Other-worldly

 

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The Widow

    Balen stood at the edge of the roof several feet above street level. The tips of his shinny leather boots poked out into the night sky. His dark leather cloak flapped like a bat's wing behind him, and his skin still glistened from the sweat trickling down his blood stained face. His dark eyes focused on the street below with intensity. He could make out a four-horse drawn carriage pulling up outside the hotel and a couple stepped out in style. The size of the woman's hat spoke immensely of their wealth. 

    Catherine Bigums. Until last year, she was a pauper forced to put her three children up for sale for she could no longer afford to feed them. A year later, she was married to one of the richest man in Motown. Her children were still in the orphanage where she'd placed them, and the missing case of her ex-husband was no longer missing. Mr Joel Bigum had been discovered dead a fortnight ago in a small town thousand miles away by a sheep dog out on a farm. The only identity on him had been a fading photograph of three children with their names written on the back.

    Balen jumped off the edge and headed down to the theatre level through the stairwell. He needed to observe Catherine close up. See what story her face revealed. Catherine wasn't Bigum's style. Her angular face and skeletal figure hardly inspired any curiosity in him. A body of a woman half wasted, not one for a mother of three. Why ex-Mrs Bigums hadn't claimed her three children begged an answer and Balan knew he had a task ahead. He followed the woman and her new husband, Mr Watkins down the street. He followed them through the town centre, pausing in the shadows as the woman made several stops oohing and aahing at trinkets by the shop windows, shimmying through shops as if she were made of money. And whatever she fancied her husband obliged by making a purchase, only to have her gush as his kindness. It all made Balan feel sick. It was close to midnight that the couple reached home and Balan stood in the shadows of tree across the road eyeing the house for several hours. 'Do you see it?' The soft whisper broke the silent night and Balan to his surprise found himself under the shadows of a tree sprite. 

    'Tell me you see it too!' The tiny green smoke of a figure whooshed out in front of him and floated there in the air. A sliver of smoke still anchoring it to the ancient tree. 'I've noticed this house for a while now. Curious little thing. Too bad I can't simply make my way over there to examine it.'

    Balan considered the sprite. 'How long has that been there?'

    The sprite shrugged his shoulders. 'Oh you know, I'm not entirely sure. Maybe a year, maybe more. These things are hard to say.'

    Balan clasped his fist around the sprite's neck, watching it whither and struggle. 'How long has it been?'

    'A year. A year!' He struggled and Balan let it go. 'Ever since that thing has moved in.'

    Balan ducked into the shadows of the tree and put his camouflage up as a car pattered past them and turned into a driveway few doors down. 

    'Do you know what it is?' Balan peeled himself away from the tree and his barks fell away from his torso. 

    The sprite nodded. 'I haven't seen one in a long while. They used to call them the Black Widows back then. Nasty little things they used to be before they were restricted to the forest dwellings.' 

    'What's it doing this far out of its territory?' 

    'Whatever it is, it bodes ill for that human.' The sprite slunk back into the tree. 'Last time one of these came out was almost 300 years ago. The most demonic thing I've seen all my life and that's saying something. Almost killed them all off, those stupid humans.'

    Balan stood by the edge of the footpath and studied the strange green gossamer tendrils whistling about the property, snaking out of windows and doors, and floating up from the chimney. 'And how did they stop it?' 

    'I have no idea. Seeing how I'm rooted to one spot, I can only tell you what I heard, and this far out, I wasn't hearing much back then.'

    Balan crossed the street and looked up at the facade of the double story house. The lights had been off for a while now and he assumed they'd gone to bed. He took a few more steps towards the house only to have one of the tendrils flick him away viciously. He flew across the road and crashed into the bush at the front of the house there. The wind knocked out of him. It took him a while to catch his breath and get back up on his feet. 

    He glared at the house sickly aware that those tendrils of gossamers were nothing akin to spiders, but a rather strong ward against the other side. His side. The Keepers of Light. As he came to once again stand under the sprite's tree he couldn't help but notice a figure by the top window, it's slightly glowing eyes set on him with a mischievous grin on its black face. 

    'Whatever magic that is, it's not from our...'

    'Realm.' Balan finished in awe.

 

    For the next two days, Balan followed the Black Widow where ever he could. He changed disguises, put up wards to keep her from seeing him come a mile away. He made no 'noise' as this master had taught him, no lingering magic left behind, no stealth spell sent her way that she could smell. For all he knew, none of these mattered when dealing with a Black Widow. He knew so little of them. As far as he was aware, they had been exiled into the monster realm. They were the things even monsters feared. In fact, from how his ward tingled around its edges just mere feet away from his body, forever feeling like his skin prickled, the omens were bad. Horrendously bad. He knew a storm was coming. He could tell from the deepening darkness in the night sky. Energy swirled above that house, slight wind forever pushing down at him as if there were a swirling storm right above it. 

    At the midnight stroke on the third night, Balan jumped off the tree branch with a sigh. 'I got nothing.'

    'I got nothing either. My vision can't get past the third layer of its ward.'

    Balan turned. 'Third layer?'

    The sprite floated out and intently stared at the house. 'As far as I can tell, that thing is wrapped up like an onion. I can't tell how many layers it has up.'

    This information startled and unnerved Balan. He's never known anyone to be able to cast two wards with ease. Those skills were left for the Maestros, who are rumored to be able to put up at least five layers with not too much trouble, but no one had seen a Maestro in a millennia if not longer. The only thought that was left in his head was 'What is this thing and how do I get rid of it?' After all The Keepers weren't just your regular fairies humans frumped them up to be. They were the last line of defense against countless demonic realms that eyed human realm as desired realty. The Keepers were the Sword-swingers, the bond breakers, and the annihilators of dark energies. The things that protected from the things that go bump in the night.

    'What do you see? In the other layers?' He finally asked, goosebumps coursing through him. A semblance of fear lurking deep. 

    'Blood. I see blood. And a sense something coming.'

    Balan could sense it too. He'd never mastered the Art of Sight, but he had mastered the Art of Energy, and he could sense the dark heavy ooze spluttering slowly underneath. He eyed the sky above the house and could just imagine the hole building. 'I have to go.' He blurted. 

    'You better hurry. You have a month, tops, to find out how to rid it. Once it anchors, I have a feeling it has bigger plans than just marrying a widow and and growing old with him. A storm's coming.'

    Balan nodded. That was an understatement. 'Keep an eye on it for me.' He placed a small ball of lapis lazuli in his palm and with an utterance fused it into the trunk of the tree. 'For...'

    'Communication, I know. Not my first rodeo. You just go find a Maestro before the month.'

    'I don't even know where to start,' Balan muttered. 

    With a brisk nod and a blink, Balan was gone. All that was left was a sliver of gold smoke the height of him, lingering but for a fraction of a  second. 

    'If Maestros exist anymore.' The sprite turned its attention back to the house. It had a job to do, and he was going to do it. The green ward rippled taunting. Flickering like an innocent candle flame. 

 

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Among the Reeds

    Balan landed roughly upon the Whispering Reeds, several miles away from his intended target, The Hallow, one of the only few protected sanctuaries of The Keepers of Light left on Earth. He looked up at the waning moon, and sighed. Lucky it wasn’t a full moon. He was smack in the middle of the Southern Wolves territory. Had it been a full moon, he would have been shredded by now. Those nasty little buggers had a habit of hiding in the reeds as they approached the Quaint Town, hunting for those wayward teens out here on their Keeper training.

    He felt something slimy and cold slither past his ankle and shivered. ''Darned Nymphs!" He dusted off his long leather coat and stomped his feet hard on the ground. The vibration rippling around him for a hundred meters or more, and he could hear the skittering of the beings. ‘That’s right. Keep away. Man on a mission here!’

    By dawn, he knocked on the tall, wooden door, carved with centuries of history upon its face. A face whose carvings mysteriously moved up as new events took up space on the bottom. The older the stories, the higher up they went until the door disappeared with the air. Balan looked at the bottom most event, which was the coronation of King Antal, sometime a year ago. No major event had happened since that could change the course of the Veiled World. No event till now that was. He could see a new event beginning to take shape on the very bottom. A story that was vague and murky yet. 

    Balan knocked again, harder this time and heard the faint vibrations run up the panel. 

    "Coming!" A voice boomed from the other side. "What’s the impatience? You realize what time it is?"
The door swung open and there stood Monk Misser, garbed in nothing more than his pale gray shorts and shirt. It was a freezing morning but that didn’t seem to faze the old man. "What do you want Keeper Balan? What’s the meaning of this unholy hour’s visit?"

    Balan quickly slipped inside the compound and the door swung closed silently. He always thought that was a weird thing, for a door as heavy and as thick as it was for it to be absolutely silent. 

    He bowed to the Monk briskly. "Apologies my dear sir, it’s an emergency."

    The Monk stared at him. "I am no knight, Balan. And this isn’t the safest hour to be arriving."

    Balan looked around the courtyard they were standing in and a chill ran down his spine. The ancient trees were sleeping and he could hear them breathing. Eeriest sound he’d ever heard. He’d never much liked those trees at night even during his training as The Keeper of Light. 

    "Pardon me, Master Misser, I’ve traveled long to be here, and I would have been here hours ago, but I don’t know why I overshot the sanctuary and landed at the Whispering Reeds. My compass must be off."

    Monk Misser faintly smiled. "So it’s working." Balan understood then that other wards must have been put up since his last visit. "Myra has been trying to conjure new wards for ages, and she’s been successful it seems in casting a deflection ward." He started walking off down the path, to the main entry of the building, and Balan followed. 

   "Though it seems she wasn’t as successful in getting the ward to touch ground, otherwise you’d have never been able to get past the Reeds. I must tell her in the morning."

    Balan quick shuffled behind the surprisingly agile man, whose age must be nearing at least two centuries. 
"Three," Monk Misser corrected as if Balan had spoken his thoughts aloud. "So what’s your emergency? The Keepers don’t normally come to us for help unless it’s for training, illness, or retirement."

    Balan took off his necklace and handed it to the man as they walked through the main doors. 

    "Your Seeing stone?" There was a hint of surprise in the Monk’s voice. 

    "I cannot explain what I saw, nor how to report it. Best you watch it for yourself and advise me on the course of action, or even if caution is worthy. Though I doubt that would be the case."

    "Who brings a Seeing Stone, Misser?" the head of the Hallow walked out into the ante chamber from his chapel. "Ah, Keeper Balan. Long time."

    The man reached out for the stone and ushered the two men into his office further down the chamber. He looked like he’d been up for hours. But then again, Balan had always heard rumors that the Grand Monk did not sleep. He did not need to.  "What has you worried Balan?" He put the stone on his desk in a small crystal abode. 

    "I believe it’s a Black Widow, Grand Master."

    The two monks passed ever so slightly worried looks at each other before the Grand Monk asked them to pull up a chair and sit. 

    "There hasn’t been a Black Widow sighting in centuries." He mumbled an incantation and Balan’s stone began glowing a weak green. The Monks stared at it, their eyes flicking minutely as if they were watching something. No doubt the visions Balan had been gathering the last year as he followed the case of Mrs Bigum and her mysterious wealth and her equally mysterious home. It seemed a long while before the two men came out of their trance with measured looks.

   "We have a lot to do young, Balan. Send word to your hold. We need as many Keepers as the Red Fort can spare."

    Balan nodded, but his curiosity hadn’t abated. "What is it, Grand Master?"

    "It is Earth’s doom. Now go! Take the fastest wings and go. We have already lost too much time."

~

    "Are you a Keeper?" A stranger asked as they slipped onto the stool next to Balan. Their face hidden in a giant hood. From the size of it, the person looked small, perhaps a woman, but the voice had him confused, but of course he knew that it was safer than to ask. In stead, he didn’t reply, and went on to finish his half eaten dinner of a lamb and pepper pie, which was a little heavy on the pepper and had seen to it that he’d had a few pints. "A word from the Red Fort."

    Balan looked around the pub, making sure they were not being heard, no keen eyes lingered nor eager ears twitched. "A word?"

    The stranger passed a slip of paper, drank his shot of a drink and slipped of the stool. Balan waited till the person was out of the pub before slipping money for his meal, and left with his stuff. 

    He had to find a safe place to read the message, the walls everywhere in Quaint Town had ears, some good, but more often than not, spies. He hurried out the pub and took a right turn down an alley way he’d walked a fair few times. Today, it somewhat looked darker than normal, like the light from the oil lamps had a harder air to pierce, thicker. He felt an arm grab him and pull him into a wall that gave way before he knew he’d even been approached. 

    "Relax, I’m not going to harm you," a voice ringing with familiarity spoke from the pitch black. "Or don’t you know that this town isn’t as quaint as it pretends to be?"

    Balan laughed, bringing out his moonstone and chanting its incantation. The tiny stone shone bright, its moonlight lighting up the immediate surroundings and before him stood an old friend, a friend rumored to have been long dead. "And don’t you know not to sneak up on Keepers like that? We are powerful, you know, all smiting and stuff!"

    The two men laughed and embraced. The shorter man holding Balan by the two hands and laughing still. "You’ve gone skinny my friend."

    "And you’ve gone smaller it seems. How is that even possible, Merith?"

    Merith laughed. "It takes a lot of magic to make physical changes and painful, but it’s been worth it. My old self has a death warrant out on him."

    Balan nodded. He knew too well. In the last crusade to save the family and the realm they are sworn to protect, he had lost too many friends and family to a tyrant. He looked at the wall where they’d portalled in.

    ‘What’s out there?’

    "The Black Guards. These streets are filled with them. The Sights are the only ones that can see them and even then, they are cloaked well."

    Merith drew a mirror rune on the wall and the bricks turned semi-see through. "There were at least 3 Guards on the alley way and you were walking straight into their hands. You know what they do to Keepers these days?" Balan shook his head. He hadn’t really been living in the Sight realm the last decade. He’d made the human realm his home. 

    Merith removed his rune and the brick turned solid again. "Rumor has it that they are tortured and turned, and those too stubborn are flayed, burned, cursed ecetera. Their newest recruits for the Black Guard are said to be these turned Keepers, which means any safe routes you know are not safe anymore, all safe houses are compromised, any wards are brought down, and so on. You get the idea."

    It occurred to Balan then why The Hallow and Myra especially were making new wards even Keepers couldn’t cross. "I landed on the Reeds when I was heading for The Hallow."

    Merith nodded. "So the word for the Red Fort?"

    Balan squared his shoulders and pulled out a sealed scroll from his long trench coat. "By the order of the Grand Monk, all Keepers are summoned immediately for an emergency summit. Your have two days to gather them."

    "On the sly?"

    "If what you say is true, yes. We can’t risk more Keepers being ambushed by the Black Guards. You spread the words, I’ll let the Masters know."

    Merith looked at the summons somberly. "It’s the war that was foretold, isn’t it? This is the beginning?"

    "Maybe. I don’t know. Let’s hope it’s nothing other than a pesky pest control."

    Merith nodded. He handed Balan a small clear crystal. "Wait a while after I leave to use that. It will get you as close to the Citadel as possible. Too much magic surging from one spot will alert them."

    Balan nodded. "Fare thee well."

   "You too!"

    And just like that, Merith was gone in a surge of white light as the crystal hit the ground. And Balan waited, a fair while before using his own stone. 

~

    Balan had been pacing the front courtyard for awhile, unable to stop his fidgeting hands from caressing the large jet stone sitting snug on the bottom of his right pocket. He pulled the collar of the trench coat higher against the gathering cold and looked up to feel a snow flake land on the tip of his nose. 

   "You see it too, don’t you?" Master Misser stood just under one of the arches that surrounded the court. "The sky is changing her color."

    Balan looked to the ominous sky, its dark grey and almost midnight blue swirling slightly, like a twister in the making. "It’s not supposed to snow for another month or so." He resumed his pacing, teasing the jagged yet smooth edge of his jet in his pocket. 

    "Come in for supper. You have been eyeing the path up that hill for a day now. They will come."

    "When?"

    Misser shrugged his shoulders. "When the time is in their favor. And the sky."

    "They will be forced to land amongst The Reeds." Balan scold. 

    Misser nodded, slipping his hands into the folds of his robe. "And it’s a long treacherous route after that. Come, eat, get warm, catch some sleep, and when you wake, we may have some of them arriving from the fort."

    Balan looked to the giant gate, its bottom still vague as to what it might foretell. "Have you noticed the gate grows each day?" With that he followed the round Monk through the stone corridor. "Is it true it carves prophesies upon itself?"

    Master Misser remained silent for a while, making Balan wonder if he’d even been heard. 
"That is why she is called the Gate of Wisdom. And she chooses what she will reveal. Not everything that comes to pass is on her face. But those that are have shaped many millennia."

    "And not many can pass through the Gate of Wisdom? Am I correct? Keeper Alon used to tell us that."

    Master Misser turned into a warm room, the dinning hall, with its rough, long table made ages ago from fallen trees down the slope. The giant hearth crackling with fire and glow. There were only a few monks seated, others were still arriving. "If you are asking whether we are safe here, then yes, Keeper Balan, only those that have already passed through her embrace may enter and no more. Sit."

    "Forgive me," Balan stayed standing, staring down at the Monk, with not disrespect, but concern. "Have you tried to read it yet?" Misser stared at Balan with measured look. "When will it come to pass? The last of her tapestry reveals a war of realms, which has yet come to pass."

    Master Misser sat down and pulled his cutlery closer. "You know the old prophesy?"

    "Like you said, anyone who comes through that door of yours is taught. To survail, to fight." 

    A kitchen hand brought out a trolley full of food, the old rusty wheels of it squeaking near them. Master Misser grabbed plenty of bread and soup, and a jug of wine for the two and sent the hand off. "The Grand Monk believes the time is now: the wars will wage through the veil, evil and saints alike will fall till from their ashes rises a hero who shall rid the demons of our world."

    Master Misser chewed a piece of bread as if he were starved and offered Balan some of his own. "That’s as much as we have been able to decipher from her face. The Gate of Wisdom isn’t the easiest language to read, and the last able Reader we trained at the Citadel died of pneumonia 10 years ago."

    "None in training here?" Balan almost choked on his soup. "But, you train them all here, Keepers, Readers, Seers, Monks, Wizards, Healers, and Wards such as Myra."

    Master Misser shook his head somber. "It’s been hard to send out scouts who can sense magic. Everyone it seems are shutting off their abilities, masking it, hiding it, should they be found and their lives be ended."

    "The Black Guards," Balan whispered.

    Master Misser nodded. "You’ve been away from us too long Balan. Our magical world is quite devoid of magic since the Coup."

    "Hunted?"

    "All. Anyone who displays magical tendencies. The Hallow and Quaint Town are perhaps last of the few places where our people still go about their lives the old way."

    "Then how do we wage a war we cannot possibly win?"

    Master Misser took a deep breath and returned to his food. "Perhaps this is the first time those on the good side lose. After all, whoever rids the world of our demons rises from our ashes. They must first have ashes then, won’t they?"

    He stared at Balan from his lashes. "Eat?" A small smile spread across his lips. "We may die in this, but nothing says we must die without a fight, and to fight, you need to eat." He dipped his bread into the soup and slugged eagerly on the wine. "If we have plenty of anything here, it is food. Eat."

 

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The Fallen

    "What news do you bring?" Commander Wright asked, barely taking his eyes of the recruits that were being vetted. Only a select few would go on to become Keepers. Most as Balan knew would end up in foot infantry, glorified guards to riches, or general law and order. 

    Balan had a certain disdain for the commander but he dared not let that influence his mission. "Grand Master has summoned as many Keepers as you can spare from the fort, Commander. The orders for them are to reach The Hallow as soon as possible."

    Commander Wright grunted but said no more. He simply hurried down the stairs and charged towards the huddle of young men duelling with one another. "Anyone dare to challenge me?" He boomed, glaring at Balan briefly before circling around, looking at the frightened faces. "Anyone even managing to catch me off guard will get a ticket straight to the sanctuary with Keeper Balan here."

    Some young men seemed to consider the proposal only briefly. There was one among them who put up his hand and stepped forward from the throng. 

    "What’s your name, young man?" Wright asked.

    "Siyon, Sir."

    "Siyon what?"

    "Siyon Lyres, Sir."

    Lyres, now that was a last name Balan hadn’t heard in a long time, since the coup. The last they knew, all the Lyres were massacred in their homes, in their beds, throat slit from ear to ear, wives and daughters hung like flags upon masts of houses, warning. The lyres had all but been eradicated. 

    "You’re a Lyres?" Balan asked, stepping down onto the tourney ground. 

    "Yes, Sir."

    "Whose son are you?" Balan asked, mesmerised but before the boy could answer him, the commander drew his sword, "That’s a dangerous name to have, boy."

    The boy as he called it readied his sword in response. "Not in the sanctuary, it’s not, Sir." Before the commander could strike, Siyon’s sword caught his and though the duel lasted mere seconds with the Commander hovering over the boy with his sword tip at the base of his neck. He sheathed his sword and offered the boy a hand up.

    "You will go with Keeper Balan to the sanctuary." 

    "But Commander Wright, Grand Master said all the Keepers you can spare." Balan protested. 

    "This is all I can spare," the Commander turned and started walking away. "Or have you not heard the news yet, Keeper Balan, the Yorkish have declared war to our left."

 

    Balan stood at top of the terrace staring up at the sky, the edges of the storm cloud that had been gathering over The Hallow was so wide spread that he could see its edges at the fort. He heard soft crunch of sand and grit behind feet that approached him. It was Syion, his small bag slung over his shoulder in anticipation of their departure. 

    "You truly are a Lyres, aren’t you?" Balan shook the young man’s hand. "Now, you’re not afraid of flying, are you?"

    Syion pulled his bag higher on his shoulders, shaking his head. "I’m not exactly from around here, Mr, Keeper…"

    "Mr?" Balan’s interest piqued even more. "You’re from the Human Realm?" He whispered in awe. "How did you make it through the veil?" 

    Syion looked around the rooftop before reaching for something in his pocket. He brought out a fist closed around something and slowly opened his hand to reveal a thick gold medallion with a Phoenix in flight inscribed on the top and a ring of writing he had no understanding of. "My mother gave me this. Said I’d find all the answers here."

    Balan stared at the gold coin for ages, then closed the young man’s fist and thrust his hand away. "Be careful who you show that to around here, or anywhere. This is not the Human world boy, and a simple thing like that Phoenix Guard token can get you killed."

    "The Phoenix Guard? Is that what you are?"

    Balan scoffed. "I’m many things but I am not that."

    "You’re a guard?"

    "Of this realm, yes." He eyed the pocket where the boy stashed his coin. "But they are a whole lot more." Balan reached for the boys hand and pulled him towards the edge. "We better get going if we are to save daylight."

    "Who are the Phoenix Guards?" Syion asked, staring at the ground several feet below them. "My mum used to mention them when she was lucid. Something about being key."

    Balan considered the young man, contemplating whether he should indulge the curiosity or not. Instead, he pushed him over the edge of the building and watched him fall, screaming. 

~

    Somewhere on the other side of the world, in the middle of an arid land was a homestead where no man lived. Here, only three generations of women lived, grandmother, mother, and their 8 year old daughter, Phoenix. These three were the Williams girls. They arrived in the little town in the countryside some eight and a half years ago. No man in sight. Just the two women, the younger of which heavily pregnant. They moved into the homestead an hour out in the middle of nowhere, derelict and rundown. Miles away from any real neighbours. It was crazy to think that such a place was suitable for two women alone, one who was in a delicate situation. But alas, Mary and Eliza proved everyone wrong. Within the month or so, their house looked half decent, repairs here and there. Their land looked less and less wild, and they had adopted several sheep and goats.

    Here, in this small house, something extraordinary was about to happen. After all, it wasn’t very often a young girl turned nine, or have the okay from the very private ladies of the house for a party. 

    Phoenix had been tasked with making a list of everything they would need for a suitably decked out party. Mary, her mother had said they were heading into town that afternoon for shopping. 

    "Can we buy huge cake?" She asked, eagerly jotted down ‘big cake’ in her list. 
Mary shook her head, and her lone wooden chopstick looking hair pin moved on top of her hair as she did. Her mother always wore that thing. Never a hair band, never an elastic, forever always with that pin in her bun. Guess some people had their rings and necklaces, and her mum had her hair pin. Phoenix had been so curios as a child once that she’d tiptoed into her mother’s room at night to see if she even wore it to bed. "I'll make you a cake."

    Phoenix’s brows rose. "You don’t know how to bake, mum."

    "Oh, I don’t? Really?" 

    "I’ve never even seen you turn the oven on," she laughed, brushing aside the used black rubber, the result of her erasing out the ‘big cake’. "I think grandma does more cooking than you do."

    Mary eyed her mother, too busy watching some crazy videos of cats that Mary just couldn’t see the humour in. "Damn right, I do more cooking."

    "Well, perhaps either of you would like to go work and bring home money? I’ll gladly exchange lives with either of you."

    "Don’t be silly, mum. I’m eight."

    "Well then, remember that next time you complain about my cooking. I can’t do everything around here." Mary threw the wet clothes in the laundry basket harshly. "Hurry up, Phee, we don’t have all day." Just as she said this and picked up the basket, she heard the sound of a bird’s sweet call. She stopped in her tracks and dropped the basket on the dinning table next to Phoenix and pulled the list from her. "Go get ready, I’ll finish this off. At this rate the shops will close. You and grandma head off once you’re changed."

    "What about you?" Phoenix looked perplexed.

    "I’ll come once I’ve done some cleaning. Meet you there. Maybe we will have dinner out."

    Phoenix’s face lit up and she bounded away, just in time to miss Grandma Eliza wandering over to her mother and the bird chirp to sound again. "Haven’t heard that call in a long time." She looked worrisome at the younger woman. 

    "It’s The Hallow." Mary reached in her pocket and pulled out a thick gold coin, the one that looked exactly like Siyon was carrying in the realm of magic, except, the wings of the bird were flapping in slow motion in this, with the call of the bird getting louder. 

    "What would they want after all the they’ve done?" Eliza sneered.

    "I don’t care to talk about the past, Neer, just take her away so I can go talk to them."

    Eliza sneered again. "Don’t call me that!"

    "Sorry."

    Eliza snapped at the car keys from the table and the list from her hand before hunching away. "Be careful."

    "Always."

    "Drive safe." She called out, watching the duo wave goodbye and step out. 

It was a moment before Mary pulled the pin from her hair and etched out a rune on the table, the wood singed a little before placing the coin on top. "Speak."

    "Are we clear?" A gravelly male voice asked. 

    "Yes. It’s just me."

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