VOLUME INDEX



Chapter XXXIV: The People
Chapter XXXV: World After World
Chapter XXXVI: Take This Medicine

 
 
 




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Aren’t you glad that you haven’t told her about me?” Tiffany’s reflection was small in the cell phone but it didn’t affect the volume of her voice—not outside the taxicab. Inside the cab her voice was reduced to a whisper and her image became barely visible. Megan parked herself up against the side of the cab in a shadow, and stayed there in spite of the heat. Nathan had retreated inside with the air-conditioning.

Megan kept her voice down so that Nathan wouldn’t hear her. He mentioned he wanted to rest his eyes, hopefully he was asleep.

“I’m going to have to tell her at some point,” she said.

Why take the static? You and I can do this on our own, girlfriend.

“What if she finds out?”

I won’t tell her if you don’t.” Tiffany had been a little bit more snide with her retorts today. Ever since their walk down Mill Ave she had been a lot more open and casual with her conversation. Megan wondered what it must be like only having one person to talk to all the time.

“Yeah, I get your drift.”

Where did she run off to anyway?

A single pop of gunfire echoed through the empty landscape a moment later.

“I think Patrick is teaching her how to use the gun,” Megan said.

“She must really like him,” Nathan opined through the open window.

Megan stretched to look up in his direction. “Why do you say that?”

The upholstery squeaked as he shifted to move closer to the window. “She dumped the last boyfriend who tried to teach her how to use a gun.”

 

“It’s heavy,” Vex complained.

It was heavy, in fact, even though Patrick said the clip—magazine, Vex told herself—had been loaded light. If the gun weighed this much and loaded “light” she didn’t want to imagine what a full load was like. Pulling the trigger produced a very loud noise that felt like a hammer against the inside her skull and the gun jumped like a cat springing out of her hands. She could still hear the bang behind her eyes and she’d only pulled the trigger once so far.

Her shoulder was beginning to ache.

“You’re doing fine,” Patrick said levelly. “It’s a little heavy in the grip to help you aim.” Not that it did any good last time: even lined up as best as she could manage she totally missed the target—a discarded can of tomato sauce—with the last shot. “Relax. You’re still gripping it too tight. You don’t need to hold the gun like it’s going to explode.”

The can leered at her from its perch atop an old fence of dried wood. Forgotten and decrepit with time, the fence had all but receded into the idyllic background of the desert that spread in all directions. Here and there dull green vegetation and cacti sprang up from the reddish-grey rock, poking through the dry expanse with angry tenacity. Grey-blue mountains hovered like mean specters against the horizon, airy peaks defying the dust-dry scent of the air; Phoenix waited somewhere far behind her, forgotten in the baking heat and distance.

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll avoid white-knuckling it next time.”

Over the past half-hour she’d patiently sat through him explaining the use of the weapon. Including a long bit on how to set the safety and how to eject the magazine. Among other safety tips. “Before you have to use it for a day,” he said, “you need to make sure it’s not jammed. You can do that by pulling the slide back until you can see the chambered round.” He had to explain what all that meant, but she thought the gist was obvious.

“You want to try again?”

“No.”

Patrick chuckled. “We can work more on your grip and aim,” he said, putting his arms around her again—she rather liked this part. “Why don’t you tell me about that thing that attacked us last night, what did you call it? A god-something?”

“God-frag,” she said as she let him steady her arms and take some of the weight off. “Basically. Outside the everyday, behind the scenes of what we can see, hear, taste, and feel, there’s bigger stuff. Like the astral and the umbral—think of it as a space between the walls. There’s an entire ecology of things out there and some of them are gigantic, so enormous that they’re not capable of becoming fully manifest.”

“So they fragment?”

“Yes,” she said. “Exactly. They squeeze through into our reality and a piece breaks off, and that’s a god-fragment. So, congratulations: you’re a big game hunter now. You killed one.”

“I’ll be sure to stuff it and mount it on my wall.”

Vex grinned and enjoyed the scent of him. If only she’d thought about getting shooting lessons earlier, she thought to herself, this part certainly was worth it. As if to punctuate that thought, he withdrew. She allowed herself a scowl.

“There,” he said. “Now, line it up like I showed you and squeeze the trigger.”

Lining up was easy enough, the can hadn’t moved since last she saw it. Trying to ignore the weight of the gun and what she expected to happen when she used it, she aimed as best she could—

She squeezed the trigger. Bang! The tomato can didn’t move, but a spar of the fence several inches away splintered and shook.

“Well,” Patrick said. “You hit something that time.”

“My shoulder hurts,” she said. “Care to take a break?”

“Sure.” Patrick took the gun back and holstered it.

Vex exhaled slowly, bent down and picked up her book.

“You’ve been reading that most of the time we’ve been out here,” Patrick said, motioning to the book. “What’s in it?”

She patted the volume against her leg. “Answers,” she said. “I hope.”

“Related to the god-frag?”

“And the violin girl, and the murders at A Mountain…” He wouldn’t be much help, she knew, but there was no reason to keep him in the dark. So she gestured him down and together they crouched in a shadow; she balanced the book on her leg and placed both hands on it. “This is a book of notes, mostly the confused insights of an academic trying to understand Native American cultures. A Jesuit priest by the name of Father Kino. He passed through this area in the late 1600s.”

“How did you find it?”

“It’s another breadcrumb. I found it using divination in Those Were the Days.” Not strictly true, but she still didn’t feel comfortable trying to tell him that her dead mother’s ghost probably had something to do with it. “There was a tribe in this area around the time and they had a legend about a monster sealed beneath a door on Hayden Butte. Kino confuses if it was a sacred monster or a sacred door, he guesses the latter, of course but…

“I think someone went and built the ‘A’ atop that door and that the ‘door’ might actually be a seal of some sort designed to keep it closed. I tried to look up some of the words used to describe the ‘sacred monster’ and from what I gather they all mean something like ‘the ancient enemy of our ancestors.’”

She drummed her fingers on the book as she mulled it over and he listened.

“Father Kino dismissed all of this as superstition, but he still went as far as to put a blessing on a wheel of white stones that the local tribe kept over the spot.”

“So that horrible massacre?”

Vex made a disgusted face and nodded slowly. “Someone trying damned hard to break the seal. Not succeeding, but trying.”

“How do you figure they didn’t succeed?”

Gravel ground under foot as she shifted her weight. “We’re still here.”

Patrick brushed dust from his pant legs and nodded slowly. She could tell that most of that hadn’t totally sunken in, but she appreciated that he wanted to know. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t fully be part of her mystical life; it was enough to have him there.

“Vex,” he said. “I want to thank you for humoring me.”

“Humor?”

“The gun,” he said. “I know you don’t like them. So I reckon you’re doing good by me to sit through my instruction.”

“I’m not just humoring, you know.” She shrugged and touched his cheek with her fingers. “I’m trying to be with you. If guns are your thing then I don’t mind the experience. I can’t actually teach you magick, so I might as well learn something from you.”

“I reckon I’m old fashioned,” he said, that embarrassed drawl entering his tone as one hand reached up to scratch behind his head. “I’d just feel like you’d be safer if you had something physical to protect yourself. And you knew how to use it. In case something went wrong... Maybe enough know how that you can hold your own.”

“You’re saying this to a girl who destroys entire buildings when she panics,” Vex said. “Honey, I can take care of myself. Believe me.”

Patrick stared at her incredulously.

“Let me demonstrate.”

Vex focused on the tomato can, extended her hand, and flicked her fingers.

Krink! A hole the size of a large marble punched itself through the can.

Patrick snorted. “That’s not fair.” Then he nodded approvingly at the puncture. “Can you do that to people?”

“Yes.” Vex shrugged and rolled her sore shoulder. “Except it’s a little bit trickier. People—like all living things—come with a natural resistance to magick. Kind of like we have our own natural wards; you have to overcome that to do it to a person. It’s not hard but it’s not simple either. The can, on the other hand, it doesn’t have any defenses. In fact, if I wanted to kill using as little energy as possible I’d just explode the can in someone’s face.”

“So—”

Vex! Patrick!” It was Megan, screaming at the top of her lungs. “Come quick! Something’s happening!”

A cloud of dust in their wake, together they sprinted at a dead run back to the top of the hill.

 

Darlene climbed.

The rungs of the ladder felt rough and cold beneath her sweaty palms as she pulled herself up. The flap in the roof somewhere above had been hidden by a shroud of smoke from the ceremonial sage fires. Chief Tall Trees and all the young men quickly disappeared under the same cloud.

As she ascended, she wondered why she hadn’t reached the roof yet. The room didn’t look this tall before she entered, in fact now that she tried to recollect she could barely remember her descent into the room. Only the sound of Tall Trees’s voice and the story that he told about the Great Old Foe coming to her world and the urgent need that she carry this bundle to the surface. The leather wrapped sticks bounced against her back in reminder to their presence; one of the feathers tickled her ear.

The distance she had climbed, she could not recount. It felt as if she had been climbing for minutes now, but in the ceaseless smoke it was impossible to see the top or the bottom. The chief warned her just to keep climbing and not stop, so she pressed onwards. Her legs and arms had begun to cry out for rest.

Finally she found the flap! It looked to have been made of burlap, simply laid over the hole at the top that would have released the smoke—perhaps Clear Water or someone had closed it once she had entered. She shoved it aside and clambered out.

There she was greeted by wide open cloudless sky, a horizon that extended all around her, and very bright sunlight. Home. The smell of the desert that she remembered from her days in Phoenix, it reflected a sharp contrast to the dreamlike quality of the Spirit Land. This, she knew for certain, had to be home. Directly in her line of sight, a desert wren watched her with sad eyes from atop a bristling saguaro cactus.

A deep pang of homesickness struck her and she sighed happily, closing her eyes against the warmth of the true sun for a moment. No, not dreaming at all this time. She’d returned home. From wherever she’d gone. Back to her own place in the world. But where?

A sound caught her attention, a foot scraping against sandy stone.

Darlene turned her head first, catching a trio of individuals in her peripheral vision. As she rotated her body, however, she noticed that they were holding things—one of them a black handgun.

She lifted her hands slightly. “Ah, hello?”

The young man raised his eyebrows and glanced to a slightly shorter gothic dressed woman who stood slightly to his side, a white knife gleaming in her hand. She shook her head. Standing to his other side, a much shorter girl wearing cat-ears on her head aimed a cell phone camera at her.

In spite of the gun, Darlene found her gaze drawn to the dark clad woman with the pale face and the knife. Her blue eyes fixated on Darlene with a sharp discernment and the woman’s brow creased for a moment as if in recognition. During her time with the Kachina Clan, Clear Water had described someone that the clan called the Daughter of the Storm—if anyone could be this woman, this must be she. Chief Tall Trees bid her find this woman and deliver the package.

“You must be the person I’m looking for,” Darlene said and swallowed hard. She drew the bundle from her back with one hand and held it up. “I think that I’m supposed to bring this to you.” Now, in the real world, the bundle of sticks felt far lighter than before, in fact it had lost much of its bulk on her climb—leaving behind only one stick, affixed with a strand of string and a single eagle feather.

Except it wasn’t a stick.

Extending from the leather bundle, Darlene saw that Chief Tall Trees had given her a mahogany colored violin bow. Exactly like the bow she normally used to play her own violin…

“I think we just found the missing girl,” the woman said. “You can lower the gun, Patrick. I can handle this.”

 
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