there more or less.”

She nodded, unwilling to focus on the fact that she’d been reluctant to go out lately. She’d make a point of fighting that urge from now on.

“Alright then, that’s all I’ve got for ya.” He reached out and patted her arm again. “Best of luck kiddo.”

“Thanks,” she said with a weak smile and walked out the door.

She wasn’t ready for the door to dump her out at the top of the stairs.

She stumbled into the room, dizzy and off balance. The top of the shop was technically a mundane space, close enough to the sithen that she wasn’t feeling withdrawls yet, but enough that she felt the difference and swooned a bit.

Before anyone else could react, Mary rushed forward, sweeping Rain up in a tight hug. “Oh baby, my baby! What happened to you! My poor girl!”

The abruptness of the hug and the swell of Myles magic around her hit Rain hard in the gut, and she turned and retched on the floor.

“Oh good lord- are you drunk! She’s drunk-or high! What the hell have you given my child?!” She spun on Meliki, full of maternal fury. “She’s only sixteen- of all the irresponsible -I can’t believe – she’s a child!”

Myles moved to stand by his wife, wrapping his hands around her shoulders. “Dear, we should get our daughter home. She’s clearly not doing well.”

Urged into action, she swooped back to Rain, who had hunched over on herself and tried to keep the world for shifting beneath her.

“Come on, honey, let’s get you out to the car.” Any other thoughts had been chased from her by a gentle nudge from Myles, who was giving the fey a steady look as Mary ushered her daughter out the door.

“I trust she’ll fully recover?”

“From everything I’ve done to her.”

He nodded and followed his two women outside.

Chapter 5

She said nothing on the ride home, a fact everyone seemed happy to ignore. Her mother blathered on at her, as if Brooke were answering and explaining herself- or more like her answers didn’t matter. When Brooke wasn’t busy trying not to hurl, she noticed Myles’ hand making tiny circles on the back of her mother’s. A flare of suspicion tucked itself away in the back of her brain. She would trust nothing this man did from here on out.

When they got home, she went straight to her room to lay down, no one stopping her. She lay very still, staring at the ceiling, mind going a million miles a minutes. What was really going on here? Had she been drugged? Why was she so keen to trust these strangers over the man her mother had chosen to marry. He’d been good to them, took care of them, taken them in off the streets-

No, that wasn’t right. Her and mom had had a nice enough apartment. Yeah, it was small, and leaky, and not in the best part of town, but they’d had a home, and always had food, just not always enough for other, less important things, like fashion or cellphones. But they hadn’t been penniless – where had that thought come from?

Brooke blinked into the dim light at her ceiling, utterly confused. Her head was swimming, and nothing made sense. She rolled over onto her side, picking her cellphone up off the nightstand. Myles had given it to her, sure, so she could keep in touch with her mother when they were away. He was a very important man, and it was important for his new wife to be with him. She got that, she really did, but… They just spent so much time away from home. How could her mother be ok with that?

Everything everyone had said rolled around in her skull, echoing off each other til the cacophony was nearly deafening. She held her hands over her ears, as if that would help. Into the noise she silently screamed QUIET! with as much will as she could muster. Everything stopped for a moment, and she drew a deep breath, steeling herself. She knew the noise would be back, just as sure as she knew it was meant to confuse her.

The question was, who was acting on her?

She’d been to the Early Bird dozens of times, it was one of her favorite places to hang out, and the house coffee was good and cheap. She and her friends had haunted it pretty regularly when she still lived on that side of town.

But it was the first time she’d been since she’d moved.

Could these… faeries… that still felt weird. Could these people be using her connection to Myles to hurt him? He was important, she knew that… Why did she keep coming back to that? She didn’t give a damn how important he was. She tried actively not to think of him whenever she could avoid it – but there was just so much to figure out. She couldn’t get her head around it all. She wanted to text Zig and see what he thought of everything – but he was one of them, wasn’t he? Would he lie to her?

But Asha had said fey can’t lie.

But was she telling the truth?

Brooke flopped back against the bed with an exasperated sigh. There was just no way to know. But, in that case, it couldn’t hurt to hear what he had to say, could it? As long as she kept in mind that he might be a lying, every word meant to manipulate her –

She could do that with everyone.

God, that sounded exhausting. But she really had no way of knowing, and no one she felt she could really trust. So she’d just hear everyone out, and decide what to do with everything when she’d gathered enough information.

She slide her phone open, pulled up a text, and stared at it.

What exactly did she want to ask?

There were so many questions racing through her mind, she didn’t know where to start. She set her phone back down and moved to her desk, firing up her laptop. She felt sluggish and ill when she moved, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been. Still, she had to active fight the urge to lay down and just sleep. As she waiting for everything to come on, she starting trying to think about what to put on her list.

-What happened today?

-Will it happen again?

-What do I need watch out for?

And the question she most wanted to know, but was most afraid to ask.

-What am I?

She decided that one would probably merit the most useful information, so once she’d typed everything out, she went back to her phone and sent a text to Zig.

Zig, what am I?

He started at her text, feeling completely unqualified to answer. He decided to just be real with her, it’s what he’d want in her position.

Honestly? I have no idea. Probably witch or fey kin, somewhere in your line, but that’s just my best guess.

He tapped his phone against his chin, feeling like he needed to say more. He just didn’t know what. Really, all anyone had was speculation – no, wait, that’s what he needed to say.

You’re Rain, that’s what matters.

She stared at her phone a minute, willing the answer to just appear on the screen. But that was silly. It wasn’t like he was sitting by his phone, just waiting to answer her. She deliberately set it down and turned to look back over her list, to fill in any information she could, but her phone buzzed almost as soon she had. Ok, so maybe he was just sitting around waiting to answer her. Whatever.

Witch or Fey? Simple enough. She knew what both of those were – or at least, had had encounters with both, supposedly- This was too crazy. She was not sitting here, calmly trying to figure out if she was fey or a witch. Her fingers flexed around her phone, squeezing as she tried to fixate on the absurdity of it all, to will herself into a state of disbelief.

On the edge of her desk, the little candle flame flared to life.

She spun to face it, watching the flame double, no triple in height, burning just as straight and steady. She’d completely forgotten she’d lit it the other night.

The wax hadn’t melted at all.

None of the candle had been consumed. Wax, wick, nothing. The flame shrunk under her scrutiny, almost as if it was embarrassed. Brooke’s eyes widened and she shook her head, unable to process it.

Her phone buzzed in her hand again and she nearly fell out of her chair in surprise.

You’re Rain. That’s what matters.

She blinked back tears, affection and memory swelling her throat. She was already fond of Zig, and even Tripp, for showing her the rain within. That feeling had been real. It had been hers. That, she knew she could trust. She didn’t even know how- that, more than anything else she’d felt that day, had seemed the most like a hallucination- but she just felt it as purely as she’d felt the rain and wind on her skin. She was Rain, and nothing could take that from her. Whatever was going on, she’d sort it out, she’d find her way, and it would all be ok.

The little flame popped and chirpped, and Rain had to resist the urge to reach out and pet it. It was still fire, after all, it would burn.

But it wasn’t burning the candle.

Oh what the hell, she thought, and reached out to stroke the flame.

It rose around her finger, crackling merrily. The flame engulfed her finger, flickering, and it tickled. Rain giggled, more than a little hysterically, and stared at her hand. She was stroking a candle flame, and it was tickling her. What. The. Hell.

She shook her head and blinked, pulling her hand back. At the last moment, the fire burned, and it hurt. God it fucking hurt! She jumped back with a yelp, popping her finger in her mouth to nurse the burn.

Her finger was icy cold to the touch.

She jerked her finger from her mouth, startling so violently that her chair fell over. The dull thud rocked through her system, leaving her curled on her side in a wave of nausea. She heard her mother call out, and she did her best to keep her voice level when she answered “I’m fine.” She’d even managed to stand again before the knock sounded on her door.

She sighed and braced herself for the conversation to come. She knew she couldn’t avoid it forever, and she may as well deal with it while she still looked pathetic enough to beg off to sleep when she’d had enough.

“Come in,” she called, after closing the lid on her laptop. No need to leave her list laying around for anyone to see.

Myles opened the door, and Rain had to fight the urge to yell at him to get out. He did hesitate in the doorway, waiting for her to acknowledge him. She gestured to the chair was leaning on, moving to sit on the end of her bed instead.

“You ok, Brookey? We heard a crash.”

She gritted her teeth at the use of his stupid nick name for her. Brookey- what the fuck was a Brookey? It just sounded dumb. Her name was a real word, you didn’t call Rose Rosey, did you? Oh, well ok, you did, but still. It grated at her, but to tell him not to would be to say more words to him than she ever wanted to.

“I’m fine.”

He nodded, and settled into the chair she’d begrudgingly offered. “I figured you’d say something like that. Typically teenage dodging.” He said affectionately, with that air of I remember being your age. She didn’t buy it for a second. She wasn’t going to volunteer anything. She wondered why hell he’d come instead of her mother. She never said two words to him when she could avoid it, why would she start now? And then, as if reading her thoughts, he answered.

“Your mom wanted to check on you, but there are just some things it’d hard to talk to a parent about. I thought this might be easier on you, since you don’t seem to really care what I think. Which is cool,” he added, and the word sounded so wrong coming from him. But wrong in that typical dad way. Rain bristled, pulling her storm around herself.

He made a show of drawing a deep breath and looking vaguely uncomfortable. She didn’t buy it.

“Look, honey, I know all this has been really hard on you, and your at that age where you’re going through a bunch of changes.” He held his hands up, in the classic I am unarmed pose. “I’m not gonna give ya “the talk”, no worries. I understand I’m not really your dad. You have your mother for all that and I know she loves you dearly and you two have a bond I’d never dream of intruding on.”

She fought not to roll her eyes or tell him to get to the point.

“The point is,” Creepy, again. “there are things you mother doesn’t know about, and can’t know about, because she’s not like us.” He sighed, dropping his arms to his knees and leaning in on them. He stared at a point on the floor between them, careful to give her her space.

“I had hoped to have spent more time with you before having to have this conversation, had hoped we might be friends before I had to break this all to you. I took a risk, and that risk nearly took your from us. I’m sorry for that.”

Here he did raise his gaze to her, letting her see the earnestness in his face. She watched him with a neutral expression. It was the best she could do.

“I know you have no reason to trust me, and everything today has probably rocked all that even further, but I just want you to know that I’m here for you, Brookey. When your mother introduced us, I knew you were special, had magic, like me, and that you’d need someone to guide you when it finally manifested.” He stopped, knowing he was getting clinical. “Just know that what you’re going through is perfectly normal, for people like us.” He reached out as if he were going to pat her leg, then stopped, and pushed himself up out of the chair instead. “I don’t want to overwhelm you right now, but whenever you’re ready, please come to me with any questions. I’m not going to tell you to stay away from your friends, or anything so foolish as that, but I hope you believe me when I say I have your best interests at heart. I can’t say the same for them.”

He moved to the doorway, turning before he left. “Just promise me you’ll try not to worry your mother too much? I can only protect her from her own mind up to a point. The less you give her to worry about, the better it’ll be for her.”

And then he left, closing the door behind him.

Zig was left staring at his phone, torn. On the one hand, if she wasn’t answering, it might be because she was sleeping, or something. But on the other, she might be freaked or crying again, or who knew what, and he didn’t want to leave her stressing for no reason. But if she wasn’t answering, it was for a reason, whatever it might be, so he let it go. She’d text him again if she wanted to, and he’d give her the space to figure stuff out on her own time.

He’d wandered back downstairs after talking with Meliki, moving aimlessly about the Underground. Something about losing the kid unsettled him, he felt like they’d lost somehow. He didn’t even know why they were fighting, but it just sat with him wrong. He’d been ecstatic when she’d texted him, having forgotten to swipe her number when he had her phone, but in retrospect that might have freaked her, but whatever. He just wanted to make sure she didn’t get left behind. He was totally prepared to comb the witch hills for her if need be, for all that it would be pretty much fruitless. But that was Zig. Rush headlong into a stupid plan, fail, come back, accept Tripp’s well thought out plan without question. It worked for them.

Rain didn’t trust it. She stared at the back of the door where Myles had been standing, dissecting their “conversation” over and over. She’d told herself to keep an open mind, to gather information where she could, but he was just so… fake. It was too good an act. He should be furious, or at least a little disappointed. He’d tried too hard to convince her he was on her side. Hell, he didn’t even ask her where she’d gone! Or why. She didn’t think he was dumb enough to believe anything she told him, but at least a little parental grilling had been in order, she thought. Her mom would have been furious, ranting and raving about how dangerous everything is and how she might have gotten hurt and then she’d have scooped her up in a hug and cried at her and Rain would have felt bad – not that that would be the point, but it was effective anyways. That had been the basis of their relationship for a long time. Rain behaved so her mother wouldn’t have to worry about her any more than she already did.

Now her mom just worried about how her hair looked, or if her shoes were too dressy for the occasion. Marrying Myles had sucked everything real out of her, and all over again, Rain was pissed.

The flickering of her pet candle caught her attention again, and she moved back to study it. It was burning tall again, but mellowed out when she sat down to study it. Weird. She reached out to pet it again, being more timid this time. The flame jumped out to meet her halfway, wrapping around her finger. Seriously weird, but kinda cool. She swirled her finger around a little bit, smiling when it crackled at her again. Then a thought struck her, and she moved to draw her hand back again. This time, however, she addressed the flame before removing her finger.

“I’ll pet you again, but I need both my hands for a minute, ok?”

The flame settled back onto its wick, giving a little pop. Rain shook her head, but it honestly wasn’t any weirder than anything else that had happened today.

She picked up her phone again and shot another text to Zig.

Know anything about dancing flames?

––

Ok, that one was waaaay left field. He’d been tossing around in his head what he would say to her when she answered back, ready with all sort of information about fey, less about witches, and most of that negative, but the dancing flames caught him completely off guard. He called across the hallway to Tripp, they were both putzing around in their studios, waiting for the business to come.

“Oi, bro – you know anything about dancing flames?”

“You mean like minor elementals? Ifrits and salamanders and things?”

Zig blinked, unsurprised his brother had an answer, but not really understanding a word of it.

“Uhhhh, yeah, I guess. What do they do, or whatever?”

Tripp laughed, low and deep. “Fiery things. You’ll have to ask something better than that.”

Well, ok then. At least he knew Tripp would have something useful to say if she had any questions, so he fired back, A little, yeah. What’s up?

I seem to have found myself a pet. What is it?

He didn’t bother saying anything to Tripp, just sent back, I need a little more to go off of than that. Where did you find it, what’s it doing? Anything more specific, so I can tell if it’s an ifrit or salamander or what. He was pleased with his answer, it made him sound smart, and it would keep Tripp from laughing at him for asking stupid questions again. Sometimes he wondered just which one of them was the older brother. He remembered Tripp as a little boy when they were growing up together, but hell, he’d always acted like an old man.

Rain perked up at his answer. Ifrit, it’s definitely an ifrit. It told me so when I found it. …wandering around in my head. Does that tell you anything about me, or it?

She felt really silly telling him about it, but if she wanted any answers, she’d have to give him something to go off of, and for all that he seemed to be a goofball, she didn’t think he’d make fun of her. He’d seemed to …caring for that.

She stopped herself before she started forming a biased opinion of him. It wasn’t fair that she hated Myles for disrupting her life, she shouldn’t give Zig and they fair any unfair advantage either.

But she shouldn’t ignore her instincts, should she?

Gah, this was all too confusing. She went back to poking at her ifrit, which was happily dodging her playful pokes. At least, she thought that’s what the crackling meant. It kinda reminded her of a cat’s purr.

“She says its an ifrit,” he called back, pushing up out of his stool and moving across the hall to Tripp’s studio. “I’m talking to the kid from earlier, Rain.”

Tripp grunted, caught up in examining his machine.

“She says she found it wandering around her head, that make any sense to you?”

“It sounds more like a Qarin,” he said absently, “if it was wandering around in her head. They’re like, Jiminy Cricket or whatever. Spirits that influence human behavior by whispering to them.”

“Eh, I don’t think so, bro,” Zig answered, going back through their texts. “I think she’s talking about a literal flame that’s dancing, though don’t ask me why I say so.”

“No, it’s cool,” Tripp answered, putting his gun down and sitting up to engage in the conversation more. “A dancing flame is a dancing flame, I was just half distracted.”

“I’d noticed.” Zig grinned at his brother, but didn’t bother pointing out that Tripp was almost always distracted. It was part of what made Tripp Tripp.

“So, a dancing flame that told her it was an ifrit, as it was wandering in her head?”

“Oh here,” he said, just handing his phone to his brother. He thought about what little he knew about elementals while Tripp read, which wasn’t much. He knew they were based on the classic elements of the physical world, or pretty much anything found in nature, so you got the earth wind water fire but also things like lightening, thunder, ice, spirit – anything abstract that could be condensed down into symbol, really. He knew avatars were somehow related, but he couldn’t really remember how, but at that point Tripp was handing back the phone anyways.

“You might wanna go ahead and give her my number, so she can ask me any complex questions directly, but if you think that should wait until we hang out more, I’ll trust your judgment on that.”

Zig startled, giving his brother a look. “Who said anything about us hanging out more?”

“You did, when you came in here asking me to help you answer some random stranger’s question. You’ve adopted the girl, Ziggo, it is plain on your face.”

“Aww damnit,” Zig said, half grinning. “What the fuck are we gonna do with this Tripp?”

His brother shrugged. “Beats the hell outta me – you’re the one that adopted her, you come up with the dumbass plan.” He stood and stretched moving to leave the room to go do whatever else it was he felt he needed to do before the rush. “I’ll just sit back and watch for your mistakes and come up with a better plan after you fail the first time, ok?”

“Love you too, asshole,” he shot at his brother’s retreating back.

I don’t know much off the top of my head, but Tripp has some books, we’re gonna go see what we can find, ok?

It wasn’t much, but he didn’t wanna leave her hanging. He was probably gonna be married to his phone for the next little bit, just to make sure he answered every question she had as quickly as possible. He wished they could have kept her here, but that would have been a shitty, fey thing to do. He was not a fey, and he wasn’t about to start acting like one now.

Huh. Ok then. She didn’t know why, but it surprised her that he didn’t know everything about everything magic. She felt stupid when she realized it, it’s not like she knew everything about everything from the normal world, why should he know all about magic? But it was kinda cool of him to admit his ignorance, anyways. She felt like she should reward him for it, reinforce the good behavior.

That’s cool, take your time. I’m just gonna hang out and play tag with my candle, lol.

He followed Tripp downstairs, trying not to fall over his own feet as he read the text while walking down the stairs. It was actually kind of amazing the Underground didn’t try to trip him, but he wasn’t going to question it. If she felt like behaving, he would just accept it, and be grateful. Maybe she was finally settling, after eight long years.

“She says she’s playing tag with her .candle…” Zig reported dutifully.

“If it fits on a candle flame, it was probably caused by a very minor death, like a bird or a beetle or something.” Tripp was scanning his shelves, only half looking at what he was seeing.

“Dude, what the fuck are you talking about?” Zig said, looking up from his phone.

“Ifrits are born from the blood of a murder victim,” he tossed back casually, as if it were common knowledge.

“Dude! What the hell?! Rain’s step-father murdered someone?” It took all he had not to run out the door and go rescue her right that second.

“Just something minor, no bigger than a cat, for sure.”

“Wait, how do you murder a cat?”

“Intent dude, it’s all about intent. A little kid accidentally blowing away his best friend cause daddy left his guns lying around isn’t a murderer. Same asshole kid holding a squirrel by the tail and beating it against the side of the house til its brains are all over the brick? Totally a murdered, and a prick, I might add.”

Zig stared at his brother in horror, taking a moment to process all that.

“Dude, sometimes I forget just how fucking weird you really are.”

“Hmm?” he said absently. Zig had been quiet long enough that Tripp had been sucked back into his own thoughts and had forgotten what they were talking about. He abandoned that thought too when he found the book he was looking for. “Here we go, 1001 nights. Lots of good Jinn lore in there.”

“I thought we were looking for an ifrit.”

Tripp gave him a flat look. “We are. Ifriti are Jinn dude.”

“Oh. Right.”

Zig waffled about what to tell Rain while Tripp read. On the one hand, he wanted to tell her to be careful, that her step-dad was a murderer and not to be trusted. But one, that was some heavy shit, and he didn’t want to scare her for no reason and two, how likely was he to hurt her if he wanted her? And three, there was no telling if he created the ifrit or just ensnared it or something. He’d wait for Tripp to tell him something useful.

He paced back and forth at the foot of Tripp’s bed while his brother sat on it and read.

“Mmk… It says here most Ifriti are giants, super strong, and can shapeshift… can be killed or captured with magic… are neither good nor evil, like us, they can choose… I dont’ know how much of this gonna apply to her little pet. Maybe the shapeshifting, probably the bit about magic, maybe the good and evil… I guess it depends on how sentient it is? Ask her if it talks.”

Zig nodded and shot Rain a text, which she answered pretty quickly. “She says it purrs, and seems to react to her talking to it, but hasn’t said any words or anything.”

Tripp nodded, closing his book and putting it back on the shelf. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much then. If it’s not smart enough to talk to her, it’s probably not smart enough to spy for her step-dad or anything. At worst he might be able to command it to affect her moods, or distract her, but I don’t think it’s sentient enough to really whisper things in her ear, or tattle on her, or anything of any real consequence. Hell, it might not even be from her dad. If she picked it up outside and brought it home, it’s probably not give enough to trip his wards and be kept out. It might really be from some sick kid with a squirrel.”

Zig gave him a flat look. “I am not telling her that.”

Tripp shrugged. “You don’t have to. What you tell the kid is up to you, I’m just telling you what I think and know.” Tripp left the room, leaving Zig with a what the hell expression on his face. He sighed and stood, going to the door between their rooms and walking the short hall over to his own space. He knew Tripp wouldn’t care if Zig hung out in his room, but he felt weird being in there without him. It just seemed rude somehow.

Zig flopped on his own, much smaller bed and started drafting a text to Rain.

Rain was thoroughly enjoying playing “tag” with her ifrit and answering questions about it for Zig. She’d never had a pet- she wasn’t about to ask her mom to feed another mouth – and he was happy for the company. And the distraction. She didn’t want to chase her thoughts round and round in her head right now. She was happy to just sit and play with her ifrit.

Her phone was quiet for long enough she’d almost forgotten Zig had been texting her, but when she opened this message, it was a super long one.

Your pet is probably harmless, it probably came from the soul of a small animal, so it’s not likely to be much smarter than a house cat or whatever. Larger ifriti, from human souls, could take the form of that human, shape shift in general, and would basically be more like what we think of when we think “Genie”. That’s what ifriti are, a kind of Jinn, but yours I think barely counts as one. Enjoy your pet : )

She smiled, she was glad to know she wasn’t treating some higher being like a play thing. She had thought it had been enjoying their game, and she was happy to have him.

“You wanna live on my candle, little boy? Huh? Huh? Do ya?”

The flame popped and rose a little higher, then settle back down and crackled.

Rain giggled. “I’ll take that as a yes then.” She shot Zig a quick text, thanking him for taking the time to answer her questions, to which he answered No prob, anytime : ) She went to playing with her ifrit, till she fell asleep on the desk.

Some time much, much later, she woke again, belly rumbling. It was night now, no one was up as far as she could tell, when she made her way downstairs to the kitchen. She made a sandwich, thinking about nothing while she ate, just sat and stared at the moon through the big French doors. She didn’t know how long she sat that way, but when she felt her eyes start to droop she went back upstairs and climbed into bed, and dreampt of nothing.

Chapter 6

Rain awoke the next morning, feeling that the house was utterly empty. It was just something she had come to able to sense lately. That thought made her wonder if it was a magic thing, but in the same way she knew the house was empty, she knew she knew it because it was just a very basic, human thing. Social animals knew when they were alone, and mourned it.

Instead of moping, Rain got up, got dressed, and tossed her laptop into its bag and got ready to head out the door. No sense hanging around here. She was expecting her mother at least to insist on staying home to keep an eye on her baby, but there was no telling what Myles had put into her head, and even worse chance of telling what he was thinking.

…He was thinking about unloading groceries, apparently. He and her mother had pulled up in the driveway shortly after she’d made her way down to the kitchen to grab some orange juice. She thought about retreating right back up the stairs, or sneaking out the front door, but stayed instead, realizing this was a chance to see Myles and her mother together when they didn’t realize she was watching.

At least she assumed they didn’t realize. There was no being positive but Rain had already decided not to second guess herself too much or she’d never actually have any thoughts, just doubts and doubts abut those doubts. Nope, not gonna do it. One “Are you sure?” per thought was her limit.

He came around to open the door for her mother, a silly gesture, but one that made her smile when she took his hand. Her brows had been knit with worry, but he patted her arm and said something to her, and she smiled and nodded and moved toward the trunk with him to gather plastic bags.

Rain, in a strange humor, felt like engaging them, and moved to open the door for them. She wasn’t sure what feeling was gripping her, but she knew it was coming from within, not without, as she suspected a lot of her thoughts from the previous evening had. Now that she knew to look for any signs that her feelings might not be her own, she could spot the difference pretty easily.

“Morning guys,” she said with an almost predatory grin. “What have you two been up to?”

“Picking up stuff for breakfast,” Myles answered cheerily. “Though I guess it’s brunch now, sleepy head.”

“Myles took me driving, to see White Prince Academy again.”

Rain’s hackles instantly rose. Her mom sounded way too …ok with that. Myles had talked about enrolling her at the beginning of the summer, back when they’d been “talking” about the move. That concession was made way too easily, Rain thought, but she could understand the draw for her mother, after all the hardship of raising Rain alone. But her mother hadn’t seen any reason to pull her from a school Rain loved, so close to her graduating anyways, where Rain had always done well and gotten fabulous grades despite all the trouble they went through. Her mother had been more than relieved that Rain wouldn’t have to get a real job when she’d turned sixteen, though it had been Rain’s idea to do so, to help out. Her mother had insisted the early morning paper route was more than enough, but Rain knew better. Even if her mom wouldn’t accept that they could use the extra income, Rain could just squirrel it away for college, something that her mother couldn’t possibly object to. She knew her grades would stay fine, and it wouldn’t be that hard to get into the community college in town anyways. Then she could keep whatever job she’d get, and keep an eye on her mom, and things would go on with them looking out for each other as they always had.

That picture had gone right the hell out the window, but at least her mom had let Myles enroll her in White Prince.

He’d taken them all three to an open house, let her see the dorms and the archery fields and the pottery kiln and the chemistry lab – anything he could think of that might win Rain over. Because that had been clearly what he’d been trying to do. Rain’s mother made it plain that the choice was up to Rain – it was her education and her emotional and social well-being that would be affect by this, and no one else, so the decision should be completely hers. Rain had hung on to little spark of logic in her mother’s whirlwind romance, and used that fact to make the choice objectively, rather than out of spite. No matter what she chose, her mother was on her side for this one, and that made it easier to decide based on what she actually wanted, instead of some stupid teenage desire to prove her independence or attempt to exert some control on the situation.

She’d really enjoyed her psychology class the year before.

Maybe if he hadn’t taken so much from her already, but Rain barely saw her mother anymore, only really saw her friends at school, and was already showing her brochures for this or that college a million miles away – Oxford? Really? Why on earth would she go to England? She was a nobody, going to college so she could get a job. This was not what he life was about. Yes, he’d given her the breathing room to figure out what she wanted to be, now that she had some options, but she sure as hell wasn’t gonna be some Ivy League Princess just cause her daddy had the money to say she was. She’d stick it out in public school and see who she was gonna be before all this, if life had dealt her a mom a slightly better hand.

Nope, White Prince had definitely been out.

But here her mom was, saying they’d driven past the campus again, just to see? It wasn’t “on the way” to anything – that’s why it had freakin dorms! Yes, it was technically still in town, and anyone that wanted to drive home at the end of the day could (though honestly most of them probably lived in the posh houses that surrounded the grounds, but whatever- why Myles didn’t just move them into one of those, she’d never know. This had clearly not been his house when they’d moved in, there wasn’t even a tv in the damned living room). It just felt too much like another world, like you’d somehow made a wrong turn and wound up in Stepford or some craziness. The place gave her the heebies, and here her mom was saying they’d just gone for a drive, and happened out there? No way.

“Mom, what the hell? White Prince? You said it was my decision.”

“And it still is sweeite, and you shouldn’t say such words.”

“Mom, you’ve never given a damn about what I say when it’s just us-”

“But its not just us anymore, is it sweetie?” She glanced up at her husband, too much adoration in her eyes. It made Rain snort in spite of herself.

“I’d watch my tone with my mother, if I were you, Brookey.” There was nothing threatening in his tone, just an adult giving some friendly advice to an obviously unruly child. “If you’ll remember, she’s the one who insisted the choice be left up to you. Don’t prove her wrong now.” The “especially after yesterday” hung unspoken in the air between them, and she glared daggers at him as he calmly met her eyes. However, Rain’s mom had disengaged from her husband and was moving towards her daughter with obvious concern in her eyes.

“I just worry about what kind of people you’re going to attract dear. I don’t want you to wind up like me.”

Rain had started to soften, leaning in as her mother reached out to cup her cheek, but that last sentence ruined it, making Rain gasp and turn away in disgust.

“For that last time, mother, I am not going to fall head over heels and get knocked up by some stranger! Stop chaining me to your mistakes anymore than I already am!”

Her eyes widened in horror and she clapped her hands over her mouth to stop the flow of ugly words. Where the hell had that come from? Sure, she and her mom had talked about where she’d come from, how Rain’s mom didn’t really know her dad for very long before he’d died, but left her pregnant with little baby Rain. But the story had never been as ..accusatory as it was now. Bitter. It had always ended with Rain’s mom telling her how happy she was to blessed her little baby girl out of the whole affair, and Rain promising she’d always be careful, and was never going to leave her. This? This had come waaay out of left field.

Rain was so upset with herself for saying such awful things to her mom, she didn’t know what to do with herself. She wanted to stammer about how she didn’t mean it, and wrap her arms around her mom and whisper that she didn’t mean it, that she still loved her and that she didn’t feel trapped or hate her for anything she’d done, but instead she just stood there and stared as her mother backed away, tears filling her eyes until she’d backed into Myles, where she buried her face in his chest and sobbed.

Arms around his wife, Myles stared Rain down, daring her to say something. Keep talking child, prove me right. When all know what a burden you’ve been on her, and now you’ve made her cry.

Rain shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut and throwing her hands over her ears to drown him out. But he wasn’t speaking. It was all just the guilt in her head, pushing down, down until she crouched, trying to escape all the pressure but still it sunk over her, pressing…

She bolted. Her body reacted without her and she ran, sprinting down the driveway and out into the streets with no thought to where she was going. There were no thoughts in her head, other than RUN. She ran and ran until she ran smack into a man, standing in the street. She hit so hard she bounced off, falling to her butt on the street, cutting her hands on the asphalt.

“No, no, no, that won’t do,” he said softly, crouching down. He was wearing a long, black coat that pooled around him when he knelt, making him look like a puddle of pure darkness. His long dark hair was undone, blowing around his face, which was way too tan for this neighborhood. His smile was startlingly white in all the darkness, but Rain found she couldn’t move, no matter how much her brain was still screaming to RUN.

He knelt on the pavement, one hand appearing from the folds of his coat and resting spread fingers on the road. Rain felt a sharp bite in her hands and she jerked them up, only looking away from the strange little man for half a second. As she watched, the blood ran from the scrapes on her hands, down her fingers and off of them, flowing out into the air and toward the man. His hand was covered in blood, tiny rivulets running from up off the street to disappear into the folds of his coat. The blood from her hand flowed to join the rest of it, leaving perfectly clean, pink skin in its wake. She stared at it, until her brain snapped back into gear and she realize the real thing to stare at was rising to his feet.

Fully standing again, he still wasn’t very tall, shorter than Rain but not freakishly small. Just a short, dark man with long hair and a long coat.

In late August.

Who had just sucked her blood up out of the street.

Her first thought was Oh my god, vampires are real? but it was the middle of the day, that was stupid.

“I’m not a vampire, but they’re not bound by sunlight, silly girl. You should come with me, though, before your step-father comes to find you again.”

She blinked at him, staring stupidly. She hadn’t spoken, she knew she hadn’t. She’d stopped herself before anything so silly could come out of her mouth. But he answered her anyways. Could he read minds?

Of course I can, he thought directly into her head. But that really isn’t important right now. We need to get you out of here.

Rain back peddled on the road, scrambling backwards to get away from him. This was just too much, she was too freaked out, too much couldn’t take it-

“Come with me if you want to live,” the man said, in a terrible Arnold accent.

“Rook, knock it off, you ass, you’ve scared the poor girl.”

The voice behind her was all the warning she got before she backed into a pair long, sturdy legs. She blinked up at the new guy, who looked for all the world like some kind of bouncer. Black jeans, black t-shirt, built arms crossed over his built chest, shaved head and angry scowl for the little man across from them. But when he turned to look down at her, his face softened into a smile, brown eyes warm and inviting.

“Lemme give you a hand up, kid,” he said, reaching down for her.

“Damnit Sergi! You spoil all my fun! How many times am I gonna get to say that?” the little man called, stomping his feet.

“Plenty,” Mr. Bouncer called back, still half-bent to help Rain up, “if you don’t get your ass in gear and we lose her again. Stop dickin’ around.” He dropped the tough guy act again and finished helping Rain stand. “He’s not so bad kid, just got a terrible lust for theatrics. Come on,” he said, grasping her hand, “up you go.”

The strength with which he hauled her up left her breathless, and she leaned against him a minute for support. He’d picked her up like you’d pick a t-shirt up off the floor, no sweat. She gave him wide eyes as she looked up at him, brain just unable to keep up with it all.

“Sergio! Stop flirting with the minor and get your shit together, will you?”

Jon shot him an annoyed look, but didn’t call out with Rain leaning on his chest. He didn’t want to spook the girl any further. Her eyes were glassy and she was almost done, just flat done. “Come on kiddo,” he said softly. “Let’s get you home.”

Rain’s legs slid out from under her and Jon scooped her up, but she was already out.

She came to in a soft, warm bed, and for a minute she thought she was just now waking up for the day. But when she reached over for her nightstand to see what time it was, all she found was more bed. And more bed. When she opened her eyes, she saw that she was in the middle of a huge bed, like the size of a normal kid’s whole bedroom. What the fuck?

“Ah, good. You’re awake.”

Rook’s voice slid through both the air and her mind, carrying with it the reinforcement that she was safe, that nothing would harm her, and that she was back where she belonged.

A quiet place in her soul flared to life, and she believed it.

She was home.

Then her rational brain kicked in and she railed against it, against all of it, including the insanely huge bedspread she was trapped underneath.

“Relax, Rain, Just scoot yourself up, it’s much easier than fighting to get to the side of that massive thing.”

Again, the voice was accompanied by soothing thoughts, and an agreement inside her about how rational what he was saying was. She didn’t give in to the comfort, but she did use his advice to free herself from the blanket. Not feeling quite so trapped, she pulled her knees up to her chest and leaned against the headboard.

“Where am I?”

Rook sighed softly to himself and moved out of the shadows he’d been watching her from. Always with the “where am I?” first. Never any “Oh thank you! You found me! I’ve missed you Rook, where have you been Rook? Why were we parted Rook?” Oh no, none of that. Ah well. Hopefully, this would be the last time he’d have to do this.

“You’re in my bed, in my room, in my bar, which is named after me. I’m Rook.”

She just blinked at him, and he sighed grandly and sat on the edge of the bed, still leaving them several feet apart from each other.

“You’re in the same town your grew up in, not too far from where you used to live, actually. I’m amazed I got it that close this time.” He stopped himself, with a cutting off motion of his hand. “Irrelevant. Hopefully that won’t be an issue ever again. Here, let me get back on track. I’ve done this enough times, I should be better at it by now, but I never seem to be able to remember what I say from century to century. Ah well.”

Her eyes just widened and she hugged her knees closer to herself. This guy was nuts.

“Yes, Rain, he is nuts, but no, he’s not wrong. Here, have some water.”

Jon had felt Rain wake, or rather, had felt Rook’s pleasure that she’d awoken, and had come up to save her from his dramatic little boss. He sat down the edge of the bed next to her, leaning over to pass her a glass of water.

Rain took it and sipped, not knowing where to turn her attention now. Two very strange men, one that was a psycho, one that could bench press her easy, both able to read her mind. She was so fucked.

“No one’s going to fuck you and Jon can’t read your mind, he just knows me that well. Well, he can read your emotional state, but only under the right circumstances, which you are not under currently.”

“Rook,” Jon interrupted, “shut the fuck up for a minute. I know you love to hear yourself talk but have you ever thought about what this is like from her perspective?” He took advantage of Rook’s stunned silence to fill the girl in.

“Look, bullet points of pressing concerns, so you can rest easier. One: You’re free to go at any time, no one is gonna keep you here against you will. Two: We understand your magic and can help you with it more than anyone else can, because it’s tied to ours. So you’re safer here with us than anywhere else you could possibly be, but again, we aren’t gonna keep you here if you want to go, but you’ll probably wanna stick around and hear us out. Three: The how’s and why’s of this is really long story, and not one we’ll keep from you, but for right now it’s not the most important factor. We can’t just scoop you out of the life you’re living and tuck you away somewhere and take all the time to explain – we’ve tried that before, it doesn’t work. Four, and this one is most important – the less your step-dad knows about us, the safer we can keep you. We need to get you home, and fast, before he goes on the war path through low town again and burns Meliki’s to the ground. I’ve already called Zig, he’s on his way to come get you, and he’ll take you back to your house so there’s less for him to trace, ok?”

He paused, trying not to stare at her too expectantly while he let all that sink in.

Damnit Jon, you ruin all my fun, Rook shot at him, sulkily.

Just doing my job, boss man. You’ll thank me for it later.

Rook rolled his eyes and stood, moving back to his shadows.

“Don’t mind Rook,” Jon said, when Rain’s head whipped around to where he was moving. “He’d just got more invested in this than I do. ‘Swhy he can’t seem to remember how to explain everything gently, key details first. He gets kind of overexcited.” A humph came from the shadows, and Jon smiled. “Have Zig give you our cell numbers, and try to memorize at least one of them by heart. Rook should be able to hear you call mentally, if you’re ever in trouble, but better to have more than one means of calling a friend, ya know?”

Rain nodded slowly, taking a bigger draw from her water. This was overwhelming, but again, he brain was adjusting quickly to the new normal. You could only stay on high alert overdrive for so long.

“Her ride’s here,” Rook said softly from the shadows. Jon nodded and rose to his feet, holding out a hand to Rain to help her get out of the huge bed.

“We’ll keep in touch, Rain. Just remember you’ve got lots of places to turn to now, ok? Don’t ever feel like you’re stuck relying on one source for anything.” He gave the shadows a pointed look, which did not respond. He rolled his eyes and walked Rain to the door, holding it open for her to pass though. He continued talking as he led her down the stairs and towards the front door of what was obviously a bar, like Rook had said. “This is your life and your choice, and we’re here to help you do what you want with it. Not everyone else can say that. Just remember,” he said, hand on the front door, “that we let you go, and we didn’t have to.” He opened the door held it for her, nodding to Zig idling outside. “Take care of yourself kid, you can’t count on anyone else to do it for you.”

Zig was on a motorcycle this time, all sleek in black and blues – much more badboy than the maroon Vespa, and undoubtedly much faster.

“Hey kiddo,” he said, flipping up his visor.

“Hey.”

Her voice was hollow and small, and she hated it, but it’s how she felt inside. Everything was spinning out of control and it just seemed to get worse and worse with every passing moment. She wanted to turn around and demand answers out of Jon, but everyone was right – Myles would be coming for her, and if that meant people would get hurt, she had to go home. She hated it though. She hated everything. But she would hate herself more if she brought crap down on anyone else.

“So, how are we supposed to keep this all from my step-dad? He found me easily enough before.”

“Yeah, undoubtedly he’s got a fix on your aura, no dodging that.” Zig settled into a more sustainable posture on the bike. “Your step-dad already knows me, knows my aura and knows my affiliations, there’s no undoing that. What he doesn’t know is that you were with Rook and Jon. I don’t know how they pulled that off, but Rook has his ways, and they’re often mysterious, so I just don’t question it.”

Rain nodded and moved towards the bike, knowing they had to get going. Myles could find her at any second, if he had her traced or whatever.

“You’re safe riding with me,” Zig explained when she stepped over to him.. “I’ve got a strong enough signal, I’ll mask anything you put off – most of the time.”

“Most of the time,” she asked, raising a dubious eyebrow.

He turned, hand tucked behind his head in a nervous gesture. “Well, yeah. I mean, no one I’ve ever met is as strong as you when you’re actually using your powers – whatever they are.” He had the good grace to look embarrassed. “I’m really sorry about all this. I don’t really know how to handle things. I mean, I’ve helped the Spiders and everything, but…” He trailed off, unsure. “I don’t even know how to tell you what I mean about everything it’s all so weird for me. I can’t imagine how much worse it must be for you.”

He sat there a moment, completely at a loss. Then he shook his head and patted the seat behind him. “C’mon kiddo, let’s get you home. Before your jerk of a step-dad comes back.” He handed her a helmet and gave her a smile. “Don’t worry about it, Rainy day. He can’t keep you under lock and key. Where you spend your days is your business. He can’t touch you until curfew and I’ll always have you home long before that. If you wanna stay with us, we can keep ya dosed up on well water for now, and as long as you come spend some time in the Underground or the garden every day, you shouldn’t reject it. I know it’s not ideal, but we’ll come up with up something better. Just need a little time, that’s all.” He reached a hand out and gripped her shoulder, big brotherly love shining in his eyes. “We’ll figure this out, Rain. It’ll be ok. I promise.”

She smiled back at him, and even almost started to believe it. She swung her leg over the bike and tucked in, and he sped off back to uptown.

Zig pulled over several streets from her house, to ask for better directions. He explained that he was going to drop her off a few streets away, but that he wanted to know where she lived anyways, should she need him. She nodded and told him, even suggested the best street to drop her off on. He did so, only stopping long enough to let her off before speeding away.

Rain’s stomach dropped to her feet as she walked the rest of the way up the hill to her house. What was she going to say? How could she possibly explain? Myles car wasn’t in the driveway, and Rain worried for a moment about where he was, what he was out doing, but then her mother burst through the doors and wrapped Rain in a fierce hug.

“Brooke! There you are! Oh honey, I was so worried! I thought you’d run away and you hated me and oh-” She broke off into sobs, burying her face in Rain’s shoulder.

Rain hugged her mother tightly, not sure what was going on but relieved that her mother wasn’t angry with her. They could sort out the rest, as long as they were still on the same side.

“It’s ok mom, i’m back, i’m here. I just kinda …freaked out.”

Her mom pulled back to look at her, tear streaked eyes red and huge.

“I won’t make you go to White Price, honey. It was just, I was so worried about your running around with a bad crowd, and Myles suggested we just go take a look again, to help calm me down I guess- oh honey I don’t know. I’m just worried about you! You haven’t been yourself since our marriage and I just want you to be happy.

Rain felt like a rat. She knew her behavior had to have upset her mother, but she just never acted like it did. Honestly, this was the first time she’d seen her mother act like herself in months. She didn’t waste any time wondering why, however, she knew she had to take advantage of this rare opportunity.

She took her mother by the shoulders and looked her square in the eyes. “Mom, I can’t lie to you. I’m not happy here. But I get why you’ve made the decisions you did, and I’m not upset with you. But all my friends are back in low town, and yeah, I made some dumb decisions yesterday, but that’s just because I’ve been so isolated. No one I was drinking with yesterday knew I was underage.” It hurt to swallow that lie, but if that’s what her mother needed to believe, then so be it. “They never asked, I didn’t tell. A girl from my dance class noticed I hadn’t been around in a while, and we got to talking, and I just went back to hang out with her and her friends, and I got a little carried away. It was just so good to feel normal again- I’m really sorry, and I won’t do anything like that again, but mom- I’m going crazy here. I don’t want to invite any of my old friends to this big, fancy house, and I’m always alone, and I hate it. I just miss my old life sometimes- I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore…”

She hated playing her mom that way, but honestly, most of what she’d said was true, and hopefully, it would win her mother over. “I just wanna be able to go hang out with my friends. I know there’s a curfew for a reason, but I promise I would always be back before then, just … Don’t keep me cooped up in the big cage all the time, ok?”

Her mother nodded, though Rain could see it didn’t come easy. “Alright sweetie. You’ve never given me any reason to doubt you before -aside from yesterday. Keep yourself in check, don’t give me any reasons to worry, and I don’t see any reason to borrow trouble.” She smiled, reaching out to stroke her daughter’s cheek. “I’ll talk to Myles honey. You just go inside, get yourself some dinner and go hide out in your room, ok? Then there’ll be all school week and we’ll talk about opening up your weekends when the next one comes around, ok?”

Rain nodded, not satisfied that it would be enough, but knowing that it was something. She’d play the game if she had to – she hated it, she and her mother had always been on better terms than this, but if there rules were changing, she’d play the game and learn how to win.

She didn’t know any other way.

Rook smiled to himself, turning away from her thoughts and moving back into the room his physical body was in. She would be fine, Jon had been right. This one was too much like him to endure being caged well.

He laughed abruptly, imagining what the product would be if she split from him as he had from Morgana. He didn’t know if such a thing were even possible, but if anyone could do it, his il’li could.

He tossed on some jeans and a ratty t-shirt, throwing his hair back into a pony tail. Working the bar tonight would do him some good, focusing on the crowd’s energies instead of his own agitation. Likely, he’d pick someone up to take down to the dungeon later and work off some more frustration. But for now, he put on a killer smile and went to go do what he did so well.

––

Rain grabbed a sandwich, both starving and un-hungry at the same time. With things smoothed over with her mom, her worry turned to her absent step-father, and what hell he might be raining down on her new friends. Because she did think of Zig as her friend, and honestly Jon and maybe even Rook too. It might be simply teenage logic, but they fought for her rights to be herself, showed genuine interest in her happiness and well-being. Myles seemed concerned for her safety, but somehow not in her person. Like she wasn’t real to him. She didn’t like it, and she didn’t like what he’d done to her life and her mother. Whatever trust he might have gained from her was gone. He wanted them both to dance in his little puppet show, and he would keep pushing until they complied.

Rain would just fake it til he went away.

She was 16, starting her junior year of high school. Just two more years, and he wouldn’t be able to tell her a damned thing. She’d learn to drive, she’d do her absolute best in school, and she’d get away. She’d figure out what to do about her mother later. First she had to get free, and get to people who would help her understand her magic.

God, her magic. That complicated things more than she could say.

With a heavy sigh, she took her sandwich and a bag of chips up to her room, leaning against the door for a moment after she closed it. This should all be so overwhelming, but mostly she just felt tired. Like her brain had lifted all it could and now it was just done. All the crap that kept piling on, there just wasn’t enough of her left to care about it. She was sure she’d have to work her way through all the mess of it later, but for now she sat down in front of her computer and went back over her list.

-What happened today?

Still not sure. People to ask: Zig, Jon.

-Will it happen again?

Yes, according to ..well, everyone

-What do I need watch out for?

Good question- get on that. Maybe Jon?

-What am I?

And that last one. That last one refused to be answered. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t really important, but it was the one she wanted answered the most. She’d ask Jon, as soon as she got his number from Zig. Who should hopefully be home safe by now. She pulled out her phone and texted him, worry fluttering in her stomach.

––

Zig pulled up on 8-Leggs, half expecting the crazy witch-dad from hell to be parked outside, ready to torch the shop to the ground. But the street was empty, and so was the lobby when he came in the side door. Rinna looked up from her magazine on the counter, and Zig gave her questioning eyes.

“Nobody’s come in since you left dude. All’s quiet on the western front.”

Zig nodded, but his brows stayed knitted with worry as he made his way downstairs.

He hit the kitchen, wanting to cook to burn off some nervous energy. He was pawing around in the fridge when his phone went off. It was from Rain.

Everything ok? Myles hasn’t come back yet.

He smiled. The kiddo was worried about them. That was awesome. He wanted her to be a part of the family pretty badly, and was glad to see she felt the same, at least kinda.

We’re good here. You ok?

He knew that was a stupid question, but he also figured she’d know what he meant. She bounced back to him pretty darn quick, so Zig just pulled up a chair and sat down. He’d cook later.

Yeah, mostly. I’m actually kinda getting used to being abducted 😛 Speaking of, can you give me Jon’s number?

Huh. He was kinda surprised she didn’t have it already, but whatever. Jon would know a lot more about what was going on with her than he would. Zig had been beyond surprised when he’d gotten the call from the bartenders this morning, but when he realized it was about Rain, everything kinda clicked into place. Rook was way weird, and Jon too, and that meant Rain fit right in. He hadn’t questioned it, though he would make a point of telling Meliki later. No one had told him not to, and he owed more than his life to the Big Mama.

Rain sent a text to Jon immediately, just a short and sweet This is me. I’m home safe and laying low

Jon sent back pretty quickly Got it. Ask me anything, any time, and I’ll do my best for you.

Ok then, fine. It was worth a shot. What am I?

Jon sighed, hardly surprised. I don’t know kid. That’s one Rook plays pretty close to his chest. Sorry.

Rain humphed and tossed her phone on the bed, unsurprised but disappointed anyways. She’d ask him more later, but right now she wanted something familiar, something she understood, so she cracked open her math book and started working on tomorrows homework.

Chapter 7

She had to stop falling asleep at her desk. She rolled her shoulders, trying to work out the crick in her neck, pushing back from her desk with a sigh. It wasn’t even 10 at night yet, why had she fallen asleep. Math wasn’t that boring, was it? She grabbed her phone and texted Zig about her suddenly sleeping so much as she made her way downstairs for a late dinner.

On the kitchen table was a note with her name on it and a little tube sitting on top of it. She picked it up, turning it this way and that. It had a keyring at one end, and a ..spray tip? Shaking her head, she set it down and picked up the note.

Brooke,

I know I can’t stop you from making your own decisions, and I don’t intend to try. But if you insist on spending your time in the questionable parts of town, will you at least carry this with you? It’s like mace, but with a little more kick for some of the bigger trouble you might run into.

Please be safe,

Myles

What, the hell? Rain set the note back on the table with the super mace and move to rummage through the fridge. There was a take-out box, clearly mom and Myles had had their discussion somewhere Rain wouldn’t hear – that she’d been awake to overhear anyways. She pulled it out and munched a few bites of cold steak, popping the half-eaten baked potato into the microwave. While it warmed, she picked up the mace tube again and gave it a more thorough looking over. Where on earth did he get this thing? Was there like, a Witches-R-Us or whatever? It didn’t look particularly homemade, there wasn’t any obvious place where it might unscrew for loading in more ..whatever was in there. Rain shot Zig another text about supernatural mace, then took her potato, note and weapon back up to her room.

Zig tried to relax when his phone buzzed a second time. He should have left it up front with Jack or something. Now he was in mid-ink, and wasn’t about to tell a patron to hold on a sec so he could dick around on their dime.

When no other texts seemed to follow after a while, Zig let out a sigh. He’d answer as soon as he could, and it’s not like she didn’t have Jon’s number now if it was an emergency. He wondered for a moment about the Record Keeper’s connection to the new kid- surely it wasn’t just trying to log unidentified powers, Rook didn’t take himself that seriously- but he let it go. It wasn’t his business and he really ought to just focus on this Jessica Rabbit tat. He rolled his shoulders to work the kink out then buried himself back in his work.

Rain woke to the sound of her alarm, feeling foggy and slow. He mouth was dry like cotton and her whole body felt stiff, and wooden. She drug herself over to the shower, hoping the heat and water would help her feel more human. It helped, but not enough. She moved mechanically as she put her books in her bag, her phone and wallet in her pockets, and clipped her keys and mace to her belt.

She stayed groggy all through first period, and most of the way into second. Her body eventually loosened up but her head was just so foggy today, like a great cloud had settled over her. She picked at her food through lunch, not saying much to her friends, who just chatted on around her silence. By the time school was over, all she wanted to do was go home and crash.

She awoke from a nap to a text from Zig.

Hey, you’re out of school now, right?

She blinked sleepily but sent back a Yeah, what’s up?

Meliki could tell you more about the mace, if you let her see it. Should I come get you?

It took Rain a minute to remember what the hell he was talking about, but when she put it all together, she sent back Yes, please. She should check me out, too. I feel like shit.

Zig was on his way out the door in an instant.

He’d not gotten to her texts until well after midnight, and hadn’t wanted to wake her on a school night. It was bad enough he let Rabe and Rinna stay up as late as they did. But they were seniors, and stayed pretty well on top of their studies, and kept each other going to school on time, so he let them go. Rain, on the other hand, he knew nothing about, so he would play it safe.

When he finally got up for the day, he wandering out to the garden to find Tripp, to see what he might know about her questions. Tripp had suggested talking to Meliki. Conveniently enough, she was on this side of the garden, so he found her easily and relayed the situation. She’d told him to bring the child to her as fast as he could, and he’d actually moved to comply, when he remembered she’d still be in school. So he’d waffled about downstairs, working on chores and putting his kitchen together, and when he’d finally looked up again it was 4:30. Damnit.

He’d pulled up in front of Rain’s before remembering he hadn’t texted her back that he was coming. Tentatively, he pulled the bike up into the driveway, walking up to the French doors and peering inside.

“So that’s what this is all about! You’ve met a boy.”

Rain froze in mid-step, releasing the door knob and turning slowly to face her mother. She stood with her arms crossed, but a smile was playing at her lips.

“Honey, why don’t you have your boyfriend come inside and say hello, instead of skulking around outside.”

“MOTHER!”

Rain couldn’t believe it. She didn’t know what was worst – that she was accusing Rain of sneaking out to meet her boyfriend, that she thought Zig was her boyfriend, or that she was calling her daughter out on it in front of the she thought she was dating.

Zig stood back from it all, covering his grin with his hand. He could see where Rain’s mom would freak. Here is this obviously college age bad ass with piercing and tattoos in a leather jacket, come to whisk her baby away on a motorcycle. Funny how he never had this problem on the Vespa.

He though he’d do the Rain cloud a favor and take point on this one, seeing as she was sort of stuck in horrified stammer mode.

“Hello, ma’am,” he said, extending his hand and putting on his best “such a nice boy” act. “My name is Zig, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He smiled at her, knowing it always made him look like an honest little boy. Usually it annoyed him, if anyone pointed it out, especially in comparison to Tripp, who always managed to look so much older. But for now, it was convenient, and he’d use it to his advantage.

“Hello Zig, my name is Martha. I’m Brooke’s mother, in case you hadn’t already guessed.”

He hid his wince when she’d told him both of their names-he’d seen it coming, but hadn’t been able to think fast enough to dodge introductions gracefully. Ah well, at least she’d gone all informal and hadn’t given their last name. …he wondered how that would work, with it being step-dad’s last name. Would it still have the same magical punch? Did he really care?

He poured himself into his smile, making sure he gave a good firm grip but didn’t over do it as he shook her hand. When he pulled back, he went for an aww shucks kinda mood, and tried to wrap things up.

“I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself sooner ma’am. Brooke here sorta didn’t want her dad finding out.”

Martha smiled, bringing a hand to her mouth. “I can see why. He’d throw a fit over you, young man. Are you the reason she’s been lying to us to sneak out?”

Rain sprang to life at this. “Mom! I wasn’t sneaking! I just -” She stopped, realizing that the story she’d been telling was one of sneaking about, and boyfriend cover was just as good as any. “It was just the one time. I never know where you’ll be on the weekends and I didn’t want you to worry about me if you came home and I wasn’t around….” She scuffed her foot and dropped her eyes, trying to appear embarrassed instead of angry.

Her mom sighed and stepped over to her, giving her a tight hug. “Listen, sweetie. I know things have been weird since we’ve moved, but we’ll get it all worked out, alright? You just make sure you don’t hide anything from me and I’ll deal with Myles, alright?” She pulled back, and gave her daughter serious mom face. “Just no more lying to me, ok? I can’t be on your side if I don’t know where that is.”

Rain nodded, smile genuine. This was more the mom she’d been missing.

She looked past Rain and Zig out to his motorcycle in the driveway.

“Well, at least now I know why you’ve been so reluctant to get a car. They must seem pretty boring after rocketing around on that.” She turned and moved back into the kitchen, clearly satisfied with everything. “At least you’re both smart enough to wear helmets. Be careful you two – and be back well before curfew sweetie!” she called over her shoulder.

“I will mom!”

And then she left standing in the kitchen with Zig, who was chewing on his knuckle in an attempt not to laugh.

“Oh shut up you!” she yelled at him, as soon as they were outside. “This isn’t funny!” She hit him on the arm when he went from broad grin to full on laugh.

“Of course it is!” he said, dodging her next blow. “And don’t look too pissed, your mom’s watching from the upstairs window.” Rain ducked instinctively, turned to see her mom smiling down at them and waving. She groaned and waved back, snatching the helmet from Zig.

“God! This is so embarrassing!”

Zig laughed and climbed on the bike, waiting for Rain to settle in behind him before walking it back down the driveway.

––

They wheeled into the backyard again, but instead of going inside, Zig moved them further into the yard, toward a large, white Gazebo. A large Polynesian woman was tending to the flowers around it. She stood and stretched her back, turning around to greet them with a smile. It was Meliki.

“Hello again child, Rain,” she called as they approached.

Rain wasn’t quite sure what to make of Meliki. On the one hand, she seemed the most alien of everyone she’d met in the past few days, but really, that was just the way she talked. And the way everyone behaved around her, she guessed. Maybe it was because she didn’t really bother trying to pass, like the coffee shop fey did. Then again, Zig couldn’t pass for much more than a weirdo, so maybe it was just the weird feeling Rain couldn’t shake that she didn’t quite count in Meliki’s head. She was less a person, and more a game piece, but in a game Meliki didn’t want to play. She didn’t bear Rain any ill will, as far as she could tell, but it didn’t really seem like she bore her any good will either.

Maybe it was all in Rain’s head.

Meliki moved to sit on the steps of the gazebo, beckoning the two of them to follow suit. Zig flopped down happily on the grass, tucking his hands behind his head and soaking up the sunshine. Was he going to take a nap? What the hell?

“My boy here tells me you have something you want me to look at?”

Rain turned back to Meliki, then fiddled with her key chain when she reminded her why she was here.

“My step-dad gave this to me last night, he says its for “bigger problems” I might run into down here, so I assume he means fey?” She left it hanging, almost expecting to be informed that giant pterodactyls were likely to swoop down on her here or something. Which was ridiculous – they hadn’t done so before she knew about magic, why would they now. But she handed the tube over to Meliki anyways, who took it from her with obvious distaste. She held it between the tips of two fingers, clearly not wanting to touch it more than she had to.

“It’s been spelled, child. Doubtless its main purpose is for tracking you, though I don’t doubt there’s something truly noxious waiting to be sprayed inside as well. I would hold on to it- he’s just going to put ward after ward on you anyways, and you may need its protection at some point, certainly.”

She handed it back, and Rain clipped it on her belt again. What Meliki said made sense, even if she didn’t like knowing she was lojacked. But it didn’t really surprise her.

“He’s already found you here once, so there’s no need to avoid wearing your tracker here. You might consider leaving your keys in the shop if you spend any time downstairs, however – it will block his magics, and that might worry him a bit.”

Rain scoffed at that, but didn’t interrupt.

“I wouldn’t take it anywhere you don’t want him knowing you frequent, however. I think it’s stronger than anyone you might take with you to mask it, so it’s probably best if you “forget your keys” if you’re planning on being anywhere you’d prefer to keep secret.”

“So don’t take it to Rook’s,” Zig said from the grass, without opening his eyes.

Meliki shot him a glare. “I wasn’t thinking of there alone boy.”

Zig shrugged. “I’m just spelling it out for her, the kid’s not too quick on the draw.”

“Hey!”

Zig laughed at her protest. “I’m just teasin’ ya kiddo.”

“Anyways-” Meliki said, a little louder than necessary, “it should be pretty harmless aside from that. Is there anything else you’d like me to look at, child?’

Here, Rain waffled, feeling a little silly. It made sense that she’d be tired, with so much going on, and her sleep schedule being all jacked up would explain why she was so dead this morning. And if Zig or Meliki had seen anything weird about her, they would have said something, right? Still… She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with her.

“I, uh… could you look over me?”

Meliki nodded, beckoning Rain closer. She stepped over to the woman, who took Rain’s chin in her hands and examined her face. Then she closed her eyes and began to hum softly, and Rain felt the force of it vibrating through her.

“Hmmmm….” she said at last, opening her eyes again. “It would appear, child, that someone has given you something to bind you within yourself. It is a very small thing, and should wear off quickly, but I’d wager that if you were to reach for you magic now, intentionally, that you would not be able to grasp it. It does not seem to be affecting your normal energy flow, but it would stop you from …flexing. Does that makes sense?”

Rain’s eyes widened and she shook her head. Pretty much all of that had gone over her head.

Zig sat up in the grass, going to bat for this one.

“Have you ever tried to use your power on purpose?”

Again, Rain shook her head. “I’d never done anything until the coffee shop on Saturday, and things have been too crazy for me to really experiment.” She looked down at her shoes. “I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

Zig nodded, unsurprised. “Our well water was to fill you with magic, one so that our sithens would recognize you and two, so that there was no room for your magic to expand within you. It would have taken a minute to wear off, since we kept you steadily dosed up, so you probably wouldn’t have been able to even do anything until the next day anyways. And then you were with Rook…” He trailed off, not wanting to make accusations when he knew nothing of what had happened.

Meliki had no such issues. “Did they give you anything, child?”

Rain nodded. “A glass of water.”

“Hmmmm…..”

Rain hesitated, before adding, “I don’t think it was Jon. He was very adamant about letting me go, letting me come to them on my own terms, and how I wasn’t in any danger with them….” She trailed off, feeling less certain of herself. “I dunno. I just don’t think it was them.”

Zig nodded, but it was more an unconscious gesture while he thought. “They really would have had no reason to let you leave, or even bring you back in the first place, really. Rook’s involvement doesn’t make sense – yet.”

Meliki nodded in agreement. “That little bird definitely has a plan, but he always has a plan or scheme of some sort, so I wouldn’t think too much of it. He always tries so hard to seem like he’s not up to something – makes him rather suspect.” She smiled at this, certain she wasn’t the only one that saw through him. But so many people in the communities had their own agenda – as long as it didn’t interfere with hers, she didn’t care. Taking this child of her hands would be a blessing, so long as he didn’t plan to use her death magic to wipe out the neighborhood. She couldn’t see such a social creature having such intentions – who would be left to be impressed with him?

Rain waiting patiently while Zig and Meliki entertained their own thoughts, but finally she just had to ask “So what am I supposed to do?”

Zig was the first to answer. “Well, it doesn’t matter much who put the brakes on, it has the same affects either way. Until it wears off, you won’t be able to use your magic, so I’d take this time to start traiing yourself mentally while the power is off, so to speak.”

Meliki nodded in agreement and stood. “That is the best course of action. You and Tripp, spend some time with her this afternoon, find out where her natural talents lie. I’ll work at this problem from my own end.” Then she went back to weeding flowers, clearly having dismissed the two.

Zig stood as well, raising his arms high in a stretch. “C’mon kiddo, let’s go find my bro.”

There were more people milling about the lobby this time, or maybe they’d all gone somewhere else when her step-dad had come looking for her. This time, there was a pair by the front counter, an Asian girl pouring herself a coffee from the machine on the end table, and a freakishly tall, freakishly pale dude behind the counter proper.

“Heeeey kid,” the dude called out, “nice to meet ya all awake like and moving about. You technically saw me the first time you came in, but you were pretty out of it, so I didn’t bother to say hi.” He’d been moving around the counter as he spoke, coming to stand in front of them. He several inches taller than Zig, who was already pretty much head and shoulders taller than Rain. He held his hand out with a smile. “The name’s Jack,” he said pleasantly.

Rain took his hand, after a brief moment of uneasiness about it. The long, pale fingers were a little cold, but that was about it as far as weird went. She chided herself – just because he looked half-skeletal didn’t mean there was anything inherently freaky about him. Though he did live with Zig.

Then she realized she should say something instead of just standing there, holding his hand. “I’m Rain…” she said uselessly. He probably knew that. “It’s, uh, nice to meet you?”

Zig laughed at her obvious discomfort. “I think you’re freakin her out dude.”

Rain spun on him, giving him an angry glare, but the girl with the coffee was laughing and walking over.

“That’s cause Jack freaks everyone out. Go eat a sandwich, ya runway ring wraith.” She shoved him over playfully, which only made Jack seem ever taller, as her shoulder didn’t come much past his waist. Of course, she was fairly tiny, in that petite, Asian way. Her thick, black hair was cropped just about the shoulders, with streaks of red on either side of her face. Her eyes were a startling gold, like something that belonged on a predator’s, but they were at home with the smile she gave.

“I’m Rinna,” she said, also holding out a hand.

Rain wouldn’t have hesitated, except for the look on the other girl’s face. Zig made a sound low in his throat, almost too low to hear, but Rinna’s lips pursed and she shot him a lot. “Fine,” she said dramatically, “I’ll behave.”

“Rinna’s a pyromancer,” Zig informed her, “and a brat. She likes to mess with people- and she really shouldn’t, especially with you having an ifrit for a pet.” The last was spoken at Rinna, with a very pointed look. Rinna kept glaring, then flicked her eyebrows at him and turned back to Rain with a smile. “It’s ok, I won’t bite.”

Rain took her hand, though she didn’t believe a word of Rinna’s reassurances.

Her hand was much warmer than Jack’s, but that might have just been Rain expecting it, knowing she wielded fire. Rain kept the contact brief, just in case.

“I’d like to meet your ifrit sometime,, if you can bring him.”

That gave Rain pause. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “I don’t see why not?”

Rinna nodded, and moved off to sip her coffee on the couch. Zig flashed Rain a smile and pulled her in the direction of the downstairs.

“C’mon, kiddo. Tripp’s gotta be around here somewhere.”

Zig walked straight back from the bottom of the stairs, opening a door near the far side of the living room. It led into a hallway, with four doors, clustered together in pairs at either end. Zig went to the second of the closest two and knocked.

“’Ey bro, ya in there?”

It wasn’t really like Tripp to have the door shut, unless he didn’t want to be bothered, but it was worth a shot. When there was no answer coming, Zig moved back toward Rain and opened the door at the very of the hall. It didnt’ look like it should go anywhere, but Rain wasn’t going to question it.

Sure enough, when Zig opened it, there was a green house space on the other side, complete with rain pattering against the glass. Completely impossible, and completely there. Zig poked his head in and called out “Tripp?” The only answer was the sound of the rain.

“Alright then,” Zig said, closing the door. “Another one.”

He opened the door again, and this time the room was full of books. Floor to ceiling shelves, with ladders and everything. This room was obviously empty, unless Tripp were invisible, or camouflaged to match the couches.

“Nope. Lemme try again.”

Another room, with exercise equipment and floor mats, empty. An artist’s studio, with canvases scattered everywhere, also empty. A room that looked ready to host a LAN party, not empty, but Seven said he hadn’t seen Tripp, so Zig closed the door with a sigh and leaned up against the wall.

“I give up. Tripp has clearly died,” he said dramatically, rolling his head heavenward and closing his eyes.

“Be sure to serve those little pina empanadas I like at my wake, bro.”

Rain startled as Tripp appeared from the other end of the hallway, mug in hand. Zig’s eyes flew open and he stared for a moment. “Dude! Where the fuck where you? I looked all over!”

“Did you try the kitchen?” he asked calmly, taking a sip of his drink.

“Well, no…”

“Obviously.”

Zig scowled, then gestured to Rain. “You remember Rainy day?”

Tripp nodded. “Sure do. How ya doin’ kid?”

Rain opened her mouth to answer, but all that came out was hysterical laughter. At both brothers’ questioning looks, she got herself calmed down enough to answer. “I’m sorry. There’s just something damned funny about him trying that door to all those impossible places, and you were in the kitchen in a pair of sweatpants, making tea. It’s just-” She bit her lip to keep from losing it again. “Tell me the kettle whistles?” she asked, eyes shiny with tears.

It was Zig who answered, somewhat indignantly. “Of course it does! What kind of heathens do you take us for?”

And then Rain was gone.

Once they’d moved out of the hallway back into the kitchen, Zig put the kettle back on and Tripp pulled out a chair for Rain at the kitchen table.

“So, you’re here to suss out your magical instincts?” Tripp asked conversationally, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

“Umm… yeah. I guess so.”

Tripp nodded and stared at the space between her eyes. “Try to ignore me, if you can, and just think about your magic, ok?”

Rain nodded and stared back at him, wondering how she could forget him while talking to him.

“What kinda tea you want kiddo?” Zig called from across the kitchen.

“Do you have any green?” she asked, turning her attention to him instead of Tripp. Zig had hoped she would, but he knew he couldn’t be obvious about it.

“Yup. Green plain, Green with Citrus, Green with Pom and Green with honey- which I don’t know why we even bought, because I have a perfectly good honey pot right here on the counter.”

“Citrus please,” she said, grinning at his put out expression.

“Can do. Room for anything?”

“Just honey.”

“Does it feel like a push or a pull?”

“Push.”

“Bubbling up kinda push or expanding.”

“Expanding.”

“Any colors?”

“Red?”

“Any other impressions?”

“Burning.”

“You got that Tripp?”

“Yup.”

“Huh?”

Rain realized finally that half those questions didn’t have a damned thing to with tea, but she’d answered them without thinking. Tripp leaned back in his chair and sipped at his tea, and Zig brought their mugs over.

“Give it a sec, it’s still steeping. I’ll grab the honey.”

Rain shook her head and blinked, trying to wipe the foggy feeling from her brain. Tripp smiled and patted her hand.

“No worries kid, you were just Zig rolled – the man is a master of distractions and procrastinations.”

Zig popped his head back out of the fridge, where he’d been shuffling to pull out the milk. “Neva gonna give you up/Neva gonna let you down-”

Tripp rolled his eyes and continued talking while Zig went for the honey and danced his way to the table. “It looks like everything you do is pure instinct, and pretty much beyond your control. You have shit for shields – no offense- but I think you’d flare if ever actually threatened, so I don’t think you’d have much need for shielding. So long as you don’t mind decimating everything in your path.” He delivered the new placidly, taking another sip of tea.

“Ooooo give you up!” Zig sang cheerfully as he set everything on the table. “Tea’s prolly done.”

Rain took out her tea bag, then leaned back and closed her eyes. “You guys are so overwhelming.”

“Thanks,” Zig said brightly.

She shook her head and returned to the conversation. “Sooo, I’m very much not okay with blasting everyone in my path. What do we do about that.”

“Teach you to shield,” Tripp said, while Zig doctored his tea. Rain grabbed the honey spoon and did the same. Tea would give her something to do while her mind processed.

“And I learn that how?” she asked, when no answer was forth coming.

“I’d recommend Zig for that one.”

“Huh?” Zig said, coming up from his tea. “What am I good for?”

“That, dear brother, is an excellent question.”

“Hey!” He flicked his tea spoon at Tripp, who just laughed. “I was telling Rain you’d probably be best to teach her shielding, ya space case.”

“Really? You’re the one that sees all the craziness all the ti- Oh, right. You never even try to filter it out. Gotcha.” He got up to put the milk away, grabbing the grocery list note pad off the fridge on his way back. “Ok, so I’ve got shielding 101,” he said as he wrote. “What’s next?”

“Hmmm…” Tripp sipped at his tea while he thought. “I guess directing would come next, but she really needs to know how to protect herself from her own magic first…. Maybe Sensing? Teach her to know when magic’s being used against her or whatever?” Zig nodded scribbling, and Tripp leaned back in his chair, eyes going to the ceiling. “I can handle that one, I think. …I dunno, what else…”

Rain sipped at her tea while they carried on as if she wasn’t even there, because she really didn’t have much to add. Neither one of them really seemed able to answer any of her questions, and Meliki was busy doing …whatever it was she was doing. Questions would just have to wait. Practical lessons seemed more important at this very moment anyhow. Especially the “keep people out” and the “how can I tell if someone is messing with me” lessons.

Tripp finally leaned forward and met Rain’s eyes. “Is there anything you want us to teach you, Rain?”

Rain froze, on the spot. “Uh….”

Tripp nodded, still smiling. “That’s hardly surprising. You’re still at the “I don’t know what I don’t know” phase, right?”

Rain nodded, feeling better since somebody else “got it”.

“No worries, kiddo,” Zig cut in. “We’ve all been there. Just ask us things as they come up and we’ll keep going from there, ok?”

“Ok.” Rain smiled and went back to her tea.

Tripp had finished his and moved to take his mug to the sink. “Give her my number too, bro, ok? You know I more about everything than you.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said, waving his hand. “We know. Showoff,” he muttered, but his grin remained.

“Imma go change and hit the first of the rush, mmk? You work with Rain and I’ll send someone down if we need ya. ‘Sonly Monday, we should be fine for a bit.”

Zig nodded and finished making some notes on his grocery list page.

Tripp stopped and gripped Rain’s shoulder on his way out. “Don’t sweat it too much kiddo, ok? Magic is one of those things that’s hard to do when you stress about it. Just let it happen, and if it doesn’t come today, or the next day, it will come eventually, as long as you keep trying. Just relax and let it be.” He smiled at her, and she smiled back, and then he was gone and it was just her and Zig.

“Whenever you’re ready, babe,” he said without looking up, bringing the mug to his lips and dribbling down his chin. “Awww damnit! My list…”

Rain stiffled her laugh with her own mug.

They’d continued on like that for an hour or so, Zig chasing her around the house with his Nerf gun. Eventually, when her mind stopped getting in her way, she started to block him a bit, but it was nothing reliable. However, he could tell when she’d just plain had enough, and he led her back to the kitchen and tossed her an apple.

“You did good, kiddo. I know it’s rough at first, but just keep practicing. When you’re lying in bed at night and can’t sleep, think about your wall. Eventually, you’ll figure out how it “looks” to you, and you’ll be able to reach it more easily then. For now though, just let it go, and have something to eat. Helps ground you better in your physical body.”

She nodded and bit into the crisp, red apple. It tasted like honey and sunshine.

“God, this apple is amazing-what kind is it?”

Zig grinned, and raised one shoulder in a shrug. “I have no idea, but I can ask Ceira next time I’m over there on a produce run. Earthen fey grow the best fruits and veggies, hands down.”

Rain nodded and took another bite of her apple, chewing enthusiastically. Zig grabbed one of his own, she made it look so good. “Ask ‘em for some next time you’re over there, kiddo. They’ll be pleased to share.”

He took Rain home not long after that, she was still pretty spent. Zig said that made good sense, considering how hard she’d worked today, and the fact that her magic was cut off from her. She didn’t really buy that last one, she never used her magic, why would it make any difference if she couldn’t reach it? But she let it go, and clung wearily to him on the ride back.

Myles was watching from the living room window as they pulled up, but her mother slipped up beside him and put an arm around his waist, giving Rain a smile. Maybe he wasn’t so bad. It made sense he’d want to know where she was if anything happened to her, and she could understand why he wouldn’t tell her about all this crazy magic stuff until she’d opened up to him. Still, she was too tired for any drawn out conversations tonight.

When she slipped into the kitchen, her mother moved into the space just behind Myles, who was doing his best not to loom, but failing. Rain decided to beat him to the punch and just play the caught in the act teenager.

“Yes, yes, I was out with a boy. Mom’s met him, she said it was ok if we hang out sometimes, and I promised not to break curfew.”

In an act that surprised even herself, she went up to the man and wrapped her arms around his neck in a fond hug. “Thank you for looking out for me,” she said, meant for her mother’s ears. Leaning in closer, she added more softly, “Thanks for the present, I promise I’ll be careful.” Then she took advantage of his stunned silence and ran upstairs to her room.

She went to bed almost immediately.

Chapter 8

JJ knew he’d messed up. He’d let the lightening bug out of the bottle, and now he had to catch it, before Alonso found out. Man, if Al found out, he’d be pissed. Not as pissed as he’d be if he caught JJ calling him Big Al again, but he was freakin out, and it was hard to keep straight. But “Al” wasn’t a dignified enough name for a vamp. That life was over now, they’d moved up in the world.

And now JJ had lost the elemental they’d summoned.

He’d tracked it as best he could, following the signs of power surges here and there, but it would be impossible to find unless he could bind it to an object with it’s name again. Then he’d just put the object in the bottle, take it home, and let Alonso fix it. A mis-bound elemental was better than no elemental, right?

Why had he let the damned thing out anyways?

Dark. So dark. Won’t you let us have a little light?

Ah, right. That’s what it was. The little critter had been yammering at him all day. Al had told him to guard the bottle while he slept, cause binding the thing had worn him out, and he needed to catch a few Z’s before they went back to The House tonight to show [LORD BADDYBUTT]. But that’d getting ’em initiated for sure. Then they’d be part of the big dogs, part of the powers that ran this joint, and no one would call em small time crooks again. No jail could hold ’em, no punks could dis ’em, it’d be smooth sailing from there on out. They’d be in.

But the little lighting bug had yammered and yammered and JJ couldn’t take it anymore. He turned on the light, wincing as Al rolled over in his sleep, but didn’t wake. JJ let out a sign of relief and went back to his chair, resting his own eyes.

Dark! Still dark in here! Too dark!

The thing was still bellyaching, and JJ kicked the box it was sitting on without thinking. The bottle wavered, but didn’t fall. JJ scooped the thing up anyways and cradled it to his chest.

Give us light, give us light! Let the light in!

He peered at the tiny figure in the blue glass bottle, jumping and sparking as it “spoke”. He knew the buzzing noises it made weren’t proper words, but the impression got through to him anyways.

It made sense, little lightening bug being all scared of the dark, but it had been the only bottle they could find in the alley out back that wasn’t broken somewhere. Still, JJ was pretty sure he could scratch away some of the colored coating, and maybe shut the thing up.

Apparently he’d scratched too far.

The little thing whizzed to life, streaking out of the crack in the glass with a bang, shattering the neck. JJ ran out the door after it, not stopping to see if the sound had woken Al or not.

Al just snored and rolled over.

So now, here JJ was, following the flashed of light and busted bulbs that meant the creature was trying to find some shape to hold it, so power source to feed on. But since the sky was a perfect, clear blue, the only source of lightening was the electricity than ran though all human homes.

Rain was walking down the street from the dance studio to her high school, having gotten up earlier enough to catch the student yoga class this morning. It was rare, and even rarer that her mother had been home and awake enough to drive her, since she didn’t want to have to take her bike home after class. It was supposed to rain later, but this morning was clear and bright and beautiful and she was in high spirits.

––

He almost had it. He could see it swirling around in the street light a few lights down. He started the incantation to bind it, as best as he could remember it. He’d worry about climbing up the street pole and stealing the light bulb from it later.

––

She could feel the tug of the words, knew they’d put her back in that awful dark place. She whizzed around, looking for something that could hold her that they couldn’t bind. Must be living, must have its own name. She found a bright mind the people below and dove the weak spot in its aura.

––

Rain reeled as it hit her full force, million miles a minute. Something buzzed around in her skull, but she’d been spending time with her ifrit, and she knew how not to fall out completely now. She took a page from Zig’s book and imagined a set of reigns for this thing, putting herself in a mental saddle and holding on for dear life. She managed to lean the up against the telephone pole so she could catch her breath and figure out what to do. Call her mom, beg off sick? But she had been fine this morning when she’d asked for a ride to class – ooh, maybe pulled muscle? Surely she could manage the short walk back to the studio and wait for her there-

Big arms grabbed her and a hand was over her mouth. She lost what little hold she’d had on the thing inside her, and it buzzed to life, sending sparks out of every place that was being hold. The man cursed and let go, and Rain and the thing were both in agreement when they bolted, running as far and as fast as they could.

She was able to pull it together enough to guide them to the coffee shop, and once she’d formed clearly enough in her mind the idea of SAFE, the energy had yielded to her directions and let her take them to the Early Bird.

Nanae took one look at her and ushered her behind the counter to the backrooms. It was early, the shop was full, and the last thing they needed was a big scene.

JJ made note of which shop she’d gone in, and dialed Al.

“We’ve got a problem Alonso. I fucked up.”

“Yeah, who’s surprised,” his gruff voice mumbled from the other end. “You lose my lightening?”

“Yup,” JJ answered, eyes locked on the shop for anyone coming in and out.

“Where are you at, I’ll come and bail you out. Like always.”

––

“What happened?”

Rain was sitting in the same room under the Early Bird she’d awoken in that first day. She didn’t feel as leaden as she had before, nor did she feel like she was missing much time.

Nanae was by her side, smoothing the hair away from her face.

“When you came in, you looked half-mad, so I rushed you down here, because that had helped last time. But your powers aren’t roiling like they did before, they’re sleeping inside you. And,” she added, looking back up the stairs, “something else was too.”

Rain nodded, sitting up. She felt much better this time than she had last time.

“I had something hit me on my way to school. I don’t know what it was, but someone grabbed me, and we shocked him, and we ran.”

“Ah, lightening elemental then.” She smoothed down the front of her apron and sat back on her heels, settling in. “When you crossed the barrier down into our sithen, something caught in our ward, and it’s still rattling around up there now. I didn’t take the time to get a good look at it, and Asha is busy with the shop- Oh, I should get back to her! Are you feeling well enough to come upstairs?”

Rain nodded and reached out a hand for help standing.

“C’mon cara, let’s get you some tea and I’ll call Meliki.”

Rain could feel the elemental call out to her as they passed back up into the shop, but it couldn’t reach her. She ignored it and followed Nanae out into the shop, where she sat Rain down on one of the stools at the pick up counter.

“You just set right there and we’ll get you some tea, cara. Asha, when you get a chance will you call Meliki for me? We could use a hand with the storm coming in this afternoon.”

It wasn’t particularly subtle, Nanae’s tone was far too anxious, but at least she didn’t give anything blatantly away. Rain itched to be turned around, to not have her back to the shop, but if Nanae sat her here, here she’d stay.

“We’ll take care of you dearie, no worries. You just drink this tea and you’ll be right as Rain.”

She made a face at her own joke, giving a small giggle, then moved off to cover the spot Asha had vacated.

Meliki was not surprised to have been needed. Her castings into the spirit world had yielded big results so far, so big, none of them had actually arrived yet, just began to rumble in the deep. She would likely hear from them in three days time, if she had to guess.

She ascended from the downstairs sithen, having taken a short cut between the spaces she called her own. She didn’t like to connect them quite that much, she’d love for Bei to be able to hive off and set up on her own, or Ciera, if Bei was too caught up in her lover, but desperate times. Asha wasn’t prone to go to pieces, so if she was calling, Meliki was needed.

She felt the lightening in their warding, struggling to get out, and she reached up and touched it where it lay trapped within her web. Forming a grounding root from her and to the earth below, she asked the creature its business.

It’s tale of being summoned and bound and fleeing and Rain told her more than any of the girls could have been able to, so she gave it a name and sent it to the earth, asking it to come again if she called. Spark said it would, and fled to the ground quickly once released.

She found the girl sitting at the counter, a mug of tea pressed into her hand by Nanae. Quite the little mother she was turning out to be. Might hive on her own, some day, though Meliki really doubted she had the temperament to be out on her own.

“Greetings, child. How goes it with you this day?”

She sat down in a stool next to Rain, more than filling it, but staying somehow perched on it just fine. Nanae passed her a tea as well, then went back to the register to show Asha how to properly arrange tickets and things for the umpteenth time. It was clearly busy work.

“I think I’m a menace to myself,” Rain answered glumly.

Meliki laughed, a great rumbling sound and patted Rain on the back.

“No worries child. We all have our moments like that, when we are out of our depths. I have cast about for answers for you, and they should be soon in coming. Be patient, child, and we will sort this all out.”

–[Note: ODD BREAK, WHAT WAS I DOING HERE?]

“Alright child. You’re free of what was riding you, but I don’t know that its wise to send you back out into the streets if someone assaulted you. Can you go home, or will that cause problems between you and your family?”

“Umm….” Rain thought it over more carefully, now that she wasn’t fighting to stay calm with the elemental riding her. “I should be in school right now….”

Meliki nodded, unsurprised. “I suspected as much. If you left now, you wouldn’t be too terribly late, but I hesitate to send you out there alone…”

“I can walk with her now,” Asha chimed in, and Nanae elbowed her in the ribs.

“You would remain safer if you didn’t broadcast your attachment to Rain, little one,” Meliki pointed out to her gently. Asha’s face fell, and she returned to the busy work Nanae was having her do.

Meliki was quiet a moment, trying to figure out how to best handle this. “I’d rather not keep you out of school and have your step-father have more cause to restrict your visits to us. So far, his claims are baseless, but if we begin interfering with your daily life….”

“What about Rinna or Rabe?” Nanae suggested, and it was Asha’s turn to glare at her. Nanae continued, unabashed. “I know they both tend to take advantage of their fey connections and skip school whenever they feel like it, but they both have good reason to be there, and good reason to stop by here on their way, since we’re between the school and the tattoo shop. The girls are the best pick for an incognito escort Rain for the day, I think.” She turned and addressed Rain more directly. “You’ll still be late, but will it work?”

Rain nodded, trying to think of the best place to hang out while she waited for first period to end. If anyone asked her where she’d been later in the day, she’d just make up something about forgetting her backpack at the studio. It wasn’t likely anyone would go back to the studio to check that she’d returned, but enough students had seen her there that morning that it wasn’t worth straying too far from that truth.

It occurred to Rain to be worried that she seemed to be so good at stretching the truth lately, but she was more worried about that man who’d grabbed her on the street.

“I think that would work, if we can get a hold of them soon enough.” She didn’t like the idea of bothering random girls who regularly skipped class on their day off, but if they were from 8-Leggs, well, at least they weren’t random strangers. Just truants she’d never met.

Meliki nodded and went for the phone. Nanae smiled at Rain and sent a burst of warmth through her tea. “Drink up, cara. It’ll help you feel more settled after everything that’s happened this morning.

–—

Rain recognized one of the girls as the one she’d met the other day sipping coffee in the lobby at 8-leggs. She was Rinna, so the other one was Rabe.

Rabe was something else.

Like Rinna, she was short, and had strong ethnic features, though she wasn’t Asian but rather Hispanic. Despite her hair being bright cranberry red and her eyes an almost glow in the dark green, it was clear in her tan and her full lips and generous curves that the tiny girl was Latina. Not to mention the flashy make-up and jewelry, or the I’ll cut you attitude she brought to the table.

Rinna stepped forward first, clearly used to shutting Rabe down. “Hello again, Rain. Rinna, remember me?” At Rain’s nod, she continued, gesturing to Rabe. “This is Rebbie, or Rabe, whichever. The Rebel doesn’t really care what you call her, as long as you call her when there’s fun to be had – isn’t that right kitten?”

Rabe flashed a cat-like grin, and suddenly her eyes were more at home in her face. This was a girl who would eat you alive, if given half a chance. If not, she’d make a chance.

“I hear some creeper was giving you trouble out there, chica?” She extended a hand with long, painted fingernails that matched her hair. Rain shook it, feeling the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.

“What are you?” she breathed, before she realized what she’d said. She blushed at the rudeness of her question, but Rebbie just laughed it off.

“I’m a Therian, honey. Cat trapped in the body of a human. It’s such a shame, really, that cheetah is one of the harder therianthropies to catch. Believe me, I’ve tired-”

Her sultry pout was cut short by a sharp elbow to the ribs from Rinna. “Come on, lazy cat. We’ve got to get Rain here to school, before the losers outside lose interest and there’s no one for us to beat up.”

Rain paled at her words, both at the thought of deliberately courting a fight, and that Rinna had indicated a plural.

“There was only one guy chasing me,” she said softly.

“Well, there were two assholes out on the corner when we came in, chica. Don’t worry, we can take ’em.” She flashed her another predatory grin, and Rinna rolled her eyes. Her crazy amber eyes that seemed to flicker with flames in her obvious excitement at violence. Rain shook her head, dismissing the idea. She was seeing what she expected to see, knowing Rinna was a pyro and Rabe was a cat – but she hadn’t know she was a cat when she’d first made that comparison. Maybe there was something to this eye thing after all.

Covertly, she tried to catch a glance at Asha’s or Nanae’s eyes, but they were both studiously ignoring the trio, trying to stay busy. It wasn’t too hard, the on their way to work or errands crowd was in full swing by the time the girls had gotten there from 8-leggs.

“Well, come on then,” Rinna said, breaking Rain out of her thoughts and pulling her out of her seat. She reach down for her backpack, slinging it up on her shoulders and followed her escort to the door.

––

Rabe started prattling loudly as they hit the streets, giving Rinna the cover to whisper to Rain, “Don’t look at ’em, don’t even think about ’em. These guys are low level punks, they won’t hurt you while you’re not alone. Just have a good time walking with us, and we’ll watch your back for you.” Then she turned and interrupted Rabe, just as loud as she was. They were clearly drawing the attention of everyone around them – then Rain realized they were doing it on purpose. Rinna was wearing flashier clothes than she had been when they’d first met too, she realized, and there was more red in her hair than just the two streaks in front. The girls were obviously decked out to grab attention, meaning no one would miss them walking by. Anyone even half paying attention would see them all leave together, and anyone passing by would notice them. No chance for anyone to quietly make any moves. Smart cookies. Something inside Rain’s chest unclenched and she even smiled as she listened to Rabe and Rinna trash talk each other.

At school, they went around the side parking lot to the gym side entrance. Lots of kids came and went this time of morning doing band stuff, so there’d still be plenty of people to see them, and a reasonable reason to loiter. Sure, if a teacher saw them, they’d probably be sent back to class, but Rain could always hide out in the bathroom or something til the bell rang. It wouldn’t be long, judging by the trickling of people in twos and threes carrying drums, flags, orange plastic cones and the like.

Rinna leaned up against the side of the building and pulled out a cigarette. Rabe made a face moved to stand on the other side of Rain, making a snide comment about how much that shit stank.

“Oh, don’t be bitchy,” Rinna said, flicking her lighter. When she’d had her first drag, she said slyly to Rain, “It’s a great excuse to always have a lighter on me. Not that I need one anymore,” she said, flicking a small flame to life on the tip of her index finger, “but it was handy when I was younger.”

Rabe gave a humph and moved further away, turning her back on them. Then she spotted someone or something that caught her eye, and wandered off in the direction of the band kids, tossing something over her shoulder about being right back.

“Aaand there goes Rabbie,” Rinna said, leaning back against the wall again and closing her eyes.

“Will she be ok?” Rain asked, staring after the disappearing girl.

“Oh yeah. It’s never a question of the Rebel being ok, but more a question of while whoever she’s after be ok by the time she’s done with em. Rebbie likes it a little rough,” she said with a laugh.

Rain shook her head and tried to think about anything else.

“ARE YOU GIRLS SMOKING?!”

A shrill voice cut through the air, startling both Rain and Rinna out of their reveries. Rinna recovered first, giving the librarian wide eyes as she dropped her hand by her side as if trying to hide her smoke.

“No, ma’am, I-”

The thin woman cut her off, holding out her hand. “Give them to me. The pack, the lighter and all.”

“Oh, I don’t have a pack ma’am, I bummed this one and a light off those two dudes over there.”

Rain, and the librarian, turned to look in the direction Rinna was indicating,and sure enough, the two thugs had followed them from the shop and were trying to keep an eye on them without being seen. The librarian, with bigger fish to fry, left the two girls and stormed straight for the hedges and the two men.

“MR. BARKER!” she yelled, calling to the band director. “Call for Clarence! These men are loitering and giving cigarettes to the children!”

Quick as a flash, she reached out and caught both the thugs by the ears, giving them each the tongue lashings of their lives. One of the band kids had run inside, and was coming back with the school’s D.A.R.E. officer, who was already on his radio. Satisfied that Rain would alright, Rinna moved off to round up Rabe and get outta dodge before anyone remembered them and came look.

“We’ll be around Rainy, don’t leave school without us, ok?”

Rain nodded, then moved quickly inside, taking Rinna’s lead and making herself scarce.

Alonso was furious. It wasn’t that JJ had messed up, he’d come to expect that, but he was pissed that they’d been outsmarted by a stupid little girl. It was so Disney movie plucky young hero bullcrap. He hated it. He felt enough like a comedy duo being saddled with JJ was it was, but with any luck, bringing this girl who could house elementals without being bound to them would impress LBB even more than the lightening bug he’d meant to bring him would, and he’d get JJ turned in no time. Hopefully, that would do something to alleviate JJ’s natural aura of slapstick hijinks and they could really make something of themselves.

He’d endured the tongue-lashing from the nanny-goat of a librarian, only pulled a little power to make them forget why they’d been questioning him and JJ in the first place, and retreated quickly to regroup. Initially, he’d come to rescue JJ and reclaim the elemental he’d worked so hard to summon – but why pour his own energy and sweat and blood into such things when he could just parade around the human elemental detector and bottle whatever she scooped up? He’d harvest waaaay more energy for LBB that way, and with almost no cost to himself. All he’d have to do is follow the girl home, whisper the right words to her family, and no one would miss the kid again. He wasn’t sure if he could the whammy on the girl directly, but kids were funny things, bending so easily when you put on the right pressure. He’d learned that as a kid himself, and it was a lesson that had gotten him where he was now. No longer the scrawny runt of the gang. No, he’d started his own gang, him and JJ, and now they were in good with the new player in town. He’d show them, he’d show everybody, and Alonso was getting in at the ground floor. The only way left from rock bottom was up.

Rain wasn’t sure how she was supposed to meet up with Rinna and Rabe again that afternoon, but the problem was solved by Zig waiting in the parking lot on his bike. He waved as she lingered under the arch way, scanning the lot for the goons from before. She laughed when she saw him, waving back as she walked over to him.

“Need a lift kiddo?”

“I’d love one,” she answered, taking the helmet he offered her.

Her mother gave her a knowing smile when she came home, the question of why she hadn’t taken her bicycle to class this morning answered as far as she was concerned. Rain couldn’t decide which confused her more – the fact that her mother asked why Zig wasn’t staying for dinner, or the fact that her mother was cooking dinner at all. She was more and more like her old self lately, and Rain found herself smiling and relaxing into the familiar. Maybe everything was just wonky because it was all so new, so fast. No one had said anything blatantly bad about Myles, just implied that he was a little over-zealous in his protectiveness of her. And bad about not filling her in on things. But that made good sense, considering. It had to be hard figuring out how to break it to a kid that the only parent they’ve ever known and trusted can’t help you with the world altering changes you’re going through. She could really see where he was coming from.

That stopped her in her tracks. Since when was she empathic toward Myles. Yet she’d done it more than once lately. Sometime was up. But no one had said anything was wrong with her, just that her magic was sealed – which she was grateful for- and that her mace was a lojack -her cell had been the same when her mother had pinched to get her daughter one before Myles. Maybe it was the house. Had she felt friendly towards her step-dad anywhere but at home? She’d have to start keeping track of this sort of thing. When she was done having dinner with her mom she’d go upstairs and dig around and see if she could find a diary or something.

JJ beamed with pride as they followed the motorcycled kids in their beat up old buick. He hadn’t understood why Al would let the kid outta his sight, once he’d convinced the overgrown mall cop to back off. But when they came back in the car, and follow the girl uptown to her very swanky house on the hill, JJ understood. They never coulda kept up on foot. Al was so smart, JJ was real proud to call him boss. Everything was coming up roses.

But when Al didn’t pull in the driveway, kept driving past the nice house and around the bend of the curve, JJ couldn’t help but ask, “Ain’t we gonna nab her Boss?”

Alonso reached out and smacked him without blinking. “Of course, not, it’s broad daylight, in the middle of a real nice neighborhood. Kid going to school downtown shouldn’t be living all uptown like this – not with all the private schools around. Something’s up, Jay, and I intend to get the scoop before I make an ass of myself and botch the whole thing – ya got it.”

JJ nodded, all smiles again. Al was so smart.

Rain had been so caught up looking over her shoulder for goons, that it was another three days before Rain realized she hadn’t seen Myles.

Sure, she usually did her best to avoid him, and he never got home until after she did, but still, she’d usually see his car at some point, or hear he and her mother talking, or he’d knock on her door and say he was taking them all out to eat or something.

But she hadn’t seen him since she’d given him that hug and thrown him all off balance.

It wasn’t unusual for he and her mother to disappear for a few days, but for him to leave her mother here? Unheard of.

So when she came home from school that day, and her mother was in the kitchen like she’d been all week, Rain pulled a bar stood to the island and helped herself to the fresh cookies her mother was cooling there.

Her mother asked her absently about her day, but it wasn’t the disinterested distraction she’d become used to. Just her mom engrossed in laying cookies onto the sheet so she could get them in the over. When she’d finished, she grabbed the milk and two glasses and shared some cookies with her daughter.

Rain decided to just go for it.

“Where’s Myles? I haven’t seen him all week.”

“Oh,” she answered, dunking a cookie, “He’d off to one of his meetings. He’ll be back sometime next week.”

Rain raised her eyebrows. “And you didn’t go with him?”

Her mother reached out and patted her hand. “No, honey, I thought I’d spend the weekend with you. Unless you had plans with that boy?” Her mother’s soft smile said she wouldn’t mind if she did.

Rain hadn’t honestly thought about Zig much all week. She’d taken the bus to and from school and holed up at home, avoid goons. She’d also been enjoying just having dinner and watching tv with her mom, each day that she’d come home to find her mother waiting feeding her desire to come home faster and do it all again the next day. Things felt right again, and she was soaking it up.

Which triggered her warning flags.

She tucked the though away for writing in her journal tonight as she reached for another cookie.

Only, she’d never actually dug out a journal. Or written down any of the thoughts she’d intended on. Everything was just as foggy and muddled as it had been earlier that week.

She decided it was time to go and talk to Rook again. With Myles away, the risk of him tracking her there would be lessened, right?

She’d go later on Saturday, after spending the morning with her mom. Maybe they could have a barbecue by the pool or something, before August gave way to September and it got too cold.

They ordered in pizza and had a movie night, Rain falling asleep on the couch with her head on her mother’s shoulder.

Chapter 9

Meliki went into her garden, reaching into the core of the earthly plane, pouring her prayers out to her mother, asking for guidance. This child had death magic – it was not a thing one typically saw in humans, or witch kin. Yes, witch magic came from dragons, and dragons were the keepers of the realms of death, of the soul, but the soul also belonged to life, was the source of all magical power, and witch magic had so many paths on this plane to choose from, it very rarely went the route of death.

No, more likely, she was something else.

So Meliki poured her prayers unto the Earth, letting the spirits of the mother she walked on guide her voice to the ears that must hear it.

Then she went to speak to Kain.

“She wants to talk to us,” Jon said, looking up from his phone.

Rain had known she’d get sucked in again if she didn’t stop and do something right then, so under the guise of texting her boyfriend to tell him she was staying in that weekend, she shot a desperate text to Jon.

Something’s wrong with me. I need to talk.

Rook perked up from where he’d been playing with the stage curtain ties. “Oh?”

Jon shrugged and went back to staging glasses for when they opened in an hour or so.

Rook made an irritated little noise, but didn’t raise to Jon’s bait, instead returning to fiddle with the curtain.

When Rook wasn’t looking, Jon shot back, Name the time and place, we’ll do what we can for ya.

––

Rain awoke the next morning, still on couch, curled up under an afgan. Her mother was in the kitchen, making pancakes. Rain reached for her phone to see what time it was, and saw the message from Jon. Right. She was stuck in the twiligh zone and needed help. Still, help could wait til after pancakes, right? No, text him now, and keep the ball rolling. She’d lost a whole week to this already, who knew how much time could slip by if she let it.

Anywhere, as soon as possible. I keep losing myself.

While she was at it, she sent one to Zig.

I need to talk to Rook and Jon. Something’s happening.

And then her mother realized she was awake and called out that pancakes would be ready soon, and Rain padded into the kitchen happily.

Zig brought the text to Meliki, hours later when he finally woke up for the day. She suggested he work it out with Jon when best to take Rain where. This was out of her league, and area of interest. She’d turned these problems over to the people responsible for the mess, let them deal with it. She wasn’t about to bring her sithen into the middle of war that had nothing to do with the peoples of this plane anyways.

But she wouldn’t begrudge the girl her allies, and Zig was already in too deep. He was a known associate of the girl’s, so he may as well help her out now.

Zig came to get her after her mother went to bed. It was stupid, but she just didn’t want to miss any time with her mom. Who knew when this sweet reverie would end? So he pulled into her driveway a little after midnight and blew up her phone til she answered.

“Hey sleepyhead, I’m here. Come on down, and we’ll find out what’s going on with you, ok?”

Rain nodded into the phone, a clear sign that she was too tired for this. But Zig kept babbling at her from the other end, repeating things like “Get out of bed. Are you out of bed yet? Pull back the covered and put your feet on the ground and stand up. Are you standing up yet? Come on, get some clothes on and grab your shoes and don’t forget your keys! You’ll just have to come back up for them if you don’t get your keys the first time. We have to leave them at my place, remember? Are you out of bed yet?”

Finally, she made it downstairs and climbed sleepily onto the back of the Vespa. She was glad he’d brought it, she doubted she could have stayed on the bike at this point. He’d been thinking about how loud it would be, but then again, he didn’t think 3 a.m. was that late. He’d somehow expected her to still be up.

When they got to the shop, Tripp was waiting outside to take her keys for them. Rain was half asleep and drooling onto the back of Zig’s jacket, but Tripp unclipped her keys for her and straightened her a little more thoroughly onto the seat. Then it was just a quick jaunt down the street to Rook’s.

Jon had dutifully cut everyone off at 2 like Rook had asked, so by 3, everyone had sobered up and gotten bored and left. Sure, they could have officially closed, like any other bar, but Rook never did anything the way he was supposed to.

By the time Zig pulled up with Rain closer to 3:30, Rook had nearly paced a hole in the floor.

“Calm down, carid. She’ll be here.”

Rook had turned to snap something back at him when Zig knocked on the door, a sleepy Rain leaning heavily on him for support.

“Aiya!” Rook cried. “She looks like she’s been drugged!”

“She was probably just sleeping,” Jon said calming. “You know, like a normal teenage girl.”

Rook didn’t even bother to shoot him a dirty glace as he rushed forward to help Rain to a seat.

“What is it, dearheart? Are you alright? Jon said you haven’t been feeling yourself.”

Jon rolled his eyes heavenward at Rook’s dramatic mothering and shook his head. He pulled a bottle from the fridge under the counter and poured a drink for the girl. As he brought it around the counter, both Zig and Rook gave him dubious looks.

“Relax,” he said, making a face at the pair of them. “It’s orange juice. You both know I wouldn’t let a minor drink in my bar.”

He didn’t mention to them that he’d laced it with some of his special blend, a tincture of his power herb, a plant he’d grown from when he was a small boy. His leaf tended to taste of sweet mint, though he suspected that was simply because that’s what he expected it to taste like. But it was tasteless in its suspended form, and he would use his influence over it to help wake the kid up.

Rain took the drink without thinking, sipping absently as he sleepy brain tried to come into focus. The cold, tart juice helped, hitting her tongue with a jolt. As she came mentally into focus, she realized everyone was starting at her expectantly.

“Ah, she must be waking up,” Zig said with a smile. “She’s blushing.”

She reached out and hit him without thinking. Zig just laughed, though he did rub his arm.

Jon pulled up a chair, pulling himself more into Rain’s focus. Let the clowns clown around all they wanted. He would help the kid at least.

“Alright Rain. You said something was wrong, what’s happening?”

“I don’t to leave my house,” she said, staring into her orange juice. Before she could start to feel silly about it, she let it all come spilling out.

“My mom’s been really different since she married Myles, and I don’t ever want to invite any of my old friends over, and they never seem to call or text me anymore, and I didn’t want to leave the house all summer, and then school started and I started to feel like myself again and my mom’s started acting more like herself and I just want to spend time with her while it lasts but I can’t hold a thought lately. I’m not as angry at Myles anymore, I’m even starting to see his side of things but that’s so not like me but when I went to write it all down so I wouldn’t forget I spent all night on the couch watching movies with my mom instead and I know it all sounds really dumb but I just keep losing time and its freaking me out.”

She took a long breath when she’d finished, and another gulp of her orange juice.

“Sounds like a basic reluctance spell,” Rook said, studying his fingernails. Under the table, Jon kneed him for sounding so disinterested. Just because this was old hat to them didn’t mean it wasn’t all new and scary to her.

Rook sighed dramatically but when on to explain.

“Your step-father is a witch, right, and it’s not uncommon for witches to spell things they consider as belonging to them. Sometimes its houses or cars or stuff, but sometimes its people, especially people the witch doesn’t want other people thinking about too hard.”

Jon cleared his throat, and Rook gave him a dirty look. Zig took up the silence.

“It might be you directly, but its more likely just the house he moved you into. That’s why we you started going to school again, things changed a bit. I don’t know about your mom, but the house being spelled bit makes good sense.”

“Yeah?” Rain asked, the first glimmer of hope starting to fill her eyes. Maybe she wasn’t just being a stupid teenager after all.

“Yeah,” Jon said, leaning back in his chair. “It’s possible. I think it’s more likely he has it over you directly, though, so that anyone that has anything to do with you is affected. A house is a house is a house – if it were important to him, he probably wouldn’t have moved you two into it.” He stopped, knowing he was started to sound biased against her step-dad. He was, but he didn’t want that to be the prevailing thought here. He wanted to give Rain sound information so she could make her own decisions. He formed his thoughts carefully, knowing his herb in her system would transmit his moods to her and affect how she was thinking.

“At any rate,” Rook cut in, tired of pouting. “All this is very easily solvable. You just need to teach yourself to keep your shields up while you’re at home, instead of relaxing them like you might usually do.”

“Uhhh, about that…”

Zig was trying to make himself look small while simultaneously trying to draw attention to himself by speaking.

“She, uh,” he stammered. “She doesn’t really have any shields yet.” The rest of his words came out in a tumbled rush. “I’ve been trying to teach her but she’s just not very creative and we haven’t gotten very far yet.”

“Hey!” Rain cut in, indignant. “I am too creative. I’ve been writing short stories all summer long, thank you very much.”

“Oh, you have,” Jon said, sitting up straighter and leaning in in interest. “What about.”

Rain blushed again, and it was her turn to try and become small.

“Nothing really,” she mumbled into her juice. “Just, stories about how people die.”

Rooks eyes grew huge, and it was only Jon stomping on his foot and kept Rook form pouncing on her. “Oh?” Jon asked, maintain calm interest. He would coax it out of her, he just had to keep focused on the mind state he wanted her in, which meant keeping himself thinking nice, neutral, reassuring thoughts.

“They’re nothing special, just little, everyday deaths about people that could have been from around here. Or anywhere really. Just little things, like a kid choking on an apple seed, or an old lady having her heat cut off cause she didn’t pay the bill. It’s nothing very good…” she trailed off.

Jon nodded, knowing exactly what she was talking about. Rook could touch the thoughts of anyone who would know death -which was everyone, really- and Rain could touch their memories. Currently, it was only the strongest deaths that spoke to her – those that had already happened, and happened recently and nearby. As she grew stronger, she could be able to touch the memories of anyone that was subject to death – and again, that was almost anyone. Some memories were harder to reach than others, but once she’d come to hold her share of Death, it would become so natural…

Jon blinked rapidly, knowing those thoughts weren’t his own. Mentally, he waved a hand at Rook, chasing him out. These were not things Rain needed to see yet.

“Sooo….” Rain said, as everyone had gone quiet.

Jon sighed and rubbed his temples, trying to figure out how to put this.

“Your stories are real,” Rook said impatiently. “Everybody dies, and what you’re writing about is the echo of their deaths. Your connection to your own head is very lose, and it’s easy for you to make room in your skull for other people – but most people are still attached to themselves. It’s only the dead and incorporeal that will find their way into your mind accidentally. Anything else that winds up there is there on purpose.”

Damnit Rook! You’ll scare the girl! he shot to Rook mentally.

I’m tired of tiptoeing! he hissed back.

Zig, who had been watching this all quietly, stepped back in.

“It’s not as bad as it sounds kiddo. Jack sees ghosts all the time, and Delphi and I both have visions of future sometimes. Most people are more loosely seated in their own bodies or time lines that you’d think, but they never really talk about it, cause, well come on. You’re pretty freaked out about it now, huh?”

Rain nodded vigorously at this and clutched her glass. Zig reached out and patted her arm. “Same with anybody else kiddo. We all grow up thinking we’re alone and crazy or freaks or whatever, but there’s more of us than you think.”

He gave her his best big brother smile. “We’re here for ya kiddo. You’re not alone.”

Rain stared at him a moment, then shoved back her chair and flung her arms around him and cried.

“I think this is why they call her Rain,” Rook whispered to Jon, who elbowed him in the ribs.

When Jon had gotten Rain quieted back down, it was clear the girl was spent. It was time to get her home. Everyone agreed the only thing to really be done at this point was have her work on her shielding. Without that protection in place, she was open to pretty much anyone and everyone, and it was only a matter of time before the wrong person noticed.

Suddenly Rain was reminded of why she’d avoided everyone this week.

“Actually, someone did chase me the other day.”

“Oh yeah,” Zig said, suddenly remembering picking her up the other day.

“They WHAT?!” Rook screamed, leaping to his feet. Jon didn’t even bother to try and calm him down, he was too thrown off by that declaration himself.

Rain flinched back from the angry little man, but answered him anyways.

“On the way to school. I was walking, and there was this lightening elemental, and this guy tried to grab me and we shocked him and I ran to the Early Bird and Meliki called the Spiders and they walked to and from school and everything has been fine since then.” She shrunk back on herself when she’d finished, feeling like a guilty little kid.

“Well,” Rook said venomously. “Jon, remind me that I owe Meliki a fruit basket.” Jon made a face and Zig snorted, but Rook pressed on.

“I’m not angry at you, Rain, I’m just upset that anyone else is taking a notice of you. It’s bad enough your step-father’s all wardy wardy, I don’t need to look over my shoulder about someone else.” He stopped himself, even before Jon had to give him a gentle cough in warning. “Look honey, we’ve waited a long time to find you, and no matter you want to do with you life, I’m still going to be protective of you, so you’ll just have to get used to my little outbursts, ok? Either that or stop being in mortal danger. Whichever works best for you.” He waved it off with a dismissive hand, walking back towards the bar and stairs.

“Don’t mind him, kiddo,” Jon said, standing as well. “He means well, he’s just addicted to theatrics.”

“I heard that,” Rook muttered, rather loudly for a mutter.

“Obviously. You’re still in the room, aren’t you?” Jon called over to him.

Rook humphed and glided up the stairs, all the world like a Southern Belle.

Zig covered his mouth to keep from laughing.

Jon put a friendly hand on Rain’s shoulder. “Just look out for yourself, kiddo. Work on your wardings and we’ll put an ear to the ground about this creep of yours, ok?”

“Uhh, two creeps, actually,” she said meekly. “The guy had a friend after we left the coffee shop. They followed us to the school, but our officer was talking to them when I went inside.”

“Good, good!” Jon said warmly. “That’s actually a lot to go on, kiddo. You did good.” He gave her a smile and a little squeeze to her shoulder then moved back to give her room to stand. Zig did the same, moving toward the door but staying close enough to help reassure Rain.

“I’ll keep in touch kiddo, let you know what I dig up, ok?”

Rain nodded, feeling better with someone else on the case. It really helped to not feel so alone. Without realizing it, she reached back for Zig’s hand, who was there in an instant. He gripped her tight, and she squeezed back, then yawned.

“Go on with you now girlie,” Jon said, a bit of some sort of brogue creeping into his voice. “Get ya some sleep.”

She nodded again, yawned again, and followed Zig out the door.

––

You’ve got to let her do this at her own pace, Rook.”

He turned away from Jon, arms crossed over his chest. Rook knew he was right, but he just wasn’t ready to admit it yet.

She’s got to want this life, or she’ll never stand against Moira’s Death.”

I know!” he snapped, spinning around. “I know how much is at stake, ok? Just back off!”

He stormed toward the door, not knowing where he was going, but knowing he was going to hit something if he didn’t move.

So hit me,” Jon said, reading his emotions off the taste of them in the air.

Rook’s shoulders slumped and he stopped when he got to the door, hand resting on the polished wood. “That won’t help anything. If anything, it’ll prove they’ve always been right.”

He was quiet for long enough that someone else would have thought he wouldn’t speak again, but Jon had known him too long for that.

I just can’t stand all this waiting. What good is reality shattering power if you have to pick your battles and retreat all the time?”

He turned around and leaned against the door, sliding down it to hug his knees. “Will I ever stop being this Jon? Will I ever get over the need to press a tactical advantage, to destroy my enemies so thoroughly that they can’t possibly touch me again?”

He raised his face, wide green eyes looking lost and oh so young. Jon let out a long breath and tucked his own arms across his chest.

I don’t know, carid. I’ve never been an avatar of death. You tell me.”

Rook threw back his head and laughed and laughed and laughed.

––

She hadn’t moved from her garden in days. It wasn’t really all that unusual for her, but as a moon began to rise from a stone just down the path, time caught up with Meliki in a sudden rush. The small moon burst forth, silvery light giving way to a four-legged shape that was hard to define. As the glow settled, Meliki realized why there were called the Shining Ones. Something about this man’s shape defied seeing. He was neither a man nor a wolf at all. He was both, and somehow more. He was most definitely not of this world.

Meliki rolled from a seated position to a kneeling one, spreading her arms wide as she bowed her lower half. “Greetings, Ancient One. You are in the garden of Kuloa’na’Meliki-ka, leader of the Upper Lakes Kui-Kui fey, and servant of Lady Keyiki [Note: ok Mel, you’re gonna have to fill me in on all that later, ok?]. Are you the one who has answered my call?”

The man/wolf nodded, sliding more towards his humanoid form. “I am called Frost. I hail from the White Forest, and have come to do what must be done with the child of Death.”

Mel was taken aback by his declaration, but did her best to give no outward signs. She wasn’t sure exactly what she’d been expected when she’d called on the Old Ones to help, but something about his tone just sounded so …final.

She tried to tell herself it wasn’t any of her business, that death magic was way out of her league, and that she should simply hand the girl over and be done with it. But her daughters had taken a liking to the girl, and their affections for her made Meliki hesitate.

“And what must be done with her?” she asked, somewhat defiantly. She couldn’t help it, arrogance was her nature. And besides, it never hurt to act confidently.

Frost turned and looked at her, eyes coming more sharply into focus. It was as if his form were responding to the focus of his attentions- the rest of his body was blurring back and forth between man and wolf, as it had done when he’d first arrived.

“I cannot say, until I have seen her.”

Meliki blinked slowly, saying nothing. They stared at each other for a long moment, until he asked, “Is she here?”

“No.”

Frost folded his legs up underneath himself, settling onto the ground as Meliki had been before rising to her knees. “Then I will wait.” He closed his eyes, form going misty again, and Meliki stared at him a moment, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.

“You need not waste any hospitality on me,” Frost added, the faintest of smiles touching his lips.

Meliki knew when she was being dismissed. From her own garden, even. Still, his presence was rather unsettling, and she was more than relieved to leave it. As she stepped through the gazebo, she made a point of closing the gate behind her, and locking it so that no one wandered in in her absence.

Rook woke from a dead sleep, sword in hand. His wings were around him and he was setting spells of protection before he was even fully out of bed. Part of him was cursing his own paranoia, but most of him was on high alert for whatever had woken him. Tentatively, he lowered his shields, casting about the city for anything-

The wall of power slammed into him like a wave of icy water. Though he had no name for it, he knew that chill, and knew that it was Death. More than Death, Rook himself was Death, and he knew better than to fear something so trivial. No, this power was Undoing, the very opposite of existence itself.

Somewhere in this town, there was a Destroyer.

Rook felt flashes of memory tugging at the edges of his mind, but he turned away. Like he always did. He couldn’t remember why, but he knew it was his duty not to remember. He’d sworn he would forget, and in returned, they’d granted him his life. His existence.

Rook had tangled with Destroyers before. He was sure of it.

With a sound of disgust, Rook sheathed his sword back into the ether and drew his protective wards back into himself. Door finally clear of the spells blocking it closed, Jon burst into the room, cool and collected as always.

“So?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the door. With Rook not in any obvious danger, Jon waited for an explanation.

“Oh good, you’re already dressed. Pull the car around Sergi, we’re going for a ride.”

Rook swept from the room, trailing the smell of rain and moss and blood behind him. Jon just sighed and followed.

––

Meliki wasn’t actually all that surprised when Rook swept into her parlor. She’d taken time to put on a kettle before dialing him, using the steeping tea leaves to draw some of the tension out of herself. The lavender and chamomile drank up her nervous energy, thriving on her exhilaration and giving her a sense of calm and peace in return. Meliki loved the beautiful balance of Nature, the way everything came together to turn one man’s sorrow into another’s joy.

And then the bird burst in and ruined it all.

Still, she was grateful to be spared the awkward conversation of asking him to come down and speak with the Ancient One she’d tattled on him to. She figured it was the least she could do to give him time to sort it all out on his own terms. She didn’t understand how he was responsible for the girl, only that he was. And that he hadn’t been doing a good enough job for her and hers to feel safe. She would not feel guilty over this. She would not.

“Tea?” she asked mildly, gesturing to the pot and empty cups she’d brought with her.

Rook pursed his lips and rolled his eyes, but Jon stepped forward and took a cup with a nod of thanks.

“You know you’ll want it Rook. Fey magic always turns our stomachs.”

“It’s not the fey here I’m worried about,” he spat back, but he took the cup Jon handed him anyways.

They passed through the side door and into the back garden, Rook slamming down his tea as they did so. Jon had been right – the instant they passed into Meliki’s territory, Rook’s belly had started to roll. As much as it annoyed him to lean on the earth fey’s magic, he would not face down a Destroyer with a sour stomach. This was going to be bad enough as it was.

He was undoubtedly here for Rain, as would be the rest of the world, once word got out. It had happened this way time and time again, people beating him to scene and ruining things before he could ever get his hands on her. Granted, it had never been so bad as call down an actual Kalean, and a Destroyer at that, but still. Things were going rather well, considering.

He was hesitant to say anything to Rain, he didn’t know how much was too fast but Jon was right – this needed to be her decision. Part of what kept him from succumbing to their power was the force of his own personality – he wanted to stay Rook. If Rain didn’t know who she was or what she wanted out of life, the Death would take her over, eat her alive in her own head. They had to be partners, or she’d go just as mad as Moira had. [Note: Moira? Not Morgana?]

So he started down the giant wolf that stood in Meliki’s garden, the Kalean that had answered the fey’s requests for guidance.

“We can’t just force this on her, you know.”

The great wolf tilted his shaggy head, as if he didn’t understand.

“You know there’s no damned reason to wear that form around me, I’ve started my Undoing in the face before. Face me now, and let us talk about this.”

The wolf shook, like a dog spilling water from its coat, and ice crystals flew in every direction. When the small snow cloud settled, a small figure was left standing in the wolf’s place, just a normal man, albeit one far too pale. He was not much taller than Rook, lean muscles and hard lines, icy blue eyes starting out of a painfully angular face. His expression was utterly calm, and utterly alien. There was nothing at home here that could be bargained with, not really.

Rook remembered staring down such a face, and being offered a choice – a choice to remember no more. Now and again, something would strain at that choice, remind him of things he was meant to have forgotten. Looking into the face of a man that would have killed him, no, annihilated him from existence- even if this wasn’t the same Destroyer that had bested him in the Purging, they all had that same look about them. And they all had the power to remind him of things his soul could never forget, even after it had been erased from his mind.

A long moment passed between them, until finally broke the silence. “I am here, little bird. So talk.”

––

Zig had seen the glowing out in the garden, but had chosen to ignore it. He knew no one else would see – that part of the garden existed in a different part of space and time, and it was almost closing time anyways- and more importantly, he knew it wasn’t any of his damned business. At least, he hoped it wasn’t. He had a sick feeling that he would find out all too soon.

Sure enough, after the parlor had shut down for the night, he heard Meliki come in from the garden door and put the kettle on in the kitchen. Not long after that, he heard Rook making an ass of himself, and then all fell quiet as they went outside.

Zig lay there, staring at the ceiling, trying to sleep. It wasn’t any of his business, it really wasn’t, and whatever they were talking about, surely they would have Rain’s best interests at heart.

Damn. He hadn’t wanted to admit to himself that he was worried about Rain. He gave up, rolled over onto his side and reached for a book.

––

Zig wasn’t surprised when Meliki “called” him into the kitchen. However, he was rather shocked to see Rook sitting at the table, alone.

“Hey there, sweetie,” he said softly, completely lacking his usual tease.

“Hey.”

The apprehension was clear in Zig’s voice, but he pulled up a chair anyways. Rook sighed and stared into his tea cup, voice low when he finally spoke again.

“I need you to bring Rain here. Tomorrow, if you can.”

Zig remained silent, waiting for Rook to continue. He didn’t like the way Rook sounded, too much like he were at a funeral.

“I hate to ask you to do this. But …please.”

And that was all he was gonna get. Zig nodded and stood up, not caring to hang around in all the doom and gloom. Rook stood as well, taking the back stairs to where Jon was waiting outside.

Meliki stood watch over her garden for the rest of the night.

––

Chapter 10

Rain woke late the next morning, feeling clearer than she had all week. Maybe it was the house. Maybe leaving in the middle of the night had helped. She waffled about going downstairs, smelling breakfast, but wanting to take advantage of this moment of clarity. Not bothering to waste the time looking for a notebook, Rain fired up her laptop and added to the notes she’d already made.

-What happened today?

Still not sure. People to ask: Zig, Jon.

Death Magic? Myles magic? What was I referencing here? Either way, she’ll feel this:

She shuddered at the thought of that, but pressed on. She wasn’t sure how much time she had.

-Will it happen again?

Yes, according to ..well, everyone

Not a whole she could do about that one, and no one had really seemed too concerned. Mostly everyone was worried about her inability to shield. Which brought her to:

-What do I need watch out for?

Good question- get on that. Maybe Jon?

EVERYTHING

God, that was a depressing answer. Still, she added a note to practice shielding- being able to keep people out of her head could only be a good thing, right?

-What am I?

She hesitated over this one. She didn’t know, but she’d gotten some clues from her talk with Rook. Still, it hadn’t made much sense, and more importantly, she wasn’t really ready to face it. The idea that the characters in her stories had been real people, had really died..

She shut her laptop and ran downstairs to have breakfast with her mom.

––

Rain wanted to write. She’d wanted to all day, but she’d kept putting it off, spending the day with her mom. She’d been unsettled when Rook had informed her that her characters were real – and more importantly, had actually died-but the itch had been growing stronger all day, and this story was too strong to ignore. Besides, it wasn’t like not writing would keep them from dying. There was nothing she could do about that. So with a deep breath and with only the slightest hesitation, Rain opened her laptop and began to type.

She had been so young. Now that it was all over, that was all she could think about. As she lay there, bleeding out, she realized how much life she would never live. She hadn’t expected it to take so long, had expected one more glorious release from the pain and pressure and then sliding off into nothing, oblivion. Instead she lay there, wondering if this was all a mistake. And knowing it was too late to take it back.

Rain recoiled from her desk, disturbed. She’d never written someone so young before. She’d always kind of wondered how she’d come up with the thoughts and fears of people so much older than herself, but now that she knew the reason behind her stories, she was suddenly very glad there hadn’t been many closer to her own age. It was just so sad, so tragic, so wasteful. Rain stood up abruptly and strode from her room, heading for the fridge to find something to wash the taste of bile from the back of her throat.

She was half-blind from the too bright light of the fridge in the dark kitchen when the door opened behind her. She yelped and then laughed, feeling stupid for feeling so nervous. The story had just been so unsettling… Putting aside their differences, Rain crossed the kitchen and went to Myles for a hug.

“Well hello,” he said mildly, changing the surprise in his voice to a question.

“I needed a hug,” she said, not caring to fill him in more than that. She pulled away and went back to the fridge, pulling out the milk before closing it. She set a pan on to heat then rummaged around the shelves for hot chocolate.

“I’d noticed.”

Rain jumped again, Myles’ voice coming from much closer behind her than she’d expected. He gave her a soft smile and put a hand on her shoulder, just a brief squeeze and then he backed off again. “I’m sorry if I startled you, coming in so late. Is everything ok?”

She knew the question was loaded- was her magic acting up, had something happened with those new friends of hers, was there something going on only he could help her with. The feeling of him invading her mind made her shiver and she pulled away both physically and mentally. Myles took a step back as well.

“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I’ve never done this before. I don’t think I’ve quite got the hang of this fatherly support thing.”

Rain hesitated, wanting to get a mug down for her cocoa, but not wanting to have to reach past Myles to get into the cupboard. He gave small half-smile and a sigh, stepping back further but turning to get down two mugs.

“Could I make this for you? That’s a traditional parental comfort gesture, right?”

He seemed so earnest and out of place that it actually made Rain feel better about feeling so off, so she went around the island and sat herself down in a stool.

“Yeah, I think that’s a good start.”

She still didn’t quite know what to think of Myles, but it did seem like he was trying. Nothing he’d done so far was really all that threatening, just kind of awful, in a turn your life upside down kind of way. She really couldn’t hold that against him. He was trying, he just kind of sucked at it. Rain let him make her cocoa, figuring it didn’t cost her anything, and he seemed to really want to.

The silence stretched on between them, and Rain realized suddenly that he might be waiting for her to tell him what was wrong. She wondered for a moment if she cared if he knew, then realized if she told him about her stories, he might actually know something about it. Everyone else she’d asked so far had no idea what she was, but Myles had seen something in her that inspired him to look after, so maybe he would recognize her symptoms if she shared.

But something made her hold her tongue. She couldn’t say why, but she was just so reluctant to tell him anything about it. She wondered if it might be instincts, or maybe just typical teenage angst. She couldn’t tell. But if she wasn’t sure, she’d rather not say something she couldn’t take back, so she decided to go on the distractive tract instead.

“So you’re in awful late.”

Myles poured the steaming drink into the two mugs and passed one over to her. “Yeah. About that, actually, I have something for you.”

He set her mug down in front of her, then reached into his pocket to pull out a simple pendant necklace. It was a dark polished stone, suspended on a gold chain. Something about the stone seemed infinitely deep, and it was warm to the touch. Probably from being in his pocket, but still. It unnerved Rain to hold it, but she couldn’t tare her gaze from the inky depths.

“Don’t be surprised if you react strangely to it, the stone is spelled.”

Distantly, Rain was aware of Myles speaking, but his voice sounded a million miles away. She was falling deeper and deeper into the stone, and she knew it, but she didn’t care.

“It’s a more adult version of charms traditional given to witch children. It dampens your magic, keeps it from spiking too high, but doesn’t cut it off completely. It’ll give you a chance to practice, without having to worry about things spiraling out of control. I know I can’t stop you from experimenting, but I’d feel better if I knew you were using protection.” He stopped abruptly, making a disgusted sound low in his throat. Rain blinked and snapped back to the present, mentally catching up as Myles continued to speak.

“Listen to me- I sound like I’m setting the ground rules for your first boyfriend, not that that’s any of my business, I guess.”

Again, Rain got the impression that his words had meaning below the surface, that he was asking her to fill him on that boy she’d been hanging around with. Rain suddenly wished she were better at shielding, so she could keep him from projecting like this.

“Why don’t you just ask me what you want to directly?”

Her tone was flat, her expression neutral, but she held his gaze, making it clear she expected a straight answer.

Myles laughed and picked up his own drink. “I could ask you the same,” he said, tipping his mug in a small salute before drinking.

Puzzled, Rain’s eyebrows came together but she didn’t look away. She wouldn’t let him dodge like that.

He chuckled and leaned back against the counter. “You’re doing the same to me, Rain.”

Shocked, she blinked and sat back in her stool, caught completely off guard. She didn’t know which to address first, the accusation or his casual use of her new nickname.

“You’re pushing it at me honey, even right now. You’ll learn to shield it in time – especially if I keep pushing at you to remind you- but for now, everything you focus on in my direction comes through loud and clear. Including the fact that someone is helping you learn how to keep secrets from me.”

Rain’s mouth fell open and she stared in wide horror, not believing this was happening.

“Who is that boy, Rain? Why did you suddenly start hanging out with fey?” He spat the word like a curse, but the rest of his tone stayed neutral. “You know they can’t be trusted, don’t you sweetheart? They’re giving you a new name to have power over you, to make it so that you can’t be acted on by me. My spells can’t protect you if you think of yourself by another name. They’re dangerous honey. Their poison will trick you and they’ll lie to you with the truth because that’s just their nature. They can’t help themselves.”

Rain pushed from the counter and ran upstairs, even as he kept talking. She didn’t want to hear this, didn’t want to think about all this right now, while she was tired and still raw from the death of the young girl. She didn’t want to listen about how wrong the world was, how everything she’d ever thought to be true no longer applied and nothing anyone ever said could be taken at face value. She didn’t want to have to face all that tonight. She just wanted to sleep, and not dream.

She threw herself on the bed still in her close and cried into her pillow until she fell asleep.

The necklace was still clutched in her hand.

––

The next morning, there was a text on her phone from Zig. She didn’t open it, moving mechanically through her morning routine. She couldn’t handle any more back and forth, roller coaster emotions. This new world of monsters and magic was enough to deal with – whiplashing back and forth between who she could trust was just too much. So she just stopped thinking about it. She stood under the shower faucet, letting the water pour over her, trying to let it wash it all way.

Trying to waste all her time before school, apparently.

Yoga was out, she’d spent all her zen points in the shower. But if she hurried, she could catch the bus…

The simple answer was to have her mom drive her, but she just didn’t want to. Mom would want to keep talking, to spend time with her daughter like she’d done all week, but Rain just wasn’t up to it today. Besides, Myles might be awake and downstairs and she just didn’t want to face any of that yet. So she stood at her window, arms wrapped around her sides, waiting for the bus to crest the hill.

The instant it was in sight, she darted for her door, dashed down the stairs and was out the front door before her mother’s good morning finished ringing through the air.

––

Rinna and Rabe were hanging around all day, but she ignored them. Whatever they were doing at school, she knew she didn’t want any part of it. She’d had enough of this magical bullcrap, and with Myles’ stupid necklace, she wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.

That brought her up cold. Why was she wearing Myles’ necklace? She hadn’t remembered putting it on, but sure enough, when she reached up a hand, her other hand was already wrapped around the cool, dark stone. She hadn’t remembered that either. She wanted to freak out, but she just couldn’t. Her brain was out of freak. All of this stuff was happening with or without her, and she was just too tired to care anymore. She passed the rest of the day mostly numb, fiddling with the stone around her neck and staring at nothing.

When a hand grabbed her out of the bus line, she didn’t even react, barely turning her heard to see who had grabbed her. Zig returned her distant gaze with a worried one, wild blue eyes searching hers for a sign of what was wrong.

“Hey,” he said softly, like he trying not to spook her. “Did you get my text?”

Slowly, Rain shook her head. Her hand moved to her pocket, pulling out her phone, but Zig shook his head and started leading her away. “Don’t worry about it. I was just saying I’d come get you this afternoon. We need to, uh, talk.”

Zig kept alternating between slumped shoulders, and gaze darting around, looking out for something. He seemed somehow nervous and defeated, and finally Rain’s curiosity was piqued.

“What with you?” she asked when he handed her a helmet. Zig’s eyes were soft and sad, but he shook his head and put on his helmet. Rain scowled but did the same, climbing on behind him. She wondered if he’d brought the motorcycle to school on purpose, instead of the Vespa, to look cool. He was way too old for anyone here, right? Rain suddenly realized she had no idea how old he was, or anything about him, really. She was whizzing down the road on a death trap with no doors, trusting a man whose real name she didn’t even know with her life. What the hell was wrong with her?

She had been gearing herself up to interrogate him when they got to the shop, but the sight of Rook holding the back gate open for them threw her completely. They rode all the way into the garden, and Zig took her helmet and put the bike away without a word. She was all eyes for Rook anyways.

There was something about him that seemed so much …bigger. Maybe it was not having Jon to compare to, but she didn’t think that was it. It was size, it was more like he was just taking up more space somehow. She shook it off and stalked over to him, letting her frustration out on Rook instead of Zig.

“Alright, this is too much. You don’t want my step-dad track me to your place, but you’re fine to just wander around back here?”

When she reached him, she jabbed a finger at his chest, making his eyes widen in surprise. “Who the hell are you? Who the hell is he?” she said, gesturing wildly behind her towards Zig, “and what the hell am I doing here?”

“Hell has nothing to do with it, dearheart,” Rook said softly, looking at the ground between them. When he raised his eyes to hers, the soft mossy green was flecked with red, and Rain swore she heard thunder. “If you want to know who he is, go and ask him.” His gaze slide over her shoulder, and Rain had the horror movie moment of knowing the bad guy was right behind her.

She turned in slow motion, as if that would somehow save her, brain going a million miles a minute about all the possibilities of what lay behind her. None of them prepared her for the reality of it.

“Rain, meet Frost,” Rook said from behind her.

Rain was staring at the biggest wolf she’d ever seen. True, she’d never actually seen a wolf at any point in her life, but even if she had, this guy would dwarf them all. “Frost” was shaggy white wolf the size of a Clydesdale, maybe bigger. It was hard to compare, because Frost wasn’t just tall, he was thick. Thick with muscle, thick with fur, and thick with a fog that seemed to surround him. Like your breath on a cold winter’s morning, the air puffed around him in little crystals, shimmering in the moonlight, though it was only afternoon. Somehow, that whole half of the garden had fallen into twilight, but Rain hardly noticed that, or the cold that was pooling around her ankles.

Rook said nothing as Rain continued to stare, and Frost continued to stand still and stoic as always.

You could show her your true form, he thought idly, knowing Frost would hear him if he cared to.

So could you.

Rook elected to ignore Frost’s echo back, making a show of studying a potted violet on the table next to him.

Frost growled, a low, rumbling sound that vibrated through Rain’s whole body. She stepped forward, compelled to touch him. Her hands sunk into his plush fur, tiny crystals of ice biting into her hand. Beyond that, the fur was soft, but still cool, the like other side of the pillow. She couldn’t push in far enough to feel his skin, but did brush her hand back and forth, hypnotized by the feel of him.

Rook made a disgusted sound. “Oh, don’t play puppy with him! Don’t you know he’s here to kill you?”

Frost turned his head and growled in Rook’s direction, but Rain just stared.

“He’s not here to kill me,” she whispered, eyes glassy and distant. “He’s here to protect me.”

Rook’s spun around at that, nearly knocking over the violet. “He what?”

Rain turned to face him, but kept an arm buried in Frost’s thick fur. “He was sent here to guard me. Didn’t he tell you that?”

“No,” Rook said sourly, turning an accusatory gaze on Frost, “he neglected to mention that.” The wolf just sat back on his haunches, lowering his head so that Rain could scratch his ears. I said I’d come to do what must be done. I never said what that would be.

But you knew exactly how that sounded! Rook hissed back mentally, then turned to fuss with the potted plants again.

You heard what you were expecting. You know me as Destroyer, but did you also see that I call the clan of Hunters my own as well? Rook didn’t answer, angrily fluffing the leaves of a basil plant. My kind know well the necessity of Death. It is another step in the dance of Life. I would not throw the whole world out of balance for one little girl.

Meliki stood up from where she’d been weeding and grabbed Rook’s hand, cutting off whatever retort he might have made. “They don’t need the attentions of a Death touched,if you please.” Rook looked startled, but stepped away from her plants. Meliki handed him a fistful of weeds and smiled knowingly. Rook blinked, then laughed softly. “I get it. What patch would you like me in?” Meliki winked at him and led him to where she’d been working.

Rain noticed none of this. She was all eyes for Frost. She didn’t know how she knew it, he’d not said word one, not that she’d been expecting a giant wolf to talk, but God this wolf was HUGE! She wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his fur, closing her eyes against the ice crystals that brushed her face.

Zig watched it all from the shed, not a clue what was going on. The big dude wasn’t going to eat her, but what the hell? Still, she seemed alright, so he went back inside to mind his own business.

––

Rain had no idea how long she’d stood there, clinging to Frost’s side and listening to his heartbeat. She had no words for what passed between them, but touching him, there was just a sense of rightness, and safety, and Rain wrapped it around herself like blankets in the dark. No boogie men could touch, with her living blanket at her side.

Rook scowled when he peeked in at her thoughts – didn’t she know that no Kalean could care about single little girl, no matter how powerful? But Meliki tossed a stray weed at him, and he humphed and returned to his work. He wouldn’t stop the wolf from his work – anyone who’d seen a Destroyer at work knew better than that – but he wouldn’t leave either, just in case…

In case what, you moron? You don’t even actually remember what a Kalean can do!

And that was exactly what he was afraid of. He had no way of knowing what their agenda was, or what lengths they would take to meet their goals. But he remembered in his heart of heart that the Shining Ones were to be feared. And obeyed.

Rook straightened with a sigh, giving a nod to Meliki before turning to walk out of the garden. He paused for the slightest second at the barrier between the twilight and mid-afternoon, then stepped over it, and willed himself back home to his bar.

Rain looked up as Rook vanished, and realized she should also probably head home. She let herself through the big garden gate, knowing Frost would follow. She could feel the pressure of him behind her, like a storm front rolling in, but also like a hand on the back of her neck, keeping her steady. If it had been anyone else, she’d have been pissed and felt crowded, but from Frost, the weight was comforting, like he wouldn’t steer her wrong. She started the walk home, too lost in exploring her new connection with Frost to realized she lived more than an hour’s walk away. Luckily, Zig had been keeping a wary eye on the garden and saw her leave. He ran out the door after her, calling out to her.

“Hey kiddo, wait up!”

He jogged up to her, carefully dodging her new over-sized watch dog. She jumped when he grabbed her arm, like snapping back from a day dream.

“That’s a helluva walk you were gonna make there – you want a ride?”

Rain looked back to Frost, who softly faded from sight. She knew he was still with her, and didn’t need to travel with her physically to remain present. She smiled to herself, feeling peaceful for the first time in weeks. Maybe months. Then she turned to Zig and gave him a smile all his own.

“Sure, and thanks.”

––

JJ watched as the girl disappeared again behind the big wooden gate. He watched as she sped away with that boy on the motorbike. He knew better than to act without Alonso, knew to just sit and watch, exactly as he’d been told.

He also knew the girl was getting careless. He didn’t need Al to confirm that. Like a woman not paying enough attention to her purse, this girl was beginning to forget her closer encounter from the other day. Kids were all the same. Soon, Al would confirm that it was time to strike. Then he’d have his moment in the sun, and get to come up with a new name too. “JJ” was too undignified for a vampire.

––

Frost remained a quiet constant in the back of her head all evening. It was surreal to eat dinner with her mom, do her homework and mess around online, knowing all the while a wolf from out of this world was watching her every move. It was funny- the idea of Myles watching her 24/7 pissed her off, made her feel spied on, but with Frost, she felt she could finally let her guard down. Maybe now, it wouldn’t matter so much if she didn’t know how to shield. With a great big guard dog shadowing her, who would dare mess with her?

Only, her mom hadn’t even noticed. Of course, her mom didn’t know anything about the magical world. Zig had stepped around him, and Rook had certainly seen him. Would Myles? How would she know? And where was he tonight, anyways? Not that she’d missed him or anything, but it was weird for him to gone without her mother. And he’d barely been home all week.

Rain shook the thought off and shut down her computer and went to bed. Thoughts for another day.

––

Frost followed the child into her dreams, knowing that the battle scene was familiar to her. It was remarkably easy for him to share her headspace with her – not that such a thing would have been difficult for him, but it was almost effortless with her. One more think he tucked away to ponder at another time. For now, he paid careful attention to the scene unfolding before him.

He ignored the field of bodies, and the women eating them. Death was nothing new to either of his natures, and he’d been expecting as much from the fey’s call. Beyond that, he’d known exactly what he was dealing with the moment he laid eyes on the crow in the garden. A former general of the Black Legion was not a face easily forgotten, even if the man didn’t remember his.

What really captured Frost’s attention was the figure on the hill, and he followed at the dream dove down to land by her side. Frost listened attentively as they spoke, always having wondered what had turned the tide on this war so many years ago.

“How long?” Rook asked, voice hollow with a tired edge. The lady in the dark cloak ignored him, eyes distant. “How long will you keep fighting, Moira? When will it finally be enough?”

She looked at him then, eyes full of surprise. “Enough, Rook? When will the Morrigan ever have enough of battle? Of bloodshed?”

She turned away from, back to the fallen soldiers, and it was just as well. Had she seen the grim look in his eyes, she’d have never let him live to leave that hill. To betray her.

Rain jerked awake, panting, sweat plastering her hair to her face. She sat up, shaking, and leaned against the headboard, drawing in deep gasps of air. She felt sick, and had no idea why, but made her way to the bathroom, just in case. The cool tile helped chase back the nausea, and she sat with back to the wall for a long time, just staring.

Frost remained silent, just on the edge of her thoughts. She had no idea what she was, but there were those who did.

And soon, they would be coming.

Chapter 11

By morning, all was forgotten. Rain was slightly surprised to see Frost curled up beside her bed, but she smiled when she remembered the afternoon before. It felt right having him here. She felt safe. That thought buoyed her up as she went downstairs and even sat through breakfast with her mother and Myles.

She linger long enough that she missed yoga, but had time still to ride her bike to school. The late August sky was clear and bright, and in her high spirits, Rain wanted to get out and enjoy the day. It would be hot when she left in the afternoon, but she would worry about that then. She was in too good a mood to let little details get her down.

She waved to Rabe and Rinna as she passed them on her way in, missing the worried looks they gave each other. Frost elected to stay outside the building, but she knew he was just a thought away, and honestly, she agreed with him. Passing the girls had reminded her that she had no idea who could and couldn’t see Frost, and while she doubted there’d be that many magic users at her school, she’d never really entertained the possibility before. She didn’t feel like “coming out” by having a giant white wolf following her. Still, it would be neat to see who did and didn’t know about this hidden world living side-by-side with the one she’d grown up in. She wondered if any of the Spiders could tell her how to get in touch with other magical folk. Now that she had a guardian, she didn’t worry so much about keeping secret and playing it safe.

When she’d asked them about it at lunch, Rabe and Rinna were both reluctant.

“I mean, we know of a few places,” Rinna had said when Rain wouldn’t let it go, “but they’re not really the sort of places you take a…” She’d trailed off, and Rain got the feeling the other girl was trying not to insult her.

“Hey, no worries,” she answered glibly. “I get that I’m still “in training” or whatever. I’d just never thought about it before, ya know?”

Rinna gave Rabe a questioning look, and Rabe just shrugged. Rinna shook her head and turned back to Rain. “Stick with the Early Bird for now. We’ll show ya around some other places later.”

That was good enough for her, so when Rabe suddenly started complaining about a “seriously way PDA” couple in the corner, Rain let her change the subject without complaint.

––

After school, she walked her bike over to 8-Leggs with Rabe and Rinna in tow. Rain wondered if their nervous glances around were about Frost. She couldn’t “see” him right now, but she knew he was there, and wondered if the other girls could sense him too. But they seemed inclined to keep talking about nothing, so Rain decided not to bring it up. Maybe the big guy would choose to reappear once they got to the shop, or maybe he was only visible to some people? She didn’t know, and the sense that let her know so much about things yesterday was quiet now.

Rinna held the side door open, telling Rain to just pull her bike inside into the hallway. Rabe had already disappeared downstairs, and Rinna went to the counter to leaf through the appointment book. She swore when she saw her name in for a 5 o’clock, and apologized as she too headed for the door downstairs.

“Sorry. I gotta get all showered up and stuff – I hate inking when I can feel the day’s grime all over me. I’m sure most people don’t think about it, but it grosses me out to wound people while wondering what germs I’m smearing all over them.”

Rain nodded and headed over for the couches. Someone would let Zig know she was here, surely. Belatedly, she thought that maybe she should have texted him earlier about coming over, but it was honestly sort of a spur of the moment decision. She wanted company right now, wanted to be with people like her. Also, she kinda wanted to test the limits of Frost’s visibility, and Zig was the only one she was certain could see him. She looked out the big window, laughing and Frost curled up by the door. She wondered for a moment why he didn’t come inside, or if he would chase away any customers. All the more reason to sort this visibility thing out quickly then.

––

Zig came up quickly when Rabe finally told him Rain was with her. She’d come into the kitchen to steal bits of the taco fixings he was making for dinner, and he’d waved a greasy spoon at her when sh’ed mentioned Rain waiting upstairs.

“It didn’t occur to you she might be hungry too? Shoo, you great lazy cat! Shoo!”

She laughed while scurrying away, half an avocado and a handful of chips in her grasp. Zig sighed dramatically and went upstairs.

He was surprised to see Rain was alone, no big wolf with her, then he caught sight of the big guy outside.

“Your uh.. He can come in,” he said, gesturing to the window.

“He flopped out there on his own.” Rain shrugged. “I have no idea what he’s thinking.”

That did not make Zig feel any better, but he shook it off and invited her downstairs anyways. “I’m making tacos,” he said.

“Eh, no thanks. I’ll probably eat with my mom and Myles.” Whatever spell her mother had been under hadn’t broken when Myles came home, and she was enjoying the illusion of normal life. Ok, so “spell” might not have been the best choice of words, but whatever. She followed Zig down into the Underground anyways, keeping a mental tether on Frost. She could still feel him, but the distanced seemed to have tripled as soon as she crossed the threshhold.

She pulled out a chair at the kitchen table while Zig went back to his cooking. “It smells good,” Rain offered, hoping she hadn’t offended him by turning down dinner.

“Have some – there’s salsa in the fridge and chips in the basket.” He gestured with his spoon, and Rain got up to oblige. It seemed to make him happy, so she had a few nibbles. “Tatsy.”

Rain pushed the salsa around the bowl, trying to figure out how to ask Zig to play guinea pig for her, but before she could speak, Jack came racing down the stairs.

“Zig! Ziiiiiiiig!” He came skidding into the kitchen like a cartoon character. His chest heaved and he leaned against the doorframe as if he might faint. “There’s.” Pant. “A giant.” Pant. “Wolf outside!” More panting, and more dramatic chest heaving, while Rain covered her mouth and tried not to laugh.

“Mhmmm.” Zig kept stirring without looking up.

Jack’s draw dropped as he got no reaction. “Giant wolf. Outside. Our door. The customer door.”

“Yup,” Zig said, and continued to stir.

“Zig!” he said, exasperated. “There. Is. A. GIANT. Wolf. Outsideourdoor!”

“Yes, there is.” Further stirring. “What do you want me to do about it? I’m cooking.”

Jack’s eyes bugged half out of his head.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on counter duty right now?” Zig said, looking pointedly upstairs.

Rain couldn’t stand it anymore, and burst into a fit of giggles. Jack shot her a what’s so funny look, and Zig cracked a smile of his own.

“It’s ok Jack,” Rain said between giggles. “He’s with me.”

“Oh, well, if he’s vouched for – what the hell are you doing with a giant wolf?!”

Jack spun on her like he was ready to give her the third degree. Rain just ducked her head and tried not to laugh again.

“He’s her protector, or something,” Zig said, finally stepping away from the stove to join the conversation. “Why don’t you two go see if you can coax him inside, or to the garden, so he doesn’t scare away anyone that might see him.”

Rain perked up at that. “Actually, I was kinda hoping someone might help me figure out exactly who can and can’t see him.”

Zig bit his lip, considering. “Well, Jack and me make sense, cause we’ve both got the Sight, in our own ways. Same with Tripp, so he’s out. Rinna and Rabe? They walked home with you, didn’t they? Did they say anything?”

Rain shook her head. “Not that they said.”

“Oh, they’d have said, for sure. Rabe at least.”

It was Jack’s turn to stifle a giggle. “ Cats and dogs and all.”

Rain gave him a look like he was nuts. “Riiiiight. Anyways. So what you’re saying is that no one here is really gonna be any help?”

Zig nodded. “Yup. Sorry kiddo. You might try the Early Bird- though I don’t know how well the girls will take to a giant wolf chasing away all their business.”

“Hrmm… good point.”

Jack sat down and began happily munching on chips and salsa, til Zig gave him a look. “Who’s watching the counter bozo?”

“Awww man- you’re no fun!” He stuck his tongue out, but got up and headed back upstairs anyways. Rain moved to get up as well, but Zig shook his head. “Hang around kiddo, I’ll help you logic this out before you run off to terrorize the citizens with Dogzilla.”

Rain shorted, nearly dropped the chip she’d been playing with. She ate the damned thing before she poured salsa all over her lap. Zig grinned and stole a chip before heading back to the stove.

“Alright, so I can see him, you can see him, Jack can see him – but you made it over here without any commotion, right?”

Rain nodded, mouth full.

“Surely you passed people who should have been able to see him – there’s more of us off the beaten path than you’d think. But he was with you the whole time?”

Rain nodded again and got up to get a drink of water. “Yeah, he’s pretty much with me all the time, though he never seems to come inside anywhere. Also, I can’t always ‘see’ him, but I know he’s there.”

“Huh, ok.”

They were both quiet for a moment as they thought. Finally, Zig shrugged and tossed an idea out there. “Do you think that’s something you could control? Like ‘sit, stay, play dead, be invisible’?”

Rain coughed on her water, took another sip, then set the glass down and pushed it away. “No fair trying to kill me with bad jokes.” Zig held his hands up but offered no apology. Rain shook her head, but turned the idea over.

“I don’t really know if he works that way, but I think he prefers to keep out of the way. You’re right- no one’s run screaming into the hills yet, and I think he wants to keep it that way.” She hesitated, chewing a knuckle. “Still, I’d like to know if Myles can see him or not – he’s so overprotective, I’d hate for him to do something to the big guy, ya know?”

Zig nodded, but looked lost. “I dunno what to tell you kiddo. I don’t know a whole lot about witch-kin, and what I do isn’t too flattering.”

His tone was neutral enough, but Rain left it alone. If it was something important, he’d volunteer, and she didn’t want to make him talk about things that might bother him. From the fuss everyone made the day her parents came here to get her, and all the “us vs. them” attitude she’d gotten from Myles, she didn’t think witches and fey got along to well.

“I think the big guy can probably take care of himself,” Zig said finally, shaking himself out the quiet he’d fallen into. Yup, definitely a nerve there. Rain was glad she hadn’t stepped on it, too badly at least.

“Yeah, you’re probably right. I guess I’ll just have to go with trial and error.” She stood and pushed her chair in, not wanting to both Zig anymore. She hadn’t thought until now how much crap she’d drug him into with all this magic stuff. On impulse, she crossed the kitchen to give him a hug.

“Thanks for everything,” she said, face pressed up against his back. He patted her arm and gave it a squeeze. “No problem kiddo. Be safe out there, ok?”

“Of course.” She shot him a grin as she headed for the stairs. “I’d hate to give Frost a reason to protect me.”

––

Rain wheeled her bike out onto the street and started peddling absently. She didn’t know where she was going, but she knew she didn’t want to head for the bridge, so she rode in the general direction of the Early Bird. Maybe she’d get a better idea of what she wanted to do from there.

Frost padded a long beside her, long stride making it easy for him to keep up. When he didn’t melt into nothingness as he had before, Rain started watching the people they passed more closely. No one so much as blinked when they passed, which got more and more odd as they kept moving. As they paused at a light, Rain studied the man next to her, who stared unerringly forward.

“It’s like they don’t even see me…”

She didn’t know why she’d said that aloud, but when even that got no response, Rain became officially unnerved.

“What the hell? Is this all you Frost?”

She turned to shoot him a confused look, but the light changed, so she pedaled across and kept moving and the wheels in her head kept turning.

She hadn’t been invisible to Rabe and Rinna on the walk home, though Frost had laid lower then too. So why was he out now? And was that the reason everyone’s gaze kept sliding over her?

“If you’re doing this, stop it.” She hissed the words between her teeth, her discomfort making her angrier than she’d meant to sound. “It’s just seriously freaking me out.”

She didn’t know if Frost had feelings to hurt, but she didn’t want to offend him. She just also didn’t want to feel like the world was going by without her. When they pulled up on the Early Bird, she decided to go in and unwind for a minute. She didn’t like riding this distracted, it was a good way to get hit by a car.

When she stepped in the doorway, the man who’d walked in before her jump. Rain shot a dirty glare out the window to Frost, who had curled up to nap outside again. That wolf was seriously weird. But she was sure now, he’d been hiding her. Damnit. How did you explain to a magical wolf the importance of visibility while riding down a busy street? She’d try talking to him directly, once she decided to head home. For now, tea sounded lovely, and Asha’s smiling face was a welcome sight.

“Rain! Heya girlie!”

Nanae coughed, a not so subtle reminder to Asha to stay focused. She’d ignored the customer actually ordering in favor of greeting Rain, and apologized all over herself to the man when she’d realized she’d done it. Rain grinned, but tried not to make too big a deal out of it. It had been nice though, being greeted so warmly.

Nanae stepped in when Rain approached the counter. “Go make her tea, little one. I can see you’re dying to sit and chat.” She tried to purse her lips and be stern, but that lasted all of two seconds. She laughed and waved the two younger girls towards the stools at the counter. “Go! Go on you with you! Some of us have work to do.” Nanae couldn’t keep the laughter out of her voice.

Asha rushed over to the steamers, setting a bag to steep without even asking Rain what she wanted. Rain didn’t mind – if their apples were that good, she trusted the fey’s judgment. Besides, everything she’d had here had always been lovely. As soon as the drink was done, Asha practically laid on the counter as she leaned in to talk with Rain.

“So? Who is he?”

“Who is who?” Rain asked, blinking. Wisely, she scooted her tea off to the side to protect it from Asha’s excited gestures. She kept her tone under control, but that was about it.

“That gorgeous man waiting outside for you, of course! Why didn’t you bring him in?”

“Huh?”

Rain spun around in her seat, scanning all the windows. All she saw was a big furry white back. She turned back to Asha, giving her a look. “You don’t mean… Frost?”

“Ooooh, is that his name? It suits him.” Asha wasn’t shy about checking the man over, which just disturbed Rain more. “You must be seeing something I’m not- all I brought with me was an overgrown guard dog.”

Asha flung herself backward, eyes wide in shock. “No! That’s your new guardian?”

Nanae hissed through her teeth, frowning at the girls to keep quiet. Asha ducked and leaned back on the counter. “Seriously though- that’s who you met in the garden yesterday?”

Rain started to ask, “How do you know about that?” but then Meliki appeared from the back store rooms.

“If you two are going to make sure a fuss, I’d rather you not do it out here,” she said softly, but with an iron sternness that made even Rain shrink back.

“No, Kuloa, I will finish my shift. I’m sorry, ma’am.”

Asha moved away, starting on the drinks Nanae had queued up. There weren’t that many, but Meliki stepped over to help anyways. She spoke in hushed tones to Asha, who looked ready to curl up and die on the spot. Rain quietly sipped her tea, doing her best not to look at either the fey or the big wolf outside. That left her with pretty much just people watching, so she pulled a notebook out of her backpack and began scribbling down things she noticed out of habit.

She very deliberately ignored the voice in her head that reminded her those details may or may not be true.

The man who’d preceded her in was reading a newspaper- and drinking tea made with catnip. Oook then. A couple of women were knitting in the corner, chatting about how wool was better for baby things, because it was highly resistant to fire. Rain turned away mental before following that train of thought. She didn’t want to know what babies needed to be fireproof. Another girl was curled up in an armchair, alternating between texting and staring aimlessly out the window. Her eyes flicked to Rain, flashing opening hostility for just the briefest of moments, and then she was back to looking out the window. Rain wondered what she’d done to merit the scathing “fuck you” look, but let it go. Asha was coming back over anyways.

“Hey, sorry if I caused you any trouble,” Rain said first.

“No, no girlie, you’re fine – I just need to learn to reel it in a bit. I get kinda loopy this late in the day.” Her point was underscored by a mighty yawn. “Heh. I’m still such a lightweight when it comes to sunshine.”

Rain quirked an eyebrow, but Asha shook her head. “Nope, no more secrets today. I’ve run my mouth enough as it is.”

Rain nodded, tucking her notebook away. “It’s no problem. I seem to be hitting all the nerves today.”

It was Asha’s turn to give Rain a questioning look. Rain sighed and stared into her teacup. “Just said something stupid to Zig earlier. He was cool about it, but you know how bouncy he usually is – Zig being cool isn’t right.”

Asha laughed and nodded vigorously. “Truth, girlie.” She reached out and patted Rain’s arm. “I wouldn’t worry about him too much though- boys like him tend to bounce back easy. Serious thought might mess up his hair.”

Rain snrked and tried to cover it up with a sip of tea, but Asha’s eyes stayed bright, and in the end Rain gave in and laughed. “Alright, alright- you win. No more moping.” She finished her tea then leaned back and stretched her arms over head. “At least not here. I’ll have to go home for a proper mope.”

Asha stuck her lower lip out in a mock pout. “Leaving me already? Just gonna take the tea and run?”

Rain wrinkled her nose and smiled. “Sorry, I do have homework. But I’ll come by again this weekend, ok?”

Asha nodded and scooped up Rain’s cup. “Have fun – and bring me some stories about you know who!” Her eyes flicked out the window again and Rain shook her head. “Will do, weirdo.”

––

As she was unlocking her bike, she muttered under her breath to Frost. “Alright you – I dunno what the deal is, but I can’t go all invisible woman this time, ok? You can’t protect me from motorists that can’t see me.”

Frost’s only response was to stretch lazily, so Rain climbed on her bike and headed toward home.

––

JJ swore as the girl vanished from view once she left the ally beside the shop. She was there one minute and then poof, gone. He knew she had to be there, but for the life of him he could see where she’d gone. He texted Al, who told him to head for the coffee shop.

Alonso had hated bringing someone else in. But it’d been a week, and the girl was still guarded like Fort Knox. Between school and spending every second with her mother, there was simply no time. So he’d gone under the table, contracting one of the young kids that ran errands for the gang.

“Just get her alone,” he’d told Nicky. “We’ll do the rest. You just hang out at the coffee shop after school, and if she shows up, let us know and keep her there and we’ll do the rest.”

She’d given him lip, but he’d pulled rank on her and threatened to bleed her if she didn’t shut up and do as she was told. It was a gamble, if she went to LBB directly things might get messy, but in the end she’d given him attitude but went along with it, as long as it didn’t interfere with her other jobs.

And then of course on the very day he’d put Nicky in place, their target had finally gotten careless. Figures.

She felt better when a driver waved her ahead at a four-way stop. Stupid, but she’ d begun to wonder. The idea of being invisible panicked her. She’d expected it to be exhilarating, freeing, but it only filled her with dread. If she disappeared, would anyone notice? What would happen to her mom? Would Myles just dump her into her old, all memories of either him or Rain washed away. The thought filled her with a chill that had nothing to do with the winter wolf padding along beside her.

She came to a stop at another intersection, pausing to let the truck that pulled up next to her go first. There was a guy in the bed and she turned to flash him a smile, grateful to have someone acknowledge her, but when her eyes met his, she froze. It was one of the creeps from the other day- not the one who had grabbed her, but he was grabbing at her now.

She tried to scream, tried to run, tried to do anything but her mind and limbs were frozen. She couldn’t cry out, couldn’t think, and he was pulling her to the truck, dragging her over the side.

And then Frost was there, leaping over them int0 the bed of the truck and snapping jaws around the man’s torso. With a shake of his head, he ripped the man away from Rain and slammed him up against the back of the cab. Rain sagged against the side of the truck, winded and bewildered. Her brain couldn’t keep up with what her eyes were showing her.

The driver – the goon that had grabbed in their first encounter- was drawing a pistol from inside his coat and trying to aim around his partner.

Frost smashed through the cab, tearing into it like a tin can. The man in his jaws seemed to dissolve, turning into an inky black smoke that poured out from between his teeth. It boiled over the edge of the truck, over Rain, and disappeared into the ground. The rest of the man’s body was rotting away at a frightening speed, like time lapse photography. There was sagging skin, then bone, then dust, then nothing. Rain watched in horror, but Frost was moving again.

The driver had fled from the truck, and was trying to scramble away, when Frost pounced on him. He pinned him to the ground with one huge paw, snarling and snapping inches above the goon’s face. The man screamed, then suddenly the sound of it was silenced, though his mouth kept moving. He clawed uselessly at the paw that held him, only to have his hands melt away into nothingness, as did any part of his body that Frost touched. The nothingness spread outward, consuming the man completely until there nothing left, not even ash. This wasn’t a rapid-fire rotting like the other goon had done – this was pure eradication. The man was there, and then he was not. Rain had seen what she’d known to be a soul leave the first man’s body – as surely as she knew it hadn’t been a human soul. But this… There was nothing left. Nothing left of either of them now. Just an empty, beat-up pick up truck.

And then that too started to melt away under Rain’s hands. She scrambled back, tripping over the curb and landing hard on her backside. Still, she back-peddled, only stopping when she hit her fallen bike. One minute, she’d been riding down the street, then attacked by goons in a truck, then there was nothing. Not a trace that anything had happened. Just her, her bike and the empty street.

And the big white wolf.

He walked toward her, and Rain scrambled to her feet, crouching low. She didn’t know where she would run or how she hoped to escape, but all the nerves of her rabbit brain screamed at her DANGER! and she listened.

Frost stopped and laid down, making himself seem as small as possible.

“Do not be afraid, you are safe now.”

Rain’s eyes grew huge, and she felt all the blood leave her brain. He spoke. The giant winter death wolf just opened his mouth and spoke.

Well, ok, his lips hadn’t moved, but she’d heard it all the same, a real, booming sound. His voice was like rumble of distant thunder, or the voice of an enormous mountain. It echoed through the air and through her mind, like those cheesy Voice-of-God sound effects, but there was nothing cheesy about it.

Frost could talk.

Frost could make people, and things, dissolve into nothingness, and he could talk. And he was telling her she was safe. Hold the phone. Her brain had too much catching up to do.

“What. The Hell.”

Frost blinked, and cocked his head to the side. “I do not understand.”

Rain sat her happy ass down on the concrete before she fell down. “You can talk! You ate some dudes for breakfast and now you can talk!”

“I have always been able to speak.”

His calm tone of voice did little to soothe her. “Seriously?! You could talk all this time- you’ve understood every word I’ve said to you! You asshole! I’ve been talking to you all day and all you’ve done is the stupid strong silent type act- wtf dude? NOT cool.”

She clenched her teeth and glared at him, embarrassment and anger chasing away the last of her fear.

“There is no need to transform your fear into anger at me. You are safe now, and can continue home.” He stood and moved toward her again, but stopped when Rain started waving wildly.

“That’s another thing- what the hell just happened?! Where are those dudes, and the truck? What did you do?”

“They are no more. You are safe.”

“You said that already- what the fuck does it actually mean?”

Frost tilted his head again, and the RCA dog act started to get on Rain’s nerves. She was totally over-reacting because she was scared, but she didn’t care about that right now. Her world was upside down and she needed some answers.

“What happened to them? What was that black smoke? Why did that one guy rot? How did you make two people and an entire truck disappear?!”

Frost lay down again, the picture of a long-suffering doggie that just wanted to go for walkies. “The same way I am keeping the people around us from noticing an angry girl and a giant white wolf arguing in the streets. Their thoughts of us, and the very essence of the men that attacked you, are simply not. They have never been, and will never be again. I have Undone them.” He yawned, as if bored with it all. “It is what Destroyers do.”

Rain suddenly felt the need to be moving again. The talk of Undoing and Destroying and being unseen and unremembered chilled her. She righted her bike and climbed back on it, taking a second to steady herself. When she felt sure she wouldn’t fall, she peddled up the street, knowing Frost would follow her.

“And how do I know all this stuff anyways – is that you again?”

She knew he intended to say yes, and that if she looked behind her, he would be nodding. Then the actual “Yes” filled the air, and it gave her the shivers.

“God, that was weird! Can you turn it down or something? Knowing what you’re gonna say before you say it is creepy.”

Frost nodded again, then retreated from her thoughts. At least, that was the impression Rain got. God, all this was giving her a headache.

“No, that is my doing as well. You will find that when I have been looking through your eyes, when I cease doing so, it will leave you slightly off balance.”

There was a sense of apology before Frost pushed into her head exactly what he meant. A flood of sensory details flashed through her mind, both from her point of view and his. Seeing herself from behind, and just slightly behind and from her own eyes was disorienting, and she pushed it away. Frost was courteous and withdrew, leaving another apology for imposing on her in his wake.

“God, that is so weird.”

“Agreed. But seeing your life as you do is the best way I can analyze what is a threat to you . Until I have determined where you are safe, I will be with you always, watching, as I have shown you.”

Rain grinned and sung softly to herself, “Every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you. Stalker.” She had meant it to be a joke, something to cheer her up, but the reality of it hit her too hard.

“Wait- like, every move every move?”

Before Frost’s affirmative even registered, Rain was already freaking out. “Oh my god! Ewww! Even the shower? No – no way!” She slammed on the breaks, turning to face him. “We have got to lay down some ground rules buddy.”

He raised one shaggy eyebrow, then glanced meaningfully to the little old lady picking weeds in the yard they’d stopped in front of. “Do you really want to do this here?”

“Gah!” Rain threw up her hands in disgust, but peddled forward again. “It’s not like she could see me anyways,” she said sourly.

“True,” Frost answered, sounding too agreeable. “But it seemed like you wanted my full attention, and I can’t give you that while trying to keep the neighborhood from noticing us.”

“Ugh- that’s another thing. No more making me invisible. Period.” She frowned hard, growing more and more unhappy with this entire situation. “Unless my life depends on it or something,” she added with a huff.

“Noted.”

God, he made it sound so simple. Stupid death wolf could unmake existence- who knew what was and wasn’t simple to him? Maybe he could make her rich, or famous overnight, or something more useful than just making her uncomfortable. And saving her life. Rain sighed. This was just too damned complicated.

She let the conversation go as they hit the hill at the base of her neighborhood. Trying to peddle uphill and berate him would just leave her sounding breathy and stupid. She already hated how pouty and childish she was coming off as. But didn’t he understand what a big deal this all was to her? This was her life. And in the past 6 months, it had all turned completely upside down.

They topped the hill and she wheeled her bike into the garage, resisting the urge to raise the big door for him so he could come inside. She stopped, suddenly wondering where he had spent the night last night. He tended to wait outside for her when she went indoors, but he had been at her bedside last night, hadn’t he?

“Where do you even go?” she asked, more to herself than expecting any real answer.

I am always with you, he said, though his voice was only in her mind now. She cast a quick glance around as she moved from the garage to the kitchen doors, but Frost was no where to be seen.

I am not so mundane as all that. There is no need for me to be seen right now, so I will remain unseen.

Of course, he would offer up such a gem right as she passing through the French doors. Her mother wasn’t in the kitchen, but she’d be bound to hear if Rain decided to take that moment to talk to herself. She made a face and moved into the living room, dropping her backpack on the stairs.

Sure enough, a call echoed down from the upstairs. “Brooke honey, is that you?”

“Yeah Mom!” She turned with a finger to her lips to keep Frost quiet, like she had brought a literal stray home. But of course he wasn’t there. He was “unseen” or whatever – stupid over-powered super-pup. She shook her head, feeling ridiculous and turned to go upstairs. Instead she came face to face with Myles.

His face was flat, but accusatory. That parent face of “I know what you’ve done, and I’m giving you the chance to tell me about it”. Rain was instantly guilty, falling back and making herself small. “I-”

I what? What had she done? What did he even know? Could he see Frost? She fought the urge to spin around and search for him, knowing he wouldn’t be there. But he was there, she could feel his hackles raise as Myles pressed in on her.

“How was your day, Rain?” His tone was conversational, but his eyes bored into hers, and that one word filled her stomach with dread. Every time he called her by her new name, fear thrilled through her. What would he do, when he felt Rain was slipping away? What would he do to any friends that tried to help her?

She felt an icy wind on her neck, and Frost’s growl echoed through her skull. “No,” she whispered, breath freezing in the air. Myles’ eye widened, then hardened. “What have you done?” His hand cut through the fog between them, and Rain pressed back against the wall, willing Frost to be still. “You can’t,” she pleaded as ice formed in her hair. Myles leaned on the wall to either side of her, fire in his eyes, power crackling visibly between them.

And then he turned and swept up the stairs, smiling and reaching for her mother, who had appeared at the end of the hallway. “Hey you two – did you tell her about dinner? She needs time to get ready.”

Rain stayed sagged against the wall, not trusting herself to speak. Myles turned, giving her mother his back as he said, “I don’t know if she’s up for going out tonight, it looks like she’s caught a cold.” Again, Frost growled within her, and Rain gritted her teeth to keep him silent. But her mother was rushing toward her, hand going to her forehead to check for a fever. Rain pulled back, afraid to let her mother touch her.

“I’ll- I’ll go take a shower, that usually makes me feel better.” She pushed past her mother, escaping to the bathroom before something awful happened.

As soon as she was alone, she slid down the door, hugging her knees to her chest. She shook with silent sobs, until she felt her mother knock on the door. “Honey, is everything ok? Do I need to take you to the doctor?”

Rain jumped up and turned on the shower. “No mom, I’m fine. Let me shower, ok?”

She couldn’t say how she knew it, but she felt Myles come up beside her mother and led her away. Something about the way he pressed at her, like he was leading with his mind as well as his hand- was that magic? Could she sense it now?

But then Frost was pushing back against the feel of it, and Rain threw a mental leash around the feel of him, with the sharp his of a mental NO! She stuck her hand in the water, the heat of it helping to chase away Frost’s chill. Quickly, she disrobed and stepped under the hot jet, feeling more in control the instant she did.

“You can’t do that!”

She gritted her teeth, whispering fiercely. It didn’t matter that he could hear her thoughts, she needed to say the words. She needed to know he’d heard. Frost indicated he was listening, but otherwise remained silent.

“I told you – no more Destroying people! And even if you have to, you can’t attack Myles- at least not here. Not with my mother…”

She didn’t know what she was really afraid of. All she knew is that she would do anything to keep her mother safe. They’d figure something out about her step-dad, but her mother had to come first. It was bad enough knowing Myles was in her mind, she couldn’t bare the thought of anyone messing with her mother’s memories, even if it was for her own good. They would find another way.

Something must be done.

“I know! I know. Just….” She ran a hand through her hair, trying to ground herself in something normal. She should be worrying about split ends right now, not about crazy witches trying to do god-knows-what with her magic while keeping one hand wrapped around her mother’s heart. It was too much.

“Just- only as a last resort? He’s been playing at this game for months, he won’t do anything stupid now if I don’t.”

Frost gave his affirmative and left her to shower in peace.

She managed to duck out of the bathroom and into her room without anyone stopping her. She curled up under her covers, unable to chase away the cold knot in her stomach. This was all getting out of hand- she couldn’t deal with something this big. Maybe she should go back to Rook’s, see what he had to say? He’d been the one to hand her over to Frost – was that right? What that how that’d gone? She remembered it seeming so peaceful, so right…

But now she had her mother to worry about, and she knew she couldn’t keep Frost off of Myles for long. She couldn’t guess how much Myles could see of Frost, but he knew something was up. Every time someone tried to get near her, he freaked out and ratcheted up the over-protectiveness- what would he do if he found out Rain had a supernatural guard dog? Would he relax, or freak out more? Would he try to get rid of Frost, only to end up like the goons and the truck?

And that was a whole nother ball of ick Rain couldn’t wrap her brain around. Someone had tried to abduct her, on more than one occasion. Sure, it was clear Frost could take care of her, but it was also clear he had no regard for human life. Or any life but her own, it seemed. What would wind up collateral damage in his quest protect her? And what could she possibly do to stop it? He’d listened to her so far, but Rain had no illusions about where she really stood in this power play. Right in the dead center of the bullseye, that’s where.

She definitely needed to talk to Jon and Rook. Of everyone involved, they seemed to have the most knowledge with the most concern for her as a person – at least Jon did anyways. It wasn’t much, but it was the best idea she had.

Her mother knocked on the door, cutting Rain’s thoughts short.

“Honey, how’re you doing? Can I come in?”

Rain wanted to tell her to go away, as far away as she could, from her and Myles and Frost everything just get away. To stay safe. Instead, she called out a simple “Sure” and burrowed further down into her covers.

Her mom came in and sat on the edge of the bed, hand going for Rain’s forehead. Rain flinched, but nothing bad happened, and Frost stayed quiet, so she tried to relax.

“What’s wrong, baby?”

Rain bit her lip, tears welling up as she looked at the concern in her mother’s eyes. She couldn’t do this anymore. Everything was just too big and too confusion and more than she could handle, and all she wanted to do was curl up on the couch and stay in and watch a movie and just be them again, before all this mess started.

So of course Myles came to stand in the doorway, reminding her that nothing would ever be right again. She wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist and buried her face in her lap and tried to pretend, for just a second, that there was nothing else in the world.

But tendrils of thought brushed over her, and Frost pushed back against Myles’ attempts to see inside. Rain swallowed the angry scream building in her chest, letting out in a tired sigh instead. She sat back against her pillows, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. She was proud of how even her tone was when she spoke.

“I’m fine mom. Just stress catching up with me. Everything’s changed and so fast-” She looked over her mom’s shoulder at Myles, letting all her weariness over this stupid situation fill her eyes. “Sometimes I feel like I’m not in control of my own life anymore.” His expression remained unchanged, but the feel of him pushing at her mind lessened. Somehow, the fact that she was learning to sense magic failed to cheer her. She sunk further down onto her pillow, giving her mom a softer version of the tired expression she gave Myles. “I just need to rest for tonight, ok?”

Her mom leaned over and brushed Rain’s bangs from her face, kissing her forehead before standing to leave.

“Let me know if you need anything sweetheart, ok?”

Rain swallowed down the tightness in her throat and did her best to smile. “I will Mom. I love you.”

“I love you too baby.”

Something about the click of her door latch sounded way too final, and Rain gave up and cried til she fell asleep.

When she woke several hours later, the house was still. She strained to hear, stretching her magic too without realizing it, until she brushed up against Myles. She could feel him, and feel her mother sleeping next to him, wrapped in his magic. She felt him feel her touch, and immediately she recoiled. Nothing seemed to follow her, but she felt spied on all the same. She wanted to get away, to be out of this space and just go somewhere neutral, so she got up and got dressed and walked right out the kitchen door.

She knew Myles knew she was leaving, and she could feel him coming downstairs as she wheeled her bike out of the garage. She didn’t care. She had to get away from this place for just one minute so that she could breathe. The feel of his house and his wards, now that she knew what she was feeling, left her suffocated and weighted down. As she pedaled down the driveway, she felt the burden ease, and the cold night air felt good in her lungs.

She knew Frost was keeping her hidden, even though she’d asked him not to, but she didn’t care. Honestly, not being seen riding around in the middle of the night was probably a good thing. She wondered if it was cover enough to let her go to Rook’s without Myles following her, but she decided not to chance it. It’d be a helluva long ride anyways, and who knew when the feeling of freedom would fade and leave her wanting nothing but to crawl back in bed.

So she pedaled around the block, riding aimlessly but sticking close to home. She’d text Jon and find time to talk later – sooner was better, of course, but not right this second. Right now, the movement and breeze was exactly what she needed, and she did her best not to think and just enjoy the open night air.

When she finally decided to go home, Myles was gone, having undoubtedly followed her outside. She wondered if he’d lost her when Frost decided to do his thing, or if he’d gone out for an entirely different reason. He’d been gone all last week, and tended to come and vanish without any rhyme or reason as far as Rain could tell. Who knew how many nights he left the house in the still and the dark, and who knew what he did? She didn’t know the first thing about witches, not really, so she had no baseline for normal.

She also had no more energy to care. If he wasn’t there to harass her about Frost, or Zig, or whatever ax he had to grind at any given moment, Rain wasn’t going to complain. She climbed upstairs and back in bed and just let it all go for tonight. She’d meant it when she’d told her mother she just needed to rest. She’d take whatever breaks she could get at this point.

Instead, she dreamed.

She stalked through the streets, hating this place already. The placid little homes sitting behind their perfect little white fences screamed peace and serenity, life and abundance. She wanted blood, and chaos, craved war and conflict. There was none of that here.

And yet, there was a spark of it here. A piece of her former power.

There had to have been, or there would be nothing to have drawn her here.

She swept through the streets, blood-red cloak streaming behind her in an icy wind that carried with it the sound of rattling bones. She would find it soon enough. And until then, well, people died every day.

The last of the patrons had left hours ago, but Jon hadn’t gotten around to properly closing up until now. Rook had been pensive all night – which for him meant too loud and too jovial, but Jon had seen through it. Something had been bothering Rook, and though he wouldn’t talk about, Jon sat at the table next to him in companionable silence, working on some minor bookkeeping. Rook would talk if he wanted to, or he would stay lost in his own head if he wanted to, and Jon would be there for him either way. For all the shit Rook gave him, they had a thing, and it worked.

When Rook had heaved himself away from the table with a mighty sigh and declared Jon and his paperwork to be boring, Jon stood up and went to fetch the push broom.

“There’s always cleaning to do, if you’re so bored,” he said with a grin, handing him the broom.

Rook scowled, but grasped the handle anyways. “Yes, because sweeping is so much more interesting than watching you count beans.”

Jon ignored him and moved off to stack chairs. As always, Rook abandoned the sweeping halfway through, and now Jon was finishing the last bit by the door. He went to hit the outside entrance real quick before locking up, but as he stepped out, something was wrong.

Lying across the doorway was a dead body.

Jon raised an eyebrow and called back over his shoulder into the darkened bar.

“Rook. You might wanna come take a look at this.”

Rook rolled his eyes, but knew Jon was the king of understatement. The fact that he’d bothered Rook at all was a bad sign.

Sure enough, Rook recoiled spitting curses almost as soon as he’d hit the door. Jon leaned up against the frame and crossed his arms, calmly waiting for Rook to finish.

“I take it you know what this means?” he asked when Rook finally fell silent.

Rook raised a solemn face to Jon’s, gaze dark and flat. “Moira.” Rook couldn’t even enjoy Jon’s shocked expression. This was seriously bad news. His old boss, and the former avatar of Death itself had finally found him at last.

“The bitch is back, Jon.”

Jon drew a deep breath, blinked a few times, then sagged back against the door frame.

“Well, is this interesting enough for you?”

Rook gave a sharp bark of sound, more a hoarse cough than a laugh.

“I guess we’ll see, won’t we?”

End of Book 1

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