Chapter 53 — The New World
With Natalie and her father gone, nobody was quite sure what to do next. Hailey stood in the doorway, making it plain nobody was going to chase them down. She wasn’t entirely sure they wouldn’t try, even though she could easily overpower anyone in the room. Maybe not all of them, but… these aren’t exactly people who’re gonna work together anyway.
To her relief, Jeremy didn’t seem about to try. He looked incredibly frustrated, and Hailey couldn’t blame him—he’d been chasing Brian for months. Still… as Jeremy’s eyes met Hailey’s, a look of understanding passed between them.
I couldn’t let it happen. Not in front of her. I’m sorry.
Jeremy nodded. He’d gotten the message. Pistol still in hand, he turned to Cinza.
”I’m takin’ the rest of these assholes. Are you good with that?”
Cinza glanced at the trio of Felix and the two trusted soldiers of Brian Hendricks. Her brow narrowed, eyes still blazing with fury, but her voice was quiet. “They deserve far worse.”
”That isn’t how we do things now,” said Hailey. “Once was bad enough. No more.”
”…No more,” she agreed. Cinza lifted her head up as if breaking the surface of water, taking a deep breath like she’d been drowning. The storm continued to pound the roof overhead, but no more lightning struck the town. It seemed to be moving on, finally giving them a respite. “You may take them. See to it they face the harshest justice your world can muster.”
”You got it,” said Jeremy. He turned to glare at Felix, half-cowering in the corner. “…Come on, asshole. Ain’t you a fuckin’ wartime reporter? Thought you traveled the damn world. This shit shouldn’t scare you.”
”This is different,” said Felix, his voice trembling a little. “That was the whole point. Everything’s different. We can’t—”
”Would you shut up already?” Jeremy walked over and roughly shoved him around to face the wall. He took a set of plastic ties from his pocket, straight from Captain Hoskins’ supply. Jeremy pressed Felix up against the stone—definitely with more force than necessary—and yanked his arms behind him.
The one-armed woman snarled. She moved toward Jeremy as if to fight.
Hailey stepped in front of her. The woman tried to strike, but Hailey simply shoved her backward. She stumbled away, shocked—after all, Hailey didn’t have anything like her muscle or weight. She shouldn’t be able to push away a soldier like that so easily.
”…Dear God in heaven…” murmured the heavyset man. He kept muttering, too. Hailey’s keen ears caught the words—a constant stream of prayers. She shook her head. You guys aren’t following any kind of god. No one’s gonna save you.
”Don’t do anythin’ stupid,” said Jeremy. He pulled another plastic tie and started to take the heavyset man into custody. The one-armed woman still seemed ready to throw down, but Hailey just stood, patiently waiting for her to make a move.
Finally, after a full minute of staring each other down, the woman relented. Haily let out a breath—not that she doubted she could take the woman, but she simply didn’t want to fight.
Not now. There’s still so much going on. Meg might be dying. Natalie’s gone off with her dad somewhere. Beverly’s missing.
And… I don’t fight anymore. That’s not me. Not the new me, anyway.
”Are you gonna come quietly?” asked Hailey softly.
After another moment’s hesitation, the one-armed woman nodded. She held out her hand, smirking slightly.
Hailey ignored her. She glanced at Jeremy. “What about… that?” She nodded down at the golem rod, still on the floor between them.
Cinza frowned. “It should be destroyed.”
”I don’t know if I can,” said Hailey uncomfortably. “I can’t even grab it with magic.”
”Don’t want to touch the fuckin’ thing,” muttered Jeremy. “All you, Hales.”
”Are you sure?”
He shrugged. “You’re the strongest. Keep it safe ’til you figure it out. We’ll say it was destroyed.”
”What about them?” she asked, jerking her head at Brian’s followers.
Jeremy glanced over. “They sure don’t seem to be hearin’ us right now… Figured that was you.”
Hailey raised an eyebrow. She felt out with her magic, and sure enough, there was a spell keeping their conversation private… but she couldn’t determine the source. It took her a moment to realize who it must be—and who had suddenly vanished from the room.
Hailey walked over to the center of the room and—very gingerly, as if it might explode—picked up the golem rod. To her relief, it didn’t really feel like anything—made of solid rock or obsidian, if she had to describe it. She sighed with relief, and tucked it into the inner pocket of her flight jacket.
”All good.” She glanced at Jeremy. “What now?”
Jeremy keyed his radio. “Stebbins, got us an exit? Over.”
”All clear, sir. Looks like Rook decided we were done after wolf-girl took off. Not a sound since. Over.”
Hailey’s eyes widened slightly. “Ask him where she went?”
Jeremy nodded. “Get a look at where she’s headin’? Over.”
”Negative. Couldn’t track her, sir. Over.”
”…Got it,” said Jeremy with a sigh. “We’ll be movin’ out soon. Cover us back to camp, we’ve got three prisoners in tow. Jackie, I’m gonna need you in here. Over.”
”Solid copy, sir. Over.”
Jeremy turned back to the prisoners—and Cinza had vanished. He looked around, confused.
Hailey shook her head again. “She’s gone.” Felt her magic moving away… probably could’ve stopped her, but why? She didn’t do anything wrong. She was going to, but we persuaded her against it. It’s okay.
”Think she’s goin’ after the kid?”
”I don’t know… I don’t think so.” Hailey frowned. “Natalie could feel them coming anyway, by magic or by the wolf and the cat. They aren’t gonna sneak up on her.”
Jeremy nodded. Jackie walked in a moment later, a little breathless.
”Hendricks’ inner circle,” said Jeremy, jerking his head at Felix and the two bodyguards.
Felix snorted. “Hardly.”
”Whatever the fuck you say, asshole,” said Jeremy. “Already got you twice over with Hendricks, workin’ together, and this is lucky number three. You’re goin’ to jail for a long-ass time.”
”Terrorism, motherfucker.” Jeremy grabbed him by the shoulders and manhandled him out of the room. Jackie took the heavyset man, just as rough, leaving Hailey with the one-armed woman.
Hailey simply nodded her forward. The woman walked stiffly out of the room, silently resistant but still moving forward. They emerged back into Rallsburg, where the rain was starting to let up—the earlier storm reduced to a mere drizzle. Hailey pulled her hood up and tightened her scarf. The woman had no such protection, but Hailey didn’t have anything to offer her either… unless…
A shield of wind above them, where the rain simply drifted to the sides. Hailey smiled, trying to offer some level of comfort—but of course, it came off completely wrong.
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “Witch,” she muttered.
Hailey sighed. She kept the shield up anyway. They weren’t as well-bundled as her, nor did they have magic to keep themselves warm. She couldn’t warm up areas without making fire—stupid Nature diffinity…—but she could at least keep them dry. Jackie, at least, threw her a grateful smile.
They made an odd troupe of six, marching down out of Rallsburg and back to the pilgrim camp. After a little ways, a man emerged out of an alleyway, a rifle slung over his shoulder.
”Nice to finally meet you.” It was Stebbins. Hailey suddenly realized that, like the man said, they’d never actually met in person.
”Same,” she replied, offering another smile.
He grinned and shook her hand. “Thanks for the assists.”
”Any ti—get down!”
Hailey felt it coming, a split-second before it hit. She threw herself to the ground. The rest of the group followed, even the trio of prisoners. She didn’t know if it was her voice, or if they too felt the huge wave of incoming magic—none of them were awakened, but it was so much… She’d never felt this much, not since…
Since the ritual. The one we did.
It passed them by, seemingly with no effect. Hailey clambered to her feet, looking around. She was confused—her companions even moreso.
”…Hales?” muttered Jeremy. “The fuck are we doin’?”
”Something huge just happened,” said Hailey. “I’m not… I’m not sure what.”
Jeremy clicked his radio.
Hailey pulled out her phone. It was dead.
”…What the hell…” murmured Jackie, staring at her own dead phone.
”Was that an EMP?” asked Stebbins, glancing at the sky.
”Electromagnetic pulse,” said Felix, also staring at the sky. “Knocks out electronics in a wide radius. The military uses targeted EMPs in the field against terrorist installations… or as a side effect of a nuclear strike.”
”Well, lucky us, you’re a fuckin’ terrorist and we got hit with one transportin’ your ass,” muttered Jeremy. “Come on, let’s keep movin’.”
Hailey followed the group at a distance—Stebbins had taken over escorting the one-armed woman, though Hailey was ready to intervene if she made a break for it. She was still staring at the sky herself. The air tingled, and not with electrostatic energy or anything else man-made.
That was magic. That was definitely magic. Something’s happening…
The pilgrim camp came into view a few minutes later, with Hailey still lost in thought. There seemed to be some kind of commotion going on, and it reminded Hailey what had happened there only an hour or so earlier. People were dying from awakenings, and she needed to do something about it.
Can’t call him again either, or Beverly… I gotta go.
As the rest of the group emerged into the open, Hailey stopped.
Jeremy glanced back. “Hailey?”
”Keep going without me.”
She shook her head. “I can’t go out there.”
”Why the fuck not?”
Hailey smiled sadly. “I’m an internationally wanted fugitive now, Jeremy. Also, I gotta go save the rest of the world.”
She hugged him, which widened his eyes even more. Without waiting for an answer, Hailey took off. She launched herself into the sky with a huge burst of magic, hurtling into the sky. She braced herself and formed another shield as she burst into the lower cloud layer, breaking into the heart of the rainstorm.
Hailey twisted around to the east. She flew, hard and fast, making for Shelton, and the hospital at its north edge.
Alden still hadn’t moved an inch. The emergency room bustled around him, but he stayed stock-still, holding Meg’s hand, watching the monitors tick by. He had his phone out, but he couldn’t focus on it. There were more news stories popping up, about failed awakenings and warning everyone not to try. He was glad they’d gotten the word out, whether it was Rachel or Cinza or whoever.
Nobody else should go through that…
She’d made such a terrible noise. Alden didn’t think it’d ever leave his head. Every few seconds, his mind drifted back to it—to the look on her face, the terror in her eyes, her vice grip on his arm.
He’d give anything for Meg to try and tear his arm off like that again.
Alden hadn’t heard any other asphysxiation patients come in, either—at least, what he could make out through the curtain into the main bustle of the hospital. Everything else was still gunshot victims, people cut by broken glass, other scrapes and wounds taken during the massacre.
He looked up. Alden’s parents burst through the curtain. His mother fell on her knees on Meg’s other side, clutching her hand. Alden’s father, meanwhile, looked pale as a sheet. He ambled over to Alden, like a blind man lost in the forest.
”…What happened?” he finally managed.
”Meg…” Alden trailed off, working up to the words. “She tried to awaken. It… it didn’t work.”
”Tried to… my baby tried to what?” asked his mother. She stared at him across the bed. “I… I don’t under—”
Alden whipped around. He felt something coming—something massive. There was a huge wave of magic, so powerful, so all-encompassing, spreading outward from somewhere far away.
The lights in the hospital went out.
”What’s going…” started his father—but Alden couldn’t see him anymore. There weren’t any windows in the emergency room. The whole place was suddenly pitch black.
Alden vaguely recognized the sensation. He pulled out his phone from his pocket. Dead.
Hector’s electricity-disabling field. But… here? Why?
”I need some help!”
A nurse was calling from the next curtain over. Adrenaline spiked in his blood. Everything seemed to speed up and slow down at the exact same moment—all the machines were dead, and they wouldn’t be coming back.
The life-saving machines.
Alden plunged his hands into his jacket pockets, grabbing every gemstone he’d saved up. He squinted through the semi-darkness outside the curtain. A little light was spilling out from the midday sun through the front doors.
More nurses were calling out. Alden rushed into the main throughway and summoned a light—not fire, but a simple light, calling photons to him as Cinza once explained online.
The emergency room lit back up. It wasn’t as clearly lit as before, and there was only one source, a pale white light hovering above him, but it was enough to give a sense of where everything was.
A nurse stopped in front of him. It was the same one as before, the one who knew he could do time magic.
”Do you know what’s going on?” she asked, still surprisingly calm.
Alden nodded. “All electricity’s gone.”
”…But we have backup genera—”
”Those are gone too,” he said hurriedly. “Nothing’s gonna work, but it only affects a certain range. If they need machines to survive, we need to get them out of here. Right now.”
”Any idea how far?”
Alden shook his head.
The nurse nodded. She turned toward the ER in general, where any nurse and doctor who wasn’t otherwise occupied had started to gather around the magical light Alden emitted.
”We need to get everyone out of here. Triage by anyone who needs life support ASAP. No electricity will function.”
A soldier who happened to be nearby was digging through his pockets. He pulled out a pack of what looked like white glow sticks. The soldier passed them out, and nurses began breaking them, filling the ER with bright light.
Alden gratefully released the light spell as soon as they had enough lit up. Another soldier ran in from the front doors, and behind him, Alden spotted Meg’s best friend Kelly, looking just as terrified as he felt.
”Electricity’s still working about two blocks away,” the soldier reported. “Over on 13th street.”
”Start calling ambulances,” said the nurse. “Get as much transport as you can find. We’re going to have to move a lot of patients very quickly.” She turned back to Alden. “You’re with me.”
His parents were in a daze by Meg’s bed. A nurse grabbed them and started instructing them how to manually pump air into Meg’s lungs to keep her breathing. Alden tore his gaze away and followed the nurse, who he quickly learned was the “charge nurse” of the emergency room.
The next few minutes were a whirlwind of activity. Alden helped slow time and manage transport of patients on gurneys out of the hospital, one by one, doing whatever the nurses and doctors told him to do. He burned through stone after gemstone, desperately keeping up with the steady flow as the charge nurse directed each team of transporters.
Outside, the now-grounded soldiers were shoving inanimate humvees out of the way. They cleared a straight path down the street to the border of the zone, where the street lights were still on. At the edge, several were on radios, calling for support as fast as they could.
Ambulances began arriving in minutes, and patients were whisked away—most to St. Peter in Olympia or to other, closer facilities if available. There was a line of hospital administration staff on phones right at the border, shouting down the street to pass messages. Alden might have been impressed by how quickly they pulled back together, if he weren’t so busy trying to help.
One after another, they rushed patients out. His head was spinning, but somehow, Alden kept pressing on. He ran out of gemstones, but he persisted. They needed him.
Sometime later, Alden realized Meg had vanished—they’d already moved her out as well. High above, he saw a plane gliding by overhead, utterly silent. As soon as it crossed the threshold, they heard the engines trying to restart. It took a terrifying few minutes, but soon enough, the jets roared back to life, and the plane was moving again.
He tore his eyes away and rushed back inside. The charge nurse was calling for help again, and they needed every hand they could get.
”Hey!” shouted Jeremy at one of the soldiers as he got into the camp. “The fuck is goin’ on?”
Everyone seemed to be in a panic—or rather, the civilians were in a panic, while the soldiers were simply very active. The man he’d shouted at skidded to a halt in the mud, recognizing Jeremy from the last time he’d been in camp. He even saluted, which was definitely a first.
”EMP, sir. Or something like it. Even knocked out our shielded gear.”
”I need escorts for these three prisoners,” said Jeremy, pushing Felix forward roughly. Mud kicked up as Felix stumbled a little, but Jeremy definitely did not care. “High-value prisoners. The motherfucker’s inner circle.”
”Yes, sir.” The soldier glanced around and started shouting at a few of his squad for assistance. So many of them were already tied up, trying to get the humvees moving, taking apart and rebuilding radios, anything they could do to get power again. “Anything else?”
”Yeah. Where’s Captain Hoskins?”
”Command tent. We’ll be taking the prisoners that way, sir.”
”Let’s go, then,” growled Jeremy.
Within moments, the soldier had a team assembled, and they were moving. Stebbins and Jackie stuck to Jeremy while they stomped through the mud. The rain was actually letting up in earnest now, to his relief. Unlike Hailey, he couldn’t make a magic shield to keep himself dry. Coulda given us somethin’ to stay dry after all that…
Hope she’s doin’ okay. Fuck… She knows exactly what she’s losin’ by ditchin’ the trial, and she’s still out here.
They found Hoskins—not in the command tent, as expected, but just outside. A humvee had been rolled nearby, and a team of mechanics were digging through the engine block. As Jeremy walked up, Hoskins whistled, and the entire crew stopped.
”VIP prisoners,” said Jeremy with some relish. “Brian Hendricks’ inner fuckin’ sanctum. This asshole,” he added, shoving Felix forward again, “is the goddamn mastermind behind his publicity. Award-winnin’ journalist turned terrorist.”
”In the tent near mine,” said Hoskins to the soldier escort. “Don’t put them with the main group.”
The soldier escort saluted and hurried off. Jackie went with them, muttering something about not leaving things unfinished, and Stebbins followed—leaving just Jeremy and the Captain.
”This is magic, right?” asked Hoskins, watching as the team started ripping out the spark plugs. “You’re the expert.”
Jeremy snorted. “Fuck if I am.”
”We’re supposed to be shielded against anything short of a serious nuclear blast… at which point we’d all be dead anyway.” Hoskins frowned. “Besides, the electronics aren’t fried. They just… don’t work.” He shrugged, and turned to Jeremy in earnest. “You find him?”
”…More or less,” said Jeremy.
”His daughter helped him escape.”
”His…” Hoskins scratched his head, confused. “Thought his daughter was just a little kid.”
”She is.” Jeremy sighed. “You met her.”
”I met… oh,” said Hoskins, as realization dawned on him. “Linnethea is his daughter?”
”And the most powerful fuckin’ awakened on the planet short of Grey-eyes herself.” Jeremy shook his head. “Couldn’t stop her if we wanted to.”
Not that Hailey wanted to… Fuck. I don’t blame her, but we shouldn’t’ve let Brian go. Man’s gotta answer for all the shit he’s done. And what if he gets loose? He’s still way too influential.
”Well…” said Hoskins.
”You got one, at least.”
”…More than one,” Jeremy pointed out.
”No, I meant one of the two people you were sent after.” Hoskins glanced at the command tent. “Lani Makaio’s inside.”
Jeremy glanced at it. “In the command tent?”
He shrugged. “There’s nothing really valuable in there anyway, and he’s restrained. We were going to transport him out today with some of the troops, but… well…” Hoskins glared at the humvee, as if it had personally insulted his mother. “Now this.“
”What’s the plan here?”
”I have a couple runners making for Olympia,” said Hoskins. “Besides that… the humvees are diesel engines. In theory, we could get them working again. It’ll be even worse than usual to drive, but it’s something.”
”And the guns?”
”Still good,” said Hoskins. “Most of our sights don’t use batteries. Radios are dead, but we’ll make do.”
Don’t expect another attack anyway… since the two biggest leadership pieces of the whole damn group are out of commission. Jeremy glanced around at the bustling camp. Though the failed awakenings and the lack of electronics were certainly noticed, it wasn’t actually that big a deal to these people. After all, they had magic, and most of them were expecting to be off the grid anyway. Business carried on, and those who had awakened still wanted to dive into their new abilities.
The magical world survived.
”He’s awake, if that’s what you’re wondering,” said Hoskins, obviously mistaking Jeremy’s curiosity about the camp for Lani. “Go see him, if you want.”
Fuck it. Why not? I’ve got nothin’ better to do, and I’m sure as hell not goin’ anywhere til they fix one of these heaps of metal.
Hoskins had already turned back to the humvee, rejoining his mechanic crew. Jeremy went into the command tent, and there he was: Lani Makaio, his erstwhile partner, sitting on the tent floor in one of the corners with his hands folded in front of him. As soon as Jeremy walked in, Lani looked up—and immediately away in shame.
Yeah. That’s right.
Jeremy didn’t say a word. He just walked over, took one of the folding chairs, and sat it down in front of Lani.
”She’s still out there,” Jeremy said shortly, surprising even himself. Am I sayin’ that to comfort him, or to rub it in since she ditched? Hell, I’m not even sure…
”Whoever the fuck she is.” He shrugged. “Last I saw, she was attachin’ herself to Natalie.”
”…Oh,” said Lani quietly. “That’s good.”
”So what happens now?”
”…What do you mean?”
”Lani,” said Jeremy exasperatedly, “you turned your back on the Bureau. You think Aderholt was mad at me? He’s gonna have your head on a goddamn stick.”
”I was trying to help…”
”You were head-over-fuckin’-heels,” said Jeremy. “‘Least have the balls to admit it.”
Lani took a deep breath. His dreadlocks were caked in mud, between the rough treatment from Brian’s people and the night spent in the embattled camp. He let it out, and finally looked Jeremy in the eye.
Jeremy nodded. “About damn time.”
”I’m so sorry.”
He shrugged. “It’s over, Lani. You’re caught, you know how this goes.”
”Yeah…” Lani looked down again. “How’s Maddie?”
”In D.C.,” said Jeremy with a shrug. “Bein’ a goddamn politician.”
”Are you two—”
”No, we ain’t fine. She’s got her own shit to answer for, too,” said Jeremy. “Everyone’s done a whole lot of goddamn stupid shit this last month. Fuckin’ exhausting.”
”You found Jackie,” said Lani.
”She found me,” said Jeremy. “Always was the better half of our partnership.”
The implication hung in the air, and Lani took it hard. He fell completely silent, staring at the ground. Jeremy was torn between relishing in long-awaited justice, and not wanting to beat a man while he was already down. Mercy won out—he’s just a kid, in the end. Only twenty-six. I was that stupid at his age, I just didn’t have anything near as huge worth pursuin’, or as much pressure on my thick skull.
”Look,” said Jeremy. “You’re an idiot, but you ain’t bad. I’m not lettin’ you face all this shit without backup.”
Lani looked up, confused. “But I stabbed you in the back.”
”And don’t you ever fuckin’ forget it,” Jeremy growled. “I’m still your partner on paper, and I’m supposed to mentor you or some shit, so here’s some goddamn mentoring: face the fuckin’ music, and I’ll make sure you don’t go down hard.”
”‘Cause we don’t turn our backs on each other when we’re down, no matter how stupid we get along the way,” said Jeremy. He held out a hand. “Sound good?”
After a great deal of hesitation, Lani shook it. He smiled, ever so slightly. “Thanks.”
”The fuck was I gonna do? Leave you to Hendricks?”
Lani sighed. “I’m such an idiot.”
”How the hell did you get picked up?”
”Riley left me at our camp, said she had to go do something.” Lani shook his head. “And I was stupid enough to try and follow her. Ran into an ambush.”
How long til you realize that bitch is the cause of every damn problem you’ve got? “Well, you made it out.”
”‘Cause of you,” said Lani. “…Thanks.”
”Don’t mention it.” Jeremy shook his head. “Don’t mention any of it. That whole mission was a terrible fuckin’ idea. I was so obsessed…”
”Where is he now?” asked Lani.
”Hell if we know. With Natalie somewhere. She broke him out of there.”
A thrill of excitement in Jeremy’s veins. “What?”
Lani glanced at the tent entrance, making sure nobody was near, and lowered his voice.
”She’s got a castle.”
Hailey’s fears were confirmed as soon as she started passing over Shelton—the rain-soaked, unlit Shelton. It wasn’t just them. She could see a perfect round line from above. It cut through the town, a huge circle where electricity simply stopped functioning.
…Natalie? Was this you?
Down in front of the hospital, she spotted the ongoing operation to move patients out—and the young man decidedly not wearing hospital scrubs rushing alongside every larger group huddled around a gurney.
Hailey dove, and as she crossed into the hospital’s airspace, people were already pointing and shouting. Always gotta make an entrance, even when I’m not meaning to… She swooped in, flaring her wings as best she could to not blow anything around as she came in for a landing.
He looked up, returning from the latest patient rushed out to an ambulance. A moment later, he’d broken into a run, and wrapped her in a hug. Hailey was taken aback—usually she’d be the one to hug him, not the other way around. Alden was more laid back than that, and especially after Rallsburg, more than a little twitchy about unexpected personal contact.
”Missed you too,” said Hailey with a laugh. “It’s only been like four hours, dude.”
”How did you get here?” asked Alden, breaking away.
”Flew really, really fast.” Hailey looked over at the hospital. “Anything I can do?”
”Make the electricity come back?”
She shook her head. “It’s permanent, I think. I don’t feel an ongoing spell. Probably a ritual.”
”…Wow.” Alden looked up at the sky, as if he could somehow see the aura around them preventing electrical devices from functioning.
”Feels like more should’ve happened though,” said Hailey doubtfully. “I mean, we need electricity to work too…”
Alden shook his head. “Mason’s Law.”
”Right,” said Hailey. She shook her head, trying to get rid of the bleary feeling stuck in her brain. “Sorry. I’m really tired.”
”You flew across the country this morning,” said Alden. He glanced at the hospital. “We’re pretty much done here anyway, to be honest. Most of the critical patients are out, and the rest are just waiting on finding a place to deliver them. They don’t need me anymore, either.”
”What were you doing?”
He glanced around nervously. “…Slowing things down when something went wrong.”
”…Right.” Hailey paused. “…And Meg?”
”At St. Peter. I haven’t heard anything since. All the phones we have are being used for evacuating,” said Alden.
He nodded at the line of people near the edge of the field. A couple kids were standing right on the end, sticking their phones inside and watching them turn off with fascinated looks. When they pulled the phones back, they had to turn them back on, but they recovered remarkably quickly. It was nowhere near the long restore time mentioned in the old Council meetings.
”She’s still in a coma,” said Alden—and the pain in his voice nearly crushed her.
Hailey almost told him… but she held back. She still couldn’t be sure what the consequences were. It was too reckless, and that was exactly what she was trying to change. Instead, she patted the bag at her side.
”Maybe we could try…”
Alden’s eyes widened. “…Seriously?”
”If it works,” said Hailey, “she’s gonna be like me. Whatever this might mean.”
Hailey shook her head. “I don’t really know. But look at us. Hector got shoved between countries and harrassed everywhere he went. Kendra and Lily nearly died more than once too. Jess…” Hailey shook her head. “Then there’s Natalie and me. Being one of us seems like sentencing her to an insane life.”
”But she’ll be alive,” said Alden.
She nodded. “I just wanted to bring it up before we do this.”
”It’s the only way, isn’t it?” There was anger in his voice now, something Hailey didn’t really recognize. She’d never heard Alden get mad. “Grey-eyes is gone. She screwed up. Meg’s gonna die because she didn’t do anything. She just… ran away.”
Hailey didn’t say anything. She just pulled Alden back into another hug.
”People are dying, aren’t they?” asked Alden. His voice was muffled, speaking right into her flight jacket. Hailey nodded. “What are we supposed to do? She could be anywhere.”
Yeah… she could be. And…
Hailey suddenly broke away.
”I…” Her mind was going a mile a minute. She’d just remembered a spell, something she’d learned not all that long ago, across the ocean in London. There hadn’t been a reason to use it again until now. But now…
”I can find her.”
Hailey smiled. “Magic. Duh.” She hugged him again. “Go be with Meg. I’ll be there soon, okay?”
”What are you going to do?”
I have no idea. Hailey didn’t answer him. She broke away, turned, and with a huge sweep of her wings, launched back into the air. The gust blew back everything nearby, and sent Alden stumbling a little. Even the nurses and doctors stopped for just a moment to watch Hailey’s sudden ascent.
She launched into the air, behind a cloud, and closed her eyes. Casting it in mid-air would be dangerous, but Hailey couldn’t risk staying still on the ground for so long, unless she wanted to head back into the forests to find some peace and quiet. She had no idea who might be out looking for her, how far the story of her escape and flight across the country might have spread… how many cops and three letter agencies were on her trail.
Concentrating hard, Hailey cast the spell, exactly as Nikki Parsons had described it. She clutched the amethyst gems in her bag—the only stones she had left, besides her half-burnt lucky tourmaline—and dove into the huge wall of twisting threads. Hailey was searching for one thing, and one thing only, as fast as she could.
It wasn’t much of a castle.
Jeremy watched it from behind a huge tree root, scanning every direction for a possible ambush. Stebbins was on the other side of the clearing while Jackie made a neat triangle, but besides the two of them, Jeremy hadn’t told anyone.
This was just Natalie and her father. Jeremy knew it didn’t matter how many soldiers they brought, and Brian didn’t have the golems anymore.
He called out, and the other two answered—all clear.
Not reaching anywhere near his pistol, Jeremy walked out into the open. For all he knew, the wolf and the cat had already smelled him coming. Wolves were great at smelling, as far as he remembered, and who knew how good a mountain lion was at sensing approaching threats?
Girl can talk to animals. Every single fuckin’ bird might as well be one of her eyes.
Except, as Jeremy approached, stepping over the little moat leftover from the rainfall, he didn’t hear anything. He saw no one. The forest was quiet, especially with the rain finally reduced to only a few drops, as the leftovers dripped off the canopy to the floor below. His footsteps squelched in the mud, and the air even seemed to be warming up a little.
”Hello?” called Jeremy cautiously.
He walked toward the little half-broken door. It was tall enough for him. Jeremy pushed it open, squinting into the half-lit interior. He saw a chair, a table, a staircase leading up to the second floor… and Brian Hendricks himself seated across the room.
”She’s gone,” said Brian quietly.
Jeremy walked in and took the other seat. “Where to?”
”I don’t know.”
”Did she do all this?”
”Do what?” Brian glanced around. “We did it together.”
He mean the castle, or everything goin’ on outside? …Fuck it, doesn’t matter. “She left you out here alone?”
Brian’s eyes were reddened from many shed tears. He nodded.
”You gonna come quietly?”
”I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Jeremy got up and walked over to him. He lifted Brian by one of his shoulders, and fastened the plastic tie around his wrists.
”Brian Hendricks, you’re under arrest,” said Jeremy for the second time that day. “And I swear to God, you’re going to jail for the rest of your goddamn life.”
Brian nodded. “That’s what I deserve.”
Fuck… really takes the damn satisfaction out of it…
Jeremy pushed him forward, and Brian went willingly. The two of them exited the castle. After a few confused seconds, Jackie and Stebbins came forward. Jackie looked around, confused.
”Nobody’s here,” said Jeremy with a shrug. “Just him.”
”Where’s Natalie?” asked Jackie, glaring at Brian.
He shook his head. “Gone. Forever.”
Asshole. “Somehow I doubt that,” she muttered.
Jeremy jerked his head at Stebbins. The man grabbed Brian by the shoulders and started pushing him forward—back toward the camp. Jeremy and Jackie followed just behind.
”God…” Jackie muttered, watching Brian just ahead. They spoke in low voices, and with the birds beginning to sing once more as the storm broke into sunlight, they wouldn’t be overheard. “That’s really Brian Hendricks. I… shit…” She shook her head. “After all these years, I still can’t believe…”
”No way you could’ve known,” said Jeremy.
”It was my job to know.”
”Nah. It was your job to protect ’em. You did the best goddamn job you could,” said Jeremy.
”And look at you,” said Jackie, changing the subject. “You did it. Caught the motherfucker, caught Lani, solved the crime, even found me. That’s four for four. Got anythin’ else on your bucket list for the year?”
Jeremy shook his head. “After this shit?” He sighed. “After Aderholt fucking me over so many times… I’m done, Jackie.”
”So what’s next?” Jackie raised an eyebrow. “You ain’t retirin’, Ashe?”
”That such a bad idea?”
”Hell yes it is.” Jeremy was a bit taken aback at how forcefully she said it. “World needs assholes like you. People who do the right damn thing and don’t give up.”
”I almost did.”
”On the hardest case of the damn century,” Jackie pointed out. She sneezed, and focused on walking for a few moments, as they dodged around the worse mud pits in the forest floor and stuck to the drier patches. “Don’t hold a brief crazy idea against yourself too much. They run in the family, don’t you forget.”
Jeremy grinned. “Guess so.”
”So no retiring. That’s a goddamn order.”
”I wasn’t going to,” said Jeremy.
”…Then why the hell did I just say all that?”
He shrugged. “You brought it up.”
Jackie snorted. “Screw you, Ashe.”
”I’m not done,” Jeremy went on. “But… I ain’t workin’ for anyone anymore. Not Cinza, not Rachel, and damn sure not the fuckin’ FBI. I can’t be part of that system again.”
”Don’t you start—”
”I’m not.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m sayin’ it’s time to go back to the damn basics.”
”And that is?”
”Copyin’ you,” he grinned. “Honest goddamn policin’, right here.”
”In Rallsburg?” Jackie glanced around pointedly. “Who the hell are you policin’?”
”Well,” said Jeremy, looking ahead—the pilgrim camp was just coming back in view. “You and me are probably the two officers of the damn law with the most experience dealin’ with awakened. These people sure as hell ain’t goin’ anywhere, and we’ve both got some seriously inflated reputations to uphold here.”
”…So it’s back to bein’ sheriff,” said Jackie. She smiled. “Gotta get my hat from the Greywood.”
”Somethin’ like that,” said Jeremy. “…Wait, we only got one sheriff position here.”
”Yup.” Jackie smirked. “Welcome aboard, Deputy Ashe.”
Back into the world of electricity again, Hailey turned on her phone and pulled open a maps app. She’d seen a park sign near Beverly, wherever she was, and it’d be enough to track her down. Hailey just had to hope she’d be there long enough. Can’t beat teleporting, no matter how fast I can fly…
She flew over the cities below, passing Olympia by on her way to the morass of streets and highways that marked Tacoma. Then, Lakewood passed underneath, and Hailey felt a jolt right in her heart. She was heading home… well, not home, but it had been a place for her and Jessica. They’d spent months together here.
I wonder what you’d do, Jess. You were better at coming up with solutions than me. You could use magic to learn magic… you’d figure out how to save Meg in a heartbeat. Maybe even find another way to awaken people. Does it even actually need language to work?
Hailey flew on, past the streets where they’d fought the golems, fought Viper’s men, chased cars down the highways with Rika… so much had happened here. As she entered Tacoma, she even spotted the bar, where Harold betrayed them and set up an ambush… where Alden nearly died, where Harold did die—where she met Jeremy.
Well… at least I got one good friend out of all that. I think you and Jeremy really would’ve become good friends. You didn’t really have time… he only met you the once. And Mom… oh man, Mom would have loved you so much.
She wasn’t crying anymore. Thinking about Jessica was sad, but… Hailey could bear it, finally. It’d never go away, and she’d always wish Jess were back with her again, but Hailey felt like she’d found a way to move forward.
Hailey picked at the blue strand in her hair, smiling to herself. You’ll always be right here, for the rest of my life, Jess. Right next to me, where you belonged.
The park was in sight. Hailey dove… and swerved at the last minute, falling out of sight behind the trees.
Beverly was still there—but she wasn’t alone.
Hailey tried to shape the air around her, make it as quiet as possible, and land further away. She knew Beverly could sense magic being used, but it was harder to sense any natural awakened like Hailey. If she could get on the ground and stop using magic for a little bit, Beverly might not notice her nearby… and Hailey definitely wanted to know who the other person was.
It’s not Boris… he’s way up north with Dan now. It’s not me, either… so who’s she talking to?
She landed with nary a whisper, to her relief, only the faintest gust on the nearest bushes. Hailey ducked low, and did her absolute best to keep her wings still. She clutched the tourmaline stone in her palm for luck as she scooted forward, walking at an awkward crouch ever closer in the thankfully-dry grass. The park was mostly deserted, only the engine noise filling the air, and as Hailey got close enough… she could hear Beverly arguing.
”…and it’s too much! I can’t do this!”
”What changed?” A guy voice, for sure… but I don’t recognize it… do I?
”What do you mean, what changed? The world found out.” Beverly shook her head. Hailey couldn’t see who she was talking to, and she didn’t dare risk moving any closer—not with the most powerful person in the world only a few dozen feet away.
”It was always going to happen eventually.”
”And what am I supposed to do? I can’t just be everywhere.”
”They’ll have to figure it out. You wanted to do this.”
”That’s…” Beverly looked like she might slap him. “I wanted to keep people from dying. You guys tore apart the Grimoire.”
”I don’t know what you want from me.”
”Help me,” she snapped.
”We agreed. You were there. I can’t just help. If I do, everything’s on the table again. We’d be crossing lines we all agreed not to cross.”
”So we just let people die?”
”You can save them.”
Beverly shook her head. “I can’t do it anymore.”
”So magic’s gone, since its gatekeeper has disappeared.”
”Think about it,” she said, and her voice hovered between calm and furious, never quite settling on either side of the fence. “If I start awakening people again, even one person, they start thinking it’s okay. It gets big again, too big. I can’t be everywhere. They’ll start dying.” Beverly sat down on the bench and put her face in her hands. “I screwed up, really bad, but… maybe it’s for the best.”
”What do you mean?”
”If everyone stops awakening. It was never sustainable. Not when it’s just me.”
”You hold incredible power…” he murmured.
”It doesn’t have to be just me,” Beverly added, shooting a glare. Hailey wished desperately she could see him, but still, she wouldn’t risk it. That’s Alpha. It has to be.
”You won’t,” she snapped. “Don’t screw around with me. It’s just you and me here. Jack’s gone. Don’t make these stupid dramatic statements and hold to higher principles or whatever. Talk to me like a person again.”
”It’s against the rules.”
”You made up the rules!” said Beverly exasperatedly. “Just— just break them!”
”If I do, I’m a tyrant.” He sounded a little frustrated himself now. Hailey guessed this was an argument they’d held before, and which Beverly obviously lost, since Alpha had never once shown himself past the early Council meetings… and the fights Hailey had witnessed. “If I cross that line…”
”You could save so many lives. Make the world a better place. Do something.”
”You know, Boris and I talked about it once,” said Alpha thoughtfully—which only seemed to annoy Beverly more, at least based on her expression. “He didn’t know who I am, obviously, but… we were talking about Nietszche and Berdyaev. I don’t want to be an übermensch. I’m not an ideal for everyone to follow. People should be able to craft their own destinies and determine their own lives, without me getting in the way.”
”You don’t have to get in the way,” said Beverly. “Just help them.”
”If we do anything, we have influence. Look at you,” said Alpha, and Beverly winced slightly. “You’ve got a whole cult formed around you, and you’ve never done anything more for them than anyone else. I mean, you even erased some of their memories and they still worship you. Imagine if I started showing myself.”
”Because you’d be so popular,” she said, dripping with bitter sarcasm.
”I can’t teleport, BB, and I can’t track everything like you do either. People would have to come to me. I could extend my influence, sure, but I’d have to claim some kind of home. It just… doesn’t work.”
”So find another way.”
”…We’ve been working on that.”
Alpha sighed. “He’s still mad at me.”
”Oh, come on,” cried Beverly. “You can’t—”
”We agreed!” he snapped, and it was his turn to get angry. “We make decisions together. The last time I did something on my own… you know exactly how that went. That’s practically why we’re all in this mess.”
”This is just stupid,” said Beverly, frustrated. “He’s holding you back because he’s angry you, what, did nothing while your home burned down? What does he have to be mad about?”
”He’s mad,” said Alpha, “because I keep arguing with him about changing the rules. Because I want to change them.”
”So do it already!”
”…This is getting nowhere,” Alpha sighed. “I’m sorry about what happened to your sister, but I—”
He stopped talking suddenly. Hailey wasn’t sure if she’d been noticed or not, and she wasn’t about to wait around to find out either.
Time to be reckless, Jess. Just this once.
Hailey leapt forward, crashing through the bushes, using a flap of her wings to help propel herself across. She saw Beverly just for the briefest second—and then she vanished. Across from her, a young man with shoulder length hair, facing away from her.
Hailey lunged forward.
He turned into an outline of light as he spun around. Alpha threw out a hand, and suddenly, Hailey had stopped in mid-air.
I… what? How?
She was being held aloft—by what, she couldn’t say. It had to be magic… but it was something she’d never experienced. Hailey felt out with her own magic, and found Alpha’s essence pressing against her, holding her tight.
Hailey felt her head getting light. Her heart was beating hard and fast, as adrenaline coursed through her.
Is he gonna kill me?
”Don’t do that again,” said Alpha—and now his voice was almost like Cinza’s, but turned up to eleven. She couldn’t hear a single similarity to his real voice. “I’m letting you go because you and BB are friends, but if you ever scry me, if you ever track me, if you do anything that threatens me…”
He let the threat hang in the air. Hailey nodded briefly, panting, still suspended in midair in a vice grip she couldn’t possibly break, no matter how many gemstones she might ever hold.
Alpha nodded. “I’m going to let go, and you’re going to fly away. It doesn’t matter where, but I’ll know if you aren’t gone, or if you try to follow me.” He paused, and leaned forward, though it was difficult to tell when Hailey could only see a glowing bright silhouette of a person. “I don’t exist. I’m just a memory.”
She nodded again.
Suddenly, the grip released, and Hailey was let go. She landed heavily on the grass, coughing.
”Sorry,” said Alpha—and it was so bizarre, after the deadly threat and sheer terror from only a moment before, to get an apology… Hailey couldn’t help it.
”…Are you okay?”
Hailey didn’t answer. She struggled to her feet, pointedly looking away from the man who still utterly terrified her, and took a deep breath. A moment later, with her wings spread wide, Hailey leapt into the sky once more. She had no idea what to think of the scene she’d just witnessed… but she knew she wasn’t going to find Beverly again any time soon.
She knows I’m looking for her now. She’ll come find me. That’s the best I’m going to get. After that conversation… I don’t think I can persuade her to awaken people again anyway. She seems set on it… unless something changes.
Hailey shook her head. She needed to focus. There was still someone who needed her—more than a few people, really, if she remembered Quinn Kincaid’s family too, as well as every other potential danger still looming on the horizon.
Something caught her eye. A person—a teenager, in fact—hanging out near an apartment block. He had something in his hand… and as soon as she realized what it was, her heart nearly stopped.
Hailey dove straight at him, as fast as she could. He was starting to look down at it.
”Stop!” she shouted.
The guy looked up.
Oh, thank god.
Hailey landed right in front of him, and the gust from her wings blew his hood back off his head. He stumbled back, utterly windswept. She reached forward and snatched the Scrap out of his hands.
”…What are you doing?” she asked, breathless. “Don’t you know what’s going on?”
”If you read that, it’ll kill you.” Hailey raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you read the alert?”
He shrugged. “Somebody told me that was a hoax. Wasn’t real.”
Hailey shook her head. “It’s very real. Whoever told you that is screwing with you. Or worse. You were about to die, dude.”
His eyes widened. “Oh, shit… you’re that girl. Hailey-something.”
”Yeah, I am,” said Hailey. “So trust me, I know what I’m talking about. Don’t look at the pages of the book, and tell everybody else you know not to either. You will die.”
Until I can catch up with Beverly again. Until I persuade her that magic’s still worth having around. That the world really can be a better place. We might need to change some stuff about how we do things, but… she should be working with us. Not like this.
The guy was trembling. His hands shook. “Jesus…” he muttered. “I… I just…”
Hailey tried to give him a comforting smile. “Hey. It’s okay.”
”But, I coulda—”
”You’re all right.” Hailey took the Scrap and stuffed it into her bag. “Remember. Don’t let anyone try it, if you can. There’s no half-measure here. It’s either don’t read it, or die.”
”…You saved my life.”
She shrugged. “I was just in the neighborhood.”
”You’re a goddess,” he breathed.
Hailey smiled again, about to correct him—and the chirp of a police siren blared in her ears.
She whipped around. A Tacoma P.D. officer was standing behind his car door, gun raised.
”Hailey Winscombe!” he shouted. “Get down on the ground, now!”
The poor officer looked terrified. Hailey just shook her head.
I guess this is my life now, Jessica… well, at least I get to fly again. I’m okay with that.
A moment later, she launched herself into the sky, with the eyes of the officer and the shocked teenager following her flight. Hailey twisted around in midair, and with another huge flap, turned to the southwest.
They were done. It was just Alden, two soldiers, and the charge nurse who clambered into the humvee they’d pushed across the dividing line. The soldiers took the two front seats, while Alden and the nurse climbed into the back. The charge nurse fell against her seat and closed her eyes, utterly exhausted.
”…the fuck is going on…” muttered one of the soldiers. He clicked his radio, but still got nothing, even though the vehicle had started. “Now what…”
”Drive us to Olympia. St. Peter Hospital,” said Alden. He was too tired to worry about whether or not the soldiers would listen to him—and so far, they’d been taking his every order without question, after noticing how the nurses were treating him with respect.
”You got it, kid.”
”Hey, what’s your name, anyway?” asked the guy in the passenger seat, twisting around to look at him as they rumbled away.
”…Alden Bensen,” he answered. I’m too tired to come up with a lie… and why bother? Meg was checked in under her real name. They’d be able to find out sooner or later.
”Hell of a good job today, Alden,” said the soldier. “Probably saved a lot of lives.”
Alden decided to emulate the charge nurse. He leaned back in his own seat and closed his eyes. The humvee wasn’t exactly a comfortable ride, but with how tired he was—having cast so many spells on top of rushing back and forth out of the hospital a few dozen times—Alden could sleep anywhere.
”Wake me up when we get there, please,” he murmured as he drifted off.
In what seemed like an instant, the soldier was gently shaking him awake.
”Already?” he spluttered.
”It’s not that long a drive, kid,” said the soldier, rolling his eyes. “Come on.” He stepped aside, helping Alden out.
”What’s here, anyway?”
”Shit…” The soldier looked taken aback. “Your sister was in that mess and you still stuck around?” He whistled. “Damn.”
”I gotta go.”
Alden started toward the hospital, and the guy followed him in. The driver shouted a farewell, but Alden was already walking straight into the emergency room. One of the nurses at the desk started to try and stop him, but Alden just walked past… and kept walking. A security guard reached him, but the soldier at Alden’s side fobbed him off.
Soon enough, Alden found her.
Meg had been moved into a private room. Kelly was there, half-asleep in a chair next to the bed. She spluttered awake as Alden walked in, a soldier in full gear right behind him.
”I wasn’t— the hell?”
”Where are my parents?” asked Alden, not bothering to explain anything.
Kelly took a minute to tear her eyes off Alden’s escort. Finally, she shrugged. “They went to get something to eat in the cafeteria. I’m sure they’ll be back soon.”
Alden nodded. “Okay.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something—a speck out of the sky, approaching fast. “Kelly, can you leave for a bit?”
”Leave me and Meg alone, please.”
”…Okay.” She looked confused, but shrugged it off and left. The soldier hesitated. He seemed to have attached himself to Alden like a bodyguard. Alden waved him off.
”You sure, kid?”
”I’ll be fine. Thanks for helping.”
He nodded and left. Alden closed the door, then walked across the room and opened the window.
Hailey dove in a few seconds later.
Alden shut the window behind her.
”Hey,” he sighed. He collapsed into the nearest chair, still exhausted even with the nap in the humvee. “How’d it go?”
Hailey shook her head. “I didn’t… it didn’t work.”
Alden nodded. “Well… that’s that, I guess.”
”We can still try…” Hailey reached into her bag for a moment, digging around. Alden wondered again what it was like to have a bag like that. He’d have to ask Kendra or Lily about getting one sometime. “There we go.”
She pulled it out. It was exactly the same ancient yellow parchment as every single Scrap, but without the frayed edges, the burned portions… pristine. A full page of the book, something that could grant incredible power—so long as one wasn’t already awakened.
Alden had read it once, months ago in Rallsburg. It hadn’t done anything for him—it hadn’t even taught him any new magic, since it was just the introduction page to the book, nothing more. But… it was now the only way to awaken, if Grey-eyes was truly gone.
”Please,” he whispered.
Hailey nodded. She got up and walked over to Meg’s bed, taking the seat next to it where Kelly had just been sitting. Hailey sat, leaned forward, and hesitated.
”Can you help?” she asked.
Alden got up and walked to the other side. He took the page. Hailey forced Meg’s eyes open… and they were lifeless, empty things. Alden felt his throat thick and raw just from the sight, but… they had a chance. Any chance, no matter how slim… he had to take it.
He held up the page in front of her eyes.
He held it slightly closer.
Meg’s eyes didn’t react in the slightest.
They held that position for minutes, but a sudden noise from the hallway spooked him. Alden shoved the page under the covers… but it was nothing. Just noise.
As he sat up, Alden saw the wet spots covering the sheets—and they weren’t from his parents. He touched a hand to his face, and he felt the tears rolling down his cheeks.
”…Meg,” he whispered.
”Maybe…” said Hailey. “Maybe there’s another…”
Alden shook his head. “It’s not working.”
Hailey sighed. “I’m so sorry, Alden.”
”I… I really thought this would—” He cut off.
”I think it’s the same thing as the rest of magic,” said Hailey quietly. “You have to want to do something. It can’t be forced on anyone. You gotta intend it. Josh talked about it a lot. Meg can’t intend to read the page like we all did, because she’s… she’s not there right now.”
Alden choked up even more. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. Hailey rushed around to his side of the bed and grabbed hold of him. Alden fell against her, sobbing, weeping openly.
She held him, rocking him back and forth slightly, whispering into his hair, endless sympathetic words to soothe his pain.
Finally, Alden nudged her slightly, and Hailey let go.
”There’ll be something else,” said Hailey softly. “She’s not gone. We’ll find a way.”
”…Yeah,” said Alden, though he didn’t feel anything like the same confidence she obviously did. “What about… what about you?”
”Don’t worry about me,” said Hailey, smiling slightly. “We’re on you right now.”
Alden shook his head. “You broke out of jail and flew away. Doesn’t that mean—”
”I’ll be okay,” she said—and it was so serene, so full of acceptance, Alden didn’t bother asking her again. Hailey was… content. At peace.
”What will you do now?”
She shrugged. “Travel the world? I dunno, really. I can’t stay still too long, I think, and there’s no way I’m going back to prison.”
”And then what?”
”Help people,” Hailey said simply. Before Alden could ask, she went on. “I’m not doing what we used to. I’m doing what Jessica actually wanted to do. Not fighting, just… you know, helping. I’ll go somewhere out of the way, and I’ll do what I can. And I can do a lot,” she added with a grin. “Might have to invent a few new spells to do it, but… it’s something, right?”
”The goddess of Kent,” said Alden with a grin.
She rolled her eyes. “Not that again. A guy just called me that…”
”Better than the one we had,” said Alden bitterly.
Hailey looked suddenly uncomfortable. Alden spoke quickly, before it got worse.
“It sounds like a good plan. They need you. Stay in touch, though?”
”Oh!” She winced. “Yeah, uhh… they shut off my phone. I guess international fugitives can’t have phone plans.”
A brief, tiny burst of air made it through Alden’s nostrils. It wasn’t exactly a laugh, but even that bit of mirth was a huge improvement from how awful and hopeless he’d been feeling.
”Yeah,” said Hailey, grinning again. “So uhh… can I get you to buy me a phone?”
”Me?” asked Alden, surprised.
”Well… I don’t think Cinza’s very happy with me right now, and I don’t want to get Jeremy in trouble by contacting him,” said Hailey slowly. “Then there’s all the Laushires, who are tied up in a bunch of lawsuits about my case, so yeah, same idea. You aren’t really connected to me in any public way,” she added with a shrug. “Since you left before we went public, and we weren’t friends yet before Cinza wrote her diaries.”
”And I didn’t even make your witness list,” Alden added with a faint smile.
Hailey grinned. “Serves you right for lying to the FBI. How could you?” she added in mock outrage. “But yeah… the only people who really know we’re close are people who wouldn’t ever rat us out. It works.”
Alden shrugged. “Sure, why not. I’ll be your cover.”
”Thanks,” said Hailey. “On that note…” She glanced nervously at the hospital door.
”Go,” said Alden. “I’ll be okay.”
Alden grinned. “My turn to tell you to get out of here.”
Hailey smirked. “Oh, now look who’s showing off?” She got to her feet and pulled the window open. “I still owe you that drink.”
”Isn’t it like a whole bar’s worth of drinks by now?”
She laughed, and to Alden, it was more comforting than any sound he could ever remember.
”Go save the world, Hailey.”
Hailey nodded. She pulled her scarf tight, adjusted her fight jacket just a touch, and then—without so much as a word of warning—hurled herself out the window. A moment later, Alden watched as she soared up high, soon a speck against the deep blue sky, dancing among the huge puffy white clouds, right where she belonged.
We want to build it here?
Why not? There are plenty of materials ready made, and foundations waiting to be constructed upon.
It’s gonna take a lot of work…
We have time, and we have magic.
At the ruined town of Rallsburg, with the sniper and the grocer at her side, the young woman began to work. With magic drawn from the trees and from deep within her, she shifted stone and brick, shaped wood and clay. The buildings were cleared away, one by one, until only one remained—the great stone library.
She left it as it was, a monument to the past—a gravestone to the town she’d once called home.
In place of Rallsburg, a new home began to grow. What took engineers of old months or years was completed in mere days—yet her design had none of their craft, their goals and their vision. Her additions were haphazard, placed where her sensibility told her rather than by any architectural logic.
She raised new structures, one after another, linking them, drawing them together, building a whole web of stone and wood buildings.
In time, the world began to notice what she’d done. Though no aircraft would ever cross her home, nor any vehicle come within many miles, they had other ways. She heard about it from the whispers of her sniper, who traveled out into the world in absolute secrecy with the grocer to gather supplies for her new world.
In the town formerly known as Rallsburg, deep within the Olympic Forest, the castle began to rise. The wolf howled at her side, the hawk screeched upon her shoulder, the cat purred at her feet, and the queen sat upon her throne for the first time.
Queen Linnethea of Castle Hendricks.