When I was younger, I used to have a dream. The world was in flames, slowly disintegrating under the assault of an authoritarian government of our own creation. I, alone, would raise the banner of my fallen comrades and face the hoard of brain-washed, anti-magic, goverment dogs. My weapon─sword, wand, rocket launcher, however I was feeling that night─would manifest in my hands. With a howl, I’d charge the kevlar-coated line of oppression, taking them all down with a feral grin on my face. I wouldn’t kill them; I, unlike them, was merciful. I’d make my way to the last one standing and snarl an order to drop the weapon. She’d yank off her helmet, dash it to the ground, and snarl back at me, saying─
“Duck, you blasted fool!”
I ducked, then cursed at myself for following Sami’s order. A second later, I could have kissed her, for her shouted warning had saved my neck. Literally. A hole appeared in the wall behind me; had I not moved, there would have been Kiera bits all over the floor instead of plaster and wood.
“They shot at me!” I squealed from my painful, crouched position on the floor. “Who does that?” My knees were digging into my boobs, which were, in turn, pressing against my lungs, and I could not breathe. Hey. I was breathing! It was severely restricted, but I could breathe. I giggled, fast becoming delirious and disoriented in the dark.
Kenzie’s voice floated to me in the darkness. “Did you hit your head, Master Boss Lady?”
“My apologies, Master, if the shock of my direction rattled your brain,” Sami whimpered from somewhere to the left of me. “I can illuminate the room, if you wish.”
“NO!” I screeched. “No spells. Not from you.”
She sniffed. “I think I can handle a simple Bright Light Spell.”
“Methinks you’ll set the building on fire by doing that,” I grumbled. “Kenize, I’m fine,” I spoke to the direction of the kid’s voice. “And you,” I said toward Sami, “you keep your havoc magic to yourself.”
I eased myself to my knees, tapping the floor in front of me to trace out a path to crawl. I thought myself clever until I knocked heads with someone with the same idea as me. The collusion made my forehead sting and my teeth clack together painfully. Judging by the hiss and groan that escaped the other person’s lips, they were feeling a small jolt of discomfort along their jaw and across their brow. Also, I recognized that groan as one I knew almost as well as my own.
“Watch it, Sami!”
“My apologies!” Her voice was strangely muffled. I cocked my head in the darkness.
“Uh, Sami,” I called out. “Are you okay?”
A sniffle floated toward me, then a very congested-sounding Sami said, “I’b bine. By dose hurts.”
A cackle sliced through the gloom. “Y’all shole know how ta liven up a place,” Jelia chuckled. “Reminds me of this party I went to, back in, oh, musta been ‘bout ‘72 or so. I wore this tight little─”
“Grandma!” Kenzie squeaked. “I mean, Jelly…er…Ghost Lady─”
“You can call me me Granny, chile, didn’t I say that already? Coulda sworn I did. But I get it. Not a time for stories now. Kiera, whatchu gon’ do? Them people out there? They out there for you, is my guess.”
A sudden pain bloomed in my temples and behind my eyes. I longed to be at home, lounging, watching trashy television, and nursing a drink. “I’m working on it,” I grumbled.
“Work faster, then, you sniveling slug!” Atlantia’s voice boomed through the cavernous kitchen. She stormed in, lights illuminating with each step she took.
I hissed at her from the floor, “Don’t turn on the lights, you crazy person! They’ll see us!”
“That is preciously my intention,” she chided me. “They need to be reminded with whom they are dealing.”
“Seeing as how they’re standing outside of your house, I don’t see how they have any doubts,” I told her. I squinted up at my mother as she entered the kitchen, my eyes struggling to adjust to the drastic change in lighting for the second time in as many minutes.
A blast of static and white noise assaulted my ears, drowning out any condescending response Atlantia could have uttered. A loud clack echoed through, then the same voice from outside spoke up again over. “I repeat: we have you surrounded. Your cooperation is vital to your safety.” I assumed they were using an old-fashioned, mechanical loudspeaker rather than a Volume Projection Spell, known to practitioners as a “Hear Me Roar,” given the amount of noise that preceded their audacious announcements. “Please give us a sign of your surrender and wait for us to enter the building.”
My mother raised an eyebrow. “They are going to do what now?”
“Wonderful,” I said to her. “You’ve been spending way too much time around me. It’s beginning to affect your vocabulary.” The glare she sent in my direction could have frozen flowing lava. I ignored it. “What key?” I mused aloud. “I wonder what they’re talking about.”
“I have an idea,” Book shouted in my ear. “I think they mean me.”
“You?” I gracefully lifted an eyebrow, then realized that I could not be dignified on all fours on the floor. I shifted and sat, plopping my butt on the cold tile. “Why would they need you?”
“Um, Master Boss Lady?” Kenzie interrupted. “You’re doing that one-sided conversation thing again, and it’s creepin’ me out.”
Another blast of static made further conservation among us impossible. A different voice spoke, and threats were not this guy’s forte. Instead, he dropped a bomb on us so big and nasty that I’m sure Blue felt it in her sleep.
“Atlantia Blue, please surrender the key and your daughter, Kiera Blue. I, Mikilas Blackmoor, Jr., will take them into custody under Article 57 of the Hunter-Spellcrafter Treaty.” A question formed on my lips, and my mother’s face turned a shade of gray I didn’t think humanly possible.
“Atlantia Blue,” the guy continued over the loudspeaker, “do not complicate matters. I would like to speak with you─privately─the woman who stole my father’s heart.”