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Chapter 4 — Comes the Hero

  Sunlight streamed through the open window. Hailey groaned and rolled over, pulling the sheets tight over her face to try and block out the light. She reached behind her and magically felt out the window, sliding it closed with her mind and drawing the blackout curtains. The room plunged into darkness once again. She reached forward across the bed—but to her surprise, Jessica wasn't there.

  Hailey's eyes popped open. She flicked on the bedroom light switch across the room. The hands on the wall clock read seven thirty in the morning. They'd only gotten in from another run to Cinza's home at three, so why was Jessica awake so early?

  A week had passed since they'd decided to reach out to the newly awakened. Thanks to Hailey's conversations with Beverly, she knew that somewhere, people were finding pages and scraps, but Beverly remained stubbornly neutral. She refused to reveal any information whatsoever, which left Cinza and Josh crawling through local news while Hailey patrolled every small town within fifty miles of Rallsburg, flying low and watching out for anything unusual. So far, they'd come up with absolutely nothing.

  The constant late-night patrols were really starting to mess with Hailey's head.

  After vaguely hoping for ten minutes that Jessica might come back, Hailey finally gave up and rolled out of bed. She pulled on fresh clothes, then stood in front of her mirror and took a deep breath. Muttering the proper words under her breath, she reached inside her face and cleaned it up, doing the work of ten minutes of makeup in an instant. She sent a burst of magic down through her hair, refreshing the messy bush of the Silverdales instead of the perfect waves her body wanted them to grow into. Hailey winced slightly as it pulled at her scalp, but it was better than taking the risk of being recognized.

  Hailey pulled on a light-blue cardigan and headed downstairs, feeling mostly-refreshed and with a massive craving for doughnuts. As she emerged into the kitchen, that craving disappeared—to be replaced with confused anxiety.

  Jessica was sitting at the small kitchen table across from her parents, silently and deliberately eating through a bowl of cereal and avoiding their eyes. As Hailey walked in, Beth gave her a top-tier disappointed mother glare. It might have been totally withering, if Hailey hadn't been raised by a powerhouse businesswoman with less patience than a hungry cat.

  "Uhh, good morning?"

  Beth shook her head. She pointed at Jessica, then at Hailey, followed by several angry jabs at the sky. She shook her head again, a bit more violently.

  "Dear, Hailey can understand you," said Malcolm, touching his wife's hand.

  She slapped him away. "Excuse me for trying to show some solidarity with my daughter."

  "Do you really think Jessica would want you to be acting like a mime for no reason?"

  "It's my job to make sure she feels comfortable and at home here!"

  "Why don't you just ask her?" Hailey cut in. "Jess."

  Jessica immediately looked up, the spoon halfway to her mouth. Hailey pointed at her mother, then clapped her hand over her mouth, followed by tilting her head slightly to the side as a question.

  Jessica just rolled her eyes and went back to eating.

  "Okay, dear?" Malcolm asked.

  "Would you stop saying 'dear' so much?" Beth snapped. She rounded back on Hailey again. "What are you doing with my daughter every night?"

  "Working." Hailey went to the cupboard and got out a bowl and spoon, before setting them down next to Jessica. Without even glancing at her, Jessica filled up her bowl with milk and cereal, while Hailey went to get a glass.

  "That's it?"

  "I'm sure they—" Malcolm started.

  "Would you stop interrupting? I want to hear her answer."

  Malcolm threw up his hands in surrender and got up, walking out to the living room. He turned on the local news, retreating from the conversation entirely.

  Hailey sat down across from Beth and dug into her cereal. "We're doing our part. Trying to make sure no one gets found out. The usual." She was feeling a bit cranky and stubborn on such low sleep, plus she'd never really liked Beth Silverdale much anyway. Not after how they'd treated their daughter and practically driven her out of the house back in Rallsburg.

  "And that means you have to be out until the crack of dawn every night?"

  "Nah, we're definitely home before it starts getting light out. That's kind of the point."

  "What if you're seen? What if someone follows you back here to us?"

  Hailey shrugged. "We'd stop them."

  "You can't just—"

  "Beth, an ordinary human's no match for me or Jess. Not in a million years."

  "What about someone with a gun? Didn't Rachel kill that horrible man with just a plain old pistol?"

  "She had help."

  "And you're going to be up against who-knows-what!"

  Hailey shook her head. "It's not like we're going up against the army. Even if someone spotted us—and they won't, because Jess can make us totally invisible. Even he couldn't do that." Jessica looked up briefly at her name, saw Hailey looking away from her, and ignored them again. She got up and began to clean up after herself and her father's abandoned dishes.

  "I just think you're taking a lot of risks with my daughter's life here."

  Hailey frowned. "It's her choice to make. She's an adult, too."

  "Oh, come on!" Beth pointed at Jessica, who had joined her father on the couch to watch the news. "She can't understand a word of what she's watching, or anything we're saying! She probably thinks you're just going out and having fun every night, not risking everyone's lives! How can she be making an informed decision about the danger involved?"

  Hailey set down her spoon and glared at Beth. "She's informed. We went through all of this together for a whole year before you showed up. Don't you dare talk about her like you know anything about what she's been through. You kicked her out."

  "I—"

  "Dear, can I talk to you for a moment?" Malcolm said, standing up. Jessica looked between the three of them for a moment, confused, before she gave up and laid back down again. Beth looked annoyed, but she followed her husband outside and across the small backyard while Hailey finished her breakfast.

  Hailey surreptitiously waved her fingers under the table, creating a current of movement across the yard. It was a useful effect that Jessica had helped develop, back when she could still speak. Hailey could accelerate the movement of sound waves across a space by shifting around the air they flowed through, making them louder and easier to hear from far away. There was a side effect at first of loud sounds reaching deafening levels, but Hailey had managed to refine the spell over the months to only affect soundwaves at a certain amplitude. She could make quiet things move much further and reach her ears before they ran out of energy.

  "Don't tell me you're not worried."

  "I'm terrified, but I think we have no idea what we're doing here. Neither of us can do magic."

  "That doesn't mean we don't have a say in what happens to our daughter!"

  "Do we though? We made it pretty clear we didn't want her around anymore when she left."

  "We tried to help her!"

  "We didn't. We pretty much gave up on her as parents that day."

  "So we're just supposed to let her run off alone and do whatever she wants without saying a word?"

  "She's not alone."

  "You think Hailey's a good influence?" Beth paused. "Christina used to talk about her all the time, God rest her. Hailey was that oversexed irresponsible party girl you always hear about. Jackie even broke up a few of her get-togethers because of all the drugs and drinking."

  There weren't any drugs, Hailey mused. Well, nothing serious.

  "They've got a weird relationship and I don't like it. I let them both live here, in the same bed and everything! I didn't complain once, but this is too far."

  "We didn't let them do anything," Malcolm pointed out. "We're here under their protection, remember?"

  "What do we need protecting from anymore? He's dead, isn't he?"

  "You know that's not the only danger."

  "You're all just assuming the government would sweep down and grab us up."

  "Beth, I'm just as concerned as you are. I don't like that Jessica's clearly hurting and there's nothing we can do for her. And you're right, we're assuming a whole lot of danger when there might be nothing at all. But we can't hide out here forever. The money Kendra gave us will run out sooner or later. If Hailey and Jessica can do something about making sure the world's ready for them, why wouldn't we want them to try?"

  "I—"

  Hailey's phone buzzed, and at the same time both Malcolm and Beth's did as well, interrupting their conversation. Hailey nearly dropped the empty bowl she'd been holding, too busy focusing on the conversation to finish putting it away. She scrambled for her phone, finally unhooking it from the belt clip and pulling it out. A search alert had just popped up for Rallsburg.

  Something was happening.

  Hailey bounded over to the couch while Beth and Malcolm rushed inside. Hailey flicked the news over to national channels, fearing the worst.

  "Breaking news from Washington state today, as officials from the FBI confirmed the death of one Jerry Hauserman, age thirty-nine. Hauserman was one of the missing persons still unidentified from the mysterious incident that destroyed the town of Rallsburg in the foothills of the Olympic Forest. The spokesman for the coroner's office released the official time of death as September 14th, well after the event in May. Special Agent Jeremy Ashe was unavailable, but a spokesman for the Bureau refused to comment on the significant delay in Hauserman's death or his condition. Thanks to our sources, we can exclusively confirm that Jerry Hauserman's body was in the same condition as the so-called 'pulverized' victims in Rallsburg, whose cause of death was never determined. With Hauserman's death placed more than four months after the first incident, experts are suggesting that this may not be an isolated case anymore."

  Hailey took a deep breath, trying not to panic. They hadn't shown any images on screen, but her memories of the golems stalking through the town were vivid enough to still send her heart racing. She looked up at Beth, who had clapped her hands over her mouth. Hailey felt like being spiteful—but when she saw Jessica's worried look, not understanding what was going on, she relented.

  She stood up. "You two stay inside, keep the windows closed and the doors locked. Don't go out today."

  Beth nodded, shaking slightly. "Those things are back?"

  "I guess so." Hailey turned and held out a hand to Jessica, helping her to her feet. "We've gotta go."

  "Go where?" Malcolm asked, clutching his wife's hand.

  "To protect everyone." Hailey tried to crack a smile. "Don't worry. We've beaten them before, and it's not like they can fly. We got this."

  Beth nodded. She looked Hailey directly in the eye. "Keep her safe?"

  Hailey smiled for real. "She keeps me safe, you know. I'm just the wings here. Jess is the firepower." She made a quick fluttering motion to Jess, who nodded and sped off upstairs to grab their flight equipment. In spite of everything they'd said and done, Hailey didn't want to leave them feeling so awful—not when she was about to fly headlong into what could be another heart-twisting, blood-searing fight for their lives. "You raised her right. She's trying to save people. Don't beat yourselves up so much. You did okay."

  
  


  
  

  Jessica returned with the equipment. Her parents watched as they bounded up and away from the backyard, vanishing into the sky as Jessica made them invisible. Hailey didn't have any time to waste. Luckily, it was a cloudy day. Her favorite kind, in fact, with massive puffy cumulus clouds forming huge mountains in the sky.

  She summoned up a powerful jet of wind using the tourmaline stone hanging from around her neck, pushing them skyward like the thrust of a rocket while she kept her wings folded flat behind her. As they crossed the lowest cloud layer, she released the jet before it started to burn the gem and spread her wings wide.

  Jessica released the patch of invisibility that had kept their ascent hidden. She began to push out raw energy, allowing a flow of magic to emerge from somewhere in her chest to fill the space between herself and Hailey. Hailey took it gratefully and transformed it into another jet of wind to propel them across the wide empty expanse. They tore across the blue at breakneck speeds, reaching Rallsburg in a quarter of the time it normally took. Hailey felt like her face might get cut by the air itself from the sheer speed they managed, but to her relief the pain dissipated as they slowed down.

  The forests around Rallsburg were rife with activity. A pair of helicopters with police markings were making slow passes around the town. Hailey used a bit of the leftover energy Jessica was still pushing out and sent it into her eyes. As Jessica had described it, she was actually enhancing the cones in her eyes to pick up far more light than usual and be able to resolve images much further away in greater detail. Hailey didn't quite understand how that was possible, but Jessica managed to explain the exact way to manipulate the tiny components of her eyes without really explaining what was actually changing. She wondered if Jessica had actually known herself, since many of her trickier spells came to her through long stints of casting out with her Knowledge affinity.

  Now, of course, she couldn't explain a single one of them.

  Once her brain had adjusted to the vastly increased capabilities of her eyesight, Hailey took a quick scan of the area. She could see dozens of uniformed men and women scouring the forest and the remains of the town alike, in much the same fashion they had back in May. It was a bit different seeing it herself, rather than plastered across the news, but either way Hailey felt unsettled. She tugged Jessica's right sleeve downward, telling her they were heading in. Jessica nodded against her, then stopped the flow of energy between them.

  A faint outline of a circle appeared below them. Hailey dove for it, picking up speed as they fell. Jessica's arms clenched tight around her as they accelerated, summoning a wall of invisibility in every direction. Hailey could tell she was straining at the sheer mental difficulty of keeping up so many fast-moving illusory walls. Just a few more seconds, Jess. Hang in there.

  They dropped straight through the forest canopy. Hailey flared out her wings and sent a jet of air below them at the same time, braking as hard and fast as she could. They just barely slowed down in time, landing on a single foot and perfectly straight up in the middle of the bridge. It was probably Hailey's best landing ever, utterly exhilarating—but no one was around to celebrate it.

  She unstrapped Jessica, and they hurried into Cinza's cabin. The entire group was gathered inside, watching a live feed of the search on Ruby's laptop while another feed played out on the computer monitor. Cinza gestured at them to close the door behind them.

  "So you guys heard," Hailey said breathlessly, taking an open chair near the door. Jessica squeezed in and sat down on the floor next to her. Cinza's cabin wasn't exactly large. Twelve of them inside at once was straining the confines of the place, already split in half by the curtain, to its breaking point. Ruby and Cinza shared her chair, and Ruby looked like she'd seen a ghost, her skin impossibly pale against her dark red hair.

  "We thought he might be alive, but…" Cinza trailed off grimly.

  "He can still make those monsters," Brittany said, seated in the next chair beside Cinza. She winced as she adjusted her position, the remainder of her leg bumping up against the chair's arm.

  "Are you—" Matthew asked, concerned.

  "Phantom pains," Brittany grunted through gritted teeth. "I'm okay."

  "You didn't post online," Hailey prompted.

  Cinza shook her head. "We cut off our net as soon as the helicopters showed up. I'm not sure if they could actually detect our signal, but I didn't want to risk it. This is all just local broadcast on the antenna," she added, gesturing at the screen. "No signals going out."

  "Anything I should be telling the others?"

  "Nothing they don't already know." Cinza's eyes remained fixed on the live feed, which seemed to be pointing right at their home—though of course on the screen it appeared to be just another patch of trees. "I trust everyone knows to stay hidden and under the radar."

  "So much for going out and finding some new people," said Nikki with dismay. Joe put an arm around her shoulders, but she pushed him back, looking annoyed.

  "Actually," said Rufus, still leaning against the windowsill and looking a bit winded. "Might be the best time to get out there and find those folks. They gonna need us more than ever, 'tween the man in the woods and the Man in the gov'ment."

  "With all of that shit going on?" Josh said, raising an eyebrow. He stood back in the corner where the curtain met the wall, yet another step removed from the rest of the group he was stuck living with. "How the fuck are we gonna bring anyone here if they've got us surrounded?"

  "You don't," said Makoto.

  "Okay, so what are you saying, then?"

  "Hook 'em up to the site," said Rufus, nodding. "The 'mportant thing is we start communicatin' and makin' sure new 'wakened aren't gonna get 'emselves killed, or anyone else, righ'?"

  "That sounds like a way to get us killed. There's a lot of personal information on that site. More than enough to figure out where some of the Ghosts live," said Ruby.

  "That wouldn't help them find us though, would it?" asked Joe. "I thought the ritual kept everyone walking in circles if they tried to get here."

  "Essentially," Cinza confirmed.

  "We're not worried about this place," said Josh. "It's Natalie and the Laushires, or Hector and Boris up in B.C. The Bowmans and the Silverdales."

  "The same arguments we went through four months ago," said Rufus with a sigh.

  "I agree with Rufus," said Cinza, drawing a startled look from Ruby. "With a caveat," she added, before Ruby could start talking. "The site can be segmented. Rachel granted me root access. I will pull all the relevant posts and messages with personal information into a private section, strictly for our use. But the majority of the site, including all our work and research data on magic, must remain available for newly awakened."

  "Are you fucking insane?" asked Josh heatedly.

  "We're not making the same mistake again," Cinza shot back, rising up in her chair slightly. "The old Council was marked by secrecy and distrust. Secrets were guarded jealously. We must do better, and that means sharing and cooperation. If we bring them in under a veil of suspicion, we only invite betrayal into our midst."

  "The moment you add someone else like Julian, we're all fucked."

  "We're also stronger than the previous council," Cinza added. "You three could only command authority by the mandate you were given. When the time came, Rachel was far stronger by her personal efforts than by any means granted to her through the Articles. I mean no offense, but even the weakest of my followers outstripped all three of you in magical ability."

  "You ever seen me actually cast some shit?"

  "No, and therein lies the proof." Cinza brushed her hair back, wincing slightly at the sound of a helicopter passing overhead. "Magic does not come naturally. It must be exercised and grown. My people practice daily. We drill and train and produce real results from our efforts. We can provide enforcement."

  "We never needed to."

  "Until the day you did. Once from a girl you cast out, and then again in May. Rachel had to court the goddess herself into service, since your forces were so woefully inadequate." Real anger was seeping into Cinza's voice as she went on. "If we'd been a proper, unified force, we might not have been caught so off guard. People were dying to Jackson while members of the council were making power plays and stabbing one another in the back."

  Josh glanced around the room, looking for support, but he found none in the gathered Greycloaks. Yusuf's arms still showed angry scars from burns at the hands of the first golem attack on their group. Brittany's missing leg stood out even more, taken by Robert Harrison's bear trap, who had been working with Julian Black—a member of the Council—to destabilize the town. Two of their group, Aaron and Morton, were killed in the fighting. Cinza herself was apparently still recovering from the massive rituals she'd channeled. Josh's gaze finally met Hailey's, and with all of that in mind, Hailey couldn't bring herself to disagree with Cinza.

  "I think she's right," she said quietly. Josh looked like he'd been stabbed in the back. "I mean, I wasn't there. I only heard about most of that. But if he's back, we've gotta do something. It sounds like we need to try something different, and Cinza sounds like she's got the best plan."

  Cinza nodded. "I appreciate your fears, Joshua. If certain spells are made commonplace, the world might become far more dangerous. However, the same might be said of guns, or any number of weapons throughout history. The technology will advance. It's only a matter of time. Better that we are the progenitors of its release and can caution its use appropriately."

  "So we can get everyone killed," Josh muttered. "I agreed with Rika. This is dangerous."

  "And Rika was wrong," Cinza snapped. "Without her magic in Rachel's hands, we'd all be dead."

  Josh shook his head. "You've already decided. Just go fucking do it. I won't stand in your way." He walked out of the cabin, leaving a painful silence in his wake. Hailey followed him out, while the rest of the group turned back to watch the screen.

  "Josh, wait up!" To her relief, he stopped and waited for her.

  "Don't worry Hales. I'm sticking around. It's not like I have anywhere to go," he added bitterly.

  "I just—"

  "This is some fuckin' déjà vu," he added. "Literally the same as last week, you and Cinza versus me, then we come out here and talk things out, right?" Hailey faltered, and he shrugged. "I'll help you guys out. I'm still in this. Just tell me what to do and I'm there. But don't think for a second you guys aren't playing with fire. I mean, look."

  He pointed into the sky, where in the distance one of the helicopters was turning around for another pass. "That shit right there is why we should all be scared. They found one recently dead and we're covered in cops. Brian's still out there somewhere, and he's still got the golems on his side. He probably can't find us here, or we'd already be dead, but you're still gonna have to deal with him sooner or later." He shook his head. "I'm not trying to be the fucking doom and gloom prophet here, but that's all I'm seeing."

  
  


  
  

  Hailey and Jessica rode together in the back while Alden drove. If they got pulled over, Jessica could hide them in an instant.

  "Not that we will," Hailey added reassuringly. "You're a good driver."

  "Thanks." Alden pulled them smoothly out onto the highway, with all the confidence of someone who'd been driving for years—not three months.

  "This is your mom's car?"

  "Nah, it's the spare. Getting to use it whenever I want was the incentive for getting my license."

  "You guys have a spare car?"

  "Yeah. I think it was my grandma's. I don't remember exactly."

  "Your grandma had a nice car," Hailey said, glancing around. It wasn't brand new, but it was fairly recent and in great condition. A nice four-door sedan. "You'll be pulling off at the Redmond exit, okay?"

  "Got it." He frowned. "So how'd we find this person, anyway? I thought everyone who knew how to locate magic was gone."

  "Still gone. Cinza and Nikki have been trying to figure out how to cast that one again. I think Jess might be able to do it, since she's got the right affinity, but the original spell vanished with Rachel and Will." Hailey gazed out the window, watching cars flash by on the opposite side. "I'm pretty sure I can fly faster than this."

  "You can't carry us both," Alden pointed out. "Besides, taking the car out will make my parents happy. Win-win."

  "Anyway, we found them the old fashioned way. Facebook posts about someone doing impossible magic tricks out of the blue nearby."

  "That's old fashioned?"

  Hailey laughed. "Old fashioned for me. I got in touch with them through Rupert and got them to cool it for now, and we're heading out to meet them in person."

  "Rupert, king of social media?"

  "No kidding. He's got literally thousands of friends in the area. Something about being a British guy on the west coast…"

  "How did you two meet again?"

  "Seated together at a coffee shop," Hailey deadpanned.

  "Nope, still wrong. Try again."

  "State fair in July. He won me a giant teddy bear."

  "Nice try. The fair was in August."

  She laughed. "Thanks for not telling anyone else about him yet."

  Alden shrugged. "He sounds like a good guy from the way you talk. If you trust him, then it's not my business."

  "Thanks. How's my biggest fan doing?"

  He grinned. "Meg hasn't said a word to me all week that wasn't about magic. She really wants your autograph. Like, so much that it's kind of creepy."

  "I guess I should start practicing it."

  "D'you think famous people practice their autograph?"

  "Sure, why not? It gets put up online just like everything else. It's all part of their image, right?"

  "I think you've spent too much time on it already."

  Hailey smiled. "It's nice to feel like someone out there thinks you're doing something right."

  "You think you aren't?" Alden asked, as they merged off the highway. The trip had taken less time than she'd expected.

  "It's not that. It's more like…" Hailey trailed off, trying to put into words what she was feeling. "It's like, we had a huge fight and we barely made it out alive, then we had to go right into hiding for months and months, cut off all our old friendships, disappear off the face of the earth. I wasn't really crazy social or anything anymore, but I still talked to plenty of people. Cutting out everyone was a big deal for me. I kinda feel like I'm falling behind the entire world. Like I'll just disappear." She sighed. "I don't want to sound like I'm fishing for recognition. I don't need people to stand up and call me a hero. It'd just be nice if a few people saw us and thought 'yeah, they did okay.' Something to make it all seem worth it, you know?"

  "Yeah," he agreed. "And that's why you're pushing to get out here again, right?"

  "Exactly. I want this to keep going. I don't want to just fade out and vanish."

  Alden glanced up at the sky, where a news chopper was trailing the highway traffic. "I kinda doubt that's gonna happen."

  Hailey looked up too. "It's going away. Probably just evening traffic stuff."

  "Right." Alden paused, thinking for a few moments. "You're also pushing because you want to see them again, right?"

  Hailey's heart tightened a little. Alden was the only person who knew about her three lost friends, besides Jessica of course. "Yeah. That too."

  Alden pointed at a retail parking lot coming up. "That's the spot, right?"

  "That's the one." Hailey rolled her shoulders and stretched out, like she was about to start a fight. "You ready?"

  "As I'll ever be."

  
  


  
  

  They were due to meet in thirty minutes. The car was hidden two streets away. Alden sat at the corner of the parking lot, far away from the bustle of the store, quietly reading a book on the bench. Hailey stood a few steps behind on the grass, while Jessica kept them both invisible. By all appearances, Alden was totally alone. He was supposed to be calm and normal, but as Hailey looked back, his leg was shaking and the hand holding the book wouldn't stop quivering.

  "You okay?" she asked quietly.

  "I'll be fine," he murmured.

  "We can pull out if we have to."

  "No. The guy's already on his way." Alden gritted his teeth, staring at the book intensely though his eyes didn't actually travel across the words. "I can do this."

  "Okay. You say the word and we've got your back." Hailey forced herself to stay still. Jessica noticed her distress and took her hand firmly, squeezing to try and reassure her. It didn't help much, but Hailey appreciated it.

  Alden sat and waited, starting to doze off. Hailey got distracted watching the clouds, thinking about taking a flight around them at some point. It was fiercely cold and wet inside a cloud, but dancing around the intricate landscapes of the thicker blankets of clouds presented an interesting challenge, diving through the shifting formation without touching a single droplet of water.

  "Are you him?" asked a voice suddenly, in a heavily exaggerated dramatic overtone. Alden stood up straight, snapping the book shut on his finger.

  "Jonathan… Hudson, right?" Alden asked, squinting a bit in the sunset.

  "The one and only!" he cried, flourishing a voluminous reflective cape. Hailey fought the urge to laugh. Jonathan—who had to be in high school or just out of it—wore a cheap-looking tuxedo t-shirt under the cape, complete with top hat that was clearly out of an amateur magician set. "You wanted a demonstration, did you not? I heard whispers of a secret society, but pardon me, sir, for I had not expected their representative to appear so plainly. Your disguise does you wonders!"

  "Uhh…" Alden started. "Yeah. Can you show me something?"

  "But of course, tis but a trifle for the likes of I!" Jonathan plucked his top hat from his head and twirled it around in his hands, leaving it upside down between them. "Observe!"

  He shut his eyes tight, murmuring under his breath. Hailey quickly amplified it. To her, it sounded like actual gibberish, and not the incomprehensible murmurings of Jessica or Natalie when they were casting a real spell. She started to wonder if he was the real deal and Rupert hadn't been fooled—right up until a candle-sized flame flickered into life in mid-air above the center of the top hat.

  It looked convincing, but she had to be sure. She reached out to the flame with her senses, and sure enough, she could feel the telltale traces of another awakened manipulating the energy in midair to create the reaction from nothing. She sent a flick of wind through Alden's hair, not enough to make it move but more than enough that he'd notice. Jonathan was for real.

  "Suitably impressed?" Jonathan asked confidently, though Hailey could tell he was spending a lot of effort just on the simple candle flame. He was very new to casting spells. She could have snuffed it out more easily than blinking, while he was exerting a lot of energy.

  "Yeah." Alden took a seat on the bench again. "Convincing magic. But you can drop the act, all right?"

  "Act? Would you question my trade, sir?"

  Alden shrugged. Hailey saw his fingers twirl slightly, swinging upward. At the same time, the top hat flew out of Jonathan's outstretched fingers and twenty feet into the sky. The candle flame vanished with a tiny hiss as the hat extinguished it on the way through.

  Jonathan's mouth fell open.

  "Come sit down?" Alden asked, indicating the seat next to him. Jonathan took a few moments, while the hat bounced to the pavement behind him. Finally, eyeing Alden suspiciously, he took the seat next to him. "Welcome to the club, then."

  "You can do it too?" he asked, all pretense vanishing from his voice. With the faux-announcer affectation gone, Hailey thought he actually had a rather pleasant speaking voice. He was much easier to take seriously, at any rate.

  "There's more of us, too." Alden paused. "How much did she explain to you?"

  As expected, there was no need to indicate who 'she' was. Jonathan didn't look surprised. "She said I'd found magic. Real magic. She told me to be careful with it, then she disappeared. Nothing else, really." He looked a bit disappointed. "Does she usually say more than that?"

  Hailey raised an eyebrow. So Beverly had changed her speech a little. The warning was new. Alden nodded. "Grey-eyes never talks to anyone past that. Don't take it personally. It's just who she is."

  "And who are you?"

  "My name's Zack." They'd agreed to start off with a fake name again, just in case, and Alden was used to going by it anyway. "I'm awakened, just like you."

  "Awakened?"

  "Just the word we're using for now."

  "Who's we?" he asked excitedly.

  "A lot of people. Do you have your phone on you?"

  He nodded, pulling out a very nice looking smartphone. Hailey was a touch jealous—but she'd sworn off expensive phones after breaking too many of them flying around. Better to have a reliable phone that wouldn't let her down no matter how many times she crashed than a beautiful brick that couldn't survive one little collision with a treetop.

  "Mind if I use it for a second?"

  Jonathan eyed him suspiciously. "Can I trust you?"

  Alden sighed. "Is there a useful answer to that question?"

  Jonathan didn't seem to follow. Neither did Hailey, for that matter, until she took a minute to think about it.

  "Let's put it this way," Alden went on. "You've got real magic, and I'm the only other person in the world right now who knows. As far as you know, anyway. I've been doing it a lot longer than you too. This is all really new and we're figuring it out as we go, so there's gotta be some trust or we're not getting anywhere." He held out his hand. "Sound good?"

  After a moment's hesitation, Jonathan shook it.

  Alden rolled his eyes. "I meant your phone, but okay."

  "Oh, right. Sorry." He unlocked it and handed it over. Alden opened up a browser and clicked through a few screens Hailey couldn't see. He paused and glanced back up at Jonathan.

  "You're seventeen?"

  "Oh… Yeah, I kinda lied on my profile." Jonathan shrugged. "Easier to get shows if they think you're out of high school."

  He shook his head. "No, we didn't want to bring in anyone underage."

  It's an arbitrary number, Alden, Hailey fumed silently. We already approached him. He's only one year off. Natalie's only thirteen! It'll be fine!

  "What do you mean?" Jonathan asked, sounding nervous. "Why is that important?"

  "Nothing. I'm sorry." Alden handed the phone back. "We'll contact you again sometime."

  "No, hang on. Why do I need to be eighteen? Is this dangerous?"

  "It's—"

  Jonathan gasped theatrically and stood up. Hailey would have assumed it was staged if it had been any other guy. "Is this what happened to that town? Rallsburg?" Alden took a half-second too long to respond, and Jonathan's eyes bulged out. His voice lifted an octave. "Was that place blown up by magic?"

  "Keep your voice down," Alden hissed, glancing around nervously.

  "Holy shit, it was." Jonathan took a step back. "Did you guys do that? Are you trying to destroy the world or something? You killed everyone there!"

  "No!" Alden glanced at where he assumed Hailey was—which was two feet off, but close enough. "Help me, please?"

  Hailey wasn't sure what he wanted exactly, so she did the only thing she could think of. She summoned a gust of wind to push Jonathan back towards them, and quickly sent a wave of magic through her hair and skin to restore her real appearance. At the same time, she gestured to Jessica, miming a wall falling over in front of them. Jessica nodded, making her visible from the front only. She stayed seated on the grass, while Hailey got to her feet.

  If she'd thought Jonathan's eyes couldn't get any wider, she was sorely mistaken. Hailey genuinely thought they might fall out of his skull. "Where the fuck did you come from?" he asked, shaking slightly.

  "Rallsburg," Hailey replied.

  Alden sighed. "Check your phone, Jonathan. Go look up the Rallsburg victims. Hailey Winscombe."

  "Hailey Aurora Elizabeth Winscombe," she corrected mildly.

  "Yes, you have a ridiculous name, is now really the time?" Alden asked, irritated.

  "Ridiculous?"

  "Okay, so it's awesome and I'm jealous." He shrugged.

  "Holy shit, it's really you." Jonathan had found the photograph. "You're supposed to be dead. Why aren't you dead?"

  "Some of us survived." Hailey nodded at Alden. "Are you convinced we're not dangerous killers anymore? Because we don't have all day here."

  "I— hang on. So you can do magic too?"

  Hailey rolled her eyes. She murmured a quick spell and sent a gust of wind out to catch his hat. It skidded across the pavement, tapping his feet insistently from the side. "Yup, still can."

  "Hey, you said something. What did you say to do that?"

  Alden glanced at her sidelong. "I've been wondering that too. You and Jessica say stuff when you cast spells."

  Hailey didn't follow. "... Yeah?"

  "The rest of us don't vocalize. We just feel it out with our minds. Rika said it didn't even take gestures if you're really good, but they help you aim and exert yourself more, like swinging your arms helps you keep momentum when running. But none of us actually say stuff."

  She shrugged. "I never really thought about it." She glanced over at Jonathan. "Is this really a good time, though?"

  "Probably not." Alden turned back to Jonathan. "Well, you're in the club now I guess."

  "Wow," he breathed, staring at Haley in awe. "You're amazing."

  Hailey tried not to feel too flattered, but it got to her anyway. It was a feeling she hadn't gotten since she'd been the queen of the party back in Rallsburg. Even Rupert, as kind as he was, couldn't really provide the sort of adoration of the masses she always craved inside. She'd convinced herself—mostly for Jessica's sake—that she was happier living with a small group of close friends, but that was never Hailey Winscombe's destiny. She was meant for the center stage, not the private box in the audience.

  She was born to fly.

  
  


  
  

  Jonathan was the first new awakened to sign onto the site Rachel had set up for them. Originally, it had been a heavily locked down private message board, like those from the height of the bulletin board days before social networks took over. Hailey vaguely remembered hanging out on a few of them, but she'd readily admit to being a member of the Facebook generation. Returning to the old format wasn't really nostalgic so much as it was tedious. The site originally had no methods to notify them of new messages, or subscribe to things. It couldn't even send email. All in all, Hailey was a bit underwhelmed—until Cinza got ahold of it.

  Rachel had given her full access, so Cinza had brought on a friend who she claimed to trust explicitly, though none of them had any clue who they might be. This 'Tezofarl' had explained over chat that Rachel had deliberately selected an old version well before the data mining revolution, to be sure the software wasn't phoning home in any way to report on their activity. Unfortunately, that meant the site also lacked for a few basic modern comforts like notifications. Tezofarl restored those features, and following Cinza's requests, also provided a tiered system of private areas by which they could still communicate privately amongst the so-called 'Ghosts of Rallsburg', and a second tier for the new 'second generation Awakened', as Ruby had taken to calling them.

  Hailey immediately resolved to find a better name for them before it stuck, like so many other names Ruby coined.

  As for the mistake with Jonathan, they agreed it was a necessary risk at the time, but that it couldn't be repeated. Alden and Cinza practiced his approach to new recruits, making sure he wouldn't slip up again, and Hailey stuck to the invisible shadows with Jessica. They managed two more in the following week—Katie Nelson, a mother of three who'd found a Scrap stuck to her birdhouse in the backyard, and Drew Jacobs, a young electrician's apprentice—tracking them both down through videos in the local area on social media. Anything slightly suspicious they followed up on, either by a message from Rupert or Alden, or a direct visit if they weren't hard to find. It was exhausting work, and it kept their schedules packed, but it felt right. It felt satisfying.

  After two weeks, the helicopters finally gave up and stopped circling the town. The park rangers continued their sweeps, but the excitement died down again. The news stopped covering Rallsburg, with no further developments past the discovery of Jerry's body. It was business as usual, and that meant Hailey could finally make it there unnoticed in a normal glide, without having to do a high altitude suicide dive every time.

  She kept doing them anyway.

  As they came down for another wind-shrieking landing, Joe waved them in. He looked he wasn't eating well, even though their garden was producing more than enough food as fast as they wanted it to, in or out of season. Hailey let Jessica loose and walked over to sit with him on the benches they'd built around the stream.

  The camp in general was looking more developed every day, but Hailey appreciated the sensibilities Cinza had applied to the landscape design. While they continued to construct benches, walkways, arches and a few extra cabins to house them more comfortably, the construction never interrupted the natural flow of the region. If anything, it looked like it was always meant to flow that way, with the benches made of smooth wood that seemed like real trees had simply bent that way naturally, and the cabins perfectly settled into the ground and connected to the trees nearby.

  "It's Yusuf's thing," Joe explained, as Hailey asked about the way the bridge seemed to be a growth of wood right out of the ground, despite clearly being engineered. "I mean, Cinza and Ruby do the actual construction 'cause he doesn't have the affinity, but he touches up the designs. Makes 'em seem all natural. It's really cool to watch."

  "I would have thought Ruby did the designs." Hailey pointed at the door to Cinza's cabin, where Ruby was currently seated, making an adjustment to one of the eight panels on the front representing the affinities.

  "Different styles, I guess." He shrugged. "Anyway, what's up? You guys weren't due in today, were you?"

  "Just in the neighborhood," Hailey said casually.

  Joe snorted. "Some kinda neighborhood. Cinza's inside, if you were looking for her." He glanced around forlornly. "Nobody out here but me today."

  "Something wrong?"

  "Nah. Go on, you guys probably got important business." He clutched the hem of his silver robe and pulled it tighter as the autumn wind swept through the clearing. "I'm just out here enjoyin' the weather and trying to remember what blue looked like."

  Hailey clapped him on the back, feeling a bit worried for him. She tried to play her part. "If you need anything, let me know, okay?"

  He nodded. Joe had gone through a lot back in Rallsburg. To be honest, Hailey hadn't really liked him much—he'd attached himself to Ryan as the definition of a lackey, and she'd mentally filed him away as a space-filler.

  Still, when the chips were down, he'd stood up for Cinza and her people against a legitimate angry mob, and that counted for a lot. He'd stuck around through all the chaos, including his family's murders, and he now wore the grey robes proudly. Hailey wasn't so sure about his commitment to Cinza, but she didn't doubt at all his foremost motivation for staying.

  That motivation was seated inside Cinza's cabin with the owner, discussing the particulars of magic as Hailey walked in. She greeted Ruby as she passed, but Ruby only gave her a brief mumble before returning her focus to the door paneling.

  "I'm just saying, it should be possible," Nikki was saying. Cinza waved Hailey inside to one of the chairs. She sat cross-legged in her chair, chin resting on folded hands.

  "Is it a line we're willing to cross?" asked Cinza gravely.

  "What did I just walk into?" Hailey asked nervously.

  "Sources of magic," replied Nikki.

  "Can I get a bit more context?"

  "We were discussing gemstones," said Cinza. "Nicole is very curious to discover how they can power our magic. We already know for certain that we can share energy between one another, but it's a voluntary process. One cannot extract magical power from another person. It must be given. Intentionally, as Joshua would say."

  Hailey nodded. "But gemstones aren't alive."

  "Indeed." Cinza picked up the necklace from her chest and held it up. Each segment of the star had a small compartment—nine in all—where she could insert a gemstone to complete the pattern. With the star laying on her skin underneath her robes, Cinza could easily draw on any of the nine at any time to power a spell. She'd folded the metal herself using magic, making the design perfect and flawless. "Yet they still follow similar rules. I cannot draw power from these without making contact, in the same vein that I cannot pair with Ruby unless we touch. Clothing seems to be exempt as always, but the rule remains."

  "So where does the power come from?"

  "It's always been there," Nikki put in.

  "You mean magic's always been there?"

  "Not magic, merely energy." Cinza pointed at the centerpiece to her star, a perfect sparkling diamond. "Most diamonds were formed over one billion years ago through natural earth processes. We're theorizing that energy was pressed into them at the time, and since the gems are burned out as we use them and eventually shatter into nothingness, we must be drawing out that stored energy."

  "And I think we could use other things," added Nikki.

  "Other things like what?" Hailey thought briefly. "Gasoline and fossil fuels? Same idea, right?"

  "We did try that, actually, but there was no result. Perhaps we weren't doing it right, I cannot be certain. Ruby had quite a day trying to clean out the smell, though," Cinza added with a smile.

  "You could have helped, instead of sitting around cracking jokes," said Ruby from the doorway.

  "Reap what you sow, my love," Cinza called back. She turned to Hailey. "Nicole still believes we could expand to other objects. Possibly living ones."

  "But—" Hailey felt a slight chill on her spine. "I thought it couldn't be taken if it wasn't intended."

  "From people," Cinza corrected, though she also looked uncomfortable at her own words. "We're assuming this is just a natural extension of Mason's Law preventing such an action. Think about the sensation of sharing your energy with another."

  Hailey nodded. "It's like you're pushing it outside your body completely."

  "And therefore outside whatever arcane protection the Law grants us," Cinza concluded. "But consider something else. There is ample evidence of complex magic being performed on other living objects that aren't human."

  Hailey glanced around the cabin. "I'm not sure this counts. You shape the tree bark and trunks after they've fallen. Besides, have you ever felt any energy you could use inside a tree?"

  "I wasn't speaking of myself," Cinza said. "One of the Five."

  "Natalie," Hailey realized aloud.

  She nodded. "Natalie may know something."

  Hailey shook her head. "Even if she casts spells on animals all the time, that doesn't mean you can somehow get energy back out of them."

  Nikki frowned. "We have to know."

  "Why?"

  "Because someone else will figure it out, sooner or later. Do you want to be the ones who can't do it, if it comes down to that?"

  "You're talking about a hypothetical war now," Hailey said exasperatedly. "Who says it'll come to that?"

  Cinza sighed. "It always come to that."

  "That's like a self-fulfilling prophecy." Hailey glanced at Nikki. "I don't remember you being so gung-ho about something crazy like this."

  "Hailey, my parents are dead. Everyone I knew is dead. Aaron and Morton are dead," she said, her voice choking up. "And that was just one guy. His friend is still out there."

  "But—"

  "It's hypothetical, like you said," Cinza said firmly. "There's no evidence it can be done. We're certainly not about to start trying it on Natalie's friends."

  Hailey stood up. "I gotta head out."

  "Was that everything?" Cinza asked. "I assumed you came to talk about something more specific."

  "It can wait." Hailey had meant to tell them about Rupert finally, but she didn't want to be in the same room as them for a while. Everything they were discussing didn't fit with what she wanted—the image she'd been creating of herself. She left, calling Jessica to her, with only a quick goodbye to Joe before they vanished back into the sky.

  
  


  
  

  "I get why they wanted to talk about it," Hailey explained, "but god, it just sounded like they were going to be doing experiments and torturing them. I mean, what else is drawing energy out of an animal going to do to it?"

  "I don't know," Beverly replied, sitting with her back up against the chimney a few steps above Hailey.

  Hailey twisted around to look at her. "I thought you knew the whole book back to front."

  "The Grimoire never covered that specifically." She looked away wistfully into the night sky. "I read all about how you can move it between people, but you guys already figured that out. It never said you could use animals, but it never said you couldn't."

  "So the book didn't cover everything." Hailey lay back and watched the stars twinkling far above. Beverly blinked away, leaving Hailey alone to ponder the revelation for a minute. When she returned, Hailey spoke up again. "You think there might be more out there you don't know?"

  "I just kinda assumed there was." Beverly shrugged. "It's just one book and magic is so big. I never thought it could all be written in there."

  "But then maybe there isn't," Hailey said, half-wishing it were true. "Have you ever sensed anyone casting a spell that wasn't specifically in there?"

  Beverly took a minute to think before she answered. "Yes."

  Hailey waited, but she didn't continue. "Well, don't leave me in suspense here. What was it?"

  "...Your wings."

  "Huh?"

  "I have no idea how they work," Beverly said. She looked embarrassed. "I watched you two do the ritual but I had no clue what you were doing."

  Hailey raised an eyebrow. "You watched?"

  She glanced away. "I was keeping an eye on you."

  Hailey sighed. "It was a team effort. Jess designed it, but you'd have to ask her how it worked. She made the connections when we actually cast it. And, well…"

  "...Yeah." Beverly looked back at her, biting her lip slightly. "Hailey, why'd you agree to talk to me again?"

  Hailey shrugged, leaning back again to look up at the sky.

  "I did something horrible and unforgiveable to you."

  "More than just me," Hailey reminded her. "You messed with everyone's heads."

  "...So why? You don't even know who I am. Not… Not really. Not anymore."

  "A scared girl my age literally teleports into my bedroom and asks if she can stick around because she has nowhere else to go." She shrugged again. "I'm not gonna just kick her out."

  "I don't have to stay here. I can find another place."

  "One with an actual bed?" Hailey pointed out. "You're lucky Jess is never gonna use that room. Keep using it, unless you want to go the Rachel route and just take away your need to sleep?"

  Beverly shook her head firmly. "Making myself able to see everyone using magic was bad enough. I don't want to try to change my mind any more. It scares me."

  Hailey got to her feet, having spotted Jessica climbing into bed and turning off the lights one by one. "Bed time, then."

  "Good night, Hailey. See you again next week?"

  Hailey was about to reply, but something nagged at her mind. "What's stopping you from doing it again?"

  "Huh?"

  "Going into our heads. Messing with our minds. If you could do it before, why couldn't you do it again?"

  Beverly hesitated. "There's a kind of magic that none of you have been using. Only a couple people ever used it, actually. Rachel was the best at it."

  "I thought Rachel wasn't good at any magic."

  "She had the Mental affinity. It's not good for much, and she didn't have much talent in magic anyway, but she could use that one type really well. It let her cast a spell to see… connections. Relationships between people. They exist outside you, so I guess they aren't protected."

  "And these connections—"

  "Are what I broke," Beverly explained, looking down at the rooftop. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I did it all wrong. It went too far. I ruined Alden's life."

  Hailey frowned. "But what's to say you don't do it again? Or what if someone else figures it out?"

  Beverly shook her head. "You'd need something incredibly powerful. I had to use an asteroid to do it."

  "You went out to an asteroid?"

  "I think? Or would it be a comet? I forget the difference. Either way… it's uhh… it's gone now."

  Hailey laughed weakly. "All right, I'm a little less worried now."

  "I'd never do it again," she added quietly. "It was the stupidest thing I've ever done."

  Hailey sighed. She stood up and walked up the roof to where Beverly sat against the chimney, taking a seat next to her instead of feet away. Beverly looked startled, but didn't pull away. Hailey put an arm around her gently, fully conscious that she was giving a one-armed hug to probably the most powerful person on the planet and beyond. "We've all done stupid stuff."

  Beverly shook her head more forcefully, but Hailey didn't let go. "I'm really sorry, Hailey."

  Hailey realized what she'd never said. She wasn't sure she meant it, but it felt right. It was what a hero would say. "I forgive you."

  A few tears dropped from Beverly's eyes. She shook her head once again, before vanishing in a tiny slip of the wind. Hailey waited, but after she didn't return for ten minutes, she gave up. As she climbed into bed and Jessica hugged her close, Hailey whispered, "See you later, BB."

 

 

 

 

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Etzoli

  • Oregon
  • Amateur Technological Thaumaturge
  • https://etzo.li

Bio: Sysadmin, student, wordsmith, TV obsessive, pretzel addict.
Many keyboards have perished in my pursuit of wordcounts.

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