The assassin drives us to another restaurant. The sign says “Dandy Lion Diner.” With a lion wearing a suit and holding up a platter of food.
“Thought you said diners are shitty?”
“I said the diner we were at before is shitty. This one’s okay.” She takes out her phone and calls someone. “Yo, Larkspur, I’m at Dandy Lion Diner. Come pick up the motorcycle and drop off the car. Thanks. Bye.”
We enter the establishment, there a few other people here. We sit opposite each other in a booth towards the back.
The assassin looks out the window, a neutral expression on her face. The death she caused and witnessed doesn’t seem to be on her mind.
I can’t get the sound out of my head. It’s just the same as-
“Welcome, I’m Rhonda!” A waitress interrupts my thoughts. “I’ll be your server today, let me know when you’re ready to order!” She hands us a couple of menus.
“Thank you, Rhonda,” Hollyhock says, with a voice so polite it almost surprises me.
“Thank you,” I follow suit. The waitress springs away. Hollyhock leans back and rests her right arm on the seat while looking through the menu.
“How do you do it?”
“You just pick what you want to eat from this catalog of food.”
Her insinuation that I don’t know how to order food at a restaurant immediately pisses me off. Though, I’m not being clear on what I mean.
“...I mean how do you...do what you do, without it disturbing you?” She nods, understanding.
“The first few times it did disturb me. Hell, the first time I ever did it I threw up. But that day was a lot of firsts for me.” She recollects with an uncomfortable look. “Ugh. Anyway, don’t get me wrong, the people I’ve killed aren’t saints. Each one was a monster or helped the monsters. But I never attach a feeling to causing their deaths.”
She looks out the window.
“You know how you see a sunset, and it’s the millionth time you’ve seen it but you still feel…”
“Small” “Whole,” we say simultaneously.
The assassin presses on.
“No matter how many times you see it, you still feel that way. But I don’t let myself feel anything when I kill, not rage, disgust, pride.” She shakes her head. “Nothing. You don’t attach feelings to something like that, and you do it more efficiently.”
I’m not sure if I completely agree, but it seems to work for her.
“You have any allergies?” She asks, changing the subject.
“That depends on what those are,” I reply.
Hollyhock narrows her eyes.
“Now I know that you’re fucking with me. There’s no way you don’t know what allergies are.”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” I start looking over the menu. “What’s an ‘IPA’?”
“Some kind of beer,” she answers. “Don’t change the subject, you know what allergies are, you’re a doctor.”
“You changed the subject first, and I'm a witch, a big difference.”
“I changed the subject ‘cause it’s not exactly lunch conversation.”
The waitress comes back, placing two cups of water for us and utensils.
“You ready to order?”
“Yes, Rhonda,” the assassin speaks politely again “We’ll take two cheeseburgers, make mine a double.”
“I’ll have a double also,” I add. Hollyhock lifts an eyebrow at me.
“With waffle fries and orange juice. Y’know what? Make it an orange soda, it’s been a long day.” The assassin says with a smile. “I’ll work out later.”
“Sure thing, dear. And what do you want to drink, hon?” She turns to me.
I didn’t really look at the menu.
“I’ll have the mint tea.” I vaguely recall that being on there.
“Ok, darling. Anything else?”
“Is the pecan pie any good?” Hollyhock asks.
“Made it myself!”
“Well, in that case, I’ll definitely take a slice, warmed up with some vanilla ice cream, please.”
“Okay, dears, should be in ready in about 15 minutes.”
Hollyhock nods and hands her back our menus.
“Look, you’re clearly asking about it because of some issue that you don’t want to address. I’m sorry if death makes you uncomfortable but I did make it clear that’s what I deal in.”
“It’s not death that’s necessarily the problem. It’s just…” It’s been years, I’ve thought about it countless times, dreamt about it, and I can barely say it. She looks at me with concern slowly tightening her face.
“Don’t talk about it if you aren’t ready. Let’s change the subject again. What’s to be done about the undead guy walking around, stealing bikes?” She picks up the knife and twirls it between her fingers. “What’s your first step to tracking down whoever did this to him?”
Happy for the change of topic, I start hypothesizing on ways to do that.
“Necromancy isn’t my strongest school of magic.”
“Naturally,” Hollyhock replies.
“But it works like any other magic; it always leaves a trace. Problem is that his reanimation must’ve happened a while ago. There isn’t too much of the original magic left to track. At least, not on the outside.”
“You saying that you’d have a better chance if you dissected him?”
“Not dissection exactly, it’d be more ripping the energy out of him destroying anything along the way.”
“That sounds good, do that.” Her knife twirling is at an alarming speed.
“No, I’m not doing that. For several reasons. No, I’ll try something else.”
I snap and a few books I need appear in front of me.
‘Intros to All Schools of Magic. Vol. 1’
‘Glossary of the Undead: Know Your Corpse!’
‘Beginner's Guide to Necromancy: Start With the End’
“It freaks me out when you do that,” Hollyhock comments.
“And I find your knife spinning unsettling.” With a defiant look on her face, she flings the knife from one hand to the other, spinning it as soon as she catches it. Hollyhock then stops and places it on the table.
“Okay, no more knife spinning. I’m here to help you, any way that I can. What can I do?”
“I’m getting a few ideas, but I need to check some things,” I reply as I open my books.
I lean forward to look at her books, but I can’t seem to focus my eyes on the words. The letters move about the pages, and the images stretch and distort the more I stare at them.
“Am I having a sudden, severe attack of dyslexia, or is something wrong with your books?”
“Neither,” the witch answers. “It’s ocular magic, only I or permitted people can read this.”
“Oh, I’m not a ‘permitted’ person?”
“Do you know how to read traditional Mandarin or ancient Greek?” She asks.
“...Do you know how to break a man’s neck without him noticing you?”
“Then we both know things the other doesn’t then, huh?” She rolls her eyes at me.
“I could track the caster if I could find another person they reanimated. Have you heard about anyone else acting unusual?”
“This is Oleander City; everyone is unusual. But the Bay Leaves have contacts in a few morgues. I’ll see if any of them have noticed any dead bodies that have gone missing,” I offer.
“That would actually be very helpful,” Witch-Hazel says. “Ask if any bodies have turned up with any yellow discoloration on their heads.”
“It’s a sign that a body was unsuccessfully resurrected or is no longer reanimated,” she explains. “Whoever is doing this might be running experiments, there’s bound to be some discarded ones.”
I take out my phone and text Kadupul, our resident liaison.
Yo, can you put out a feeler with your friends in the morgues?
They’re not my friends but sure. What are they looking out for?
Bodies that gone missing or with yellow discoloration on their heads.
“How big will this discoloration be?” I ask Witch-Hazel as she closes one book.
“It’ll vary, depending on different factors. But it’ll mostly be on top of the head,” she clarifies.
It’ll be on top of their heads.
What is this about?
Kinda hard to explain. Just let me know, ok?
Fine. I’ll ask Xyla to keep an eye out.
You still see her?
She’s definitely disturbed. She doesn’t even do us favors for money. Think she just likes seeing dead bodies.
“I asked so that’ll cover any recent bodies, what’s your plan for any that are buried or disposed of?”
“Hmm, I have an idea but it’ll take some time.” She closes her books and snaps them back wherever they were. “In the meantime, why don’t we eat?”
Rhonda comes back with our food, placing our items before us. The smell of hot oil, sizzling meat, and the scent of Witch-Hazel’s mint tea find its way to my nose.
“I’ll bring you your pie in a little while, honey.”
“Thank you.” The witch stares at her tea like it just asked her a hard math question. “What’s wrong?”
“Why is there ice in this cup?”
“It’s iced tea,” I answer.
“Why would anybody want ice in their tea?”
“It’s 91 degrees outside. She probably thought you’d want it cold.”
“What’s the point of drinking tea cold? That practically defeats the whole purpose of drinking it.”
“I think it’s more refreshing that way,” I comment. I sip my orange soda, the ice cubes clink against each other as the bubbles pop making a pleasant sound. “I could ask her to bring you a hot one.” The witch dismisses the idea with a wave of her hand.
“No no, I don’t want to trouble her. Besides, wouldn’t be much point in leaving my home if I didn’t have a lot of first times, right?” I lift up my drink to toast.
“Here’s to a lot of firsts.”
“To a lot of first,” she repeats. We clink our glasses together.
Witch-Hazel takes a bite of her burger as I pour ketchup on the side for my fries.
“Holy shit,” she says with her mouth full.
“No,” she swallows her food. “This is really fucking good! The cheese and the meat? Hestia’s Tits!”
“‘Hestia’s tits’? You’re just making these up now.” She doesn’t acknowledge my barb and she starts wolfing on her burger. “Jesus Christ, it’s not going anywhere! Have some fries before you choke.”
Witch-Hazel eats one and upon realizing how good it tastes her face lights up.
“If all the food out here is this good, I might just stay,” she comments.
“I’m not enough incentive for you to stay?”
“Is that an invitation for me to...eat you?”
Someone in the booth behind me clears their throat loudly.
“Seems our conversation is too obscene for SOMEONE! So, let’s switch it up. What did you do for fun back in Ironhenge? Potion brew offs, speed enchantments, betting on unicorn races?”
“Oh, Gods no!” She stops scarfing her fries. “That’s a recipe for catastrophe!” I take a huge bite of my burger.
“Unicorns can’t be tamed by any means. Magical or otherwise. They’re very intelligent and extremely arrogant.”
I pop a couple of fries in my mouth.
“I honestly can’t tell if you’re fucking with me at this point.”
“No I,” she puts her hand on her chest over her heart, “I swear on my life, I’m not fucking with you. Unicorns are VERY dangerous creatures if you ever encounter one-”
“Where would I ‘encounter’ a unicorn?” She shrugs.
“There’s a few hundred or so left. Some are here in America, there’s a slim possibility you could run into one,” she explains. “Unlike non-magical horses, they aren’t prey animals, if by any chance you do meet one, it’s vital that you don’t pose a threat, otherwise it will try to kill you. It’ll also kill you if you try to treat it as just an animal. We had a whole class on them once.”
“How would it know I’m doing that?”
“They’re very intuitive. It’s been theorized that they can read minds.” She tries to sneakily grab my fries but I slap her hand away. “I’m giving you valuable information that I shouldn’t be sharing, and you can’t spare me some fries?”
“I’m paying for them. Back to unicorns, can’t I just shoot it?”
“You better not miss, that’s all I’m saying. Many have died on unicorn hunts, almost every part of their body can be used for potent magical brews. A small piece of their horn is invaluable.” Witch-Hazel finishes her burger. “But enough about them, you’re probably not gonna meet one so,” she shrugs.
“What about dragons?” I’m curious about whatever magical creatures exist.
“The last ones died during what you call World War Two,” she explains. “Though not because of anything non-magical humans did, it just happened to match up like that.” Witch-Hazel sips her mint tea and twists her face in disgust. “This has way too much sugar in it.”
“We Americans like our tea sweet,” I explain.
“Well, it tastes like candy.” She then drinks it all anyway. “I’ll stick with my own tea.”
“Real. Rare. Reclusive.”
“No. Not in any sense.”
“Hunted to extinction during the Peloponnesian War.”
“Near extinction, not enough fish to eat, pollution has altered where they stay. It’s estimated that they’ll be gone in twenty-thirty years or so.” She says it with a note of melancholy, but with the interest like mermaids are a normal occurrence. Though, I suppose to her they are.
“Uhhh, I don’t really know any other magical animals. Most of my knowledge comes from movies and shit.” I finish my burger only to realize that Witch-Hazel has already cleaned her plate. Must be hungry. “How about werewolves?”
“Hey look, here’s your dessert.” She points out. Rhonda places a thick slice of pecan pie between us. The honey brown treat is warm and a healthy dollop of vanilla ice cream atop it is slowing melting.
“Here you go, sugars. Enjoy.” She gives us two spoons with a wide smile. “I’ll be back to check on you in a little while.”
“What does that taste like?” She leans forward and inspects it.
“Well,” I pick up a spoon and scoop up a big helping of ice cream and pie. “You tell me.” I offer it to her. The witch gives a coy smile before dipping her head and slowly closes her mouth around my utensil. She thinks on it like she’s tasting a fine wine.
“Hmmm.” Her eyes are locked on mine and she licks a bit of ice cream from the corner of her mouth, knowing I’m watching. “I’m detecting a hint of pecans.”
“Oh really? Didn’t think you’d pick up on that.” She chews slowly.
“Brown sugar, honey from a summer harvest, some extract of vanilla, pinches of cinnamon, and some kind of syrup I’ve never tasted before,” she lists.
“You have a very smart tongue,” I reply.
“I prefer calling it...experienced.” She takes the spoon from my fingers, spinning it as I did the knife. “Let’s hear your thoughts on it.” Witch-Hazel offers me up some with the same spoon I just had in her mouth.
I take the bite. The soft crunch of the pecans compliments the warm gooeyness of the filling, and the ice cream melts into sweet milk.
“It reminds me of the first time I had ice cream. It was a hot day like this, ‘cept the HQ didn’t have AC at the time. It was too hot to train so Tamara let us go do whatever. I was practicing my reading when Larkspur saw me, I was sweating bullets over my little kid book. They took me to a store and bought me some ice cream sandwiches.” I laugh a bit as I remember what happens next. “I ate those shits so fast and got a mean ass brain-freeze. I start clutching my head like it was gonna explode.”
She laughs in a melodic way, light and ascending.
“Oh I’m glad you think it’s funny, ‘cause Larkspur thought it was hilarious. They just sat there laughing at me, meanwhile, I’m thinking I’m about to die.”
The witch laughs harder and I have to say I like the way it sounds.
I want to hear it more often.
“You enjoy my pain way too much.”
“I’d be open to enjoying your pleasure too,” She says with a sultry smile.
“Well, come get some.” We lean towards each other. No distractions, no sudden interruptions. Just us and-
The door to the diner violently opens and some asshole yells,
“HANDS UP THIS IS A ROBBERY!!!”
Through all the sudden gasps the witch and I at the same time say,
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
I immediately stand up and walk over to whoever is ruining my good time. It’s two of them, both armed. Despite the stupid half masks they’re wearing, I learn all I need to know. Their eyes show how young and afraid they are. There’s no way they could be older than sixteen.
I’m convinced that Fate has a personal problem with me kissing Hollyhock. She stands before the thieves’ guns, unafraid. But I know full well that she isn’t bulletproof, I prepare a spell in my hand under the table. I whisper an incantation, needing to project it fast if things go south.
“GET BACK OR I’LL SHOOT!” One of them yells at her.
“Oh yeah, how are you gonna do that with the safety on?”
The thief inspects his gun for a second and that’s all she needs. Twisting his wrist and pulling the gun from him, she points it at the other thief.
“Put the fucking gun on the counter, now.” He complies, clearly taken aback by the sudden turn of events. “Good.” She grabs the gun, briefly looking it over. “Serials filed off. Who gave you these guns?”
“I, uh, we,”
“What’s so hard to understand about my question?”
“I can’t tell you,” one of them says.
“Why? Is the person who gave it to you holding a gun to you right now?”
“It was Newt!” The other one answers.
“There, was that so hard?” She tucks the guns into her waistband and I dispel the magic in my hand; she’s got the situation under control. “Now get the fuck out of here and don’t do dumb shit like this again!” She scolds. “You got your whole life ahead of you, go apply for a job at a supermarket or something.” They nod quickly and run out of the diner.
Everyone in the diner starts clapping for her but the assassin raises one hand.
“Stop,” she commands and everyone immediately does. Hollyhock approaches the counter where our waitress is standing. “This is for the bill, for the disturbance, and something extra not to call the police about this.” She places a few hundred dollar bills before her. “Alright?” The waitress nods in agreement.
“C’mon,” Hollyhock gesticulates with a jerk of her head. I rise from my seat and join her.
“My compliments to the chef, everything was delicious,” I say.
“The pie was slammin’” Hollyhock adds. On that little bit of praise, we exit.
“So, do you have any other methods to catch our necromancer?” The assassin asks. It’s somewhat strange hearing her use magical terms, I don’t mind it though.
“Looking for someone reanimated by them is still our best bet. I have some other things we could try, but it’s a bit conspicuous.”
She nods in understanding as she unlocks the door to the car for me.
“I hate to derail us but there’s something I have to take care of.”
“Does it have anything to do with this ‘Newt’ person?”
“It does. He’s a member of the DeadNettles, the gang that wanted me killed. Don’t know if he was a part of that, but it doesn’t matter. Giving guns to kids is never a good idea. I want to know what the bastard is thinking.” Her voice is lined with anger. Seems whenever children are involved, she takes a keen interest.
“You really do like kids, huh?” She stashes her newly acquired guns in the glovebox and starts the engine.
“I just think kids should have to worry about school and the stupid stuff they like, not about having to steal to survive.” Her voice gets a bit less angry. “It’s too late for me, they still have a chance.”
If it means that much to her, I want to help her.
“Anything I can do?” The car lurches forward and we take off. She thinks it over for a moment.
“Can you give me a magical disguise?”
A wide smile comes across my face at the opportunity to do magic on Hollyhock.
“How fast do you need it?”
“Soon. Real soon.”
Bio: I’m a young writer from NYC I want to be a professional writer someday and hope I look good while doing it. I like writing action and romance and even exclusively either. Follow me on Twitter and Tumblr for updates and bug me about my stories!