There are moments in life that can take your breath away.
Not all of them are good though.
Events unfold including but not limited to:
‘Do-you feel any-better Lady-Death?’
His little voice made me jump the first time I heard it chitter out in his language and again when it echoed around my head in English.
I’d kind of lost myself in a near meditation state for a while there.
It’s really soothing to stroke his hair and just stop thinking.
I needed to just decompress and calm down for a bit honestly.
Maybe it’s a girl thing but hugging Felix helped a lot in doing that.
He’s like a little plush toy in my arms like this, just warmer and more active.
It could just be a ‘me’ thing though I guess?
I never really had stuffed toys as a kid that I can remember.
I probably would have liked them when I was a guy if I had.
I can’t just blame everything on being a girl, even if it would be convenient to do so for my ego.
My nose felt a bit stuffy so I sniffed hard and looked back down at Felix’s expectant little face.
He gave me one of his sharp, toothy grins.
I couldn’t help grinning back down at him which only seemed to make HIS grin grow even wider.
‘You-are better, I-can tell.’
My grin slipped a little as he spoke.
He’s right, I feel a bit better now.
The problems are still there but I’m not so overwhelmed anymore.
I’m in no way clear of it all, if anything I’ve just shoved it all back behind the wall again to deal with later but, in a way, that’s better than wallowing in my own self-pity at least.
“How are you doing that talking thing Felix?”
His little face scrunched up in confusion.
‘I-talk. It-is-a thing we-imps are-known to-do’
Even with his high pitched, chittery tone I could detect the sarcasm in his voice.
Cheeky little bugger!
“I didn’t mean in your language. I meant the echo of your voice I keep hearing in my head, speaking in English?”
His face scrunched up even more this time.
As he took in my nod and slight smile his eyes went almost impossibly wide.
He jerked away from my chest and flapped a few times until he was floating in the air at eye level with me.
He seemed really agitated suddenly.
His head shot around the hallway as if looking for someone listening in on us.
He flew a few uncertain rings around the hallway, stopping every few seconds to change direction as if he wasn’t quite sure what to do.
‘This-is-not good. Not-good at-all!’
His little head shot down to look at me and for the first time ever I saw a look of honest worry on the imps face.
It didn’t look right.
I’m so used to his usually wide smiles and light eyes.
‘I-have-to go. The-powerful-ones must-know-of this.’
I opened my mouth to ask if he was okay but before I could voice anything he twisted slightly in the air and disappeared in a burst of fae-fire with a faint popping sound.
He didn’t come back.. he didn’t answer my call.
The hallway suddenly felt a lot bigger
The silence that had previously been reassuring seemed to take on a lonelier, lost feeling to it.
..without Felix here I’m not sure I like being in such an isolated corridor..
I pushed my way upright along the wall and started walking back down the path we came from originally.
It felt like eyes were following me from behind, the hairs on the back of my neck rose up a little.
It wasn’t a conscious thing but my pace sped up with each step.
After a few more paces I was basically going at a full sprint toward the end of the corridor.
I didn’t dare turn around to see if the eyes were just my imagination or not, I just focused on getting out of there and back to an area with people.
Even the frightened stares of the Hub staff would be better than being here alone with those invisible eyes.
It took me four sprinted corridors before I started hearing the vague sound of people and three more corridors before I saw my first person.
They didn’t notice me and walked on down the corridor but I let out a sigh of relief anyway.
The eyes I could feel following me seemed to drift away as I got into the more crowded corridors but I still couldn’t quite shake the chill they’d left with me.
That’s an experience I don’t want to go through EVER again!
Well.. now what?.. I’m stuck in the Hub’s ever-changing corridors, without a guide..
..Good going Hannah!..
For a moment I considered following the biggest flow of people.
That usually tends to lead me back to the reception eventually.. but then I’d have to deal with Felicia and her fear..
A glance around the corridor I was currently in told me that no-one was paying direct attention to me.
I shifted my way over to one of the pristine walls of the hallway and tried to cover my arm from peoples view.
While I know that blood magic isn’t INHERENTLY evil, that message doesn’t tend to be general knowledge for most people.
I shifted my magic a little to focus the excess filling my body on a single nail for a second like I did earlier and made a tiny slit on my arm.
The blood pooled on my fingernail, just enough for what I needed.
I cycled some blood magic around my body to heal the cut.
The new ‘fix-it, heal-it’ golden magic diversion would have been more efficient but my blood magic is a lot less flashy and attention grabbing.
With a careful glance to make sure no-one was watching I sketched out a relatively simple blood rune on the wall at waist height.
It’s one of my old favourites.
A custom mix of a ‘find me’ rune cluster and a ‘detect magic’ cluster to make a self-sustaining semi-permanent enchantment commonly called a ‘Glyph’.
Instead of finding ‘me’ the first rune cluster is redirected to find the source of magic located by the ‘detect magic’ cluster.
Normally it would be useful for finding hidden magical items but in the Hub that’s pretty much pointless because EVERYTHING in the hallways has some form of magic in it, mostly fae magic at that.
The big difference with this Glyph compared a basic magic detection rune-set is a little control loop I added between the two clusters.
The ‘detect magic’ cluster now loops through the control cluster where a simple mind rune tries to track a source of magic directed by the thoughts of the person activating it.
Honestly, even THAT probably wouldn’t be that useful normally.. if I didn’t know about a specific type of magic no-one would be crazy enough to use within the Hub that happens to be near my goal.
..well no-one would be crazy enough to use it except Trudy at least..
There’s a very specific aura given off by the magic used in space expansion charms.
Due to the power that it takes to make and maintain them as permanent glyph systems in giant rune clusters, that aura tends to spread out pretty far too.
I tapped my index finger on the control rune to set the whole thing off.
The blood glowed slightly then faded away into just dull blood on the wall.
A second tap made it glow again but the glow was more focused this time.
The light seemed to be brighter on the left hand side of the rune then the right.
I shot a glance around me one more time to make sure no-one was watching and quickly set off down the hall.
By the time someone notices the rune I’ll be long gone.
If I’m really lucky the hallway will do its thing and clear the wall back into a pristine condition before even THAT happens.
Either way it’s not MY problem.
It took me a grand total of seven ‘find the magic’ blood glyphs before I got a response going in the opposite direction.
From there I doubled back a little and tried again.. then again.. until I finally got it to change direction again.
Eventually I reached the stage where I had two rune sets on either side of a single door, one pointing from the left at the door and the other pointing from the right at the same door.
I know it probably would have been quicker to just go to reception and get a guide but it’s always fun to find new uses for magic and after the first few times it became a point of pride that I WOULD find the door with my own power!
With a cautious push I opened the door and let out a relieved sigh when I came face to face with the ‘Awakened Mage Support’ sign again.
I could feel the magic embedded in it kick in almost instantly.
Now that I’m expecting it I could probably block the effects pretty easily but I don’t mind feeling a bit calmer at the moment.
It will probably help me think clearly at least.
I’ll block the effects of the kitty poster and chairs though.
I don’t need to feel weaker or uncertain of myself right now.
It’s not like it will take much effort to stop those at least.
I’ve seen the rune clusters now.
Even with so many parts of it being written in runic languages I don’t know, I DO know how to detect and redirect the mental effects of the ones I recognise.
You don’t get good at rune magic AND mind magic without learning how to mix both fields at some point, especially with Edith as your aggressively over-opinionated teacher.
“Hello Hannah dear, Trudy said you would be in at some point. She’s with a client right now but take a seat and I’m sure she’ll be free soon.”
I gave Rosemary a smile.
She’s her usual perky self at least.
It’s kind of nice to get back into more normal things after the havoc that was yesterday.
“It looks like you had an interesting time yesterday?”
My head turned back to look at her suspiciously.
For a moment I thought she might be mocking me with her calm, conversational tone but the bland look of mild interest on her face told a different story.
I wonder how much she knows?
I would have expected her to be a bit more worried about it all considering how she reacted when she heard about the brand Storyteller gave me..
“Trudy’s had me pulling files from storage all morning, so many different groups and old files.”
Her face crinkled up a little in joy.
“I’ve been loving it, I’m a bit of a history buff and some of these files are so old I had to have copies sent over from central storage in Long Island!”
I opened my mouth to tell her.. to explain why all those files were needed..
Me and my messy life with kidnapping attempts, a migration of awakened mages and some weird cult waiting in the wings..
Looking at her bright, excited old face though.. I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t burst that happy little oblivious bubble she was in from getting her hands on a lot of old files.
I’ve been on the other side of that, I’ve gotten so worked up with something magical and new before that I lost track of the reality behind it all.
People ALWAYS ruin that feeling for me.. I don’t have the heart to do it to Rosemary..
“Did you find anything funny in the files?”
I don’t really care but it’ll keep the conversation light until Trudy is free and I can talk about everything with her properly instead.
“Honestly, kids these days. All you ever seem to care about is entertainment!”
She sounded just how I imagine a Grandmother would while admonishing her Grandchildren.
For a moment I closed my eyes a little and smiled.
It felt good to be treated like that.. I wonder if my real Grandmother will talk like that?..
I guess we’ll find out soon, I’m kind of nervous about meeting her to be honest..
“I entirely approve!”
My head jerked a little in surprise to stare at Rosemary.
She grinned at me with a naughty smile that would suit a child better than a woman of her.. extended years.
“Don’t lose that spark of fun Hannah dear. Our Trudy lost it a long time ago, she’s such a fuddy-duddy sometimes, I’m amazed every time I manage to get her to crack a smile these days..”
Despite the grumbling tone to her voice she shot me a playful wink for some reason.
A moment later I heard footsteps coming up the narrow little hallway between the offices.
“Rose.. if you’re going to insult me can you AT LEAST turn off the intercom first?”
Trudy sounded exasperated, she also sounded tired.
When she came into sight I felt a brief flash of guilt.
She LOOKS tired, as if she hasn’t slept since yesterday.
The innocent look on Rosemary’s face would be award worthy in any blockbuster movie.
With exaggerated care she moved her head down to stare at the little intercom box on her desk.
The same intercom she had her elbow, oh so casually, resting upon the keypad of.
“Oh!.. Sorry Trudy dear, you know me and this modern muggle technology, far too strange for my liking.”
Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth judging by the gormless apologetic look she gave Trudy.
Someone behind Trudy giggled.
Trudy seemed more exasperated then amused.
“For the last time Rosemary, ‘muggle’ is NOT an appropriate word to use when describing non-magical items..”
Rosemary grinned happily and nodded along as if she was agreeing with her but I have no doubt at this point that she knows exactly what she’s doing.
I’ve heard that a lot of mages dislike the ‘Harry Potter’ books.
Even more despise the ‘Lord of the Rings’ books honestly but I guess that’s probably because they’ve been out longer.
Don’t even get me STARTED on ‘Dungeons and Dragons’!
I had the unenviable joy of witnessing two ex-stereotypical ‘nerds’, turned relatively good looking freshly inducted mages, get into a blistering row in the Hub’s canteen over how realistic the ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ magic system was.
Minor fights between non-awakened mages are pretty common over petty things, especially in the canteen, so I normally wouldn’t have even noticed it happening.. but then things got out of hand..
It turns out shouting about ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ around the non-awakened mages is like blood in the water!
Within less than a minute a mob had formed on both sides and spells were flying chaotically around the room.
The SWAT guys had to be sent in to calm everyone down in the end.
I didn’t stick around to see who won but I WAS slightly impressed when one of the smaller girls on the’ Pro-Dungeons’ side managed to pull off a near flawless Human-to-Frog transmogrification on her biggest rival, without an incantation.
To this day I have NO idea how she did it!
While I was busy with my thoughts Trudy moved further into the room.
Her movements were sluggish, lacking her usual Amazonian grace.
She came over and slumped into the chair next to me with a sigh.
At close range it was easy to see that even her usually impeccable suit was rumbled.
The guilt came back for a moment but I squashed it down as hard as I could and offered her a weak smile instead.
She smiled back, batting her eyes slowly as if trying to clear them.
“Don’t worry Rosie, I appreciate the genius of Harry Potter at least!”
My head turned from Trudy’s exhausted appearance and settled on the new voice.
She’s probably about half a head taller than my current body if I was standing up.
Thick, hair fanned out around her in a haphazard, casual mess.
The effect seemed to be emphasised by the strange blend of vibrant colors she had mixed in to her hair, from the look of it I think she was originally a brunette.
That’s the only dull looking color I can see mixed in there at least.
I counted seven different pastel colors among her more normal looking brown strands just at a glance, but the longer I looked at her hair the more colors seemed to appear.
The hair matched her outfit to some degree too.
She was wearing an odd mix of colors and styles, the most predominant feature in them all appeared to be a general theme of ‘How many different colors can I fit into one outfit?’.
The skirt was nice at least, just above the knee, navy blue cotton with wide pleats and a puff to it that suggested she may actually have some kind of petticoat or crinoline under the thick fabric.
Her face was cute, small nose with big blue eyes.
She seemed to be trying to look reassuring for Rosemary’s sake but she was also pretty blatantly trying to hold back a case of the giggles at the same time.
“I know you do Dizzy dear, you’re a good sort. Not a philistine like SOME people.”
Rosemary shot Trudy a smug look, causing ‘Dizzy’ to lose what little composure she had left and let off a quick string of giggles.
“Well, I’ve got to get moving.. there’s a mentor session going on over by the induction wing. I want to sneak in with the baby-mages and give the teacher a fit by asking silly, advanced questions from the back of the room for an hour or two.”
The girl seemed to light up with a mischievous smile at the very idea of doing that.
Rosemary called her ‘Dizzy’ a second ago.
Not really a name as such but it’s familiar nonetheless, I think Trudy mentioned her before?
I think.. yeah.. she’s the OTHER awakened mage that lives in Klamath falls..
..definitely not what I was expecting..
“Hope you feel better soon Trudy, keep it classy Rosie!”
Rosemary gave the girl a fond look and waved her off as she flounced her way out of the room.
When the door closed the room sank into a momentary silence which was broken a second later by Trudy letting off a long sigh.
“I love that girl like a sister but she really is TOO much when I’ve already got a headache..”
Rosemary’s smile dimmed a little at Trudy’s mumbled statement.
Trudy turned her head slightly and gave her a beady eyed look in return.
“Not that you help much, encouraging her like that, most of the reports on my desk each week are from mischief she’s got into within the Hub..”
Rosemary gave her a surprisingly serious looking nod of acknowledgement before smoothing back into her usual light hearted smile.
“You’d only complain you were bored and get worried what she was up to if she stopped having fun.”
Trudy rolled her shoulders and sunk back into the chair again.
She huffed in a breath through her nose and turned her head to look at me thoughtfully.
“..Speaking of headaches..”
I felt myself blush a little, partly in annoyance but mostly in embarrassment.
It’s bad enough I can tell how tired she is because of me, I don’t need her rubbing it in like that too.
With a seemingly monumental effort Trudy forced herself back to her feet and wobbled a little on her heels.
“Well, come on Hannah. We’ve got a lot to discuss.”
She made her way over to the little hallway without another word.
I shot Rosemary a slightly worried look but she gave me a reassuring smile in return.
“Go on Hannah dear, Trudy’s just grumpy today, pay her no mind.”
Hardly helpful but at least someone’s up for keeping things light today, that’s refreshing if nothing else.
Trudy’s office is.. Spartan..
I never got this far into it last time, we kind of got distracted by my magic and her ‘little’ training room.. with all the mess that came from THAT little distraction.
The walls are the same bland crème as the rest of the AMS office.
A lot of filing cabinets are lined up against the back wall, with a few of them open showing off several types of cardboard folders inside.
There’s barely enough room for her desk and the two chairs in here with all of the cabinets she has stacked up honestly.
At least she has a fake window up, it gives a splash of color to the room and lets some light in.
Even from here I can tell it’s not a particularly high quality window.
The scene of rolling grassy hills and bright blue sky are all a bit blurry, as if seen through a dirty lens of some sort.
The loop is pretty blatant too.
About three seconds in a bird starts crossing the sky and then disappears a moment later as the ‘window’ resets to start its display again.
..I could do so much better with a little effort..
A glance back down at Trudy’s slumped, tired form convinced me to follow through with that idea as it slowly bubbled away in the back of my mind.
She’s helped me a lot already and she’s probably doing even more stuff I don’t even know about yet.
She deserves a present for that!
Fake windows are really overpriced these days.
Since almost everyone deals with the Hub’s in one way or another the windows became really popular and demand far exceeds supply, traders rack up the prices as far as they can get away with most of the time.
When we’re done here I’ll go down Main Street and look for a good frame.
It doesn’t have to be really fancy, I’ll be modifying it a lot anyway.
While I’m at it I should probably get something for Rosemary too.
It’s not often I find people so willing to help me, especially since my change and the added recognisability as an incarnation of ‘Arista’ that came with it.
I have no idea what to get her though.. something cat related maybe?
She has that poster above her desk after all, it’s a starting point at least..
I jumped a little and blushed when I realised I’d been staring at, or rather staring through Trudy while my mind drifted.
“Sorry, it happens a lot lately..”
Trudy gave me a reassuring smile and leaned back in her leather office chair which creaked a little in response.
“Tell me about it?.. every time I think I have a handle on who you are and what you’re going through you manage to throw another new angle in for me to stumble over. My diary’s free until two so we have time, start at the beginning.”
I grunted and sunk my head down to look at my lap with a snigger.
The beginning she says.. WHICH beginning?
The problem with having so many past-lives to work from is that you can see how things connect a lot easier than most people can.
Most people would probably say my problems started when I was born.
While I don’t particularly regret it, and I’m glad I was born a boy because I wouldn’t be ME if I hadn’t lived as one for my early years, the fact remains that me being born a boy screwed up a lot of things with my magic which has trickled down to cause a lot of my current problems.
I could start from where everything FEELS like it went wrong I guess, my first awakening.
..Start when mum caught me pretending to be Sarah maybe?
Maybe we could go even further back!
I’m pretty sure whatever connection Mum’s family has to this, almost mythical sounding woman called ‘Arista’, is going to end up being connected to me in some major way.
That’s just how my life seems to work lately, ya know?
Several incarnations were key in helping different rebel factions become legitimate organisations too, without them I’m not even sure if America would be ‘America’.. then where would we be?
I’d probably not be sitting in this little office having an existential crisis over a simple bloody question for a start!
“Sorry Trudy, just trying to work out where to start from..”
She smiled at me and lolled her head against the chairs back to rest her neck.
“Take your time Hannah, I just want to understand where you’re coming from in all this before I explain what I’ve done since I saw you yesterday.”
Her lazy smile was surprisingly reassuring.
She certainly didn’t look like she was judging me in any way which helped me feel a bit bolder at least.
.. Screw it..
She’s seen me fall apart already.
She’s seen me scream in rage and pain while lobbing ice around like its candy in her training room!
She didn’t judge me then and she probably won’t judge me now either.
“well.. okay, so it probably all started when we were kids..”
I finally ran out of things to add.
Trudy prompted me a few times to expand on parts that I'd mentioned but overall seemed content to just listen and nod every once in a while.
She seemed really interested in the missions I took on while working ‘for the Hub’.
She focused a lot on the protocol behind them of all things, the where, who and why involved in me reporting a completed mission.
She seemed to focus a lot on who I’d worked with in the past too for some reason.
Much to my relief she didn’t push when Karl came up.
I can talk about a lot of things easily but that’s one topic I’ve not even managed to talk about with Sarah yet.
I tend to just shy away from the whole situation.
Sometimes.. sometimes if I have a rough night I have nightmares about that day still..
His blood.. his pained smile.. and my revenge..
Let’s just say that I didn’t take the loss of Karl well and the people responsible won’t be hurting anyone else EVER again, okay?
“I had no idea that Johnny could be so.. persistent.. he usually seems like such a laid back boy?”
Trudy smirked at me a little.
“Although having seen him when your nearby I can kind of understand it, I’ve never seen the head of Hub security run away from someone in fear before but boy did HE move fast when Johnny blocked his path towards you after we got there yesterday.”
She snorted out a sound that may have been a laugh if she could be bothered to voice it properly.
I felt too emotionally exhausted myself to really laugh either but I gave her a weak smile instead.
Covering my life story, even without the details, was a bit of a rollercoaster ride just from talking about it all honestly.
It took a lot out of me, I’m even slumped in my chair similar to the way Trudy is at this point!
“I suppose it’s my turn now isn’t it? Don’t worry, I’ll chase a few things up later but for now I think I have a better understanding of everything. It definitely put some things that came up in the last twenty-four hours into perspective.”
She sighed and fixed me with a semi-serious look.
“How much do you know about your Mum?.. her family and friends I mean?”
I rolled my shoulders into a shrug.
Not much if I’m honest.
Between my.. estrangement?.. with mum in the whole crossdressing/homophobia debacle and just her being a generally tight lipped person who doesn’t lend herself to reminiscing about the past a lot it never really came up in conversation.
She’s my mum.
Until my teens she was just a fixture of life, afterwards she was a painful thought I tended to avoid when possible..
“You know of the four families, right?.. the founding mages who landed with the first colonials and set up the original American enclave near Plymouth Colony?”
I nodded and quirked an eyebrow at her.
Everyone in the Hub’s knows about the four families, mostly because their decedents are seemingly ALL self-entitled little snobs with their heads so far up each other’s asses and-
You get the idea?
They flout around their name like it’s some kind of gold card to let them get whatever they want.
The last one I met got a rude awakening, I can tell you that much.
He turned up to collect research data ‘for the Hub’ in the clean up after one of my missions went bad.
Naturally when I didn’t bow down at his feet on sight he got a bit huffy.
I warned the little asshole that the room behind me he was trying to get me to unblock wasn’t for the faint of heart.
It was the nesting pit for the demon I’d just finished slaying.
Ever seen a demon nest?.. it’s horrifying!
They use human limbs in the same way birds use twigs while making it for a start.
Then there’s all the late night snacks left out so they can gather a nice heathy rot to them..
It adds flavor apparently.. and you really DON’T want to know how I know that!
Anyway, after putting up with his ‘tough guy’ act for all of five seconds I decided ‘to hell with it all’.
Protecting idiots from self-inflicted mental torment had never been in MY job description!
I held my breath, stepped out of his way and swung the door open for him.
The smell was worse the second time of smelling it, everything related to demons seems to smell worse the second time you get a blast of it for some reason.
The jumped-up little family kid took one oblivious step into the room.. then breathed in..
He looked like he was ready to puke in seconds.
His eyes shot wide open and he took in the horrors inside which probably didn’t help either.
I swear one of the arms inside the outer wall of the demons nest tried to wave him enticingly towards itself but that may have just been my imagination.. I hope it was my imagination at least..
To give him his due, he managed to stay upright for a grand total of five seconds.
..Then he collapsed to his knees and vomited while sobbing like a baby.
..Then he fainted into his own mess.. and vomited again while unconscious.
I almost decided to just leave him there, served him right, but in the end my conscience protested enough that I eased over to him and pushed the clean parts of his arms into something close to the recovery position so he wouldn’t choke while unconscious.
I’m not sure what happened to him after that, my mission was done.
I called it in, with a side note about someone needing to send in another researcher, and moved on.
I was half way through a box of doughnuts from a nearby bakery twenty minutes later when the call came in about my next mission.
Missions always give me the munchies for some reason.
The people who were apparently pretending to be my Handlers from the Hub or whatever they really were seemed to have a knack for calling me back on a new job whenever I got my hands on some food too.
I always thought it was a funny coincidence.
Although, with some perspective, I kind of wonder if it wasn’t intentional on their part?
Considering what he hinted at when he had me in that box I wouldn’t put it past Storyteller, or whoever was using me to get jobs done under the cover of the Hub, to have some kind of long distance surveillance on me at the time.
Virtually any gear or equipment I needed for missions was paid for or supplied by them too.
It wouldn’t be hard to slip a tracking charm or two onto parts of it.
It’s not like I was suspicious of them either, or that I had any real reason to cast specifically designed detection spells on myself all the time to find anything that may be there.
I try not to focus on the fact that they played me so well for YEARS.. it tends to make me angry and you may have noticed I have a few anger management issues.
..It’s also worrying to consider what I may or may not have done on their orders..
I did the mission.
I trusted that they knew what they were sending me in for.
It was that simple.
After a while of living the life of a glorified, magical, government sponsored assassin for hire you tend to become a bit numb to things and the mission details become more ‘factors to be considered’ rather than actual problems of morality.
It wasn’t healthy but I never claimed that my lifestyle was healthy in general.
In a way, I’m kind of glad John did his little ‘old magic’ trick to turn me into an Arista clone.
It’s given me a chance to catch my breath and reassess everything.
A lot of things are happening and going wrong which I would rather avoid but at least I’m not a borderline alcoholic, emotionally-dead assassin working for a potentially-evil shadowy group anymore.
I took mum’s rejection hard and having to leave Sarah behind for her own safety too.. you could say that I didn’t handle it well.. at all..
It’s really surprising actually.
Since my second awakening, or more likely since my unwanted change into this new body, I’ve not felt the NEED for a drink even once.
I’m feeling a lot more raw emotions too.
I think one of the reasons I had so much trouble with it all at first was that I’m not used to being emotional anymore.
When you stare into the hateful eyes of the sixth war orphan you created that day you tend to just close yourself off and never let go of that void of feeling.
I didn’t even realise I was doing it at the time but it’s so clear now.
So clear.. and so painful..
If I let myself think about the things I’ve done in the name of ‘stopping evil’ or ‘protecting the world’ then I quickly get swamped beyond my ability to handle with guilt and reservations.
I’m not the bad guy, I’ve never been the bad guy.. right?
“Are you okay Hannah?.. you’re crying..”
I didn’t look back up at Trudy.
My blurry eyes stayed focused, as best they could, on my hands squeezing tightly together in my lap.
I could feel the tears hitting my wrists like sporadic rain.
It feels like I haven’t cried in so long.. I didn’t think I even could cry anymore.
The brand John gave me burned fiercely, cutting me off before I could say it.
The brand lit up again with even more pain, obviously a second warning.
I REFUSE to be beaten by a bloody tramp-stamp!
My teeth grit down in pain as the burn washed over my whole body.
A week ago this kind of burn would have left me sprawling out on the floor unable to move, it did exactly that less than a week ago in the car actually, but I’m not that weak anymore!
With more control of my mindscape and a warning that it was coming its practically child’s play to shift the pain signals rolling over my body into a little corner and box them in to a point that I can barely even tell they’re there.
“You don’t sound fine..”
Oh what do YOU know Trudy!
You don’t know me!
You don’t know my limits like I do!
When I was Al, I could fight hand-to-hand with men twice my size and skill with several stab wounds and a collapsed lung!.. and come out the other side of it the winner!
When I was Al, I could brush off that kind of pain like a normal person would brush off a fly!
When I was.. when I was Al.. when..
I.. I’m not Al anymore though.. am I?
One of the biggest annoyances I’ve had this week is the amount times I’ve caught myself thinking things like ‘when I had my old body’ or ‘when I was a guy’.. but that’s not it..
That’s not the real problem.
The real problem.. the reason I’m struggling for control so much, the reason I can’t face looking at myself in the shower every morning..
The reason I’ve dived so easily into the oblivious little world of being ‘Hannah’ this week, to the point that I let my guard down so much I even let a big stupid GOLEM of all things slap a pair of magic draining handcuffs on me without resisting even slightly..
I’m.. I’m not Al anymore?
My memories from before my second awakening.. they feel different than they used to.
They feel.. feel the same as my other past-incarnations do.
Slightly blurry around the edges and devoid of the true emotions attached to the situation.
I.. I’ve been in denial about it but it’s so painfully obvious if I take a moment to look at it properly.
Just.. just in the way I react to things now alone.. I’m different..?
Is there even any Al LEFT in me?
Al wouldn’t do this!
Al would be strong and fight back against fate till the bitter end!
I.. he wouldn’t be sitting here in a stupid orange patterned dress sobbing his heart out in front of a woman he met only a day or two ago..
I.. I’m not..
Trudy moved from her chair and started to make her way towards me.
Without a thought I brought my knees up to my chest and pulled them tightly in with my arms.
She doesn’t know, she doesn’t get it..
How could she?
No-one knows what it’s like to realise that you’re DEAD.. It’s like I’ve lost myself, lost a brother, lost a sister, lost.. I’ve lost a fundamental part of myself and then happily tried to go on with life as if nothing happened!
I shouldn’t have tried to explain stuff to Trudy today.. Al wouldn’t have done that!
I let my guard down again!
I only JUST realised I’d been doing that and decided to put a stop to it, then I turn around and do it again!
I’m useless like this!!
Al would have fixed everything by now!
He would have stopped the bad guys on day one..
..Busted out of the box and killed the Storyteller!
..Punched John so hard his Grandkids would feel it!
The handy man wouldn’t have survived long enough to SPEAK, let alone taunt me and leave me completely at his mercy..
I’m not Al.. I’m not.. I..
Trudy was half way around her desk but she was moving so slowly.
It felt like the world was crawling around me while I sniffled like a pathetic little girl in my stupid orange dress and felt sorry for myself.
I can’t take this anymore!
If Trudy reaches me she’s going to scoop me in her arms and I’m going to cry my heart out and she’ll promise to fix everything and I’ll just.. I’ll give up!
Al would NEVER-
With a mental shove I gathered four lines of magic from my core, dumped two of them into my feet one into my head and one into my lungs.
Two for movement, one for the idea and one for the void.
Shadow magic is almost beautiful in its simplicity.
The shadows in Trudy’s little office surged up and stretched until they covered me completely like a thick layer of oil.
I extended a fist out in front of me and shoved it downwards as an open palm.
Trudy yelled something.
I think it was my name.
My name.. I’ve used it as my name for so long but it feels far more REAL now.
..I’m not Al calling himself Hannah..
I AM Hannah.
I’ve always BEEN Hannah, from the moment I was born.. from my second awakening.. when Al died and I was born..
..useless, useless Hannah..
The shadows pulled on me.
I sunk into the floor in seconds, taking Trudy’s office chair with me.
For a moment I was lost in the void.
A swirl of different vista’s shot across my eyes, all of them dark, all of them foreboding, all of them feeling truly rotten.
Shadow magic is dangerous for a reason.
You throw yourself into the void between worlds and hop between uncountable shadow realms, the homes of the beings we call ‘demons’, until you finish moving and end up at your destination on the other side.. or not, if you get interrupted mid-transit.
One of the vista’s flashed by and burned into my eyes.
Right in front of me, less than a step away, stood a demon!
He stared at me.
I’d barely been in his realm for more than a micro-second but he saw me!
He didn’t bother to try and reach out and take me for some reason..
I feel a bit upset about that honestly?
If he’d tried I would have killed him.. or died trying..
..anything would be better than stewing in my thoughts and having to deal with everything else right now..
It’s like that old quote everyone seemed to like using when a ruler died towards the end of the middle ages.
‘The king is dead, long live the king!’
..Al is dead, long live Hannah..
Sarah.. how can I face Sarah knowing that I’m not her Al.. not really?
I’m an imposter in my own life!
I’m.. I can’t..
The shadows receded and I collapsed onto the mattress behind me with a grunt.
My eyes drifted around the dark room glassily, not really taking everything in.
Not that there’s much to take in.
I needed to escape, I needed to get away from everyone and lick my wounds without people interfering.
If you’re going to use shadow magic you might as well make it worthwhile.
Distance is nothing when you shadow warp, your jumping dimensions just to travel for powers sake!
This dark little room with its blank walls, barely usable bed and assorted mess is my main bolt-hole.
It’s the place I always used to go between missions to rest up for my next one.
..No-one knows about it.
..No-one knows where it is.
I’m safe here.
I’m so far from everyone and everything that no-one can hurt me here!
I nuzzled my face into the pillow on the old mattress.
It smells like Al.
This whole place does.
The pictures on the mantle-piece in the corner are Al’s pictures.
The books in the bookshelves on the far side by the door are Al’s books.
This is Al’s home.. I’m stealing yet another part of his life..
“I’m sorry Al..”
It’s stupid but I felt a little warm from voicing that.
..I really am sorry..
Al was.. he wasn’t a nice guy exactly.
He used to be!
Years of doing the work I.. the work HE did.. it changed him?
It made him cold.
I’m kind of glad Sarah and Al didn’t have a chance to reconnect well before the whole mess at the temple happened and I was born.
Sarah wouldn’t have liked what the world did to her brother.
She would have raged and growled and tried to save him.. and she would have failed.
Al didn’t want to be saved.
He had his job.
He did what he had to so he could protect everyone else, especially Sarah.
I never thought of it before but looking back.. so far back.. he’d always been that way.
Everyone else had worth compared to him.
“Sarah gets what she wants..”
Just saying it made me snort out a laugh that hurt my chest a little.
It wasn’t just Sarah.
Al would have thrown his life away for a stranger if he thought it would work.
He had serious mental problems!
I.. I probably still have some of them too..
Reincarnations are awkward like that.
You get the good, the knowledge of lifetimes.. but you get the bad too..
“..what am I gonna do..”
I didn’t expect them to.
It feels like so long since the old magic hit my chest like a sledge hammer but it really has been less than a week..
What should I do?.. what CAN I do?
Can I just go back to my life?
The visceral realisation that I’m NOT Al makes that prospect seem so much worse right now.
I’d known that I died.
I’d known that my magic changed and I think I knew why too, deep down..
I just didn’t want to admit it.. admit it to everyone else and to myself..
What should I do?..
What would Al do?..
That’s a surprisingly easy question to answer actually!
It almost felt like I could hear my old voice echoing the words aloud.
I’m in the center of Al’s nest right now.
No-one’s here to stop me, no-one’s here to even try and stop me..
I need to get my edge back!.. no.. I need to GAIN an edge to start with!
The same edge that Al had, the one that helped keep him and the people he loved alive for so long!
I have the materials.
I have the books.
I have the time.
All I need is the willpower to get up off my ass, stop feeling sorry for myself and get to work!
“Come on Hannah.. stop being pathetic..”
I rocked on the bed slightly and stared at the dark expanse of wall that I knew contained the collective catalogue of books Al deemed ‘too dangerous’ to leave this room ever again.
I.. He collected everything he could that would give him an edge.
I know that he read all of them at least once but.. I.. I can’t remember them clearly enough.
That’s another tell-tale sign I shouldn’t have missed!
AL’S memories, everything’s slightly hazed with nostalgia now.
Details aren’t there.
Things I should remember, things I should know, I just.. I don’t..
“What would Al say if he could see you now huh?”
He’d probably laugh his ass off.
Young Al would at least.
He’d find the idea far too ironic to not comment about it all.
He spent his life as a boy who acted like a girl trapped in a man’s body.
Now he’s dead, and his next incarnation is a girl who thinks she’s a man trapped in a girl’s body!
My eyes burned a little with frustrated tears.
I’m not Al anymore.
I.. I wasn’t ever Al to begin with.. was I?
“Screw you Al!”
It felt good to shout.
This bolt-hole is buried deep inside the very foundations of a nearly abandoned tower block in Northern Russia.
No-one’s going to hear me.
“SCREW YOU AL!”
I slammed my fists into the lumpy old mattress hard and let out an angry scream.
“SCREW YOU! Screw everything! Why did you have to dump all this on me, huh?!”
Obviously he didn’t reply.
He’s dead!.. I’m all that’s left..
Pathetic, useless little Hannah with her stupid too cute face and cheeks that hurt if I smile too much and stubby little legs with too much softness and not enough muscle!
“I’ll show you, you son of a bitch!.. you left me to clean up your mess.. so that’s what I’ll do..”
I rolled my shoulders once and managed to pull myself off the mattress.
My light shoes seemed to echo around the room as I paced over to the bookshelves.
With squinted eyes I managed to find the light switch and flip it on.
The room lit up with almost mocking brightness making me squint down even harder.
Instead of complain or try and fix it I pushed on past the annoying ache of my eyes.
Al wouldn’t have cared about it!
“'Tobin's spirit guide', nope. 'Necronomicon Seventh Edition', no. 'Twenty ways to keep your demonic hordes teeth shiningly white', definitely not.. why do I.. why did Al even HAVE that?..”
I scanned along the shelves and glared at a few of the more stupid looking titles along the way.
“Ah.. 'How to drown someone in their own blood and other fun pranks for a light hearted dark mage', perfect!.. what else.. uhh.. oh!”
I tossed the first book over onto the mattress and with a little effort managed to tug out a thick leather bound volume that was about as wide as I am and possibly heavier than me too.
Kind of lucky it was on the low shelf.
“'The Corpus Compendium'..”
Even now, with my new found drive to improve, I hesitated.
This isn’t a NICE book.
This is the original source material used when designing golems.
Let’s just say that ‘Frankenstein’ wasn’t ACTUALLY the first one to make a ‘monster’ from spare parts.. he was just the idiot that got caught doing it.
After a moment I shrugged off my worries and managed to drag the book over to the side of the mattress.
It’s not like I’m going to use the nasty parts anyway.. same with the first book actually..
Hidden amongst the horror should be some really useful little spells and, if I’m as smart as I like to think I am, then I should be able to reverse engineer a lot of things in them to make new, better, not evil spells!
“Okay.. one more, then I’ll get to work.”
My eyes scanned around carefully and settled on one title in particular.
A wave of guilt washed over me but I suppressed it as best I could.
“'Magical Arts and Artistry'”
Trudy.. I was going to do that new window for her..
I hope she’s not freaking out or anything?
I did kind of just.. disappear on her.
Come to think of it I should probably call Sarah too, before she worries.
I’m not used to people being able to tell when I go off for some alone time to calm down.
My hand went down to grab my phone but I patted soft material and my hip instead.
..oh yeah.. no phone.. no pockets..
She’ll.. she’ll be fine.. right?
She never used to worry too much when I went off on missions.
John is there, he can protect them until I get back.
This is important!
Mum.. with mum, I’ll be back before the weekend.
She can have her big family reunion thing and I’ll be there with Sarah to give support or whatever.
They’ll all be fine.
They don’t need me.
I stared hard at the cover of ‘Magical Arts and Artistry’.
I know I’m in a rush but.. a little light reading before bed wouldn’t hurt.. right?
Feeling both guilty and a little pleased I tossed the Art book onto the mattress too, then made my way over and settled in to work.
I have two days before Friday.
Sarah can probably cover for me until then.
She won’t be happy about it but I need to get an edge again!
I.. I need to prioritise.
Her happiness isn’t worth her safety like this, not when it would be my fault if she got hurt!
It’s pretty obvious that, as a mage, if I die it’s a lot less of a problem then if SHE does.
I’ll just reincarnate.. like Al did..
“Enough of that, Read!”
I nodded at my own admonishment and cracked open the ‘drowning in their own blood’ book.
The first page had a rather graphic image of the books subject matter.
I couldn’t help but wince a little at the bubble text around the image showing simple phrases like ‘Ha!’ and ‘So hilarious, right?!’ to show the authors opinions on the matter.
I’ve always wondered about the sanity of magical book publishers.. who approves this sort of thing?
Awakened mages don’t usually bother with writing books and the non-awakened ones that DO bother tend to be a bit.. unhinged..
Maybe.. maybe it’s a problem with writers in general?
I’ve never really met one before so it’s hard to tell objectively I guess.
“Chapter one ‘Entrails for an Entrée’.. lovely..”
It’s going to be a LONG few days.. I can just TELL..
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