- Magic Club 5 #1 – Bad Moon on the Rise
- Magic Club 5 #2 – Werewolves of Fredericksburg
- Magic Club 5 #3 – Of Wolf and Women
- Magic Club 5 #4 – Hungry Like The Werewolf
- Magic Club 5 #5 – Little Red Riding Hood
- Magic Club 5 #6 – Bark at the Moon
- Magic Club 5 #7 – The Animal She Has Become
- Magic Club 5 #8 – She-Wolf
The Rappahanock River was beautiful in the light of the full moon. Silver gleamed off the waves and currents swirling around the rocks, and glittered on the light mist rising into the cool, October air.
It was, he thought, the perfect setting for night swimming.
Dangerous as the practice was, he had nothing but confidence in his skills and strength, and he wasn’t overly worried about injuries her might get banging into submerged rocks. He was careful and had come to know the river well over the last few months.
After making completely certain that no one was around to see, he emerged from the trees and down to the water’s edge.
Somewhere in the woods, a twigs snapped, instantly drawing his attention. He scanned the treeline, trying to see who or what might have made the noise through the screening brush. Nothing leapt out at him; no motion, no colors or shapes out of place. After a moment of silence passed before he was sure enough to turn back toward the water.
One foot dipped into the current, the bracing cold sending a thrill through him. It was short lived, however, as he suddenly felt eyes on him. Hairs rose on the back of his neck. Danger was near.
He whirled, searching the woods once more for his stalker. A shadow detached itself from the gloom, no longer caring if it was seen or not: a predator lunging for the kill. A bestial snarl cut through the chill night.
Fight or flight. Something deep inside, a foreboding that was beyond normal senses, told him the fighting would be useless and he bolted, throwing up a spray of water as he fled, moving parallel to the shore. His attacker remained on dry land, keeping pace with him, making sure he had no opening to cut into the forest where there was cover.
His feet slipped on the smooth pebbles of the riverbed, threatening to make him fall, and it took all of his agility to keep upright. A fallen log appeared in front of him and he vaulted it, coming down in the deeper water on the other side with a huge splash.
Now knee-deep in water, he slogged on, but when he looked to the shore, he found it empty. Whoever had been stalking him was gone. But he wasn’t a fool; he knew they wouldn’t have given up so easily and pushed on, keeping his senses on guard.
A low growl rumbled.
He decided he needed to take the chance. If he could make it into the woods, he had a much better chance to lose his pursuer and he would be able to move faster than he could on slick rocks through water. With one more scan of the shore, he took a deep breath and broke for the treeline.
He was less than a yard in when something slashed through the air almost clipping his ear. It hit a tree off to his right and tore gouges in the wood.
A shocked yelp cut the air.
There was nothing for it but to pour on speed. He needed to open up some space to dodge, to hide. Dry branches scratched at him, but they were almost welcome compared to the claws that sought to do worse. A clump off fallen leaves made him skid and he almost blundered headlong into a tree.
Behind him, the crashing in the underbrush told him that he was the only one having trouble getting his footing. If anything, they were getting closer. As he passed the next tree, he juked hard around it, hoping to break the pace of his assailant.
When the crashing faltered, he thought he’d succeeded.
He was wrong.
Just as he came around the other side of the tree, a weight hit him in the side and brutal lines of pain raked across his ribs. The pain temporarily shut out all his senses and in the next time he was aware of his surroundings, he was falling.
Another strike hit him, and he felt the flesh and muscle on his back tearing even before her hit the ground.
Then he was on the ground, writhing in the dry grass and dormant ferns. His blood ran hot from the wounds, making the forest floor slick beneath him. The only noised he could make were piteous whines.
Footfalls approached. They were slower now; no reason to rush when the prey wasn’t going anywhere. From the corner of his eye, he saw claws gleaming in the moonlight just before they came down on his spine.
An inhuman howl tore through the night, rolling out over the river.
Jennifer Tsai wished that her early warning system for weirdness going on around on campus was in the form of some spell or psionic power. She could handle that and it wouldn’t be annoying. But no, she was made aware that something odd was afoot at the University of Mary Washington or surrounding city of Fredericksburg because of all the strange looks she was getting as she walked from her dorm room on Ball Circle to the campus dining hall.
Such was her life ever since the previous August, before classes had even started, when she and her friends unintentionally outed themselves as a cabal of neophyte magi. It wasn’t like they had a choice at the time: a crazed sorceress and her cronies had attacked them and then Mayfield’s famous superhero team, the Descendants ended up joining the battle.
Even though there hadn’t been that many students on campus at the time, there were enough that word go around quickly once classes were in full swing. And so, what had been a secret between the four of them became a sort of open secret on campus. People approached them occasionally, asking stupid questions and always assuming they had natural-born powers like descendants, but the student body seemed to like the idea of having their own superheroes and most didn’t make a big deal about it.
That didn’t keep them from making many, many small deals about it. Whenever something out of the ordinary happened, be it a dumb prank, the occasional sighting of ‘ghosts’ that had been famous almost a hundred years before the four magi came to the school, or an unsolved crime, the stares and whispers started.
And every time they did, Jennifer’s temper spiked.
She didn’t care what everyone saw or heard through gossip: she and her friends weren’t some zoo animals to be observed and speculated on. More important, they were just learning magic as a hobby—they weren’t superheroes, no matter how much her friend and roommate, Elle Bainbridge, might have wished it.
Crime was not their responsibility. Ghosts, real or legendary, were not their responsibility. And solving mysteries was definitely not their responsibility. That Elle once proposed she bond a Great Dane with her powers and get a van didn’t change that. Jennifer was determined to protect her friends from their own proclivities and those of everyone else at all.
If there was something dangerous and supernatural around, they could call Occult of the Descendants and she could handle it.
By the time she got through the buffet line with her oatmeal, toast and veggie sausage, she was grinding her teeth. The next person who glanced her way, then eagerly whispered to the person next to them was going to have a very angry mage shaking them by the collar screaming ‘What!?’ in their face.
Whoever that might have been was saved from that fate because just then, Jennifer spotted Elle standing up from a booth, waving at her.
Elle was a short girl with olive skin and curly black hair that Jennifer wasn’t sure she’d ever seen out of a ponytail even fresh out of the shower. She was wearing a long, tan colored wool coat with a faux fur collar over a Snackrifice band T-shirt and jeans.
A quick glance told Jennifer that it wasn’t one of the coats Elle had sewn pockets inside of. That made her moody improve a little: at least she wouldn’t have to deal with her friend trying to smuggle her right-hand squirrel, Brutus into the dining hall.
Ignoring the aside glances of several more of her fellow students, Jennifer quickly made her way over to the booth and slid all the way in until her shoulder hit the window. Once settled, she shucked her jacket, taking a moment to fuss with her amber-adorned hair-clip as it had slipped free at some point between the dorm and the booth.
“How was class?” She asked.
Elle sank back into her seat with a smirk. She could hear the traces of Jennifer’s Chinese accent creeping into her voice as it only did when she was angry. “Well good morning to you too, Morning Glory. Did I leave my alarm clock on again? I’m really sorry if I did. Still not used to having a seven-thirty class on Mondays.”
A cleansing breath later and Jennifer was giving her friend an apologetic look. “No, it’s nothing you did. It’s just this… thing the rest of the school has about us.”
“Worried it’ll keep you from getting laid?” She asked, using her fork to chase the last bit of sausage and morsel of egg that were the remainder of her own breakfast around her plate. “Because honestly, with the right group, I figure it’d make you more popular. And, I mean, you dress kind of ‘perky goth’ already, so…”
“That’s not what I’m—” She paused and quirked an eyebrow at the other woman before looking down at her attire: a black and pink striped sweater, and an ankle-length, black canvas dress with two purely decorative studded belts and her usual boots. “Perky goth?”
Elle shrugged. “So if that’s not it, what’s the problem? No one’s been a jerk about it or anything.”
Opting to get at least some food into herself before trying to put her annoyance into words, Jennifer stirred her oatmeal a bite to mix the raisins and apple slices she’d put in it in. “I’m talking about how they… act around us. You know, the looks and how they act all expectant whenever something just a little out of the ordinary comes up?”
“Oh.” Elle said, sobering. “So you heard about the body already.”
“Well no, but…” Jennifer paused with a piece of toast halfway to her mouth. “Wait. What?”
The other woman’s face darkened with embarrassment. “So… you hadn’t heard.”
Jennifer put the toast down. “No. No I haven’t. Someone got killed?” A sick feeling came over her as she wondered how that connected to their little group. The questions came in rapid succession. “On campus? Was it a student here? Did we know them?” One more formed itself into a dark, sour ball in her gut. “Oh god… it wasn’t… ritualistic was it?”
From Elle’s look of disgust alone, she could tell it wasn’t the former. “Um… I don’t think they have a name yet. They found him by the river this morning. It wasn’t… like that…”
None of the books they’d managed to dig up included human sacrifice, but none of them took it for granted that it wasn’t a thing that might appear in other books. And they themselves were living proof that pretty much anyone might stumble upon a magic book online and that digital spellbooks were just as potent as paper ones.
Also from Elle’s expression, in addition to her hesitance, Jennifer could tell that there was something more to the story than just a dead man.
“Go ahead and tell me.” she groaned.
“Well… the paper says he was clawed to death. Not just that, but there was fur all over the crime scene.”
Jennifer cringed. “But there are bears and mountain lions and stuff in Virginia, right?” She said hopefully. “And coyotes. Wild dogs… maybe he wasn’t clawed, but gored. I know there are boars around here.”
“Really?” Elle asked, a dreamy look coming into her eyes. “Can we go look for one this weekend? I’d love to mark one.”
“You have enough animals marked already.” said Jennifer, knowing better than anyone how her friend had an entire deck of index cards carrying the mark of animals she’d bonded to her with her magic. Among those were every single squirrel on campus. “But can we get back to the body? It’s just the fact that Halloween’s coming up and everyone’s got spookiness on the brain, right?”
Elle coughed nervously and fidgeted in her seat. “Well… last night was the first night of the full moon.” She quickly reached over to the oversized bag she considered a purse and pulled out her palmtop. After tapping away at it to bring something up, she handed the device over to her friend. “…and they’re totally a real thing that existed.”
What Elle have called up on the screen as a page from one of the spellbooks the group was studying—or rather one of the pages the capricious book allowed them to discover. At the top was a fair approximation of the classic woodcut: an unusually long legged, shot-furred wolf, fleeing into the woods, it’s slightly human face turned to look behind it as if a torch-wielding mob were at its heels.
Below, the book, through mechanisms unknown, had translated whatever caption should have appeared below the woodcut with plain English. It was a single word:
Shit. Jennifer wanted to shout it out loud, but forcefully shoveled oatmeal into her mouth to keep herself from doing so.
Elle tapped her fork on the side of her plate, trying to decide whether or not to say something more. Being Elle, talking always won out over not talking. “And you know what Occ…” She glanced around and decided there were too many people nearby to risk saying her name out loud. “You know what she said about the Book showing us things we need to know.”
Jennifer swallowed. She did. It meant the book thought it was important.
Lisa Ortega, who was unbeknownst to the UMW magi and most of the larger world, Occult, paused along her walk back to her dorm from her only morning class at Dayspring College to answer the call coming on her ‘work’ palmtop. The ringtone told her that the called was someone from UMW, the self-described Magi Club.
“Werewolves.” Jennifer said, skipping all pleasantries.
It was too early for this kind of thing, Lisa thought. “Um… what about them?”
“The Book showed us an entry on werewolves right after the cops here in Fredericksburg found a the body of a man clawed to death in the woods.” Jennifer clarified. She didn’t know exactly what she was asking for. While she wanted to ask the heroine to come fix things, but that would be presumptive to say the least. Advice might have been a better request, but that put her and the others on the path of tracking down the monster themselves.
Lisa scrubbed her hands through her hair as she tried to recall what she’d read on the subject in the Book of Reason. “Um… I think I need more information than that. There are something like a dozen types of werewolves, from people who use magic belts to turn into dire wolves, to people who inhale an infusion to become possessed of a wolf spirit, to your classic guy turns into a gestalt of ‘man’ and ‘big, badass wolf’ and a bunch in between.”
“Do we at least know if silver bullets work?”
“If you want to kill them.” said Lisa, shaking her head, but remember that most of these are still basically people—and some of them aren’t this way by choice. If you want my help on this, we’re looking for a cure first and foremost.”
Jennifer frowned. She hadn’t thought about that. Shooting a werewolf with a silver bullet was along the same lines of shooting a zombie in the head to destroy the brain: a given. It hadn’t even crossed her mind that werewolf-ism—or whatever it was called—could be reversed.
“Um, right. So do you know how to cure it?”
“Not at the moment. Look, I’ll be there as soon as I can, but most of these werewolf spells only work under the light of a full moon, so there’s no danger right now. Try and get me more information to work with about the kind of werewolf that did this.”
Story of Jennifer’s life lately: skipping class to go on a werewolf-identifying field trip. “Um… okay. Thanks.”
“No problem. Good luck and see you soon.”
They hung up and Jennifer groaned out loud, slumping against the wall. She was an area just outside the dining hall in a secluded corner hidden from most vantages aside from the portion of the walkway that passed right by it. It was the closest place she could think of to go for privacy. The only company she had back there was an old campaign poster for now-honor council president Kelly Vigay.
As she ran her fingers through her hair, pondering what she was going to do now that Occult specifically asked her and the others to investigate, she happened to glance toward the walk.
There was a gasp and she caught the slightest hint of movement going around the corner of the building. Shortly after, she heard running footsteps pattering down the brick path.
Someone had been spying on her.
To Be Continued…