Chapter 04 — The Pledge
Drew climbed into his passenger seat. Jonathan felt a tingle of anticipation and anxiety—he had no idea what he might have just agreed to, but no matter where they went, he was already excited. No more hiding.
”Where to?” he asked again.
”It’s a club on the east side,” said Drew. “The Box.”
”‘The Box’,” repeated Jonathan dubiously. “Seriously? Who came up with that?”
Drew shrugged. “Ask him about it yourself if you want. He just bought it and renamed it like a month ago. He still gets a good crowd every night.”
They set off. Drew directed him through the dark streets—night had set in early, as usual for the end of December. Jonathan’s foot tapped impatiently on the floor of the car, playing out the extra energy building up in his body. He just wanted to get there already, but unless he could fly like Hailey, they were already going as fast as he could safely travel.
”Here,” said Drew, taking them back off the highway. “It’ll be on the right, and you want to drive around back when we get there.”
”So he owns this whole place?” asked Jonathan. “Are we safe here?”
”Of course. Totally safe.” Drew grinned. “Don’t forget man, we can do magic.”
”Doesn’t always save you,” Jonathan muttered.
He winced. “…Yeah. But that’s why this group exists. We’re not just gonna hold each other’s hands and hope for the world to step in anymore. It’s time for us to start doing something.”
Jonathan nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
”There it is,” said Drew, pointing ahead.
Sure enough, a squat building was approaching fast. Jonathan didn’t see any kind of sign on the outside, but based on the people already gathering for the Friday night club scene, Drew was right—the place was doing just fine, dumb name or not. Jonathan pulled in and drove around the building to the back, finding seemingly the last parking space available for a block or more.
”This way,” said Drew as they climbed out. Jonathan followed, anticipation growing with every step. They were walking toward the dumpsters in the back, which stood in a small cutout of the square building, behind a padlocked fence. “You want to do the honors?” he added, gesturing at the padlock.
Jonathan grinned. Reaching out with his essence, Jonathan felt for the tumblers inside, pushing each one until he felt them slide into place. A quick twist and pull, and the shackle sprung open. Jonathan flourished his hand, gesturing Drew forward.
”How do you do that so fast?” he asked, relocking the gate behind them.
A lot of practice at home. He smiled. “Did you forget I’m a magician?”
”Ha ha.” Drew rolled his eyes. “Come on.”
Jonathan glanced around at the blank walls surrounding them. He knew better than to assume there wasn’t some kind of trick. Reaching out with his essence again, a spell pulsed against one wall, though he dared not probe further in case he interfered with it somehow—or worse, set off a trap.
Drew walked forward without hesitation and reached out for the apparently blank wall. His hand vanished as it crossed the line of the spell, and suddenly a door swung open right in front of them. Drew walked in, and Jonathan hurried to follow, pulling it shut behind them.
Immediately, he felt the pulse of the club beyond. The bass thump practically ignored the thin walls inside the building, and the backroom was no exception. Another doorway awaited, with another invisibility spell layered on it. Jonathan glanced behind him and saw the first was lined with gemstones—self powered. Gotta figure out how to do that…
Drew waited a few seconds before walking through to the next area. There was no actual door this time, and as Jonathan passed through the opaque illusion blocking the entry, he finally saw the group Drew had been talking about. To his surprise, he already knew one of them.
”About time,” said Kyle Galverson, waving lazily at them.
Two others sat nearby, both on their phones. The guy glanced up at them and nodded—but not an inch more response than that. Across from him on the couch, a girl with her arm in a sling, manipulating her phone with her other hand. She didn’t acknowledge them in the slightest. Both seemed about their age, as Kyle was. Jonathan pegged the whole group as early twenties, without much variation.
”Is he here yet?” asked the girl, not taking her eyes off the screen. Her voice had a perpetual exhausted quality to it.
”No, and stop asking that,” said Kyle.
”I’m starting to fall asleep over here,” she muttered.
”Already?” He glanced at the clock. “It’s only ten. Didn’t you sleep til noon?”
”It’s worse?” asked the other guy, setting his phone down.
She nodded, eyes still locked to her own. “My doctor’s trying something different. Hoping it’ll stabilize me.”
”Something happen to her? Bad ritual?” Jonathan whispered to Drew. Unfortunately, the pulse of the club wasn’t as overwhelming as he thought—or she had really good hearing.
”Nope, just bipolar,” she sighed. “Speaking of magic though, shouldn’t you be doing something, Kyle?”
”Oh, duh.” Kyle turned to Jonathan. “This is gonna sound dumb, but since I actually haven’t ever seen you do magic, I gotta scan you.”
He dug into his jacket and pulled out a plain grey stone, etched with a symbol on the top. Jonathan recoiled—he hadn’t seen an identifying stone since Jeremy pickpocketed one off the guy who’d been tracking him. These days, everyone knew what they were. The cache of captured stones from Rallsburg had been reported as part of the preliminary hearings for Brian Hendricks and his people, prior to their full trial.
”Everybody here has to be awakened, no exceptions,” said Kyle. “Can’t trust a mundy here. But we don’t scan people without permission. So… yes or no?”
”Yes, obviously,” said Jonathan with a shrug. “What would happen if I said no?”
”We’d fuck you up,” said the girl, but despite the attempt, it came off as tired and weak.
”You’d have to leave,” corrected the guy on the other couch. “Nina exaggerates.”
”Ya ikh ub’yu,” said Nina. Jonathan recognized it as Russian, but he didn’t have a clue what she’d actually said. Something rude, probably, based on what she’s like so far.
”Yeah, all good,” said Kyle finally. He pocketed the stone again. “Anyway, that’s Nina, and the other guy is Corbin. All that’s left is the guy who owns the place.”
”Who?” asked Jonathan curiously.
”Not yet,” said Corbin.
”Yeah, he’ll want to make his big entrance for you,” said Nina. She sighed. “Better be here soon, before I pass out.”
”I didn’t think that was a side effect of bipolar meds,” said Kyle.
”It isn’t,” said Nina. “But it’s pushing me way more to the other side and that’s making me just want to go to sleep. I gotta get this adjusted.”
”Why not just take less?” asked Jonathan.
”Because I don’t have a medical license,” Nina shot back. “I don’t know how this stuff works, and technically some of it is basically poison.”
Drew had taken a seat by now on the open couch. There were four set around a round table in the center of the room. Nina completely dominated one, while Corbin was wedged into the far corner of the couch opposite, like he was trying to take up as little space as possible. Kyle was in the far couch, now with his own phone out, so Jonathan had to pick someone to sit with, or just stay standing all night.
Feeling like he was making a commitment somehow, Jonathan took a seat next to Drew. Despite being the most obvious choice, it still felt like a huge moment. Of course, the moment he sat down, the whole room was just back to an uncomfortable silence, as the other three sat on their phones. He felt antsy again, waiting for something to happen, all that buildup for nothing yet.
”So what’s actually going on here, anyway?” asked Jonathan, glancing at his friend. “Do you guys just come here after group every week?”
”It’s a nice place to hang out,” said Drew with a shrug. “Safe, anyway. Thanks to Kyle, nothing is getting in here without our okay.”
”Plus, y’know,” said Kyle, jerking his head toward the pounding music. “Tons of hot girls right through there. All of us are allowed in there, even if you’re not over twenty one like Corbin.”
”Clubbing’s not my scene,” said the other guy.
I’m not twenty-one either… Drew is, though. “Aren’t we going to… you know, do something?” asked Jonathan impatiently. “I thought that’s why you invited me here.”
”Like what?” asked Kyle.
”…Drew said this was a group for people who thought sitting back and doing nothing wasn’t going to work. So… what now?”
”We’re still waiting on him,” said Corbin.
”Who?” asked Jonathan, now getting really irritated.
A man strolled in through the door leading back into the club, brushing long brown hair out of his face. Under his arm was a huge roll of white paper. He flashed a crooked grin across the room, shrugging off his long overcoat and hanging it up before he went on.
”See you finally brought the new guy, Drew,” he went on, a faint drawl to his words. Jonathan felt like he should know the man, but couldn’t quite place him. “Welcome to our little home-away-from-home here.”
”…Thanks,” said Jonathan.
”Well, I’m guessin’ by your expression, you’re gettin’ a bit impatient sittin’ around waitin’, huh?”
He nodded. Finally, somebody who gets right to the point. “I’m here to actually do something.”
The guy grinned again, toothy and crooked—the sort of smile that screamed something shifty and unscrupulous just under the surface. “Came to the right place, sure as sure. Lucky for you, we’re recruitin’, too.”
”Recruiting for what?”
”Julian, just get on with the pledge already,” murmured Nina. Jonathan glanced over, and her eyes were drooping heavily. Every few seconds, she shook herself back awake.
He turned back to Julian. “The pledge?”
”Pledge, promise, as you like it,” said Julian with a shrug. “You gotta swear loyalty.”
”Swear loyalty to what?”
”To us,” said Corbin.
Julian nodded. “Either you’re in or you’re out. If you’re in, you’re with this group. Total loyalty, absolute secrecy. You seen… what do you call it? Fight Club.”
”Don’t talk about it?” said Jonathan.
”Right! Don’t talk about it. We ain’t a fight club or any shit like that, but you damn well better not talk about us.” Julian grinned. “Asides, we got magic on our side. You talk, we’ll figure it out, and you can bet your mother’s best china we’ll find you afterward.”
”What do you need me to do?”
”Do your thing, Kyle,” said Julian with a lazy wave of his hand.
Kyle got to his feet, and almost immediately, Jonathan sensed a spell being cast. He couldn’t quite tell what it was, but he knew Kyle was doing something, and the magic centered on him. Jonathan wasn’t exactly afraid—he was confident that Mason’s Law would protect him—but a shiver of fear ran up his spine nonetheless.
”Go ahead,” said Kyle.
”Aight. Is your name Jonathan Hudson?” asked Julian.
”Yes,” said Jonathan—an instant before realizing that was a mistake.
”Lie,” said Kyle, glancing at Julian. The whole room perked up at that—both Nina and Corbin stared at Jonathan with newfound suspicion, while Drew simply looked confused. Jonathan winced.
”…Well now,” said Julian, rubbing his hand on his chin. “What’s your real name, kid?”
”It’s my stage name,” said Jonathan reluctantly. “My real name’s Jonathan Waldstein.”
”True,” said Kyle.
”We’ll let that one slide, I guess,” said Julian. “Lord knows I’ve had to hide my name more than once with all this shit. Movin’ along…” His voice became more pompous, as if announcing something, and dropped his accent almost entirely. “Do you plan any hostile action toward this group or any member of it?”
”Do you plan to tell anyone outside this group about anything we do here?”
”Have you ever worked with or for, knowingly or unknowingly, Brian Hendricks or any other awakened hate group?”
The questions went on like that for a while—Julian asking every variation he could, Jonathan answering clearly and honestly. Kyle never spoke again, to his relief, even on the answers where he wasn’t as confident. After all, he didn’t plan to tell anyone outside the group, but he did have a new session with his therapist… and depending on how the night went, it could definitely come up.
”Do you want to strike back at them?” asked Julian.
”Yes,” said Jonathan firmly. “It’s time.”
”…All true,” said Kyle finally.
”Well, then. Final question,” said Julian, his accent finally back. “Round here, we’ve been takin’ a pledge. Repeat it after me, mmkay?”
As Julian spoke each phrase, Jonathan repeated it. With each word, he felt a growing sense of importance—of purpose. This was what he’d been searching for. No more hiding in fear or running off to the few openly magical places in the world. Now, he had real allies, instead of a support group too complacent to act. No more waiting for the enemy to strike before doing anything about it.
Now it’s our turn.
”I pledge to the assembled here that I will work toward a better world for all awakened, no matter the cost. I will protect our fellow awakened and defend against those who want to do us harm. If I must, I will fight, steal, lie, and kill to further our cause. I will carry out the actions of this assembly to the best of my ability. Most of all, I will never reveal the identities or secrets of my fellow members, no matter the circumstances. I pledge all this in the name of Grey-eyes and of magic itself.”
”…And done,” said Julian, sloppy grin on his face once more.
”Too long,” murmured Nina.
”You wrote it,” Kyle shot back.
”Dunno what I was thinking…”
”Welcome, Jonathan,” said Corbin.
Drew clapped him on the shoulder excitedly. Jonathan nodded, but his eyes were still locked on Julian.
Julian dropped onto the couch next to Kyle, and finally unrolled the huge piece of paper he’d brought in with him. It looked like building blueprints, though Jonathan wasn’t exactly familiar with them. Everyone leaned forward, even Nina, who finally seemed to perk up a little now that something new was happening.
”Now, we get plannin’.”
Three days later, New Year’s Eve, Jonathan picked up Drew at a convenience store. He didn’t know where Drew lived, and vice versa. They just hadn’t ever told each other, but now it felt like a good security measure to keep. It was the night, the first part of what they’d been planning all weekend.
Jonathan told his mother he’d met a new group of friends, but hadn’t specified what, exactly. His mother hadn’t been happy, but she’d let it go. She asked if he’d come to shul on Saturday after missing the day before, but Jonathan was already planning to go back to the club to keep planning. They wanted to get this done fast, especially since they knew what was likely going to happen on Monday.
Timing was everything.
”You ready?” Jonathan asked as Drew climbed in again.
Drew’s hands were shaking, but he nodded. “Yeah, I’m ready.”
Jonathan expected to be just as nervous, but to his relief, it wasn’t there. If anything, he was impatient, excited… and angry. He always felt angry now, whether in little bits or in huge bursts.
They got onto the highway. It’d be a decent drive up to Seattle, where their target lived. Drew fiddled with the radio and got a music station—some kind of hip-hop. It wasn’t Jonathan’s thing at all, but the beat got him pumped at least.
He had to control his excitement. If he got pulled over, in a car owned by who-knew, with what they had in the glove compartment? Just a few months ago, nobody would have bat an eye at a box of gemstones… but now, and next to a pair of loaded guns?
Nina had given them both a pistol, with two magazines of ammunition. They were only for self-defense, of course, but having them gave Jonathan an incredible boost in confidence. Before, he’d never liked guns—but now that he knew what it was like to be on the other side of a gun… Jonathan would use anything he had in a fight.
Not that they planned to get in a fight. Tonight was something else.
It took a little under an hour to get there. They left late enough to avoid the rush hour traffic, which would be more important on their way out. If all went to plan, of course, they wouldn’t be followed—but to Jonathan’s relief, Nina and Corbin accounted for a lot of the smaller details.
He’d gotten a better read on his new compatriots now, after a couple days cooped up planning with them. Every so often when they took a break, Jonathan managed to get one of them on their own and have a personal conversation. Once he was sworn in, they both warmed up to him.
Corbin’s full name was Corbin Ancell, son of Spencer Ancell. He said it like the name would mean something to Jonathan—which it didn’t.
”Who’s that?” asked Jonathan.
Corbin winced. “…He died fighting Brian. In Rallsburg.”
”…Oh.” Jonathan’s memory flashed back to a brief snippet from Cinza’s journal. He’d only read the whole thing once, but he did remember a Spencer Ancell now. “And your dad knew Julian, I guess?”
”Yeah. Julian was his boss. When… when it happened, Julian came out to tell me.” Corbin took a deep breath. “He said my dad wanted me to have magic someday, and just hadn’t figured out when to tell me yet. Then… then he never got the chance.”
Jonathan didn’t know what to say, and to his relief, he was saved by Julian calling them back to continue planning. He’d meant to go back to Corbin, but the guy vanished as soon as they were done for the night, following Julian straight out of the building to who-knew-where.
Instead, he ended up talking to Nina, who was a mystery and a half to him. It didn’t help that she barely wanted to talk, no matter how much she said otherwise.
”Keep talking,” Nina muttered, her voice low and slow. “I need this.”
”Because of your—”
”Yes,” she sighed. “I can’t be on a depressive episode right now though. I need to talk to my people.”
Nina was their contact for getting resources they might need—gemstones, cars, blueprints, guns, whatever. She had friends in some kind of places. Jonathan couldn’t say if they were high or low, but they were definitely places. Beyond that, she also had an incredibly strong essence, in the few times she actually did cast a spell. Most of the time, though, Nina just stayed on the couch, often with a blanket pulled over her face.
However, any time Jonathan asked about her, she pushed back immediately.
”I’m not telling you where I’m from, or anything else about me,” said Nina tersely.
”…How about this, then,” said Jonathan. “Why are you here?”
”…Why wouldn’t I be?”
”We’ve all got a pretty specific reason,” said Jonathan, gesturing around. “Drew’s been a victim of anti-awakened discrimination. Corbin lost his dad to these people. I was in the camp when it got attacked. Julian’s whole hometown was blown up.” He hesitated. “I dunno why Kyle’s here, but I’m sure he’s got a reason.”
”Money,” said Nina with a shrug.
”…That’s your reason?”
”No. Kyle’s.” Nina shook her head. “You aren’t allowed to know my reason yet.”
”I did the pledge,” said Jonathan irritably.
”Not good enough for me.” Nina pulled the blanket back over her face. “…I need to sleep now…”
Thus did all three of his attempts at conversation with Nina end. She’d inevitably withdraw into her blanket, blocking out the world. Jonathan couldn’t deny why she was there—the blueprints for the condo block, the guns, the gemstones, the car he was driving right now, even the timetable for their target’s day and transport was all through her.
Jonathan shook it off. They were almost there. The four of them were meeting up—two per car—two blocks away from the target. As Jonathan pulled in, he saw another nondescript four-door sedan, very similar to their own, parked and waiting. They’d arrived much earlier, and would also depart much later, just in case of security cameras—which Nina insisted weren’t present, but Julian decided was “better safe ‘n sorry”.
”All good?” asked Corbin as they got out.
Jonathan nodded. “…So you guys’ve done this before, yeah?”
Kyle nodded. “First time the target’s ever been home at the time, but he’s just a mundy. No big deal, right?”
”Yeah.” Jonathan rubbed his hands together excitedly. “Let’s do this.”
Corbin raised an eyebrow. Beside him, Drew winced.
Kyle snorted. “Are you serious, man?”
Jonathan’s face lit up red. “Just… just go already.”
”Uh-huh. See you there.”
Kyle headed off. He’d be in position to cover their retreat, whether that was by invisibility, misdirection illusions, or another spell out of his own bag of tricks. Kyle learned a lot running Julian’s secret marketplace, and Jonathan was seriously jealous.
He had always taken a point of pride in being one of the most frequent posters on Cinza’s website in the spell theorycrafting area. More than a few awakened had taken his advice on their own spells, or left him thanks for the ones he shared freely. Jonathan really missed that instant feedback when the site vanished. He’d loved getting each and every single thank you message, and hadn’t realized how much he missed them til they were gone.
Now, Jonathan had met someone who seemed to far outstrip him in creativity and spellcrafting. Kyle was almost single handedly responsible for the second-generation Scrap copies, by all accounts, and he’d reverse-engineered Cinza’s original Greywood spells to protect a location from unwanted entry.
My turn for something big.
As they approached the condo, Jonathan threw caution to the winds and voiced his idea aloud.
”Let’s do more.”
The other two looked at him—Corbin with his usual silent raise-of-the-eyebrow, Drew with a bit more concern as his friend.
”…What does that mean?” asked Drew.
”Just stealing from him isn’t enough,” said Jonathan. “We need to send a message.”
”We’re using magic to do it,” said Corbin. “That’s a message.”
”No, we need to make it more… personal,” said Jonathan. “This isn’t just another lackey. This is Felix Wieczorek. He was Brian’s number two. We need to make this more important. Get the message out, make sure everybody sees it.”
”Lackey?” repeated Drew, smirking slightly.
”You know what I mean.”
”I do,” he said quickly, nodding. “And I agree with you. We should do more.”
”…Like what?” asked Corbin, now sounding more interested.
”I’ll think of something,” said Jonathan confidently. “I’ve improvised shows in less time than this.”
Corbin looked doubtful, but Drew clapped him on the back. “You got this, man.”
Jonathan smiled, though truthfully, his heart was pounding in his chest. The pistol at the small of his back felt suddenly far more prominent. If he messed anything up… if he overstepped or revealed himself or anything… he might need to use it.
”Phones off,” said Corbin as they started to get close. Jonathan and Drew both double-checked theirs. Jonathan saw a text from his mother right as he turned it off, but he didn’t catch the contents. It’ll be fine, whatever it is. I’ll see her tonight.
They crept forward amid the sound of crickets everywhere. The whole block was relatively dark—only one street lamp stood near the particular condo they wanted. As they moved in, Drew cast a spell to make it flicker out. It wasn’t a sudden black, so it would seem to anyone watching as if it were just an electrical fault. Gotta ask him how to do electricity spells at some point…
There was a light on in one window. A faint glow of colors told them the TV was probably on. Perfect.
Jonathan walked forward, the other two right at his heels. As they walked past the condo, a wave of magic overtook them—Kyle had just laid down the invisibility. Immediately, all three of them turned and headed straight for the building. For the next few minutes, they couldn’t be seen. The condo wouldn’t visibly change to the outside.
Inside… anything could happen.
He felt inside the door lock, found the tumblers, and gently clicked them into place. Next, the deadbolt above, and finally, the kill-switch on the alarm panel down the hall. As soon as he’d got everything, Jonathan nodded to Corbin.
A hissing sound began to fill the whole house as Corbin cast his spell. Likewise, Jonathan and Drew filled the space with a white fog. It was thickest in the area around Felix, but they left everywhere else thin enough to see clearly. As long as Drew held it steady on Felix, the whole place might as well be blanketed.
Not like the hissing is actually doing anything either… but I’m sure it scares the hell out of him.
None of them dared to get near Felix—a good move, as he almost immediately went for a knife and began swiping at random. Instead, they moved for where the valuables were—Jonathan to the safe in Felix’s bedroom, Corbin everywhere else, while Drew kept Felix too scared to move.
Jonathan knelt in front of the safe and pulled the small blueprint out of his pocket. It wasn’t an uncommon safe, and after only a few minutes work, he managed to get it open. He gathered up all the valuables inside… and saw something else.
Felix’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.
He doesn’t deserve that. He’s not a journalist—he’s lying to the whole country about us.
Jonathan pulled it out, and before he could stop himself, ripped it in half. As the scraps of the diploma floated to the carpet, he noticed the awards pinned up on the wall, articles Felix had written, covers he’d been on. His successes.
Doesn’t deserve those, either. Doesn’t deserve any of this.
He began to tear them apart, one by one. Jonathan summoned fire to melt down the trophies, being careful to contain the heat and smoke so the fire alarm wouldn’t go off. Piece by piece, he destroyed all of Felix’s pride, the record of his life’s work, everything. He took the Pulitzer and shattered it with his mind, throwing the pieces to the floor.
Finally, Jonathan grabbed a piece of paper from Felix’s desk, along with a silver marker, and scrawled out a message. Just two words, but it said everything he wanted to say. Sometimes, brevity made more impact than all the longest and most impressive speeches.
When he was done, Jonathan gathered up the valuables and left. He found Corbin and Drew waiting in the hall, confused he’d taken so long. Jonathan gestured out, and they left. Kyle covered their escape all the way down the block, while the fog slowly dissipated behind them, leaving a confused and terrified Felix alone in his condo, totally unharmed.
As they walked down the street, backpacks slung over their shoulders like totally innocent college students, Jonathan burst into laughter. He was just so… elated.
”What?” asked Corbin.
”We did it,” said Jonathan, grinning stupidly.
Drew tapped him on the back. “Yeah, we did. Nice job in there.”
”Way easier with four of us,” said Corbin, nodding.
”We got what we wanted. We sent a message. We struck back,” said Jonathan excitedly. “It’s about time.”
Kyle jogged up to join them as they arrived at the cars. The crickets still chirped, the city still hummed all around them, and for all intents and purposes… nobody seemed to have noticed a thing.
”All good?” he asked.
Jonathan nodded, still grinning from ear to ear.
”He didn’t see a thing,” added Drew.
Kyle held out his hand expectantly. “I’ll get it back to Julian.”
Jonathan hesitated, only for a moment. I mean… we were the ones in there. Kyle just hid outside. But… without Kyle and Julian and Nina, they never would have had all the information and cover they needed to pull it off anyway. His resentment faded away, overwhelmed by the rush of success. Drew looked just as excited, while even the stone-faced Corbin was grinning.
He handed over the loot. Kyle nodded, got in the other car and drove off. They watched and waited as the engine hum died away, melting into the greater noise of the city. Soon, the area was quiet again, only the crickets filling their ears.
Jonathan glanced at the other two. “Don’t you just feel like…”
”Like what?” asked Drew.
”Like we should do something,” said Jonathan excitedly.
”We just did,” said Corbin.
Jonathan shook his head. “I mean for us. Let’s celebrate! Toast the start of something bigger than us!”
”I’m down,” said Drew.
Corbin shrugged. “Sure.”
Slightly disappointed in the underwhelming response, Jonathan nonetheless turned and got into the car. The other two piled in, and soon enough, they were off—back to the club, at Corbin’s suggestion. Jonathan had to remind himself more than once to drive at a normal speed. Even if they’d gotten out clean, and Kyle had all the guns, it still wasn’t worth risking getting pulled over.
The whole way back, he and Drew chatted excitedly about what they’d just done. Drew bragged, Jonathan boasted in return—good-natured ribbing about who’d done more for the cause that night. Somewhere in the back of Jonathan’s mind, he knew this was just the start, a tiny piece which could quickly cascade into a huge movement, just like Brian’s had. All it took was a spark.
Tonight, he might have provided that spark.
To his relief, they got back to the club in one piece, without a single sign of danger. Jonathan pulled into the back, they got out and headed straight inside. As soon as they passed through the magic field, the pulsing thump of the club reached their ears—and for the first time in his life, Jonathan wanted to join in.
If only I wasn’t eighteen. Julian said he couldn’t risk anyone finding underage kids in there.
Instead, he was determined to explore the space behind the club. Julian had given them free reign over the space, besides his personal office. If Jonathan or Drew ever needed to get away, it was an open space for the group.
Given his life lately, Jonathan really appreciated the generosity.
”We’re gonna change everything,” said Jonathan excitedly as he walked in, the others at his heels. Nina looked up from her book, way back in the corner chair. “They won’t hunt us anymore, now that they know we’re ready to strike back.”
”Optimism,” she muttered, looking down at her book again.
”You really think so?” asked Drew. “I mean, that won’t stop people from just being assholes, like with my boss.”
Jonathan shook his head. “People are assholes because they know they can get away with it. That part ends now.”
”Sounds like a plan,” said Corbin. “I’m gonna get some sleep… Night.”
”Get some sleep?” asked Jonathan, looking around. “Here?”
”…Yeah. I… live here.” He shrugged. “For now, until we got enough that I can buy my dad’s old place back.”
”Well, there’s no way you’re sleeping through that,” said Jonathan, nodding toward the club. “Besides, it’s time to celebrate! Pull out some drinks, or let’s play some games, or do something!”
Nina groaned and turned even further toward the wall, but Jonathan ignored her. He knew it wasn’t her choice—or maybe it was, but either way, he wasn’t going to let her drag him down.
Tonight was their night.
It was very late by the time Jonathan gave Drew a ride back. Drew was on the verge of passing out from sheer exhaustion. They hadn’t ended up drinking—Corbin simply declined, while Drew reminded Jonathan they both had to get home that night.
Still, they stayed up late, playing games, celebrating, speculating what might come next. Jonathan was the loudest of the three, naturally, but the others seemed totally on board. Eventually, as the club wound down, Julian came in. Kyle was nowhere to be seen, but Julian congratulated them on their success, toasting the future of their little group.
Except… something did seem a little off. When Jonathan told him about what they’d done, how they’d increased the drama of the theft and made their move more powerful, Julian didn’t seem quite so celebratory anymore. He still congratulated them, told them their earnings—which they’d receive in a few days after Nina’s people laundered it—and reiterated their freedom to use the club back rooms as much as they wanted.
Probably just uncomfortable I changed the plan without asking anyone. It was pretty reasonable. Changing plans like that could get people killed. Jonathan resolved to make sure he ran his plans by the group in advance next time, as much as he could. He couldn’t help coming up with it spur-of-the-moment like that, but still… It was my first time. We’ll get better. If we even can—we did it perfectly on my first time out.
”How many times have you guys done this?” asked Jonathan as they pulled in to the convenience store where he’d first picked Drew up.
”Only twice for me… I think the others have done more. Nina definitely.” Drew shrugged. “It’s going well so far, though.”
”Yeah.” Jonathan leaned over and gave him a side-armed hug. “Hey, you’re gonna have enough from this to make up for what you lost at work.”
Drew nodded. “Still figuring out how to get that to my boss without any suspicion. Nina’s working on it.” He hugged Jonathan back, then got out of the car. “See you Friday.”
Jonathan drove away, satisfied. They’d accomplished what they’d set out to do, Drew’s life was looking better, and he’d be making some extra money on the side. He could move out sooner than his original plan, based on the money he was pulling in from his shows. It’d make paying for Julie’s sessions easier, tickets down to see Nell in Oregon, everything.
By the time Jonathan dropped the car off and took the bus home, it was past midnight… and the lights were still on.
He turned on his phone, and as expected, he had half a dozen texts from his mom, and a missed call.
Mom: Wasn’t sure if you were going to be home for dinner, so I made extra.
Mom: It’s wrapped up in the refrigerator whenever you get home. I put your name on it.
Mom: Did I forget about something you were doing tonight?
Mom: Are you okay?
Mom: Text me please.
Mom: I’m really worried. Please let me know you’re all right.
Jonathan rushed inside. He had told her he’d be out late, but… not this late. Besides that, she’d clearly forgotten it anyway—his mom was just more distracted and off lately than she used to be. It wasn’t a good time at home, after all, and the thick emotions flooding the house tended to seep into every other part of their lives, or so Julie described it.
”Jonathan!” she shouted from somewhere upstairs. “Where have you been?”
”I’m okay. I was out and my phone died.”
He hurried up to find her in his room, of all places, sitting on his bed. She burst up as he walked in, burying him in a hug. “I was so worried!”
”I’m okay,” he repeated, over and over.
”Don’t do that! Keep your phone on!”
”I’m sorry,” Jonathan muttered.
”I was calling everyone. I called Nell, I called your therapist, I called the rabbi, I called your fath—”
She cut off. Her eyes fell to the ground, just slightly. Jonathan just stood there, unsure what to do. Do I hug her? Tell her off for getting it wrong, even though I do it all the time too? Sympathize because we’re both confused and it feels like he’s gone forever? Just say nothing?
…This night was going so well.
Eventually, Jonathan settled on the first option, after more than a minute of standing awkwardly in the hallway. He walked forward and put his arms around his mother, and she hugged him back, but he could tell it wasn’t really making her feel better. In all honesty, it didn’t do much for him, either—it was less like they were comforting each other and more that they were holding on for dear life.
Finally, he broke away. His mother choked out another brief reminder about keeping his phone on, but hurried away to the dishes back in the kitchen. Jonathan finished taking off his coat and headed upstairs. Safely ensconced in his bedroom with the door locked—twice over, between the physical lock and a magical one he’d invented—he immediately got on his computer and called Nell.
He really needed a friendly voice disconnected from everything in that moment.
Nell popped up on screen a minute later. She was in her kitchen, in the middle of making a snack. “Yo.”
Jonathan sighed, leaning back on his bed with his laptop. “Hey you.”
”How was your night?”
At his tone, she stopped. Nell set down the knife and walked over to her laptop. “Nobody’s awake,” she said, glancing around. “What’s up?”
Jonathan hesitated. He’d pledged never to reveal the group to anyone… but this was Nell. Besides, so long as he kept names and methods out, he wasn’t really breaking the pledge. If he couldn’t talk to her, he’d go insane.
”That new group I got invited to?”
”Bunch of freaks?” said Nell, grinning.
”Nah. But… well, we did something tonight.”
She frowned. “Okay, dancing around the details here. Just spit it out, dude.”
”We did something big.”
Nell’s face started to twist with annoyance as Jonathan turned away to cast a quick spell, muffling his door to prevent noise getting out. Without warning, he launched into the whole story—getting invited after his support group, meeting the other three, planning the strike, and the sheer rush of pulling it off. Nell listened through the whole thing, eyes lighting up at times, frowning at others. Jonathan couldn’t quite figure out how she’d react, but he knew he needed to tell her.
”…Wow,” said Nell finally.
”Yeah,” said Jonathan excitedly. “Everybody will know by tomorrow, I’m sure. This is how we get our message out.”
He paused. She didn’t seem as excited as him. Thoughtful, mostly. “What?” Jonathan hesitated again, suddenly worried. “You think it was a terrible idea? That we screwed up doing this?”
”Well, I know you seem happier than I’ve seen you in months,” said Nell, “and that’s awesome. And that Felix guy sure as hell deserves to lose his stuff. But… you know I’m still worried about you, right?”
”There’s no way he saw anything.”
”It’s not like there are that many awakened,” Nell pointed out, “and even less who can do magic like that.”
”None of us live in the area,” said Jonathan. “And nobody even knows my real name in public.”
She nodded. “Yeah, you’ll probably be fine. I dunno if you’ll actually get the results you want, though.”
”What do you mean?”
”Well, do you really think he’s gonna just play right into your hands here?” Nell shrugged. “He’s from big media, right? He’ll know as good as anybody that what you want is publicity. Is he just gonna hand it to you?”
”That’s…” Jonathan sighed. “Yeah, okay, good point.”
”Just saying, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear a word tomorrow.” Nell shrugged. “But seriously man, I’m happy for you. Just… be careful. Promise?”
Jonathan nodded. “I promise.”
”Cool.” Nell glanced at the clock. “Now get some sleep, dude. You look exhausted.”
Nell turned out to be wrong, in more than one way. He didn’t go to sleep—they stayed up late just hanging out while Nell finished her snack, then watched a movie together before Jonathan finally turned in. The rest of the night passed without another mention of the subjects dominating his thoughts—magic, the new group… his parents.
He appreciated that.
Instead, it was the morning which really sent his thoughts spinning back to the night before, and everything they’d done. Jonathan turned on the news for what felt like the first time in a decade—he’d never really watched the news live on TV, and of course these days, it was just easier to get everything on the internet. Today, he wanted to see if anyone was reacting.
It didn’t take long.
”From Seattle: Felix Wieczorek—Pulitzer prize winning journalist currently on trial for domestic terrorism—was attacked in his home last night. The journalist reported a break-in to the police at ten-seventeen, claiming that awakened assailants stormed his home, stole significant quantities of cash, and destroyed his belongings. Police are investigating but have not made any official statements yet. We go live to Nancy Wheld downtown.”
”Thank you, Ted. I’ve just been informed that Rachel DuValle is here at the Westin, on her way to meet with the President and Secretary Gatiss. Miss DuValle!”
They were surrounding a car at the curb. Jonathan had never met her, of course, but he’d heard Rachel’s name mentioned plenty of times—between Cinza’s diaries, the support group, and beyond, she was obviously one of the people in charge. The reporter rushed the tinted vehicle, along with a half-dozen others who’d been waiting in the area, plus one hapless hotel valet.
”Miss DuValle, what’s your response to the attack on Felix Wieczorek last night?”
Rachel was just emerging from a car on the curb. A pale girl with dirty blonde dreadlocks and a birthmark marring her face had moved to block the reporters, but Rachel put a hand on her shoulder. She stepped forward, right into the mess of cameras and microphones shoved into her face.
”The attack on Felix last night was clearly motivated by the despicable acts he helped perpetrate as a member of Brian Hendricks’ organization. The motivations of the assailants is more than understandable, but their actions are extrajudicial.”
”Do you support—”
”I condemn this act, and I would ask that the perpetrators turn themselves in immediately. We understand why they felt the need to take some measure of revenge, and thankfully, they chose a method which can be reversed. If the attackers come forward now, I can promise that I will do everything in my power to ensure the lightest possible sentence.”
”So you’ll protect awakened who attack people, no matter what?” shouted another reporter.
Rachel shook her head. “I will protect those who struck out in anger over horrific crimes, as long as they are willing to show remorse and undo the damage they caused. Our country has long been troubled by how a simple decision in the heat of the moment can forever ruin one’s life. We have the chance for a new start—let’s begin by offering one to those victims who fought back, however inadvisable their choice. But, they must turn themselves in. This was a crime.”
Reporters continued to shout questions, but Rachel simply gave a slight bow, thanked everyone for their time, and hurried inside. The dreadlock girl blocked the way. One reporter tried to press forward, but she held him back with only a single raised arm—obviously effortless, despite being half the man’s size.
Jonathan realized he hadn’t taken a bite of his cereal since she started talking. After all, Rachel had been speaking to him. He was the attacker she referred to.
…Did I really screw up? If I turn myself in now, that’s it… but she said she’d protect us. Maybe… maybe I should.
His brief moment of conflict vanished an instant later, as the TV reminded him what had happened. They’d started recapping Felix’s crimes, but Jonathan didn’t hear their words—he saw it as memories, forcing their way back into his head.
Men following him from his shows, tracking him, until Jeremy Ashe finally got him out.
The meeting of Brian’s people, the level of hatred they showed toward awakened, and the desperate escape with Alden.
Hiding inside a food cart in the pilgrim camp, while gunfire slammed into the outside, rocking the whole thing as glass shattered above him and golems roamed outside, killing at random.
We’re doing the right thing. These people need to pay. It’s our turn.
Jonathan pulled out his phone, excitement and anger and triumph rising in his chest. He knew Rachel was doing her best for them, and he admired her own convictions to defend the awakened… but she didn’t know what they were doing, how much they could do. Jonathan had seen it himself, and this reaction by Felix, pushing their story far and wide, only proved it.
They’d show everyone in the world that the awakened weren’t victims.
Kyle picked up the phone after a few rings. “Yeah?”