VOLUME INDEX



Prelude: Only a Day Away
Chapter I: Vexations
Chapter II: Bad Omens
Chapter III: Magic

 
 
 




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Vex glowered in the harsh, bright lights of the exit and reception office of the Tempe jail. Beyond the metal grid an overweight policewoman chewed gum, rattled on an ancient keyboard, and sifted through plastic bags. A few moments sifting, a few moments typing, a beep from the computer…

“Can you go any more slowly?” Vex said.

“How do you spell your last name again?” the woman asked in a nasal tone. She sounded irritated. Vex would be too if she had a job like that.

“H-A-R-R-O-W.” Vex held the anger out of her voice. It was bad enough that the cops virtually stripped her before they threw her into the holding cell, but now to get her stuff back she had to wait, and spell her name over and over.

“Oh, there it is,” the woman said. “They have it in the system without the double-u.”

“Great,” Vex said.

“I’ll get your stuff… Just wait a moment.”

“I’m getting good at that.”

Keys jingled nearby and Patrick leaned on the shelf of the exit desk. She looked up to see his blue eyes gleaming in his handsome face and Vex nearly beamed at him. Her savior. Though, the first knight in shining armor she’d ever known to wear leather pants and a ripped up biker’s jacket. Today he finished off the look with a pair of heavy boots.

Thunk. “Two black boots,” the policewoman said. Vex smiled. Finally: her boots. She couldn’t quite understand why the cops wanted her to take them off and then took them away, but she felt naked without them.

“So,” Patrick said, sporting a handsome but accusing smile. “What did you do this time?”

“Four silver rings with spikes, two spiked wristbands, and a silver necklace with a pentagram medallion,” the woman announced.

Vex reached up to the counter and dragged the plastic bag holding her jewelry off of the counter and down next to her boot. She set about the task of lacing them up while Patrick chatted with the woman; he always was better at handling people than Vex was.

It took her an aggravatingly long time to lace her boots back up, put all of her rings back onto the right fingers, and wrap her spiked bands back onto her wrists. Of course, when the cops asked her to remove her boots she spent as long as she possibly could to remove them. Probably didn’t score her any points. Vex didn’t care, they didn’t have to put her in jail.

Finally whole again, Vex stood back up.

“Thank you for the lovely accommodations,” she said, bowing. “But I am afraid that I really must go now. Ta-ta.”

“Whatever, toots,” the policewoman said. Then she smiled for a moment before going back to chewing on her gum.

Patrick just nodded and held the door open for Vex as she stalked out.

“I can see you’re upset,” Patrick said.

“They didn’t have to hold me over night,” she grumbled. “It was cold in there too. They took my boots.”

“They didn’t take your sense of irony, I hope?” he asked.

“No, that’s completely intact.”

“So, what landed you in the clink?”

The bright Arizona sun baked the back of Vex’s head as she placed her boot against a white stucco planter, an ugly piece of urban artwork made to look like Hopi pottery. Whatever had been growing inside had long since shriveled and turned crispy brown from the desert sun. The planter sat well within a deep shadow, but the heat was still noticeable and Vex could already feel sweat beading on her forehead.  She tugged at her boot laces to snug them tighter; then leveled her gaze at Patrick.

 “You are in for a story, you know,” she said. Patrick pulled himself into his jeep while Vex stopped to eye herself in the side mirror. “Aw, crud, my makeup is all smeared too.”

“What, no bathroom breaks in the Tempe gulag?” Patrick joked. “And, I’m all up for a story. I expect no less. Careful, the seatbelt might be hot.”

“I know, I know,” Vex said as she used her shirt to grab the buckle. The metal still nearly burned her through the cloth. “Think you could take me to my cab, Patty? I left it in the Gradi Gammage parking lot.”

“How about we get a burger first?” Patrick said as he flipped through his keys. “If it’s a long story I think we should get something to eat.”

“Ah yeah, the height of humor as always.” Vex shook her head; then she grinned. It was hard not to like Patrick for his suave attitude about the world. “Just drive, you big lug. I’ll do the talking.”

“As you wish.”

 

“Stop kicking the table, please,” David snapped at the young man sitting next to him.

“Oh, sorry,” the reply came back, more shallow than before.

This was the third time that David had to ask the guy, Tom, to stop kicking the table. It was seriously ruining his concentration. Not that David knew his concentration mattered; he was going to lose this game.

The sounds of cards being slapped onto the table, moves being called, and tokens representing damage and health moved around the table echoed at David’s side. Although it was his turn, he stalled to take a glance at the layout next to him. The girl sitting there, Megan, had only started a few minutes earlier and only had two island and one swamp cards down. Most expectedly, she had two blue creatures in play.

“Going to go or what?” his opponent, Mark, said peevishly.

David sighed, rubbed his nose, and nodded. “Yeah, just a second.” He put a mermaid into play. A weak creature, but it would help stem the onslaught when Mark’s horde of creatures decided to attack. “I’m done.”

“You’ve been really twitchy, dude,” Megan said, setting a card on the table with a flick. She grinned when her adversary, a little fourteen year old redhead named Zack, winced. “Something going on?”

“I guess that I just had a bad night,” David said.

“I’ll say,” Mark snickered. “Your game is off. I attack with goblin, goblin, and dragon.” David pointed to a few cards on the table and after a few moments they were removed as well as one of Mark’s goblins. “That’s three points of damage. What are you at?”

“Ten now,” David said, taking away a few tokens to mark the damage.

“Tell me about it,” Megan said, now with another island on the table. She pulled her long brown hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear and frowned at her cards. “Last night sucked majorly. I had the worst nightmares.”

“I stayed awake all night,” David said. “That was nightmare enough…”

“What happened?” Megan asked.

“Me and a few friends of mine, we decided to do this magic ritual thing that one of them had found—to help us with our grades. All of this voodoo with candles, chanting, singing and such. Didn’t quite go as planned.”

“Oh,” Megan said and shook her head. “It’s not a good idea to play with things like that, you know, craft magic.”

At that moment, exhausted from the night before, David couldn’t have agreed with her more. The screaming, then the relighting candles, and things flickering in his vision, all together they were enough to make him not want to sleep.

He went to reach for his deck of cards to draw a new one when he saw something strange. One of the cards in his hand—that depicted a creature with a long face and very large eyes—turned to look at him. David put the cards face down on the table, rubbed his eyes, and picked them up again. The picture had not changed.

“I think I’m seeing things,” David said.

“How long since you slept, dude?” Megan said, glancing over. “Not sleeping can make you see things.”

David drew his next card and smiled. He turned most of his cards on the table to the side and laid it down. Finally, the miracle that he had been waiting for had risen.

“Tidal Kraken!” David announced to Mark. “A six-six blue, unblockable.”

“Wow,” Zack said.

“Can I see that?” Megan said. David nodded and passed the card to her.

The moment she took the card, however, David felt a chill pass through him, like a sudden gust of cold air. She seemed to feel it too because she jolted for a moment and then glanced around like something touched her. When she didn’t mention anything, David decided to remain quiet.

“That’s pretty cool,” she said, handing the card back.

“Yeah I like—” David started to say when he noticed motion in the card, like light shifting on the surface. The painting of the waves shimmered for a moment as if they were crashing down on the painted buildings and the giant monster’s head turned towards him. A great maw filled with teeth, and yellow glowing eyes filled his vision. Stinking breath brushed warm against his face…giant claws reached for him—and he dropped the card.

David was standing. He didn’t remember standing up, but the chair he was sitting in had fallen over backwards and Megan, Tom, Zack, and Mark were staring at him.

“You alright?” Megan asked.

David shrank away from the cards as if they were on fire and stepped away from the fallen chair. “I think, I need to use the bathroom. I’ll be right back, someone watch my cards?”

He started to turn toward the bathroom in the building but Mark spoke up. “That bathroom has an out-of-order sign on it.”

“I’ll go to Borders,” David said and turned the other way. He barely heard the other voices that followed him out the door as he fled from the Coffee Plantation.

 

“That puts me at negative twelve life,” Megan said, dropping her cards on the table. “You win, Zack. Good game.”

“Thanks,” Zack said. He began to pick up his cards from the table and shuffling them back into his deck. “You had me going there for the last part, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to win that one.”

“Maybe next time,” Megan said. As she shuffled her own cards back into her deck she glanced over at David’s cards. “How long as he been gone?”

“Twenty minutes maybe?” Zack said as he shuffled.

“Longer,” Mark said. “I’m getting bored, anyone want to play a game?”

“I’ll play,” Megan said eyeing the remaining cards. “I’ll put David’s cards away…” She glanced under the table. “He left his book bag behind too, he’ll be back for it, I’m sure.”

“Have at it, Meg,” Zack said and glanced across the table. “Tom? Game?”

Presently, a small girl with bright yellow hair and a green streak down the center slipped through the front two glass doors of the coffee house and glanced around. Spotting Megan, she fluttered over and put both hands on the table.

“Hiya,” she said.

“Hi Karen,” Megan said with a wave.

“Has anyone seen Osiris?” she asked. “I’m so looking for him.”

“Have you checked eJoy?” Megan asked. The container for David’s magic cards, a hard cardboard box, seemed a little too long to fit back into his already stuffed backpack, so she just let it stay unzipped with the corner of the box sticking out.

“Yeah,” Karen said, rubbing the back of her head with her hand. “Nobody there has seen him in almost three days.”

Mark and Zack both shook their heads.

Megan nodded. “I haven’t seen him since Monday.”

“Weird,” Kate said. “I was supposed to meet him here today. Anyway, I gotta go—” She tilted her head towards the door. “—my mom is waiting for me.” She rolled her eyes. “I’ll see you all at drum circle tomorrow. Kay.”

“Sure thing,” Megan said and watched Kate bounce back out of the coffee house and get into a waiting car. When she glanced down again at the table she noticed the Tidal Kraken card still there. “Funny, I thought I’d already put that in the backpack…”

Megan reached for it and picked it up.

Suddenly she was alone.

The world was grey and scratched like an old movie. It was Mill. She could see the stores, The Hippy Gypsy, Urban Outfitters, Borders, Ruby Tuesdays, each one strangely empty and lifeless. People ran through the streets in terror, their hurried footfalls silent. She could see them screaming and looking back at something.

Megan turned to look at what people were running from. She could see something orange from the corner of her eye then—

“Help me.”

“What?”  Mark said.

Megan shook herself and blinked a few times. “What?”

“Did you say something?” Mark asked.

“Uh, no,” Megan said. The card was still held between her fingers. Without wasting another moment she simply slid it into the backpack, not wanting to touch the thing any longer than she had to.

The worst part about the entire experience was the feeling of déjà vu, for some reason it felt like touching the card the first time. And worse, the voice calling for help sounded exactly like David.

 
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