Chapter 2 — The Goddess of Kent
Pre-flight checklist: Her leather jacket was zipped up snug. Her long brown hair was braided and pinned to her back. The thick aviator cap Jessica had found for her birthday in July sat comfortably around her ears, and the bag Kendra made her was fastened tight to her waist. Boots, goggles, everything was set. She clicked on the little radio that was hooked next to her bag, which beeped reassuringly through the earbuds that snaked through a small tube sewn inside her jacket to her right ear.
Hailey nodded to herself, satisfied.
”You hear me, Rupert?”
”Perfectly, angel.” The corner of his lip twitched slightly. He was trying to smile, but his eyes kept drifting over to the edge of the building.
She grinned. “Don’t worry, I’ve done this a thousand times.”
”With someone else clinging on for dear life, yes?”
”Oh, don’t be a baby. She flies like an eagle, so can you.”
Rupert shook his head. “Dearest Jessica is a fair sight braver than I. So do I jus—”
Without warning, Hailey rushed at him. She flung her arms around his well-muscled chest, bundled in a blue overcoat and tight-fitting jeans, savoring the dawning look of shock plastered on his handsome face as his brown eyes widened to dinner plates. He tumbled backward off the edge of the skyscraper with Hailey on top of him, a thousand feet up in the air.
The wind kicked at them as they started spiraling through the air. Rupert wasn’t as tightly dressed as she was, and his clothes flapped wildly as they sped up. Luckily his hair was short, or it would have blown right into Hailey’s face as they fell. She wanted to enjoy the view — both of the nighttime Seattle skyline, and the exquisite mix of excitement, adrenaline, and fear on Rupert’s face.
”You’re bloody insane!” he shouted.
Hailey laughed. “Last night you said you were up for anything!”
”I was talking about sex!”
Hailey laughed even harder. They were rapidly approaching the ground, but Hailey knew exactly how long she had. Right before they reached street level — well-lit and populated, even in the middle of the night — she burst open her wings. Rather than a hard brake, which was all she used to manage, they fell into a smooth glide, blitzing over top of the mostly-empty streets. If anyone managed to see them, it would only be for an instant at the speed they were moving.
”Bloody hell!” Rupert clung on tight as Hailey tilted one wing and spun them in a tight roll. She instinctively retracted her wings as they shot through a tight gap between two buildings, even though they didn’t really exist. The pressure in the air and the noise around them dropped for a moment before kicking back into full gear as they emerged out the other side. Hailey flared her wings wide and dipped them, starting to slow down as they swooped out over Lake Washington.
Rupert’s heavy breathing crackled through the tinny connection on the radio in time with the short bursts of hot air on Hailey’s neck. He was still hanging off her from below, though, and she could tell his arms were getting a lot more workout than he’d expected. Time to break out one of her new maneuvers.
She rolled over onto her back, but mentally flipped her wings as well. She could glide through the air while lying face up, as if the wings were attached to her chest instead of her back. It was really weird the first time she’d tried it, but the idea was so useful she couldn’t really ignore it. Flipping them really screwed with her head though, like trying to use only her left hand for things or the thought experiment doing entirely different actions at once with both hands, so she didn’t rely on it. As long as the only thing she did while upside down was gentle gliding, it usually turned out okay.
Rupert’s arms relaxed a little as he suddenly found himself supported from below, instead of hanging off of her. She released him and let her arms fall wide, almost as if she were floating in water instead of through midair. He looked up, and to Hailey’s relief his smile was as wide as her own.
”You’re a goddess.”
Hailey felt a flutter of joy in her throat at the words. “You’re not so bad yourself,” she teased. “So how was your first flight?”
”Thrilling, simply thrilling.” He tried to sit up slightly, as if he could actually just sit on top while she glided around, but their balance immediately began to give way. She wobbled heavily in midair, and his legs started to lose grip on her own. In seconds he could fall away and plummet to the lake below them, and that would really put a damper on the rest of their night.
Hailey reached out to grab him, and at the same time she summoned up a burst of wind behind him to shove him forward. Rupert found himself flung down into her arms. They took a hard dip toward the lake before Hailey managed to steady them out again.
”Won’t be trying that again, I suppose,” Rupert said, smirking.
Hailey laughed. “Where were you trying to go, anyway?” She gently pushed his head a bit closer with another gust of wind, and in an instant his lips found hers.
Between the dark water, the receding city lights behind them, the full moon above, and the handsome guy clinging tight to her chest while he kissed her, Hailey Winscombe felt very pleased with herself.
Hailey groaned at the second knock on the door. “Is it that late already?”
Rupert leaned up to check the clock on the wall, squinting to see the hands in the semi-darkness. “It’s eight PM. Weren’t you planning to leave now?”
”But it’s so warm and comfortable in here,” Hailey mock-whined, wrapping an arm around him.
Rupert pushed her gently away. “Jessica would take my head, angel. Up you get.”
Hailey groaned again, more for effect than because she actually felt any reluctance, and set to finding her clothes. Jessica Silverdale burst into the room, too impatient to wait any longer. Rupert — bashful around every single person he’d ever met — grabbed up the sheets to cover himself, but Jessica barely even glanced at him. She eyed Hailey with annoyance, pointing at the faintly glowing hands of the clock on the wall.
”Yes, Jess, I can see it,” Hailey said irritably, nodding. She started getting dressed while Jessica tapped her foot pointedly on the floor. “I can always just fly us there faster, we’d still get there at the same time.”
”Why don’t you, then?” asked Rupert.
”Because then Jess couldn’t keep us hidden,” she sighed.
”Ah. Something to do with light and photons, correct?”
”Yeah, pretty much. She figured it out after watching Cinza a ton, but I can’t cast it thanks to my stupid diffinity.” Hailey finished getting ready, and before she could say a word Jessica grabbed her by the hand and pulled her out of the room. “See you later, Rupert!” she called back apologetically.
Jessica pulled the door closed and frowned. She pointed at the door, then made a flat illusion in midair of Rupert, accompanying it with a picture of a small chain. The chain broke in two, then Jessica dissipated them again.
Hailey shook her head. “I trust him.”
Jessica frowned again. She tilted her head slightly to the side and raised an eyebrow.
”Yes, I’m sure.” Hailey pointed back at Jessica. “What about you?”
Jessica took a full minute to answer. Finally, another image of Rupert appeared in midair, followed by one of Hailey. Jessica moved Rupert closer to her, then changed her to a smiling face, before vanishing them both again. She smiled reluctantly.
Hailey nodded. “Yeah. That’s enough for now. Thank you.” She held out her arm, and Jessica took it firmly. They walked together to the backyard, where Jessica helped her put on the rest of her flight outfit including the straps. Normally, they flew without anything since it was a lot more comfortable, but this was a long trip — nearly seventy miles. Even Jessica, as strong and experienced as she was flying with Hailey, started to have her shoulders fall off after that long.
Jessica held herself tight to Hailey and double-checked the straps. She tapped Hailey on the shoulder twice and Hailey took off, jumping into the sky by propelling the air around her. Once she’d gotten enough altitude, she released the jets of wind to great relief and unfurled her wings, gliding out into the cloudy night sky. The patch of stars she’d seen the night before with Rupert was a rare exception. Most of her flights these days seemed to match the attitudes of everyone else around her, covered in a unbroken sheet of mundane grey. There weren’t even any beautiful cloudscapes to enjoy, just endless carpets of flat boring clouds.
”You know, we’re crazy lucky he turned out to be a cool guy,” Hailey added. She couldn’t make any gestures to really talk to her, but Jessica had intimated that she should talk aloud while they flew this route every time. Partly, Jessica thought it might help her learn to talk again somehow — though they’d seen no evidence of it yet — and also because it helped her stay awake while she powered the small square of invisibility below them, masking their flight from anyone who might be watching. It didn’t really take much out of her, but it was so easy to get complacent on these long flights. Sooner or later, they both worried one of them would slip up again.
”Just think if the guy who spotted us hadn’t been awakened already, or if he’d been a psychopath or something,” Hailey went on, while Jessica mumbled something below her. She flew right-side up because Jessica preferred it for some reason. Maybe she was just used to it. Hailey hadn’t figured out upside down until only a couple weeks earlier. “Now he’s part of the team. And that accent. If you could hear it, you’d get it. Seriously.” Hailey laughed, but she felt a little sobered by Jessica’s accusation earlier.
It wasn’t jealousy. Jessica had a legitimate reason to be concerned, given how many secrets they were hiding. Rupert hadn’t asked much, and she’d only told him about themselves and a vague idea of where they went every week. She wasn’t giving him anything really dangerous.
Besides, Rupert had readily surrendered the crumpled copy of the first page he’d awakened from without even being asked. He understood how their world worked right now, and why they had to keep everything secret from humanity for the time being. He was making steady progress toward being trustworthy. Hailey was considering introducing him to a few other people soon and starting to connect him to the rest of the community — but beyond her own small corner of the world out in Kent, that decision was out of her hands.
Jessica tugged at her arm and spoke into her ear to get her attention. Hailey looked down across the wide expanse of evergreens — and sure enough, she could already see the familiar patch of trees in the bowl of hills around them. She went into an easy dive, nothing nearly as intense as her breakneck skyscraper diving with Rupert yesterday. As they approached the trees, the air shimmered slightly. Suddenly there was a wide clearing in front of them, dotted with cabins surrounding a fair-sized farm.
Hailey set down right on the little wooden bridge that crossed the stream through the center. No smoke billowing out of the chimneys yet, since it was still an uncomfortably warm September, but there was a very distinct outdoorsey feeling anyway — so long as you ignored the satellite dishes, steam generators and other equipment scattered near several of the cabins.
As Hailey unstrapped Jessica, who stretched out her shoulders in relief, they heard a shout from across the clearing. Nikki Parsons and Joe McKinney emerged bearing hovering bundles of wood through the air, which they immediately dropped in a pile as they rushed to the bridge. At the noise, other doors began to open. Soon they were joined by old Rufus Hill, a slow-moving but cheerful Brittany Wilkins, supported across the field by her husband Matthew. Makoto Kirishima, Cinza’s quiet and intense lieutenant, stood on the porch of his own cabin and simply watched from afar without a word. Hailey gave them an update on what they’d missed from the rest of the community, which really amounted to nothing now that they were all talking online.
Jessica shrunk away from the crowd and floated away to one of the generators, where Natalie’s mountain lion Scrappy was curled up. Hailey extricated herself a minute later, wanting to get the real business out of the way quickly so they could move on. She didn’t like making Jessica wait around while she chatted to the whole group, when Jessica couldn’t ever join in.
Hailey walked straight to the first cabin they’d ever built. It was smaller than most, but it had much more elegant construction thanks to the diligent work put in by both Rufus and Ruby. The wood was cut perfectly in smooth soaring arcs, and lanterns in the shape of the eight-pointed star symbol from the Grimoire hung on either side of the intricately carved door.
Ruby had made a lot of progress on the door’s design since the last time Hailey had visited. The wood was carved into eight panels each depicting one of the eight branches of magic, with the top half showing the internal four and the lower half the external four affinities. Hailey gently traced her fingers along her own panel, just below the door handle on the left side, where a mixture of images had been carved in: A fireball whose tail became a whirling tornado, while a lightning bolt crossed it shifting from jagged forks into a twisting river. The amount of detail Ruby had managed in a relief carving was astounding.
Hailey gently knocked on the door, and to her surprise it swung inward on its own. Cinza was usually diligent about securing it. The thick, beautiful star-laden curtain blocked off one dark half of the cabin from view, while the other half was evenly lit from no apparent light source. Ruby lounged at the computer desk in the corner typing away, while Cinza herself sat cross-legged in her wide armchair, narrow-eyed staring down Joshua Miller. From the looks of it, Hailey had just interrupted a tense argument.
”Hi guys,” she started. She took the seat next to Josh facing Cinza. Josh looked seriously annoyed with his counterpart.
”Hey, Hailey,” Josh said offhandedly, but his focus didn’t change an inch. “It’s too risky.”
”They’re going to awaken whether or not we send out scouts,” Cinza replied icily, while her voice echoed slightly through the cabin. By now, Hailey had realized she did it totally unconsciously, and she barely noticed it anymore. It had simply become Cinza’s real voice. “We should be securing more allies wherever we can.”
”We’re not fighting a war.”
”What’s going on?” asked Hailey.
”Cinza wants to—”
”I can speak for myself,” Cinza cut in. Josh fell silent. Hailey felt her intensity from across the room, packed into every inch of her small body. “I’d like to propose bringing a few potential recruits to our home, as an outreach program.”
”As converts,” Josh muttered.
”Are you a convert, Joshua?” Cinza shot back. “You’ve lived here since the Fall. Feeling the urge to take up the robes?”
”I’m not really here by choice.”
”You could have gone to Kent with the Silverdales, or up north with the rest of the Ghosts.”
”Josh, stop,” Hailey said firmly. “You’re here because you want to help, same as me. Right?”
Josh hesitated. “Yeah.”
”Okay. So let’s focus on that.” Hailey turned back to Cinza. “Have you run this by the forum?”
”I’d rather discuss it in person, and all the important agents are here,” Cinza replied, a trace of arrogance in her tone.
”What about Boris? He might have something helpful to put in.”
”While I appreciate Mr. Morozov’s skills,” Cinza said sincerely, “he’s out of his depth in this regard. He was sent to undermine a society, not construct a new one.”
”Kendra has her own agenda to pursue. She doesn’t care what we do.” Harsh as it was, Hailey had to agree. Kendra rarely expressed much interest in helping them out, although she did read everything they posted and occasionally put in a thought or two. “Nor does Lily, except if it pertains to their ward.”
”I don’t think we’re ready to start taking on new people,” said Josh.
”If not now, then when?” Cinza asked. “People are being awakened, without our involvement. We can’t possibly track down the copies or scraps that have been blown into the world. Even Jackson couldn’t manage it.” She practically spat his name. Months prior, Cinza declared that none of them would ever use his title again, denying Omega the respect of the name he’d chosen for himself. “We’ve finished our construction here. The farm operates at a capacity beyond Aaron’s original designs. We have almost effortless electricity and water, we have a secure connection to the internet and we’re totally invisible to the outside world. All that remains is to expand, and what purpose is there in expansion without people to fill it?”
”One thing at a time. Natalie just started middle school today. If that explodes, I really don’t want to be dealing with a bunch of new people at the same time.”
”You don’t trust she can handle herself?” Cinza asked, raising an eyebrow.
”She wasn’t exactly discreet when she lived here,” Josh pointed out. “Plus, I mean—” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “—she’s just now hitting puberty, and middle school sucks in general. Throw that on the pile of shit she’s already dealing with, and yeah, I think it’s possible she could crack under the pressure.”
”She’ll be fine,” Cinza said dismissively. “You underestimate her strength.”
Hailey frowned. “I mean, I could definitely see myself falling apart like that. I fell apart in middle school a bunch of times for way less than what she’s going through.”
Josh nodded. “I’m guessing you didn’t exactly have a normal childhood, Cinza.” The corner of her mouth twitched upward into a smirk. Josh grinned. “A crazy childhood then?”
”I survived. Others didn’t,” Cinza said simply. Ruby glanced over, vaguely interested, but Cinza changed the subject before they got anything else out of her. “Even so, Natalie is one of the bravest I’ve ever met. I trust her.”
”I do too. I’m just trying to be realistic.”
”She didn’t have a totally normal childhood either,” Hailey added. Josh looked at her like she’d stabbed him in the back. “What? I’m allowed to switch sides here.”
”Fine. What do you mean, though?”
”Well, I talked to her dad about it once, back when I worked at the Kettle and Bones for the summer.”
”You were a bartender?” Cinza asked with surprise.
”Had to pay the bills for me and Jessica somehow. I just turned twenty-one in July that year, and it paid way better than working at Hector’s. Only kept me on for the summer though, so it was back to Hector’s in the fall.”
”I’m surprised I never saw you.”
”I had to be home before dark everyday, so it was more work around the place than the bartending part,” Hailey added, her ears turning slightly red at the memory. So much wasted time.
”Back to the point, Hales,” Josh cut in. “Natalie’s childhood?”
”Well, they’re actually from Chicago. Natalie’s mom was apparently pretty awful, to hear her dad tell it. It got so bad that Natalie almost got killed one day, and that was her dad’s last straw to move them as far away as they could get. He ended up in Rallsburg thanks to a family connection and raised Natalie on his own. And since Rallsburg was so small, Natalie really only had one friend. It was just her and her dad in the middle of nowhere.”
”Keeping in mind that the man telling this story became Jackson’s accomplice and murdered more than half of the town using his golems,” Cinza noted coldly.
”Uhh, yeah,” Hailey said uncomfortably. “Anyway, point is, she’s used to being alone, and from what I’ve heard she worked her way into your council meetings and stuff pretty much on her own. So I think she can handle herself, even when she’s going into a completely new situation like this.”
”Does anyone know if her mom got involved in the FBI thing? When they rounded up a bunch of relatives?” Josh asked.
”She must assume her daughter and ex-husband are dead like the rest of us,” said Cinza. “Even accounting for Brian’s unreliability as a source, I think we can assume her mother probably wouldn’t be a good person to get involved.”
”No kidding,” Josh muttered.
”But we’ve left the point of discussion,” Cinza added. “I would like to bring a few possible candidates into our circle of trust.”
Josh opened his mouth, but Hailey cut him off. “What if we just talk to them, but we don’t invite them here?”
”It’s the internet age, isn’t it?” Hailey shrugged. “They don’t need to come here to be involved. We can still keep this place a secret and start talking with a few outsiders. They don’t even necessarily need to know where we’re from. It’s not like everyone’s memorized the faces of everyone from Rallsburg.”
”They might know yours though, Hales,” Josh pointed out. “You had a crapton of publicity compared to the rest of us. Your face was all over the news.”
”I can change how I look, though.” She pointed at her hair, which she’d permanently shifted away from her natural wavy golden-blonde to match Jessica’s bushy, messy brown using the ritual they’d invented a year before, along with adding freckles. “I’m a Silverdale now, remember? Jess’ long-lost older sister.”
”The Silverdales who are also supposed to be dead,” Josh pointed out. “Also, no offense to Jessica, but you’re still way hotter than her. You really don’t look related if anyone’s paying attention.”
Cinza nodded. “If we send out a scout, it would need to be someone less immediately recognizable.”
Josh sighed. “I’m not saying I’m totally on board, but this is a better first step than straight up bringing a newbie here. Who could we send out though?”
”No one from the lists,” Hailey said. “We don’t want anyone to have to answer questions about how they aren’t dead.”
”Cuts out me, then,” Josh said. “You too, for sure.”
”I could go—” Cinza started.
”Nope,” Ruby interrupted, not looking up from her computer.
”Why not?” asked Hailey.
”Plenty of reasons. She’s our leader and shouldn’t be running around solo. She’s needed here to help keep our home invisible and secure. She’s still not recovered from the ritual attempt in May.”
”Still?” Hailey looked at Cinza in surprise.
”The occasional tremor,” Cinza replied. “I’m fine. It’s been improving every day.”
”You’re lucky you didn’t die,” Ruby shot back. “You channeled the power of four true awakened at full power through your body and the ritual was interrupted. Don’t think for a second I’m letting the woman I love run off and do something else crazy and dangerous while she’s not one hundred percent yet. You’re staying right here. Write your diaries or something.”
Cinza sighed and shook her head. “She’s probably right.”
”Darn right I am,” Ruby added, turning back to her keyboard.
”So who should we send, then?” Hailey asked.
Josh spoke up. “I mean, normally on the Council when we wanted to approach new awakened, we always sent…” He trailed off awkwardly and looked away.
”That’s not an option anymore,” said Cinza, her eyes softening.
”Huh?” Hailey asked, not following.
”Nothing,” Josh replied quickly. “So who does that leave? Brittany’s great, but I don’t think we want people’s first impression to be someone missing a leg.”
Hailey grimaced, but Cinza nodded. “That would certainly convey the wrong tone.”
”And Matthew wouldn’t want to run out there solo either.” Josh put his hands to his face, thinking hard. “Could we get the Bowmans back somehow? Preston has all that police experience and Neffie’s great with people.”
”They dropped off the grid after they reached B.C.,” said Hailey. “Last I heard, they were changing their names and going to a town further north. Guess they like the cold.”
”So no good.”
”They aren’t awakened either,” Cinza pointed out.
”Do they have to be?”
”Yes,” said Hailey. She caught herself before she said ‘humans’. “Normal people won’t understand what they’re dealing with. It has to be one of us.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, thinking.
A bolt of inspiration struck Hailey. “Alden could do it.”
Josh looked doubtful. “I mean, he’s not an idiot or anything, but he’s nothing special.”
”He’s good with new people, especially reading them,” Hailey continued excitedly. She knew she’d found the right answer. “He made friends with practically everyone he met in town, right? He even teamed up with Rika right off the bat.”
”She makes a fair point,” Cinza agreed. “I didn’t interact with him much myself, but he joined our dance one night and made a good impression.”
”Alden’s been around for everything recent, he knows all of us and he actually stuck around through the fight. He knows what’s at stake if we screw this up.”
”He’s also actually supposed to be alive,” Josh finished, nodding slowly. “If he runs into any trouble, he was never in Rallsburg anyway, so nothing gets back to us.”
”So, is it all agreed then?” Hailey asked. The other two nodded.
”The Council has spoken,” Ruby intoned from her chair in the corner.
Josh frowned. “We aren’t the Council anymore.”
”Three leaders of the community, deciding our future without anyone else present,” Ruby said cheerfully. “Seems just like our old Council to me.” She waved her hand dismissively at them. “Now both of you shoo. I require some alone time with my beloved so I can remind her exactly why she’s not allowed to get herself killed any time soon.”
Josh sat down on one of the benches Rufus had built around Yusuf’s flower garden, while Hailey took the opposite. Jessica saw them return and joined her, bringing a warm blanket from the generator and wrapping it around them snug in the cool night air. Josh sighed and leaned back, pressing his hands to his face. “I’m going crazy out here, Hales.”
”It won’t be forever,” said Hailey, putting her arm around Jessica. She sniffed the air and grimaced. “Ugh. Jess, you really should have let me shower before we left.”
Josh’s face twisted in an odd way, like he wasn’t sure how to react to that. He eventually settled on ignoring it. “How’s everything going back home?”
”Boring as usual,” Hailey sighed. “I’m talking to Boris about maybe finding a way to get myself signed up for online classes somewhere. Even though it’ll be under a fake identity. Just so I have something to start progressing toward, you know? Something I can use eventually.”
”Thought this wasn’t gonna be for forever,” Josh pointed out.
”Well, I figure they can just merge the credits back to my real name, right?” Hailey grinned. “Special circumstances on account of being a living goddess.”
”Oh God, you’re gonna let that get to your head.”
”Too late,” Hailey laughed. “I need to start using my powers for good though. Is there something I can get you? Maybe make it a bit easier out here?”
”Better TV? I wanted to watch the Laker game but the broadcast signal out here sucks balls and all the streams get shut down way too fast.” Josh shrugged. “But seriously, I’m just getting exhausted spending time with all these guys. I’m the only one out here who wears normal-ass clothes.”
”Hey, those robes can look pretty cool.”
He smirked. “If you want to look straight out of a high school play.”
Hailey laughed. “Come on, at least the ones Ruby’s worked on are pretty good.”
”Look, they’re good for some white people wizarding shit. That’s just not my thing.” Josh shrugged again. “They do their ritual every night and they all follow Cinza’s word without question like damn robots. It’s something else.”
Something about his tone bothered her. “You don’t think it’s… something she’s doing?”
Josh looked shocked. “What? No. Hell no. Even if I thought something was off, they’d all be protected by Mason’s Law. You can’t do something like that to another person.”
”But the Law was broken once already,” Hailey said uneasily. “When they used the spell to slow down Jackson so Rachel could shoot him. Plus the Law didn’t make a whole lot of sense with the pocket dimensions either, right? I mean, if you can’t use magic on people, but people can still go inside magic, then what’s the actual limitation?”
Josh leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands. “I don’t know, but it scares the shit out of me. I’m working on some theories, but it’s a lot harder without Mason.”
”He was really important to the group, wasn’t he?” she said softly.
”Yeah,” Josh said. “Mason really figured a lot of the basics out for us.” Josh smiled slightly. “Shit, he would have loved the new one I’m working on.”
”Wanna bounce it off me?” Hailey offered. “I’m not a future rocket scientist like he was, but maybe that’ll just help you get some ideas out?”
”Sure, I guess.” Josh leaned back again, staring up at the sky. A hole had opened in the cloud layer, and they could see a few stars peeking out through the sheet of black as it rolled over them. “So magic’s all about intention, right? Nothing happens without someone intending it to happen, directly or inversely.”
”Inversely… you’re talking about backfiring, right? Like, rituals going wrong?”
”Not just rituals. The accident out in the R.V. was a backfiring spell, not a ritual, if what Robert said was right. It still burned the guy up, but it came out of his intention. He tried to make fire to burn someone, he lost control of it, and the fire fucked him up. There’s always intention though. Even all the way back to everyone awakening. No one awakens without really wanting to, right?”
”I guess so,” Hailey agreed, a bit uncomfortably. Her own awakening didn’t break his theory, but it was a lot different than the usual process he knew. Then again, so was everything else about the way she did magic. Even amongst the awakened, she was still the exception to the rules — along with the other few who shared her circumstances of course. Like the warm mass of compassion and fierce protectiveness curled up next to her. Hailey pulled the blanket back into place around Jessica’s neck while Josh kept talking.
”At least as far as we know. But I’m pretty sure if you shoved a Scrap in front of someone’s face and held their eyeballs open, it wouldn’t do anything. You have to actually intend to read it. Not that the first few of us knew what was going to happen, but still. You wanted to read it and find out, right? No reluctance?”
”Nope. None at all. But I’m crazy,” Hailey said, smirking.
”Yeah, for sure. But here’s where this shit gets real. The stuff that happened in that R.V. seems to break Mason’s Law too, right? Alex tries to summon a pocket dimension, it carves him up and everything nearby. So far so good… except that it also blows through a little girl close enough to be in the blast radius.”
”And she didn’t cast the spell,” Hailey filled in.
”Okay, actually, I didn’t think of that, but I really doubt Jenny Wilson was awakened and also tried to make a pocket dimension in the same room while Alex was doing it too.” Josh shook his head. “What’s weird is his intention was carried out, like usual, and the backfire carried out the reverse of his intention, also like usual. But the backfire can hit anything it wants, ignoring the rules.”
”Like how some people died outright from the magnetic ritual we cast,” Hailey said quietly.
”Actually, no again,” Josh said. “You guys didn’t kill anyone directly. Cinza explained how that one works a bit more to me. Even when she and Ruby used it ‘directly’ on Paul Wilson, it didn’t break Mason’s Law because it never directly affected him. They charged up an area of particles near him and amplified how attractive they were to iron specifically somehow. I don’t understand the specifics because it’s fucking magic, but point is, the magnetic spell still doesn’t hit people directly. More importantly, the big one wasn’t a backfire.”
”But we were interrupted,” Hailey said, as the painful memory of Jackson bursting into their circle at breakneck speed and laying Cinza out flat resurfaced in her mind. “That should have caused it to backfire.”
”Cinza managed to get the ritual off in time, she just had to move the target as far away as she could.” Josh glanced over at her cabin as he spoke. “That girl is fucking amazing, to be honest. In that split second between Jackson showing up and decking her, she shifted her target halfway across town and released it so that the backfire wouldn’t just straight kill you all. She gambled on you guys being able to hold off Jackson long enough to get him to retreat, and it worked.”
”But the target area was so much bigger than what we planned.”
”Yeah, she didn’t have time to figure out if the place she was hitting was clear, so she just made it as wide as possible hoping no one would die just from the ritual. Mitigation by dispersal.” Josh shrugged. “We’ve talked a lot about it. Post-mortem shit. It’s been really helpful in figuring out how rituals and targeting works. The point is though, when we have a real backfire like the stuff in the R.V., it can apparently do anything to anyone.”
”No shit. But it’s not as bad as it looks. Magic’s all about intention, right? So no one can intend to backfire a spell. You can’t fool magic.” He sighed. “I’m not afraid of bringing in new people. What we really need to be scared of is all the people who don’t have a fucking clue what they’re doing, who’ve got no control, and start trying the really dangerous shit. In public.” Josh looked Hailey in the eye, grim-faced. “It’s gonna be a fucking massacre.”
Hailey waved goodbye as they took off and hurtled through the air. Jessica summoned up their small shield of invisibility and they set off back towards home. Practically, Hailey felt frustrated her diffinity for Nature magic prevented her from ever using light manipulation to hide herself like Jessica could — but at the same time, she liked how it made them a duo, always flying around together and keeping each other warm through the night skies. It felt nice to always have her around to talk to.
She wondered if they’d ever show up on radar though.
As they coasted back over Tacoma, Jessica noticed that they weren’t taking their usual route home and tugged at her sleeve to indicate Hailey might be going the wrong way. While they were still heading for Kent like normal, Hailey’s angle was wrong. They were going too far north.
Hailey shook her head. She held up a single finger, saying they had one stop to make first. Jessica nodded, then buried her head back below Hailey’s to keep warm from the chill. Hailey started circling them down gently, enjoying the lazy glide and the gentle breeze as opposed to a fast and flashy dive. She pulled out her phone and texted him, letting him know she was about to touch down and to open up his window.
She saw a slant of light open on the second floor and smiled. She tucked her wings and started to dive. In a second she’d flown through the tall open pane, throwing out a massive gust of wind in front of her to come to a stop before she slammed into the opposite wall. Anything lightweight in his room went flying at the brief tornado, while Hailey flipped upright and landed gently on his floor, just in case anyone else in the house was still awake.
”Nice,” said Alden Bensen dryly, starting to pick up his stuff. His brown hair was growing out, covering up his ears. It actually didn’t look too bad that way, but with the brief hurricane his hair was now totally messed up. Hailey suppressed a laugh, grinning wide. She unstrapped Jessica and together the three of them quickly put his room back in order. “So what’s the big news at two in the morning here?”
”I just got back from Cinza’s,” Hailey explained, while Jessica plopped down on the bed and started poking at Alden’s cat.
”Yeah, I figured,” Alden added. He glanced at the wall clock, which Hailey noticed he’d swapped over to a slightly glowing analog one instead of digital. She smiled at the thoughtfulness, since he was one of the few people Jessica spent regular time with. “This has to be big though, if you’re rushing over here so late.”
Hailey shrugged. “Honestly, it could’ve waited til morning, but since you were awake and we weren’t back yet, I figured why not drop by?”
They both froze as they heard the door handle click slightly. “Shit!” Alden hissed. He ran for the door and pulled it open. Alden’s younger sister Meg was standing there, pajama-clad, staring wide-eyed at them both.
”Hi,” Hailey greeted awkwardly. Jessica looked up and waved cheerfully, before returning to the cat.
”Zack, wha—” Meg started, before Alden pulled her inside and closed the door as quietly as he could.
”You forgot to mute us, didn’t you?” Alden muttered to Hailey.
She slapped her hand to her forehead. “Jess,” she said, getting Jessica’s attention. Hailey pointed all around the room, then put her hands over her ears. Jessica nodded, then murmured something under her breath. Hailey could sense the airflow in the room shift slightly, but it was barely perceptible even to her. She still had no real idea how Jess did it, besides that it was a Nature spell.
”Was it always Jess doing that spell?” Alden asked curiously. “I thought you could do sound stuff too.”
”I can hear people from far away by helping sound bounce around the air, but it’s harder to make us quiet without just making tons more noise,” Hailey said, shrugging. “Jess can do it for real.” Jessica gave her a thumbs-up, understanding that she’d just explained how it worked, then went back to playing with the cat.
”This is magic stuff, right?” said Meg excitedly. “You guys are talking about magic stuff?”
”Nope, definitely not.”
”Oh come on, it’s not like you’re here for anything el… ” Meg trailed off. “Ohhh. Noise-proofing.”
”God, Meg,” Alden shook his head. “No. It’s not that.”
”I have a boyfriend,” Hailey added, trying not to laugh.
”Huh. Okay, so what’s going on then? You’re not getting away without telling me,” Meg added, crossing her arms.
”…You know, I think I had those exact same penguin pajamas once.”
”That’s so cool,” Meg said breathlessly. “Did you fly in here?”
”Okay, enough,” Alden cut in pointedly.
”But it’s so much fun,” Hailey mock-whined.
”Meg, you can stay, but this stays secret, okay?”
”Dude, you’ve got a college girl in your bedroom in the middle of the night. This is so beyond blackmail,” Meg said wickedly.
”Blackmail’s not cool,” Hailey intoned, playing up her noble hero voice.
”Two college girls,” Meg added, glancing over at Jessica. “Hi there.” Jessica, of course, ignored her. “What’s with her?”
”Long story,” Hailey answered quickly, thinking she’d accept that more than if Alden had said the same. “I’m Hailey, by the way, and that’s Jessica.”
”I’m Meg.” She sat down on the edge of the bed, watching them both eagerly. “Well go on, do your super secret meeting.”
”Is it secret?” Alden asked Hailey pointedly.
”No more than usual. Actually, it might be helpful to have her around.” Hailey looked at Meg very seriously. “Meg, do you want to help with the mission?”
”The mission?” Meg asked, eyes wide.
”Hailey, she’s fifteen,” Alden started.
”Don’t worry,” Hailey said firmly. “I’m sure she’s smart enough to handle it.”
”Fuck yeah I am!”
”Don’t swear,” Alden said reflexively.
Meg stuck out her tongue at him, before turning eagerly back to Hailey. She was just so excited about everything, it was infectious. “What do you need me to do?”
”Alden’s gonna be helping us out a lot soon,” Hailey started. Alden looked up slightly, surprised, and Hailey realized she hadn’t actually told him what they needed him to do yet. She figured he’d agree, though, or at worst she’d just have gotten him an easy excuse to leave the house whenever he wanted and be covered for it. “He might be gone a lot, maybe way out of town. We’re gonna need someone to cover for him.”
”Aww man, I’m the best friend who covers at home?” Meg whined. “This sucks.”
”Hey, it’s important,” Hailey said firmly. “Your brother’s the best person for the job and we don’t have anyone else. If his parents or anyone else starts asking questions, you gotta be ready to lie.”
”It could still get dangerous,” Alden added quietly. “Meg, don’t you remember where Hailey and Jessica are from?”
Meg frowned. “What do you mean?”
”Where do you think I met them?”
She thought for a second. “Oh… You’re…” She hesitated. “You’re Hailey Winscombe. And that’s Jessica Silverdale. Right?”
Hailey was taken aback. “You know our names?”
”I memorized everyone on those lists they put out,” Meg boasted. “Since I knew some of you guys weren’t dead. Zack wouldn’t tell me who though.”
”For good reason,” Alden added.
”You don’t look like your pictures though,” she added, looking at Hailey.
Hailey grinned. She grasped at her magic and sent a burst through her face and hair. Just for Meg, she added a bit of Cinza-esque flair, making it shift rapidly in color before it settled on her natural blonde and straightened out to gentle waves from Jessica’s more bushy, messy style, while her freckles disappeared in a wave rather than instantly.
Meg’s eyes widened dramatically. “Oh my god!”
”Hi again,” Hailey said, laughing. “I’m Hailey.”
”You totally are!” Meg turned to Alden and punched him in the arm. “You didn’t tell me you were friends with Hailey Winscombe!“
”I didn’t know I was famous.”
”Around my friends you are! We went over those photos they released so many times, and your profile and your blog and everything! You’re so beautiful and brave. I want to be you.”
Hailey was getting embarrassed. “Okay, okay. Look, I need to talk to Alden alone for a bit. Is that all right?”
Meg nodded. “You got it, Hailey. Just don’t leave without saying goodbye.”
”‘Course not, I haven’t given you your mission yet.”
Meg looked like she might squeal with happiness. She retreated from the room, thunderstruck. As soon as the door closed and the place was sealed off again, Hailey burst out laughing.
”Oh wow, I didn’t expect that,” she choked out, falling back into Alden’s computer chair.
Alden grinned. “I figured you probably didn’t need to know you had legit fangirls.”
”No kidding.” Hailey forced herself to calm down. “That was something else.”
”So what’s this mission I’m going on?” Alden asked, sitting down on the edge of his bed. Jessica scooted over to make room for him, leaning up against the wall and setting his cat into her lap. It protested and tried to get away, but she shushed it and continued to pet it until it gave in and settled down.
”You know we’ve been hearing about people getting awakened, right? A couple here and there, mostly around Olympia. One all the way up B.C., in Vancouver.”
”Yeah. Nothing’s shown up on the news yet or anything, but yeah.”
”Cinza thinks it’s time we start trying to get people back together again. Make sure the new awakened know what they’re getting into and who to talk to.”
”And you want me to do it,” Alden concluded.
”You’re probably the best for the job, you know? I mean, I’d do it, but hell — just look at how Meg reacted.” Hailey shrugged. She released the magic holding her old appearance, letting her hair change back to bushy brown and the freckles re-emerge onto her skin. It felt weird to shift, very uncomfortable and slightly painful with how her hair got pulled and moved around. “Even looking like this, everybody thinks I still stand out.”
”The perils of being good looking,” Alden deadpanned.
”Jeez, man, when did you pick up Rika’s sense of humor?”
”Sorry.” Alden unsuccessfully stifled a yawn. “I’ve been way too negative lately. It’s a bad habit.” He shrugged. “You want me because I’m not a dead guy walking like everyone else, right?”
”We want you because you’re really good with people, Alden,” Hailey said firmly. “You even got Rika to like you. You’re gonna be going up to new people who might have all sorts of powers and talking them into working with us. That’s not gonna be easy.”
Alden frowned. “I’m not really the best with magic, though. What if there’s a fight?”
”You’re not going out there alone.” Hailey rolled her eyes. “Jess and I will be there to back you up, every time. You get a whiff of trouble, we lay the smackdown.”
Alden thought for a couple minutes, closing his eyes and leaning back on the bed. For a moment, Hailey thought he might have actually fallen asleep, but just as she was about to get up and check on him, his eyes slid open. “I’ll do it.”
He nodded “Yeah. If it’ll help everyone out, I’m in.”
”Okay.” Hailey smiled. “We don’t have anyone picked out yet, so I’ll let you know when it’s time. We’ll pick you up,” she added, grinning.
”Hey, you think it’s cool if I send some wind to get Meg?” Hailey asked excitedly.
Hailey clapped her hands together. She sent a gust of wind around outside the door, where she knew Meg was waiting with bated breath. Sure enough, the door burst open again and Meg sped in, closing it behind her. “I’m here. What’s up?”
”What’s up is I need a lock for that door,” Alden grumbled.
”I’ll figure out how to pick it,” Meg shot back. She looked at Hailey eagerly. “What do you need me to do?”
Hailey fought back laughter as she tried to answer Meg very seriously. “We don’t have anything planned yet, but when we do, you’re going to be covering for Alden while he comes with me on some business. We’ll give you a story to tell anyone who asks.”
”Okay.” Hailey noticed she didn’t protest at all this time. Apparently hero worship was for real.
”Thanks, Meg.” She smiled, and Meg’s face lit up with joy. Jessica watched her curiously, but the cat took the opportunity to leap out of her lap and she had to quickly chase it down to get it back.
”Are you sure he’s all good for your missions though?” Meg asked, glancing at Alden. Hailey looked over just quick enough to notice Alden shaking his head sharply.
”What’s up?” she asked.
”Nothing. I’m good.”
”Why do you think he’s up in the middle of the night?” Meg went on, heedless. “He can’t sleep through a single night since he got back. A couple times he woke up screaming and I had to help him stay quiet so Mom and Dad didn’t come in.”
”Meg, shut up,” Alden snapped.
Meg fell silent. Hailey glanced between the two of them before turning to Meg. She spoke very carefully. “Meg, you shouldn’t share secrets like that.”
”But I…” She looked terrified for a second, probably thinking she’d just ruined her budding relationship with her idol.
Hailey tried to soften her expression. “Just keep it in mind, okay? I’m still counting on you.”
A wave of relief washed over her face. Meg nodded emphatically. “You got it, Hailey. I’ll leave you guys alone now.”
As soon as the room was sealed, Hailey looked at Alden, very concerned.
”It’s true,” he said glumly.
”No wonder you’re always awake when I get back,” Hailey said quietly. “What’s going on?”
”Nightmares.” He laid back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. “Nightmares of golems tearing people apart in the streets, or his face staring me down like he’s about to kill me. Or that look in his eyes while I held him down, right before Rachel shot him. Collins getting ripped apart. The whole place burning up.” He took a deep breath. “It didn’t really start to hit me until a couple days after we got back.”
Hailey walked over and sat down next to him. She held his hand while he took a few more deep breaths. “We won, though.”
”That’s what I told Rachel, but you know what she said to me?” Alden closed his eyes. “She didn’t want to be alive anymore. She said she deserved to be dead along with Jackson. That we didn’t win, we just survived.”
”Heat of the moment, Alden,” Hailey said softly. “She didn’t mean it. We didn’t win easily, but we won.”
”She’s gone though, isn’t she?”
”She is not gone. She’s not talking to anyone right now, but trust me. Rachel DuValle wouldn’t kill herself. Not in a million years.”
Alden shrugged. “You knew her. I didn’t.”
Hailey shook her head. “Come on. You need to sleep. I’m sticking around until you do.”
Alden looked about to protest, but Hailey stopped him with a look. She gestured to Jessica to clear off the bed, then waited until Alden was tucked back in again. She took his chair while Jessica sat watching from the corner of the room. Hailey reached out and flicked off the light with her mind, leaving only the moonlight streaming through the window.
It took a while, but Alden finally fell asleep. As quietly as they could, Hailey opened the window and Jessica wrapped around her. They leapt out and took to the skies, Hailey magically sliding the window closed behind them as they flew out into the night once again.
Hailey dangled her legs off the roof of the White residence, which was the last name Jessica’s parents had ended up with. Jessica was inside finishing off a late night snack, while her parents were presumably asleep elsewhere in the house. Rupert was long-gone, hopefully before either of the Silverdales had gotten home. They’d never noticed him yet, so Hailey wasn’t too worried.
”I really should introduce him though, before they just walk in on him one day,” she mused.
”So he’s nice?”
”He’s so good looking, and studying to be a nurse, and that accent. How are you always so lucky?”
”Didn’t you hear? I’m a goddess now, apparently,” Hailey said, laughing.
She frowned, stealing a bit of Hailey’s mirth. “They called me that, you know.”
”Yeah… They still do.” Hailey sighed. “He’s really nice. I think we might actually have something.”
”I’m really happy for you, Hailey.”
”Thanks, BB.” Hailey laid back on the roof and stared at the sky. “I dunno. Still feels weird.”
”BB. Sounds weird to me. Is that really what I called you?”
”Everyone did,” Beverly replied quietly. She laid down too, but there was a foot of space between them. Any of her other friends and Hailey would be right next to them. If it were Jessica, they’d practically be cuddling. Something about Beverly always kept her at a slight remove. Hailey wasn’t sure if it was Beverly keeping them apart, or herself.
”Didn’t like your real name?”
”Something like that.” Beverly smiled slightly. “I don’t hate it so much anymore though. If you want, call me Beverly. Call me whatever you like, really.”
”Almighty Grey-eyes the Fearsome and Powerful?”
”Okay, don’t call me that.”
”You know I—” Hailey cut off as Beverly abruptly vanished without so much as a sound. She simply disappeared into thin air. She waited patiently, and after a few minutes Beverly returned, popping back into the same spot and laying down again as if nothing had happened. “I went out to Rallsburg tonight.”
”Oh.” Beverly paused. “How are they doing?”
”They’re okay. Mostly just bored, I think.” She hesitated, but she decided Beverly deserved to know. If they were gonna try to redo this whole friendship thing, they ought to do it right. “Cinza’s pushing for us to start going out and finding people again. But not like they used to. She wants it to be more cooperative. More, I dunno… Aggressive, kinda?”
”Oh.” Beverly didn’t say anything for a while, and neither did Hailey. They just stared at the break in the clouds above, where a few stars peeked through the grey. Beverly disappeared again, leaving Hailey alone for another few minutes. She was just about to get up when Beverly finally reappeared.
”Twice in one night? That’s new.”
”It’s only going to get faster.” Beverly laid down again. “I hope you guys are ready for it.”
”We’re trying.” Hailey shrugged. “We’d be trying more, but everyone’s still scared. I don’t blame them, either. Their first try went really, really badly.”
”I know,” Beverly said quietly.
”Do you have any ideas on what to do?”
She shook her head. “I know what I have to do. Past that, I have no clue. It was never my job to figure it out, and now I have no idea whose it is.”
”Mine, I guess,” Hailey murmured. “Mine, or Cinza’s, or Josh’s, or who knows? All of us, maybe.”
”Just not mine. I can’t be that person.”
Hailey sighed. “We all know who that person is supposed to be.”
Beverly didn’t respond to the implied question. Hailey waited in silence for a few minutes, but Beverly still wouldn’t answer. Finally, she sat up again and summoned up a few blocks of air to help her walk back down to her window. Jessica was already curled up in their bed, waiting for Hailey to join her. “Night, BB. See you again next week?”
Beverly nodded. “Yeah. See you then.”