- 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
It was as if the world disappeared. Sight and hearing failed her and Angel found herself temporarily in a blank void. She could still smell: iron-rich Virginia clay, grass, marble and granite along with the distinct scents of multiple people all clouded by the stench of burning metal. She could still feel too; there was grass beneath her where she’d thrown herself in a desperate attempt to save herself from the explosion.
Had it been an explosion? It certainly sounded like it, but if it had been, she would certainly be dead at this point.
Her sight started to return first: blurry, swirling shadows that resolved into vague shadows; some moving, some not. A high keening also gradually replaced the silence and beneath that, muffled voices.
“What the hell? I thought she wouldn’t be able to cast anything.”
“She shouldn’t have been able to. What was that?”
Something rolled along the ground. “Flashbang grenade.” The voice was calm and quiet—definitely Theresa. From the sounds of all the groans and grunts of exertion, she was the only one not picking themselves up off the ground.
Nearby, someone was scrabbling across the ground, drawing closer and closer. “Angel?” It was Jeremy and in short order, he was leaning over her, a dark blotch against the lighter dark of the moonlit sky. “Angel, you alright?”
“My ears hurt.” She did not say because all the crying and screaming from earlier left her voice reduced to a wheezy squeak.
Further away, a voice Angel didn’t recognize at all asked, “Is everyone okay?”
“Besides the fact that we had a boatload of badass magic and got beat by some burner cells and something that witch picked up from a military surplus store? Yeah. Also, Brutus pooped in my hoodie.”
Colors and textures were starting to shade into Angel’s world again. Jeremy’s worried face hovering over her filled her vision. “Can you sit up?” He asked.
No trusting her voice, she nodded and tried. Jeremy was quick to help her get into a sitting position. Now that she could see past him, angel could make out Jennifer sullenly dusting herself off and Elle leaning against a tall grave marker topped by an ornate cross.
There was also someone new. The last few minutes while she thought she was about to die were a blur, but Angel was pretty sure the newcomer had been a heavyset black girl in designer clothes. Before her stood a woman holding the same staff, but she couldn’t possibly be the same person. Where any skin at all was visible, her skin was pale, and in place of fashionable clothing, she wore a red and black robe and cloak ensemble that Angel had seen a few times before online and on the news.
Her words made the heroine’s head jerk up. Up until that point, she appeared to be dousing with her staff. Instead of answering to her name, she blew out a long, frustrated breath. “no sign of her. Not a footprint, not a scent trail… and no magical signatures I can divine.”
“I didn’t even know you could leave a magical signature.” said Jennifer, coming over to stand with the other woman. “Could my jinx have done that?”
Occult shook her head. “No. She had active spells and magical items on her. There should have been traces of that power left behind.”
“Well these van tour guys are magical hunters, right?” Elle asked. She waited for Occult to nod. “Yes, so hunters know how to cover up their scent so their prey won’t spook. Maybe she knows some tricks to do the same thing, only wizard-style?”
Jeremy tensed and Angel could feel it in the arm that was still helping to prop her up. It felt vaguely humiliating: by all accounts, Jeremy was the weakest of the group while she was capable of turning ingot a six-hundred pound, regenerating apex predator and yet, he was the one protecting her.
Maybe she should have fought back. Maybe she should have gritted her teeth and bore the pain the signal did to her ears instead of being herded.
She didn’t of course. Even with the full moon out, she hadn’t changed to save herself. It wasn’t because she somehow knew the vânători was squeamish at killing a human. No, it was because changing hurt. Under the full moon, it was more like cracking ones knuckles, but it still hurt enough that she was too scared to do it.
That her cowardice saved her stung in its own unique way.
Jeremy’s voice drew her out of her introspection and back into the present. “Guys… you saw that weapon she was using, right?”
“If by ‘saw’ you mean ‘you pulled it directly toward us, then yeah.” said Elle. “We saw it real good.”
“It was a wolf’s claw. Silver plated.” Theresa said before an argument could break out. “Big enough to have caused Garth’s wounds.”
Angel swallowed down a bit of indignation at the fact that they still needed confirmation that she hadn’t killed her brother.
“If we want to make sure she goes down for Garth’s murder, we need to get that.” said Jennifer, pacing between Occult and Elle. “Until then, we need to think of ways to protect Angel better. Tonight was a fiasco.”
For her part, Occult came over to Angel and Jeremy and dropped to one knee to make herself level with the other girl. “It… isn’t worth much right now, but I’m sorry. I thought that just staying on campus and hiding would keep you safe until I could come for you at my leisure. That turned out to be a terrible decision.”
It wouldn’t have if she hadn’t run off campus, Angel realized bitterly. The vânători drove her off campus for that very reason. For whatever reason, campus was off limits even more so than killing her while she looked human.
“No, it was my fault.” she started.
“It was the van… vana… vânători? Her fault.” Jeremy said. He still hadn’t moved his arm away from her and she was glad of it. He wasn’t as comforting as Garth would be, but he made her feel like she wasn’t alone and she needed it right then.
“The good news is that the jinx will give us a few days to regroup and rearm.” said Jennifer, still pacing. “Maybe the Books will actually help this time.”
Angel shook her head. “Long than that. She… she came after us during the moon for a reason.”
“A ritual?” Occult asked automatically.
“I don’t think so.” said Angel. “I get the sense that… she doesn’t want to do this.”
Elle sifted around irritably, shucking off her forever-ruined hoodie. “That wasn’t the impression I got.”
“No, you weren’t here the whole time.” said Angel. “She spent maybe ten minutes trying to force me to change. She even tried to scare me into changing when she could have just killed me right there.”
“She almost did.” Jeremy said with a quavering voice. “If I hadn’t pull the claw out of the way…”
Angel shook her head. “She panicked… I think.”
“Either way,” said Occult, straightening up, “We’ll have to deal with this more closely. Tonight proves that this hunter is resourceful and dangerous without magic. And they’re unlikely to give up their crusade against you, Angel.”
She cast her eyes downward. “Actually… I might not be on the top of the list.”
“List?” Occult asked.
Elle tossed her hoodie aside and hopped down from her perch. “There’s a list.”
“That’s what it sounded like.” Angel related what the vânători had said about there being other people—or maybe things on campus that came thanks to the allure of the leyline.
When she was done, Elle let out a low whistle. “So there are maybe dozens of people around here we have to protect from this psycho chick now? Geez, I guess at least if we find them, they might be willing to help us track down Elmira Fudd there and put her in jail.”
“That might not be the case though.” said Jennifer.
“How do you think?”
Jennifer shrugged. “Because they’re still people… most of them. Some are going to be like Angel, but there’s bound to be a few that learned they had these weird magic powers and decided to go the other way. Just look at the vânători: She’s a mage like us, but she’s already murdered at least one person. Plus, just like the brand of werewolf Angel and Garth got, the vânători thing probably got started for a reason… maybe it was a good reason.”
When she was finished, she was hugging herself as if she were suddenly cold.
“So… what do we do if we run into one of the bad ones?” Theresa asked into the following science.
They all looked to Occult, who even Angel assumed knew what to do in such situations. The robed woman shifted her weight unsteadily. “If magic gave them their powers, maybe the Books have a way to remove them. Beyond that, we’d have to turn them in to the proper authorities. Luckily, no one seems to be able to tell the difference between a mage, an actual magical being, and a descendant just yet.”
“Hmm.” Elle said with a smile. “So we all see where this is going right? There’s a magical bad guy on campus and maybe more than one of those. We’re the only one that would even believe the story and the only ones with the knowledge and power to deal with it.”
She turned and beamed at Jennifer, who pinched the bridge of her nose. “Oh no…”
“Guys,” Elle turned a slow circle to look at them all. “That rumor about us just turned true. We’re the campus protectors! Heck, we’re the city’s protectors. Fredricksburg is our Mayfield.
With a loud whoop, she thrust out her hand as if they were all going to put in their hands and chant like a football team or sitcom family. “Magi Club 5, forever!”
No one else joined in.
No one argued either. She was right after all.
The dorm room door slammed and the vânători, now divested of her garb and weapon threw herself on her bed.
She didn’t cry. It would have felt good. It would have been cleansing. But she didn’t.
Because she didn’t deserve it. She’d failed The Tradition and by extension a dozen generations of her family line.
A line that was nearing extinction.
And all the while, magic was entering a renaissance, the monsters a resurgence. It was no longer about once or twice in a generation breeches from other worlds; the old sins of long-dead wizards and humans who engaged in blasphemous relations were awakening to long-dormant power.
From the histories she’d read, it had been a difficult time back then, but at least there were cabals of powerful and learned wizards and warriors standing ready for the call against the forces arrayed against Mankind. Now, despite better technology and information systems, far fewer people were aware of what was happening.
It felt like it was just her. Alone against the demons, vampires and worse. And so many were living all around her, probably just biding their time. Waiting for her to show weakness.
And that night, she’d shown it. By the crocodile tears of a wolf, she’d felt her resolve falter. It was only a surge of adrenaline that forced her to try one last time to kill the beast while it wore human guise, but b then the die had been cast and the other local wizards had arrived.
She had no idea how she’d manage to slay the wolf now. Even knowing what it was and what it could do, she could only remember those tears and the pleas. Monster or no, the wolf had loved her brother. As much as the vânători loved her parents before…
A chilling though ran through her.
Had her actions placed the same cold, vengeful spark in the wolf’s heart? Had she taken something that could easily track and kill her if not for her Hunting Cape and given it incentive to find and destroy her while her magic was failing her?
What chilled her more was the she wasn’t certain she didn’t deserve it.
Hands fisting in her sheets, the vânători tried to push it all away. The monsters, the blood, the conscience.
None of the diaries of her predecessors told her how to deal with any of it. So many of them were filled with holy fervor or a sense of grim duty to stop and consider their actions. Considering some of the tricks and mental traps they documented, it was probably for the best.
A memory of her mother and father flitted through her head. Bits and pieces of words came along. ‘Dead’, of course, but also ‘asphyxiation’, ‘no signs of ligature’, and ‘collapsed lungs’. The investigators were unable to make hide or hair of what happened because they hadn’t been reading the diaries.
They’d never heard of the breathstealer; a psychic parasite from the world called Faerie. It jumped into a host and the only thing for it, according to the diaries, was to slay the host before it could jump to another.
And that one was still at large.
One day, the vânători, promised herself, replacing the wolf’s tears for her brother with her own for her parents. One day she would be skilled enough and strong enough to find it and end it.
But for now, she needed to become stronger, to make sure it never happened to anyone else. She and she alone had the power, the knowledge and with some reluctance, the will to protect the campus she currently called home and the entire city.
She sat up and caught her disheveled reflection in her vanity mirror. Her eyes narrowed.
Oh yes. There might be all manner of monsters out there, hunting the innocent, but it was she who hunted them. The apex predator of Mary Washington’s ecosystem.
That sounded good. Better than the rather clunky, ‘ vânători’. She should call herself ‘Apex’ from now on.
To Be Continued…