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Black as Night Sample



That first spell.

That's the big one. The first form your magic takes dictates your whole future in the craft.

My first spell was a good one and it had saved my life many times over the years. But, looking down at the third pair of sneakers I had worn through this month, I wished my first spell had been something less expensive.

My name is James Black. James Arthur Black if you care about my middle name, though it would be weird if you did. I’m a professional monster hunter and a mage. We don't use wizard or witch anymore. After Salem, “witch" got a bit of a stigma. I do it professionally but before you ask, no, you can't hire me for your kid's birthday party. I fight evil and help those in need. Then those in need pay me.

Or at least, that's the theory.

Business had been slow of late, and I had been wasting my money on frivolous things like food and rent. It's not that evil fiends had been taking a vacation. It was just hard to find someone to pay you for vanquishing them. Supernatural nasties tend to prey primarily on the poor and destitute. People who had enough problems already and who don't cause too much of a fuss when a few of them get eaten. Consequently, while there are always plenty of people in need of help, there seemed to be a lot fewer around when it came time to pay the bill.

Which is fine in theory, helping the helpless and all that. Unfortunately, warm fuzzy feelings aren't an accepted form of currency.

All of which is to say, I needed a job. Preferably one that paid a lot and came with a lifetime supply of free shoes.

At least when I worked for the Vatican, it had been a steady pay check. Of course the people I worked with turned out to be a bunch of murdering lunatics. But hey, nobody's perfect.

I threw out the shoes that had been new a week ago, and had a look in the fridge for something to eat. Half a box of doughnuts was the only thing in my fridge that didn't look like it was about to sprout legs and try to escape, so doughnuts for breakfast it was. That may not sound like the breakfast of champions but I have to eat a lot of doughnuts and the like to stay healthy.

Don't look at me like that. Seriously.

The same spell that keeps me perpetually looking for new shoes means I burn a lot more calories than normal. I’m an augmentamancer, which means that my magic makes things more of what they already are. It's not as flashy as some of those goofballs conjuring fire out of thin air but it's a rare and powerful magic.

Or so I’m told. I’ve never actually met another augmentamancer, I’m not sure there is even another one alive. Most people's first spells lead them down different paths. You would be surprised how many mages get their start trying to will the remote to them so they don't have to get off their chair.

Anyway, back to why I always need new shoes and eat lots of junk food. My first spell, and so far the coolest I have ever performed, makes me more of what I already am. I can use magic to become stronger and faster than any normal person could hope to be. It has a few side effects though. Apart from the fact that running at speeds that would make Olympic athletes jealous burns through shoes and fat, it’s dangerous as hell. The human body can only endure so much. Magic helps with that a bit but if you juice yourself up too much, you can end up with broken bones, torn muscles, and, in extreme cases, deadness.

As you can imagine, that last one is serious. So to combat those side effects I have put a safeguard in place. Said safeguard is an enchanted sword I made to keep me from channeling too much power. Mages can enchant an object to enhance their first spell in some way. Mine is a homemade, straight-bladed sword covered in crudely formed runes and sigils. I made the blade a little short so it could accommodate a two handed grip and still be short enough to strap to my back under a coat. As long as I hold it when augmenting myself, the main things I have to worry about are the price of sneakers and snack foods.

That's why when opportunity knocked, I was licking powdered sugar off my fingers.

I opened my door to find that opportunity had taken the form of Sarah Bishop. Sarah was New York's only practicing necromancer, a certifiable knockout, and one of the few people I could call a friend. She had shoulder-length golden hair and brilliant blue eyes. Her face looked like it had been professionally airbrushed even when she put no effort in. She had long, tanned legs and a smile shouldn’t have been allowed near flight paths lest it blind pilots.

“Uh . . . hi,” I managed lamely. “What's up?” I was always stunned by how beautiful Sarah was when I hadn't seen her for a while. I always thought that I must be exaggerating her looks in my head, because surely no one looks that good in real life. I was wrong.

“I have a job that is right in your wheelhouse and I could use your help,” she replied.

Sarah's work mostly consisted of a lot of flashy tricks and pretending to talk to the dead. It was all fake séances and bogus exorcisms. Not even necromancers can talk to the dead. Wherever they go after death (assuming they go anywhere at all), they stay there. That didn't stop Sarah faking it though. It may have been dishonest but there certainly wasn't any violence involved. She had the talent for it but she preferred scamming the gullible to hunting monsters.

Her first spell had left a rotting corpse lying atop her. It had not been a pleasant experience.

But money is money and Sarah wouldn't have taken a job so far outside her comfort zone if there wasn't plenty of it.

“Okay,” I said, “what's the job?”

“We’re going to find something called the Sun Heart. It's a golden orb about the size of a basketball. The pay is fifty thousand. Your cut is half, minus my five-grand finder's fee.”

This is where my keenly honed senses kicked in. If that was all there was to it, there was no way Sarah would be offering me twenty grand. Chances were this was going to be extremely dangerous, and I really didn't want to be fighting any dragons or pissing off any demigods. On the other hand, if I didn't get some money for rent soon, I was going to be doing battle with the forces of evil from out of a cardboard box on the street.

“What's the catch?” I asked.

“Yeah . . . about that," she began. "It’s possible that we aren’t the only ones after it.”

Yeah, that sounded about right. “Who else?” I asked.

“Every vampire in town,” Sarah said, almost sheepishly.

Oh goodie.

Vampires are unpleasant for several reasons. For a start they are a pain in the ass to kill. Beheading is really the best way to go. Wooden stakes work too but you have to get them right in the heart which can be tricky when they are trying to rip your face off. Sunlight’s good but you can't very well take it with you. Only real sunlight works, none of that UV nonsense you see in the movies. The real problem isn't the regular vampires though.

That would be the alphas.

Your regular garden-variety vamp is stronger than most humans and a pain to kill, but I can take them down without too much trouble.

Alphas are another story.

They can rip through brick walls with their bare hands and throw small cars around. They can also compete in running races with cheetahs. And talk about hard to kill. Vampires in general can come back from any non-fatal injury given time and blood, but alphas are much worse. I have personally seen someone empty an automatic weapon into an alpha, only to have it get up and run away. That's just not fair. They are also the only vampires who can make more of their kind. I don’t know too much about that, I’ve never been around to see it happen. But I understand that it involves a lot of blood and is generally unpleasant for all involved. Almost every non-alpha vampire is working for the vamp that made them, so if all the vampires in New York were after the Sun Heart, then you could bet I would run into a few alphas. I just hoped my face didn't run into a wall shortly afterwards.

Still, my impending homelessness was strong motivation.

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll do it. But you’re buying me some new shoes.”

“Great.” Sarah smiled. “I have a meeting with the client this afternoon. You can come if you like. I would like something to show him by then though, so we best get started.”

“Alright,” I said, “well you’re in luck. It just so happens I know a vampire who I’m sure would love to help us.”

“Why would he do that?” Sarah asked, raising an eyebrow at me.

“Because,” I said, getting my sword. “We are going to ask him nicely.”

The vampire in question was Earl. Earl was a snitch. He had once ratted out his alpha's location in exchange for not being beheaded. His alpha had then had an unfortunate accident involving the business end of my sword. Earl lived alone selling information and trying not to get the attention of any of the local vampire packs.

As a rule, I don't like to leave vampires alive, or undead, or whatever they are. As long as they are walking about, they will be draining the life out of humans. It's what they are. Earl was a valuable source of information however. Too valuable to kill. I knew he must be hurting people, taking their life force to fuel his weasely existence. I liked to think he mostly fed on hardened criminals—I had told him that if I heard word one about an innocent victim, he was dead—but I couldn't be sure. I would have very much liked to have chopped off the bastard's head. But if I killed him, I couldn't use him to help me save even more lives.

Still, it made me mad every time I saw him.

We took a cab down to the Bronx where Earl was living since the untimely death of his alpha. Sarah paid and, though I felt slightly less manly, I soldiered on in the knowledge that I didn't have enough cash on me anyway. Earl lived in a run-down apartment building. Typical. You would be surprised by how many slumlords had vampires as tenants.

This one was actually not that bad by comparison. Sure the paint was peeling and there was the distinctive smell of urine wafting through the air, but there were no gang signs to be seen and I didn't get the feeling I was about to be shot. All in all, a significant improvement over a lot of the vamp hangouts I had been in.

Earl lived on the fourth floor and, since the elevator looked like it hadn't worked in years, we took the stairs. There was an ugly brownish stain in the hallway marking Earl's door. I tried hard not to imagine what it was, but my mind still threw out several possibilities. None of them was pleasant.

I knocked. No answer. I put my ear to the door and listened. I could hear someone moving around inside—probably looking through the peephole at us—then the sound of running.

“Why do they always run?” I wondered aloud as I unsheathed my sword. I sent a surge of magic through my body and kicked the door in on the first try.

Earl turned toward us. From where he was standing it seemed he had been about to leap through the blacked-out window before he realized it was the middle of the day and that wouldn't be such a good idea.

He had a long pointy nose and his face had a pyramid‑like quality to it. It gave the impression that someone had tugged his nose a little too hard and it had pulled his whole face out of proportion. It suited his weasel-like nature. Right then, his face was caught somewhere between fear and confusion. Probably at how his brilliant window-jumping plan had failed.

“Oh sh—“ he began, but I had crossed the room and had him by the throat before he could finish his expletive. Up close, I could tell Earl wasn’t having a good go of it. His skin was ashen and his eyes were glassy. He hadn’t fed recently.

Good. He could starve himself till he skeletonized for all I cared.

“You wouldn't be trying to run, would you, Earl?” I growled. It's always a good idea to project strength with supernatural monsters, keeps them from thinking you might be lunch. Plus I just didn't like Earl.

“Er . . . run? Me? Never,” he replied, as eloquent as ever.

“That's good, because we need information on something called the Sun Heart and I’m betting you know something.”

“I don't know nothing,” Earl said. “Nobody talks to me anymore since you killed Jackson.”

We went through this every time I came to Earl. While it was true that he wasn't as popular as he once was, that didn't mean that he didn't hear things. If this was as big as Sarah made it out to be, he would have heard something. Seemed like a good time to play a little bad cop, worse cop.

“Alright Earl, but my friend here will be very disappointed,” I said with a wink toward Sarah.

“I don't like to be disappointed,” Sarah said, following my lead. She flashed a wicked grin and took a ridiculously ornate revolver covered in arcane markings from her jacket pocket.

“Ha! What are you going to do with that?” Earl asked.

Vampires love pointing out that bullets can't kill them. That, and telling you they’re vampires. Personally I think they forget.

“I’m a vampire! Bullets can't kill me.”

See, what did I tell you?

“But these are special bullets,” Sarah said as she took aim at a potted plant. She fired once and the bullet clipped one of its leaves on its way to lodging in the exterior wall. Tendrils of rot ran through the plant from the spot where the bullet touched it. Within seconds, they reduced what was a healthy-looking house plant to a stinking pile of mulch.

“You don't talk and she is going to put one of those in something you're really going to miss.” I said with my best threatening smile.

Earl was still staring at his former house plant. “Okay man, maybe I heard something.” Earl looked suitably freaked. “I heard a new alpha is in town and everyone is looking for him. He is meant to have some sort of mystical whatsit. Maybe it's your thing.”

“Everyone? You mean other vampires?” I asked.

“Among other things. Word is that every evil fiend and its mother are after this thing.”

Well, that wasn’t good.

Vampires might be a pain, but they were relatively minor league compared to some of the other things out there. If this case led to me going toe to toe with anything over eight feet tall, or that breathed fire, I was going to have to renegotiate my fee.

I would probably need it to pay for my funeral.

“Is there anything you're leaving out?” I asked with a significant glance at Sarah's gun.

“No, no, I told you everything. Just leave me alone,” he said sulkily.

I punched Earl hard in the face.

“Hey, what did you do that for?" he whined, clutching his nose. It was bleeding and looked like it might have been broken. "I told you everything I know, honest.”

“I believe you,” I said with a smirk. “You just piss me off.”

“Where to next?” Sarah asked as we left.

“Isn't it obvious? Next we go talk to the local therianthrope community.”

“Ah, why?” Sarah asked, a puzzled look on her face.

“Because,” I said with a grin. “Where there's vampires, werewolves aren't far behind.”




Therianthropes, or weres for short, aren’t like vampires. Vampires are monsters that literally drain the life out of people. While they drink blood, what they are really consuming is the life force of their victims. All that animal blood or blood bank stuff is just in the movies. It has to be straight from a vein, and even a small feeding can take years off your life.

It’s worse than smoking.

Therianthropes, on the other hand, are people who can change their form into something monstrous. The change takes place for the first time during puberty and always on a full moon. After the first change, therianthropes can change their form at will. It sounds awkward as hell though. Most teenagers are worried about acne. Meanwhile, you’re getting furry and sprouting a tail.

From what I can tell though, it generally isn’t as bad as you might think. Therianthropy is genetic, so at least one parent will know what is happening and be able to help the kid through it.

Still, not how I would like to spend my summer vacation.

The point is they aren’t monsters. They’re people. They don’t go round eating people or tearing up live stock. Well, mostly they don’t. Inhibitions are lowered when transformed, and they do tend to be a bit more like their animal counterparts than they might otherwise be. But the rate of were-murderers is no higher than among regular humans. They can lead relatively normal, productive lives.

Even so, when we got to the place my werewolf contact told us to meet him, I was a little shocked.

It was a skyscraper.

It was owned by a company called Mason Industries and, made all of glass and shining steel, looked very at home in the New York skyline.

“Are you sure we’ve got the right place?” Sarah asked, paying for yet another cab.

“Yeah, this is definitely where Jake said to meet him.”

“I thought his name was Jacob?” Sarah asked as we walked up to the front door.

“It was. But after that movie came out, he thought it was too much of a cliché. Now he goes by Jake.”

As we walked through the sliding doors and into the massive lobby, I realized the security guard was eyeing us.

To be fair, he wouldn’t be doing his job if he wasn’t. I am just over six feet tall with green eyes that dart about the room, and a long scar running from just below my eye to my chin. My dark hair was messy and I needed a shave. I was also wearing my voluminous, black leather coat I used to hide the handmade short sword strapped to my back. When I walked, the tip of its hilt would occasionally poke out of a custom-made hole near the collar. It was a design feature that was great for drawing a sword quickly, but bad for keeping it well hidden.

I really hadn’t thought that we would be going anywhere with metal detectors and security guards.

Sarah was being stared at for a totally different reason. The look the security guard was giving her was subtitled: Yum. The look he was giving me was subtitled: Dangerous whackjob. But she still had a concealed weapon in the custom-made pocket of her expensive-looking suede jacket.

We were going to be in trouble if we got searched or walked through any metal detectors. We could only hope that if we acted like we had legitimate business there, he would leave us alone.

“Excuse me sir,” the security guard began. So much for that plan. “Do you have an appointment with someone in the building?” He said it in a tone that implied he knew we didn’t and what the hell were we doing there when we clearly didn’t belong?

I was about to try some of my trademark wit but, as it turned out, I didn't need to. Which is just as well, because my trademark wit has a less than stellar track record at getting people on side. If you need someone to insult a supernatural monstrosity, I’m your man. If you need someone to talk their way into a building without pissing anybody off, get someone else. Fortunately, Jake was waiting for us in the lobby and intervened before the security guard could bounce us.

“Hey, Hank,” Jake said in a friendly sort of way. Jake didn’t look quite like the regular security-guard type. He certainly went to the gym enough, but he was too friendly. He kept his auburn hair shoulder length and always wore a grin. I think it was to distract people from his sharp features and pointed teeth.

“These two are with me. I’m escorting them to Mr. Mason and he wants to see them right away.” Jake ushered us through to an elevator and hit the button for the top floor.

“Wait,” I said. “Are we really going to see the boss here? I thought you just said that to get us through the door.”

“Nope,” Jake said smiling with his too pointed teeth. “You said you wanted everything the were community had on this Sun Heart, right? Well when Mr. Mason heard about that, he wanted to talk to you personally.”

Sarah and I both raised an eyebrow at him “Why did you tell your boss?” I asked.

“Don’t you know?” Jake looked surprised. “Joshua Mason is the leader of all the local therianthropes.”

That came as something of a surprise to me.

The leader of the local were pack was taking a personal interest. As a rule, important people taking an interest in what I’m doing means it’s about to get insanely dangerous.

We came to the top floor and stepped out into a hallway with a very high ceiling. Seriously high, like fifteen feet high. Jake led us to a huge conference room that had the same church-height ceiling. It featured a large table in the middle and wood paneling on the walls. Inside waited a giant of a man. He was easily seven feet tall and as broad as any professional linebacker. He had closely cropped black hair and weather-beaten black skin. He looked to be roughly middle-aged. Even though he was huge, he wasn’t imposing. He radiated a calm kind of strength that made it easy to see why the other weres followed him.

Therianthropes tend to take on some of the features of whatever they turn into. Jake for example, had sharp, canine features and pointed teeth. I had no idea what Joshua Mason turned into, but it had to be huge and strong as hell.

“Hello. I’m Joshua Mason. Please take a seat,” he rumbled in a deep bass voice.

We sat down and I suddenly felt incredibly underdressed. I was wearing jeans, a black t-shirt, and my leather coat. Joshua, by contrast, was wearing a suit that probably cost more than my year’s rent. Even Jake had put on a sharp-looking suit for the occasion. Sarah was only wearing a white t-shirt and jeans with her jacket, but she managed to make it look like a daring fashion statement. I just looked like I couldn’t afford nicer clothes. Which I suppose was appropriate, because I couldn’t.

“I understand you’re looking for the Sun Heart,” Joshua said once we had gotten comfortable. Well Sarah looked comfortable. My sword was digging into my back, but it probably wouldn’t go down well to get it out now.

“Yes,” Sarah said, “can you help?”

“I believe I can,” Joshua said to us. “You can go now,” he said, turning his attention to Jake. He waited until Jake had left the room before continuing. “The Sun Heart is very valuable. My sources tell me it’s an object of enormous power. I would not have it fall into the wrong hands. What exactly do you want with it?”

I had been wondering the same thing. Whoever hired Sarah was bound to have an agenda of their own and I doubted it involved hugs and puppies.

“I was hired by an independent collector who wants the Sun Heart for his collection,” Sarah replied evenly.

Oh yeah, I’m sure that was true. And Santa Claus is going to bring me a flying pig.

“Of course,” Joshua said, sounding about as convinced as I was. He turned his attention to me. “James, I know you by reputation. And Jake has told me you are an honorable man. If I have your word that you will put protecting the innocent over your duty to your client, I will tell you what I know.”

I stared pointedly at Sarah. I didn’t believe she would knowingly be involved with anyone or anything evil. But she might not ask too many questions if the price was right.

“You have my word,” I said, and I meant it.

“Okay,” Joshua said. “Recently a vampire alpha arrived in the city. He is likely in possession of the Sun Heart. I have it on good authority that he is holed up with his pack in an abandoned little church called the Church of the Cleansing Light. The other vampire packs don’t yet know of his whereabouts but it will not take them long. I’m sure they will be upon it within a day or two. You had best get there first.”

“Thank you,” I said. “We will.”

“Good. Now if you will excuse me, I have matters to attend to. I trust you can see yourselves out.”

“Pack business?” I asked.

“No,” Joshua replied. “Oddly enough, running a Fortune five-hundred company requires quite a bit of work.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid.

Joshua got up to leave but hesitated at the door. “One more thing.” He paused as though deciding how to phrase what he was about to say. “The Sun Heart is very powerful, but it is not a weapon.”

On that cryptic note, Joshua Mason left and we headed back to the elevator. When we got there, we found a note taped to the elevator door. It was written in block red letters and read:

The vampire is a daywalker.

Sarah and I looked around for who could have planted the note but there was no one to be seen. I pocketed it and we left.

“A daywalker?” I said as we walked to Sarah’s office. “There’s no such thing.”

“Are you sure?” Sarah asked. “I can think of a couple of ways to magically shield myself from the sun, given the proper ingredients. Why couldn’t a vampire do the same?”

“Vampires can’t do magic,” I said, drawing an odd look from a passing woman. “It’s not possible. Even if a mage was turned, the magic dies with them. Come on, you know this stuff.”

Sarah may not be big into the fighting-monsters side of magic, but believing in daywalkers? Next thing you know, she’d be wanting to question the Easter Bunny.

“Alright,” Sarah conceded. “But if a vampire in a sun hat tries to rip out my throat, you are getting an I-told-you-so in the form of my foot up your ass.”

“Fair enough. So what do you think Joshua turns into?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Werebull maybe?” Sarah suggested.

“Na. He might be buff enough, but they normally aren’t that tall. What about a werehippo?”

Sarah stared at me, trying to decide if I was kidding. “That’s not a real thing, is it? I’m not sure I can live in a world that includes werehippopotamuses. It’s just too silly.”

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” I said with a smile.

We arrived at Sarah’s office, which was in a rather nice office building. Not as nice as Joshua Mason’s but it still put my business to shame. Of course, I was working out of my apartment and my office furniture included a stack of pizza boxes. Burger joints put my business to shame.

When we got to Sarah’s office she touched the door and murmured something under her breath. She must have some kind of warding magic on her office that she had to take down.

The inside was suitably tacky. Plenty of thick, ominous-looking books with no writing on the spines adorned a large bookcase. I knew for a fact they were encyclopedias with the covers removed. She had added an Ouija board to her desk since I had last been there though. I suspected it had come from eBay.

I sat down on her annoyingly uncomfortable client’s chair while Sarah reclined in an expensive-looking leather chair and fished out a laptop.

“Can I ask you something?” I asked as Sarah booted up the computer.

“I think you just did, but go ahead.”

“Why did you take this job? It can’t be the money, you’ve got plenty of that, and I know you don’t like fighting monsters. It just seems weird.”

“It’s not so much the monsters that bother me . . . look I would really rather not talk about it. Let’s just do the job, okay?”

“Ah . . . okay. Let’s find this church then.”

“Okay, the Church of the Cleansing Light.” She typed it into her computer. The image people have of mages shunning technology and staring into crystal balls is complete bull. A computer is cheaper, faster, and I’ve yet to see a crystal ball that can access YouTube. “According to this it’s right on the edge of town. We could go after meeting with the client but we might not get there till nightfall.”

“No, let’s do this right,” I said. “I don’t want to go rushing in to a vampire nest without knowing how big the pack is. For all we know, there could be twenty sets of fangs in there just waiting for a couple of hapless mages to drop by for dinner.”

“I was kind of hoping you were going to say that,” Sarah said. “Maybe we will get lucky and we can find the Sun Heart there while they are hiding from the sun.”

“Knowing my luck, it’s more likely we will find a bunch of goons with guns, but hope springs eternal I guess.”

Sarah checked her phone. “I need to meet the client in an hour. You coming?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I want to know who this collector of yours is.”

“Yeah about that . . . there is something I need to tell you before we meet the client.”

“And what might that be?” I asked innocently.

“Well—” There was a loud crash outside.

“Saved by the bell,” I said with a grin as I was unsheathing my sword and running into the hallway.

A huge metal man stood in the remains of the stairwell doorway. The door had been ripped off its hinges and the creature had smashed the frame trying to fit its massive body through. It was at least eight feet tall, and had shoulders that could each comfortably seat a grown man. I say it was a metal man but that’s only because it didn’t seem very feminine. It was smooth as a Ken doll and had no face, just a featureless metal expanse where its face should have been. Oh, and one of its arms ended in a long, slightly curved blade instead of a hand. It didn’t look very friendly.

The creature oriented its faceless head on me and took a heavy step in my direction.

Me being the honorable kind of guy I am, I was already pumping magic into my system and running toward it.

The metal man cocked its head slightly in what might have been a quizzical expression if it had a face.

I threw magic into my legs and leapt. I flipped in midair and drove a kick that could break a man's neck into the creature’s head.

The creature was knocked slightly off balance and took one step back.

“Well that was unimpressive,” I said, landing in a crouch.

“James, move!” Sarah yelled, taking aim with that pistol of hers. I dropped flat to the ground, rolled out of the way, and Sarah opened fire. Four shots hit the metal man square in the chest. The bullets ricocheted off the creature and lodged in the walls and floor. The rotting magic completely useless against metal. I was up and running before the shock could register on Sarah’s face.

“Come on!” I screamed at her, grabbing her arm and pulling her down the hallway.

The creature followed us. Its footfalls sounded like cannon fire as it built up to a run. It wasn’t as slow as it should have been given its size and the fact that it must have weighed a ton. We could probably outrun this thing if we were in the streets, but it was in front of the only stairwell and I didn’t fancy waiting for an elevator. We reached the end of the hall and looked down at the street. We were on the eighth floor.

“Any ideas?” Sarah asked.

“One,” I said through gritted teeth. “But you’re not going to like it.” I sheathed my sword and pulled a collapsible umbrella from one of my jacket pockets. “Hold on tight,” I said, wrapping an arm around Sarah.

“What are you going to do?” Sarah asked.

I smashed the window and jumped out, pulling Sarah with me.

Sarah screamed in my face as I pushed magic into the umbrella.

“Volo, volare, nare' I muttered. I wasn't sure how this was going to go. I hadn’t field-tested it yet and the symbolism was a bit dicey.

 For a horrible moment, I thought I had miscalculated and it wasn’t going to work. Then I felt the spell take hold, the umbrella caught the air and our fall slowed. We floated gently to the ground like a British nanny and looked back up to see the metal creature staring at us through the window.

“Why isn’t it following us?” Sarah panted as we ran down the street.

“Explain later!” I yelled. “Run now!”

We found a cab a couple of blocks away and Sarah told the driver the address of a hotel downtown.

“What was that thing?” Sarah whispered. “And why didn’t it chase us? I doubt the fall would have hurt it.”

The taxi driver was shooting us odd looks in the rear-view mirror. But it was New York, we probably weren’t even the weirdest people he had gotten that week.

“Don’t know what it was but I’m guessing it was working for something that wants to keep a relatively low profile. Us falling out of the sky by umbrella was bad enough. But if it had followed, it would have been all over the internet by tonight. Most likely it was the servant of some old god. You know how they get about secrecy.”

When people first find out about the supernatural they come to one of two conclusions. Either they assume people are just too stupid to see what’s right in front of them or they think there is a massive conspiracy to cover it up. The truth is it’s both. All of earth’s various deities enforce a policy of strict secrecy, but short of giant metal monsters strutting down the street, it’s pretty hard to let the cat out of the bag. Most people are perfectly happy not knowing what’s out there.

“Unless you’ve pissed off any gods lately, I think it’s safe to say word is out that we are on the case,” Sarah said. “What do we do when that thing finds us again?”

Good question. I just wished I had a good answer.

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