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Maggie Cartwright, Chapter Fifteen: Rescue Efforts

“… unavailable right now. Please leave a message after the beep, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” 

“Come on, Darius, pick up—” Maggie grumbled, before the obnoxiously synthetic BEEP. “Darius! Do not go after the petraforms. You can’t beat them, and if you try to chase them down, you will lose. I’m coming to help, but do not go after the petraforms!” 

She hung up, wishing she had her old phone. It had all her contacts in it—including the numbers of several Ministry members who would be able to get her in direct contact with Darius, Frey, and the whole team. As it was, she had Darius’s number from their talk a few days ago, and… not much else. 

Maggie shoved her various tools into the cello case and turned her attention to Dane’s sword. She couldn’t haul the whole communication circle around, but she needed it in case she needed to ask more questions.

It’s just aluminum. 

A quick dash to the kitchen, and she had a square of aluminum foil. Crumpled around the sword’s handle, it made a simple sleeve that insulated against Dane’s painfully alien mind. It wouldn’t be a perfect seal, but Maggie didn’t want one. She wanted Dane’s thoughts to come through. 

She pulled on a beanie that would cover the tips of her ears and ran over a mental checklist. Everything she could hope for on such short notice had been packed into her cello case. 

That done, she was ready to go back into battle. 

She just had to hope she wasn’t too late. 

Dragging the heavy cello case behind her, Maggie moved at a pace between a jog and full run. She didn’t know when the next bus came around, and she couldn’t afford to lose ten minutes waiting because she missed her ride.

Her haste was unwarranted. Maggie arrived with a minute to spare before the next bus came around. In the meantime, she stretched, testing her leg’s flexibility now that the magical healing was complete. It felt like she was at almost a hundred percent. She took that as a reassurance.

Still… What can I do against a creature that big? 

Maggie checked the time repeatedly as the bus moved. It hadn’t gotten any slower, and the driver’s route hadn’t gotten more circuitous, but each second seemed to be slipping by faster than it should. 

A minute could be life or death in a fight, and if Darius wasn’t answering his phone, they were probably already in the fray. Overwhelmed, surrounded—No. They’re fine, you just need to be quick. 

The bus came to a stop just outside of Union Station, and Maggie bolted out of it like a bat out of hell. No time to justify herself to strangers, no time to care about anything. She pushed through humans that were blocking the closest door and ran across the train station’s marble floors with her cello case rolling smoothly behind her. 

Four buttons in the elevator, and she was headed down. 

Come on, come on…

Ding. 

No time for the calm, isolated back hallways. To get to the service entrance where the team had met up last time, it was a twenty-minute walk or a two-minute tram ride. Maggie turned left and bolted for the tramway station. 

This time, it was a narrow thing. She got to the stop just as the tram was pulling up, and had she been a few seconds further behind, she’d have been stuck waiting the four minutes for the next tram to come through. 

A bell chimed, and an automated voice said, “Next stop, Westpoint station.”

She had two minutes to wait, and she used every second of it. 

Under normal circumstances, the tram would run in a complete circuit around Kansas City Below, but it needed the levitation engines, spaced every mile or so, to run. Maggie had firsthand experience with the damaged engine up ahead, so for now, the stop coming up would be this tram’s last before it would have to turn around and hover back the way it came.

As it was the last stop before reversing direction, the tram was mostly empty, but the few passengers who were there gave her strange looks. Maggie ignored them as she shucked out of her jacket, opened the cello case, and began hastily putting on her armor. The ride was remarkably smooth, as stable as if she were on solid ground, and it wasn’t hard to clad herself in protective gear. 

Maybe she wouldn’t need to fight and all this was for nothing. Maybe. But she doubted it. 

Armored, she strapped Dane’s sheath to one side of her belt, and her rapier’s sheath to the other. Her claymore went in a holster on her back, and her spear stayed right in her hands. 

She felt a bit clumsy carrying all four weapons on her person at the same time, but Maggie’s experience had taught her not to go in with too few weapons. Better to have an extra sword weighing her down, than to be swordless with a petraform chewing on her face. 

The tram’s speakers chimed again. “Westpoint station.”

Maggie tugged on the handle of her case, waited for the doors to open, and bolted out. 

A large steel wall stood between her and the tunnel she’d almost died in, but the maintenance area was unlocked. Moving at a full clip, Maggie slipped around back, through a short hall and two doors, and ended up in the service entrance where this whole mess had started. 

Two elves with faces she didn’t recognize looked up at her. Members of Darius’s team, by their uniforms, though their helmets weren’t the full facemask variety that Darius had worn when they met. 

How many people does he have working for him? Maggie wondered, but she shook off the thought. “Where’s the team?” 

“Clearing out stragglers in the tunnels,” one of them said. “They should be back soon.”

I’m too late.

“In the tunnels where?” Maggie demanded, refusing to let reality sink in, or to admit that she was not going to make it in time. 

“Probably near the far end, next to the construction site. Communication is shaky, but we’ve got scanners tracking motion blips, they’d be following those.”

“Give one to me.” She reached out her hand.

The two troopers glanced at each other, and the one who’d spoken asked, “A… scanner?”

“Or a tracker pad, or whatever, I don’t know how it works,” Maggie said. “Show me what they’re seeing. I need to find the team.” 

“What’s wrong?” 

“They’re walking into an ambush,” Maggie said. “You need to get me to them.” 

For a moment, Maggie worried that they would refuse to take her instructions. She wasn’t their boss, after all, and she probably seemed to be a little hysterical. It would be entirely reasonable from their perspective to refuse her. 

“Come with me,” the lead one said, looking back at the other. “Try to get a ping to them, a warning to pull back.” 

“Thanks. What’s your name?” Maggie asked.

The trooper gave her a fae salute as he picked up a high-powered rifle from the rack by the wall, as well as a touchscreen device. “Lou.”

“Maggie,” she replied, returning the gesture. “We need to hurry.”

“Understood, ma’am,” Lou said, following the map on his touchscreen as he walked out the door.

Lou took the lead with a light jog. The speed infuriated Maggie; she wanted to sprint down the tunnel until she found the team, but he had the map, and it wouldn’t do any good if they ran into a fight exhausted. 

Even the lighter pace began to wear on Maggie after a few minutes, though. She’d already had to run for a good long while, and while she wasn’t weak, she didn’t do a lot of aerobic exercises. Fatigue slowly crept in, moment by moment. 

She ignored it and kept running, staying behind Lou as they moved deeper into the tunnel, so deep that the only lights were coming from the headlamp on his tactical gear and the subtle glow of his touch screen. It was enough to keep the area lit, at least to Maggie’s keen low-light vision, but the stark shadows were eerie. It got to her, even as she told herself it was just a trick of the light, and Maggie felt her panic continuing to rise. 

Eventually, Lou stopped running, pausing as he got to a fork in the tunnel. One way led to a loop that would eventually come all the way back around to the start of the tramway. The other was a branch that led towards new construction. 

“Which way?” Maggie called. “Towards the construction?” 

He frowned down at his screen. “The last major set of blips was that way, but I’m getting a lot of interference. It looks like there’s more movement to the right, back towards the start of the loop, but there’s too many blips.” 

It’s not too many, there are just more than you accounted for, Maggie thought. “Alright, let me check.” 

He turned and frowned, but Maggie was busy putting a hand on the hilt of Dane. 

Dane, can you hear me?

Yes Maggie 

Do you know where we are?

I can hear my siblings they are close

Maggie gritted her teeth. Out loud, she said, “This is a bad idea.” 

Show me.

Images flashed in her brain, painful and acutely unfamiliar. Images from a hundred sets of eyes, maybe more, pouring out of a hole in the floor. In these visions, she could see perfectly in pitch darkness, but spots of light were blinding and seared her retinas.

Some of the images that flashed in her mind showed a dark tunnel with waves of movement. Others were even deeper, ancient caves that hadn’t been worked by any mortal tool. And, in just a few sets of images, she saw blinding light and arcs of crimson magic, the team backed into a corner and fighting desperately, Twig roaring as she worked to tip a backhoe down one of the holes that the petraforms were coming—

Maggie gasped and pulled her hand away. Even with the insulating sheet of foil, her method of communication with the queen hurt. 

“The construction site,” she panted. “They’re at the construction site.” 

“Ma’am?” Lou asked.

Maggie shook her head and returned to her jogging pace. There was no time to explain, she just had to get to the team before it was too late.

It took another forty seconds before she could see light coming around the bend, and another thirty seconds after that before she saw motion. Four battered fae were fighting amidst the bodies of several dozen petraforms.

Not fighting. Winning. 

Darius was up atop a piece of scaffolding, deploying some kind of sonic weapon that the petraforms seemed to hate, judging by their screeches. Twig had given up her hammer in favor of a backhoe shovel, swinging around the massive piece of steel with preternatural speed, sending up chips of petraform chitin where she hit. Vera looked like a red comet, spinning through the air and sending down bolts of tangling power, and Frey was leading the way with her blade, hacking apart any petraform that dared breathe in her presence. 

Maggie’s haste to join the fight wasn’t necessary here. Only a few stragglers remained, and though she could see scratches and a few bright red splotches of distinctly non-monstrous blood, the team was alive, and handling the fight well.

Lou called out, signalling with a quick off-on blink from his headlamp. Darius, from his vantage point atop the scaffolding, was the first to wave at his trooper and grapple down to meet them. 

“Report!” he called.

“It’s Maggie, sir!” Lou replied, crisply. “She tore through the guard post in a hurry and said she needed to speak with you.”

“Maggie? Is that you?” Darius put a hand up to his eyes, peering at Maggie. From her position behind the bright point of directional light coming from Lou’s helmet, she’d be hard to make out, so she stepped forward.

“We need to get out of here, now!” Maggie called. “I don’t have time to explain.” 

Frey pulled her sword from the back of a twitching monster, looking up at Maggie. “We’ve got this under control. It already occurred to us that our estimates were wrong, but these foot soldiers are no problem, even if there’s twice as many.” 

“That’s not it!” Maggie said. “The petraforms are ancients.”

“We know,” Vera called, hovering down on a cloud of magic. “Our Auntie told us. Weak ancients, but ancients.”

“How did you know that?” Frey asked.

“I will explain, once we get out of here,” Maggie said. “There is no time. We should already be running!”

Frey stood her ground. “Maggie, I don’t doubt your intentions, but you don’t do this for a living, and you made it very clear that you’re not one of us. So, you can tell us what you found out, or you can trust me when I say that we’re able to handle ourselves, no matter what you think of our abilities.” 

Maggie glanced at the team. Darius was uncertain, while Frey and Vera didn’t seem to understand the urgency. Only Twig, looking past Maggie into the unfinished tramway tunnel behind her, seemed ready to run. 

“There are eight more queens, each with hundreds of petraform soldiers,” Maggie said. “And they know you’re here. This was bait to pull you in.” 

Frey blinked. “You’re certain?” 

Maggie nodded. “And it gets worse.”

Looking back at the scene of the fight, Frey nodded her head once. “Then we run.” 

“Sir,” Lou called, looking down at his touch screen. “Are you getting this reading?”

Darius glanced at the display on his wrist. “My signal’s not going through the stone down here.” 

“It’s interference,” Maggie said, trying to convey urgency with her tone. “Deliberate interference, so you can’t communicate or get a warning.” 

“I’ve got a little signal,” Lou said. “Or… maybe it’s a bug, but if not…” He spun the screen around and held it up for Darius to see.

Darius looked at it, and his face hardened. “I see. Frey.”

Frey nodded once, already knowing what he was going to say but asking anyways. “We can’t run?” 

“A lot of blips, coming down the tunnel the way we came in. Get ready to fight,” Darius said. “They’re coming.” 

Chapter Sixteen of this story is already up on Patreon, if you can’t wait to read it! I’m trying to get out a chapter a week, so if you’re patient you can read it here in a few days.

Maggie Cartwright, Chapter Fourteen: Peace Talks

“Alright, take a breath,” Maggie said to herself, pacing in her workshop. “This is… fine. It’s fine. It can’t hurt you if it’s inside your sword.” 

But how did it get in there?

She had to know. Even if it was painful, a burning curiosity refused to let her walk away from the problem. 

That said, there was no reason for it to be painful. 

Sitting back down in front of her magical circle, she pondered it for a moment. The simple construct could contain, diffuse, or otherwise influence energies. It was one of the simplest forms of magic that got taught to school children in Kansas City Below, and even middling magical talents understood how it worked. 

Maggie could do better than a simple circle. She wanted to talk with this thing without inducing a migraine. 

A proper sorceress might have known how to do what she wanted with just incantation and a flick of a wand, but Maggie was going to need some supplies. 

She walked out of her forge and back to her rack of tools, examining it for a moment. Tapping a finger to her lip. If she just made a radio, then the queen—Dane—could scream and shout and it’d be obnoxious. She wanted a way to cut off communication, to ensure that she always had the power to walk away. 

A few magical reagents selected, she walked back to the shop side, getting to work on building a plywood frame. 

While she worked, cutting down wood and kicking up sawdust, she thought about questions to ask.

Why did you attack the school?

How did you get in my sword? 

Are there more of you?

She used the plywood to make a tray with a wide lip around the edge, roughly the size of her copper-wire circle, then brought the tray into her forge. 

Stepping around the sword on the ground, she felt an unexpected pang of guilt. Rather than do the soul-searching necessary to figure out why she felt that way, Maggie moved on and set the box down on her worktable. Once in place, she proceeded to fill it with a sack of fine sand. 

She didn’t know Dane’s heritage. ‘Errekin’ was a broad term, and the literal translation was a bit of a misnomer. Taken from its root meaning, the word referred to a cousin of the fae that had been corrupted, turned evil and soulless. Some errekin were that—boggarts and trolls could be traced directly back to pixies and svartálfr, for example—but in practice, errekin could refer to many breeds of monster, and every monster had its own weaknesses.  

Fortunately for Maggie, those weaknesses tended to come in clumps. Distant cousins of the Fae shared a vulnerability to iron, while carriers of ancient curses could be weak to silver or even mercury; and the list went on. Not knowing what Dane would be vulnerable to, Maggie would just have to go with a broad-spectrum approach and then use trial and error to determine its origins.

She pressed the sand down smooth with a piece of plywood. Then, using a protractor and compass, she inscribed five perfect circles a quarter inch deep and wide. Once that was done, she added a few extra grooves, notches, and markings, then set the tray aside and went to fire up her forge. 

Maggie found herself humming as she worked. This was what she did best. Not monster fighting, not politics, but mechanics. Working with tools, with metal, with fire. It was more relaxing than a spa day, and a lot more productive. 

Filling up a crucible with two silver ingots, she set it in her casting forge, turning up the propane fuel supply to really crank up the heat. Once that was burning, she covered it and left it to melt. 

This process would need to be repeated five times with five metals. She had time to kill, and was buzzing with productive energy, so she filled that time with other work: fixing the straps on her armor, drilling out the old broken spear shaft and replacing it with a new one. And every so often, when the metal in her forge was molten, she’d carefully take it out with tongs and pour it into the sand mold, making a perfect metal ring. 

I should call them.

She put the thought out of her head. There was no point contacting Frey and the team, not when all she knew was that ‘something’ had happened. Besides, she’d already given them plenty. Her sword, a day’s work, and far, far more trust than they had deserved.

If she learned something important, she’d call. Otherwise, there was no reason to go out of her way for their sake. 

Finally, she had the five rings cast, and cooled enough to touch. With a bit more work and a little epoxy, she attached a couple antennae and crystals to convey energy and, finally, pulled the whole thing free of the sand mold. 

She had a five-ring circle with adjustable valves that would let psychic energy bypass any individual ring. Silver, iron, copper, lead, and just for the hell of it, aluminum. With this, she could determine Dane’s legacy, find out what she reacted to, and then adjust how strongly it’s thoughts were trapped inside the circle.

Using tongs, Maggie moved her sword from the makeshift copper circle on the floor to the new, improved one on her work table, setting it in an upright stand. All the crystalline valves were completely closed, so if she’d done everything right, Dane wouldn’t be able to speak through it at all.

She pressed her hand to the runestone on the outside and waited. 

Hello? Dane? 

Nothing. 

No surprises there. Now, to see what Dane was. Turning the valve on the silver ring, she listened. If Dane was the result of an ancient curse, cousin to vampires and werewolves, the silver would hold it back. By bypassing the silver with the crystal valve, she would start to hear its thoughts. 

Dane?

Still no response. 

She shut the silver valve and moved on to iron. She had to be careful not to touch the iron with her bare skin, only touching the crystal valve, so that she didn’t break out on contact with the metal.

No result from the iron, so Dane wasn’t a cousin to the fae. Good to know. 

Lead was next; It would block anything undead, soulless, or otherwise left behind by ending a life. Maggie really didn’t want to hear something through the lead. 

And she didn’t.

With only two metals left, Maggie expected the copper to give results. Copper was more magically pure than the other elements. Constructs, elementals, and other creatures made primarily of pure magic would be blocked out mostly by copper, and Dane had reacted to her makeshift copper circle already. 

She slowly turned the valve, listening. 

Dane? Can you hear me, Dane?

No response.

Maggie frowned, wondering if she’d done something wrong with her construction. The only element left was aluminum, and…

She swallowed. 

Reaching out, Maggie turned the valve on the aluminum ring, slowly, waiting to hear…

Maggie killed me and trapped me and now I’m not me— 

“Shit!” Maggie said, slamming the valve shut and stumbling back.

Dane was being blocked by the aluminum ring. 

That meant Dane wasn’t a creature of mortal magic or lineage at all. 

The petraforms were Ancients.

She took a breath. Ancients were usually powerful, but not universally. It was just a category of being. It didn’t mean that Dane and its kin were going to bring about the end times or anything, it just meant she needed to be careful. 

Conventional wisdom was that the Ancients were either dead, banished from this plane, or left in such a weakened state as to be a non-threat. A few were still scurrying around, causing trouble, driving humans mad—or worse, compelling them to write pulp horror novels—but those were all shadows of the true Ancients.   

“Okay,” Maggie said, running a hand through her hair. “Okay. Let’s hope you’re just another shadow.” 

She touched the runestone outside her circle again, opening the valve the barest amount so that Dane’s thoughts were little more than a whisper.

Dane, I am Maggie. I killed you, and I trapped you. 

You are powerful Maggie

Yes, I am. Now, I want you to answer some questions, so that I don’t destroy you forever.

It was an idle threat; Maggie didn’t know how to destroy the consciousness inside her sword. Melting down the sword might just set it free, or it might just leave her with a possessed lump of metal. 

I will answer

What were you trying to do, before I killed you?

Dane didn’t respond. Maggie had to press the question.

You were working power, why— 

I do not understand you know this why are you asking

Maggie stepped back. She didn’t know, so why would it think that she did?

Just tell me. I want to be clear. 

I was escaping my body was dying and I did not know you had a trap for me

A trap—you mean how I trapped your mind in this sword?

So I am in the sword this makes sense yes that was the trap

Pulling her hand away, Maggie ran it over in her head. Dane was escaping… 

“Oh!” She slapped her forehead, feeling foolish for not realizing it sooner. Dane had been trying to do a spell to transfer consciousness out of the body it was in, presumably to another vessel—maybe another body, asleep and waiting for a mind to control it, or maybe a pupa that would grow into Dane 2.0. Either way, Maggie’s swords were a void of magic, sucking it in and distorting it, so when she’d interrupted the spell and killed Dane, she had disrupted the mind transfer and pulled it into her sword. 

But that meant…

There was another mind for Dane to transfer into. 

Oh no.

Maggie put her hand back on the pad. 

Dane, I need you to tell me where you were trying to go. 

My siblings were waiting for me below to tell them of the mortal prospects

Your siblings? How many of you are there?

There were eleven of us now there are nine

And they are close?

Yes they were waiting to hear of the mortal’s strength I was brave and went ahead did not know you were so powerful

And… each of you, you have an army of the smaller ones to serve you? How many?

Army I do not understand

The… The smaller armored creatures you were fighting with. What do you call them?

They were a part of me they are not separate

But each of your siblings has those?

Of course do you want me to show you

Show me?

Images flashed in Maggie’s head, sudden and unbidden, like memories of places she’d seen in dreams. They were vivid but subtly wrong, as though she’d perceived them without really seeing them, an artefact of being shown memories captured through an alien being’s eyes. 

She saw tunnels, bursting through the ground, dug deep below. Glowing eyes, hundreds of pairs, maybe thousands, and other petraform queens curled into balls, sleeping, waiting.

And then there was something… 

Maggie gasped. 

What is that?

Our master 

But… It… I don’t…

Pulling away, Maggie tried to arrange her thoughts.

The creature she’d seen was monstrous. Huge. It was to Dane what Dane was to a fly. 

And it was waking up. 

Chapter Fourteen of this story is already up on Patreon, if you can’t wait to read it! I’m trying to get out a chapter a week, so if you’re patient you can read it here in a few days.

Maggie Cartwright, Chapter Thirteen: The Sword

Maggie slumped through her front door, locking it behind her.

It was still early enough in the day that she could have opened up the shop. All she’d have to do was flip the sign on the door. A random walk-in customer wasn’t too likely, but she was too drained to deal with anyone at the moment. She kept the shop closed.

“I’m an idiot,” she said, speaking to an empty room. Leaving her cello case by the door, she walked over to the couch, collapsing into it.

She’d been tricked. Maggie had tried to outwit a being of ancient power and impossible cunning, somehow not realizing that it was another trap. She should have known better, she did know better, but she’d walked right into the trap anyways.

“I shouldn’t have gone to see the Leannán Sídhe,” she said, pressing a hand to her face. 

But that wasn’t it. Her mistakes started sooner. 

None of this would have happened if she hadn’t been conned by Mich, by the Tribunal, by her people in general. Things had been fine, if a bit cash-poor, until she’d gone back to work for another elf. Everyone wanted something from her, and she’d been naive to the point of lunacy to think that she’d be accepted on her own terms, as a mechanic or as a warrior.

Her swords. That’s all anyone wanted, no matter what they said at the start. Even if they didn’t try to take one of her blades, they would use her swords as leverage. 

“We want you to come along, it’ll be dangerous,” Maggie paraphrased what Frey had told her. As though Frey could hear her, she said, “You wanted me to come along so you’d have something to bargain with.” 

She balled up a fist and slammed it against a couch cushion, her furious blow defused by comfy padding. Relitigating the past few days in her mind wasn’t going to accomplish anything, and Maggie knew she was just winding herself up.

Maggie got to her feet, determined to put the events of the day behind her. She could put away her swords, find a project that’d been on the back burner, and start working again. Work would give her something to focus on that wasn’t exploitation or betrayal.

Crossing the room, Maggie dragged her cello bag over to the locked forging area so she could put her weapons away.

The spearhead would need a new shaft, but there was no hurry on making one. She set it aside, taking out her swords. 

Her three swords. 

She’d left one behind.

“Wait a minute…” She leaned in, frowning. “You’re not supposed to be in here.” 

The cello case had spots for her left and right-handed swords, but it was mostly a nominal difference. The blades were shaped identically, and were practically interchangeable. That said, Maggie knew her blades like the back of her hand. Each had a fingerprint, and the blade packed into her case was, traditionally, the blade she held in her right hand.

She’d given Frey the wrong sword. 

It didn’t really matter. The story would be the same—people would say that the sword the Leannán Sídhe had was the one that had killed a petraform queen—but it wouldn’t be true. She just had a bit of well-made star steel, and Maggie had the queen killer.

Somehow, that felt better to Maggie. The Leannán Sídhe didn’t deserve a sword with a legacy.

“Hey there, girl, I’m glad you made it home,” Maggie said, reaching in and taking the shortsword. “You—”

Darkness.

Confusion. 

WHERE AM I THIS IS NOT ME WHERE AM I THIS IS NOT—Maggie screamed and stumbled back, dropping the sword. It clattered on the ground, and she winced instinctively. Steel on cement wasn’t good for the edge. 

“What the hell?” she thought, stepping forward cautiously, crouching down on one knee next to the blade. Reaching out, she touched the hilt of the sword again, gingerly picking it—WHO ARE YOU THIS IS NOT ME WHY AM I—Maggie didn’t scream this time, but she pulled her hand back as though burned. This sort of contact hurt. Not a physical pain, but… it felt as though her mind was being split into a thousand pieces. A psychic assault, but not a direct one. 

She wasn’t going to just pick up the sword again. Instead, she got up, looking for one of her heavy leather gloves that she used when forging. Putting it on, she flexed her fingers, returning to the blade.

Nothing. When she picked it up, it was just a sword in her hand. 

Reaching out with her left hand, she touched the blade with her index finger—NOT ME NOT ME NOT—“Nope,” she yelped, pulling her hand back and setting down the sword.

The thoughts she had when she was touching the blade were distinctly not her own. There was a consciousness inside her sword. 

Maggie didn’t even understand how that was possible. 

She also wasn’t about to leave a soul trapped inside her blade. If someone’s mind had gotten trapped in the sword by accident, that was horrifying, even Kafkaesque. 

“How—” she started, but there weren’t many options. 

Either the Leannán Sídhe had done something behind her back, or…

It was the queen’s magic. It had been doing some kind of spell when Maggie killed it, with the sword that was now screaming. It was the most likely culprit, but Maggie couldn’t imagine what the queen would have done that left a person’s soul trapped in a sword. 

No matter what the solution, she needed to talk to it, but she couldn’t just grab the handle. The mind-scream would turn things into a pretty one-sided conversation if she tried to hang on for long. 

Leaving her forge, she walked to the storage room, where she kept her magical supply surplus. Perks of selling raw supplies to locals; it meant she always had whatever bits and bobs she needed on hand for a bit of magic. 

She wasn’t a witch, but she could do a little, and the spell she had in mind was simple. It wasn’t even a spell, really, just an insulator. 

Some copper wire, a handful of crystals, a couple runes, and a pathfinding stone. Normally, the pathfinding stone would be used to pull magical power from the air and transfer it into the construct, but she could misuse it a bit to direct the power radiating off her sword, and hopefully, the consciousness inside.

Putting together the construct took about ten minutes. Five crystals connected by copper wire created a neat circle, which she set around the sword. Runes on the inside, and the pathfinding stone on the outside, and she was done.

“Alright,” she said, taking a breath and sitting cross-legged in front of the stone. Pressing her hand to it, she waited, thinking as loudly as she could.

Hello? Can you hear me? 

I can hear me why can I hear me I did not think that why—Maggie gasped, pulling her hand away. Even muted, the thoughts in her head felt wrong. Not just the wrongness of thinking something that she hadn’t thought, but… slimy. Evil. 

She tried again. 

Please listen to me and try not to think. It hurts when you think, and—

Get away from me go away I will hurt you go away and—

No! Stop it! I want to help you, but I can’t if you’re hurting—

Why am I here why am I not me—

STOP IT! 

Panting, Maggie pulled her head away. She felt dizzy. It was strange and uncomfortable to have her own mind interrupted by thoughts that weren’t hers, and deciphering the communication was… fraught. 

“What am I doing?” she said aloud. She should just… turn this over to…

She looked down at the blade. It was petty and stupid, but she didn’t want to let someone else deal with this problem, because giving someone else the problem would mean giving them her sword. She’d already given up the blade’s twin. She wasn’t giving up this one too. 

She put her hand on the stone.

Do you understand what I’m saying? Can you understand me? 

Yes I can

Then listen, and try to answer my questions. Okay? 

Okay I will try

Good. What is your name? 

Pain.

PAIN. 

Maggie pulled back her hand. This hadn’t just been psychic discomfort. When her brain tried to think this thing’s name, her whole body tensed and physically recoiled as though shocked. She pushed away on her butt until her back bumped into a shelf, as though afraid that the entity in her sword was going to come after her. 

It… wasn’t an elf, that was for sure. Or any sort of fae, or human, or anything with a mortal mind. 

She thought she knew what was in the sword, and she didn’t like it, but she had to know. Crawling forward again, Maggie reached out, touching the stone.

Do not think your name. I am going to call you Dane. 

Why dane 

Because I have an ex named Dane who gave me headaches like you, and—It doesn’t matter. My name is Maggie. You are inside my sword. 

Maggie 

Yes, Maggie. 

Maggie you killed me you KILLED ME YOU

Maggie pulled her hand back again, before the thoughts could coalesce and form into anything more painful. Just this brief conversation had been exhausting, but there was more she needed to do. She had to learn more, and that meant she had to keep talking to this… thing.

Dane had said that Maggie killed it, and that confirmed what Maggie was afraid of.

The petraform queen was inside her sword. 

Chapter Thirteen of this story is already up on Patreon, if you can’t wait to read it! I’m trying to get out a chapter a week, so if you’re patient you can read it here in a few days.

Maggie Cartwright, Chapter Twelve: Burning Bridges

Maggie ignored Frey’s call, dragging her weapon case out of the temple. She paused, just for a moment, to consider if she could knock down the statue of the Leannán Sídhe with tools on hand. The claymore strapped to her back might make it through the stone, but it risked chipping the metal, so she shook her head and kept walking. 

Maggie!” Frey repeated, stepping out of the temple. “Stop!” 

She stopped, whirling on the captain. “What?” 

“You cannot abandon us like this.” Frey stalked up to her. “We need you on this mission. We need the information that Leanna has, and—”

“I don’t care!” Maggie was loosely aware of the way her shouting was causing a stir, attracting attention from the fae in the street. It didn’t stop her. “I came into this job wanting one thing, and you want me to throw that away!” 

Frey didn’t shout in response; her tone was deadly calm. “I don’t know the agreement you set up with Blanche, it wasn’t my business, but you made a deal with Aunt Leanna on our behalf, and then you spat in her face and walked.”

“My assessment was over,” Maggie said, turning to glare at the statue that was looming over them. “She’s not worthy, she doesn’t deserve a sword from me.” 

“Because she was holding back?”

She wheeled on Frey. “Because my legacy is not a game!” 

The rest of the team was watching from the temple’s entrance. A few other supplicants, come to seek a trade with the Leannán Sídhe, were watching from behind them. 

Fine, they can hear this too. 

Maggie reached back and seized the handle of her claymore, drawing the blade, turning it sideways so it would catch the light in Frey’s eyes. “What is this?” 

Frey was quick enough not to answer with the obvious. “It’s your passion.”  

“No.” 

“Then what?” 

Maggie turned, snapping at a stranger walking by. “You. What’s the greatest sword in history?” 

There were a couple answers that would have been reasonable, but she got the one she wanted. “Excalibur.” 

“What did it do?” 

“Uh… It protected Camelot?” 

“Right. And who forged it?” 

That got her a blank stare. 

“Thanks,” Maggie said, though her tone was so harsh that the stranger just looked nervous. That she was holding up a massive broadsword probably didn’t help. 

Frey cut in. “Wayland the Smith.” 

“Alright, you know that, but where was he born? Who did he love? Why did he die?” Maggie asked, turning back towards Frey. 

“Eh…” Frey didn’t have an answer. 

“Do any of you know?” Maggie demanded, looking past Frey at the team, the supplicants, even turning to see if there were any history buffs watching the argument. Nobody had an answer. “Of course you don’t, because nobody cares about the smith. All they care about is the sword.”

Frey looked back at the temple. “What’s your point?”

“This sword isn’t just an object,” Maggie said, leaning her claymore forward. “It’s me. My legacy is only what I make, and when my time here is done, nobody’s going to remember Maggie, they’ll only remember the swords.”

Darius stepped forward. Apparently, he wanted to shove his foot into his mouth. “So make more. More swords, more chances to be remembered. What’s the problem?” 

“What, so the steel I make can be so cheap and plentiful that it’s cluttering up pawn shops?” Maggie snapped. “You don’t understand how this works.” 

Frey swallowed, her gaze darting down to the sword on her hilt. Maggie wasn’t exactly being subtle with her disdain at the moment. “Maggie…” 

“I don’t blame you for buying that sword. You didn’t turn my predecessor’s legacy into a joke. You just got the spoils after the fact.” Maggie looked down. “It just shows that nobody’s going to protect my name if I don’t do it myself.” 

Vera snorted from the doorway, stalking up to Maggie. “This is crap, you know.”

“I didn’t ask you,” Maggie said.

“What matters more?” Vera asked, raising her hands and making air quotes. “Your ‘Legacy’, or those kids we saved today?” 

“Those kids didn’t ask me to throw away—”

“Who cares about them now?” Vera asked. “Sure, they’re safe today. But if we don’t get the information we need from our Auntie, and we get slaughtered down there as a result, who’s going to save them next time?”

“You don’t need that information. Darius said that we’d killed most of the nest, and—”

“Darius is fine and all, but he’s not thousands of years old and he doesn’t have the best knowledge of ancient powers this side of the mortal world. He’s kind of winging it.” Vera glanced back at Darius. “No offence, pal.”  

“We don’t have any reason to distrust his intel right now,” Maggie said. “Even taking into account that he didn’t know about the queen—” 

“Hah!” Vera stepped right up to Maggie’s face. “You don’t believe that. I can tell.”

Maggie didn’t have a response. Vera wasn’t wrong.

“Fine,” Maggie said, holstering her claymore and turning to her cello bag. Grabbing the zipper, she yanked it with a lot more force than was strictly necessary, opening the whole pack. “Fine.”

Frey took a step back, putting a hand on the hilt of her blade. “What are you doing?”

Maggie looked at her options, but there was really only one good choice. She took one of the two paired swords, taking it out and tossing it on the ground. “Give that to the Leannán Sídhe. It killed a Petraform queen, that’s got to be enough legacy for one piece of steel.” 

Frey hesitated. For a moment, Maggie thought she might try and talk her out of it, but she didn’t. She just picked the sword up off the ground and waited. 

“As far as I’m concerned, this settles our bill. Tell Blanche I expect to be paid in full, for my work, and for the sword,” Maggie added, not looking back as she zipped up the bag. “And if you ever need a fifth member for your team again, call someone else. I’m done.” 

July 1941

“Maggie?”

She ignored him. 

“Maggie. Come down here and tell me what’s wrong.” 

Glancing down, Maggie considered disobeying. Cyrus was getting older, and he couldn’t climb up in the shop’s rafters to make her come down. If she wanted to stay up and brood, there was nothing that could stop her. 

“Please. I would like to talk.” 

That addition tipped the scales. It wasn’t an order; it was a request.

Putting a hand on one of the beams that held up the roof, Maggie jumped down, dropping the twelve feet or so to the shop floor. 

Cyrus winced. “Oh, to have young bones again,” he said. 

“You’re not that old,” Maggie said, pushing his chest lightly. “You can still toss me around the practice mat easy enough.”

“I don’t have to move much to do that. You exhaust yourself just fine without any input from me,” he pointed out, putting his hands on his hips and leaning away from her to stretch his back. “You’d beat me in a foot race, no question.” 

“Then it’s a good thing you don’t need to race to be a swordfighter,” Maggie said. “‘Old man’.”

He chuckled, but wouldn’t be distracted from his initial goal. “So. Talk to me. Why were you up in the rafters?” 

Maggie swallowed, looking away. “It’s… You’ve been good to me, Cyrus.” 

He got it. “You saw my books.” 

“I noticed when you started locking them up,” Maggie admitted. “It got me curious, so… yeah. I lifted your keys. Sorry.” 

Cyrus didn’t look mad, but his ears twitched and his shoulders slumped. “I wish you hadn’t.” 

She looked at the floor, shuffling her feet. “I know you’re disappointed.”

“Disappointed? No. I just didn’t want you to see that, Maggie. You don’t need to worry about that stuff.” 

They were in the red. Even with business slowly crawling its way back, Cyrus’s finances just hadn’t recovered from the crash. Moving to a smaller shop, borrowing money from Hopkins, taking the jobs he sent their way—it had all helped in the short term, but they just weren’t paying the bills. Worse, the war in Europe had made the price of raw materials go up quite a bit, and there was talk of rationing soon if things stuck their course. 

“I should leave,” Maggie said. “I’ve got five dollars squirreled away. I can go find work in a factory. Lots of factories are hiring these days, and you’d be doing better without a second mouth to feed.” 

“No.” Cyrus put a hand on her shoulder. “Maggie, no. I’m not going to kick you off because of a rough patch.” 

“Ten years isn’t a rough patch! You’ve been burning through everything you had to keep me around, and—”

“And I need you here,” Cyrus insisted. “To do the things I won’t be able to. I can’t lift a hammer forever, and someone needs to pick it up when I retire.” 

Maggie turned, looking around the workshop. It was a little cramped compared to their old space, but still had the room and equipment for two people to work together without getting in each other’s way. A smaller space, for only one person to work, would have been cheaper. 

“What’s it matter if I can help you sixty or seventy years from now, if you can’t afford to keep the lights on today?” Maggie asked. 

“I’ve got a plan,” Cyrus replied, glancing out the window. “I’ve… kept a list, for a while. For emergencies.” 

Perking up, Maggie faced him. “A list?”

“People who failed their test when they came to me for a sword,” Cyrus explained. “Ones who could fight, but not as well as our usual standards.”

Maggie hesitated. “But—”

“I know it’s not ideal,” Cyrus conceded. “But none of them are amateurs. I sent out letters to some of them already and have four replies. Three of them said yes and sent a check with their deposit. Turns out, quite a few of our cousins are fighting in the war, and even with all that modern weaponry they still want some of our steel to back them up.” 

Blinking, Maggie asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” 

He frowned a little. “I was waiting until tomorrow, when the ore I ordered arrives and we can get to work. It was going to be a surprise.”

Maggie did the math in her head. “You said three said yes… Three out of how many?” 

“Just the first eight. I’ve got another twenty or so letters I can send, from the most skilled of the failed applicants over the past fifty years. And some more replies might just be waiting in the mail. I only sent these out a couple weeks ago.”

Maggie brightened. “That’s… That’s enough cash to keep us in the black ‘till the end of the year! Longer, even!” 

Cyrus nodded. “And if we lower things to just, ‘Beat me in a swordfight’, instead of, ‘Beat me easily’, we’ll be able to bring in new customers, too. It’s enough to turn things around for a good long while.” 

“It doesn’t bother you?” Maggie asked, glancing at his eyes. 

His ears twitched a little, but he shook his head. “My old standards were half there just because I couldn’t keep up with demand otherwise.” Reaching out, he ruffled Maggie’s hair. “With you around to help, we’ll be able to stay on top of orders no matter how fast they come in.” 

Maggie chuckled, but pushed his hand away and straightened her hair with a couple fingers. “Cyrus, I’m not a kid.”

“Anyone born this century is still a little bit ‘kid’ as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Now, since you know what’s up, let’s get this shop clean and ready for some major production. We’ve got swords to make.” 

Chapter Thirteen of this story is already up on Patreon, if you can’t wait to read it! I’m trying to get out a chapter a week, so if you’re patient you can read it here in a few days.

Maggie Cartwright, Chapter Eleven: Face Off

“Are you insane?” Vera demanded, shock making the skin on her face wrinkled and more bark like than ever. “You think you can beat Leanna in a duel?” 

“I didn’t say she had to beat me,” Maggie said, stretching her arms and turning her hips to warm up. Her wounds were still healing from the morning’s battle, but the bandages had made it so that her cuts wouldn’t tear open at the first sign of physical activity. “I said she had to prove she was worthy.” 

“She’s a goddess.” The dryad ran her fingers through mossy hair. “Of course she’s worthy.”

“Then she won’t have any trouble proving it,” Maggie said. “Darius, how much longer?” 

He checked his wrist display. “They’re on their way. Maybe five minutes.” 

Maggie wasn’t the only one warming up. The Leannán Sídhe didn’t need to stretch her muscles or warm up her body, but she sat cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, her lips moving subtly. She wasn’t working any power that Maggie could feel, but she was clearly doing something. 

“Vera has a point,” Darius said. “Even if she hasn’t focused on sword fighting, she’s got thousands of years of experience and grace that we can’t come close to. What outcome are you expecting?” 

Maggie eyed him and debated explaining. 

Frey beat her to it. “It’s a ritual.” 

Making eye contact with their captain, Maggie nodded. 

Vera didn’t get it. “A ritual?”

“The swords aren’t just steel,” Frey said. “They’re made with purpose, and without taking shortcuts. The duel is just the first step in making one.” 

Maggie nodded. “My blades aren’t a consumer product. If I’m making her a blade, that blade is going to be hers, not some one-size-fits-all bit of metal you can buy from a knick-knack shop.” She didn’t look at the sword on Frey’s hilt, but Frey’s expression twitched. Frey knew that her ownership of Cyrus’s steel was illegitimate at best. 

“So, you don’t expect to win,” Vera nodded, the creases in her face smoothing out as she understood.

“I expect to test her,” Maggie said. “We’ll see if she gets her blade when she’s done. Deities get held to a high standard, after all.” 

“If she fails, we don’t get the information we need,” Darius said, leaning in and speaking in a low tone. “Don’t be too harsh.” 

“If she succeeds, I have to make her a sword. I’ll be as harsh as I need to.” It was a lose-lose situation. 

Before she could deal with any more nay-saying, she stalked over to the Leannán Sídhe. She hadn’t reduced her size to something in a mortal range, yet, so despite the fact that she was sitting on the floor, Maggie had to look up at her, just barely. “What style of blade will you be using?” 

The self-styled goddess opened one of her eyes and glanced down at Maggie. “I’m deciding that.”

“Taking you a long time to decide,” Maggie considered. 

The Leannán Sídhe’s mouth turned up at a corner. “Do you want me to explain?” 

Maggie didn’t respond with anything that could be interpreted as a request. She didn’t want to owe anything to this being. 

“I know a thousand styles from a thousand lifetimes,” the Leannán Sídhe explained, despite the lack of prompting. “It takes time to consider them all.” 

“Let me know when you decide,” Maggie said. “We’re in no hurry.” 

“I’ve already decided,” she declared, getting to her feet and, at the same time, shrinking down. Maggie found it strange, watching her stand without having to adjust her eye line. Even when the Leannán Sídhe was done reducing her size, she was still far taller than Maggie, built on the scale of an amazon warrior. “I believe you’ve made one of these before.” 

Extending her hand, she conjured a ball of light, which grew, extending out, longer and longer, well past two meters. The energy solidified into a shimmering white claymore, which the Leannán Sídhe gripped in both hands.

She had perfect posture and stance. Unsurprising. Maggie would have been shocked if she selected a sword she didn’t know how to use.

More helpfully, it was a style that Maggie knew. She was no master, but she could use a claymore, and she could tell if someone else knew what they were doing with it. A sword that big would take a lot of meteorite metal to make, and it’d be expensive. 

As long as the check clears, the bigger the better.

Walking back towards Darius, Maggie asked, “How close?” 

“Right outside. Want them to bring it in?” Maggie nodded, and he spoke into his wrist. “Bring in the package.” 

Two elves rolled in Maggie’s cello bag, dropping it off in the doorway. They saluted to Darius, he dismissed them, and they hurried away. 

He’s got them running like a Swiss watch, Maggie considered, as she walked over to her bag. Unzipping it, she checked the contents first. Nobody had disturbed her things. Good

She returned her spearhead to the straps it belonged in, put her double blades back, and took out her claymore. It was heavy, almost six pounds, though not quite as long as the Leannán Sídhe’s blade. That thing was just comically big.

Maggie had trained with her blade. She knew its balance, its weight, its grip. She could have told her claymore from any other blade in the world just by how it felt in her hand. It was a tool she knew how to use, very nearly a friend. 

And she was going to lose the fight with the Leannán Sídhe. There was no question of that. 

“Use whatever you want,” she called, looking at her own steel. “I certainly will be. Try to win. Are the edges of your blade dulled?” 

She turned to look at her opponent, who was smiling. “Are yours?” 

“No.”

“And neither are mine.” 

They’d be fighting with sharp edges. Even if the intent was not to kill, it would be dangerous, and neither of them would be holding back. 

“I don’t care if you win,” Maggie said. “If you sucker punch me with magic, you’ll win in a few seconds. I can’t stop that. You have to show me you’re a master with your blade, not that you can overpower me.” 

“Understood.” The Leannán Sídhe smirked. “And how do I know you won’t decide I’ve failed arbitrarily?”

“I take this seriously,” Maggie said. “If you deserve it, I won’t lie.”

She looked down at herself. Her pants were missing one leg; it had been cut free to get to her ankle wound. Ichor was splattered on her shirt. She looked a mess.

The Leannán Sídhe was holding seven pounds of razor-sharp metal and wearing a flowing golden gown that shimmered in the light of her throne room. She was somehow making the two disparate elements seem like they were designed to go together. 

Maggie took a deep breath. “Are you ready?” 

The Leannán Sídhe nodded her head in a tiny—

Maggie charged. 

It was a cheap move, but she wanted to see how her opponent reacted to surprise. Naturally, she didn’t catch the Leannán Sídhe off guard—-the goddess raised her blade and batted away Maggie’s first attack with a deft block. 

Claymores were not delicate weapons. Swinging around six pounds of steel was, at the best of the times, awkward. Managing momentum was key: If one attack failed—and against this foe, her attacks were going to fail—she needed to be ready to recover and get her guard up instantly. 

She reacted in time to block an incoming sweep. The Leannán Sídhe was strong, and though Maggie had the skill to intercept the attack, the force of the blow shook Maggie’s bones as she deflected it.

Okay, stop deflecting and start dodging. 

Raising her blade, Maggie extended it, one hand on the base of the hilt, the other at the far end, eyeing her dueling partner. Now that the initial burst of action was done, they were staying back, squaring off. 

Analyzing.

Maggie couldn’t win on endurance. Claymores weren’t designed for long, drawn-out battles. If she took her time, her arms would get tired. It seemed unlikely that an ancient being of primordial power would have to deal with the same restrictions. If she wanted any edge at all, she’d have to claim it fast. 

Readying herself, Maggie prepared to lunge and strike again, but to her surprise, her foe lunged first, dress glimmering while her sword came down towards Maggie’s head, playing aggressive despite the fact that it would benefit Maggie. 

Maggie ducked and got out of the way, slashing in response. It was an easy blow. The Leannán Sídhe had left herself exposed and overextended. No matter how strong she was, she couldn’t just pull back a sword that heavy in an instant, and her body was bent forward, following her attack, vulnerable—the Leannán Sídhe jumped, doing an honest-to-earth flip over Maggie’s attack. She landed on her feet behind Maggie, instantly stable, instantly aggressive, and Maggie had to spin and slap away the Leannán Sídhe’s attack to avoid being cleaved in two. 

It was an absurd display of grace and power, but Maggie caught something out of the corner of her eye. A tiny, golden scrap of fabric was fluttering to the ground, cleaved cleanly away from the Leannán Sídhe’s dress. 

I… hit her, Maggie realized, shocked. Sort of.

Before she could consider this more, the Leannán Sídhe drove in again, swinging her massive sword as though she couldn’t even feel the weight. Maggie ducked to the side of one blow, caught the next on her sword’s guard, and twisted, going on the offensive. 

She swung once, knocking the Leannán Sídhe’s blade to the side and bringing in the wicked sharp edge of her starmetal sword at the ancient being’s throat. Again, it was a narrow thing and the Leannán Sídhe dodged away in time, ducking her head but losing a lock of hair. 

Maggie’s eyes widened in surprise as she drove her attack harder, playing the aggressor, striving to land a solid blow. Even now, she was doubting the Leannán Sídhe’s skill—the pseudo-goddess was relying heavily on strength and grace, but not talent. Perhaps thousands of years of experience could lead to thousands of years of overconfidence. A failure of practice, neglecting to keep up her skills, and…

No, that doesn’t make sense.

Attacking more harshly than ever, Maggie put her strength into her attacks, pressing her advantage. The Leannán Sídhe was forced to back up. She was graceful and quick, but her control over her blade was sloppy, and when she slashed at Maggie’s chest, Maggie was able to block, deflect, and make another opening for a killing blow.

It’s like she’s…

Not even trying.

Maggie didn’t even press the attack, even though she felt she was a heartbeat away from ‘winning’. She lowered her blade. “Stop.” 

Sounds of muttered confusion echoed from the back of the room, where the team had been watching. Maggie had forgotten about her audience. 

“What is it, Margaret?” the Leannán Sídhe purred. 

Maggie felt like a fool. She’d known who she was up against. The tricks that could be played. Despite this, she’d assumed she could behave in a straightforward way. 

The Leannán Sídhe was trying to lose, but subtly. Maggie could only guess her motivations, but it seemed like it was just another test, one to see how Maggie would react if put in a position where she had to choose between her team’s success and her own honor. 

If the Leannán Sídhe lost—even if she just underperformed, as she had been—Maggie wouldn’t make her a sword. If Maggie didn’t make her a sword, her team wouldn’t get the information they wanted. Without that information, they could run into another surprise like the queen while they worked to exterminate the last few petraforms. 

If Maggie gave in and made her a sword anyways, it would mean ignoring her own rituals, her own standards. 

Maggie saw only one way to respond. 

She stepped close to the Leannán Sídhe, close enough to whisper. “I know what you’re doing,” she whispered.

The rest of the team wouldn’t be able to hear her from so far away, not with her voice so low.

“Tell me, then,” the Leannán Sídhe requested. She was grinning, and Maggie noticed for the first time that she had too many canines in her mouth. The pointed teeth went all the way back. She was a predator, down to her core. “What, exactly, am I doing?” 

Maggie spat in her face. 

Then she turned and stormed away. 

Chapter Twelve of this story is already up on Patreon, if you can’t wait to read it! I’m trying to get out a chapter a week, so if you’re patient you can read it here in a few days.