Eye of the Tempest
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“Exactly,” Anyan said. “There’s power hidden in Rockabill—great power. It would be slightly masked by Nell’s presence. And if it is the power from the nursery rhyme, it’s a power so ancient, so foreign, we haven’t truly recognized it. But still it calls to us, power to power.”
We all sat in silence for a few seconds, contemplating Anyan’s words. It’s not every day that you discover your “choices” might have actually been made for you. Or, at least, helped along by forces outside of your control.
“So what’s the power?” I asked, eventually.
Anyan shrugged. “We don’t know, exactly. But that nursery rhyme has been around forever. It’s something old. Something strong. And something that shouldn’t be found.”
“You couldn’t have gotten all that from a nursery rhyme,” I said. “Especially one so vague.”
“No,” Anyan said. “Blondie’s been chasing up this myth for centuries. And that’s why she was following us. She wanted to use us as her invitation into Rockabill. She’d narrowed down her search to places like Rockabill—coastal cities with disproportionately large concentrations of supernaturals, and had been going down the list.”
I frowned, my brain pinging at the word “list.”
“Why didn’t she just introduce herself?” I wondered out loud.
“I asked her that. She said that she needed to know she could trust us before she told us what she wanted. If she’d just knocked on Nell’s door, Nell would have booted her into Canada, as a powerful stranger. So Blondie wanted to suss us out, make sure we were on the level, tell us what she wanted, and then use our help figuring out if Rockabill really does house the power the nursery rhyme talks about. If she’d just told us, and we were both evil and really sitting on the right site, she’d have had a hard time getting through Nell to stop us finding it.”
I thought of the times Blondie had stopped in to save us while we were traveling. Yeah, she seemed on the level, and I could see that Anyan and my other friends clearly trusted her. But why?
Before I could air my suspicions, Iris interrupted my thoughts: “But then you were attacked,” she said, solemnly.
“Yes. And Blondie thinks they’re connected,” Caleb rumbled.
I looked up sharply. “What?”
“Think about it,” Anyan said. “Blondie’s not the only person who was looking for that myth, and war is coming.”
“What does the war have to do with it?” I asked, confused.
“What does every war need?” Anyan asked, clearly rhetorically. I’d noticed that the barghest, while normally short-winded, did enjoy the occasional rousing speech. Unfortunately, he wasn’t talking to a cabal of military strategists, and we liked to mess with him. So before he could finish his own question, we’d jumped in to “help.”
“A punchy code name?” I hazarded.
“Fabulous uniforms!” Iris blurted out.
“Bulletproof jockstraps,” stated Caleb, getting into the spirit of things. Iris had obviously brought out the playful side of the normally serious satyr. No wonder he liked her so.
In the meantime, at his words, the entire group of us sitting in the circle—including the kelpie, with her eye-level pony view—all turned as one to look at the satyr’s package. Undaunted, he reaffirmed his opinion.
“Definitely bulletproof jockstraps.”
“Yeah, um, no,” Anyan said. “What every war needs is an advantage.”
“And an army,” I added, helpfully.
“And food. Don’t armies march on their stomachs?” said Amy Nahual.
“Which means people to cook the food—” I agreed.
“Shut up!” Barked Anyan.
We shut up.
“In this instance, for the sake of this conversation, and before I beat the shit out of all of you, every war needs an advantage. Got it? Are we clear?”
We all nodded obediently, fearful that otherwise the barghest would snap and blast us into oblivion.
“Excellent. Good gods. Okay.” Anyan took a long breath, clearly counting to ten under his breath. “So, wars need an advantage: something big, something powerful, something that will give one side an ultimate upper hand over the other side.”
“Whoever’s King of the Mountain,” Caleb added, helpfully.
“Exactly,” Anyan said. “So Blondie’s people have been watching the other side, spying to see if they were mobilizing to get something that would give them such an advantage: a location, or a weapon, or a warrior. And that’s how we got moved up Blondie’s list—she discovered the enemy’s interest in Rockabill.”
“Did Peter Jakes have anything to do with this?” I hazarded, seeing a hazy connection between this “list of locations” and the halfling monitor who’d been cataloguing his own kind for Jarl and Morrigan, not knowing their true intention was to wipe out all non-full-blooded supernaturals.
“Yes,” Nell said. “I, for one, am certain of that. I remember when he checked in, we had this really long conversation about how many supes were living in this area, and from far and wide. We talked about how very few were native, but most were passers-through who’d settled. He thought it was fascinating. I’m sure he passed on such information, even if he didn’t know its implications.”
I shivered at that chilling thought. “And when did the, er, possessions start?”
“Right after you were attacked,” Nell said. “If we’d had any doubts about Blondie’s story—”
“Wait,” I interrupted. “I’m sorry, but can we stop there? I know I’ve been out of the loop for a month, but the last thing I knew, Blondie was some mysterious stranger we thought could be a renegade Alfar. Now we’re all buddies? Are you sure we can trust her?”
Anyan smiled. “Yes, Jane. I’ve done my homework on her, believe me. We needed her, obviously, when things were touch and go with you. So while she was playing nurse, I was doing some pretty thorough background checks. She’s known by a number of aliases throughout the Territories as a friend to halflings, and a rebel leader. Her reputation is solid: She wants change, but she’s no terrorist or wacko. Everyone does thinks she’s a renegade Alfar. Very few people know her true identity as an Original. But they do know her, and good people whom I trust have vouched for her.”
I frowned. I remembered Ryu telling me all those months ago, when we first met, that sometimes even supes who wanted to believe something enough could be glamoured. If a savior appears to fall from the sky, are you really going to be working overtime to discredit her?
Apparently Jane True would, my brain said.
“Like I was saying,” Nell continued, as if to drive Anyan’s point home, “if we had any doubts about Blondie’s story before that, they were dispelled when the warnings started. There is definitely something lurking in Rockabill.”
“Is that what Stuart was doing? Was he warning us?” I asked, distracted from my thoughts about Blondie. There was so much going on, so much I’d missed out on, that I had to get caught up as quickly as possible.
“We think so,” Anyan replied. He had felt me shiver, and his hand rubbed along my shoulders comfortingly.
“But who’s doing the warning?” I asked.
“We don’t know. Whatever’s hidden probably has a guard. Maybe an actual guard, maybe a magical alarm,” the barghest answered. “These are some of the things Blondie’s trying to find out.”
“So what’s been happening? I saw Stuart, but what else has there been?”
“Lots of odd things,” Anyan replied. “Lots of people acting like Stuart, and chanting that same phrase.”
“Or writing the phrase,” Caleb added.
Anyan nodded his agreement. “As graffiti on buildings, or just over and over again on napkins or placemats or newspapers.”
“Tracy wrote it over and over in her crossword puzzle one day. It was freaky,” Amy said, and I got very pissed at the idea of someone using my pregnant friend as a passenger pigeon for a supernatural message.
“The Sow’s also been acting up,” said Caleb.
“The Sow?” I asked sharply, thinking of what had happened to me earlier.
“Jana Henning lost her boat last week,” Marcus explained. “A really strong piglet popped up right under her, way farther away than any piglets should have been. The crew would have been drowned if it hadn’t subsided just as quickly.”
“But the piglets have been acting up all over,” Sarah continued. “It’s like the Sow’s expanding or something. Keeping everything away from her.”
“Well, that kind of goes against the experience that I had earlier,” I said, as all eyes turned to me.
“I was swimming with Trill. We were playing in the Sow, like we normally do. I got batted down by a piglet that sprang up, but that’s not too out of the norm,” I insisted, as Caleb raised an eyebrow. “But what was out of the norm was that I started to crawl toward the Sow. I don’t know why. At the time, it felt good. It felt like… I dunno, like I was being massaged by the water. But when Trill hauled me back, I was covered in cuts and bruises.”