Chapter 31 — Across the Pond
”Grief is a curious thing: a single overwhelming sensation that can drive some to utter despair, yet act as the most powerful motivator for others. Never have I known a more versatile emotion, and never have I wanted more desperately to avoid the same. Though grief has pushed me to achieve great things, I would trade them all away in an instant if I could get back that which I lost.
John, I’d take it all back, if only you could have come home.”
~Cinza, the Rallsburg Diaries
Hailey saw the giant pillar of dust rising into the sky. Without a second thought, she dove for it.
When she arrived in London—after a long, painful flight across the Atlantic—Hailey realized she hadn’t a clue where Cornelius Malton might be, or even anything related to him. She’d been flying for so long, with her mind so singularly focused, that she’d completely forgotten to actually have a plan.
So when she flew into London proper, with Big Ben and the giant ferris wheel and everything else she recognized from TV, Hailey just circled it for a while—taking in the sights, trying to think of what to do next. She tried her phone, but didn’t get a signal, so she couldn’t look up anything either.
But then a building imploded, and Hailey’s instincts kicked in. She’d want me to help.
So Hailey swooped in, and found herself in the wreckage of yet another building. This time, at least, she remembered to keep the dust away from her, projecting a sort-of shield around herself composed of swirling wind. It interfered with her wings a bit, but at least she could breathe properly.
To her surprise, though, there didn’t seem to be a single person in the whole building. She flung pieces of debris out of her way, digging through the rubble, but the whole place looked deserted. Full of (now incredibly dusty) books and collapsed shelving, but devoid of human life.
Far less devoid of humanity was the street outside, visible through the gaps in the half-wrecked exterior. As Hailey emerged from the rubble, she found herself facing down yet another crowd of gaping onlookers. Rescue crews and police pushed their way to the front, surrounding Hailey in a very wide semicircle. No one seemed willing to approach her.
Hailey reached down instinctively to brush dust away from her clothes, but she realized she didn’t have a single speck on her. Her shield had worked perfectly. Less exciting was her choice of outfit, as she was still wearing Jessica’s favorite blue dress from the funeral. Hailey had only stopped once to rest on the whole flight from Tacoma, landing on a shipping barge somewhere in the middle of the ocean, and her mind hadn’t settled once. She’d been so single-minded in her rage, she hadn’t paid a single bit of attention to her appearance.
At least it’s a good-looking dress… Hailey clambered out of the wreckage into the center of the street, slipping on the cobblestone a little as she steadied herself. She murmured a spell and sent a wave of air down across the folds of the dress, neatly blowing away the dust around her.
Maybe it because she’d shown some form of weakness, of being human, but the crowd lost their reluctance and mobbed forward. They still gave her a few inches of space, but soon enough she had microphones shoved into her face, questions shouted at her haphazard from the BBC reporters and police alike.
Hailey didn’t want any of it. She hadn’t come here to land in the middle of a crowd again. As much as she enjoyed it normally, she couldn’t find any joy today. She had to find a ruthless billionaire, and to do that, she needed some time to actually sit down and think, without the attention of the masses.
A huge gust of wind buffeted the crowd and sent them stumbling back as Hailey shot into the air again. She flapped hard and swooped out of sight, while the reporters piled back into vans to try and chase her. Hailey stuck low to the roofs and soon lost them entirely. She found a nice nook sequestered between two arched rooftops to set down again, and pulled out her phone from her bag. To her relief, though she still couldn’t get any signal, there was an open wi-fi point nearby—probably a restaurant or a shop or something.
As soon as she connected, her inbox started piling up with new messages, and not just the usual spam. She had a lot of pending mail in her private box: Cinza, Jeremy, Jeremy’s sister the senator, Hailey’s mom, Josh, Rupert, Weston… the list went on and on, as everybody tried to text her, didn’t get anything through, and resorted to old-school email. They all wanted to know what was going on, where she’d gone to.
Well, if they don’t already know, they will soon. Hailey didn’t have time for everyone back across the Atlantic. She swapped apps and started trying to find who she was really looking for. She needed to find Cornelius Ferdinand Anastasia Malton—or just someone high enough on his corporate ladder she could use to get to him. Anything else was just a distraction.
Culver-Malton Group’s London offices were only a mile and a half away. Hailey brushed herself off as she stood up, slinging her bag over her shoulder again and shielding her eyes from the sun. Despite everything she’d heard about London weather, it was actually a nice and sunny day out. Perfect for flying around the city, if she didn’t have more important business.
Hailey took off again, and within moments heard the cries of alarm from below. Oh right… I can’t turn invisible anymore. Because she’s— she’s not—
She shook it off, narrowing her eyes and throwing more energy into every wingbeat. Malton’s offices loomed ahead, a glassy tower catching the sunlight just so, a stark contrast to the more traditional buildings on every side. Hailey strongly considered just diving straight through an upper floor window, and if she’d seen Malton in any of them, she might have done it.
Instead, she dropped to the street level and landed right in front of the automatic doors, amid startled cries of nearby pedestrians. Hailey ignored them and walked straight in, feeling an intense sense of déjà vu at bursting into an upper class business to find someone. This time, she held no reservations, and she knew she was in precisely the right place.
She’d find him.
Breathing heavily, Hailey marched straight up to the receptionist. “I’m looking for Cornelius Malton.”
To her surprise, the receptionist didn’t seem put-off in the slightest. He straightened his glasses and frowned. “Mr. Malton is in meetings all day today. May I take a message?”
Hailey rolled her eyes. She held up a hand, palm-up, and let loose a little fire—not enough to set off any sprinklers or fire alarms, but more than enough to intimidate the little man. “Trust me, he’ll want to meet me.”
The guy faltered, fire dancing in his dark pupils as he stared dumbfounded. It took him a long time to gather his wits again. “Miss Winscombe, I’m afraid I quite honestly have no way to reach Mr. Malton today. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you.”
Hailey took a step forward, and she knew for sure he could feel the heat coming off the flames still dancing in her palm. They were very real, just as hot as the rage still boiling in her chest. “Try again. I’m not leaving until I see him.”
”I really must ask you to leave.”
The flame in Hailey’s hand doubled in size, ballooning out. It crackled a little as it caught a few scraps in its wake. With her left, Hailey reached across the desk and lifted the receptionist up by his shirt. She held the fire in his face, inches away so he could really feel the heat. “Malton.”
The doors behind her slid open again, followed by the sound of a dozen boots on the smooth floor. Hailey turned around to see a half-dozen uniformed officers, looking very uncertain but ready to move in an instant. The most important-looking of the group stepped forward. As nervous as he looked, his voice was quite steady. “Hailey Winscombe?”
”Yes,” she answered. She released the receptionist and let the flame wither out in a puff of warm air. Hailey was quickly realizing how little she could actually accomplish here, no matter how angry she might feel.
The officer took another step forward. “Miss Winscombe, I have to place you under arrest.”
Do what now? “…Why?”
He started to lift his arm, but hesitated, obviously thinking very carefully about what to do next. “Will you come with us down to the station?”
”Why am I under arrest?” She hesitated. I’ve never been to England… I don’t know how things work over here. “You guys have to tell me that, right?”
”You’ve entered the country illegally, for starters.”
Oh… yeah, I guess I did. Hailey nodded. I have no idea how long I’m gonna be here, and I can’t have the police chasing me all over… “Okay. I’ll come with you.”
”Thank you.” The man reached for his handcuffs momentarily, then seemed to think better of it. He placed a hand on Hailey’s shoulder and steered her toward the exit, while the receptionist sagged in relief. “Hailey Winscombe, you do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. These rights are extended to you as a courtesy by Her Majesty to a guest of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?”
The policeman breathed a sigh of relief. “Right. Let’s get on with it.”
He nodded to one of his subordinates, who hurried out to bring a car around. Hailey got into the back seat, amidst a cloud of cameras flashing in her face and shouted questions from onlookers, undoubtedly wondering the exact same question as the London police and everyone else in the world—what the hell was Hailey Winscombe, the magic flying girl, doing in Great Britain?
In fact, it was the very first question asked of Hailey when she finally sat down in the interrogation room at the London Metro Police station, opposite a gravelly-voiced rough older woman who appeared to be the chief of police.
”I’m looking for something,” Hailey replied, with a pointed glance at the recording box seated on the carved wooden table. Everything about the room was much nicer than the American equivalents she’d been in, even the one in the FBI offices a few weeks prior. It was all so pleasant, which just made her feel even more frustrated. She shouldn’t be stuck in a police station; she had real work to be doing, work the police should be helping her with.
The chief and her second—a tall bald man who looked like he’d been puttering around the place since World War II—glanced at each other, before the chief spoke again. “And it’s got something to do with Mr. Malton, does it?”
”Come off it. You banged into the man’s office,” said the tall man. Lieutenant? Hailey wondered. She had no idea what ranks the police used, on either side of the ocean. She hated not knowing things, even the little details like that. “Let’s not play the fool now.”
”Aren’t I supposed to get a lawyer or something?” Hailey asked, glancing around. “I thought that was still a thing over here.”
”Would you like us to summon legal counsel?” asked the chief, and she too glanced at the recording device. Hailey decided to take the hint, hoping she was right.
”…I’d like to waive whatever right I have to this being recorded, and getting a lawyer and all that. I just want to talk off the record, if that’s okay.”
The chief breathed a sigh of relief as she reached forward. “This interview with Hailey Winscombe was concluded at twelve fifty-five in the afternoon on November the twenty-third, two thousand eighteen.” She switched off the recording device.
Immediately, Hailey leaned forward again, and the intensity returned to her voice. “Okay. Now some real answers. I need to find Malton.”
”Hold the phone,” said the lieutenant. He scratched his head as he spoke. “You’re still here illegally, you know. We need you to answer for that.”
”Why do you want to find Mr. Malton?” asked the chief, putting a hand on her lieutenant’s arm to forestall him.
Hailey hesitated. How much do I tell them…? It’s not like I can prove anything. “Did you see the videos of Lakewood? Of what happened there?”
”Miss Winscombe, I don’t believe there’s a soul in Her Majesty’s realm that hasn’t seen it.”
Good. So everybody knows what he’s capable of. “Malton caused that. It was his men that started everything.”
”Oh, honestly,” cried the lieutenant, standing up. “Are you really suggesting that Mr. Malton has some secret force of… what’s the word again?”
”Awakened,” supplied the chief, still watching Hailey skeptically.
”A secret force of awakened that he sent out to America to do… what, exactly?”
”Kill a whole lot of innocent people,” Hailey growled.
Both of them winced at her tone. The chief looked about to say something, but Hailey was fed up. I don’t have time for this. I need to get out there. He already knows I’m in town. I have to find him, and I have to make him answer for this.
She stood up.
”What are you—”
”I’m leaving now,” Hailey announced. “I’ve got things to do. Are you going to try and stop me?”
”I can’t just let you leave,” said the chief, also rising to her feet.
”You really don’t want to get in my way right now.” Hailey wasn’t trying to sound so harsh, but it came across that way. The lieutenant recoiled at her gaze, but the chief stood resolute. “I’m not a citizen of the U.K., right? So just let me go. I’ll be out of the country as soon as I’m done.”
”That… You can’t just—” spluttered the lieutenant.
His boss raised her hand again to shut him up. “You flew here all on your own, didn’t you?” she asked.
Hailey nodded. “I can do a lot more than that.”
”I’ve no doubt. As I said, we’ve seen the video.” The chief frowned. “I’m also quite aware you aren’t so invincible as you wish to project. I distinctly recall watching you struggle out of a collapsing structure several times over.”
”That was…” Hailey trailed off. It was true… If she hadn’t seen that cross-beam in time, she could’ve been a goner. It fell within inches of her head. But if they think I’m weak, they’ll actually try to hold me down. I don’t want to hurt them. “Look. Do you see this?” She held up a little ball of flame again.
”That’s not impressing anyone anymore,” sniffed the lieutenant in a haughty tone.
”Not impressed?” Hailey snapped. She flung her hand out toward the door, unlocking the handle she’d seen coming in. With a snap of her fingers, the door slammed open like a crack of lightning. “You don’t know anything.”
”…Uhh, marm?” came a quivering voice from the door. An officer stood just behind the suddenly quite-open door to the interrogation room, hand up as if to knock. Her knees buckled together as she froze in place, barely managing to string together a sentence. “Marm, Miss Winscombe’s legal counsel has arrived.”
Jefferson? Hailey raised her eyebrows, before realizing it was ridiculous. There’s no way he could get here that fast. Maybe somebody from his firm, or a recommendation… but I didn’t call anyone. What’s going on?
”Also, you’ve a call from the foreign secretary’s office.”
”Thank you,” said the chief, giving the hapless officer a curt nod. The young woman fled the room, passing a sharply-dressed man with a briefcase.
”Good to see you again, chief,” he greeted warmly. The chief offered him the same curt nod she’d just given her own officer, and he smiled all the wider. “Miss Winscombe. A pleasure.”
Hailey just nodded, trying to play along, though she had no clue who the man was.
”You can’t expect us to believe you’re her lawyer,” said the lieutenant hotly.
”All guests of the esteemed Met are entitled to legal counsel, as I’m sure you’d agree,” he replied, cheerful as ever.
”It seems you have some powerful friends,” said the chief, glancing at Hailey.
”May we have the room, please?”
The chief turned to Hailey in full, narrowing her eyes. “Is this your legal counsel, Miss Winscombe?”
Hailey nodded, though she still had no clue where the man might have come from. No matter who he was, she wasn’t about to turn down the mysterious assist. She had enough friends in high places, as the chief said, that he could have come from anyone. I must be on the right track.
As soon as they were alone, the lawyer sat down across from her. He didn’t bother to open his briefcase, merely pulled out a business card and handed it over.
Hailey scanned it and immediately did a double take. Her mouth fell open.
”Sir Thomas Laushire is eager to make your acquaintance,” added the lawyer. “If it is amenable to you, we’d like to arrange a meeting at your earliest convenience. Say, perhaps, in ten minutes?”
Compared to her brief ride in the back of a London police cruiser, the drive out to the Laushire estate felt like an eternity. Hailey could have flown it in no time at all, but she waited patiently in the back of the stately car Laushire had sent for her, trying to keep calm and remind herself that she needed more direction if she was ever going to find Malton. Who better than his biggest rival?
The lawyer Laushire had sent got her out without too much trouble, to the shock of every officer in the station. Technically, Hailey was still in the country illegally, but he managed to talk her way out of the station and into the personal custody of the Laushire residence in mere minutes. Some loopholes of the law she couldn’t begin to understand, plus what she assumed was a bit of bribery, and she was well on her way out into the city.
She probably would have loved this part… Hailey sighed as she watched the landscape go by. They were still within the London sprawl, but there was a charm to the place she’d never felt in the Seattle area. Laushire’s mansion had rolling gardens and a stately path leading up to the huge structure, with a wide portal leading inside. It was all so… familiar. Hailey had seen it before, and so had Jessica.
In fact, the design wasn’t all that different from Kendra’s home back in Rallsburg. Kendra must have paid for the design and construction to imitate her childhood home. Hailey was surprised—she’d assumed her old professor would have wanted nothing to do with her father or her home. Things weren’t exactly adding up, and she really wasn’t in the mood to puzzle them out.
As the car rumbled to a halt, the driver leapt out and opened the door for Hailey, offering his hand. She ignored it, heading straight through the huge double-doors without a moment to spare.
A servant waited just inside, wearing a set of finery and with the most pompous voice Hailey had ever heard outside of TV. “May I present his lordship, Sir Thomas Laushire.”
Thomas Laushire was just inside, exactly the same as every picture Hailey had ever seen. She’d studied the man in one of her business classes, and he was even more imposing in life than in a staged photograph. Thomas stood at the top of the winged staircase, along with his wife, both sharply dressed in business attire. His short red hair, the same as his wife and daughter, lit up in the sunbeam that shone through the tall window overlooking the main foyer. It was an impressive sight—and Hailey was having none of it.
”Welcome, Miss Winscombe,” Thomas called out.
Hailey shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for all that. I need to find him.”
”You’re looking for Cornelius, I presume?”
She nodded. “He’s got a lot to answer for.”
”I don’t disagree.” Thomas glanced up at the elderly man who’d driven and escorted Hailey inside. “Thank you, Collins. You may go.”
Hailey glanced over her shoulder at the bowing man, who quickly retreated from the foyer along with the pompous servant. “…Collins? Like the guy in Rallsburg?”
”The McCreary family has been with us for many generations,” said Mary. “We were devastated to hear of their son’s fate in May.”
Sure doesn’t sound like it… “He seemed like a good guy,” Hailey offered awkwardly. Truth be told, she hadn’t really known him, except the rare occasion he popped by class to bring something to Kendra—and the day he’d died while Hailey was trying to fly people away from the golems to safety. She shuddered.
”You were a student of Kendra’s, correct?” asked Thomas.
”Is she…” Thomas trailed off. His mouth seemed to be having severe difficulty staying open.
His wife filled in the rest. “Is she all right?”
Hailey nodded. “I just saw her yesterday. She seemed fine.” The memory brought back Hailey’s sense of purpose. She wasn’t here to give Kendra’s parents an update on their estranged daughters—she was here to find a murderer. “I need to find Malton.”
”Why?” asked Mary, without a moment’s hesitation.
”Because men he hired are responsible for everything that happened last week.”
Thomas frowned. “Can you prove that?”
”I don’t have to,” said Hailey. “I just need to find him.”
”And do what?” asked Mary. “You’re talking about one of the most powerful men in the world, and someone who brings a substantial amount of money into the country.”
”I wish nothing but plagues upon the man,” said Thomas, “but legally my hands are tied. He’s broken no laws.”
”He murdered my best friend!” Hailey snapped. Her blood was boiling again. Why can’t they just give me what I want? She didn’t care if Malton was legally in the right. Nobody could possibly think he was innocent. She’d drag him into the center of London and show everyone what he’d done.
Mary’s eyes softened, showing the first real emotion Hailey had seen. “…I’m so sorry, dear.”
”If I could help you, I would,” said Thomas. “I don’t have any power over him. Even economically, I’m ashamed to admit I’m flummoxed. Cornelius has had me at every turn.”
”Just tell me where I can find him,” Hailey said. “I don’t need you to do anything else.”
”I have no idea,” said Thomas simply.
”So use your people. Do something.”
”I have been, as a matter of fact. My chief of security had the man followed for a month now, trying to determine how he’s getting inside information from my company. Cornelius vanished without a trace seven days ago, and Bastian hasn’t been able to locate him since.”
”…The same day as the Battle of Lakewood,” said Mary thoughtfully.
Thomas glanced at her. “Indeed. I hadn’t made that connection.”
Hailey couldn’t stand still. She started pacing around the bottom floor of the mansion, while the Laushires looked on from above curiously. She needed to be doing something. She even started levitating objects at random, while the curtains swayed from her wings brushing them as she walked by.
”Astounding…” murmured Mary. Hailey snapped around to look at her, startling the older woman. “I’m sorry, Miss Winscombe. I did not mean to offend.”
”You didn’t,” said Hailey. “I’m just…” She trailed off, not sure what to say. She knew they were right, though she couldn’t bring herself to voice it. Even if she found Malton, what was she really going to do with him? She had no proof. All they had was the guy Jeremy and Stebbins had caught, and she doubted they could link him to Malton in any way.
”You are in mourning,” said Thomas, nodding slightly.
No, I’m in anger. “I need him to pay,” she snapped.
”I’m doing the best I can.” He sighed audibly. “I’ve been working with a new partner from the colonies. Someone from your neck of the woods, in fact. He’s quite the sharp mind, whomever he is, but we’re only moving so fast. Malton will catch on sooner or later, and we’ll be in another arms race to the top.”
”Why the Pacific Northwest?” asked Hailey, finally coming to a halt. “I thought Laushire mostly did energy and European goods.”
”We needed a market Malton didn’t have his claws in, and we saw an opportunity to work with a major new player,” said Thomas.
”Cornelius’ greatest flaw is his pride,” added Mary. “He’s made it to the top, and stopped bothering to watch for the peasants at his feet.”
Wow, no mincing words here… “And you can’t work in Europe anymore because he’s sniping all your negotiations?”
”Precisely. Our operations in the Northwest have been conducted entirely through the third party.” Thomas frowned. “I’m not comfortable with handing off my money to someone I’ve never even met and letting them make all the decisions, but it’s working. We’re seeing returns.”
Okay, Mom. I’m actually going to make a deal. Aren’t you proud? Hailey smiled, though it felt as bitter as the worst coffee she’d ever tasted. “I can tell you how Malton’s getting his information.”
Thomas’ eyebrows disappeared into his hair. “…You… how?”
And I’m going to use Kendra’s lessons to negotiate with her own father. Who saw this coming? “Just trust me. I know. But I need you to give me something in return.”
”…We really don’t know where the man is,” said Mary.
Hailey shook her head. “That’s not it. I believe you. I need you to help me pay for as many lawyers as it takes to bring him down, after I bring him in.” I’ll do this right for you, Jessica. “He’s a billionaire, I’m nothing compared to that. No matter how stupid-famous I am now, I gotta have money on my side, right?”
Thomas inclined his head. “Too true. You have my word, Miss Winscombe. No matter the cost, I’ll make sure Cornelius pays the price for his sins.”
Hailey turned to leave. She got what she needed out of him, and she had a job to do now—but before she could open the doors, Mary called out to her.
”Miss Winscombe, before you go—would you stay for some tea?”
Hailey hesitated. “I…”
”You aren’t going to find him today. Please…” She trailed off. Hailey turned around. Mary had taken hold of her husband’s hand. “We haven’t heard a word about Kendra in years. Not from someone who truly knew her.”
”…I dunno if I really did,” said Hailey dubiously. I mean, she had a whole secret twin sister… but I guess nobody knew about Lily. They still haven’t even mentioned her. This secret sure runs deep.
Hailey did feel some kinship to Kendra though, as one of the other natural awakened, even if Kendra always seemed apart from the rest of the eight. While she shared the traits that caused them all to be treated differently by many forms of magic, as well as their habit of voicing spells aloud, Kendra never could muster the same level of power as the rest of the group.
Hailey had noticed it first in the ritual, when they’d all joined together to hit Omega with everything they had. Hector, Jessica and Hailey had all pushed out the same rough amount of energy for Cinza to use, but Kendra’s paled in comparison. It wasn’t the best measurement—Hailey could only barely feel her essence from across the circle, totally overwhelmed by Jessica’s pure magic and Hector’s raw power—but the fiery-haired professor never seemed to match them in magical ability.
And yet… she could do vast spells which exceeded everything Hailey could even conceive of. She had no idea how Kendra’s portals and pocket dimensions worked. Even with the bag she always wore at her belt, to which she fed a constant tiny stream of energy, was a complete mystery. Hailey knew it was Creation magic in some form, and she knew too that it took far less energy than might be expected simply based on the strength of the aura, but beyond that? Kendra was a genius. Hailey wished she could come up with so many useful and creative applications of her own affinity.
Kendra intimidated her, Hailey had to admit it. She didn’t think raw power would ever beat a truly creative, innovative mind, and Kendra far outstripped her in those qualities. If Lily were able to match her sister, they’d be unstoppable. Good thing she’s on our side… At least I don’t have to worry she might have another full page like mine. I wonder why Lily didn’t awaken off the same page as her sister. Maybe she just wasn’t in town yet.
”She was the best teacher in our school,” said Hailey finally. “She invented whole new kinds of magic I still don’t understand. Wherever she is, Kendra’s doing just fine.” Somewhere in Seattle, I think… They never let anyone into their house except Natalie. Her stomach rumbled, and Hailey finally remembered she hadn’t eaten a bite since landing on the freighter halfway to London. “…Do you guys have anything to eat?”
Mary smiled warmly. “Our personal chef is the finest outside the Palace.”
I think their dining room is, too… The intimidation must have shown through on Hailey’s face, because Mary immediately waved them out of the huge hall. “We’ll dine in the sitting room, Collins.”
”Of course, marm.”
Soon enough, Hailey was wolfing down the best lunch she’d ever tasted, grilled chicken with an array of steamed vegetables and a baked potato filling out the plate. The Laushires watched in alarm as Hailey swallowed down two huge pieces of chicken both before either had even made it halfway through one.
Hailey cleared her throat, face red with embarrassment. “I haven’t eaten in almost a day,” she explained. “And flying really takes it out of you.”
Mary smiled. “That must be marvelous, soaring through the clouds.”
”It really is,” said Hailey, feeling a lot more calmed down now that she’d gotten something to eat. “It’s also really, really wet.”
”Is that something Kendra could do, too? Fly?” asked Thomas.
”No. Just me,” said Hailey. “Though she might be able to figure it out someday. She’s way smarter than I am, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
”In the bits we were able to read, the author went into great detail about this ‘astral market’,” said Thomas.
”Wasn’t Kendra’s name for it,” said Hailey quickly, seeing his skeptical expression. “But yeah. She basically made her own giant bubble of space and created a market from nothing. You should be really proud of what she accomplished.”
”I am,” said Thomas. Mary put a hand on his, before he got indignant.
”Not just that, though,” said Hailey, buttering her potato before she dug into it. “She was an amazing teacher. I mean, my mom’s in business so I had an advantage, but she really got into it with the other students. I don’t think a single person failed her class, and she didn’t take it easy on us. She just understood everything perfectly, and in that way where you can actually explain it to other people. That’s really rare, even with teachers.”
”She’s always been that way,” said Mary. “Honestly, I don’t know where she gets it.”
”From you, dear,” said Thomas, toasting his wife with his glass. “She always got it from you. She’s absolutely your daughter, in every way.”
”Not every way,” said Mary with a sigh.
Hailey glanced between them. The tone had gotten personal very quickly, and Hailey felt like she wasn’t supposed to be in the room. She decided to try and shift the topic a bit, but she still wanted to stay on Kendra. Hailey wanted to know more about the other natural awakened, and who better than Kendra’s own parents?
”She definitely got your beauty,” said Hailey, nodding at Mary. “You look great, Mrs. Laushire.”
”Mary, please.” Mary shook her head. “And honestly, I wish she hadn’t. It might have made things a lot easier.”
”Dear,” said Thomas, “that’s not true, and you’re well aware of it.”
”…Did she have a lot of trouble with guys or something?” asked Hailey.
”Quite,” said Thomas. “Particularly with those whom she couldn’t determine if they were genuine, or if their interests were borne of greed.”
”Not that either would’ve done any good,” said Mary, rolling her eyes. “No man would’ve ever drawn our Kenni’s eye.”
Kenni? Hailey wondered, suppressing a giggle. To hear prim and proper Professor Laushire called ‘Kenni’ just sounded so strange. Mary appeared to realize the same a moment later, putting a hand to her mouth. “Goodness, I’ve become so familiar. I do apologize.”
”It’s okay,” said Hailey. “I… well, I felt pretty close to your daughter. I was her student for four years, and I fought alongside her in May.” I felt her essence, too, when we did the ritual. Never known anything like it… Even if it was faint.
”She fought?” asked Thomas sharply.
”…Kinda.” Hailey shrugged. “She was never injured. Shook up a bit, but she made it out just fine.”
”Oh, thank goodness,” said Mary, letting out a breath.
”They were a lot of help though,” Hailey went on. “We would have lost some really good people without Kendra’s market.” Hailey paused, thinking back a moment. “I’m sorry, I just… tell me if this is too personal, but you said Kendra wasn’t interested in men?”
Mary rolled her eyes. “Yes, and if I’d’ve known sooner, she probably wouldn’t hate me so much. I sent so many potential suitors to meet her.”
”Asexual,” said Mary, “as I understand it.”
”She explained to us, in no uncertain terms, that she held no interest in a courtship and to kindly stop trying to find her a partner, as she was quite content on her own,” said Thomas, smiling slightly. “I’ve never heard such a polite request to bugger off in my life.”
Hailey smiled. “That’s the most Kendra thing I’ve ever heard.”
”It took us a while to comprehend what she meant, but I believe we got there in the end.” Thomas’ expression darkened. “If only I’d been so understanding with her professional life…”
”She’s alive, dear,” Mary reminded him. “Hailey’s seen her.”
”Spoken to her, too,” added Hailey. And her parents seem like such good people. They don’t deserve this, no matter what went down in the past. “I can get a message to her.”
”You can?” asked Thomas, hope blooming on his face like the sun had just come out from behind the heavy clouds hanging over London.
Hailey nodded. “I won’t tell you where she is, because that’s her choice—”
”Of course,” Thomas interrupted quickly. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
”But… yeah. Whatever you want to say, I’ll make sure she hears it when I can.”
Thomas looked like he might actually leap up and hug her. He didn’t, of course, but for a man of his standing and stature, Hailey knew it was a huge gesture. She liked them—both of them, really—and she didn’t really want to treat them like the rest of the cold and cutthroat business world she’d grown up around, or the harsh distrusting world she’d come to know.
”It’s the software,” Hailey added, cleaning her face with the softest cloth napkin she’d ever felt. “The way Malton’s getting into your company.”
”…Pardon me?” asked Thomas.
Hailey stood up. “I still want your help, whenever I find him, and I’ll bring you everything I can get. But you should probably cut him off while you can.” She stretched out her shoulders, flaring her wings a bit as well. Even if they didn’t really exist, for whatever reason stretching them felt just as satisfying. The sudden wind current fluttered the curtains behind her. “Your company uses some kind of software from a Japanese company, right? Nishimura, I think?”
”Yes. We acquired them about nine years ago.” Thomas frowned. “There’s no way Kazuo would do this. I know that man. It’s simply not in his character.”
”Well, you might be right. But it is in his daughter’s.” Hailey pulled on her jacket, which she’d refused to allow Collins to take. “Rika Nishimura made a deal with one of Malton’s men to give him access to your stuff—in exchange for her life,” Hailey added, not wanting to throw Rika totally under the bus. She couldn’t exactly blame the girl for playing the only card she had, at a time they were all expecting to die in horrible, horrible ways. “You need to patch that hole, whatever it is.”
”Little Rika?” asked Mary, creasing her eyebrows. “I can’t believe it.”
”It’s true, believe me.” Alden saw it happen, after all. Thanks, man. Couldn’t’ve pulled this off without you. Next time I see you, I’m gonna owe you way more than just that one drink.
”Thank you,” said Thomas, quickly getting to his feet. He extended his hand, and Hailey shook it firmly. “As I said, anything you need, don’t hesitate to phone.”
”Hailey dear, you don’t have anywhere to stay yet, do you?” asked Mary.
Hailey hesitated, blushing a little. “I… hadn’t really thought that far ahead.”
”This sounds like it will take longer than just a day. Stay here in our home.”
Thomas nodded in agreement. “I daresay we’ve more than enough space.”
”…Thanks,” said Hailey. “That’s really generous of you. I’m grateful.” She turned to leave. “I’ll get in touch with your daughters as soon as I can.”
Mary’s tone stopped Hailey dead. She whipped back around, and saw two totally blank expressions. Oh no…
”Yeah. Kendra and Lily.”
”Who is Lily?” asked Thomas.
”Your… I…” Hailey paused. What if Beverly… what if it hit them too? I don’t… how am I supposed to explain this?
”Hailey?” said Mary, rising to her husband’s side and taking his arm. “Is something wrong, dear?”
I need to figure this out first. “I’m so sorry.” She shook her head. “I was thinking of someone else. I must be more tired that I thought.”
Mary nodded sympathetically. “I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to fly yourself across the ocean. Please, I insist you take one of the guest rooms. Collins!” Instantly upon her summons, Collins appeared at the door. “Show Miss Winscombe to the guest wing, and let her have her choice of room.”
”Very good, marm.” Collins turned to Hailey. “By your leave, miss.”
Hailey hurried out of room and followed Collins up the winged staircase and into the guest wing. The rooms were as nice as everything else in the house, if a bit smaller, but Hailey didn’t have the presence of mind to really enjoy the sights. The moment she dismissed Collins, Hailey shut the door and sat down on the edge of the bed.
”Beverly?” she whispered to the empty room.
There was no response. Hailey pressed her hands to her forehead, trying to think. Of course there wouldn’t be a response. Beverly wasn’t omniscient. She only knew when awakenings were happening, and that was incredibly complex magic on its own. Hailey had to get in touch with her in a different way—but the girl had no phone number, no email, no identity whatsoever. How was Hailey supposed to talk to her?
Use a spell. Beverly could sense magic being used. More importantly, she could sense when someone like Hailey was casting a spell. Hailey just had to get her attention.
She started casting an array of random spells, whatever came to mind. Her hair changed colors in a kaleidoscope of hues. She drew a picture on the notepad by the bed with her mind. She flew around the room—until she nearly plowed into the wall, and stopped before she broke something irreplaceable.
Still nothing. Hailey fell onto the bed, exhausted. Next time I see her, she’s not getting away without a cell phone number.
As Hailey laid back atop the sheets, she felt a wave of pain wash through her. Not just pain, but loneliness too. She felt so empty and cold, even though the Laushire house was quite warm and sealed off from the pre-winter chill outside. No, this was something much deeper, something no beautiful house, crackling fireplace or impossibly soft bed could ward away.
Hailey had naturally laid down with a space open under her arm. There should have been someone curled up next to her, filling that spot. There should have been another weight on the bed, another body, another person.
I can’t sleep. Not yet. I have to find him.
Find him. How could she have missed it? Hailey sat up so fast that blood rushed into her skull and dimmed her vision for a moment. She flung her hand out, catching her phone out of midair as it zoomed across the room from her bag.
”Nikki, I need your help.”
Nikki gasped. “Hailey? But… what—”
”Nikki, I need you to explain it again. Exactly how you do that spell.”
”Hailey, what are you doing? Everyone’s really worried about you—”
Hailey cleared her throat, trying not to shout at Nikki, forcing her impatience away. “Nikki, seriously. I need to know how to find people.”
”But… nobody can do it, unless you’re my affinity. It nearly killed Josh just trying.”
”I know. He told me.” Hailey paused. “Look, you know that I’m different. I’m a lot more powerful than you guys. I think I’ll be okay. I only have to find one person, and he’s not far away.”
”I don’t think distance really affects it…”
She hesitated. “I think you should talk to Cinza first.”
”I don’t have time for that,” said Hailey. “This is really important.”
”…Okay.” Nikki took a deep breath, like she were psyching herself up. “Don’t forget I warned you. This shit is painful, even for me. So… it’s like this huge ball of thread…”
It took three repeats before Hailey really felt like she understood it. She tested the beginning of the spell there in the room and felt the impossibly huge wall, just as Nikki described. It was painful even to try and comprehend it, but Hailey felt like she could do it. She’d need help—she’d need a lot of help—but it could be done.
It sounds so much like what Jess used to talk about…
”How’s London?” Nikki asked, while Hailey caught her breath, recovering from her second test that went a bit too far.
”…Not bad…” Hailey cleared her throat again, coughing a few times. “I’m not really here to sight see though.”
”No kidding…” Nikki trailed off as Hailey coughed again. “Seriously, are you sure about this?”
”Like I said, distance apparently doesn’t matter for Knowledge magic. I could probably do it from here.”
”You never met him though, not since you awakened.”
”…Oh.” Nikki paused. “You’re going after Viper, then.”
”I’d be there if I could, Hales.”
”I know.” Hailey smiled, even though Nikki couldn’t see it, half a world away. “Thanks, Nikki.”
”Use a shit-ton of amethyst, or so help me, I’ll fly out there and choke you myself.”
Hailey hung up. Though fatigue was really setting in now, and Hailey could barely lift her arms, she couldn’t sleep yet. She would soon, very soon, but she needed one last thing first. She hurried downstairs, straight to the sitting room where she could hear the Laushires still talking. Hailey knocked on the door before she burst in, to startled jumps from the both of them.
”Actually, there is something you can do for me,” she announced, before either could speak. “I need amethyst. As much as you can get me by tomorrow.”
Tomorrow, Viper. I’m coming for you. You, Malton, and everybody else who’s responsible for her death. I’ll find you, and I’ll make you pay for what you did.
You’re going down.