Finn Gramaraye is back in the final installment of Randy Henderson’s Familia Arcana series, which began in and .
Finn’s re-adaptation to the human world is not going so well. He’s got a great girlfriend, and is figuring out how things like the internet work, but he is still carrying the disembodied personality of Alynon, Prince of the Silver Demesne, the fae who had occupied his body during his imprisonment. And he’s not getting along at all with his older brother. And oh, by the way, his dead grandfather is still trying to possess him in order to bring about Armageddon.
The conclusion to this morbidly quirky series will be available March 7th. Please enjoy this excerpt, to the tune of a special mixtape.
1: CONSTANT CRAVING
I felt twitchy as the Bumbershoot festival crowd flowed past me in the shadow of the Space Needle. The collective hum of their spiritual energy pulled at me like the seductive whispers of a thousand sirens, strong as the compulsion to take just one more turn on Civilization before going to bed—compelling, but nothing that couldn’t be defeated with a great act of will, or perhaps an urgent need to use the bathroom.
I leaned on a concrete ledge outside the food court, along with my girlfriend, Dawn, my sister Sammy, and her girlfriend Fatima as we took a break from browsing booths and watching concerts. The light breeze offered a bit of relief from summer’s stubborn September heat, though it also brought the occasional whiff of the upwind garbage cans or the body odor of an unwashed teenager. I fluffed my Space Invaders T-shirt as the throbbing beat of a distant rock-rap band provided the background for a hundred passing conversations, a dozen laughing children, and one jet flying overhead.
I took Dawn’s hand and focused on it, running my thumb gently over the guitar calluses on her pointer finger, the brown curve of her palm’s edge forming a kind of yin yang with the tan of mine, the warm and solid reality of her presence helping me to ground myself and shut out the call of all that energy.
I looked up to find her smiling at me. Gods, she was beautiful. And between that impish smile and the lavender cloud of finger coils framing her face, she could easily have been an animated goddess of chaos. Even the simple gray Tee-shirt and brown jeans didn’t mask her blazing energy, her—
“You’ve got shiny eyes again,” Dawn said. “Those for me? Or are you just hungry?”
“I’m hungry for you,” I replied, and my stomach growled loudly as if to argue.
“Well, for that you’ll have to wait ’til we get home, but here’s something to hold you over.” She leaned in and drew me into the warm haven of a kiss.
Someone knocked against my foot as they passed—and my foot kicked out, my red Converse connecting with the folds of a yellow dress.
“Hey—” the woman said, tugging at her dress. “Jerk.”
“Sorry!” I said. “I didn’t mean to—”
She rolled her eyes and re-entered the flow of bodies.
Damn it, Alynon, I thought at the Fey spirit trapped in my head.
Alynon Infedriel, knight of the Silver Court and a huge pain in my spiritual butt, harrumphed, then replied in a weak voice that only I could hear, *’Tis not my fault she had no consideration.*
What did I tell you about taking control? I thought back.
*She interrupted a perfectly good kiss! And there hasn’t been nearly enough good kissing going on lately, let alone—*
Drop it, or I’ll be staying up tonight watching Cop Rock instead of going to Dawn’s. Never mind that he was right.
“Alynon being a pain again?” Dawn asked.
*You would not so starve your own happiness to spite mine,* Alynon said.
Yes, well, unlike you, I have control over my lizard brain.
*Indeed, you have more Mothra than Godzilla in your nature.*
I’ll take that as a compliment, given that Mothra was protector of the Earth.
*Indeed? Protector of the Earth now, are you?*
I did not reply. I hadn’t felt like any kind of hero since Elwha. I turned my focus back outward, but that let the energy of the crowd draw my attention again.
Three months since the battle at Elwha River, when I consumed Dunngo the dwarf’s spiritual energy—a desperate act of dark necromancy used to stop a crazy shapeshifting jorōgumo. An act that had utterly destroyed Dunngo’s spirit, forever. I’d been extra sensitive to the spiritual energy around me ever since, feeling something like lust at the thought of touching it, using it. The strength of the feeling had faded slowly, diminishing with lots of “me time” and some serious meditation work. But being around so many people at once made the accumulated weight of their spiritual energy hard to ignore. All of that power—
“There are just too many damned people in the world,” I said.
“Oh, people aren’t so bad,” Dawn replied. “It’s all the Stupid, that’s the problem.”
I shrugged in non-committal agreement. Maybe I was simply used to small town life, or still adjusting to our world after twenty-five years of exile in the Fey Other Realm, but as I looked around I just saw streets clogged with cars, walkways stuffed with bodies. A great river of people in their summer clothes, buying and talking and walking and—I could feel them, their spirits, like glowing apples waiting to be plucked. All that spiritual energy, being wasted on watching reality television and eating fried nuggets of chicken sawdust. I could do so much more with—
I knocked my thoughts onto another path with the force of Bowser in a bumper car, took the irritability which desire had sparked in me and turned it toward my other source of irritation and worry: Mattie, my niece. I checked my phone, but still no messages from her.
I didn’t know what could be keeping her. The Seattle Center’s amusement park had been torn down and removed while I was in exile. Who gets rid of awesome rides and instead offers a museum of glass sculptures? I just didn’t understand this world I’d returned to, sometimes.
I leaned forward, looking past Dawn to Sammy and Fatima. Sammy typed something into her phone, her default state when not actually interacting with the world around her. Her red jeans, green Converse, and black sleeveless T-shirt with silver wings on the back made Sammy look more the rock star than Dawn. Fatima sat cross-legged, her green and gold dress spilling over the concrete ledge, and her black curtain of hair falling forward to shade her eyes as she sketched with rapid strokes in her ever-present sketch pad.
“Sis, any word from Mattie yet?” I asked.
Sammy didn’t look up from her phone. “Yes, she texted me that she’s eloping with a fire juggler and I totally forgot to mention it.”
“So, no then?”
“Can’t fool you, can I?” Sammy’s typing didn’t even slow. “Chillax, brother o’ mine. She’s a teenager at a music fest. She’s just off somewhere having fun.”
Dawn squeezed my hand. “It’ll be okay. You both needed to get out of that house. It’s September and you look pale as an Irishman’s arse in winter.”
“I’ve been busy,” I said.
“Uh huh. You’ve been sitting around your room playing video games,” she replied. “If I’d known you were going to go full on basement dweller over that Genesis, I would never have bought it for you.”
*Hear hear,* Alynon said.
Sit and spin, Alf, I thought back. “You want me to be able to talk with your friends without sounding like an idiot, right?” I replied. “I have a lot to catch up on.”
I had twenty-five years of games, movies, music, and life to experience in fact, everything that had been created or happened since my spiritual exile to the Other Realm in 1986. With Dawn’s help, I was immersing myself in one year each month, so that I could really absorb it all and build up my knowledge and experience in a natural progression. This month I’d reached 1992, and was loving the music. But what had blown my mind, not to mention my free time and a good deal of my regular sleeping hours these past months, were the video games.
I mean, the RPGs alone! Curse of the Azure Bonds, Bard’s Tale, Ultima, Wasteland—it was like I’d woken into a fantasy world myself.
But then throw in games like Monkey Island, King’s Quest, Sonic the Hedgehog, Flashback, Mortal Kombat, Dune, Mario Kart, Super Star Wars, and—well, I needed three of me just to play them all as much as I wanted. And there remained nearly twenty more years of games for me to catch up on.
“Besides,” I added, “I’m technically working, if you count it as research toward me learning to design my own games again.”
Fatima looked over. “I thought you were running a dating service for magicals.”
“I am,” I said. “But it hasn’t exactly been bringing in the dollars.” Since helping Sal the sasquatch to find his perfect soul mate, customers had finally begun to trickle in for the magical matchmaking service I’d started. Unfortunately, most couldn’t afford to pay much, or preferred barter. And despite Mort’s promptings and my need for income, I never felt able to turn someone away who came searching for love. “Besides, gaming has always been my true love.”
“Gee, thanks,” Dawn said. “Does this mean I should dress up like a video game hottie to grab your heart?”
“You say that like you don’t love the idea,” I replied.
“Damn. You know me too well.” Dawn grinned, and gave me a kiss. “You know I support your dreams, baby, but I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”
I leaned in close and said for her ears only, “I’ve seen you in several costumes, and haven’t been disappointed yet.”
“Damn straight,” she said. “Though I still can’t believe you look better in that Catwoman outfit than me.”
I blushed, and glanced to make sure Sammy hadn’t heard, but she gave no sign as she continued tapping at her phone. “Ha ha,” I said, just in case.
“Seriously though,” Dawn continued, “I’m not sure making games works the way you think anymore. They’ve become like big budget movies these days, all corporate product and profit, right Sammy?”
“Not necessarily true,” Sammy said without looking up from her phone, clearly able to hear us. Great. “You could probably code a mobile game by yourself. In fact, retro gaming’s in right now, so you might even do well.”
I blinked. Had Sammy just said something encouraging rather than sarcastic? That was only slightly less rare than Alynon being helpful. It must be Fatima’s influence. That, and the number of bands that Dawn had helped Sammy meet in person this weekend.
“Well then,” Dawn said, and gave me another squeeze, “we should look into some programming classes.”
I didn’t mention that I’d already looked into classes and been confused by all the different types of programming options—long gone were the simple days of BASIC. Dawn liked to take charge and lead the way anyway, and I’d found it easiest just to let her.
Of course, her general distrust of the internet meant she preferred to do things by talking to real people, so we’d probably be spending a few days visiting local colleges rather than a few hours using the magic of the Google. But Dawn had her own kind of magic. Somehow she would make an adventure of it, and probably make friends with the admissions folks, and next thing I knew I’d be enrolled in an already full class for free through some kind of archaic loophole. For the same reason I’d learned not to get in her way once she had a goal in mind, I’d also learned not to question the power of Dawn, but just to sit back and appreciate it.
So all I said was, “That would be great.”
The sound of a band doing sound checks echoed from the mural amphitheater stage across the way.
“Ooo, I think Starfucker’s coming on,” Dawn said.
I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. I didn’t recognize most of the bands playing this music and arts fest. In fact, none of the artists I’d grown to enjoy over the past couple of months were performing. Nirvana. Boyz II Men. Sleater-Kinney. Blur. MC Hammer. Milli Vanilli. But I’d enjoyed some of the bands that did play.
A cloud of marijuana smoke drifted over us from a passing knot of teenagers.
“If Mattie doesn’t show up soon,” I said, “maybe we should skip taking her backstage to meet the Presidents tonight.”
“Nice try,” Dawn said. “I know you’re not excited about PotUS, but that’s just cause you haven’t heard them yet. Besides, Mattie is going to Hall and Oates with you Monday, the least you can do is see the Presidents with her.”
Damn. “You know how to cut right to my heart,” I said. “Like a real Maneater.”
“Maneater, huh?” Dawn said, the corner of her mouth dimpling up. “I can go for that.”
A shout went up from a group of hackysackers on the grass in front of the mural stage. , drawing my attention back to the flows of energy.
“I just want to know Mattie’s okay, is all,” I said, tearing my eyes off of the crowd and their spiritual pull again. “There’s all kinds of negative energy here.”
“Mattie’s danger is yet to come,” Fatima said as she sketched, and with the noise of the crowd and sound checks it took a second after hearing the words for their meaning to register.
“What?” I stood up, and strode quickly to Fatima. “Mattie’s danger?” I looked down at her sketch. It appeared to be Dawn dancing in front of Stonehenge.
Fatima looked up at me, and blinked, her eyes taking a second to focus on mine. “What?”
“You said Mattie’s danger is yet to come. Did you see something happening to her?” Fatima was an arcana like me and Sammy, a human magic user; but where our family gift was necromancy, hers was sorcery, and more specifically the gift of prophecy. Though if you asked me, her true gift was in making Sammy smile, a miraculous power whose strength must truly rival the gods to break through the shield of my sister’s determined cynicism.
Fatima frowned, and looked back down at her sketch pad. “I—maybe?” She lifted the page, and flipped through a series of images. I caught what looked like Donkey Kong, and Dawn playing her guitar with an expression of fury, and Mattie reaching out through a narrow window in stone, a terrified look on her face. “I don’t think her danger is immediate. Though everything feels . . . unclear, distant for some reason, like the near future is encased in amber.” She shook her head.
Dawn moved to stand beside me. “Something wrong?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
Sammy put a hand on Fatima’s arm. “You okay, Fates?”
A smile quirked up the corner of Fatima’s mouth. “I’m fine. Probably just tired. Two hours sleep does not a bright Fatima make.”
Sammy gave Fatima a light poke in the side. “And whose fault is that?”
“Yours,” Fatima replied, and finger-combed her hair back. “You know what red wine does to me.”
“Uh,” I said, “about Mattie—?”
Sammy sighed. “I told you, I’m sure she’s fine.”
“She’s not fine,” I said. “Fatima’s visions aside, Mattie’s definitely hurting. She just hides it well.”
In fact, we’d come to Bumbershoot today largely for Mattie’s sake. It had been a rough few months for all of us, but she was barely sixteen years old. Beyond the normal teenage challenges and changes, she’d been taken hostage by her undead grandfather, found out her mother was possessed during her conception in order to grant her the Talker gift, and then her father had almost died to keep bumping spiritual uglies with the ghost who did the possessing. Add on top of that several major shakeups in the family, with my return, and Pete largely disappearing into his new life as a waerwolf, and her teacher and family friend Heather betraying us then becoming a waerbear—we were one crazy messed up family.
So when Dawn got the chance at some cheap festival passes through her new record label, it was decided to bring Mattie out for some normal, healthy family time at an event she might actually enjoy.
“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” Sammy said. “But here’s a news flash—our family has always been messed up, and we each got through it. Mattie’s not a fragile egg, she’s a smart young woman who’s twice as together as you were at her age.”
“I’m just worried . . .” I trailed off.
“What?” Sammy asked. “That she’s going to go up in the Space Needle with a sniper rifle just because she’s having a rough patch? Trust me, if you meet a teenager who never has an emotional crisis, that’s when you should be worried, ’cause they’re an alien or robot or something and your butt is toast.”
*Indeed,* Alynon chimed in. *I would be more concerned about the enemies your family has made than what harm your niece may bring upon herself.*
Great, thanks, I thought. Like I needed to be reminded of that right now. “Don’t forget we saw Barry here,” I said.
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Barry’s harmless.”
Easy for her to say. Barry did nothing but flirt with her. But Barry, mister life of the party with his easy charm and perfect smile, also happened to be a waerdog pledged to the Forest of Shadows, the darkest of the Fey Demesnes. I still couldn’t believe he was running around free after the battle at Elwha, but technically he hadn’t participated in the battle, he’d only been there as a duly appointed representative in an official duel. And now, he was playing in a drum circle on yon grassy hill with a bunch of hippy-looking kids I suspected were a pack of his fellow waer-folk.
“Hey guys!” Mattie called, appearing out of the stream of people. She wore one of Sammy’s old Bikini Kill T-shirts, and had dyed her hair bright green with blue ends.
“Where were you?” I snapped, my nerves still on edge from all the spiritual temptation. “We were supposed to meet here a half hour ago.”
“Sorry, Uncle Finn. I was on my way and got distracted by a breakdancing troupe. You would have loved them.”
“You freaked me out,” I said, but my irritation quickly faded at the sad look on her face. I sighed. “I’m glad you had fun. Just, text us or something. We were worried.”
“I know,” Mattie said. “Sorry. I lost track of time.”
“Dawn!” another voice called, and a woman marched toward us from the direction of the mural stage, waving. A silver persona ring flashed on her hand, the ID ring of an arcana.
“Kaitlin!” Dawn waved back. Kaitlin cut across the crowd to join us. She stood a head taller than Dawn, with bleach-blond hair and wearing all white.
Kaitlin and her partner, Wesley, formed the band BOAT, and had known Dawn for several years.
They were also arcana, a fact Dawn had been unaware of until recently. But for that reason I actually looked forward to talking to them. Of all the bands I’d met since Dawn signed to Volvur Records, they were the first I might be able to say something intelligent to instead of just feeling like a dork.
Dawn and Kaitlin embraced. A bright blue azurite gem flashed in Kaitlin’s Persona ID ring, identifying her as a sorceress, an illusionist.
“Grab lunch?” I asked, looking at the Casio calculator watch I’d inherited from Zeke. Sadly, my Pac-Man watch had died a watery death in the Elwha.
Just past noon.
Sammy stood, and lifted her laptop satchel. “I don’t know about food, but I’d kill a damn Yeti for some air conditioning right now,” she said.
Fatima gave a sad look up at the sun, but didn’t protest. We all gathered our things and shuffled inside the food court. As we filed through the door, Mattie moved up beside Dawn and said, “How come you’re not playing this weekend?”
“I only signed with Volvur a couple months ago,” Dawn replied. “It was way too late to book me here.”
“You’ll play here next year though, for sure,” Mattie said.
“We’ll see,” Dawn replied, but her tone was practically giddy. “They’re planning to send me on tour, for sure.”
Kaitlin looked over her shoulder at Dawn. “We should totally talk about doing some shows together. I think our messages mix really well.”
“Shit yeah!” Dawn replied.
I wasn’t sure how excited I was at the thought of Dawn getting mixed up in BOAT’s brand of messaging.
BOAT had been approved by the Arcana Ruling Council to help popularize and spread disinformation about magic by creating a cultish sort of “philosophy” and mythos to go with their band. The truly weird thing was, they seemed entirely earnest about it all, and it was hard for me to tell where the line existed between them doing this as some kind of giant promotional art project, and them actually believing what they were saying, whereas Dawn’s lyrics all came right from her heart. Still, sincere or not, BOAT’s messages seemed positive.
It seemed the ARC had finally learned its lesson about leaving the creativity to the artists, at least. Past attempts at disinformation and creating excuses for plausible deniability had not gone over so well, and even the ones that had been somewhat successful—LSD, Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast, Gwar—had caused some problems of their own.
A wave of cool air and food smells washed over us as we entered the Armory, Seattle Center’s food court. The space looked like a gentrified warehouse, all pleasant greens and blues and grays with a high roof held up by pillars spaced widely throughout. Along the outer walls ran a series of restaurants, and there were food stands spaced throughout as well. Scaffolding for lights and speakers dangled from wires above, with a stage opposite the entrance that often held some kind of cultural performance. And in the center of the floor you could look down into a section of the Children’s Museum that filled the level below, a section made to look like a mountain and bit of Pacific Northwest forest complete with running waterfall.
The spaces between were packed with people at small plastic tables.
Sammy scored seats at a table far back in one corner by an emergency exit, as isolated as we could hope to get in the crowded space, and the rest of us dispersed to get the food of our choice.
As I stood waiting for my order at the MOD Pizza counter, a laugh cut through the noise of the crowd, a snorting staccato beat that I would have recognized anywhere. I looked over to see Dawn laughing at something Kaitlin said a couple of counters down, and then smiling in my direction.
Damn I loved her. Granted, I didn’t have the years of experience that I should have at love, but then I supposed there were plenty of people my age who hadn’t had more than one true love in their life. My brother Pete and his fiancée Vee were getting married in a few days, and more than once as I’d listened to them talk about the traditions of a brightblood bonding ceremony, I had thought of Dawn, and—
“Whip cream?” the young lady behind the counter asked.
“What? Oh, uh, yeah! Of course.”
I collected my food and shake, and turned around to find an unfamiliar older man watching me intently, with a brute lurking beside him who looked like Dolph Lundgren with a buzz cut and neck tattoo.
“Hello, Phinaeus,” the older man said. “I have some rather urgent business to discuss with you.”
The faint purple birthmark like an upside-down heart on his right cheek sparked recognition.
“Justin?” Justinius Gramaraye was a second cousin. I could see the Gramaraye nose now above Justin’s weak chin and too-thin lips. It was definitely him. When I last saw him and his twin brother, Jared, they were barely twelve years old, a full two years younger than me at the time. But the man staring at me appeared at least sixty-five years old. And not a distinguished Sean Connery sixty-five, or a charming Beatles “will you still love me” sixty-five, but more like someone who’d spent those years earning money as a subject of medical experiments, and then blown every dime of that money at the local dive bar.
The rare “gift” of actually Talking to spirits drained the necromancer’s life when used, aging the necromancer. My mother had been a Talker, which had contributed to her death. And I was a Talker, but had no desire to use the gift if I could avoid it. If Justin had manifested the gift after I went into exile, that might explain his aging, but not his otherwise sad state. Vegan albinos had more flesh and color to them. “Jesus, Justin, you okay?”
“Show respect!” Justin snapped.
My skin tightened with goosebumps as I realized my mistake.
This wasn’t Justin. This was—
2: WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE
Grandfather’s reaper grin confirmed my guess.
He had taken possession of Justin’s body through dark necromancy, aided by the resonance that family blood and the shared gift of necromancy created between them. Just as he had done to Grayson, his one-time apprentice and bastard son, despite the fact that he had destroyed Grayson’s spirit to fuel the possession.
Much as I had destroyed Dunngo’s spirit to fuel my own magic.
The tray suddenly felt heavy, and my stomach in no state for food.
“Come,” Grandfather said. “Let us go someplace less public and speak.”
“How about we don’t,” I replied, “and you just send me a nice Solstice card from, say, Hades?”
Grandfather motioned to the brute at his side. “I could have my friend involve your mundy girlfriend in our discussion, if you prefer.”
I looked over at Dawn, but she and Kaitlin were faced away from me now, unaware of my situation.
“Fine. Let’s chat, just me, you, and Deputy Dolph.”
Deputy Dolph didn’t look too thrilled at his new title—in fact, he looked like the kind of person always just waiting for an excuse to be angry—but Grandfather merely nodded to him, and he led the way back to a utility hall clearly meant for employees only. We stopped in the hallway with its plain white walls and concrete floor, the florescent lighting especially bleak and pale after a day in the summer sun.
I swallowed against a suddenly dry mouth as Grandfather turned to face me. I waved at him. “I take it Grayson’s body finally gave out?”
“Indeed,” Grandfather said. “When you turned against your family duty, I no longer had the magic to sustain it.”
I ignored the bait on the whole “duty” thing. We’d just have to agree to disagree on whether being used to fuel his immortality was a family duty or not.
“So you just took another body?” I asked. “You said Grayson volunteered to be sacrificed for your use, that he was a soldier for the cause. Are you going to tell me Justin was another True Believer? Gods, don’t tell me he was actually your kid, too?”
“Not exactly,” Grandfather said with a slight smile. “But as a Gramaraye, he too had a duty. And trust me, he was doing nothing special with this body, nothing nearly as important as saving our world from the Fey. The sacrifice of his spirit will be honored one day.”
I did my best to hide a sudden shiver—and to convince myself it was one of fear rather than desire at the memory of how such dark power felt, or the uncomfortable echo I heard in his words to my own earlier thoughts about all the wasted lives in the world. I straightened my shoulders. “Well, I have to say, I’m not sure this whole Mumm-Ra thing is working for you. You look like the Crypt Keeper on a bad scare day.”
Grandfather’s reaper smile faded into a decidedly unamused look. “The . . . entropy is an unfortunate side effect I have yet to eliminate. Especially as I no longer have your help in acquiring the power required to maintain possession.”
“I never helped you,” I said. “I was used by you.” It was the reason Grandfather had framed me and gotten me exiled to the Other Realm for twenty-five years—due to our unique spiritual connection, he’d found a way to draw raw magical energy from the Other Realm through me despite the barriers between worlds. It was a variation on the trick that Katherine Verona had used to make her daughter the spiritual equivalent of an atomic bomb in the Other Realm.
“You say potato, I say stop whining,” Grandfather replied, waving the distinction away.
“I’m surprised you have enough mana left to freejack anyone after all these months,” I said. “You must have quite the stockpile.”
“Who said I’m using mana?” Grandfather replied, and looked down at his hands. “Sadly, the levels of raw spiritual energy required to maintain control is not kind to flesh.”
My goosebumps turned into pterodactyl-bumps.
Grandfather must be summoning spirits—or killing folks and capturing their spirits—and consuming their energy to fuel his immortality. He had gone full-on Lich King evil.
“You’re insane,” I said, taking an involuntary step back. “You may have found a way to stick around past your expiration date, but you only have so many relatives to use up.”
“Indeed,” Grandfather replied, with the tone of someone who had just been asked if they’d like to order the daily special.
“So let me guess. You’re here to tell me I should return to exile so you can stop using up bodies like disposable underwear?”
“Actually, Phinaeus, I only need to possess one more body.”
The look he gave me made it pretty damn clear which body that might be.
“Um, what?” I said.
“If I am right, I no longer need to place you in exile, because once I have control of your body I will have an existing link to the Other Realm.”
I blinked. “You mean Alynon?”
Grandfather’s smile widened. “Yes. And what could be a more fitting solution to my immortality, and to the success of our war against the Fey, than to use one of their own to fuel that victory.”
“Well,” I said. “Aren’t you just the leader of the club that’s made from you and me. But I’d rather not join.”
“You say that as if you have a choice,” Grandfather replied. “Trust me, what my . . . allies have planned for you and your loved ones is sure to be far worse. You have upset our plans more than once, and we are all too close to our endgame to risk you doing so once more.” He glanced around us as if expecting those allies to back up his statement.
“I still don’t understand why your merry little band of Illuminati wannabes can’t see—”
“I don’t mean we Arcanites, dear boy. I mean the Fey.”
We’d suspected that Grandfather’s Arcanite cult had allied with some group of equally extremist Fey. There just had been no way to explain how either one or the other group could have performed all the acts of sabotage and manipulation and destruction. But it had not made sense. The primary goal of the Arcanites was to wipe out the Fey and establish arcana supremacy—for our world’s own good, of course. What Fey Demesne or group would be willing to work with them?
“Please, dear boy, do not ask me who my allies are. That really is insulting to think I would share my plans like a bad movie villain.”
“Well, to be fair, you did have a secret underwater lair and are planning to rule the world, so, you know, if the straitjacket fits—”
“You still refuse to see the true threat the Fey pose,” Grandfather said. “But had they found you before me, you would not be so glib. Even now I’m certain their agents seek you out.”
“Funny,” I said. “They’ve had months to seek me out since the whole Elwha thing. Why do I have a feeling that your plans to use me as your personal Lazarus Pit was the final straw?”
Grandfather gave a “what can I say” shrug, then motioned toward the exit door at the end of the hall. “Why don’t we go someplace safer to complete our . . . discussion. Unless you wish to involve your—”
Deputy Dolph suddenly spasmed, slamming back against the wall. His eyes went severely bloodshot, his jaw clenched, and his neck muscles stood out enough to make a Cardassian jealous.
“Fury!” Grandfather said.
“He’s berserking?” I asked, backing away as Grandfather did the same. “Why?”
“No, fool. A Fury has possessed him. He is fighting it, but he will not win. You must escape.”
Grandfather made a disgusted sound. “Truly, that habit of repeating what I say has always annoyed me, Phinaeus. The Fey have sent Furies against you, and me. I can handle myself. You—”
I didn’t wait for him to finish. I dropped my tray, mourning the lost pizza as I turned, and ran.
A Fury. Holy frak.
Furies were unpredictable and volatile creatures, Elder Fey spirits drawn to powerful anger and hatred, possessing their victim and projecting the dark emotions outward like a destructive emotional plague. Furies had responded often to calls for vengeance in olden times, before arcana had managed to contain enough of them that the remaining few fled and remained mostly hidden.
When they did attack, they were relentless and devastating. Creatures of chaos and single-minded focus, they might be willing to cause death and mayhem among mundies, careless of the visibility. More than one sporting event had devolved into riots thanks to the Furies being drawn to such concentrated passion and rivalry.
But a Fury with purpose, controlled? Only the Fey could have managed it.
Grandfather hadn’t been lying about that, at least.
I dodged and wove my way between the people with their trays and tables, checking behind me. Deputy Dolph had not followed. Which meant either he was busy ripping Grandfather’s arms off, or Grandfather had managed to somehow bind or banish the creature. I wasn’t sure which I preferred.
I reached our table where thankfully everyone now sat with their food. “We have to get out of here, get somewhere safe. Now.”
“What’s going on?” Sammy asked.
“Both Grandfather and a Fury are in the building—”
All color drained from Sammy’s face, but her eyes practically flamed red as she stood and said, “That bastard better not come anywhere near me again.” Fatima put a hand on her arm to reassure or steady her. Grandfather had kidnapped and tortured Sammy six months ago, at the same time he’d taken Mattie. Though Sammy hid it as well as she hid most of her emotions, Fatima had confided that it still caused my sister nightmares.
“Furies?” Kaitlin asked in a shocked tone, and looked around the crowded space. “What did you do to attract them?”
“That story’s enough to fill two books at least,” I said. “And right now, we need to get someplace safe.”
“The EMP?” Mattie said as we all moved toward the emergency exit.
I thought about the shining, undulating bulk of the EMP museum building just a quick sprint away. There were arcana wardens inside, tasked with guarding the ARC Sanctum hidden beneath the Science Fiction museum area.
They would not be happy to see me given that I’d broken into the Sanctum with Zeke six months ago, and left a number of the wardens injured in the process. But keeping those around me safe was more important than fear of a possible beat down just then.
“The EMP,” I agreed. We sprinted in that direction as quickly as the crowds allowed.
“You know,” Dawn said, striding beside me. “After being away from your family the past month, I almost forgot about all the, you know.” She waved at our situation, her many silver rings glinting. One of those rings held a ladybug suspended in amber and charged with a bit of my energy, marking her as an Acolyte, a mundane allowed knowledge of the magical world.
“I’m sorry, I know—”
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I slowed to a fast walk and fumbled the phone out of my jeans, half expecting a call from Grandfather with an all clear and a claim that I now owed him. But the image of a bald black man with a faded scar across his forehead glared out from the screen. Reggie had been less than thrilled when I took the picture, catching his expression as Mort offered him a cheap boxed red wine with dinner.
I had a reflexive urge to ignore the call. Reggie was an enforcer, a policeman of the magical world, representing the area’s Arcana Ruling Council. As it did every time Reggie called me, fear surged up in me that the ARC had learned about my use of dark necromancy. But Reggie was also a friend of sorts, working to root out the Arcanites. Somehow, I didn’t think his call was a coincidence.
I hit the answer icon, and held the phone pressed hard to one ear while covering the other to hear over the music and crowd. “Hello?”
“Yeah, Reggie, I was actually going to call you. My—”
“Just listen! The Arcanites are deeper in the ARC than we thought. I discovered something about their plans, and—gods, I still can’t believe it.”
“What?” I asked. Reggie sounded freaked out, which freaked me out, as if I weren’t freaked out enough already.
“They—shit, they found me! Damn it. Check your e-mail!”
Then the phone squealed feedback in my ear, and the call ended.
I came to a stop, and everyone else in our group halted with me.
“You okay, Uncle Finn?” Mattie asked.
If the Arcanites still infested the Arcana Ruling Council and its branches, if they were bold enough to go after Reggie, then we could be walking right into their trap if we fled to the museum.
“Change of plans. We go for the car, and home.”
Sammy gave an enormous sneeze. I turned to ask if she was okay, and she let out another sneeze. If a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world, Sammy’s sneezes probably caused hurricanes on distant planets.
They also served as a warning of magic being directed at her, since Sammy was allergic to active magic and magical creatures.
I spun around. Deputy Dolph plowed through the crowd in a beeline for us like a linebacker charging for a sponsorship deal.
It was probably too much to hope that he’d dispatched Grandfather. More likely that his orders were to target me specifically, in which case he would ignore anyone else unless they posed a threat.
“You guys go on,” I said. “He’s after me.” I pulled a collapsible steel baton out of my pocket, but did not extend it as I looked from Sammy to Mattie and back.
“Fuck,” Sammy said, but only hesitated a second before saying, “Be careful.” She nudged Mattie back into motion toward the car, Fatima joining them.
“Nice try,” Dawn said, not moving, and Kaitlin still at her side. “We stick together.”
“Dawn, I have a plan, but it won’t work if you’re with me. And we don’t have time to argue.”
“I can give Finn a head start,” Kaitlin said, “create the illusion he ran a different direction. But I won’t be able to maintain it for long.”
Dawn’s eyes narrowed, and she said to me, “You’d better get your tight little butt back to me in one piece, or I’ll come after you in the afterlife.”
“Aw, that’s, like, a quote from Last of the Mohicans, isn’t it?” I asked.
She just rolled her eyes and said, “Toe pick!” Then she sprinted after the others.
“Toe Pick” had become a phrase we shared after watching The Cutting Edge. When I said it to Dawn, it usually meant “Good luck, go get them,” like when she was about to perform. When she said it to me, she claimed it meant “Focus!” but what I suspected it really meant was “Don’t do something stupid!”
Why is everyone telling me not to be stupid? I asked Alynon.
No response. He must still be out of it from exerting control over my leg earlier. There’s no way he would have passed up an opening like that willingly. Which was a shame, since a little advice wouldn’t have been unwelcome just then.
Kaitlin moved a little away from me. “On my go, run for it.” She looked from me to the Fury for a minute, squinting as if trying to see through it, then said, “Okay. Go!”
I pushed my way through the flow of people on the concrete walkway to reach the grass beyond, then sprinted a short ways before looking back.
Dolph Fury wasn’t moving toward Sammy and the others, or me, but remained focused on the place I’d stood when Kaitlin placed the illusion in his mind. The magic took its toll on Kaitlin though. She wavered as though she wanted to pass out, her reserve of magical energy, or her strength of will, rapidly drained under the weight of the Fury’s focus and emotion.
I put a little more distance between myself and the Fury before a howl of anger could be heard over the thrumming rock music. The illusion had ended.
A fight erupted around the Fury, shoves and punches and shouts rippling outward along the line of people as if someone had started a game of telephone with the world’s meanest Yo Mamma joke.
“Hey!” I shouted. “Blind Fury! Come get some!”
The Fury’s bloodshot eyes locked on mine, and I waited until I was certain he was coming for me, then took off running across the grass, ragey Deputy Dolph in furious pursuit.
3: LOVE SHACK
I was in pretty good shape physically, thanks in part to Alynon’s efforts in the years he possessed my body, and in part to the fact Dawn and I had begun taking Wing Chun classes together. But the Fury had taken possession of a clearly athletic enforcer, and Furies were able to push their host bodies to extremes, pumping adrenalin and blocking pain. I would not be able to stay ahead for long.
In Dolph’s path, a little girl in butterfly face paint giggled an adorable laugh. The Fury recoiled, staggering in an arc away from the girl, gaining me a little ground.
I ran toward Barry’s drum circle on the nearby hilltop.
Most of the young men and women in the circle had dreadlocks, and the men had their shirts tied around their waists, exposing too-pale skin to the Northwest sun. A cloud of body odor and patchouli smell surrounded them. Barry especially loved patchouli to help hide his waerdog scent from other brightbloods with a strong sense of smell.
“Barry!” I said as I ran up. Barry looked up, surprised, and the mind-numbing rhythm they’d been playing faltered.
“Woah brah!” he said. “You totally harshed our groove there. We were so in the zone.”
“Uh, sorry. Look, I just wanted to say hello, no hard feelings and all that.” I held out my hand.
“Oh! Right on, man. We’re all good.” He took my hand.
I summoned up my magic, and prepared to transfer a bit of my spiritual energy to Barry. If I could mask his spiritual resonance with mine, the Fury just might go after him. Surely a pack of waerdogs could handle a Fury better than I could. For all I knew, the Forest of Shadows Fey sent the damn thing.
But I hesitated, looking at the curious young faces of the drummers, and released the summoning. I just couldn’t do it.
Gods I hated Barry. But that didn’t mean I had the right to sic a Fury on him, and especially not on these other kids, who for all I knew were just a bunch of stoners drawn to Barry’s puppy charm. Besides, Dawn might think I did it out of jealousy or anger. She liked Barry. Everyone liked Barry. The bastard.
“Barry, do you have any tips on dealing with a Fury?”
“Furies?” Barry looked surprised, then gave his damn charming smile. “Only love can truly conquer fury, my friend. Why?” He looked past me. “Oh. Bummer, dude.”
Dolph Fury was close enough I could hear him breathing harshly as he began running up the hill we stood upon. Then he stopped several feet away, and grinned at me with a gap-toothed smile, a bit of saliva running down his chin.
The red of his eyes seemed to fill my vision, setting the world aflame.
I turned back and punched Barry in the face. “Thanks for nothing!” I shouted as rage flared up within me like a grease fire of anger—anger that Barry had tried to steal Dawn from me, anger that I ever worried he might succeed, anger that he reminded me how close my choices had brought my family and the Elwha brightbloods to disaster. Anger that—
Barry sprang to his feet, and licked my face.
“What the—” I felt a sudden urge to giggle. Barry had just used his waerdog powers on me, infecting me with his simple joy. I smiled.
Then anger surged back in like water into a sinking car.
“Run, brah!” Barry said, and shoved me away from Dolph Fury. Some part of my brain understood, and I began to run again.
The Fury screamed, and chased after me, ignoring Barry and his group. The anger faded as I gained some distance and the Fury had to focus again on controlling Dolph’s body in a flat-out run.
Barry had just helped save me. I owed him one.
There was simply no justice in the universe.
But knowing that Barry wasn’t aligned with the Fury made me reconsider the merits of his advice. Love was the answer? How the hell did that help me? I wasn’t taking this thing anywhere near Dawn.
I glanced back. Dolph gained on me with every step. I could feel my muscles already beginning to strain. Soon, energy would be replaced by lactate and acid buildup, and I would reach my limit far sooner than the Fury, who would simply push Dolph to the point of true collapse.
I looked to the Pacific Science Center ahead.
Maybe I could speed up the process of collapse—for Dolph Fury, not me of course.
I pushed myself to my limit.
I entered the courtyard of the Pacific Science Center, running along a narrow concrete path that wound through reflecting pools, spanned by tall white arches that looked like elven towers from Rivendell. I nearly knocked several visitors into the water in my haste. Shouting apologies behind me without slowing down, I reached the nearest side entrance. Locked. Thank the gods. I tugged the skeleton key on its cord from under my shirt. A thief’s finger bone covered in runes, the artifact was rare and an example of combined thaumaturgy and necromancy from darker times. I held it against the door, and the lock released. I ducked inside and closed the door behind me, making sure it locked again.
Dolph Fury would have to find another way in, buying me some time.
Children packed the hall, lined up to see an exhibit of Harry Potter movie props and settings. Dawn adored Harry Potter, and had made an exception to our one-year-per-month pop-cultural immersion plan, saying a geek like me couldn’t walk around ignorant of Harry Potter and not raise a lot of questions. I’d loved the books and movies both, but had needed serious convincing it wasn’t another part of the ARC’s disinformation campaign to create plausible deniability about the magical world.
I turned and ran away from the exhibit. The last thing I wanted was to lead a Fury into a pack of children. At least, not until I was prepared to stop him.
I made my way to the insect displays, a room with a black widow, a scorpion, bees, and more small and deadly critters, most dead and preserved.
*What are you doing?* Alynon asked drowsily as I slowed next to the scorpions. *Keep running!*
Welcome back! I thought back at him. I’m making my stand. I should be able to animate and control as many as a dozen of these creepy crawlies and use them to poison the Fury.
*La, I hesitate to point this out, yet given how prone you are to fits of self-flagellation and annoying bouts of melancholy . . . *
I sighed. Yes?
*Are you truly ready to kill a possessed man to rid yourself of the Fury?*
Frak. He was right. Deputy Dolph wasn’t exactly an innocent bystander if he worked for my grandfather. But he hadn’t actually ever attacked me or anything. He was being used against his will. And even if he weren’t, killing him shouldn’t be my first choice. Even as accustomed to death as I was being from a family of necromancers, life remained sacred.
And what worried me most was that Alynon had to point it out to me.
Well, what choice do I have? I asked defensively. You know more about Fey spirits than me. What should I do?
*I do not know. I only know that a Fury’s bane is not anger but that which is opposite of anger.*
“Meaning?” I muttered.
*Peace. Love. Joy.*
Great. Don’t suppose there’s a Care Bear around with a belly full of magic?
I looked around. And realized that there was, in fact, a possibility.
“Stop!” A voice called out. “Sir, if you do not leave peaceably we will have to use force.”
I turned, startled, and saw two security guards who closely resembled Jon and Ponch from CHiPs backpedaling, as Dolph Fury stomped toward me like He-Man in a ’roid rage. Jon-guard held up his hand, and the Fury touched it.
Jon shuddered, and said, “It’s not fair. It’s not fair!”
Ponch took a step back and put his hand on his nightstick. “Hey, you okay?”
Jon turned, his face contorted and red, and launched himself at his partner.
The Fury continued marching at me as the two guards fell to the floor, Ponch desperately trying to fend off the wild attack of his partner.
I turned, and ran into the butterfly house. I had to push past several people in line, but they were distracted watching the two guards rolling on the floor like high school brawlers.
The butterfly house was basically a clear-sided hothouse the size of a large room, filled with bright and beautiful flowers and hundreds of even more beautiful butterflies.
I ran around the island at the room’s center with its fountain and tropical trees, placing it between me and the entrance.
Dolph Fury pushed his way into the butterfly house, driven by whatever compulsion had been placed on him to pursue me into hell itself. He spotted me, and began marching purposefully toward me.
A cloud of butterflies descended on him like a pack of wild children on a herd of injured piñatas.
It is really hard to stay angry when you’re in a room full of butterflies under normal circumstances. It’s like trying to be angry with your girlfriend as you watch Ghost together. It just doesn’t work. At least, I found it impossible. I mean, when Patrick first talks to Demi through Whoopi, I completely forgot how I was kind of upset at Dawn for writing a comedic song about our own romance. I just took her hand, grateful to have her in my life, alive and beautiful and amazing, challenges be damned and—
Well, you watch that movie and tell me you aren’t moved even a little.
But when butterflies focus their energy on you, it transforms you. That is their power after all, their very nature—transformation. And it was the exact opposite of the Fury’s nature.
Dolph Fury gave a terrible, deep scream, and then collapsed.
The butterflies, having depleted the bright but tiny spark of magic that animated them, fluttered down out of the air like leaves in autumn.
I stared for a minute at the unconscious man surrounded and covered in a blanket of butterfly wings, something bothering me. And then I realized what it was.
Furies normally traveled in packs of three.
I fled the scene before someone figured I was responsible for it all, and ran to rejoin Dawn, Sammy, Mattie, and Fatima, hoping desperately that I wasn’t too late.
Copyright © 2017 by Randy Scott Henderson
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