Maggie Cartwright, Chapter Eight: Long Live the Queen

Frey swung her sword like a scythe, wide and powerful, in a guarding sweep to force the beasts away. She held her stance, low and terrifying, like a mother wolf protecting her young. 

“Dammit, Maggie!” She bellowed. “Get on your feet!”

Five seconds ago, Maggie had been convinced she was about to die, and her body hadn’t yet caught up to the program. It took a force of will to kick herself back into gear, pushing up and raising her knife in a tight fist.

The petraforms seemed disinterested in attacking for the moment. They’d retreated, slightly, into a ring around the queen. Two warriors, it seemed, were enough to make them cautious. 

“Where’s Darius?” Maggie tentatively put weight down on her hurt leg to see how it would hold, never taking her eyes off the cautious petraforms. 

As if on cue, a rumbling explosion echoed from the pit, and the former head of containment zipped out on a grapple line. He didn’t leap gracefully off the line, but instead just pulled himself all the way up, clipping to the basketball goal he’d grappled to.

“That should buy us thirty seconds!” he shouted down, unslinging the sniper rifle from his back. 

More explosions boomed out of the hole, each one making the gym floor shake.

“How many?” Maggie asked, tightening her grip on the knife. Her voice was wavering. “How many are coming?”

“Best I can figure,” Frey replied, holding out her sword. “The whole nest.” 

Eyes darting around the room, Maggie located her swords. One was behind the ring of hissing monsters, but the other was over next to the upright bleachers. 

“I’ll be right back.” Moving slowly, not wanting to startle the petraforms into action, she began edging towards it. If she could get a proper blade before the music started again, their odds of making it out alive would be significantly higher.

As she edged towards the bleachers, a razor-clawed hand reached out of the pit. A petraform clambered out, shuffling forward on all fours to join the defensive ring around the queen.

Another came up behind it, and another. Five more. Ten. An army of densely packed claws, teeth, and stony armor.

Maggie’s foot bumped the edge of the bleachers, and she stole a glance down. Her sword was a couple feet to the side, and she knelt, scooping it up, slipping her knife back in its pouch. That done, she began shuffling back towards Frey. 

The monsters didn’t charge. Even as the stream of reinforcements slowed to a trickle and the wall of petraforms grew to be four layers thick, the petraforms stayed defensive. 

“What are they doing?” Maggie asked quietly. 

Frey glanced up. “Darius, got any ideas?” 

He was looking from target to target with his rifle, but not firing. “I can’t tell,” he said. “What’s that thing in the big one’s back?”

“It’s what remains of my spear,” Maggie said. “I pricked the queen good, but she’s too hardy to go down to just one hit.” 

“The queen,” Darius repeated, rolling around the name for a moment. “Okay, that works. What’s our bugout plan if this all goes pear shaped?” 

Frey glanced at Maggie. “Don’t need one. We can take them.” 

Maggie started to reply to the negative, but she quickly got what Frey really meant. 

They couldn’t evacuate and run. They were the line of defense against these monsters, and if they bugged out, nothing would stop the petraforms from rolling through Kansas City Below and killing as they pleased.

As this thought crossed her mind, though, the other interpretation of Frey’s statement hit her. The patter of light feet and combat boots sounded from the doorway behind them, and she turned her head just enough to glance that way. 

The cavalry, as it were, was riding over the hill. Twig sprinted on ahead, joining their lineup in the front, while Vera stayed back to offer magical support. The whole gang was together.

“I count fifty-two hostiles, including the big one,” Darius shouted down from his perch. “That’s only ten to one.” 

“That’s ten to one,” Vera called. “Why are they holding back?” 

Maggie paused in thought, then shifted her weight forward and turned her blade to make the gym’s fluorescent light flash off the steel. 

The wave of bristling claws and chitin moved like a single unit, their posture shifting to face Maggie, to make sure there were as many bodies as possible between her and…

“The queen,” Maggie said. “They’re protecting the queen. They’re going to retreat.”

“Piss on that,” Darius said. “They don’t get to come and go as they please.” 

“We could use the chance to regroup, don’t be too excited for a fight,” Frey cautioned, watching the mass of monsters. 

While she said it, the queen started shuffling backwards, taking a lumbering step towards the pit. Her guard moved with her, shifting a couple feet at a time, watching its exit. The back of the swarm moved around the edge of the pit as they reached it, extending the wall of bodies so that the queen had a clean exit path. 

“I’m with Darius,” Vera called from the back of the room. “All respect, ma’am, you haven’t seen the extent of the damage. They don’t get to leave.” 

Frey glanced between Twig and Maggie. Twig gave a short, curt nod. Maggie set her jaw in defiance. 

“We need a plan, then,” Frey said. “Maggie, are you confident in a wedge formation?” 

“No,” Maggie said, eyeing the spearhead still jutting out of the queen’s back. She wanted it back, and they wouldn’t be prying it free of the queen if it was alive. 

Frey followed her gaze, her face flashing with insight. “Twig. You know how to put in a tent stake?” 

Twig flashed her teeth in a defiant smile, waited for a nod from Frey, and then leaped into the air. 

Not for the first time in her life, Maggie was jealous of the svartálfr’s grace. Twig didn’t need a handhold to keep her balance on the queen’s back, she just planted her feet, raising her hammer to strike. 

A single, powerful blow drove the spearhead eight inches deeper into the queen’s back, so far down that the flared base designed to keep the spear from going too deep actually went into the thick chitin, along with the remaining two inches of handle. 

The queen screamed, a sound that made Maggie’s teeth stand on edge, and every single petraform turned and swarmed at Twig.

Jumping preternaturally high, Frey kicked off of nothing, bursts of wind blasting from her shoes as she ran on air to support Twig. From behind, Vera swooped in on a current of power, throwing down bolts of energy to tangle and bind up the swarm. From above, Darius dropped the line that held him clipped up high, swinging down like Tarzan to drop a pair of explosive charges into the deepest parts of the horde before grappling away. 

Maggie hefted her sword, grumbling. Everyone’s got tricks but me.

The horde was focused on revenge for the critical wound Twig had just dealt. It wasn’t just a desire to deal with the greatest threat, they were frenzied and focused with a horrific level of single-mindedness. 

And not a single petraform was looking at Maggie. 

While the rest of the party battled atop or floating above the queen, Maggie started cutting her way in from the back, encountering almost no resistance save for the force she had to exert to drive her sword through chitin. 

She wasn’t a hunter anymore, she was a butcher, hacking through a stony tide to get to the rest of the fighting. 

Near the head of the queen, Frey took her sword and plunged it into the space between two plates, adding to the wounds on the giant beast, and adding to the targets that the petraforms were diving at with a fury. Twig continued knocking them away like a switch hitter at batting practice, and it was looking like they would be able to keep this up easily, keeping the swarm at bay until there weren’t any left standing. 

Maggie made it through the line, clearing the space between her and the queen, making a moment of brief eye contact with the beast. 

It was hard to read an alien face. Its eyes were black pools with deep red veins, and Maggie wasn’t even sure if it had a nose. Still… she thought she recognized a deep, animalistic fear in its face. 

We cut off its flight, she realized, interpreting its expression. It’s desperate. 

The queen roared out a lingering basso cry, and its eyes flared with sudden fire as its body went stiff and it began to work power. 

Maggie had felt the magic when Vera brought it out, but this was deeper. Older. The power it was wielding wasn’t coming from the earth.

Whatever it was trying to do, Maggie didn’t want to stand around and gawk until the spell was complete. As long as it was frozen in a roar, its mouth was open.

She stepped forward, raised her sword, and stabbed it right through the throat, angling her blade up so it’d carve towards where a brain would typically live. 

The queen lurched, stopped, and then the light in its eyes went out.

There were still more than a dozen petraforms swarming to get to the rest of the team, too single minded to notice that they’d already failed in their task. Their queen was dead. Only when the queen’s body slumped forward and settled with a heavy WHUMP did they get the picture.

The petraforms staggered back, confused. For the first time since Maggie had encountered the monsters, they suddenly looked uncertain, maybe even in shock. They didn’t know what to do now that their queen was dead.

The team, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do. Unsteady, hesitant petraforms were easy targets, and Frey kept up her relentless assault against them, supported by the rest of her team. 

Maggie planted a boot on the queen’s chin and pushed, using the leverage to get her blade free. She didn’t need to defend herself; nothing was attacking. Adrenaline was still coursing through her as she took a couple steps back, watching for any monsters that might be coming. 

Only one did, and it appeared to be fleeing more than charging. She cut it down. 

For the rest, she just watched the team work. There wasn’t much else she needed to do.

Her leg started shaking, then stopped taking her weight completely. God, it hurts. When did it get hurt? 

She blinked. She was hurt in a lot of places, she realized. Some injuries she could remember getting, others that she couldn’t. Now that there was no adrenaline coursing through her system and she was safe, her body was sending up pain flares all over. 

One thought struck out to her, though. 

I’m a fool.

Her proposal to Blanche had been ridiculous. There was no way in hell she could have done this all on her own and lived to tell the tale. Maybe, if she played it cautious and engaged them a couple petraforms at a time, but if she’d done that, then nobody would have been around to evacuate the school. 

Not a single petraform got away. Once the coast was clear, and the only monsters in the region were dead, Frey and strode to Maggie’s side. “You need medical?” 

“I’m fine,” Maggie said automatically. After a moment of hesitation, though, she shook her head. “Yes, I do. I can walk, but… yes, I do.” Her thoughts felt a little sluggish, in comparison to the lightning reflexes and energy she’d felt in combat. 

Reaching down, Frey offered her a hand, calling over her shoulder. “How close is medical?” 

Darius dropped to the ground, checking the readout on his wrist. “They’re right outside. Already helping the wounded.” 

Pulling Maggie to her feet, Frey nodded. “If you’re hurt, go get patched up. Otherwise, help me do a sweep for injured and pull them out. We did good, but the day’s not over yet.”

Maggie Cartwright, Chapter Seven: Getting a Hand

There was one bright side to being surrounded by monsters, at least that Maggie could see: If they all came to her, she wouldn’t have to hunt them down. 

Yeah, keep telling yourself that, she thought. You’ll be fine. 

She was standing with her back to Twig’s as the shrieks of gathering petraforms got louder. The queen, a hulking brute that would be intimidating to face all on its own, was stalking towards them, one lumbering footstep at a time. 

“If we let them all swarm us, we won’t make it,” Maggie said, adjusting her grip on her swords. The child was still in the corner behind the upturned bleachers. The queen had turned her attention away from her for the moment, focusing instead on Maggie. But they couldn’t get the kid out of the gym until they’d made a path. They’d have to strike, fast and hard, and cut an opening before they could get swarmed. “We’ve got to get aggressive.”

Twig made a clicking sound with her tongue, a sign of acknowledgement. 

“Meat or potatoes?” Maggie asked, gesturing between the petraform queen and the doorway they’d come in through, where the shrieking was getting even louder. 

Twig snorted, nodding to the doorway. 

“Got it.” Maggie turned and charged, meeting the first screeching vermin head-on in the opening between the gym and the hall. 

With one quick slice of her blades—snicker-snack—a decapitated petraform slumped to the floor. 

Three more were coming up the hall. Maggie thrust her offhand blade at the nearest, driving it back, and slashed to parry a swiping claw from reaching her unprotected face, removing a hand from its arm in the process. 

The third one met Twig’s hammer, which struck with enough force to chip the chitin on its shoulder even without any magic steel to reinforce the blow. 

Twig leapt at the vulnerable petraform and kept pounding it, bludgeoning it over and over so it couldn’t recover, while Maggie squared off against the other two. 

The one with two hands intact seemed more aggressive, but neither were going to charge her outright and take a sword to the face. In other circumstances, Maggie would have been happy to take the reprieve, but they only had a few seconds before the queen and its minions caught up to them and she needed this part of the fight to be over by then. The fray in the doorway was already taking longer than Maggie had wanted. 

So, she charged the one she’d wounded, bringing both blades down in an overhand sweep. It tried to dodge to the side, but she’d anticipated the attempt and whirled in response, catching it in the chest and collarbone, splattering ichor through the hall.

While she took it down, though, the one-handed petraform came at her back, slashing through the Kevlar and padding on her back. 

It protected her, but she felt something come loose as its claws cut through both strike plates and straps, nearly making it to skin. Her armor shifted on her body as she wrenched her swords free and turned to drive a kick at the beast. 

It was unnaturally sturdy. The kick pushed Maggie back as much as the monster, and she stumbled into the open gym door, raising her swords in a guard so the petraform couldn’t pounce on her. 

She almost didn’t notice in her peripheral vision that two more of the monsters were coming up from behind her, rocketing forward on all fours across the gym floor, shoving each other to be the first into the fray. Maggie spun and pointed one of her swords out towards them, watching both her flanks, unable to take on one threat without leaving the other—

A powerful, but distinctly un-clawed hand grabbed Maggie by the collar of her armor and yanked her through the doorway. Twig wrapped an arm around her chest, crouched, and jumped, crossing nearly the whole length of the gym, landing on the far bleachers with enough force to dent the aluminum bench seating.

“Thanks,” Maggie said, taking a couple deep breaths while she got her bearings. Her armor was loose and didn’t seem to be belted around her torso properly anymore, but there was no time to fix it. Monsters were coming for her, and the girl was still curled up behind the ruined bleachers across from them. “We have to get that kid out of here.” 

In the space of an eye blink, she surveyed the room and came up with a plan. 

Three petraforms were at the door on the right that they’d just fled from, four at the far door to her left, and half a dozen were climbing out of the hole in the gym floor, taking the time to help out their companions so they could all attack in unison. 

And, of course, there was still the queen in the center, snapping and snarling at them, Maggie’s spear still lodged in its back. 

Why hasn’t it charged us? 

It was big enough to shrug off her attacks, magical blade or no. Maggie would need to hit it somewhere particularly vulnerable to do any real damage; the throat or an eye. 

The other petraforms seemed to have little in the way of self-preservation, favoring nearly pure aggression. Maggie had only seen them flee when victory was utterly hopeless.

Whatever drove the small ones, didn’t seem to hold true for the queen. It had been stung once, and wouldn’t risk it again while there were minions to spare.

Most importantly: While the bulk of the beasts were focused on Maggie and Twig, a few latecomers were preferentially favoring easy prey and stalking towards the girl.

No more time for planning. “Get her out of here!” Maggie shouted, getting Twig’s attention with a gesture of her sword. 

So, you’re afraid of a fight, eh? Maggie pressed her lips into a furious grin. Let’s make sure you can’t ignore me. 

Her swords weren’t designed as a ranged weapon, but she hefted her left-handed blade and threw it at the nearest cluster of monsters anyways. It dealt negligible damage, but the petraforms staggered back from the lethal steel, and Maggie seized the hesitation to charge through, her sword out to the side, barrelling towards the queen.

The other petraforms scrambled to pursue, and once Maggie was in reach, the queen swiped at her with a massive clawed foreleg. Had Maggie been trying to attack its face, she would have been repelled.

She wasn’t. 

Maggie juked to the side, jumped up with her free hand extended, and seized the shaft of the spear that was still embedded in the queen’s back.

It held fast; the spear locked into the chitin it had cracked open.

Perfect.

With the spear as a handle, Maggie could ride the petraform queen like a bizarre windsurfing-Viking hybrid. Just for good measure, she planted her boot on the flared base of the spearhead and shoved her weight into it, driving the steel an inch deeper into the queen’s back.

If that didn’t get the monsters’ attention, nothing would.

The queen howled and bucked, but Maggie had an iron grip on the shaft and stayed upright, if a bit unstable.

All eyes were on her, and the monsters swarmed in her direction, including the ones that had been in the doorway to the hall. Twig’s path to the schoolgirl was open.

Maggie just had one objective: survive until Twig could get the girl to Vera and come back and join the fight. It wouldn’t take long, maybe thirty seconds, maybe a minute, but that could be an eternity in a fight. 

Fortunately, Maggie had reach, and she had the high ground. The thrashing, bucking, screaming high ground. 

A petraform lunged up at her and Maggie slashed its face, knocking it back. She spun around and kicked in time to knock another one away that was trying to climb up and face her on a level footing, whirling in time to drive a heavy thrust into the shoulder of a third.

She wasn’t fighting, she was thrashing in every direction to keep the beasts at bay. 

In her peripheral vision, she saw Twig scoop up the kid and gun it for the open doorway. 

Great, now I can-

One of the petraforms got wise. It struck low, and while Maggie jumped back to protect her ankles, she missed its true target. Razor claws cut through the shaft of her spear right at the head, and the handle she’d been relying on for balance was suddenly just a long stick.

Maggie tumbled backward, landing between the queen’s shoulder blades. In a moment of poorly honed instincts, she dropped her sword but held onto the useless spear shaft, clutching it like a security blanket as two petraforms jumped onto the queen’s back. 

She pushed with her legs, getting traction off the queen’s layers of chitin and rolling backwards, slipping off and falling down in a heap to the gym floor. Right in front of the queen’s face.

They made a moment of startled eye contact; the queen seeming to be just as surprised as Maggie. If Maggie had kept a hold on her sword, she could have gotten in a sucker attack and cut the beast’s throat right there. Instead, she had a wooden stick.

So she poked it in the eye.

It screamed and Maggie rolled back as it slashed at her, half blind. A petraform jumped off the queen’s back and Maggie had to roll even further. All the while, the ten or so remaining little ones skittered from where they had swarmed around the back of the queen.

Maggie used her stick as support to jump to her feet. She was, once again, wanting for a weapon.

Feeling silly, she pulled her last two options off her belt. A cannister of her homebrew pepper spray, and her knife. 

A petraform pounced, and she sprayed it in the eyes, momentarily blinding it, giving her a chance to duck away. Another one got in close and brought its claws down on her wrist, slashing right through the Kevlar guards she wore and drawing blood.

She dropped the pepper spray but got her revenge, stabbing the monster through the eye, jerking the blade free with a sick little shucking sound.

More of them, coming from both sides. Maggie turned to run, but an overachiever had already gotten behind her. She ducked back, spinning, looking for an out.

There wasn’t one.

Maggie was surrounded, and the situation was—

September 1929.

“—not hopeless at all, we just need to find a solution,” Cyrus said, leaning over his books. 

“How much do we need?” Maggie asked, leaning in to peek at the notes her mentor was taking. He’d been working on the books all evening, trying to make them balance.

“We’re running about five hundred dollars in the red every month, give or take. If we downsize and get a cheaper lease, that’ll help.”

Those numbers didn’t make sense to Maggie. Business had been going well. Cyrus’s steel was renowned, and he had more potential buyers than they could keep up with. How were they running so far behind on their bills?

“Didn’t we have money saved?” she asked.

“In a bank, yes,” Cyrus said, pursing his lips. He didn’t quite lose his smile, but it came close. “The bank closed.”

Maggie had never paid much attention to the politics of humans, but now she wished she had. Something had gone horribly wrong, she knew, but the details, the reason why mistakes by men she’d never met could ruin her mentor’s finances, escaped her. 

“We might have to go to Hopkins,” Cyrus said, looking over the numbers again. “Take him up on his offer of a partnership.”

Raising an eyebrow, Maggie started to ask, “But you said he was a sna—”

I know,” Cyrus said. It was almost a snap, but not quite. “But when you’re in trouble, you can’t be picky about whose help you accept. Hopkins has the space we need, and the money to keep us afloat. It’d be temporary, anyways.”

Grimacing, Maggie sat back. “I like the building we have now.”

“Maybe we won’t have to move,” Cyrus said, closing his books and relaxing into his chair. “We might not even need to work with Hopkins. I’ll look into some options tomorrow.”

Maggie was dubious, but Cyrus had been doing this a lot longer than her. She trusted his opinion.

Smiling like he always did before dispensing wisdom, Cyrus said, “Remember, whenever you’re in need, look around. There’s always someone with a helping hand waiting for you.”

Present day.

Nobody was coming to help Maggie. She knew it, deep down in her bones. Any escape from the monsters who encircled her would have to be her own doing. 

At least they’d learned to be wary of her. They were waiting, lining up to form a dense wall, watching to see if she produced yet another weapon from within her arsenal. They wouldn’t strike until all of them—Maggie had lost count and didn’t bother trying to tally them up again—were in position.

Wheeling to face the nearest one, Maggie said, “Boo!”

Then she jumped at it, in a low knee tackle. 

She may as well have tackled a statue.

Her plan had been to knock it down and then scramble past. It was a desperate, unlikely move, and it didn’t work. Her hardened shoulder pads hit the chitin of the petraform’s shins and she was stopped cold. 

It struck her with a bloody stump of a wrist, and Maggie fell, rolling onto her back. 

You again? Maggie thought, remembering the petraform she’d unhanded in the hallway. 

It slammed another powerful blow down on her chest with its other forearm, ichor splattering from the severed spot where its left hand should have been. Without armor to distribute the force, it might have killed her, but as it was, it cracked ribs.

She couldn’t run, or even really crawl, so her brain picked up the slack while she covered her face with her arms in a limp, defensive posture. 

I didn’t cut off both its hands. So why does it have two stumps? 

For that matter, several more petraforms that scurried to strike her downed body seemed to be injured, with a gash across the chest or a crack on a piece of chitin.

Pain burst in her ankle and then on her arm as claws ripped into her body.

Nobody—not Maggie, and certainly not the petraforms—noticed the grappling hook that fired out of the hole in the floor and hooked into a basketball goal that had been raised to the ceiling, until it began to sharply retract and tow up the person on the other end. 

Frey burst out of the hole with a flash of steel and a terrifying battle cry. She unclipped from the line and, with a burst of wind magic, crossed the whole room in a single pounce, her sword cleaving a petraform in two.

Crouching over Maggie defensively, Frey snarled at the monsters and they scrambled back.

“Where are the others?” Frey demanded.

“They—evacuating the school!” Maggie stammered, scrambling into a sitting position. 

Shit,” Frey said. “Get up.”

Maggie tested her leg, unsure if the cut would keep her from standing. “I don’t know if—” 

Get up,” Frey snapped. “More are coming.” 

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Maggie Cartwright, Chapter Six: School’s Out

The screams reached Maggie’s ears long before she could see the school. 

In the densely traveled streets of Kansas City Below, an echo could carry around corners and be heard for hundreds of yards. She wished that the sound wouldn’t carry so much; the screams were causing a panic. 

Nobody knew what to do. Some passers-by wanted to run in and help, others were fleeing. The former were worse than the latter—without weapons, they wouldn’t be helping, they’d just be getting in the way. 

Twig, at least, had a broad enough frame to shove a path through the dense, panicked elves, making room for Maggie to follow behind her, two swords rattling on her belt, her newly forged main weapon clutched in her hand. She’d lost track of Vera, but the willowy dryad kept popping up in her peripheral vision, slipping through the people like wind. 

Even with the svartálfr making a path, it was a struggle. It felt like trying to make it into a stadium when the game just ended, though less drunken and more frantic.

I hope Frey’s route was faster. 

She rounded a corner behind Twig, coming into a wide, tall chamber big enough to fit a few houses side by side, with some playground equipment set out. On the far side of the chamber, the wall was painted to look like moss and flowers, with a big sign over a set of double doors. ‘Bree Holds Secondary School’.  

It was all designed to mimic an open courtyard and give the school a natural, welcoming feel. With all the sounds of terror coming from inside, Maggie found that the artificiality was only emphasized, making the space feel sinister rather than homey. 

The doors were open, and a trio of terror-stricken young elves were scrambling to get out. 

Maggie swallowed, afraid of what they were going to see in there. Praying that they’d made it in time. 

There were people inside that needed her, so Maggie put aside her fears and charged ahead. 

It was laid out like any human junior high school, most resembling the sorts built in the 60s and 70s. A blocky layout, full of long hallways lined with lockers, individual class rooms every thirty feet or so dotted with school spirit flyers and poster boards with announcements.

The entry hall was abandoned, but she could hear shouts deeper in the school, and they were coming closer, echoing around the corner up ahead. Gripping her weapon tightly, she nodded to Twig and Vera, stepping cautiously towards the sound. 

Nearly tripping as he came around, a boy in the peak of puberty scrambled around the corner, every breath he took coming out as a scream. 

Not half a second behind him, a petraform skidded on the smooth linoleum flooring, gouging out furrows in the floor as it slid past him and slammed into a row of lockers, bouncing free and coming up after the kid with an alien shriek. 

Roaring out a challenge, she ran as fast as she could towards the petraform, past the fleeing child. It leapt through the air at her, and Maggie was finally able to put her newest piece of steel to the test.

Her rapier was quick, but lacked power. Her claymore was heavy and had reach, but lacked speed. Her twin sabers took skill she didn’t have to use at their peak. 

That’s why she’d made herself a spear. 

Bracing herself, Maggie jammed the magically endowed spearhead right into the petraform’s chest. The steel pierced hard, stony chitin, and the wide guard at the base of the head kept the monstrous creature from sliding down the handle or getting stuck on the weapon. 

Maggie twisted the blade in her grip, and the creature stopped twitching. Jerking back, she freed her spear, flicked it through the air, and looked back at her two companions. 

“We need to start evacuating—” 

“Get down!” Vera barked in warning, raising her hands and sending out a pulsing blue burst of magic past Maggie. 

Maggie spun, alarmed to see the spell collide into another petraform that had been halfway to chomping the back of her neck. The magical missile didn’t seem to hurt it that much, but it knocked it out of the way, and that was all the opening Maggie needed to strike, catching it between two hard plates on its back. 

The lunge put Maggie even further ahead of the other two, in the T intersection where both monsters had come from. Turning to look down the hall, Maggie blinked. 

There were a lot of them. 

Some of the petraforms were scrabbling with their claws to break down classroom doors, others were stalking towards the sound of the combat, but once she was in their view, they all rounded on her, and Maggie couldn’t help but freeze for a moment as she tried to count them all.

They had no such momentary reaction. At least a dozen petraforms barreled towards her, crossing the distance with terrifying speed. There wasn’t time for Maggie to run, her allies were some twenty feet behind her, and she could only skewer one at a time.

She braced her spear anyways, getting ready to thrust. 

From behind her, another bolt of magic seized the first petraform of the pack, launching it back and into two others, while at the same time, Twig jumped in—literally, jumping the whole distance between her and Maggie—and brought an enormous war hammer into direct contact with the face of another monster, sending it down in a daze. 

Maggie only watched, surprised, as a backhanded swing from the svartálfr’s hammer hit another petraform with enough force to launch it back and dent a row of lockers. A third monster leapt at her, but a bolt of magic from Vera took it down before it could get close enough to strike.

They fought as a perfect team, Twig handling the front line while Vera protected her with ranged support, but neither had the capacity to finish off the beasts. 

Right. That’s my job.

Getting over her moment of battle shock, Maggie lunged in, thrusting the tip of her spear into the closest dazed monster, jerking it free, and whirling in time to skewer another one that was coming at her. Twig brought down one that tried to slash at Maggie’s back, pummeling it to the floor, and she came back with the pointed starmetal tip on the back of the spear’s shaft, finishing it off. 

The walls were splattered with dark ichor before the remaining beasts realized they were outmatched and started to skitter away, screeching something that was either a warning or a cry for help.

All Maggie cared about was that they were easier to hit from the back than the front. Going on the offensive, she pursued, and now Vera took on a different role—instead of throwing the monsters back and playing defense, she tripped them up and held the beasts in place, thin strands of power delaying them long enough for Maggie to catch up and bring more of them down. 

None of the monsters got away. With help, Maggie brought down each and every one; fourteen kills in total, including the first two. With terrain that favored small numbers and support, the three of them were all but unstoppable. 

It was a long ways from a terrified pursuit in a subway tunnel. Today, Maggie was the predator. 

When they had a moment to pause, though, she took a breath and gauged their surroundings. Doors to the classrooms were in various states of being torn down—they were reinforced fire doors, which is why they’d been able to survive the petraform’s assault at all. Fire safety was critically important when there was no ‘outside’ to run to, and it had paid off as monster repellant as well. 

Maggie looked to her team. “We need to start getting kids out of here, we’re lucky they haven’t gotten through any doors yet. We can make sure there’s a path to the exit while—” Another scream from deeper in the school interrupted her. More of them. Hefting her spear, she shook her head. “No time. Let’s go.”   

Sprinting in the direction of the scream, she rounded another corner and swallowed down nausea. 

Blood. Elf blood, splattered high on the walls and even ceiling deeper in the hall, with a pair of petraforms crouched over a prone, twitching—

Maggie screamed in rage and ran in. One beast didn’t even have time to turn in response. The other did, and would have lunged at her while she felled its comrade, but Vera held it back and pinned it to the wall with a spell until Maggie could drive her blade into its chest. 

She couldn’t look at the body. A glance told her it was probably a teacher or some of the adult staff, at least. 

It wasn’t the only one. Maggie held back the urge to gag as she looked down the rest of the hallway. 

They’d been too slow, too late, and there were still monsters about. 

“Start evacuating,” she said. “We need to get everyone out.” 

“We should focus on taking down the petraforms,” Vera said, stepping up next to her. “Otherwise, those deeper in the school will be easy prey while we evacuate those close to the entrance.” 

“I’ll kill them,” Maggie growled. “Don’t worry. You just get the kids clear.” 

Vera’s face went still for a moment, and the patterns on her earthy skin rippled. Maggie thought it was an expression of frustration, but she didn’t know dryads well enough to be sure. After the pause, Vera said, “Fine. Twig, stay with her.” 

Running back, she started tapping doors with magic, calling out. “We’re here to help! Line up and follow me to the exit!” 

“I’d rather have you helping escort them to safety,” Maggie said to the hulking Twig. 

Twig nodded in agreement, but stayed by Maggie’s side, clutching her hammer tight. 

Breathing heavily, Maggie stepped through the brightly lit hallway, aromas of iron and blood thick in the air. She watched for open doors, and especially for doors that had been broken through. She saw one, ripped completely off its hinges, and held her breath as she peered inside.

It had, at one point, been a teacher’s lounge. Now, there was nothing alive in the room, and Maggie wasn’t even sure how many people had been in there when the door fell. 

Taking shallow breaths, she turned away. 

This wasn’t what she’d signed up for. Hunting monsters was one thing, but…

Twig whistled, getting her attention and pointing down the hall. There were swinging doors leading to a gymnasium, and through the little windows on the doors Maggie could see a big shape shambling around. It was bigger than the petraforms, but indistinct. 

“What do you think?” she asked. “A queen, or something?” 

Twig shrugged. 

Approaching cautiously, Maggie mentally prepared herself to down the big creature, hoping to take it by surprise. It wasn’t even fighting anymore, it was big game hunting. 

Through the gymnasium doors, there was an enormous crash, and then a particularly high scream.

No more time for sneaking. Maggie charged shoulder to shoulder with Twig, slamming through the gym doors and surveying the scene. 

A whole rack of bleachers had been knocked on its side, and a small elf girl was backed against the wall behind where the seating had been built. She was the one screaming, and it wasn’t hard to understand why.

The thing that had knocked over the bleachers was huge. Eight feet tall, and twice as long, it looked more like an organic equivalent to a tank than anything else, with row upon row of teeth taking up the whole of its face. Scanning the room, Maggie saw an open hole in the center of the gym, the spot that all the petraforms had come through. 

The queen, or whatever it was, lumbered towards the screaming girl. Not enough time to charge, Maggie stepped forward and threw her spear.

It lodged in between two pieces of armor, sticking out like a single quill on a porcupine, and the queen bellowed, whirling and bucking its head to face its attacker. Maggie went for the swords strapped to her belt. 

“Ready to take this thing down?” she asked, glancing at Twig while the queen stamped its feet and snarled at them, a low-pitched rumble harmonizing with the girl’s scream. 

Twig nodded her head sharply. 

Then, a chittering sounded behind her. And more, in front of her. Even more coming from the doors on the far side of the gym. 

The queen was calling in reinforcements, summoning every petraform in the school, and more from the hole in the ground. 

Maggie and Twig made eye contact. They were surrounded. 

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Maggie Cartwright: Chapter Four, Doomed To Repeat It

November 1928. 

The metal sang when Cyrus hit it, letting out a pure tone that hummed in the air for seconds.

When Maggie hit it, the sound was more of an angry ‘clang’.

“No, no,” Cyrus said, stepping forward to stop her from bringing the hammer down again. “You’re not getting it.” 

“The metal is the right shape,” Maggie protested, looking down at the anvil. “It’s exactly like yours.” 

Cyrus sighed, looking out at the river. The rooftop forge he’d put together in the East Bottoms had a great view of the ships coming through, a reminder of the trade that was booming through the city. 

“It’s not just about the physical shape,” Cyrus said. “Any metal can take the shape of a knife, but only ours has the soul of one. Here, I’ll show you again.” 

Reaching out, he waited until Maggie reluctantly passed him the hammer. Despite the flecks of grey in his hair, he was one of the strongest elves she’d ever known, and his muscles rippled as he lifted the tool and brought it down on the steel that was still glowing softly red. 

It hummed, gently. 

“You’ve done magic,” Cyrus said. “You know how to channel our nature. So, channel it into the steel.”

“How?” Maggie asked, feeling frustrated at the lack of specific instructions. “I’m concentrating. I’m trying. The energy won’t go. Do I force it?”

Cyrus shut his eyes, letting the gentle wind flow through his hair and savoring the cool breeze. “You’re not making the power go into the steel, you’re allowing it to flow through the steel,” he said. “It’s a river, not a reservoir.”

“Still, how?” Maggie demanded. “I don’t understand.” 

“Picture a dream,” Cyrus said, looking out at the boats as he spoke. “The future of the blade. The world you want it to create. Your thoughts have to be in tune, same as your body, or you’ll just end up with dull metal.”

“A dream?” Maggie asked. He didn’t get what she was asking for, instructions. It was all vaguery and poetic language that told her nothing about how to make his steel. “So I’ll just fantasize about something while I hit the metal and that will do it?” 

“When I make my swords, I’m not thinking about hitting the metal,” Cyrus said. “I’m thinking about the life that I’m building. The lineage of artists whose skills allowed me to make this steel, and the future I’m going to have here because of it. My swords—our swords—are going to build us a home here in the crossroads of the country. It’s what I want to happen, so I’m going to make it happen. Does that make sense?” 

Maggie wasn’t sure, but she extended her hand anyways, asking for the hammer. Cyrus gave it to her. 

What do I want to happen? 

It was a hard question, especially given that this knife wasn’t going to be anything special. It was a practice blade to learn the fundamentals.

I want to learn, then. I want to grow and make a blade worthy of the lineage. 

That seemed good, but Maggie still wasn’t certain. She looked up at Cyrus. The artisan who’d taken her in, offered to teach her the secrets of metalwork that nobody else knew.

I want to make my teacher proud. 

When she hit the steel, it sang. 

Present day. 

Using the side of her knife’s handle as a wedge, Maggie popped the cap off a beer bottle, took a long pull, and got to work on Levi’s order. 

Setting the bottle in a spot where it’d be clear of any dust or hazardous debris, she strapped on a full-face respirator, elbow-length rubber gloves, and a long canvas apron. The ‘pepper spray’ she made for him was a slurry of dangerous chemicals and particulates held in a liquid medium. Iron powder for fae, silver powder for shifters, pickling salt for demons, capsaicin for mortals. Wolfsbane, garlic powder. Levi wouldn’t get any benefit from holy water, so she instead included a few drops of ink from a printing press. 

The list of ingredients was substantial, and each one was just a tiny part of the cocktail. When it came to personal defense, she didn’t skimp, covering as wide a spectrum as she could, arranging all the various reagents and repellants that she could and setting them out on her work table before she even started mixing them together. 

She heard the rumble of Levi’s motorcycle outside just as she finished setting it all out. She took off her facemask and went to unlock the door, pausing for a moment to survey his appearance. A bad scrape on his face, bloodshot eyes, clothes that were tattered and dirty, and based on his posture, he was limping. 

“Levi, you look like crap.” 

“I feel like crap,” he said. “Can I come in?” 

“By all means.” Maggie stepped back, giving him the opportunity to walk over to the loveseat and slump down. “So, who’s trying to kill you? Errekin, or human?” 

He quirked an eyebrow. “Errrekin?”

“Monster,” Maggie clarified. “It’s… It means monster, basically.”

Levi stretched, shaking his head tiredly. “Well, I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about that.” 

“Sure.” Maggie stepped to the side to take a pull from her beer before dropping the mask back over her face and returning to work. 

Levi rubbed at his eyes, sinking deeper into the couch. “I don’t have a lot of brain power for small talk.” 

“Then don’t. I just enjoy the company.” She did a second count of her ingredients, ensuring it was all measured out accurately, that she wasn’t missing anything. Her actions were thorough and precise.

Levi, eventually, broke the silence, looking up from the loveseat. “What are you working on?” 

“Your order,” she said. “Just double checking before I start to mix.” 

He nodded, falling silent while she began to hand-grind a few components in a stone mortar and pestle. 

As she finished that up and moved the powdered reagents into a measuring cup, he asked, “Are you still dealing with any trouble from the mess last summer?”

It was a reference to some other trouble he’d gotten her roped into. She’d run afoul of human wizards during the chaos, which was mostly his fault, though she couldn’t blame him. “Not really. Business has been slow and I think they’ve put me on a blacklist somewhere telling people not to buy from me, but that’s as far as they dare to go. Even if they tried, they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on since they aren’t allowed to regulate my shop.”

“They’re not?” He tilted his head, which looked a bit odd from her perspective since he was leaning it on the armrest of the couch. “Why not?” 

“Fae. We’ve been doing magic way longer than any of you,” she pointed out, getting out a large ceramic mixing bowl with a pour spout on one side. “When your commonwealth got started, they tried to make us join, but we were here first. Eventually, they agreed we would be sovereign—we don’t mess with you, you don’t mess with us.”

“That sounds like a good deal for everyone,” Levi said. 

Maggie hesitated. “Eh… It had its downsides. You know the stereotype of fae as greedy tricksters?” 

He bobbed his head in a little nod. 

“Humans made that up, pretty much out of whole cloth. Any human who knew about the Commonwealth of Wizards thought that they’d be able to get wizards to bail them out of magical trouble, so they’d make deals they couldn’t or wouldn’t follow through on, only to find out later that the wizards wouldn’t lift a finger to help them renege on their deals. We took what we were owed, the humans cried about it. It was ‘how can I afford to feed my children when the fae are taking all my money?’, at first, and then, ‘The fae are killing my children’, and it just got more outlandish from there.” She paused, trying not to sound mad. “They were trying to cheat us, and they failed, but somehow that makes us the bad guy.”

Maggie was generations removed from the times when the Commonwealth—or the fae nations, for that matter—were known about by regular mortals, but the frustration lingered in her thoughts, especially as she fought against the reputation for being a con artist or trickster whenever she dealt with humans. “It was never us who were unreliable in a deal. It was always you.” 

“Not me, personally,” Levi objected.

Maggie paused, leaning over to glance at him and to make sure he saw her do it. “How many crystals did you pilfer from my shop?” 

He smiled, sheepishly, and sank deeper into the couch. “I paid you back for that.” 

Maggie chuckled. “Take your shoes off, if you’re going to put your feet up.” 

He did, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. “Still, I get your point. It’s us humans who rip each other off and stab each other in the back, while you’re just trying to get by.”

“We don’t touch humans unless they come at us first,” Maggie confirmed. “Once we have a deal, we keep that deal as long as you keep the deal. You’ve got more to worry about from your friends than from the fae.” 

It was strictly true, though she left out some context. Maggie wanted to be able to say that her people were always above board in their dealings, but that was idealism that she knew wasn’t really true. 

Even so, she wouldn’t stand for being called a con artist any time someone saw the tips of her ears. 

Levi didn’t respond, and they fell into another comfortable silence while Maggie worked. After a while, Maggie heard him start to snore.

Dang. She looked up from her work bench at him. If he can fall asleep on one of those couches, he really is exhausted. 

She was tired, too, but she wasn’t sleepy. Noting that fatigue was setting in, though, she responded with more care, ensuring that she wouldn’t make any avoidable mistakes as she poured a set amount of the toxic slurry into four canisters, and then loaded those canisters into pressurized spray cans, each about three inches long and a little wider than her thumb. 

Three for Levi, and one for herself. It wouldn’t kill one of those creatures in the tunnels, but it would fit on a keychain, and it would probably hold something back like that if she found herself in another desperate survival situation. 

She wouldn’t be going around without a way to defend herself again. 

Eventually, though, her work was done. She grabbed a cleansing crystal from the back room to complete Levi’s order, set it all out, and pulled a blanket from her closet to drape over him as well. No need to interrupt the rest he so clearly needed.

The conversation was still bouncing around in the back of her head. She hated the reputation that she got stuck with, and she hated that people like Mich were so willing to play into it. Putting other people’s lives and livelihoods at risk for a bit of profit wasn’t supposed to be something her people did. 

Ensuring that Mich didn’t see any gains didn’t seem strong enough of a retribution, and the repayment for her truck wasn’t enough of a balm. She wanted to burn him, figuratively or literally. 

She’d almost died. She’d looked death right in the eye, and been ready for it, and it had all been part of a cheap trick to steal a sword or two from her inventory. 

That’s not how we do things, she thought, marching back to her forge. She slammed the door, then winced, opening it a crack and glancing back. Levi didn’t stir, so she shut the door again, walking up to the forge. 

She couldn’t make a new blade in an evening, but it was possible she could do something small. The preparation of the steel took more time than anything, and she had a half ingot left over from another project. Whatever she made wouldn’t be attuned or blessed under a solstice moon, but that could wait. The monsters in the tunnels didn’t strike her as infernal, so the blessing would be of limited use.

Not enough for a sword, and she didn’t need a knife. Against those creatures, she wanted speed and power, but she also wanted reach, to keep those claws as far as possible from her skin. There was one weapon she had in mind that could work perfectly. 

She fired up the forge and got to work. 

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Maggie Cartwright: Chapter Three

Blanche Walmund, the Justice of War, was old school. Old old school. The decor of her office wasn’t an anachronism or a throwback to tradition; it had just been the same since she was elected more than a century prior, back when she was young. 

That, to Maggie, probably should have been scary. You didn’t get to be in office amongst the fae for a hundred and fifteen years without having serious self-preservation skills and savvy. Back in the day, she’d won her share of honor duels to stave off political rivals. Now she just held onto her title with grit. 

“Let me get this straight,” she said. “You want a truck.” 

“I want a replacement for my truck,” Maggie said. “And all the equipment I had loaded onto it, and cash compensation for the job I couldn’t finish.” 

“And in exchange, you’ll kill the creatures that have been plaguing the digging and expansion efforts to the north of the city, not because you have any civic duty, but because you want to ensure Mich doesn’t get the credit.” She pursed her lips, thinking about it. “How long have you been living with humans?” 

Maggie raised an eyebrow. “I don’t see why that’s relevant.” 

Blanche’s face was unreadable. “You’re not a warrior.”

“I have the steel to kill them, unlike your team of sharpshooters,” Maggie said. “And I’m no slouch in a fight. I already took down one. With armor, and the time to prepare, I shouldn’t have any trouble.” 

“I’ve already got a team,” Blanche said. “Some freelancers, some on payroll. I’ll put you with them.” 

Maggie shook her head. “I don’t need a team to help me.” 

“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but if you slip up and get hurt, you’ll want someone to drag you to safety. This isn’t the kind of work you do solo, no matter how good you are.” 

“If you’ve got a team, why would you take me?” Maggie asked. 

No response, except that Blanche raised one eyebrow. 

“Never mind.” Getting to her feet, Maggie extended her hand. “Do we have a deal?” 

Blanche stood, but instead of shaking, she gave Maggie a simple salute, raising her hand and extending her ring and index fingers. “My team will be in touch with you. Clear out the monsters, you’ll get your truck.” 

The quickest way to get between Kansas City Below and her home came up underneath Union Station, and from there it was only a short walk back. 

A short walk, but one that made her fume, because she should have been driving

Maggie didn’t think about what she’d committed to until she was back home, in her conjoined auto body shop and house. She slumped against the wall in her garage. Adrenaline, and then fury, and then a deep, grumbling resentment, had all been fuel while she was moving, but now that she was home, there wasn’t much left to keep her going. 

Putting a hand to her face, she rubbed at her eyes, then tore off the bandana that she wore around humans to cover the points of her ears. 

She hadn’t been afraid, not when she was fighting the monsters, not afterward, especially not when she was committing to fighting them. Only now, taking a moment to consider the weight of what she was up against, did she allow herself a moment of trepidation. 

Don’t be a coward. It’s just exterminating some vermin. You’ve handled worse, and you can’t afford to not do it. 

She looked around her shop. It wasn’t a big garage. The front space, the entrance, where she had a desk and her coffee maker and some chairs for customers. Beyond that, her main workstation, with room enough for one car and her work bench. 

Behind that work space was an enclosed area. Nominally, it was a paint room, and that’s what it looked like from the outside, though, in truth, she never painted cars. It was where she hid her forge. The sealed doors made it impossible to peek inside, and nobody questioned the large ventilation system she’d installed to keep the work area clear of fumes. Beyond that was the space she kept all her magical supplies and products which she sold on the side, and if you went any further, you’d end up in the basement of her house. 

Setting aside her worries, Maggie walked towards the forge, stepping through the steel door and shutting it behind her. 

In the course of her career, she’d made dozens of swords, which sold for exorbitant prices. She could have made them faster—if she wanted, she could have ditched the rest of her career and done nothing but forge—but she took pride in the fact that only masters could wield her blades. Every person who she’d sold a blade to, she knew their name, their face, their style. She tested their skills against her own, and only if her customer could beat her handily would she even consider putting them on the waiting list. 

If Maggie had come to herself as a customer, asking to buy a blade, she would have turned herself down. She didn’t live up to her own standards. Being the smith, though, she owned five. 

Her little knife barely counted, but it was the first piece of proper starmetal that she’d ever forged. Taking it from her pocket, she set it down on her anvil. 

Next was her rapier. A delicate weapon, light and quick, perfect for puncturing enemies. It hung on a rack against the wall, and she took it down, swishing it through the air, making a handful of practice stabs at imagined opponents.

With care and precision, going for the weak points of the carapace, she could pierce flesh without having to force steel through the hardest points. 

Her next weapon of choice was the most visibly impressive, a wide claymore that tapered to a razor point. A forty-five-inch blade with a foot of handle, it was almost as tall as she was, with mass and power that could sheer through… well, just about anything. Reach, power, and sheer intimidation came at the cost of speed, which could be dangerous against creatures as quick and reactive as she’d encountered. 

She moved the sword through the air in a few guarded poses, using both hands to control the heavy tool. The blade rippled in the light, shimmering with a beauty that contrasted with its deadly power. 

Maggie frowned. She didn’t want to get flanked by a quick enemy and left exposed. 

The last two blades on the wall were a matched set; one long, one short, designed to be used together. The short blade served a similar function to a shield, parrying away attacks and warding off enemies, while the longer option could hack and cut with greater reach. 

Using both at the same time was hard, and Maggie hadn’t kept up practicing with both weapons, but they seemed the ideal choice for general purpose combat. 

Speed, power, or flexibility. Frailty, lethargy, or inexperience. Advantages and tradeoffs, no matter what she went with. 

She set the blades aside. The decision could wait until morning, and there was other work to keep her occupied. Replacing her cell phone, for one—another thing she’d left in her truck. 

That, at least, was simple. Her old flip phone still worked, even if it was a bit slow, and she had it in a drawer somewhere. After a bit of poking around in boxes filled with obsolete cables and technology she didn’t use much anymore, she found the old phone and a charging cable for it. Plugging it in, she just had to get on her computer, contact her service provider, and activate the old device. 

After it was on for a few seconds, it chirped, filling in the messages and emails she’d missed since her phone was turned off. 

Or, probably, ripped to shreds.

Nothing too major. A bill payment reminder that she could cover, but which would leave her bank account looking pretty thin. A couple newsletters she’d subscribed to. The only thing that she might make some money off of was a text from a human she knew, a journalist who called himself Levi. 

‘I need another big cleansing crystal and some of that souped up pepper spray ASAP, do you have any more in stock?’ 

She paused. He’d texted her a few hours prior, but she hadn’t seen it on account of the whole ‘my phone was eaten by monsters’ problem. The cleansing crystal was easy, but the self-defense spray she’d made was a homebrew mix of chemicals that could repel most things supernatural, and she had to make it to order. It wasn’t ‘cover all her bills’ expensive, but it’d keep her in the black for a little longer if she could upsell the product and get it sold quick. 

Besides, she liked Levi. If he needed something urgently, she could make time. 

Typing was difficult using the old number pad, but she wouldn’t stoop to using chatspeak or abbreviations, even if she couldn’t do any punctuation besides periods. ‘I can set the crystal aside for you now spray I can mix tomorrow’. Then, thinking she could make a couple extra bucks, she added, ‘Do you want me to make a couple so you have spares’ 

He responded quickly. ‘Yes, please. What are you doing up?’ 

Maggie frowned, checking the time. It’s past midnight. When did it get so late? 

‘Working on a project’ she sent back, not going into details. Levi wasn’t in-the-know with fairy affairs. Noting the irony, she sent a second message. ‘I could ask the same of you’

‘Can’t sleep. Someone’s trying to kill me again.’ 

Maggie read the text and rolled her eyes. Not that she wasn’t worried for his safety, but knowing Levi, this was danger that he’d brought onto his own head. He had less in common with a victim and more with a big game hunter who was having a close encounter with the story he was hunting. 

Don’t forget, you’re literally going hunting soon, she reminded herself. Stones, glass houses. 

She looked back at the door to her forge. Despite the late hour, she didn’t have any plans to sleep for a while. 

So, she typed out a message to him, mostly on a whim. ‘Do you want to come by’

He responded a minute or so later. ‘Sure.’ 

If you’re enjoying this, consider supporting me on Patreon!, or chipping in a few dollars at Ko-Fi! A chapter of this story is going to come out every week, and Chapter Three is already out so you can skip waiting and find out what happens next right away!