30 September, 2011

Becca's Story

Bah!  I'm such a slacker!  Though, in my defense, I did have a fair bit o'stress over the weekend and spent the last few days decompressing...ie watching Marvel Comic movies.  But here is the next chapter in Becca's story.  Enjoy!  And as always, you can read this and Cousin of the Crown at scribd.com.  Thanks for reading!  E.T.

Kevin’s arm went around me, holding me closer. I could tell he wasn’t trying to comfort me, but protect me, guard me against something.

"This was a school." He said softly, his eyes moving over the shadowy walls, the bookcases. I could dimly see rooms through open doorways filled with desks and chairs. It had obviously been a long time since anyone had come here. Neglect hung like a fog on the room. The dust was thick, the air stale and close.

"Where is everyone?" I whispered.

A shiver went through Kevin’s body, a tremor that made my blood go cold. His voice was hoarse. "Don’t touch anything," he warned. "Don’t leave me, no matter what you hear."

"What do you mean?" I asked, my voice a shrill wavering echo of his powerful tenor.

"Don’t eat or drink anything. Do whatever I say without question. And whatever you do, don’t look in any mirrors."

"But, what happened to the students?" I insisted.

I held my breath until he spoke again.

"They’re still here."

"Find what you need." He hissed. "Quick!" His eyes were still blazing. He skin was hot on mine, too hot to be normal. I swallowed down my mounting fear and concentrated.

"Upstairs." I said slowly. I looked up at the high ceiling, lost in the shadows. "Upstairs. A bedroom."

Kevin eased down the entryway, keeping close to a wall. His arm was stiff around me, his fingers biting into my arm. I didn’t want to know what he feared in here; it was more horrible than I could imagine.

The stairs wailed and creaked as we slowly climbed, a low, aching moan, like the building was in pain, disturbed from its restless sleep. Dust lay thick on everything, our steps lifting little clouds that floated and shimmered in the light of Kevin’s magic flame. It cast a pale white light on everything, washing out the color, leaving the world brown and gray.

A narrow hallway split off from the main corridor, angling into the depths of the house. I led him down it, keeping my mind carefully blank, receptive to the Speaking.

I stopped in front of a door.

"Here?" Kevin asked softly, looking up and down the hallway.


He beat my hand to the handle and turned it carefully, giving it a push inward. It swung back slowly, coming to a stop with a hesitating squeak.

Kevin kept his hand out, making a sudden tight fist. I flinched as the crash of breaking glass echoed up and down the hall.

"What was that?" I whispered, my heart racing.

He didn’t answer, just stepped inside. I followed closely, glass crunching under my feet. A tall, narrow frame hung empty on the wall, the glass from the mirror scattered across the floor.

"Don’t look in any mirrors." He repeated. I gulped and shut the door carefully behind us.

"This was Strenton’s room," Kevin said suddenly, turning in place to look over the space. It was bare and drab. A single bed and nightstand. A dresser. The window coverings were drawn back, still showing the beautiful spring day outside that refused to come in.

"How can you tell?"

"What are you looking for?" he said, not answering. I went to the far wall, next to the grimy window. A trunk sat shoved into a corner. I knelt in front of it, wiping away the dust from the wooden top.

"It’s locked," I told Kevin, tugging on the lid. He bent over me and ran his hand over the catch.

"Sealed." He corrected.

"Can you open it?"

He hesitated. "Maybe. I think I know his magic well enough to undo it. But if he didn’t seal it…" I looked up to him as he grimaced. "If he didn’t, then whoever did had a very good reason to."

"We won’t know until we open it," I reasoned.

He laughed shortly, harsh. He knelt next to me, his hands on the clasp. "I’ll try."

"Thank you," I said seriously. I gripped his arm with both my hands. "I mean it, Kevin," I said. He glanced over, frowning. I blushed, glad the flickering light hid it. "Thank you for coming with me."

He didn’t say anything for a moment, his eyes on mine. I thought a person could get lost looking in his eyes, shimmering, sparkling just below the surface. "I…" He hesitated, again, his voice losing some of its power, fading back to how he normally sounded. Or was it the other way around? "I just hope you find what you’re looking for."

I didn’t like his tone, the insinuation behind his words. "I hope so, too."

He grunted. "Give me a moment."

He closed his eyes, going still. He wasn’t even breathing. Did he have to breathe? Could he keep himself alive by magic alone?

I stiffened as light shimmered along the edge of the trunk, the thinnest line of white glow, a minuscule crack between the trunk and the lid. It grew in power, like something vibrant and pulsing was trying to get out, sending beams of light through Kevin’s fingers, lighting his face.

Kevin’s eyes flared open. The light faded back. A soft metallic ‘click’ was the only sound.

He was sweating once more, panting.

"Are you sure you want to open that?" he asked, wiping his face and leaving a brown streak of dust across his forehead.

"Why?" I asked.

"Whoever locked that did not want anyone getting in." He answered grimly.

"But is it unlocked?" I asked.

He nodded. I examined his face. If Jeff had locked this, who Kevin said was the strongest he’d ever known, or a teacher or something from this school, how powerful was Kevin to be able to open it? And quickly?

"What?" Kevin asked me.

"Nothing," I said swiftly, tucking that disturbing thought away to think about later. I grasped the lid with both hands and hefted it up.

Inside was a jumble of things. Books, pictures, a few toys. A baseball.

It was in here, but what? What was I looking for?

I lifted each item carefully, looking over it, flipping through pages. The books were marked up, writing in the margins, strange symbols and letters in unfamiliar patterns.

"What are these?" I asked.

"Lesson books. Primers." Kevin had one open and was reading the front page. "Old primers. They don’t use this system anymore."

"Why not?"

He shrugged. "Schools change curriculums all the time. This school must have been traditional, sticking with the Coventry system."

I knew better than get him started on that subject. Next out of the trunk was a stack of photographs. The topmost showed a group of kids sitting at tables, some looking up with smiles, others with frowns. A classroom candid shot, the children busy with their work.

The next was them out on a grassy field. I could see the school building in the distance, older kids mixed in with younger as they played soccer. The ball was a shimmering orb of bright violet. I tucked that one at the bottom in a rush.

The next had the students lined up on the porch with painfully clean faces and clothes, all grinning widely. A school photo.

The next picture was empty.

I stared at it, my heart throbbing. Why did I need to see this?

It was empty, only holding a wooden chair, brown against the lighter brown of the paneled wall behind it.

Why would they take a picture of nothing?

I set it aside, glancing at it as I looked at the next ones. A boy laughing, his arm flung out. An older women standing by a flowering tree. More students sitting on the steps of the school building.

Why was that picture empty?

Kevin gasped.

"What?" I demanded, my heart in my mouth.

He pulled out a long silver chain, wrapping it around his hand. "Where did he get one of these?"

I leaned to peer at the pendant. It was a sphere of what looked like pink quartz, imperfect on one side, set in silver.

"What is it?"

"A Well." He said, his fingers brushing it. "An empty Well, but still. They’re hard to come by, hard to make. Why would he leave it here?"

I looked into the trunk once more. Why was any of this here?

A toy truck, well worn, the paint nearly gone. Yellow envelopes, a thick stack of them: letters. Marbles, some rocks of different colors. Feathers. A baseball, a deflated football.

"Why would leave his toys?" I wondered. I picked up the empty photograph.

I shivered as I flipped through the photos once more, searching.

"Where is he?" I demanded.

Kevin broke his transfixed stare at the stone. "What?"

I scanned each photo, searching for Jeff’s face. "He’s not here." The boy with his arm around nothing. The teacher standing alone on the steps. An empty spot at the long table, the pen and paper there abandoned. My fingers were numb, trembling, as I looked again at the empty chair. Slowly, I turned it over. Scribbled on the back in faded blue ink were two words.

Jeffery Strenton.

Kevin hissed in a breath. I snatched my fingers back as he slammed the lid down, speaking harshly. The light flared, sealing it once more. He stood and pulled me up with him. Very slowly he turned around, his hand tight around my arm.

I didn’t want to look.

I did anyway.

They stood across the room, the door still shut. Shadowy figures, their form indistinct, bunched together. Watching.

Kevin moved to shield me. "What do you want?" He asked sternly.

They didn’t speak or move. Or breathe. Deathly still.

"What is it you need?"

A hissing sigh swept over them, a shiver. They were closer.

Kevin gestured and a light flared in his hand, shooting up from his fist. I blinked at it, my eyes watering. A sword, the metal glowing from within, white hot.

They snarled and writhed, edging away.

"Stand aside." Kevin ordered, stepping forward. I pressed up behind him, my hands around his arm. They eased back, opening a path to the door.

I stared at Kevin’s back as we slowly moved through them. I could feel them, the cold brushes on my skin. The door opened silently, no squeak at all. I bit my lip.

Crowding the hall were more of them, the narrow space full of people, of things, watching us.

Kevin set his shoulders and pressed forward. I could feel them grasping at me, touching me.

Please, they whispered. Please.

"Kevin?" I asked, my voice shaking.

"Don’t listen," he said, placing his steps with care. "Don’t listen to them."

Please, Rebecca. Please.


"Don’t listen!" he snarled. "Keep your eyes closed."

I did, squeezing them so hard I saw stars.


"What do they want?"

"Don’t listen," was all he said. I could feel them grabbing at my ankles, touching my neck. It was hard to move, the air thick and cold.

"Keep walking," Kevin said, his voice strained. "Don’t listen, keep walking."

I gripped his shirt, letting him lead me.

"Stairs, Becca," he cautioned. I felt him drop below me, feeling for purchase with my foot. We inched down the stairs. I could feel his blade still in his hand, the glare hot on my face, like a fire.

"Bottom," he whispered. He sounded out of breath. What was he doing?

I cracked my eyes. They were all around us, pressing close.

Please. Stay. Help us.

"Can we?" I breathed.

"No." He said just as softly. "No. Nothing can, now."


"No!" he hissed, fierce. "Close your eyes."

I tried. I couldn’t not look. They drew my eyes, horrible, just out of sight of Kevin’s gleaming blade, their faces shadowed. Their arms hung limp at their sides, listless, weary. Tired, so tried.

"Keep moving!" Kevin said.

I couldn’t. I was gasping, crying. I couldn’t walk anymore. I was tired, I just wanted to sleep, only rest, simply rest.


They were before us, blocking the door.

"Stand aside!" Kevin commanded. The air shuddered as he spoke. They were pulling me back from him. I gripped his shirt tighter, my arms leaden, fingers numb.

The air hissed as he slashed the blade, cutting through them.

I cried out, clapping my hands to my ears, trying to stop the wailing, a scream that cut across my eyes.

"Becca!" Kevin’s hand was searing hot on my arm. "Becca, don’t listen!"

I was screaming myself, I could feel it in my throat, trying to stop it, drown out their shrieks. The floor was rough, gritty under my forehead, my cheek.

"Stand up!"

I cringed, his voice battering me down, towering, powerful.

"Rebecca! Stand up!"

I had to. I couldn’t disobey. My legs trembled as I lurched off the floor.

I could see the blurry rectangle that was the open door. Kevin stood outside, waving me on.

"Becca! Come on! Don’t stop! Don’t listen!"

They were tearing at my clothing, nails scraping my skin, pulling me back. The sun was blinding, just out our reach. Kevin’s hand was out, pleading with me. I reached for him, his strong fingers closing around mine.

I hit the porch hard, stumbling. Kevin threw me past him; I rolled in the dirt, the world tumbling over me. He slammed the door shut and jumped back, falling himself to lay gasping in the coarse grass.

His blade was smoking, the grass around it curling away, singed and brittle.

I curled up and sobbed. Finally I couldn’t cry anymore, too exhausted to do more than shiver. I sat up, looking up at the building towering above us.

The windows were still dark.

"Will they ever get out?" I asked, my voice breaking on every word.

Kevin didn’t answer. He stood heavily, bending to grip his weapon. It was still gleaming, brighter than even the sun. He lifted it and made a motion like he was sheathing it at his side. It flickered and disappeared.

He stood for a long time staring at the stone still clenched in his fist. He tucked it into his pocket. I could see where the design on the silver had pressed into his palm as he turned to me and gave me a hand to my feet.

I grabbed his shoulders to make him look at me.

"What happened to them?" I demanded, tears still leaking from my dry, burning eyes. "Tell me what happened."

Kevin, his own eyes blazing, clenched his teeth. I could see his jaw muscles flex under the strain.

"They were…" He took a slow breath. "They were stopped."

"I don’t understand."

"They stopped. Stopped being. Stopped living."

"They’re dead?" I asked, horrified.

He shook his head. "No. And they never will be."

"Can you…can’t you do something? To help them?"

"No. Not alone." He gently removed my hands from his shirt.

"There’s nothing-"

"Don’t you dare think of going in there again!" he snarled, crushing my hands in his. I flushed, wondering how he had guessed.

"But, they begged me-"

"They don’t want help, Becca." He said darkly. "They don’t want freedom. They don’t remember it. All they want is you."

"Who would do such a thing?" I demanded. I had to turn away from the house; I couldn’t look at it anymore.

"Sometimes, accidents happen." Kevin said softly. "Magic is dangerous. Sometimes people die. Or worse. And sometimes…" He crouched, bending to grab something lying in the dirt.

The empty photo.

I took it from him, staring at it.

"Sometimes," Kevin said, so softly I could barely hear it over the wind. "There are men like Strenton."

I whirled on him, slapping him with all my strength. He staggered away, gaping at me.

"Don’t say that!" I choked out. "How could you accuse him - anyone! - of doing that to those people. Children! They were children, Kevin!"

His mouth was hard and furious. "I didn’t say he did that." His finger stabbed at the school "But someone did. Why? Were they hoping to stop Strenton? Threaten him? A man like Strenton, with his power? Real power, the power to destroy cities and move mountains? Who wouldn’t want to control that? No matter what the laws are, no matter the consequences."

He pointed to the picture in my hand. "Someone wanted him forgotten, erased. Someone doesn’t want anyone looking for him. Maybe it’s him. Maybe it’s someone else. Until we know which, I’m not trusting him or anyone connected with him."

"What about me?" I asked.

Kevin checked himself, pausing on the point of speech. His eyes moved over my face. "What about you?" he asked.

"I’m connected with him," I spat. "And so are you."

He didn’t answer for a long time. Finally, he turned away and went to where our packs still lay in the dirt. He picked them up, handing me mine as he passed.

I tried to take it, but he didn’t loosen his grip.

"I guess, Becca," he said slowly. "You have to decide what kind of connection to Strenton you have. And what kind you want."

I flushed, looking down. I clutched at my pack when he released it. Shrugging into it, I hurried after him. He paused once more by the entry stone. I shuddered as I saw the slash across the back, crossed by his sword’s precise cut. What did that do? How did that work?

Kevin turned back to face the building. The entry stone gently lifted from the ground and returned to its spot, a circle of darker earth. The ground rumbled a few feet away and second stone jumped out of the dirt.

Two pillars of light shot up from them at a word from Kevin. I blinked as the building flickered, sliding out of sight.

"Damaged," Kevin growled. I slid over and looked between them. The school stayed steady, only truly visible between the stones and their pillars. Kevin gestured and the stones sank back down, resting gently on the grass. He drew his hands together and the pillars bent, flaring once before winking out. The school vanished.

He spoke evenly, a language I hoped never to understand. A new light traced the air, making a symbol; my eyes watered, so I looked away.

"Best I can do." Kevin said, sighing. He turned away and the symbol too winked out. "Hopefully, they don’t catch anyone else."

"What was that?" I asked, looking over the empty prairie.

"A warning," he said shortly. "Come on. Let’s get back to the car."

22 September, 2011

A Case of the Giggles

So, I have a confession.

More of a admission really.  Sometimes, when I'm having a really, truly, awfully, terrible day I make myself laugh by reading the backs of romance novels.

Oh, if you could feel the mortification that is uncoiling in my breast!  I can't believe I worked up the pluck to admit it!  And I'm laughing, too, just thinking about it!

It never fails to crack me up, reading the little blurb on the back of a romance novel.  My great-grandmother reads them exclusively, so I generally have a good stock of them around to pick up.  I don't actually read the book.  The back is enough, the two paragraphs about the unworthy, rakish, jaded and world-weary - devilishly handsome! - man and the feisty/shy/travel-through-time woman who comes to claim his heart.  Gerogette Heyer had it right: everyone loves a reformed rake.

If ever your having a bad day, try it sometime.  If you've half the over-active imagination I have, you'll be rolling on the floor.  Sometimes I do it in bookstores and the other patrons look at me like I'm crazy.  Put the words in the deep announcer voice they use for movie previews.

That's all for today.  Just thought I'd share that with you all.  And if you ever see a woman standing in the romance section giggling, you'll know what's going on.  :)

20 September, 2011

Untitled Chapter Nine, Becca's Story

So, here is the next chapter...where things get a little creepy.  I have been a total gothic mood the last few weeks.  I am all about ghosts and zombies and things.  It's kind of weird.  Werewolves, people going mad, unhappy endings...I'm just a regular ray of sunshine, aren't I?  Enjoy!  Remember you can read the whole story in order at scribd.com.

In Recap:  Gratefully unmagical Becca Beckons, cursed to die during her eighteeth summer...doesn't.  She's alive and no one, not even the most advanced magical researchers, can discover the cause.  But something has to pay the balance of her life.  Becca knows disaster is looming, a curse that could slaughter humanity.  She sets out with Kevin Walowitz, a user of magic, on a Quest to find a way to stop the tragdey she knows is coming.  They are currently in Montana, searching for clues about a man Jeff Strenton, one time collegue of Walowitz, and a man Becca suspects of knowing more about her fate than he is telling her.

Though my parents had taken me backpacking and camping, I had never liked it. I preferred the cheaters method; bring a camper trailer and never have to actually be outside. Outside was dirty and dusty and too hot or too cold. I set my teeth and forged ahead.

Kevin followed me, letting me pick the direction. I couldn’t tell why or where we were going and that frustrated me. We had walked for nearly an hour when I stopped, scowling.

"What is it?" Kevin asked.

I only shook my head, trying to feel. I had lost the urge to be moving, losing myself under the glare of the sun.

Kevin took a long drink from his water bottle. Had I passed whatever it was, a school maybe, and that’s why I had lost the trail?

Kevin cleared his throat. "It would help if I knew what you were looking for."

"You and me both," I snarled, jerking on my backpack straps. I closed my eyes and turned slowly, feeling the wind shift over my skin. Nothing.

"Maybe it’s right here." Kevin suggested. I glared at him. I was in no mood for his optimism. There was nothing here. Only empty, rolling hills covered in tufts of blue green grass.

I paced back and forth under his eyes, trying to feel if one way pulled me more than the other. Still nothing. Cursing in annoyance, I turned back toward the direction of the car, kicking at sagebrush.

There was a metal clang and I yelped, jumping on one foot as the other ached suddenly.

Kevin had me around the waist and drop behind him in an instant. Something flickered in his hand as he stood before me, hands out defensively, like a ninja prepared to attack.

"What was it?" he asked.

"I hit my foot." I whined, rubbing the offending toe.

He looked down, searching over the ground. "Where?"

I inched around him and pointed. He squatted, looking into the bushes intently.

I copied him, still wincing. His hand closed around my wrist as I reached to feel.

"Never touch without knowing what it is," he cautioned. The stiff branches of the bush shivered as he gestured at them. Then they parted meekly reveling…dirt.

"What did it feel like?"

I shrugged. "Probably just a rock." Even as I said it I knew it wasn’t true and he spared me a disgusted glance.

"A rock that rings like steel?" he asked dryly.

"I wasn’t looking at my feet!" I snapped back.

He chuckled, and let go of my wrist. He found a stick and started poking among the grasses. It made dull noises, rustling, for a few moments, then clang!

He tapped the stick again and was rewarded with a second hollow peal of metal. I coughed as dust flared up around me, blowing free of the ground. A dull metal disk lay in the dirt, tilted so one end stuck up above the ground, the edge that had caught my foot.

Kevin hissed suddenly, backing up a step.

"What is it?" I demanded, eying the rusty circle with distrust.

"A foundation stone," he said, barely murmuring, so I could hardly hear him over the wind.

"A what?"

He knelt next to it and brushed a stray smear of dust from its surface.

"A foundation stone." He said again. He ignored his own advice and reached down and lifted it with a grunt. It was easily as wide as a manhole cover, and a good three inches thick. The underside was shiny smooth, the top distorted and rusty. I could just make out etchings on the weathered side, pits and streaks of rust obscuring the design.

He stared at it for a long time until I wondered that his arms weren’t getting tired. It looked heavy.

"There was a school here," he said finally. "See here?" he pointed at one marking, a squiggle indistinguishable from the others. "That means school, or…place of rest." He ran his hands though his hair. I gaped at the stone hovering in front of him. He let out a gusty sigh and the stone fell to the earth, vibrating the dirt and raising a cloud of dust.

"Let’s find the others." He said. "That one’s runes are too weathered to read."

I waited, but he just looked at me. I gulped as I realized he meant me to search out the next one.

"I…" I faltered. "I don’t know how to look for something specific."

He smiled. "You’ll never learn if you don’t try."

I closed my eyes and thought about the best way to go about this whole searching thing. A circle of metal, a so-called foundation stone, three feet across. That was what I wanted most in the world at this moment.

A foundation stone. A foundation stone.

I repeated the words over and over, letting them fill my thoughts, my everything.

There was a jerk and the world broke loose once more, drifting around me. The wind was spinning it, turning it like an enormous waterwheel, with me at the axis.

"There!" I said, pointing. I took off running before he could led the way. I could feel it now, tugging at me, leading me in the right direction. It felt good, good to be going to correct way, knowing I was close to my goal.

I slid to a halt, panting. Kevin stopped beside me, his hand on my shoulder.

"Here?" he asked.

"Here!" I exclaimed, grinning.

He glanced over the earth, identical to the area we had just left, some quarter mile behind. He turned slowly in place, then stepped out, still looking at the ground.

I followed, shivering and excited.

He stopped and crouched, his hand hovering over the ground. The dirt shivered under his palm, writhing. With a crack, the dirt shot away in all directions and a stone jumped out of the ground. A real stone this time, granite gray and covered in writing.

"A school," Kevin said again. "The name isn’t on here, though." He added, tracing a finger along the writing. "This marked the entrance." He shifted to look over his shoulder, scanning the plains. "The school was somewhere out there."

"Yes," I agreed. But no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t see anything. I closed my eyes while Kevin muttered to himself and tried to feel where it was. But my abilities were waning, growing weaker. I was tired suddenly and grunted as I sat down hard.

Kevin glanced at me. "You’ll get used to it." He said.

"What?" I asked, shivering even in the heat.

"Using magic."

I gaped at him. "What?!"

He grimaced. "Not really, not like I do. But it is magic, a Speaking. You’ll feel funny for a while, until you get used to it."

I swallowed nervously. I was a hypocritical fool, but the idea of using magic myself made my skin crawl.

Kevin was engrossed in the stone again. "This says the school was founded before the breaking of the Nor’watch Pact." He said, making no sense. "If this was a entry stone, then the school can’t have been far from it."

"What’s an entry stone?" I asked.

"You had to go through the stones or you wouldn’t find the school. It could only be reached if you passed between both entry stones. One side or the other and you’d never find anything."

He stood and looked over the empty prairie. "But where is it? It should be only a few feet away, like gate posts."

He turned back to the stone. With a gruff word and flick of his fingers, the stone shivered and lifted into the air. Slowly it turned over. I sucked in a breath as Kevin’s tanned face went white. The stone slammed back to the earth as he staggered away, his hand coming up as if to protect himself.

I stared down at the shimmering underside of the stone, polished smooth, but for where a jagged gash had been drawn across it.

"Good God!" Kevin whispered. He was nearly green, breathing shallowly.

"What is it?" I demanded shrilly, standing up to edge away from it as well. It was just a ragged gash, cutting deep into the stone, but looking at it made my skin crawl.

"Someone…someone…" He didn’t seem to be able to articulate his horror.

"What does it mean?" I insisted.

"Stand behind me." He said, his voice suddenly stern and deep. I obeyed without question. He stood square shouldered before the stone, his hands clasped together before him.

I saw something flicker again as he raised his hands above his head, still around nothing, like he was holding an invisible broom stick. He swung down with a grunt, slicing the air with his nothing.

There was a crack, a sharp snap that echoed around us. I flinched as a blast of something washed over me, pushing us both back a step, my shoes grating in the dirt.

Kevin was panting harshly. I could see sweat dripping down the back of his neck, making clean streaks through the dust covering him.

The stone had been cracked, the strange gash split across the center.

Kevin straightened, released whatever had been shimmering in his hands. He turned slowly, his face stricken. He was looking above me, staring at something in the sky.

I didn’t want to look.

Kevin closed his eyes, his mouth thin. When he opened them again, they were blazing, brilliant bright clear blue, almost colorless they were so light. When he spoke, his voice was deeper than it had been, rolling.

"Stay with me."

I had to turn then, as he stepped forward, his hands clenched at his sides.

It was a large building, built of logs and stone. The outside was weathered gray, the stones muted shades of gray and red. It stood dark and silent above us, a hundred feet away, several stories of dark windows. I shivered as I followed Kevin. None of them were reflecting the nooning sun.

The wide walk up to the front doors was overgrown, the bricks moved out of place by sagebrush and tufts of waving grasses. I hunched my shoulders as we crept closer. It loomed over me, leaning, yawning. Kevin dropped his pack a few feet from the stairs. I copied him, shivering.

Kevin put his hand on the front door. He stayed there silently for a moment, then pushed at it. It swung easily.

I jumped as his hand closed around mine, squeezing tight. He took a deep breath and pulled me inside.

I couldn’t help my sigh of relief. This was where I had been going. It was dark inside, which I absently noted was strange, as the day was clear and bright just a few feet away. I had been meant to come here, to find whatever I was looking for. I still didn’t know what that was, but it was here.

Kevin stopped us, his hand on mine almost painfully tight. He spoke softly and a wavering light flared in front of him.

It revealed a large room, full of armchairs and tables, the floors wood and covered with dust. I looked around quickly, my release from the Speaking replaced with unease. Kevin’s body was taut next to mine.

The windows were uncovered, the curtains drawn back. I could see the sun streaming down. None of it leaked inside.

"What is this?" I hissed. "What did that mark mean?"

Kevin’s arm went around me, holding me closer. I could tell he wasn’t trying to comfort me, but protect me, guard me against something.

"This was a school." He said softly, his eyes moving over the shadowy walls, the bookcases. I could dimly see rooms through open doorways filled with desks and chairs. It had obviously been a long time since anyone had come here. Neglect hung like a fog on the room. The dust was thick, the air stale and close.

"Where is everyone?" I whispered.

A shiver went through Kevin’s body, a tremor that made my blood go cold. His voice was hoarse. "Don’t touch anything," he warned. "Don’t leave me, no matter what you hear."

"What do you mean?" I asked, my voice a shrill wavering echo of his powerful baritone.

"Don’t eat or drink anything. Do whatever I say without question. And whatever you do, don’t look in any mirrors."

"But, what happened to the students?" I insisted.

I held my breath until he spoke again.

"They’re still here."

12 September, 2011

Skip This, If You Like

So, disregard this post.  I'm just trying to work out some bugs with feeds and syndication and other bloggy things.  Why are computers so hard?  ARG!

Untitled Chapter Nine

Here's a big chunk.  I really want to get to the next bit of the story.  I know this sounds terrible, but it is way more interesting and exciting than this part.  I'm sure my future editor would smack their palm to their forehead in exasperation at that statement, but that's the way it is!  Becca and Kevin need to do a little research and travel a bit before the real Quest gets rolling.  So here it is and enjoy!  The next chapter gets creepy!  :)

With that sixth sense that tells you when a car trip is over, I woke up as Kevin pulled to a stop in another neighborhood full of houses. I checked my watch. It was an hour later, the sun still beaming from the east side of the sky.

“We’re here,” Kevin announced.

I yawned and unbuckled. It was a bland street, bland house, nearly identical to the ones around it. The lawns were all cut to the same length, a few shrubs tucked under the windows. The driveway was empty, but I could see the outline of a car through the clouded garage windows.

Kevin was waiting for me to make a move as I stood indecisive on the curb. I marched up to the house and rang the bell, knocking a few times for good measure.

I heard a baby wailing inside and winced. Hopefully we hadn’t woken it. The door locks rattled and it opened an inch.

“Yes?” a woman asked. I glanced to Kevin, but he didn’t turn on the charm. I rolled my eyes.

“Ma’am, I have some questions for you.” I said a cheerfully as I could.

“No, thank you,” she said firmly, closing the door.

“About Jeff Strenton.” I added hurriedly as the door shut.

There was a moment of silence, then she swung the door wide. “What questions?” She asked wearily. “I’ve told all I know.”

I bit my next statement back. “All you know?” I repeated.

She sighed and leaned against the door frame. The baby was still howling; I could see it sitting in a bouncy chair, kicking its legs.

“How many times?” she said. “He hasn’t ever come here.”

I frowned. “Why would he?”

She frowned back. “I am his sister.”

I searched her features. It was there, muted, but there. The nose, the way they titled their heads. Their eyes, before Jeff’s turned brilliant green.

I thought a moment. “Ma’am, I am a friend of Jeff’s.” I didn’t think Kevin would appreciate inclusion in that group.

She eyed me. “You’ve seen him recently?”

“No,” Kevin said before I could think to lie. “He and I went to school together, at the CMR. We need to find him.”

Her gaze was hard and piercing as she looked between us. Was she magic? Even a little? Could Kevin mesmerize her like he seemed to be able to do with me and middle-aged school secretaries?

“Why?” The woman asked slowly.

Kevin smiled his winning smile, his normal one, managing to look young and earnest. “He has answers we need, ma’am.”

The woman sneered. “He has to answer for a lot things.” She snapped. “I don’t know where he is. And I don’t want to know.”

“Wait!” I cried as she made to slam the door. She hesitated, eying me. “He went to Pursen Elementary,” I said.

“Yes.” She agreed.

“And after?” I asked. “Where did he go after second grade?”

She scowled. “I don’t know.”

“Surely, you-”

“Some magic school.” The woman said shortly. “Now, go away.”

The door slammed hard enough to make me stumble back a step. Kevin muttered something like a curse under his breath before leading me back to the car.

We climbed inside and had an impromptu conference.

“So, not a happy home life?” I suggested.

Kevin didn’t answer at once, starting the car so the AC would kick on. “No.”

“I wonder if she was scared of him or-”

“No,” Kevin said again, looking back to the house. “No, his home life was not bad. But she’s…jealous.”

“Jealous?” I demanded. “She didn’t sound jealous.”

“She was, though.” Kevin said. “Not angry or hateful. Just…resentful. I wonder when their parents died.”

“His parents are dead?”

“He told me,” Kevin said, looking far away. “He mentioned a sister. And a brother. But I didn’t know he’d lived right here in the city. He never went home, as far as I could tell.”

I thought over the woman’s grudging words. “What magic school?”

“I don’t know. He never spoke of it.”

“Which one do you think?”

Kevin eyed me. “Which one does the Speaking tell you?”

I flushed. I had forgotten, as much as one could with the world spinning around them. I was leading this Quest, not him. As much as I wanted to dump this whole thing in his very capable hands, I couldn’t.

“Are you jealous?” I asked.

He twisted to frown at me. “What do you mean?”

“Are you jealous of Strenton?” I was getting icy vibes off him again. Why did his mood swing so much? Was it the magic in him?

Kevin thought for a long time. “No,” he said finally. “I used to be. Who wouldn’t, with the kind of power Strenton could control? I wanted that myself, his power, his control, his ability. He had it naturally. I had to learn, to struggle.”

He shrugged. “I’m going to drive. The nearest school I know of is down in Texas. We’ll head there until you feel otherwise.”

I nodded absently, trying not to stare at him while I examined him.

He drove absently, his eyes fixed on the road. I couldn’t help but comparing the two men, the two magic people I had known anywhere near my age.

They were both taller than me, about the same height and build. They both had brown hair, even, tanned features. Kevin tended more toward boyish, while Jeff had hard lines in his face, angles and planes. Their eyes were different, of course, but they each had a clear, brilliant quality, like something inside was trying to spill out, shining and bright.

I had never noticed how dull brown my own eyes were until I looked into Kevin’s. I’d heard the phrases ‘dulled eyes’ and ‘bright eyes.’ But for him it was actually true. You could almost see the magic glowing in him, sparkling under his skin. I shivered.

“Cold?” Kevin asked. He wiggled the thermostat around. “Put it where you like.”

“I’m fine,” I mumbled.

I didn’t like the silence between us. So, naturally I tried to fill it and set about making myself awkward.

“When did you first find out you were magic?” I asked him, blushing a little.

He shrugged. “I don’t remember not being magic.” He said. “My earliest memories have magic in them.”

“I’m sure your mother loved that,” I said dryly.

Kevin laughed a little. “Yeah. My sisters, too.”

“How many siblings?”

“Five. All girls. I’m the youngest.”

I winced. “Oof. Sorry.”

He peered at me. “Why?”

“I was a teenage girl once,” I reminded him. “Sorry.”

He laughed for real this time, relaxing. “You’re still a teenager, technically.”

I grumped about that.

He peered at me again. “You are eighteen, right?”

I nodded. “Yeah, why?”

He made a face. “I don’t want to get arrested for kidnapping, that’s why.”

“How old are you?” I asked.


“When’s your birthday?”

“March 31st.”

I hummed thoughtfully. “So you’re an Aries.”

“A what?”

“Your sign. You’re an Aries.” I scowled. “Maybe I shouldn’t have asked you. I’m a Scorpio. We won’t get along.”

Kevin turned to me, his mouth open. Then he roared with laughter until tears were running down his face. He actually pulled to the shoulder and leaned against the steering wheel, wheezing.

I glared at him. “It’s not funny.” That only set him off again. It was a good five minutes before he could sit up straight, wiping his eyes.

“You hold with astrology?” he asked.

I refused to comment, staring out the windshield. His chuckles died down. I could feel my cheeks burning red.

“Don’t worry, Becca,” he said. I spared him a scathing glance and he grinned, eyes sparkling.

“Why’s that?” I snapped.

If anything, his grin got wider. “I’ve a feeling we’re very compatible.”

I folded my arms over my chest, feeling like I needed the protection, and glared at the freeway. He started again and I closed my eyes, trying to feel where to go next. The sooner this was over, the better for both of us.

The woman in the wheat had terrible eyes. Eyes that held me and bored into me, piercing, compressing.

“What have you done?” she asked, her voice like the wind, howling. “What have you done?”

I couldn’t look away, sinking to my knees on the soft earth. The empty earth, dead, lifeless. Dust rose around me as she screamed, air whipping my skin, scraping sand across my cheeks, stinging my eyes.

“What have you done?” She wailed. She gave a desperate cry, writhing as the earth clawed up her, pulling her down, consuming her. She tried to fight, but it was inescapable, slow, deep and terribly powerful.

“You must stop it!” she pleaded with me, reaching for me. I flung myself forward, trying to grab her arm. Her skin was hot and brittle under my hands as I tugged at her, trying to help her. Her nails bit into my flesh as I used my strength to pull her free. I could slow the earth, but not stop it, not gain headway.

I hissed as blood trickled down my arm as she clawed me, dripping crimson onto the dull gray dirt. It made my hands slippery, my hands-

I gasped, jerking back. She shrieked as she was pulled down, a ringing cry that echoed around me. My hands, covered in blood and dirt. They weren’t my hands.

The earth trembled beneath me, hungry, insatiable. I couldn’t fight as it opened, a maw that groaned and rumbled, pulling me down into darkness.

I jerked awake, gasping and crying.

Kevin’s hand was tight on my shoulder. “Wake up, Becca,” he said roughly, shaking me.

“I am!” I panted, shuddering. The car was bright, the sun beaming in the windows. I gripped the cushions with tight hands. They ached, cut and bleeding. I checked them. They were mine again and unmarked. I rubbed where she had scratched me in my dream, feeling the tender skin, the imaginary wounds.

“Nightmare?” Kevin asked.

I nodded, my throat raw.

“What about?”

“The woman,” I said dazedly.

“What woman?”

“The woman in the wheat.” I shivered, sweating and chilled in the air conditioning. “The one who told me I was cursed.”

Kevin passed me a bottle of water and I drank gingerly. My throat hurt from my silent screams.

“What happened to her?”

I closed my eyes. “She’s going to die with everything else. The earth will consume her.”

I could almost feel Kevin’s shiver before he resumed our on-going disagreement. “I still think that what you say is impossible. I believe you,” he said swiftly. “But it should be impossible.”

I glared at him. “How can you think both?”

He shrugged. “It’s complicated.”

“How?” I demanded. He just grunted.

I wiped my face, still shining with sweat, and sat back. “Where are we?”

“About an hour north of the state line.”

That didn’t feel right. Something wasn’t right. We were going to wrong way. “Pull over.”

“What?” Kevin asked. He caught sight of my face and obeyed, diving across the lanes to reach the shoulder.

I did feel like throwing up, but mostly I needed some air. I climbed out and stood in the heat, breathing deeply. The air smelled of dirt. Healthy dirt, living, breathing, growing dirt. Not the stale, almost fetid quality of the earth in my dream. Was it my dream?

I turned slowly, feeling the wrongness of our direction. Was that what I was supposed to be? A compass for my quest? How was that supposed to help me figure out what to do about the end of the world?

“Becca?” Kevin was standing in the car door, watching me over the roof of his silver sedan.

“We’re going the wrong way.” I told him. “We need to go west. Northwest.” I pointed, stretching away across the fields around us.

He sighed. “Alright. Get in.”

I did and my nausea lifted. Northwest. I had no idea how far, but definitely northwest.

Kevin was drumming the steering wheel as we turned around at the next exit and headed back the way we’d come.

“So, not Falla School for Magic,” he said slowly. “There’s several up north, but I don’t know them.

“You never went to a magic school?” I guessed. He shook his head.

“No. I went right to the CMR after grade school.”

“You must be really powerful,” I said.

He shot me a quick look. “I’m about average, I think.”

I was getting chilly vibes off him again, so I let the topic be. But I did wonder. How powerful was he? He used his magic like it was nothing, casual. But then, he had been using it for a long time; his entire life, it seemed. Children were tested before going into kindergarten, then again before high school. If neither tests showed any signs of magic, the person generally didn’t ever develop it.

Kevin cleared his throat. “You know,” he said carefully.


“I can…speed this up, if you want.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I can make the car go faster.”

I made a face. “So can I.”

He smiled. “I mean, really fast.”

I thought a moment, trying to feel how far away our destination was. Far enough I had only the slightest sense of pull in the right direction.

“Alright,” I said. “What are you going to do?”

“Just sit still. Don’t move very much.”

I settled myself in and watched.

The engine revved as he pressed the accelerator. I watched the speedometer rise steadily, well above the speed limit.

“What about the police?” I asked.

He laughed. “Don’t worry.”

The needle kept rising, pressing for the top speed. The tachometer was also sliding up.

Kevin sighed suddenly, a long exhalation. He sat back, his hands sliding to rest at the bottom of the wheel. His eyes were open, but unfocused, a small wrinkle of concentration between his eyebrows.

The engine was still running, but our speed was decreasing. I looked out the window. I had to jerk my face away as the landscape blurred by, a streak of color.

“How fast are we going?” I asked breathlessly.

The corner of his mouth tilted up. “Fast.” He turned the wheel smoothly.

How fast?”

He grunted. “Tell you later.”

I let him be and sat with my eyes closed.

It was dark when we stopped again, slowly easing back to a normal speed. Once Kevin had stopped the engine, I jumped out, feeling the steady, unmovable earth beneath my feet.

He climbed out as well, groaning. He looked like he had a headache, the way he was squinting at me, grimacing.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Fine.” He said shortly. “Are we close?”

I looked at the ‘Welcome to Montana’ sign we had just passed. “Yes.”

“Good.” He grunted. “I’m hungry.”

I was, too. I realized. I helped him get some food, freeze dried packets of backpacking meals I recognized from my family’s various adventures. Kevin heated the water by holding the pockets in his hands, his eyes closed. He passed mine back and I had to juggle it until I found a place to put it.

“Hot!” I exclaimed stupidly.

“Yes,” he said. He sounded tired, his voice rough.

I ate in silence, watching him sit on the ground, his head resting against the side of the car. He wasn’t eating his food, just breathing slowly and evenly with his eyes closed.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” I asked gently.

He nodded. “Just tired.”

“Was that hard?”

He shrugged. “It isn’t hard to do. But it’s hard to maintain for so long. Like lifting weights. You can lift it once just fine, but twenty times? A hundred? You ever try to hold a push-up in the down position?”

I shook my head. I didn’t think I could do a push-up at all.

“It’s like that.” He said simply. He yawned widely and reached for his food. “So, are we close?”

My fork stilled, hanging midair. I swallowed carefully and forced myself to relax. “Closer.”

He grunted, his mouth full. “Can it wait until tomorrow?”

I nodded slowly. It wasn’t any stronger, still faint. But I could feel something urging me on. “I think so.”

“Good. I’m beat.” He was done eating already and opened a granola bar and inhaled it. “We’ll find a hotel and sleep.”

I shivered. I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to risk having that dream again. Twice was enough.

We stuffed our garbage in a plastic bag and started off again. The first hotel we saw, Kevin exited. I cringed at the grimy building, but Kevin bought a room from the sleepy looking owner and steered me to the door down the sidewalk.

Inside, he flipped on the lights and surveyed the room in disgust.

“You take the bed,” he said at once. “Try to get some sleep.”

He didn’t wait for me to answer, just stretched out on the saggy couch and closed his eyes. I stared as he went limp, his breathing deepening at once.

I took a quick shower and minced my way around the room trying to be quiet, though I suspected nothing short of the end of days would wake him anytime soon.

The bed had clean sheets, though a bit musty. I slipped under them, fully dressed and stared up at the ceiling. I left the light on. I couldn’t help it.

What would my parents be thinking of? Should I be watching the news, in case they started a manhunt for me? I’d hate to get Kevin arrested by some well-meaning policeman.

Where were we going? And how was it going to help me figure this out?

What was I even doing? How could I hope to do anything? I had no magic, no strength. I’d taken easy classes in high school and barely passed some of those in my rush to be done.

I wasn’t good at anything.

Except healing too fast for no apparent reason.

Kevin grunted and shifted, his face drawn. I watched him sleep. Why had I asked him to come? Why did I trust him so suddenly, so implicitly? Why had he come?

I flushed and wiggled under the covers. Boys did stupid things to impress girls, but this was beyond something like that. What was he hoping to get out of it? Research? Answers? Experience?

Before I could stop myself, I felt my mind drifting, sinking into sleep.

“What have you done?”

I shook my head, speechless. I didn’t know. I didn’t know how or why or what had even happened.

She stood before me, her eyes alight with anger and fear.

“Why have you done this?”

I tried to protest, but my voice wouldn’t work, the air searing and oppressive.

“It won’t work. You must undo it.”

I shook my head again, my own anger rising.

“What have you done?” She demanded. “Time is running out! Tell me what you have done!”

I could see it coming, see the dust rising at the horizon, see the plants wavering as they were consumed from below. I tried to yell for her to run, to get away. I forced myself to my feet, staggering. We had to run, we had to get away.

I could hear birds crying alarm, crows calling, shrieking.

“What have you done?”

I reached for her, but she jerked back, stepping further into the field of wheat that was her home.

I was weeping, begging her to listen, to come with me, to run, to flee. The dust cloud was rising, swirling up to the sky, blotting out the sun.

“What have you done?” she shrieked. I could feel the slow, deep vibrations as the ground shifted under us. It reached for her, pulling her down. She struggled, still screaming, accusing. I tried to help her, but the wind blasted me back, hissing, laughing.

I fell back to my knees, shielding my face as the sand cut into me. It howled around me, consuming everything. Everything, everything, except me. The wind finally rushed by, leaving a choking dust the settled as a fine powder. Dead, lifeless dirt. Sucked dry.

Everything was gone, as far as I could see. Only dust and heat and the flaming sun.

And me.

I sat up with a jerk. I was crying again, fighting back sobs. Kevin was still dead asleep on the couch. I took that opportunity to cry myself out. I felt better afterwards.

The world had come loose again, shifting as I climbed out of bed and went to rouse him. I had to give him a good shake before he even grunted and stirred.

“Kevin, wake up,” I pleaded. The digital clock showed it was nearly four in the morning, still dark outside, but graying toward the horizon. “Kevin, please.”

He lifted his head, blinking blearily. “What is it?”

“We have to go.”

“Go where?” He asked, slurring. He sat up and rubbed his face, moving all his joints until they popped.

“Please, Kevin, it’s close.”

He glanced to the clock and grimaced, but didn’t say anything. “What’s close?”

“I don’t know. Please, hurry.”

“Hold your horses.” He grumbled. He went into the bathroom. I waited by the door, trembling with anxiety and the need to go, go, go, go right away.

He came out, drying his face on his sleeve. I steered him to the door and then out to the car. He started without a word as I buckled myself in.

Close was a relative term. We drove for a few hours, the sun rising majestically, glimmering on the cement road.

“Turn here,” I directed. It was an empty exit. No town or signs. Just a road leading out into the scrubland.

Kevin did, though his eyebrows went up. “I don’t think there’s a school out here.” He said as we bounced down the road.

We drove for another hour, the sun warming our faces.

“Stop.” I commanded. He did, dust rising around us.

We were in the middle of nothing. Scraggly plants no higher than my knees surrounded us, a few stunted trees scattered around, bent almost double from the wind whipping by us. Kevin stepped up next to me, looking out at the landscape with a frown.

“What do you see?” he asked, holding his hand up to shield his face from the sun.

“It’s out there.” I said.

Kevin nodded. “Wait for me.” He commanded. I turned to watch as he pulled out packs out of his car. He locked the doors and stepped back over to me. He made a graceful gesture with one hand. I gasped as the car shimmered in the sun, wavering as if heat waves were enveloping it. It grew indistinct and finally vanished.

“Don’t want anyone stealing it,” Kevin said, all at once cheerful and amused. I guessed my face must have been a study. I smoothed my features and turned back to the desert. “How far?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” I snapped, frustrated. I wanted more help from the Speaking, more direction and reason. I hefted my pack and took the first step off the road.