Every week that passed without hearing of Desmond simultaneously terrified me, for his sake, and put me at ease, for the sake of the twins and the people I loved. I hoped beyond hope Desmond was safe, but I also feared what fell purposes Nicodemus had planned for him. In Desmond, Nicodemus had gained the asset of all assets. Des was a trained Marine sniper, and cream of the crop among a bunch of men who were the cream of the crop themselves. Hell, I’d say Desmond was one of the top marksmen on the planet. Normal people don’t kill Red Court vampires with one or two bullets, that kind of accuracy is reserved for the insanely lucky and the insanely skilled.
Beyond Desmond’s soldier skills he also had a vast array of supernatural lore floating around his noggin, thanks in no small part to me. When your professional soldier knows the ins and outs of magic, how to counter it, and in some cases how to use it himself, it makes him that much more useful when fighting against magically inclined targets.
And let’s not forget that before picking up his coin, Desmond was already a powerful and accomplished shape shifter. Slap a milleniums old fallen angel onto that package and Nicodemus had the perfect killing machine under his thumb. I’d killed Ursiel and his little brother with the Chains of St. Peter years ago, and Magog always had been, and always would be, Tessa’s creature. Thus, Nick needed a new thug, and he found it in Desmond in a much stronger and smarter package.
Laid all out like that it made me realize I hadn’t given Desmond enough credit for keeping my skinny ass alive over the years. Now that he was playing for the opposing team we all had reason to be scared.
Though, not too many people knew Desmond was playing for the Nickleheads, or was even still alive for that matter. The three Knights of the Cross knew of course, but that was pretty much it. I was keeping everyone on a need to know basis, and most people didn’t need to know.
I had no reason to believe that any harm would be brought on John or Kevin. Sure, harm coming to them would be terrible beyond measure, but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. In the grand scheme of things, one Buffalo Mayor and a Captain of S.I. were fairly small peanuts for a man like Nicodemus. I warned the two of them that the Denarians might be planning something big in town, but that was the extent of it. I had no reason to believe they’d get involved and letting them know about Desmond could only hurt them. Better they found out when Desmond was back with me.
Yes, I one hundred percent believed I was getting my man back. Call me a fool. Say I was following false hope. But when Desmond refused to harm me during our fight at Forest Lawn, and forced Akariel to take control of his body I knew that the real Desmond was still with us, and that meant I could get him back. No matter what terrible things he’d done as a Denarian, no matter what evils, I would take him back with open arms and forgive him. I just had to get him back first.
I left Trina and Rafe in the dark about Des too, but I likewise warned them that Nicodemus might be plotting in the city, and for them to keep their eyes open. I’d been able to talk to Trina more and more of late as she was slowly but surely converting all of her mother’s thugs into her own. Vampire spy rings are not my cup of tea, but Trina handled them just fine. At the rate she was going things would come to a head between her and her mother sooner or later. I for one hoped later, when I’d actually be able to focus enough to help my friend. At the very least she had Rafe to watch her back.
I’m not ashamed to say I left the Baron of Buffalo an anonymous tip about the Nickleheads too. The Pole was a powder keg waiting to blow at the best of times, but he hated the Denarians, especially Nick, and putting more and more roadblocks in the way of Nicodemus, if he was planning anything in town, was always a good thing.
With the main guardians of Buffalo on the lookout for trouble, but in the dark about Desmond ‘growing a goatee and joining team evil’, I only had two people that I truly had to worry about. The twins.
Desmond knew about the twins, and he knew that they were untrained practitioners. This was bad because if Nick found out, there was no telling what evil he might plan for or against them. What Desmond didn’t know was that I had taken the twins as my apprentices, and had been training them for the better part of the last half year. All things considered I had to expect trouble even if it wasn’t coming, and educate the twins as best I could for it.
So I spent several lectures talking at length about God, the Archangels, the Fallen, the Knights, and any other related topic I could think of or they asked about. I didn’t go too far into specifics, but they had a working knowledge of the capabilities of the Denarians (almost anything) as well as the Knights who fought them. Kyle, as always, wrote page after page of notes, but even Hannah kept a piqued interest. Lucky for me the twins took the knowledge as superficial facts, and didn’t connect them to anyone they may have actually known. Sure, they knew of the Knights, but had no idea Jason was one of them. They knew of vampires and their many courts, but had no idea one of my best friends was one of them. They knew of the fae, but had no idea an incredibly powerful one watched over the nexus to our north. Some day though, they’d find out the monsters they were learning about lived much closer than they may have liked.
As far as wizarding business went things were going swimmingly. Hannah’s evocations were better than ever. Her mastery of fire was progressing every day, and while her control was still an issue I knew that would come with time and practice, practice, practice. She’d even added a manipulation to basic spirit evocation to her repertoire. Mostly she was good at big blasts of force or throwing up weak rudimentary shields, but it was a start. I also had a feeling she’d make a pretty good earth mage some day. Not so much in the bending of earthly forces like I do, but full blown moving and creating of earth and stone. I can do those sorts of things myself, but they are terribly exhausting and hard to do, so I focus manly on manipulating things like gravity, electricity, and magnetism. Hannah had enough innate punch that she’d likely be able to throw up stone walls as easily as I threw up gusts of wind.
Hannah didn’t really seem to have a flourish for air magic like I did, but I was sure she’d be able to pull off basic evocations with it some day. Her thaumaturgy was much lacking in comparison, but she was pretty good with putting up wards (after tons of practice and study with her brother) and I figured she’d do okay in the crafting department some day, mainly when it came to focusing items.
Kyle, as usual, was the exact opposite. His thaumaturgic spells were sights to see. Divination, warding, summoning (Supervised!), veils, transformation, disruption, even conjuration of objects made out of ectoplasm (ripped right from the pages of his sketch pad), you name it and the kid could do it. And well too. He was pulling off spells I hadn’t tried until I was well past a full wizard, and often times the only links or ritual objects he used were a few of his sketches and some power. He had damn impressive magical talents and I made him work his ass off even harder because of it.
Channeling elements was harder for him, and at the moment he only had a real handle on water evocations. He didn’t make entropic shields, or blasts of high pressure water like Warden Ramirez (my counter part on the west coat) did. Kyle was more gifted with the creation of mists, vapors, eroding things, and other subtle uses of the art. It also made him a master at potions creation. He’d literally funnel his magic in high doses as he created potions, making them much stronger than they would normally be. As other evocations went he was lagging behind, but I had a sense he’d end up being good at manipulating the lighter and subtler aspects of air and spirit. Maybe he’d get fire and earth conjuration some day, but right now the two elements were just a tad too brunt and energy focused for him.
I put them through all kinds of tests as they progressed in their training, but I was proudest when the two of them figured out the bead test. I’d given each of them a string with six beads that was tied off at both ends. The idea was that when they figured out how to get the six beads to rest at the top of the hanging string, only with their own abilities, they had passed the test. Naturally I’d crafted and runed the beads so that any use of magic washed right over them, making it nearly impossible to lift them with magic. One could eventually muscle their way to getting the beads to stand at the top of the string, but that wasn’t the point of the test. Ironically enough it was Hannah that figured it out first.
- - -
“Connie, this is ridiculous!” Hannah was talking in a raised voice to me, string in hand, as her brother was off in the sanctum below us, studying. “I mean, I’ve put every inch of power I can into this thing and I can only lift three of the beads! Three! Is this some Kobayashi Maru bullshit!?”
“First off, calm down sweetie,” I said putting my hand on hers and lowering it to the table top, keeping my hand holding hers. “Gandalf may have been quick to anger, but you don’t have to be. And no, this is not a test you are supposed to fail. Believe me, there are enough failures on the road to wizard-hood that you don’t need an extra test to hammer that point in.”
She took several deep breaths, calmed down, and gave my hand a squeeze before pulling hers away to look at the string again.
“It’s just so hard,” she let out a sigh, “I mean, if I could use my hand,” she said, lifting all six beads up with her free hand to have them touch the top of the string, “then it would be no problem. This test is harder with magic than without it.”
“Congrats kiddo, test passed,” I said with a small smile.
“And you’d best do well to remember it. Magic is a fantastic tool, a great power, and has near limitless potential, but it is not the answer to all life’s problems,” I started explaining. “Hell, I’d say magic isn’t really the answer to any problems, at least not the real ones. Sometimes, magic is the absolute worst thing to turn to in a large variety of situations. Don’t get so focused on thinking that because you can use magic that you always should.”
She gave a few deep thoughts and looked back at me.
“Did Kyle already figure it out?” she asks.
“Not yet, and don’t you tell him either. It would be doing him a disservice.”
“I just,” she started to say with a smile forming, “I can’t believe I beat him there first. He’s too smart Connie, it’s about time I got one over on him.”
I chuckled softly.
“Yeah, well, just remember that your brother thinks you out class him in just about every aspect of life.”
“No way. He’s so good at so much stuff I’m terrible at, and he’s a better wizard than I’ll ever be.”
“Stay humble, Hannah,” I said to my sister, “it makes you look even prettier.”
It took Kyle another three weeks or so before he came to the answer too, and it came to him at around three in the morning.
- - -
I was rather nervous when Chip started barking like crazy and a car pulled into my driveway at close to four in the morning. Hell, it could have been any number of people or things coming to kill me. My first thought was the Red Court. The war had burned down to bare embers, but the White Council and Red Court were still at war, and everyone was expecting a new assault from the vampires any time now. As it turned out, it was my little brother, wearing pajamas, who came knocking on the door.
As I realized it was him I opened up expecting trouble only to find Kyle in a state of near disbelief and maybe even slight anger. Maybe it was my ‘Big Bad Wolf’ pajama set.
“I figured it out,” he said walking past me to sit down at the kitchen table. “I was thinking on it for weeks and weeks, and then tonight, as I lay there obsessing over it, it finally clicked.”
“Kyle, you’re scaring me. What clicked?” I asked coming to stand near him.
“THE BEAD TEST!” he spoke so loud he startled Chip, me, and himself. After a few seconds of silence he started again, but much quieter. “The bead test. I poured over magical texts for weeks. Looked up every rune and spell you wove onto that thing. I applied every spell, formula, and magical aptitude I could on it, and still nothing more than four beads at the top. All the while all I could think was how much easier it would be if you just let us move the beads with our hands, and that’s when it clicked. You never said to use our magic, you said to use our abilities, all of them. Right? I’m right, right?”
He pulled the string out and moved all six beads to the top with his hand.
“I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Yes, Kyle, you are right, now relax,” I said sitting down across from him.
“Man, I’m an idiot. It was so simple, but it wasn’t really a trick test was it?”
“No, Kyle, it wasn’t.”
“It was to teach us that magic isn’t everything right?”
“Right,” I smiled at him. “So, you wanna sleep on the couch? It pulls out.”
“That’s what she said,” my little brother said to me with a shit eating grin.
“You are very lucky I love you, Kyle Carver, now shut up and go to sleep.”
And he did. Ever after, both twins kept the little string of beads on their respective sets of keys. I hoped as a reminder of a lesson well learned.
- - -
I also outsourced just a little in the twin’s training. I signed them up for lessons at the White Crane Kung-Fu studio, lead by Red ‘Si-Fu’ Sarber and my dear friend, Jason Ivory (when he got some time off from saving the world). Now, I didn’t necessarily need the two to learn any self defense moves, though that was handy too. I really wanted each of them to gain a certain something they were lacking.
For Hannah, that was self-discipline and control. The girl had all the power in the world, but little control over it. I figured if anyone could teach peace and calm to her it would be Jason, who’s Sight always remained open, and who had gone from homeless junkie to Knight of the Cross.
For Kyle, it meant teaching him some confidence. The kid is a master at magic, an amazing artist, and a pretty cute guy (hell, even behind the cloudy veil of sisterhood I could see that), but yet he always walked around moping or talking about how great someone else’s work was. I figured the tough but true martial arts master, Red, would be able to help him out.
It’s not like I expected great changes in their personalities, or even wanted them in a large scale, but sometimes it’s good to work on our failings. Besides, there is a lot more to being a wizard than magic. Of course, I had a slightly selfish reason for shifting part of their training over to martial arts for a little bit. I needed time to find Desmond.
I just couldn’t sit and do nothing while the love of my life (current, much love Daniel!) was in the clutches of an evil asshole like Nicodemus Archleone. Hours after Desmond had left Buffalo I’d tried a tracking spell on him using his true name (he’d given it to me long ago) but I couldn’t get so much as a direction on him. I could only imagine that Nicodemus’ stronghold was well shielded against such measures, and/or that Akariel was able to push away such a direct connection while in Desmond’s body. Without using magic to find him I didn’t have a whole lot of options.
I didn’t have a whole lot of time to go aimlessly traipsing across the globe, or even looking for clues as to Des’ whereabouts. So, I’d outsourced to an interested party.
Dizzy was insane, no doubt, but he was damn good at his job of drudging up the answers to conspiracies. So, naturally, I proposed Desmond’s death as a conspiracy (“I knew it!” he kept proclaiming) and set him loose.
Dizzy came up with pictures and articles from all over the world of Desmond. Video surveillance from numerous airports, including Buffalo’s from not too long ago. Often he was with one Denarian or another. In one he was metaphorically hand in hand with Nick and Deirdre in a North African airport. In another he was with a blood stirringly beautiful woman in the middle east. Lasciel, I assumed from what Jason had told me of the Denarians. I guess I couldn’t blame Desmond if he had slept with her, she had a lot more going for her than I did. Didn’t mean I had to be happy about it, but I’d never been one to shy away from the truth.
The picture that most blew my mind was Desmond walking literally hand in arm with Tessa at an airport down in South America . Dizzy had drudged up an article about a hit on some Brazilian drug lord, where half his men were cut into pieces by machetes (read Denarian mantis claws) and he was killed in front of his children, execution style, which unfortunately sounded more like Desmond than Tessa.
There were many and more pictures beyond that, but nothing concrete on a location. With Dizzy’s help, and the twins busy, I started visiting as many places as I could through the Ways of the Nevernever. Brazil was full of grime and nothing much else. Africa was just as useless, save for a Monoc Securities facility that had been breached. Israel was a quagmire like it always was, and I got nothing except rumors of a legendary mercenary, and how he had been carried off to Hell by Lucifer’s own hound. A whole lot of nothing. I spent the better part of a month searching any lead I could for Desmond, but all I’d find were traces of his passing at best, but more often nothing. Nicodemus was no fool, and he wasn’t making it easy for me to find my lover.
Long after I should have returned to the twin’s training in full I finally gave up the ghost and came home empty handed. Even Dizzy was frustrated, but the failing was not with him. In the end, all I could do was hope Desmond would find his way to me once more. He was in a bad place right now, but I was going to save him. Desmond was NOT a monster, he just had one living inside his head. I’d redeem Desmond, or gladly die trying.
- - -
Late one night I found myself unable to sleep as I lay there thinking of Desmond. I tossed and turned so much that I finally decided to do something crazy. I got up, and I went down into my arcane sanctum. It was cold, even this far into the beginnings of Summer, but I didn’t mind. I found my summoning circle, now made of gold inlaid in the stone after a large expenditure of wedding money I thought I didn’t need anymore, and I sat down within it.
I poured my will into the circle and closed it around myself, then I focused. First at pulling in my energy, my will, my memories. Building them up into a vast collection of raw power that I then began forming into reality. I formed a picture of Desmond in my head, and I began to visualize the mental link we had forged with one another years ago. I began to chant his true name, freely given to me from his own lips long ago.
“Desmond Roger Waters. Desmond Roger Waters. Desmond Roger Waters. Hear me. Feel me. Know me.”
And then I broke the circle and opened a direct mental link with Desmond from miles away, a feat only possible because of his true name, my preparation, and our deep connection to one another. Even so, it was taxing and wouldn’t hold for long through whatever magical protections Nicodemus and Akariel had over Desmond.
Oh my God, Connie? Is that really you?
Yes, but I won’t be able to talk for long before your buddy shows up. Des, where are you, are you safe?
I’m in Jersey I think, some facility, don’t know much more than that cause Akariel keeps blocking the city’s location from me, but yeah, I’m safe enough. Oh Connie, I’m so sorry.
Stow that shit soldier. I love you Desmond. No matter what you’ve done I will always love you! You don’t need my forgiveness, you already have it, and I am coming for you! Even if it means going to New Jersey.
But I didn’t hear what Desmond was going to say, I instead felt a mental mack truck hit me in the face, but this semi had chemical green eyes and spoke acid and fire.
Oh, don’t worry Wizard. We may be seeing you sooner than you think. I for one can’t wait.
And then the link was violently severed all at once, sending the mental backlash into the circle instead of my brain, and creating a nice big crack in the basement’s foundation. The circle had saved my life, but it was not a spell to test my luck on twice.
It didn’t matter though, Desmond was alive, he knew I was coming, and best yet I had narrowed his position down to a single state. Though, if Akariel’s cryptic words were true Desmond might find me long before I tracked his location down.
So be it, if the Denarians wanted to deliver the love of my life to my front door I’d let them, even if he came with some unwelcome baggage.