Authors: Katherine Sparrow
Most days, Diego could be found walking around the path that circles Greenlake, sometimes giving free Spanish lessons to whoever walked with him, other times chatting with any of the unders who showed up to visit. I’d found him when I first moved to Seattle: immortals had a way of being drawn together. Diego was good people, and good to talk to about whatever dark times you had going on. He could take it: he had it way worse. I walked with him at least weekly and helped him, as much as anyone could.
I parked my red Mini in the north parking lot. I’d made the boys sit in back.
“How enjoyable to be able to feel my legs again,” Kestrel grumbled like an old man as he got out.
Adam shook all over doggishly and grinned at Lila. She grinned back. Ah, to be young and easily enamored.
We walked down to the lake path, with Kestrel walking in sync beside me, matching my strides. I could feel his heat beside me: the strength of his life-force. Who was he? What was he? He was an under, I was sure of it, but that was a big tent full of a lot of different freaks.
“So you’ll be a wolf, right, on the full moon in two days? Like, totally a wolf?” Lila asked.
“Yeah. You wouldn’t even know I was human at all,” Adam said.
“That’s too bad, because there’s this Wiccan women’s healing circle at the Seattle Center being put on by this cool witch named Jennifer. You should go. With me, I mean, because maybe it could heal you? Cure you?”
“I’m not so down with being cured.”
“Oh, really? Sorry. Okay. Well anyways, it’s a bad idea because it’s only for women, and you’ll be an animal then, a male one, but otherwise we could get pho ahead of time, I mean, you’ll be a wolf though, so we can’t, but
I groaned inwardly and added instructing Lila how to ask someone out properly on my list of things to teach her.
We walked along the concrete path for a while, and Kestrel was just as content as I to keep silent. A rare trait in the young. We found Diego near a stand of birch trees. He trudged along slowly, gray-haired, bent over, and reeking of marijuana.
“Diego,” I called out.
He turned, walking backwards, ever walking. “Morgan. What a lovely surprise. And—”
“I’m Kestrel. Hello. We haven’t met, but I’ve heard tales of the man who walks and walks,” the man beside me said too quickly.
A look flickered between them and Diego nodded. “Kestrel. A small falcon. A fierce hunter. Hello.”
“And I’m Adam. Hey. And this is Lila.”
“Charmed to meet you, Diego,” Lila said. “Morgan never lets me meet anyone. Sorry about the eternal walking thing, that sucks so hard.” She tried to shake his hand.
He kissed it instead. “Hola, dolce una.” He turned toward me. “What bad news brings your lovely presence to me on a Monday?”
Kestrel and I walked beside the Spaniard, and Adam and Lila fell in step behind us. The lake had a concrete footpath that wound around it. Teens on roller skates, mothers with double strollers, and swift runners flowed around us as we matched Diego’s slow pace.
“It’s been a strange morning,” I said, slipping my arm through Diego’s and linking elbows. I thought about mentioning the Magician card I’d drawn, but didn’t. “Two men,” I gestured at Adam and Kestrel, “ran into my store, followed by two ensorcelled trolls, searching for the lost Amulet of Avalon.”
“Avalon.” Diego squeezed my hand. We’d talked about our homes before, and how once they were gone, they were truly gone, especially for us immortals who lived in such different times than the ones we were born into. “And this amulet?”
I pulled the necklace out from beneath my shirt, slipped it over my head, and handed it to him. He studied it with watery eyes as we trudged along.
“It is some kind of container, no? To hold power? I feel a deep echo.” Diego couldn’t use magic, but he was sensitive to it because of the curse wrapped so tightly around his soul.
He handed the necklace back to me and I slipped it on.
“It was made as a way for the women of my island to combine their powers and fight great evil.”
“Claro. It could be used otherwise?” Diego asked.
“Every tool is a weapon in the wrong hands,” Kestrel said darkly. “What rumblings have you heard in your wanderings, Spaniard?”
“Under folk walk with me and make an old man’s life bearable, expecting that I will hold their stories close,” he said carefully.
I nodded. “You are a good friend. And we would not be here, asking, if the trolls had not been attacked and—”
“Again she shows such sweet concern for the trolls and no thought for the poor men they hunted,” Kestrel complained, but watched me with a small smile on his face.
“The unders of our city need protection,” I said.
Diego nodded and took a dozen slow steps forward. “Two days ago I walked with Yumiko. She told me a story.”
Yumiko was a cross-fit enthusiast who moonlighted as a vengeful Yuki-onna.
“She’d been wandering around Pioneer Square, haunting frat boys as she does, when she heard a couple of unders saying they were leaving town because a powerful witch had arrived. They claimed the witch was on a revenge quest.”
“Quest,” I said. “An interesting word.” An old word. Back in my day, every hedge knight and bastard king was inventing some grand quest to go on, even if it was just a quest for potable water. These days people went on adventures.
“Revenge,” Kestrel said. “Another interesting word.” His brows furrowed and he looked a bit pale as he studied the glassy surface of the lake.
“Anything else?” I asked Diego.
He shrugged. “Nothing more than an old man’s hunch. I feel it in the ripples of the people passing by. The shape of the wind. Whoever has come here, they are old. An ancient.”
Flecks of rain began to fall from the sky. I pulled my black woolen cloak around me. The Spaniard zipped up the thin Gore-Tex coat I’d bought him last month.
Kestrel raised the collar of his oil-cloth coat and said, “So this witch could be a cursed one. She could be of a long-lived species. And then there’s the
.” He gave me a long look.
“Magically immortal,” I said. I thought about the Magician card with an infinity sign over his head. But this new threat was a woman. It had to be a woman if she was searching for the amulet. “I’m the only one in the States, as far as I know.”
“As far as you know,” Kestrel said. “Thank you for your help, Sir Diego.” Kestrel rested a hand lightly on the old man’s shoulder. “How can we repay you?”
“Letting an old man feel useful is payment enough. Though I wouldn’t say no to fish and chips.” He gestured to the Spuds restaurant across the street. The cursed Spaniard didn’t have to eat, but like anyone, he enjoyed it.
“Then I’m off to procure fish and chips for everyone,” Kestrel said. “I’ll meet up with you soon.”
He walked off the path and up toward the road, jaywalking across it with hardly a glance left or right. The hunch of his shoulders. The length of his long legs. I found it hard to look away.
A dog-walker with seven leashed dogs passed us. The animals raised their heads, sniffed the air, and howled.
Adam howled back, softly.
“Call of the wild,” Lila said. “Do you, like, speak dog?”
Adam laughed. “Sort of. My vocabulary’s really basic.” He howled again, and Lila howled back. “That means hello.”
“Kestrel,” I murmured to Diego. “You know him?”
The Spaniard sighed. “Believe me, bruja dolce, no good will come of talking about Kestrel. Let sleeping dogs lie.”
I scowled at the lake, the skaters who passed us by, and the world in general. Diego was my friend. He would say something if he thought Kestrel was dangerous, wouldn’t he? As soon as I thought it, I imagined a dozen reasons why he would not.
“Speaking of dogs,” Lila said. “If I was a werewolf, I would totally have black fur and red eyes.”
“We could wolf out and run around together. But it’s not communicable,” Adam said.
He was wrong. It wasn’t easily communicable, but I didn’t correct him, because we were already running out of time.
Invisible people walk through the city every day. I don’t mean the unders who have to hide, or anyone mirrored and translucent with magic. There’s a much more common invisibility of people no one sees, because they fit in so completely and neatly into the roles society hands them. Every homeless person with a sign explaining they are down on their luck, or the man sitting on the bus holding an iPod in one hand and a Starbucks in the other, or, of particular interest at the moment, slender moms in Lycra talking on their cell phones while pushing strollers around Greenlake.
I would not have noticed them if the faintest whiff of the same magic I’d sensed on the troll sisters hadn’t hit me. It floated through the air, everywhere and nowhere, from all directions.
I studied our surroundings.
There were moms in front and behind us. And there, up on the hill near a circle of maples, three moms whispered into their cell phones and threw small, pinched glances our way. None of them were witches in their own right, for they all carried another woman’s magical scent on them. That didn’t mean they weren’t worthy adversaries. By the faint and wicked emanations coming from their strollers, I guessed they weren’t pushing their little darlings around the lake today.
“Lila, wear my cloak?” I said lightly as I slid it off my shoulders.
“Thanks, I’m not cold. This fleece coat I got at Goodwill is the bomb. Anyway, maybe I would be a white wolf. Albino. With spooky pink eyes.”
“Lila. My cloak. Now.”
“Yes, master,” she said sarcastically and put it on. “She’s worse than my mom sometimes. I swear.”
“Adam, put my hat on,” I said.
He gave me an odd look as I passed my black knit hat to him. He put it on without any back talk. Good boy. I would have given him a biscuit if I had one.
The Spaniard neither slowed nor quickened his pace as he said. “Enemies on all sides of us.”
“I can punch one of them as I walk past, and then loop back around and punch another, but I am an old man.”
“You will keep walking, Diego. This isn’t your fight.” He couldn’t be killed, but he could be injured and still be compelled to walk, no matter how painful his steps might be. “You’ve helped more than enough.”
“I see thirteen of them,” he whispered.
“As do I.” It was terrible odds. He knew it. I knew it. The secret to being long-lived, in part, was luck. I had survived many battles in my life through sheer luck. Perhaps today would be a day of glory and triumph. Perhaps not.
“We’ll meet again. Soon. Go,” I said.
“I will try to get Kestrel to help you. Vaya con dios,” he said and turned and walked back the way we had come.
I turned to face Lila and Adam. I made myself laugh loudly, before whispering, “Trouble. Don’t look around. Laugh with me.”
Adam let out a throaty growl. Lila laughed unconvincingly.
I straightened the cloak around her shoulders and let power flow from my hands into the protection spell woven into its fabric, activating it. I did the same with Adam’s cap. Neither protection would last long. “Run toward the water. Swim out as fast as you can.” It was the only direction they could flee.
” Lila whispered.
“Go.” I turned and sprinted away from them.
I whispered, “Golau,” and kissed my onyx ring. My skin and hair lit up like a magical spotlight shining from within.
It’s me you want
ignore the others,
Let the innocents go.
I veered suddenly right, off the path and up a green-grass hill, heading toward two moms watching me with flinty eyes.
One of the mothers reached into her stroller and pulled out a tennis ball-sized orb, black and dripping with oily magic. She launched it at me. The other did the same a moment later.
The two bombs flew swiftly at me, tumbling through the air with dark malice. I dived and rolled out of the way without using any of my limited spells. A boom and hiss wrenched the air apart behind me.
I popped back up to my feet and faced the two nearest women. I raised my hands, gathering power in my palms to throw at them. I had no defensive spells on me, but I could let loose wild and nasty magic that would destroy them. All of them.
What if they are compelled to do some witch’s bidding, as the trolls were? What if it is not wrought of their own free will?
a small and inconvenient voice whispered within me. With it came the weight of my own history, of so many times I had listened to no voice at all but the sweet call of rage.
I growled and spared a quick glance at the smoldering hole in the ground behind me. I sprinted forward in a zig-zag pattern. Two more bombs flew through the air. The witch’s magic had been faint before, but now the very air reeked of it. I knew it. I knew her. I’d faced this witch’s magic before, if only I could remember when