The phone line was nowhere near Martha Street.
I figured on about fifty/fifty chance of Stella sending me on a wild goose chase. Clearly, she either didn’t trust me or decided to get payback for me ditching her. Fair enough, a point for her. I respected both her being cautious and trying to get even. In her place, I’d do the same thing.
The Honeycomb sat deep inside a gorge, a crack in the ground about three miles long and a quarter of a mile deep called Honeycomb Gap. The Gap pulled iron into itself, gathering it from Joshua Junkyards and the abandoned Ford Motor plant. The area around it lay in ruins, and climbing back and forth over the rubble with an injured leg and a bruised shoulder was all kinds of fun.
If the magic had been up, I could have just called Abra and had him scout the Gap. The eagle would have spotted the cable in seconds. But with magic down, looking through Abra’s eyes wasn’t an option. Abra was an intelligent bird, but he was just a bird. Telling him to find the cable on his own was like asking Lassie if Timmy was stuck in a well. Words like “cable” had no meaning to a raptor.
Instead I picked my way through the debris and abandoned buildings for over an hour before I finally found it, a single phone line diving into the Gap from a pole that rose at the top of a ruined building. The structure’s roof was gone, leaving the inside exposed, and the tall wooden pole had been anchored to the remains of the top floor with a mound of concrete. Climbing said pole with my hurt thigh proved to be hell, but after sliding down a couple of times and cursing in half a dozen languages, I finally cut the line, climbed down, and sat on the edge of the crumbling top floor, dangling my feet over the chasm.
The Gap stretched in front of me, plunging deep below, narrow in this spot, only a couple hundred feet across. A forest of curved metal spikes grew on its bottom, climbing up the sides. Piles of refuse, scrap metal mixed with trash, rose here and there, between the skeletal husks of abandoned cars slowly melting into the Gap. Fog slivered between the spikes and heaps of junk, curling in long tendrils, trying to reach up, to the edge and the abandoned buildings rising on the other side. Far to the left, a bird glided above the Gap. From here it looked like a stork. Looks were deceiving. Honeycomb spawned Stymphalean birds with iron feathers that cut like a razorblades.
My leg hurt. Other parts of me hurt too, but the leg would need attention once I got home.
When I was a teenager, I would’ve just shot Jasper. Back then using a shotgun or a rifle wasn’t a problem. I used to be a good shot. Not Andrea Nash good, but decent enough. I could hit a target with a bow on horseback at full gallop, but guns were no longer an option for me. Grandma warned me it would happen if I claimed my magic heritage. It was an easy choice at the time. I wanted to know where I came from and what my bloodline was capable of. I didn’t regret it, but I kept paying for it. It was still the wiser option. Magic would win, eventually.
I sat quietly, enjoying not moving. The Honeycombers seemed in no hurry to fix their phone. They probably wouldn’t even notice for a few hours, until one of them picked up the phone and the line was dead.
I needed a phone at my place. I could probably use it if the tech was strong enough, although it worked for me about half of the time. Served me right for making fun of Mom. Her magic short-circuited phones and guns. At least she could fire a gun. She couldn’t hit water if she shot it from a boat in the middle of a lake, but the gun would discharge. I just got a smug click.
A high-pitched shriek rolled through the Gap. Yep, a Stymphalean bird. Derek and I used to come here for the feathers once or twice a year. They made good knives that never needed sharpening. We’d pack a lunch and make a day of it, combing the gap for the fallen feathers, then eating in one of the ruins just like this one.
When we met, I was thirteen. He was eighteen. At that point, I’d only had one boyfriend in my short life, a slimy little weasel called Red who wanted to steal my magic. I thought he was amazing until he sold me out to the sea demons. Then Derek walked onto the scene, like a blazing sun, and the sad puddle of scum that was Red evaporated.
If I closed my eyes, I could picture Derek sitting next to me, long legs stretched over the edge, scarred face turned up to the sun, his eyes shut.
An eerie feeling washed over me. The tiny hair on the back of my neck rose.
Something was watching me from across the Gap. I scanned the ruins.
Whoever it was, they were well hidden. But they were there.
The weight of the watcher’s gaze pressed on me. Like being sighted by a large predator ready to pounce. Every nerve in my body went on guard. I’d felt this before, when I arrived to the city. Something had watched me from the darkness as I rode across that bridge, something dangerous and frightening, and here it was again. Was it tracking me? Why?
I raised my hand, smiled, and waved.
That’s right. I know you’re there. Come out to play.
Nothing. The ruins lay still.
It was still there, watching me. All my instincts warned me it was a threat, the kind of threat I didn’t want to face with a busted leg. The simple animal part of me wanted to sit very still and hope that the thing that watched me would forget I was there. The crazy human part wanted to laugh in its face until the fear would vanish in a flash of adrenaline.
I made myself heave an exaggerated sigh, got up, and walked away. I would come back to the Gap later. Hopefully magic would be up. If my silent watcher decided to approach for a closer look, they would be in for a fun surprise.
I took the kettle off the stove, walked to my desk, and poured the boiling water into the teapot over fragrant leaves. Steam rose, sending a delicate aroma into the air.
I sat into the chair and smiled. Around me plants thrived, their greenery complimenting the sandstone walls and columns. Water gurgled quietly, running through the center channel within the chamber.
Familiar. Safe. Home.
I had gone to the municipal utility office, flashed my badge and a few hundred-dollar bills, and asked them to string a phone line to my house. The money gave them incentive and the badge offered a convenient excuse to drop everything else, so they sent a technician out with me. He made big eyes at my house but proceeded to run the cable anyway. I would’ve had service today if it wasn’t for the sudden magic wave that hit this afternoon. He would have to return once tech was back.
When I needed magic to fight oversized locals, there was none to be had. But when I wanted a phone, suddenly I got all the magic ever.
I poured the tea into my cup and drank. Mmmm.
The waves have been coming faster than usual and lasting longer. We were due for another flare. A magic tsunami, it hit every 7 years and lasted three days, sometimes a week. During the flare, gods and monsters walked the Earth and impossible things became reality.
The exact date of the flare couldn’t be determined, but this would be the year and frequent magic waves were one of the warning signs.
I took another swallow of tea and touched the metal rose in the vase. It spun softly within the glass, its metal stem rotating but never touching the vase, caught suspended in the web of magic. Spinning it had become a habit, something I did when I was troubled. It made me feel better. The Honeycomb Gap unsettled me today.
My thigh still ached. Jasper’s club had bruised the bone. After the phone technician left, I had chanted my leg into regeneration, but getting the blood moving through the injured tissue to repair it took a lot of concentration and almost three hours. Letting it heal slower would’ve hurt less, but I needed the leg operational.
I’d had worse. If it wasn’t for my new magic, my body would’ve been a patchwork of scars. I had bled in the name of New Shinar more times than I could remember, and I’d learned a simple truth – no matter how many healers, helpers, and servants tried to make it easier, in the end it was always me alone, working my body into healing. I preferred it that way.
The rose slowly stopped turning. Derek had made it for me from an old coffee can when we’d just met. I’d never before seen a human tear metal into strips with his hands. His strength was off the charts even among the werewolves, but it came with a price. Derek was forever skirting the edge of loupism, afraid that he would fall of that cliff into madness like his father had.
Him handing me the rose wasn’t a boy giving a flower to a girl he liked. It was an older guy trying to cheer up a sad kid. I should have put it away years ago, but I just couldn’t. It was a reminder that things were what they were, not what I wanted them to be.
I missed him.
I used to miss him so badly, I couldn’t sleep. With time, pain dulled to an insistent ache that made me restless and uneasy. I had a feeling it would never get better. It was hopeless, like most crushes. No matter how old I was or how I acted, Derek never forgot that there was five years between us.
A distant cry of an eagle echoed through my mind. Abra.
I let the eagle sight unfold in my mind. Nick’s house came into focus, like a vision woven in the net of glowing threads. Abra turned his head. A large lupine shape was coming toward us, running full speed down the dark street.
What in the world?
The wolf stopped by Nick’s front door. It was huge, bigger than any wild wolf I’d seen that wasn’t dire. A shapeshifter. Their beast forms ran larger than their animal counterparts.
The wolf sat on its haunches and gently scratched the door. A moment and the door swung open. The wolf’s body surged up, a controlled whirlwind of flesh and bone, and a nude woman rose on Nick’s doorstep, long blonde hair falling down to her waist.
The woman threw her arms around Nick. The eagle caught a glimpse of her face, and I almost fell out of my chair. What?
He scooped her up, carried her inside, and kicked the door closed behind him.
Nicholas Feldman, the Knight Protector of Atlanta’s chapter of the Order, the paragon of knightly virtue, was having a torrid affair with Desandra Kral, the Alpha of Clan Wolf.
I got the hell out of the chair. This I had to see.