John is.. gone [3.1]

Hub enterence.jpg Every fireworks display has to end at some point, sadly.

Events unfold including but not limited to:
John getting to the point of things
(possibly not in the way he'd prefer)
And Hannah goes home the quick way


 

The fireworks finally died down.
I had to blink furiously to clear out the after-trails from my vision.

When I did we ended up staying laid up against the tree anyway.
It’s kind of comfortable honestly.
It’s cold out now too.. and John’s really warm.

“Hannah? John? Mum said it’s time to stop kissing in the shadows and come back in.”
I groaned, burying my face into the side of John’s shoulder.
He laughed under his breath.

Trust Sarah to say the most embarrassing thing she can to completely ruin the mood.

“Come on, we better go before she starts even more rumors.”
I pushed off of John so I could stand up making him grunt a little in pain.
“Oh please. I barely touched you.”
He groaned with a lot more dramatic emphasis this time and from the sound of it he decided to flop around against the tree childishly, although I couldn’t see him if he did.

Blindly my hands reached out until I managed to latch onto his arm.
I tried to yank him to his feet with little to no success.

After leaving me struggling just long enough to make a fool of myself he eased himself up to his feet and followed behind me quietly.
Even in the silence I could FEEL his smugness.

Rather than give him the benefit of seeing me react I just marched ahead ‘dragging’ him behind me.

We broke the treeline and stepped out into the dying glow of the campfire someone set up surrounded by now empty benches.
Sarah stood off to the side of it rubbing her hands together to keep warm.

While the grass growing up to surround my toes felt annoying with each step I valiantly ignored it in favor of reaching Sarah before she can get too annoyed at us.

We came up to her side quickly.
She shot me a knowing smile but didn’t make a smartass comment at least.
For some reason John tugged a little on my arm as if he’d stopped short suddenly.

I was so focused on my little stare off with Sarah, daring her to say something to my face, that I didn’t really pay attention to what he was doing.
That’s why I jumped and shrieked in surprise when a warm hand landed on my mid-back with long fingers spread wide.

“What’s this?”
His voice sounded strange, as if he was forcing himself to sound calm when he didn’t feel like it in the slightest.

I spun around to glare at him, slapped his hand away from me and pointed at his nose warningly.
We’re friends and everything but no unexpected delicate touching!

He met my glare with one of his own.. his eyes feel unusually cold all of a sudden?
His fingers twitched as if he wanted to reach out and touch me again.

“Hannah.. what’s that mark on your back?”
My blood ran cold.

“uh.. it’s my brand, the one you gave me. Remember?”
I tried to play it off with a nervous laugh but he obviously wasn’t buying it.

..crap..
Of all people I didn’t want JOHN to know about the brand Storyteller gave me!
It’s bad enough having other people know about it but JOHN!

In hindsight wearing a bikini top probably wasn’t such a good idea?
I completely forgot that the second brand was something to be kept secret honestly, everyone who’s seen them tends to pair them together as a single problem.
Trust John to be the exception considering that he GAVE me the first one!

With the muscles in his arms tensed to a worrying level he set a palm on my shoulder and turned me slowly around so he could see my back again in the firelight.

I shuddered when his fingers came out to trace my second brand again.

“Who did this to you?”
His voice made me shudder from just how WRONG it sounded coming out of his lips.
“Hannah.. I’m asking nicely.. who did this to you?”

“I..”
My eyes cut over to Sarah for help.
She shuddered for a second but eventually stepped closer to us with her hands up in a placating gesture.

“John, calm down okay? It’s just-”
His eyes shot over to her and she fell silent instantly.

“JOHN!”

I know that trick!
Max’s hypnotic eyes!
He stopped Sarah from talking with just a look!

He twisted his head and glared at me hard.
I flinched back from him.
My arms came up to fold over my belly defensively.

I don’t like that look!
That’s not a ‘John’ look!

He caught my eye before I could look away.

My body froze stiff under his intense gaze.
I couldn’t feel my lines but I’d recognise the effects of this spell anywhere.
It was one of my favourites back when I worked ‘for the Hub’ as Al.

“Look into my eyes and speak truth.”
My head locked in place, staring directly into his eyes no matter what I tried to do to resist him.

“John.. please.. don’t do this..”

He frowned at me.
The expression seemed a lot worse in the flickering firelight and long shadows.

“Who put that messed up marriage brand on your back above the one I gave you?”
I tried to clamp my lips shut tightly and tried desperately to resist with all my strength but there was little point even trying.

My magic is practically non-existent!
Just like when I cast this same spell on Trudy in my rage over the brand, it’s a battle between my magic and his for control.
At the moment he’s got the equivalent of a tactical nuke behind him while I’d struggle to fight my way out of a wet paper bag!

He showed pretty effectively at breakfast that it’s not even a struggle for him to wrap me up in a bubble of his magic at the moment.

“He didn’t give me a name. I’ve been calling him ‘storyteller’. He ranted on about a load of past-incarnations where you and Arista pretended to be Gods with your magic. He wouldn’t accept that I wasn’t really Arista. He said that the fae have been talking about me. He called me ‘Arista de la Morte’. He-”

John finally broke eye contact with me.
While I was by no means free I could finally stop the constant stream of words from pouring out of my mouth.

“De Rais.. I thought that prick was dead!..”

Who the hell is ‘De Rais’?..
Does John know the storyteller?!

He seemed to completely lose track of the world around him for a moment.
He paced a few steps in the firelight frantically, like a caged animal.

Finally his head snapped up to stare at me again.
My eyes locked back onto his against my will, the spell’s still going strong obviously.

“Where did you see him?”

I didn’t even bother trying to stop it this time.
What’s the point?
There’s no stopping this spell when it’s got you under such a tight hold!

“I was going through decontamination at the Hub, the tech sent us into lockdown because of the old magic involved in what you did to me. While I was stuck in the box he diverted me to a big office and talked about past-incarnations I can’t remember where you and-”
John’s eyes dropped from mine again.

A sigh of relief left my lips.

It really isn’t a pleasant feeling, having words forced out of you like that.
If they weren’t all completely evil assholes I’d actually feel sorry for the people I used to interrogate when I worked ‘for the Hub’ at this point..

After a few seconds to collect himself John’s eyes turned back to me.
Before I could even snap my eyes back up to his, he had his hand up covering them with his palm.

“Sleep-”

======

“OWW!”

My body jerked so much that I ended up hitting my face with a flailing arm.
It felt like someone shocked me with a cattle prod!

“You’re awake, I’ll keep this brief. The compound is un-secure. Someone tore through our wards to warp away and left you unconscious out here. We can’t find your friend Max, what happened?”
My back hit the grass hard and I groaned slowly.

“Gran?”
She grunted and put a hand on my arm again.
Just like the last time a jolt of electricity shot through my body making me twitch upright and gasp in mild pain.

“Okay, OKAY, I’m awake! I GET it!”

She had the decency to look at least mildly apologetic.
From somewhere nearby I SWEAR I could hear Grace laughing to herself though.

She may be my Grandmother but she’s still a Psychotic old bat!
Screw Grace too!
This isn’t a time to be laughing, not when John.. when.. John..

oh.. CRAP..

It took more effort than I want to admit to pull myself back to my feet.
The moment I was stable though I thrust my wrist out to Gran.

“Take them off.”

She looked at me with obvious concern.
It must look weird for me to go from naught to sixty from the outside but I’ve always recovered fast when it’s important and being without magic isn’t going to change that fact!

“What are you going to do if I remove those.. devices?”
Her nose crinkled a little as she stared down at the cuffs.
I huffed to myself and impatiently pushed my glasses a bit further up my nose again to bleed off some nervous energy.

Now is NOT the time to start questioning my motives!
I need to get back to Klamath Falls FAST!
Who KNOWS what kind of damage John could do if he’s let loose on the Hub hunting for the Storyteller?!

This is the man that encouraged Nero’s insanity because he found him FUNNY!
This is the man that turned his enemy’s against themselves during the Nika riots with only a eunuch and a bag of gold, so that his men could come in afterwards to slaughter the survivors!

Over thirty-thousand rioters!
..okay.. so Theodora might have hand a hand in that.. but he still DID it!

He did all that and he wasn’t even ANGRY at the time!

The look in his eyes before he put me to sleep..
John’s so angry.. to a degree that I’ve never even SEEN before.. as himself OR as Max..

“We don’t have time for this! I need these cuffs off NOW. I’ll reactivate your wards and then I’ve got to go, I’m the only one who can stop John from going on a rampage but I need my magic and I need to go NOW!”

Gran stared at me hard for a moment.
With seemingly a lot of reluctance she brought her arms up and moved her fingers along the lock of the cuffs until they snapped off of my wrists with a faint click.

I almost collapsed to my knees as the world seemed to come back into color suddenly.

I could hear things again!
I could SMELL things again!
All the little aches and pains I’d developed from laying on the ground for who-knows-how-long faded quickly.

My lines started filling with excess power almost instantly and my core SANG at being free again.

Before I could stop it my magic was already cascading out of control.
Magic flickered between my fingertips, even my hair sparked with wild magic!

“I DON’T have TIME for this!”

With a monumental effort I forced my will upon my rioting magic and made it follow MY command.
Wards are hard to bring down subtly but their easy to bring back up unless you shatter the ward stone.
..all they need is a kick-start..

“POTESTATEM!”

‘Give power’
It’s such a useful Latin incantation, a really useful rune too actually..
It’s also a quick and dirty way to give any magical device within range a boost in power.

If there’s one thing I’ve got to spare at the moment its power!
My magic rolled through my body and concentrated on my palms as I directed it to.

“POTESTATEM!”

With one more push I forced a violent stream of golden magic out of my palms towards the house.
I may accidentally end up re-charging any magical artefacts they have in the house but more importantly the free magic should be drawn into the currently struggling ward stone to give it that little kick.

My magic calmed down slowly as I kept pouring a stream of it out towards the house.
I’m still loading up on way more then I should have inside my body, as usual, but the magic feels calmer at least.

Finally some threshold was met because with a rumble that shook the very earth beneath our feet a bright golden dome of magic formed up around the property, ending far off into the trees around us.
A moment later and the dome faded into invisibility leaving nothing but the knowledge that it was there behind in its wake.

“Wards are up, sorry to rush but I’ve got to go. Can you do me a favor?”
Grandma perked an eyebrow up at me.

I think she doesn’t want to admit it but she’s impressed.
I would be if I saw someone do what I just did, that’s not even my ego talking.. just a stated fact.

“Keep Sarah and Mum here? If I fail.. Klamath Falls could become a bloodbath. I’ll work better if I know they're safe.”
She flinched and drew away from me slightly.

Slowly, painfully slowly she nodded her head and gave me a considering look.
“How are you going to get there?”

I paused mid-step.

She’s got a point.. how AM I going to get there?
I was just going to shadow warp honestly.
John probably cheated with a Bula warp but yet again I didn’t think to set one up before we left.

Gran’s hands came up to her neck and she unclasped the hook on a thin golden chain she had tucked into her blouse.
As she pulled it away a cameo brooch with the delicate face of a woman came into view.

It felt familiar for some reason but it took me a moment realise why.

Mum has a necklace just like that at home?
She used to wear it constantly, I think she still does honestly but I never thought to ask where it came from..

“This is a family artefact. It will allow you free transport between here and any location protected by a family ward stone.. a ward stone like the one I had fitted within your house a long time ago.”

My mouth dropped open a little in shock.

I don’t know why I’m surprised?
Of COURSE Mum’s family put in the ward stone for our house!
Who the hell ELSE would have done it?!

“H.. how does it work?”

She slowly reached out to me with the chain in her hands.
After a moment I realised what she wanted to do and I pulled my hair back so she had better access to fit the chain around my neck.

“Its old family magic, come visit me again sometime and I’ll teach you.”
A little smile played at her lips as she finished clipping the little latch closed.
I couldn’t help but let a gentle smile play across my lips in return.
“For now, just hold the cameo in your hands and think of your home. With your index finger of your other hand tap the face three times.. I’ll warn you now, it’s not the most comfortable way to travel..”

A mirthless laugh made its way out of my chest.

Magical travel is NEVER comfortable.
Personally I think it’s a trade-off for the convenience and general broken laws of physics involved in using magic to move around.

“Thanks Gran”
Her smile grew a bit wider and she patted my shoulder before taking a step back.

“I was going to give you one soon anyway. Every girl in the family receives one when she’s ready, even the non-mages.”
Before we could continue some raised voices started approaching us from inside the house.

With my newly un-restrained hearing I could make out Sarah’s voice inside the mix of arguing tones.

“Go, now, before the other’s find out and try to stop you. Just come home safely Hannah? I want to learn more of my new Granddaughter soon, preferably in her own words.”
Her lips twitched up slightly in the same way mine do when I’m amused by something but trying not to laugh about it.

“Thanks Gran.”
I put my hand around the cameo and brought my other one up to tap on it gently.
On the second tap she finally responded.

“Don’t thank me yet, you’ve not travelled by one of these things before..”

“huh?”
My head lifted to meet her amused gaze but my finger had already made the final tap.

It felt like someone jammed a fishing hook into my core!
With no warning at all, the world turned blue.
I tried to scream as I was dragged through the blue magical slipstream of warp but my mouth wouldn’t move let alone my throat!

I HATE magic sometimes!!

======

“aaaaAAAAAHHHH!!”

With no grace at all I crashed to the floor of our kitchen with a painful thump.
It must have had some kind of power behind it because the plates and dishes in the cupboard rattled loudly when I landed.

“That..sucked..”
My breath would only come out in desperate pants for almost a solid minute but in that time I managed to stagger to my feet at least.

I need to move!
I need to get to the Hub fast.. but.. how the hell am I going to get there?!

The waypoints down!
It’s a ten mile hike into town from Mum’s place.
Even if I use magic to assist, it’s going to take me ages!

If I don’t get to the Hub soon and stop John then who knows WHAT he’ll do!

Okay.. okay.. don’t panic.
..panicking is bad..

I need.. CRAP! I left the cuffs behind!
I was going to go in, slap them on John and drag him into a room to yell at him until we both calmed down but I can’t do that if the cuffs are sitting on the grass outside the Gran’s house can I?!

Crap, crap, CRAP!
Okay.. deep breaths.. it’s all fine..

I just need to get into town fast somehow and find some way to stop John.

Come on Hannah, think logically!
John was right earlier, I’m still me!

I’ve got no excuse to not be as good at things as Al was but my own stubborn stupidity!

My hand came down to pat my shorts for my phone automatically.
That was usually my first resort as Al.
I loaded so many little tricks and enchantments into my phone that it’s not even funny..

I really need to get that back at some point.

Usually my second option would be to call Fena for som-
..I’m such an idiot..

I sprinted over to the phone on the wall and feverishly dialled the shops number.
It rang for three rings before finally picking up.

“aah?”

Oh great, it’s one of the male Sibs!
Why does he even bother trying to answer?
All they ever seem to do is make weird noises.

“Hi, can you put Fena or Edith on the phone for me?”
There was a long pause that didn’t help my nerves in anyway.

“ahh..”

Great.. just.. just GREAT.
As helpful as always apparently!

The phone gave off some weird shuffling noises and after almost half a minute of straining my ears to pick up anything else but coming up empty, the phone finally seemed to change hands and a slightly flustered sounding Fena came though clearly.

“Hello, we’re kind of busy and do you KNOW what time it is?..”
She sighed heavily, despite her introduction she slipped back into her ‘saleswoman’ voice easily a moment later.
“How can I help you?”

Wow, she sounds really stressed?
That can’t be good.

“Fena, it’s me Hannah. I just got to Mum’s house but I need to get to the Hub as soon as possible, any ideas how to do that?”

For a painfully long moment she was silent.
Eventually she gasped out breath of surprise and recognition.

“AL! Holy shit, Al!”
She trailed off for a second but seemed to gather herself together quickly.
“Do you know what’s going on? The shops been flooded by people who can’t get into the Hub, apparently someone’s locked down the entrance somehow and no-one can get in.”

..crap..
Damn it John!

“It’s John. He noticed the messed up marriage brand on my back and he’s on the warpath looking for the storyteller.. I need to stop him Fena. How can I get to you quickly?”
She seemed to hesitate for a second but Fena’s smart, nothing’s going to stall her for long.

“Edith’s got a backup waypoint in the storeroom. Give me a minute, I’ll activate it but be quick I’ll have to turn it off the moment you come through.”

I let a breath ease out through my teeth and a smile cross my lips.
I KNEW she’d have something.

“Thanks Fena, see you in a minute.”

I hung up and settled myself into a meditation pose on the kitchen floor.
I need to focus my magic sense on locating this new waypoint beacon.
The standard beacons are constantly on, to a point where they’re just background noise unless you’re looking for a specific one.

Every beacon within range has a different ‘flavor’ to it.
You have to use magical senses to locate them after-all, of course it’s weird!

In the same way that an overloaded spell feels like a cold wind on my skin, when my sense’s ‘ping’ a beacon it feels like I’ve just put something in my mouth.
I get a hint of the flavors involved that are like a marker to say which beacon I’ve located.

The normal one in the motel outside the Hub tastes like candyfloss, bacon and some kind of eggs.. if your curious.

THERE it is!
Orange Juice, Honey and Strong Coffee.
I’ve never had a waypoint beacon with THAT particular mix before come through so strong.. trust Edith to have a weird one.

I activated warp while zeroing in on the beacon’s signal.
As always normal warping isn’t pleasant in any way but at least I’m sitting down this time so I won’t fall flat on my face when I appear.

======

“GAH!”

The floor formed up beneath my folded legs at about the same moment someone screamed in surprise.
I head shot up to stare at the voice and found a shocked looking Fena.

“You need to turn the beacon off.”

After a few tired blinks at me she reached out and placed her palm to a glowing rune set hidden rather well on the storeroom wall.
A few seconds later the orange, honey, coffee taste faded away from my senses and the main lights inside the storeroom came back on making us both blink slightly at the bright glare.

“What.. on earth.. are you wearing Al?”

I blinked my eyes furiously a few times and focused on her.
She looks really tired.
Her usually painstakingly styled ‘messy’ hair is kinda.. just a mess?

“Are those flowers in your hair?”

Oh.. yeah.. I forgot about those..
Damn Sarah and her fiddly fingers!

“We really don’t have time to be discussing my fashion choices right now Fena. I need to get to the Hub and find out what the hell John has gotten himself into.”
Hopefully she’ll accept that and drop the whole clothes thing.

I REALLY don’t want to go through the awkwardness of explaining to her that I chose the bikini top and short-shorts to fit some kind of stereotype I had in my head about girls at family barbecues.

I REALLY, REALLY don’t want to consider the idea John brought up that I might be somehow using an old trick that a lot of younger girls use by ‘dressing older’ to make myself feel like an adult again in some messed up ‘barely makes sense because it’s all about emotions’ way!

I swear I didn’t INTEND to go around like this to show my new family that I’m a ‘big girl’ now or something but now he’s said it.. there’s kinda this little seed of doubt in my mind about whether that was something I did subconsciously instead.

Either way I don’t like it!
We don’t have time for deep self-analysis or explanations at the moment anyway.

“I need to go.”

I managed to stagger to my feet and made a quick bee-line for the storeroom door.
Fena quietly followed behind me but from the feel of her magic she’s a bit confused and mildly amused for some reason.

As I opened the door a cold hand came to rest between my shoulders making me jump and gasp.
The hand moved up my spine making me shiver and ended up touching the flower filled braid Sarah had turned my annoyingly long hair into.

“The hair suits you. I like the flowers.”

I shivered again for a completely different reason this time.
Fena’s voice sounded a little off, her magic keeps flickering between happiness and sadness for some reason.

I’m not sure if these wild shifts in mood are normal for her or not but they feel weird.
Out of respect for her privacy I don’t normally leave my magic senses ‘on’ in the shop but with my magic still bouncing around like an eager puppy at being free again I’m not completely sure I could turn them off at the moment if I wanted to.

Instead of answering her fairly awkward words and actions I finished opening the door to pace down the hall leading out into the front of the shop.
One more door and I was on the shop floor which seems to be full of a LOT more people than usual, all bustling about talking to each other and shooting nervous looks outside.

My senses took a hit when they picked up all of the emotions floating around the room.
There’s got to be at least twenty relatively powerful mages in here, their jumbled emotions are quickly giving me a headache.

Reluctantly I dipped into my lines and muted my magic senses as best I could.
The enhancements to my normal senses are fine but it’s just a bit too much having my..
..I guess you could call it ‘magical empathy’?..
It’s a bit too much having it on with this many mages nearby.

Fena came up behind me and slipped around to face me again.
She looked a bit embarrassed for some reason but smiled at me awkwardly with her usual tight-lipped smile anyway.

“Edith’s already gone to check out this thing blocking the entrance way to the Hub. I’ve got to stay here and keep an eye on this lot, is there anything you need to take with you?”

For a moment I considered asking if she had any kind of magical restraints but honestly they’re not the sort of thing you just have lying around, they’re pretty much illegal to sell without being certified by the Hub and I’m pretty sure it would lead to some awkward questions too.

“I should be okay. Worst comes to worst, I’ll turn him into a human ice-cube and drag him back.”

Fena’s eyes took on a slightly feral glint at the idea of hurting John.
I don’t think she’s forgiven him for the whole ‘turning me into a girl’ thing yet.. not that I’VE forgiven him either but she’s a lot more willing to show her displeasure then I am.

“I’ll see you in a bit Fena. I’ve got to go.”
She nodded and waved me off towards the door with a little smile still playing on her lips.. I think she might be enjoying the idea of me freezing John a bit too much?

With one more glance over at her I made my way outside with a sigh.
I’ve already got a headache brewing and I’ve not even reached the Hub yet!

======

The moment I stepped out onto the street I regretted it.
It’s bloody COLD!

It’s hard to believe that a few hours ago I was happily sharing warmth with John against a tree while watching fireworks go off and now I’m here.. walking along the dark streets of downtown Klamath Falls in the early hours of the morning.. wearing a bikini top.. alone..

You know what?.. I think I’ll just speed this journey up a bit!

Not that I’m scared or anything, I’m a powerful mage with years of experience during some of the darkest periods of history!
I just have to get to the Hub fast.. because of John.
..yeah.. John..

..Stupid John!..
It’s all his fault!

Trying to look casual I reached down as if I was adjusting my sandal straps and ran my hand along them while dipping into my lines.
Three to my palm for direction, one to my lungs for air and one to my mind for control.
Trying to keep my voice as quiet as possible in the still night-air I gave the incantation.

“Velox Ped”
You’ve got to love the romans, they knew how to make spells simple at least.
Need a spell to make you walk faster?
What should we call it? ‘Swift foot’ maybe?

I really like Latin spells and incantations.
Does it show?

The spell caught finally making my foot raise slightly off the ground.
Careful to not overbalance and fall on my ass I repeated it for the other sandal until I was wobbling with my feet floating above the floor.

I’ve got to be honest, this spells usually not practical for most situations but I DO like it.
Like the wings of Icarus spell, there’s just something fun about augmenting your movement in such a direct way.
It takes practice to get good at using it though.

Luckily I’ve got a lot of experience from playing with it when I was a younger, more fun loving but still serious 'Al' training under Edith while living under Mum’s roof.

Ten miles is a long distance to travel when your young and in a hurry, but it’s a lot easier to do if you can take shortcuts over, under, around and through the deserted forest near your house or the huge lake area just east of it.

I leaned forward into my step and took off in the right direction without having to move my feet.

The ‘velox ped’ spell makes a bubble of air under your feet that eliminates friction and giving a directional propulsion effect if I lean in the right way.
While the spell works a bit like the fresh air enchantment I put on Gran’s doormat, magic wise, it feels like I’m rollerblading while going constantly downhill honestly.. just without any bumps.. or brakes.. at high speed.

I leaned to the side and slammed my feet forwards for a second to counter my forward momentum so I could glide around the corner.

A shortcut across the parking lot by the Christian ‘Fellowship’ building and I eased around the back of the court house to skid into the alleyway on the opposite side.
Instead of going down Main Street like I usually would, I have to take the backstreets, it’s far too early for anyone to be out walking in town but that doesn’t mean main street is going to be completely clear.
Luckily a lot of people who DO notice when I use this spell usually shrug it off saying that I must be wearing rollerblades or something but no point in chancing it when I don’t gain anything by going that way.

I weaved through the carpark behind the ‘Quality Inn’ and shooting across the deserted interchange into the little Veterans Memorial Park just across from the Hub’s entrance.

It took a careful bout of gymnastics to bleed off my speed, ending in a handstand which led into a forward roll so I could lie on the grass with my feet in the air.
For a moment I considered stopping the spell but its probably good for another few hours with the power I ended up dumping into it, despite trying to use as little as possible, it COULD be useful if I need to leave quickly for some reason.

It’s not like I particularly NEED shoes anyway.
I can heal my feet easily if I step on something by accident at least.

It almost caught me off guard how easy it was to fold my legs up enough that I could take my sandals off without letting them touch the ground.
I still tend to forget that this new body is basically nothing but flexibility and fluff.
I don’t particularly NEED muscles or anything, I’m a mage after all, but I LIKED being strong when I was male.

It’s surprising how many mages just aren’t ready for a physical fight?
It kind of feels like they just forget that doing something with your feet and fist’s is an option after a while.

If I ever get a slow day I should probably get around to giving my fighting style an overhaul to better suit my new body.. I’ll have to add it to the list of other things I’ll ‘get around to’ on that almost mythical day too I guess..

Sandals in hand, grass growing between my toes at every step and my free hand wrapped just under my boobs to try and keep some warmth in I carefully stepped through the park, making my way up the street to the Hub.

It caught me a little off guard just how ruff and painful it was to walk on asphalt with my new feet?
I was almost tempted to put my sandals back on for a second but in the end I cracked the tiniest amount of magic out of my core to heal them constantly as I walked instead.

It’s not exactly subtle, my skin’s glowing against the darkness around me now, but there’s only me and Edith here anyway from the looks of it.
..well.. Me, Edith and several official looking people that I assume work for the Hub in some way I guess but Bureaucrats don’t count, right?
They’re all paying more attention to the Hub entranceway then my approach anyway, so it’s not like it really matters.

“I not be fixin’ nothin’ without pay!”

Ahh.. Edith..
Gotta love her, the stubborn little human-goblin..

“Madam Shysie, PLEASE be reasonable.”
The officious ‘lifetime bureaucrat’ looking man who seemed to be leading the charge of the argument against her seemed almost desperate at this point.

I could tell him that asking Edith to be reasonable is a lost cause.
If she gets it into her head to do something, she’s gonna do it.

“NO! Ya young’uns be makin’ this mess.. shackin’ up with fae an’ bein’ surprised when it be goin’ wrong.”
She turned away from the lot of them with a rather childish looking huff and folder her arms imperiously.

The moment she finished the turn her eyes settled on me.
For a long moment she seemed almost stunned at seeing me standing there, then her face split into a wide grin instead.

“Useless girl! Ya come ‘ere an’ talk to these.. fae pets. They not be understandin’ how capitalism is!”

Reluctantly I wandered over to them and offered a weak smile.
I’m probably not exactly an impressive sight, walking along barefoot in short-shorts and a bikini with flowers in my hair..

“Hello Gentlemen. Sorry but she DOES have a point. Edith doesn’t work for the Hub so if you wish to acquire her services she will need some restitution.”
I couldn’t resist shooting a naughty smirk over at Edith before continuing.
“Considering most of your on-duty staff appears to be hiding within her shop down the road too I think you may have to pay her rent of some kind as well.. at full business rates obviously?”

The official looking group cringed and Edith let off a cackling laugh as her hand came up to pat me on the head happily.

It wasn’t just magic that I learnt from Edith after all.
She used to get me to mind the store for her if Fena was busy and she didn’t want to do it.
‘People be people, problems be problems and jobs be jobs but money is the solution to all of them!’

..she’s a crazy little Yoda but that doesn’t mean she’s by any definition of the word ‘stupid’..

“I could take a look at them for you at a discount rate if you wish?.. and before you ask, no I don’t work for the Hub either. I’m a freelancer.. apparently..”
For just a second my voice dipped down in frustration.
It still hurts that I let myself be fooled for so long into doing work ‘for the Hub’ without either officially working for them or even ACTUALLY working for them!

“I doubt a slip of a girl of your obvious.. moral standing.. could aid us in any way?”
The main guy who’d been arguing with Edith before seemed to smell something disgusting as he looked over my outfit.

I get that I’m not exactly in a professional business suit or anything but the guy’s got to be a serious idiot if he can’t tell I’m a magical powerhouse?
Well.. an idiot or a non-mage at least..

Now wouldn’t THAT be interesting?

Why would the only people here to represent the Hub be normal humans?
Surely the Magister should be around somewhere trying to sort things out, he’s pretty much the director of the Hub when it comes down to it?

Come to think of it, I THINK Felicia may have said something about our Magister not staying at the Hub very often.. he pissed off the Fae or something?.. maybe..

One of the men behind the main guy seemed to finally pay attention to me because he shot forward and cupped his hand at the main guy’s ear to whisper something to him.
The main guy’s eyes went wide and he shot a confused, almost disbelieving look at me before trying to pull himself back together and straightening his suit self-importantly.

“What’s your price?”

..I think SOMEONE just recognised my face..
Who knew looking like Arista would come in handy for once?

“Three-thousand dollars for the initial inspection, Two-thousand more if I have to probe the barrier with my magic and Fifteen-thousand if I get through it within the hour.”

Edith made a disgruntled tone from beside me.
I KNOW I’m going easy on them but I’m in a rush to find John so this is more just me being petty for easy cash and an excuse to go in before the SWAT guy’s can invade the place.

I get something out of it and I’m going to have to break it down soon anyway so I can get inside.

Magic’s all about supply and demand anyway.
We’re their best chance at getting into the Hub again this side of Christmas, even then getting a powerful mage from a Mainline Hub to come out here for something as simple as breaking a barrier will make them a laughing stock across the county.
What kind of Hub doesn’t have their own on-staff mage to deal with this sort of thing?
Even a low talent non-awakened mage could break through a barrier eventually.. might take them a couple of weeks of course but they could still DO it.

“..fine..”
The main guy grit his teeth, obviously not enjoying having to take an offer from me but, give him his due, he stuck his hand out to shake on it despite how much he obviously didn’t like it.

With a teasing smile and an airy giggle I snatched his hand up and pumped his arm vigorously.
After the fifth pump he finally managed to yank his hand free of my grip and glared at me for mocking him.
Edith found it funny at least and I THINK one of the men behind him smirked too.

Turning away from them all I rolled my shoulders and flexed my fingers to limber up.
I kinda miss being able to crack my joints already.. stretching myself out is a lot more fun when it comes with sound effects!

“Okay, let’s have a look at what the big nasty John did to you shall we?”

As always, since my second awakening, the Hub’s entrance looked like a rundown, partly-boarded up building with a blue glowing doorway.
Unlike usual there was some kind of thin veil curving around it with about a meter’s gap between them.

I walked around all sides of it looking for a hole or weakness but obviously I’m not THAT lucky.

With a fortifying breath I pushed some magic into my finger tip and reached out to touch the barrier.
From what I’ve heard so far it’s literally just stopping people, not doing any kind of violent counter-measures that I should be worried about, so that’s something at least.

The second my finger made contact with the barrier my senses lit up with basic information about it.
The influx stunned me a moment which slowed down my reactions just long enough that I watched my finger sink through the barrier up to my knuckle without seeming to actually hit anything solid!

Ignoring the messages my sense were giving me about the barrier I jerked my arm back and yelped in pain when my finger refused to move..
..crap..

Edith ambled over to me using her stick like a walking cane.
She leaned closer and stared intently at my finger for a moment before glancing at me and back again.

“Useless girl, not so useless for once? How’d ya be findin’ the barrier’s weak point so quickly?”

I stared at her for a heartbeat with an incredulous look on my face.
What’s she going on about?

The barrier’s right there!
It’s kind of hard to miss honestly.

“My fingers stuck..”
Let’s focus on the important thing here first shall we Edith?

“Pull it out then?.. People bin’ leaving the place all the time, its goin’ back in that be the problem.”

I huffed and leaned back to pull my finger out as hard as I could.
It didn’t budge in the slightest.

“I’m gonna kill you for this John..”

If Edith heard my mutter she didn’t react to it, she just seemed to be interested in the point on my finger where I was breaching the barrier.
She rose a gnarled old hand up and gently prodded my hand just below the knuckle.

“My finger.. is stuck.. Edith.”

She’s being unhelpful on purpose, I can tell.
She’s always like this when she’s not taking things seriously.

She glared at me for talking to her in such a sharp tone of voice but at least she’s listening now.

Cautiously she reached out to feel her way along my hand until she reached the barrier.
For a moment the thin veil flashed brightly in a green-y silver light before settling back down again a moment later when she took her hand off of it.

..crapppp..
Trust that insufferable bastard to put down some kind of one-way ward and code it to my magic!

Just to test the theory I pushed some magic along the lines to my finger and vented it out into the barrier.
My eyes wanted to squint down at the light-show that went off when I did it but this is the easiest way I have of understanding the spells involved.
It’s the same method I used to check the fake earrings from Sarah’s bag back at the temple.

It’s a lot easier on my eyes then magesight beca-
I’m such an idiot!

While it’s more of an afterthought to test what my normal technique is telling me at this point I still reached up with my free hand to flick the switching rune on my glasses over to magesight for my right lens.

Under magesight the results were even more obvious than before.
My stomach rolled with worry and a chill moved down my spine as I stared at the swirling mix of green and silver magic cycling around the barrier.

“This isn’t John’s magic.. oh crap.. this isn’t John’s magic!”
It took a lot for me to stop myself from hyperventilating.

Someone else is doing this?!
Someone else set up this barrier.. a barrier that lets people out but not back in.. one that will let ME in but not back out!

“BAD JUJU!”
Edith’s manic little voice rolled out across the empty street, louder than even my frantically beating heart.
Her JuJu stick came swinging down and struck the barrier straight on.

I watched with more than a little fear as the barrier flared in mixed shades of magic again.
The ripples rolled along the thin veil like a wave and seemed to focus on my finger to a worrying degree.

Suddenly, as if someone yanked the plug out of a bathtub, there was a tug that made me stagger forward heavily.
By the time I got my feet back under me it was kind of a moot point.

I’m up to my elbows in the barrier, one knee stuck tight at an awkward angle and some of my hair’s managed to sink into it just enough that it’s hard to turn my head without pulling on my scalp.

“DAMN IT EDITH! You and your BLOODY STICK!”
I could hear her grumbling something under her breath but I couldn’t turn to look at her properly.
After a long moment something wooden came up to gently rest against my cheek and pushed my face slightly closer to the barrier.
“..you wouldn’t dare..”

She huffed to herself and pushed the stick a little more into my cheek.

“Useless girl shouldn’t be shoutin’ at her elders.”
With those wise words she pushed me hard enough to send me staggering closer to the barrier, burying me into it up to my neck.

Honestly, there’s not much point left in trying to resist it.
Instead of making a spectacle of myself and possibly leaving my butt dangling out of the barrier for Edith to take a swing at with her JuJu stick I pushed myself fully through the barrier and stood in the tiny gap between the veil and the entranceway with a frown firmly on my face.

Well.. I guess I was going to come in eventually anyway, right?
It’s not like I had any other option really and even if this IS a trap I still need to go in and find John before he gets himself killed.. or worse.

I’m not sure what ‘worse’ would be in this situation but as I always say, there’s ALWAYS a worse!

“Edith, you’re a nasty, mean little Yoda clone and your stick looks like you found it on a compost heap.”
..well.. if I’m going to go into a near certain trap, I might as well be honest with the spiteful cow right?

Careful to not accidentally step through the entranceway I turned around to face everyone on the other side of the veil barrier.
Edith glare at me and twitched her stick as if she REALLY wanted to hit me with it but for once I’m completely safe from that annoyingly powerful twig.

The official suit wearing men are all looking at me like I’m crazy.
I’m sorry to admit that I won’t hold that against them, I can see where they might get that idea from at least.. especially if they're non-mages.

“You lot owe me some money!”
The main guy’s mouth dropped open and the men behind him flinched a little.
“I inspected it, I probed it and I got through it. You owe me twenty-thousand, you can leave it at Edith’s shop with Fena for me to pick up when you go to pay your rent there later.”

The main guy sputtered and waved his hand frantically at me.
I didn’t bother to resist the urge to smirk.

Rule one of economics, pay attention to the small print.

“You didn’t take down the barrier!”
He finally managed to get the words out past his tongue but I wasn’t impressed in the slightest.

“I never said I would, I said I’d ‘get through it’. I guess you’ll have to pay Edith to take it down for you after all, won’t you?”
I shot a grin over at Edith whose face shifted from anger at me to utter glee.
“Of course, seeing as I’m a registered awakened mage with more past-incarnations then pretty much anyone else on the planet and I couldn’t work out how to break the barrier.. I’d assume her fee will have to be scaled up equal to the difficulty represented by the task.. it’s only fair after all.”
Edith bounced on her little old lady fluffy-slippered toes and a shark-like smile crossed her lips.

“I be lettin’ ya off ya words this time useless girl. I be almost tempted ta’ make ya co-owner of tha’ shop for this.”

Despite myself I felt a little warm inside at that.
It’s not often Edith is that open with praise.. or forgiveness.. or whatever you want to call it?
As far as I’m concerned this is about as close as Edith ever gets to ‘praise’ so I’ll take what I can get!

“Ya be okay girl?”
If I didn’t know any better I’d swear she was actually worried about me.
“Be ‘memberin ya trainin’ an’ ya be fine.”

I smiled at her and nodded slightly.
Her tight little eyes squinted down at me while her lips twitched up in a returning smile.

Feeling immensely better about my situation because of her trust in my skills I spun on my heel and stepped through the entranceway before I could come back to my senses and remember how much of a stupid idea it is to walk head first into a trap that’s obviously set up with you in mind.

======

The lights in the reception area are flickering, which is REALLY not a good way to start this trip.

“JOHN! Get your stupid, stubborn ass out here NOW!”
My voice rolled around the room and echoed out down the hallways going off deeper into the Hub.

For a few seconds I waited, carefully listening to see if he would save me a lot of trouble and answer.
I’m not that lucky though.

“..damn it John..”

Rather than go wandering off into the Hub hallways like an idiot I made my way over to Felicia’s desk and searched around for some writing tools.
After tossing aside several piles of unfinished reports, a collection of nail files and at least four slightly mouldy coffee cups I managed to find her box of pencils.
Sitting next to it were several bottles of nail polish too.

It’s amazing the things you can find useful if you’re a master of runes!

“Okay.. what would..”
I scanned the desk again and saw what I was looking for.
Without really trying to protect the cups on top of it I grabbed Felicia’s serving tray from under them and flipped it over by the handles so they all crashed to the floor.

Luckily I’m not trying to be stealthy here.

The pencils won’t work on a plastic tray so I tossed them away and focused on the nail polish instead.
First things first, I’ll need an enlargement charm.
It’s pretty basic but it gets the job done, this time I’m compensating for the nail polish brush’s size rather than the size of the item I’m enchanting like I had to do for my glasses.

I could do this the easy way and use the same magic tracking rune-set I used to find the AMS office the other day but no-ones screaming or coating the walls in their own blood from John inflicted wounds so I can spare a minute or two to do it right instead.
Besides that magic tracking rune-set is distracting and takes a while to place.
It can also get confused easily if you’re trying to track a potentially moving target.

The magic tracking glyph is pretty basic honestly.
My one is customized, so it’s special and MINE.. but it’s still about as basic as you can get for a moderate level Glyph pattern of over twelve medium tier runes.

Last time I had my blood tipped fingers, a wall and people walking around me a lot.
This time I’ve got a brush, a nice big portable tray and a Hub practically to myself.

Slowly with even brush strokes I started the first curve of the core 'magic tracking' runes in a ruby red shade of polish.
Without even realizing it I started humming to myself as my nimble new fingers swished and flicked the nail polish onto the tray.

The 'tracking' rune fits nicely in the top left corner of the tray.
Hook it up to a variable filter on the bottom left near where my thumb will be, route it around to a 'location tracking' cluster in the top right corner and loop it all onto four little control clusters on the bottom right.

Now the fun bit!
Make a wide ring of ‘Tabula’ runes in the remaining space and cross hatch a net of ‘Orbis’ runes inside the ringed off area.

Connect the lines, add a ‘Storage’ and ‘Charging’ rune-set to the other side of the Tray along with a broadcasting cluster that I THINK is usually used in making waypoints, although in this case I’m using it to search for magic rather then throw it out into the world.
Cancel the enlargement charm and I’m done!

I carefully brought up my finger and used a reinforced nail to make a small cut on my other hand so I could drip a little blood on the Charging runes.
It never hurts to add blood to any kind of rune based enchantment.

With little more than a dip and a push I managed to pull a lines worth of magic out and drop it into the tray to set the runes while charging it all at the same time.
Flipping it back over I couldn’t resist grinning excitedly when the runes lit up with golden power.

The Tabula ‘map’ ring did its job, focused by the Orbis ‘world’ rune onto the local area and tracking to precisely where I’m currently standing with the location tracking cluster.

Hello interactive, magic tracking, filterable map device!

A little golden dot blinked at me from the center with a worryingly twisted network of hallways in front of it.
Some of the hallways seemed to cross over each other without actually meeting. Others seemed to just stop, only to start up again a few hallways over as if nothing happened.

“No wonder people get lost around here, the Fae realm is like the world’s most annoying labyrinth!”

I slipped my thumb up to the top left corner of the tray and focused on John’s magical signature.
I don’t even need a sample to know what his magic feels like, I’ve personally had it wrapped around or near me more than once in the last twenty-four hours and on top of that I’ve got several lifetimes worth of memories spent constantly on the lookout for his magic so I can escape him!

The runes finally picked up what I was trying to tell them and the map lit up with a new trail of red dot’s that matched the color of John’s magic whenever I’ve looked at it under magesight.
A grin blossomed on my face that made my cheeks hurt a bit.

“Got you now John. You’re not the only one who can track someone, idiot.”
With one more glance around the reception area I confidently went down the third hallway on the right, following my new map with a slight spring in my step.

When I reached the third junction, still following John’s trail, I came across a large burn mark on the wall that seems to have already started to fade.
I think John’s getting a bit annoyed with the Hub’s endless corridors already?
As angry as he seems to be, that’s probably not a good thing.

Hopefully he didn’t come across anyone while he was working his way through the halls.
He may not have much of a moral problem with hurting some nameless person just because they got in his way but I’ve kind of been getting used to him being relatively nice lately.

Killing innocents because it makes you feel better is kinda the complete opposite of that!

The more hallways I passed through the more slowly fading burn marks I could see everywhere but luckily there’s been no bodies so far.
If the maps to be believed he should be right ahead, one corridor over, inside one of the rooms on the left.

When I reached the right corridor it was pretty obvious which room he went into because the door had been blown off its hinges and the area around the opening was singed black from an out of control fire of some kind.
I cautiously made my way over to the room and quickly peered in before pulling myself tightly back against the wall.

Good thing I did because seconds later an arrow shot out of the room and slammed into the far wall right next to a tiny mark I’d completely missed within the rest of the destruction.

Careful to not move into the obvious trap’s line of sight I slide down the wall and leaned out far enough that I could see the edge of the fallen door.

Another trip into my lines, with four of them directed to my hand for the actual casting and one to my Kidneys for.. okay, don’t ask me why but apparently your kidneys in some way represent ‘Levitation’ according to your lines.
I know it doesn’t make sense but it’s MAGIC, I gave up on ‘sense’ when magic’s involved a LONG time ago!

With a jerk of my arm and a flick of my wrist the door rose up into the air and floated roughly where it would normally be mounted.
I slid out from the wall and settled behind the door instead.

With slow twitches of my hand the door slid forward like a walking barricade until it butted up against something bulky on the other side.
My right hand stayed in place to hold the door up but I moved the rest of my body around so I could peek out and see what I was dealing with.

When my first peek wasn’t met with a hail of arrows I chanced a second, longer one.

It looks like someone set up some kind of quick loading crossbow on a heavy metal mounting swivel.
For a moment my heart hammered when I saw the swivel but a closer look showed that the swivel joint itself appeared to be completely melted and fused solid so it couldn’t turn away from the doorway.

With that knowledge and a check of the room with my magesight lenses I felt safe enough to ease out and check the area behind the crossbow mount.

There’s a lot of fire damage?
No John obviously.. but there IS a small pool of blood near the corner, sliding down the wall as if someone hit that point and collapsed to the floor while wounded.
Most telling of all was a bloody arrow lying to the side as if thrown there carelessly after being removed.

“..damn it John.. you better be okay you asshole..”

It looks like the blood puddle is the ‘high concentration of John’s magic’ that my new map detected.
I guess this thing’s not perfect after all.

Hopefully he was smart enough to get the hell out of here after getting shot by an enchanted arrow.. people have had century’s to make arrows dangerous with magic, if we’re lucky it was just a simple arrow.. at worst though..
Well.. ‘flesh rotting’ curses are a thing after all?.. and blood spines that turn the iron in your blood to little, unbelievably thin slivers of metal which rip you apart from the inside.. slowly.

“Oh powers.. John you better be okay you stupid asshole!”

My eyes scanned around the room again, just so I didn’t have to focus on the blood puddle or the arrow.
They finally settled on a white piece of paper sitting folded over like a place holder at a restaurant and leaning against the back of the crossbow’s mounting.

..I swear that wasn’t there a second ago?..

I stared at it hard and even scanned it with my magesight lens but came up with nothing.
Finally I caved to the inevitable, walked over and picked it up to check what it said.

My Dear Arista.
So glad you could make it.
We simply MUST speak.. if you want your little lapdog to survive the night?

Leave any magical items behind and go for a walk through the halls.
It doesn’t matter where you go, I’ll find you.
Hope to see you soon.
Your friendly neighbourhood ‘Storyteller’

“oh crap..”

From somewhere deep within the Hub a sound built up that chilled my blood in my veins.
Laughter.
Masculine, maniacal laughter.

I know that laugh.
So full of joy but utterly broken at the same time!
“Storyteller..”

..crap.. crap, crap, crap, crap, CRAPPP!..



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