Chapter 23 — Regrouping
Rachel knelt beside Will. She tried to make him more comfortable, but her hands were shaking so much that he groaned in pain. Ryan was on the phone with the mayor. They were arguing over calling in another helicopter from Olympia to lift Will out. After Ryan started swearing loudly into the phone, Rachel grabbed it out of his hands.
”Listen, you little sh—” Rowan was saying.
”Rowan,” she interrupted, and even to herself, her voice sounded haunted and broken.
”Rachel? What’s going on? Ryan said something happened to Will—”
”Call a helicopter.”
”…Rachel, we can’t just call another helicopter. One was bad enough. If we call in two, there’s going to be a real investigation. We’re going to have problems, really fast.”
”Call a helicopter.”
”Are you okay? I’m going to head over there.”
”Call a helicopter.”
Rachel hung up before he could speak another word. She dropped the phone to the ground and pressed her face up against Will’s. He groaned. She recoiled, afraid she’d caused him more pain.
”Is someone coming?” Ryan asked.
”I don’t know,” she murmured.
”What’s going on?” Natalie asked, poking her head through the door. “Oh my god.”
”Kid, watch the door. Don’t let anyone in without asking, got it?” Ryan snapped.
”What happened to him?”
”Omega hurt him. Now watch the fucking door.”
”Fine.” Natalie disappeared again.
”Are you happy now?” Rachel said quietly.
”Am I what?” Ryan asked.
She ignored him. “Now he’s attacking anyone he wants. I think your rules are gone. Is this what you wanted?”
”No,” came the expected whisper.
”Who the hell are you talking to?” Ryan asked.
”Would you just show yourself so I don’t have to explain?” Rachel asked wearily.
Beverly faded into existence just beside the couch. She was looking out the window, deliberately anywhere but at them, but Rachel could see she was clearly upset. “How could you ask that? Of course I’m not happy.”
”Holy shit,” Ryan murmured. Rachel ignored him.
”How can I stop him?” she asked.
”I don’t know,” Beverly answered simply. “I never could.”
”So I should just give up?” Rachel asked, fury rising in her voice. “I shouldn’t even try?”
”I don’t know,” she whispered, too low for Ryan to hear. “Jackson and I were… close. You’re asking me to help you kill someone I still care about. It’s insane. I don’t know.”
”If I try, he’ll come back and kill Will. But if I don’t, he’ll kill everyone else. Am I just supposed to stop trying?”
”Fuck that,” snapped Ryan. He sat down next to Rachel and looked her in the eye. “Of course you should try to stop him. What are you supposed to do, just roll over and die? He’s not shy about killing. He knows if he killed Will, you’d come after him ten times harder than usual. So he blindsides you. He fucks Will up, but leaves him alive. Now you’re distracted, ’cause Will’s in pain and suffering. You’re split in half.”
Ryan pulled her to her feet. She recoiled from his rough grasp, but something about Ryan’s angry intensity — something she normally found ridiculous — was compelling her to attention.
”Time to double down. He’s on the run. He tried to fuck you over. Now you focus and you go fuck him back. I’ll take care of Will. Fucking murder him, Rachel.”
Rachel’s mind snapped back into place. She forgot about how tired she was. Not just because of Ryan’s words, but because she’d remembered something more important about the night. She had somewhere to be. She couldn’t rest yet.
She leaned down and kissed Will on the forehead. “I have to go,” she whispered, hoping he could hear. Rachel stood up, once again towering over the room.
”What’s next?” Ryan asked impatiently.
”I need to go have a conversation with Robert Harrison.”
”Why do you want to talk to that asshole?”
”Because I’m going to use him to get to Omega.”
Rachel started walking out the door. She had to trust Ryan would take care of Will for her, because she didn’t have time to take care of him right now. As she walked, she reached for the connection between them and plucked it. She knew Will would feel it, even in his current state. Rachel just had to hope he’d understand that she couldn’t be there for him. Not that night.
”How the fuck does that work? And how are you even going to get him to cooperate?” Ryan shouted after her.
Rachel ignored him. She emerged back into the night time chill.
Natalie stirred next to the door. “Are we going out?” the girl asked, gently rubbing her wolf awake. Its eyes snapped open, and it yawned before getting to its feet.
Rachel nodded. With Omega now roaming the streets freely, she wasn’t going a single step without Natalie at her side. She stooped down and helped Natalie to her feet. The younger girl climbed back onto Gwen with less grace than before, but in only a few moments she was ready to set out. Rachel lead Natalie and her wolf out into the streets of Rallsburg once again, off to confront the man who had betrayed them all.
Jackie wasn’t at the sheriff’s station when they arrived.
It was the one illuminated building in the entire town, a beacon drawing them in. Rachel walked in without a second glance, striding right up to Preston at the desk. The deputy jumped to attention when she burst through the doors.
”Rachel! I heard what happened over the radio. Is everyone okay?”
”Where’s Robert?” she asked, in the most even tone she could manage.
”I uhh… in the cells. Wh— What the hell?” Natalie and Gwen had just come in the door behind Rachel. Preston literally jumped in shock. “Son of a bitch! Is that a wolf?”
Natalie patted Gwen’s ears as the wolf growled audibly. Preston started fumbling for his gun.
”Don’t,” Rachel said firmly. Preston faltered, uncertain, but he stopped trying to get his gun out of his holster. “Natalie will be staying in here with you while I question Robert.” Rachel walked over to the door that lead to the holding cells, then turned to Natalie. “No one goes in, okay?”
”Okay,” she agreed. She leaned down and said something to Gwen, in a half-lilting voice with words Rachel couldn’t understand. The wolf strolled in front of the door and sat down, ready to leap at anything that dared approach.
Preston was still watching it fearfully. “Rachel, I can’t let you do that.”
”Stop me, then,” she replied wearily. Preston looked at her, then at the wolf that was eyeing him hungrily. Without a word, he sat back down in his chair.
Natalie laid back down again, head buried in soft grey fur, and closed her eyes. Rachel felt a twinge of jealousy that she had that ability, to just curl up on top of something that clearly loved her and fall asleep with complete trust in Gwen to keep her safe. Rachel wanted nothing more than to do that herself.
She turned and walked into the small cell block. There was so little crime in Rallsburg, Robert was the only occupant. He looked exactly the same as she’d seen him only an hour ago back up in the forest. He was deprived of his axe and his gun, of course, but otherwise he was dressed exactly the same. It made it all the easier to remember exactly what he’d been doing that night — and what he deserved.
”What are you going to do to him?” came a whisper at her side. Rachel wasn’t even surprised by it anymore. She’d already gotten used to Beverly hanging around her at all times, a bitter companion resenting her every move. Rachel wondered how far she could push before Beverly would actually act against her. The girl seemed very passive, and Rachel doubted Beverly would ever really interfere unless she made a move against her brother.
Rachel reached into her bag, feeling down for a very particular row of pouches in its depths. Each pouch contained a stash of gemstones, sorted by type and quality. She knew exactly where each one was and could reach them all in an instant. It was every gemstone she’d managed to get her hands on — whether that was gifts, donations, purchases, or just tearing apart old jewelry and decorations. She’d amassed a sizeable pile of them, and had practiced enough to be well-versed in using each and every one.
”Whatever it takes,” she replied.
Robert looked up, startled by the sudden noise. “What do you want?” he growled.
Rachel didn’t answer. She picked up a chair from the corner and set it just outside the bars. With a flick of her wrist and a well-targeted slice of magic, the camera in the corner fell off its mount to the concrete floor. It shattered. Another flick, and the door swung shut with a slam. It took a fair-sized stone and a kick in the gut for her, but it was worth it.
Robert stood up very quickly. He backed up against the wall. He acted tough, but his eyes told another story. He was scared. “You wouldn’t. You don’t have the guts to pull this shit.”
”You’re going to tell me everything you know, Robert,” Rachel said. She was doing her best to control her tone, but the rage boiling underneath her skin was palpable.
”Like hell. This shit from the girl who had her own special space in the lost and found,” Robert sneered.
Rachel was done tolerating him. She snatched up a golden citrine orb from her bag and shattered it in an instant. Her mental grasp flew outward, seizing the bench Robert was sitting on.
She hurled it into the air. Robert pitched forward head first onto the cold cell floor. The sneer vanished from his face an instant before he plowed into the concrete. The bench fell back on top of him with a painful thud.
”Fuck you, bitch,” Robert grunted into the stone floor. He pulled himself back to his feet. His nose was bleeding, adding to the other cuts and burns he’d gotten from Cinza’s people.
”You have no friends left, Robert,” she continued, with a dull ache in her head from the effort of flipping the bench. “The entire town just showed you that. Help us, and maybe you get out of this alive.”
”Or I just sit tight ’til he kills every last one of you.” He spat out another globule of blood onto the concrete. “I can wait.”
”Why are you doing this?” she asked, her voice catching. Rachel hadn’t meant to let her emotions into the picture, but Robert was getting to her. “What did we do to you?”
”Nothin’. It’s what you did to that poor girl. That shit has to be answered for.”
Rachel wished she’d had the foresight to bring John Bell with her. She could use someone with Knowledge magic to help tease out real answers from him. Unless…
”Can you tell when someone is lying?” she whispered. It was so low, she barely heard it herself, but she doubted that would be a problem for Beverly.
”But you could tell if he was?”
”The hell are you doin’?” Robert asked suspiciously.
”I won’t help you if you hurt him again,” Beverly added. Rachel cursed under her breath, but had to accept it. In truth she was actually a bit relieved. Flipping the bench, even with the assistance of her best citrine, had been strenuous enough — and she wasn’t exactly inclined towards violence in the first place. She’d always prefer negotiation to the direct approach.
Rachel spoke up, addressing Robert again. “I will know if you’re lying, so be honest and we won’t have to make this hard.”
”Robert, did you forget what I can do?” Rachel asked, and she flickered a ball of flame into the air between them for a moment. His eyes locked onto it in fear. It puffed out harmlessly.
”Ask, then. Don’t mean I gotta answer.”
”Fine.” Rachel paused. “You were told where to find the bodies.”
”No shit, you said that earlier. It’s still not true.”
”Lie,” Beverly whispered.
”I know you did, Robert, and that means you’ve seen them. You’ve seen what our enemy is capable of. Are you really aligning yourself with someone like that?”
”‘cept he didn’t do that. You fuckers did. He’s just cleaning up the mess. Making sure you don’t kill any other children.”
”True. As far as he knows,” Beverly whispered.
”Is it true, though?” Rachel asked under her breath.
”…I don’t know. It might be. I never went to see it.”
Rachel hesitated. They’d been assuming all along that Omega had killed the three in the trailer. If he wasn’t responsible—
”They killed themselves,” Rachel realized aloud.
”What?” Robert asked.
Rachel saw no need to conceal the information. “There’s a law of magic that you can’t actually affect someone else directly. We assumed Omega had killed them because it somehow broke that law. But if they killed themselves, that would explain their bodies, and the damage to the trailer. It wasn’t a murder. It was an accident.”
”…You’re sayin’ that much blood, all those burns and that poor little girl was a goddamn accident?”
”Yes. Although I wouldn’t put it past Omega if he’d been capable. He’s shown he’s more than willing.”
”To kill fuckin’ kids?”
”He killed an innocent tonight, if we’re going by your standards. He’s expanded his targets to more than just awakened. I think Rallsburg in general has been written off as a lost cause.”
”I guess you’re gonna say he closed off the roads and the train too, did he?” Robert asked, but less skeptically than she expected.
”Yes. I doubt any of us could cause a landslide like that, unless we were all working together. It had to have been him.”
”And he killed Henry, did he?”
”Think about it, Robert,” Rachel sighed. “Why would Cinza kill him? He didn’t threaten them at all. On top of that, think about his body.” He grimaced, but she pressed on. “It was broken and practically bent in half. Do you really think Cinza could do that? Or any of her followers?”
”Y’all have fucking magic, how am I supposed to know?”
”I just explained why we couldn’t. There’s only one thing that could, and that’s Omega’s golems.”
”The fuck is a golem?”
”Something he can summon. A mindless, faceless man with the strength of a giant.”
”…And all on fire?” Robert asked warily.
Rachel was surprised. “Yes. You’ve seen them?”
”Those monsters are his?”
”Yes, they are. We need to stop him, because he wants to kill all of us. You’re on the kill list too now. He wants to wipe out magic entirely, and you know too much. If you want to live, you’re on our side.”
”I’ve never met the guy.”
”Truth,” Beverly whispered.
Rachel was dismayed. Robert was supposed to be their inside man. “But then, who told you… Brian.”
Robert shook his head. “Nope.”
She didn’t need Beverly’s word. It was plain on his face. Rachel stood up again. “Robert, I told you. I know when you’re lying. You were meeting with Brian. He told you where the bodies were, and their time of death.”
”So what?” He was on the defensive again. Protecting his friend. Rachel had to tear Brian down.
”Robert, you shouldn’t be protecting him. Brian abandoned his daughter to help a madman commit genocide. He’s the one controlling the golems. I’ve seen him at it. Are you going to help him, when he’s currently trying to kill us all?”
”He’s just trying to help his daughter,” Robert answered, but he sounded unsure.
Rachel shook her head. “His daughter is one of us. You just saw her tonight putting out the fires. Omega will kill them both when he’s done, and there’s nothing Brian could do to stop him. And you helped him do it.“
The fire of the crusade was finally leaving Robert’s eyes. Remorse filled his thick bearded face. “…the fuck did I do?” he mumbled to himself, barely paying attention to Rachel anymore.
Rachel gave him a minute to think and stew himself into a deeper pit. She turned away, so that her whispers to Beverly would go unseen. A vague plan was beginning to form in her mind, but it was predicated on having immediate and viable information. “What do you have in the way of Knowledge spells?”
”I can’t track him,” Beverly whispered, answering her before she’d even asked.
”Nothing at all?”
”Anyone who awakened naturally. Natalie, Kendra, Jackson, so on. I can feel it when magic is being used, and how strong, but if it’s one of them I can’t tell whose who’s using it. So long as he keeps quiet I have no idea where he is. And you know how fast he can move.”
”So if he casts something, you could tell me where he is?”
”Maybe. I’ve tried to use that before. But every time he does something, he runs. I can never catch up, if it was even the right person.”
”You can teleport.”
”Doesn’t help if he’s not there anymore.”
Rachel frowned. “So we can’t go to him. We have to make him come to us.” Beverly didn’t answer, so she turned back to Robert. The man was staring at the floor in disgrace. “Robert.”
”What do you want?” he answered in a debilitated voice.
”Do you meet with Brian regularly?”
”Do you contact him, or is it scheduled?”
”We planned ’em out, yeah.”
So we can lure at least one of them. Rachel could work with that. “Will you help us?”
”…Don’t kill ‘im.”
”If I help you, you don’t kill Brian. Arrest him or whatever, but he lives.”
Rachel nodded. She could agree to that. She didn’t think she could ever look Natalie in the eye again if her father died. “Done.”
Robert nodded grimly. “I’ll help you.”
Rachel slept at the sheriff’s station. There was a cot in the office where she imagined Jackie must have slept several times. She slept on top, trying to disturb it as little as possible. Preston stayed on station all night, in case any tempers were still flaring up, but the night was quiet. A few panicked reports related to the helicopters flying over town came in, and a vague call from Rika’s friend Zack about a possible threat to any meeting they might hold the next day. Rachel didn’t know about any meetings going on, since she certainly hadn’t called any, so she dismissed it in her exhausted state as nothing — just the anxious opinion of a scared high schooler. Rallsburg was collectively holding its breath, watching and waiting for the next explosion.
Ryan texted her while she was interrogating Robert. The helicopter had come back for Will after dropping off Morton and Brittany, and he’d been safely whisked away to the hospital in Olympia. She wouldn’t need to worry about him for the time being. Rachel could focus on the problem at hand. She could feel the answer hovering around her just out of sight, like a shadow flitting by the corner of her eye. There was a solution, she could sense it, but there was some missing element she didn’t yet understand. Rachel needed the last missing piece of the puzzle.
She emerged from Jackie’s office expecting to see the sheriff herself — but found instead a bleary-eyed Natalie, facing down an impatient Mason Rhistler. The girl was standing next to Gwen and had her hand on the wolf’s shoulder, holding it back. Mason was eyeing them both nervously, but at the sight of Rachel he relaxed. “Natalie wouldn’t let me in,” he explained, clearly irritated.
”No one unless she says okay,” Natalie replied adamantly. She glanced at Rachel after saying it, looking for approval.
Rachel nodded. “Thank you, Natalie.” In all honesty, she’d probably have been fine with Mason visiting, but finally getting a full night’s rest was rejuvenating. Even with her ritual, her body still needed time off, and with the stress she’d been under, her mind needed a break too. As a bonus, it let Natalie feel important and useful. The girl nodded before turning back to her wolf and scratching its ears affectionately. Rachel looked to Mason. “What’s happening?”
”There’s a meeting soon,” Mason replied, and Rachel’s heart sank. Zack’s warning had been legitimate after all.
”No,” Rachel said firmly.
”Omega already knows. He’ll attack the meeting.”
”He can’t attack it if he can’t find it. We’re going to hold the meeting inside the Market, with the entrances closed off. Professor Laushire has agreed to host.”
”Who says he can’t find it?” Rachel asked skeptically.
”I do. Dimensional pockets are inviolable to trace or detection, by their nature as external planes. Will and I tested this extensively with the bags as well as the entrance by the riverbed, both with and without Professor Laushire’s knowledge. Connections and divinations break at the edge of the field. If she closes all the entrances after we enter, there should be no way to locate us or reach us.”
”You do remember you’re analyzing a branch of magic you’ve never used, right?” Rachel pointed out. “There’s still a lot of guessing going on here.”
”Do you have a better idea?” Mason asked, irritated again. He hated it whenever someone doubted him. “Eat something. The meeting’s in an hour.” He took a small paper bag from the front desk and tossed it to her.
Natalie intercepted it out of midair before Rachel could even react. The bag flew to her hands where she opened it carefully, as if it might explode. “Doughnuts!” she cried gleefully. She took one before sending the bag back to Rachel.
”They’re from Dan. He wanted to apologize for the town hall,” Mason continued. “Also, Ryan said you could get in touch with Cinza. The rest of us can’t, and she should probably be involved in this. Can you get her to come?”
Rachel was already munching through the first doughnut. She nodded.
”I’ll see you there then.”
”Where are you going?” Rachel asked.
”To talk to Bryan,” Mason replied.
Rachel did a double-take, before remembering it wasn’t the same Brian she was thinking of. “Does he know that you’re awakened?” she asked, trying to sound sympathetic. It came off much colder than she’d hoped.
He shifted uncomfortably. “He wasn’t happy about it, but he’s been trying to accept it. We haven’t been doing great.”
”It’s not your fault. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Bryan’s just stubborn. He’ll come around. I don’t even know why I’m going to talk to him right now. It probably won’t do anything.” Mason was looking down at the ground. “I wish I hadn’t kept it secret.”
”Is there anything I can do?”
Mason shrugged. “Distract me?”
Rachel had a sudden burst of inspiration. “You called a meeting, right? With the usual method?”
The ‘usual method’ being an anonymous mailing list, which any member could visit and see the date and time without having to identify themselves or provide personal information. Rachel had established the list (with Will’s assistance) after she’d been elected, and it had been accepted largely without complaint. The council members were the only ones who could post a meeting. Only Cinza had raised any objections, mostly over particulars of the site’s technical security and anonymity. Rachel’s perfect memory helped her report Cinza’s exact complaints for Will to fix. Otherwise, she doubted she could have remembered the surprisingly technical jargon Cinza had used.
However, the list was limited in scope to only those who knew of it. Until the Emergence, that had been more than enough.
Mason nodded. “Obviously. What else would I use?”
”There’s another awakened who needs to be at this meeting. Someone not on the list. I need you to go get her.”
The hour passed fitfully. Rachel called Cinza on the phone she’d been given, and Cinza promised to attend. In the meantime, Rachel tried to relax. She’d had more near-death experiences in the last twenty-four hours than she cared to have in a lifetime. There was a shaking, uneven quality to every breath she took. Anxiety filled her to the marrow. She’d faced down gods and men alike and emerged unscathed, even as so many around her had been wounded and maimed — or worse. When was her luck going to run dry?
What if I die today?
Rachel needed to talk. She needed to lay out her fears and worries to help her mind process — but who could she talk to? There was Preston, sleeping in the back of the station after a long night. There was Natalie, playing a game on her phone while resting against the belly of her wolf. And there was Beverly, the invisible wraith haunting her every step. Even now, Rachel noticed the leaves of the plant next to the bench bending just slightly at an abnormal angle. It was her, sitting patiently and watching Rachel’s every move.
Rachel went back into Jackie’s office and shut the door. She pulled out her phone and dialed the only person she could think of.
After only one ring, she got someone she absolutely did not expect. “Hello?”
”Rachel?” It was Rowan Rhistler. “Were you trying to make a call?”
”Yes. How did I end up on your line?”
”I changed the lines to run through my office before any made it out of town. Will gave me a little control panel website thing before he…”
”I understand,” she interrupted. “Can you put my call through?”
”…Okay.” There was a click, and then the phone was ringing again. It took much, much longer this time, but finally she picked up.
Rachel cleared her throat. Her heart was suddenly pounding. “Hi, Mom.”
”Rachel?” Her mother’s voice was muffled and scratchy. She’d never owned a particularly good phone for actual calls, preferring flashy over functional. Rachel had owned the same, until she’d found herself making so many phone calls she simply couldn’t stand it anymore. “Is something wrong?”
Rachel’s eyes welled up. She spoke with her mother so infrequently that Andrea DuValle assumed immediately something must be wrong if her daughter was calling. “I just needed to hear your voice.”
”…What’s the matter? You sound like you’re crying. Or is that just the phone?”
Rachel had lied too often lately. She refused to deceive her own mother as well. “It’s not the phone. Something happened. Will got hurt. Badly.” She was stumbling over her words. “They had to fly him out to Olympia.”
”Oh God… Rachel, I can be there tomorrow. If you need me.”
”No, I don’t want to take you away from the set.”
”I’m only in four episodes this season, and it’s an emergency. I can ask them to reschedule my scenes. We don’t air for months anyway.”
She’s lying… She’d lose the part if she did that. No one would reschedule for her. Rachel took a deep breath. She hadn’t wanted to tell her yet, but it was bound to come out sooner or later. “Mom, you can’t come here. The town’s kinda been blocked off.”
”The roads and the trains are all out. That’s why they had to fly Will out. There’s no way into town.”
”That’s crazy. Are they doing anything to fix it?”
”Well, we’re a little busy. No one in town can really get it done.”
”What about the state? Aren’t the roads theirs?”
”We’re so unimportant, I doubt they even know about it yet.”
”What, they haven’t called for help or anything?”
”No, Mom. We can’t. We have to stay secret.”
”…You lost me.”
”Mom, there’s going to be some stuff in the news soon. Stuff about our town. Things you aren’t going to believe. I’ll probably be in a lot of it.” Rachel cleared her throat again. “You might want to get out of town for a while. Maybe go by another name too.”
”Rachel, what are you talking about?”
”If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me,” Rachel said bitterly.
”…I’m going to call you on video, okay?”
Rachel set the phone on Jackie’s desk, propped up by some folders and a coaster so that it faced her. Her mother appeared on screen. Andrea DuValle wasn’t quite as tall as her daughter, but she shared the same long brown hair, though currently in a dirty blonde, and the same thin willowy build. At thirty-nine, she had long since left the peak age of an actress — at least in the eyes of Hollywood. She made her living on the small screen, taking whatever parts came to her up in Vancouver. Her eyes were full with concern and confusion for her daughter.
”Oh Rachel…” she murmured on seeing Rachel’s face. Rachel looked at the tiny box for herself in the corner. She hadn’t realized how much her makeup had been screwed up — but to be fair, she’d been a little preoccupied. She dabbed at her face a bit, trying to look more presentable. She only barely managed to hold back the grief looming in the corners of her mind.
”Mom, this is going to sound crazy, but here goes: Magic is real, it’s only in Rallsburg, I’m kind of in charge, and there’s an insane guy who thinks he’s a god that’s trying to kill us all.”
”You… you what?”
Rachel lifted her hand, which held a little scrap of blank paper. With a bit of effort, she sent it levitating over her palm, in clear view of the phone camera. Her mother’s mouth fell open. After a few moments, Rachel lit it on fire and let it burn into nothingness in midair. “Magic, mom. Real magic.”
Her mother didn’t respond. She just stared blankly a little below the camera, where the screen on her side would be.
”I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I wasn’t sure if it was safe, or what was going to happen, or anything. But now awful things are happening and I couldn’t leave you in the dark anymore. Especially since it might spread.”
She finally found her voice again, stammering just a little. “I-isn’t this stuff usually kept secret?”
”There’s not really a ‘usually’ to follow, Mom. It’s all new to us. We’ve got the Internet, and phones with cameras on them everywhere. I think it’s inevitable it’s going to get out.”
”Is this why Will got hurt?”
”…Yeah.” Rachel looked down, not bearing to meet her mother’s eyes.
”Why aren’t you leaving, then?” Her mother’s voice was slightly unhinged. “If it’s so dangerous there, come home.”
”Even if I could, Mom, I wouldn’t. I have to help. They elected me to lead. I can’t just abandon them.”
”They didn’t elect you to die though, right?”
”I’ve stayed alive so far,” Rachel said. She tried inject some levity, but her mother wasn’t amused.
”Can’t we call someone?”
”We aren’t ready to be out in the world, Mom.”
”Better out than dead!“
Rachel shook her head. “We have to show them we can take care of our problems, so they see us as allies and not as a threat. They’d lock us all up somewhere if they thought we were really dangerous.”
Her mother looked really terrified. “So what do we do?”
”You need to lay low,” Rachel said firmly. “When this all breaks, my name is going to be top of the list, and people will come after you too. Think about the worst press outing you’ve ever had, multiply it by a thousand.”
”I can handle the press,” she replied flippantly.
”What about the people who are gonna want to try to use you to get to me?” Rachel continued. “I have people to protect me. You’re alone.” She hated scaring her mother like this, but it might be the only way for her to take things seriously. “I can send money if you need it.”
”I’m okay. I’m single and I’m still getting child support from your father. I have enough to stay comfortable for a while.”
”I hope it won’t be too long.”
There was a knock at the door. She heard Natalie’s voice. “Rachel, that crazy girl is here.”
What girl? Rachel wondered. “Just a minute!”
The door opened. Natalie apparently wasn’t one for privacy. Rachel stood up from the chair suddenly. The girl poked her head around. “Should I let her in?”
”No, give me just a secon—”
”Who are you talking to?”
”Rachel, it’s me,” Rika called out. Rachel sighed.
Her mother had perked up at the sound. “Is that Rika?”
”Yes,” Rachel answered, irritated. “Natalie, send her in and then shut the door, please.” Rika limped in on command. Natalie shot them all a curious, somewhat irritated look at being left out before letting the door slam closed.
”I’ve been looking all over fucking town for you, Rachel,” Rika grumbled as she limped over to the desk. “Where were you?”
”Hello to you too, Rika,” her mother’s voice echoed out from the desk.
”What the— Andrea?”
”Yes… oh my God, what happened to you?”
”Long story.” Rika forced a smile. “I missed you.”
”I was in the middle of something here,” Rachel cut in, annoyed.
Rika glared at her. “Well, tough shit. We have business.”
”Does Rika know?” Andrea asked.
”She knows?” asked Rika incredulously.
Rachel sighed. “Yes, Rika knows, but if she hadn’t that’d be a terrible way to ask, Mom.”
”Look, I have to go. I don’t have any time left. Can you call Dad and tell him to get out of town too?”
”You want me to call Eric?”
”Just do it, Andrea,” Rika snapped. “We really don’t have time to fuck around.”
”Rika—” she started in a warning tone.
”Please, Mom,” Rachel interrupted.
”I’ll email you as soon as I can. Leave your phone and stay off social media.”
”Leave my phone?”
”With the shit that’s gonna go down, no one’s gonna care about warrants. Or that you’re not even in the U.S.” Rika added. Rachel felt a burst of gratitude toward Rika for her instant support, in spite of everything. “They can just pop your GPS on from anywhere and find you. Only log onto your email from free wifi spots, and only on the laptop I got you. The old one I fixed up. It’s probably still in the living room cabinet.”
”…Okay,” she repeated firmly. “Thanks, Rika.” She looked Rachel in the eye as best she could, despite the awkwardness of the video call. “I love you, Rachel. I’ll see you soon. Take care of yourself.”
”I will. I love you too, Mom.”
Rachel reached forward reluctantly and tapped her phone. It shut off. Immediately, Rachel collapsed back into the chair, feeling like she’d just surfaced from being underwater for hours in the middle of the ocean. She was relieved, but still exhausted and in pain — and without any dry land yet in sight.
”So that happened,” Rika commented, sitting down on the corner of the desk and looking at her oddly.
”Just get it over with,” Rachel sighed. “Tell me how stupid and dangerous that was.”
Rika shook her head. “It wasn’t. Your mom’s smart, and shit’s gonna hit the fan one way or another. It’s good you’re getting them out of the way before it really blows up. There’s been three fucking helicopters in town since last night. I’m surprised we’re not getting swarmed already.”
”I don’t suppose you want to call and warn your dad?” Rachel asked, smiling slightly.
Rika laughed. “What, and give him a head start? Hell, if the government wants to track him down that just saves me the effort. Doubt they will though. I’m nobody in this story. You’re the big oyabun, you’re gonna have everyone on your ass.”
”Wait, you said three helicopters? What was the third?”
”Well, there were two that had ambulance colors. I’m guessing those were yours.” Rachel nodded. “Right, so you don’t know about the black military one that swung around south. Fucking impossible to see in the moonlight. I only saw it ’cause it turned around and came back to town a few times. Looked like it was changing its mind or something.”
”Viper, maybe?” Rachel wondered aloud.
She shrugged. “Know anyone else around here with military hardware?”
Rachel shook her head. “Thanks for letting me know.”
”Not actually why I came here. I had something else to tell you. You remember how there’s a few people who all seem to be way more powerful than the rest of us? Kendra and Hector and Natalie?”
”There’s two more. Hailey Winscombe and her roommate Jessica. They’ve both got it too. I think if you get them on board, you could beat him.”
Rachel nodded. She’d already known about Hailey, but the roommate was new to her. She didn’t want Rika to feel useless though. “Thank you.”
”Roommate’s dumb though. I mean literally. She can’t talk, and can’t understand anything we’re saying either. Hailey’s gonna ask you to help fix her. I’ve never seen anything like it, so you’re on your own there.”
”Okay.” A tiny whisper of movement in the corner reminded Rachel that her conversation hadn’t been private, even before Rika had burst in. She had to ensure that her ever-present sentinel didn’t turn on her in a dire moment — and Rika might be able to provide her a solution. “Rika, can you do me a favor?”
Rika raised an eyebrow. “Are you serious right now?”
”It’s not hard.” Rachel turned on the sheriff’s computer and logged in, having watched the sheriff’s keystrokes at least once before. After only a few minutes, she’d pulled up her email. “I just need you to show me how to set this up.”
Rika ambled over behind her and leaned in close. Rachel quickly typed out a message. How can I set up a delayed email to send if I can’t get to it?
To her relief, Rika didn’t ask questions. She took over on the mouse and delved through several menus rapidly, bringing up an email scheduler. It took a couple minutes, but Rachel had everything set up before she sensed any movement from the corner where Beverly sat.
”So what was that about?” Rika asked. Again to Rachel’s relief, Rika hadn’t read the message she’d composed. She didn’t want such leverage in the hands of someone as volatile as Rika. Even if they were friends, Rachel wasn’t insane.
”Just in case this all goes wrong.” Rachel glanced at her watch. It was almost time. She’d have to leave soon if she wanted to reach the nearest door to the Market on time. “Are you coming to this meeting?”
”You guys have more important things to do than deal with my drama,” Rika replied brusquely. “You don’t want me there.”
Rachel’s heart sank a little, but it was true enough — Rika would probably only make discussion more difficult. She didn’t argue the point. “Walk with me at least?”
Rika hesitated, glancing around the room a bit and biting her lip. Finally, she nodded. She walked outside, but Rachel paused. Fear was building up in her chest as she spoke. What if she just attacks me anyway? What will I do then?
She addressed the empty room. “If I can’t get to a computer within a week, Alden gets an email and a text.” There was no response, but to Rachel’s keen senses, Beverly was still in the room. Rachel nodded with satisfaction.
Now she had some protection.
”So what happened to Scrappy?” Rika asked Natalie.
She was riding her wolf down the middle of the street, ignoring the gawking passersby. There were a few townspeople out, mostly sullen and dismayed from the events of the previous night, and the town hall Rowan had held that morning. To avoid igniting another riot, no one publically awakened had attended, though Mason had reported it mostly uneventful. The mayor had reprimanded the entire town for their actions, but sentiment hadn’t exactly turned in favor of the awakened. Most people were simply in a state of fear, waiting for the next domino to fall.
”He got hurt. He’s back at the cabin. I told him to stay there and get better. He wasn’t happy about it, but Gwen made him go.” She scratched at Gwen’s ears. “Gwen’s okay though.”
”Where’d you come up with that name, anyway?”
”Scrappy was the name of my mom’s cat. She died though,” Natalie added matter-of-factly. “I think she deserved something to be named after her.”
”I think it’s nice, Natalie,” Rachel put in.
”Where are we going, anyway?” Rika asked.
”The closest entrance is the one at the Kettle and Bones.”
”That’s only a block away.”
”I didn’t say it’d be a long walk.”
Rika groaned. “I think it’s time for me to leave then.”
Rachel stopped and turned to her. “I’m sorry.”
”Yeah, me too. But let’s save this for sometime we’re not in the middle of the street, okay?” Rika glanced around. “People are already looking at us funny. Let’s not forget I was recently accused of a triple homicide here.”
”I’m sorry for that too.”
”You did what you had to do. I’m not exactly up to the forgiving level here, but we can work together.” She paused. “How’s Will doing?”
Instantly, visions of Will’s broken and tattered body sprang to mind. Rachel had to force them down to clear the lump in her throat. “I don’t know. He got airlifted to Olympia and that’s the last I’ve heard. No one gave them my number, I guess.”
”Which means he isn’t aware enough to do it himself,” Rika realized, getting right to the heart of it. Rachel nodded. She thought she saw a hint of guilt in Rika’s expression, but Rika quickly looked away before she could be certain. “If you need help, call me. Omega or whatever else comes. I’ll be there.”
”Fuck him up, Rachel.” With those parting words, Rika pulled up her hood and walked away.
Rachel turned to Natalie and gestured for her to continue. It only took them a few minutes to reach the back alley behind the tavern. The door appeared right as she approached.
Natalie rode up close, but her wolf seemed unsettled. As Rachel opened the door, it growled and took a few steps away, prowling around the door defensively. “Gwen doesn’t want to go in there.”
”It’s perfectly safe,” Rachel said impatiently.
”I’m not gonna make her go. I’ll wait here for you.” Rachel shrugged and turned to go in. “Don’t you dare leave without me,” she added fiercely.
Rachel nodded. “I’ll come right back out this door as soon as we’re done.”
Natalie slid off the wolf to the ground and pulled out her phone again, promptly ignoring her. Rachel walked through the veil into the Market. It was exactly the same as the last time she’d been there, which was reassuring. Rachel walked along the cobblestone path until she reached the portable classroom set off to the side. The staircase was standing on pure black void, with absolutely nothing visible supporting her as she climbed up and opened the door.
As usual for a Council meeting, she seemed to be the last to arrive. Normally it was deliberate, as she liked to make an entrance and catch everyone’s attention. Today she was simply running late. She tried to take stock of the room as quickly as she could. Unlike most meetings, there was a much greater sense of urgency amongst the crowd, as well as a great deal less secrecy and concealment. Very few were trying to hide themselves anymore. However, the gathering was much smaller than she’d hoped.
Julian and his two cronies were talking quietly amongst themselves, occasionally shooting guilty looks toward the head table and to Hector. Hector sat in the corner, as nervous as ever and focusing on his phone more than the room. Cinza was there with her triumvirate; Makoto and Ruby flanked her. Ruby looked like she was still on the verge of collapse, and all three were sporting injuries and bandages from the brawl.
To her surprise, there were a few additional attendees she hadn’t expected. Jackie accompanied Josh, while either Lily or Kendra was seated near the back. Neffie Bowman had shown up escorted by Boris. Gordon Merrill was in another corner, and his pencil scratchings were audible through the faint murmuring that was the only other sound in the entire Market.
As Rachel walked forward, Josh quickly moved aside and pulled out a chair for her at the front table next to Jackie. Rachel accepted it gratefully.
”Is this everyone?” Josh asked quietly.
”Probably,” Rachel replied. “Who actually wants to get involved in something like this?”
”No one sane.” Josh cleared his throat. “Listen, I’m sorry I bailed on you yesterday.”
She shook her head. “Josh, I would’ve run too. Don’t worry about it.”
”You didn’t though.”
”Don’ you two have more important things to talk about?” Jackie muttered.
Rachel noticed the entire room was staring at them intently. She got to her feet. With everyone else still seated, she felt even more like a giant among them. “I’m sorry, but we’re actually still waiting for a few more. Thank you all for your patience.” There’s not much point if we don’t have all of them together, Rachel mused. She only hoped Mason would get there soon.
The door cracked open. Rachel got up again, eager to greet Hailey — but it was only Ryan.
”Thanks, I love you too,” Ryan cracked sardonically, seeing her face fall. “Am I too late for the suicide pact?”
”No. Have a seat.”
”Okay, mom.” Ryan scanned the room, and eventually decided to take a seat near Cinza. The silver-haired girl looked surprised, but made room for him in their section of the chairs. Ruby didn’t react at all. Rachel wanted to go ask after Cinza and her people, but the timing was wrong. More importantly, the door was swinging open again.
In walked Mason Rhistler, dragging his boyfriend Bryan behind him. The door swung shut behind them.
Bryan was very unsettled. “Did you have to put Natalie out there guarding the door? Scared me half to death.”
”You’re okay, it was just a wolf. Don’t get so worried. She has it under control,” Mason added.
”Easy for you to say. You barely ever go outside. Those things are terrifying,” Bryan retorted.
”Were you able to reach them?” Rachel interjected.
Mason nodded, taking his seat. “They were right behind me. I think they stopped to talk to Natalie for a minute.”
The door banged open, thumping against the wall as it swung wide. Hailey floated in with a guilty look on her face. “Sorry! I should’ve let them open it.”
Rachel winced as she landed on a row of empty chairs and scattered them. Hailey looked like she’d been through hell. If her casual use of flight was anything to judge by, she was still pretty beat up and relying on magic to get around. As a result, the entire room was gawking at her, since she was so effortlessly showing off power far beyond what most of them could hope to achieve. Rachel was less surprised than most — but even to her, the ability was breathtaking, the wind rustling through the room with each motion doubly so.
”Is she flying?” Josh murmured.
”You see why I wanted her here,” Rachel replied.
It was so visually arresting that Rachel almost missed the two following her in. One was the girl Rika had mentioned. Jessica Silverdale, by the student records Rachel had memorized. She was the sort of small, mousey girl that would normally be found buried in a book in the corner of a library. Her glasses were slightly askew and she looked exasperated at Hailey’s erratic movements, rushing to her side and helping her to sit upright. Alden, Hailey’s other companion — and Rika’s erstwhile devotee — took her other side.
Rachel got to her feet. “Is anyone else coming?” She waited a minute with no response. Rachel hadn’t expected one, and didn’t need one. There were a lot of people missing, mostly from her own side, but everyone she needed was there with a few more besides. Her plan was starting to come together.
”Time for your murder conference?” Beverly hissed in her ear.
Rachel ignored her. She took a deep breath. The room fell silent. “Let’s get started.”