Episode One: The Horn: Scene 30

“I’ll go back for your stuff tomorrow.

I nodded to Thea, looking around. Two small rooms or cells opened off an area which seemed to be set up for card games. There even were cards on a table, a ratty set, much played with. “I’m…”

“Don’t apologize.” She turned to face me. “Jane. I know you want answers. I can’t give you them yet.”

“How do I know I’m not going to destroy the world if I find out?”

“Because that’s ridiculous?”

“So is all of this.” I let out a breath. “But let me guess. You can’t tell me because I’m not ready or it would break my head or you want to let me down easy or something.”

“Something like that.” She lifted a hand. “You’ve trusted me this far.”

I glanced around the room. “I trust you more than Mr. Otter.”

“Then you have some good judgment.” She set her own bag down on the table, opened it, and produced a couple of swords.

“Those might…”

“Not against guns. Not even if you’re as good as I am. This isn’t a Highlander movie.”

It took me a moment. Those movies were before my time. “I’m not immortal.”

“But. There are few things more intimidating than a few feet of cold steel, even today.”

I couldn’t resist. I walked over and picked one of them up. It had a plain hilt with a small guard and a pommel. And it felt right. It felt absolutely right in my hands, as if I had held swords before. Not just once or twice, but every day of my life.

“Keep it,” she said, softly.

I let the point drop to the floor, then turned away from her. “I’m going to need it.”

There were people out there who wanted me dead. Not to mention whatever Mr. Otter wanted.

I should be wanting to curl up in a little corner, away from it all, but it all felt right. As if this was where I really wanted to be. Right in the thick of things, with monsters hunting me.

And monsters to hunt.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 29

Running was clearly not a favorite word in Thea’s vocabulary. But when you’re outnumbered and outgunned?

You run. We made it to the motorcycle and peeled out. At this point all I had was the gun, the horn and my small bag…which did at least have a change of underwear in it. I’d worry about that later. Or she would. Hopefully they wouldn’t put an APB out on us. Heck, they’d try to put me in witness protection or something.

For what that was worth. It had only taken them six months to track me down, and whatever I’d repressed, whatever was in those lost memories was connected. If I moved and changed my name again, it would take them less time, I was sure.

I had to stop them. That was what it boiled down to. I had to stop them. Maybe I would have to kill some people before this was over.

The idea bothered me. It didn’t bother me as much as it should have. I felt it didn’t bother Thea at all. But we were on the road and powering off into the night. Sleep wasn’t going to happen, and I suspected our pursuers were fresher, but they were also in a car. A disadvantage in traffic, and we were heading into the city. Plus, I got that feeling again, that I could trust the bike, that I wasn’t going to fall off. I was almost to asking Thea to tell me if it was alive.

Almost. Another bullet snapped after us. Sirens echoed through the streets. Great. Would they believe us if we said we were the victims here. We were, realistically. We hadn’t killed anyone, but we had rather left a mess behind us.

Would anyone believe us? I clung to Thea’s back and hoped we didn’t even have to explain. We were across the bridge, though, into the city, and there was no more sign or sound of pursuit.

Thea hadn’t said anything. Neither did I. We lost them in the tangle of streets and buildings as we headed into Southeast. “Sorry. The next safe house on the list isn’t as pleasant.”

“Yeah, and white skins in Southeast?” We’d get killed or beaten up or something.

“We can handle a few gangsters.”

“This has to do with my parents.” I challenged her with my eyes. “Tell me the truth.”

She did not answer. Instead, she turned down a narrow street, locked the bike, and headed through a door, down stairs. A basement. Not uncomfortable, but it felt like a cell. Like a trap. Like a place from which poison would drip from the roof. And she was clearly not about to tell me the truth.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 28

I felt like an out-and-out criminal now. The would be killer was tied to a chair in the kitchen. That was a cliche, but it was proving effective so far.

“So, this is one of them?

Thea sighed. “I think he’s part of a rather crazy cult.”

“So.” I turned to him. “You think I’m going to cause the end of the world.”

“I know you are.” He actually spat at me.

I laughed. “I’m not going to end the world. I’m certainly not going to do so casually, by accident, or just by breathing.”

“Shows what you know.”

Thea back handed him across the face. “Just tell us who you work for. I might even accept your parole, if you promise not to touch Jane again.”

“I can’t give that promise.”

What the heck were we going to do with him? I had no doubt but that Thea would kill him if she thought she could get away with it. I moved over to the window, letting her interrogate while I watched for his buddies, whom I was sure would show up sooner or later. That would seem to be the way of things. So, I watched the window.

Then it occurred to me. The horn. I carefully unwrapped it from my luggage. Thea glanced over.

“Otter said it would be useful. Let’s use it.”

The guy’s eyes widened.

“Oh no. You’re going to drink, and then you’re going to tell us the truth.”

“I can’t. If I tell you, I’ll make it happen. If you know…please…you have to believe me.” He was panicking. “Please.”

Then his bonds slipped. Thea had come over to me, and he ran for the window. As he did so, two shots echoed from somewhere outside. Both hit home and he flew backwards onto the bed.

Thea swore. “Grab your stuff. We’re getting out of here.”

I wasn’t about to argue. She didn’t have a gun. I didn’t have any ammo…maybe one in the chamber at this point. I hit the floor, moving low towards the door, wondering if they’d hit their own guy deliberately or accidentally. Thea was also moving, staying between me and them. I didn’t want her shot for me. Another shot went off, and she grunted, but kept moving, pushing me behind a car. I wasn’t sure where the shooting was coming from. If I could just get close to them, I could kick their butts. As it was, all I could do was crouch behind the car and hope they ran out of ammo.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 27

I didn’t feel safe at all. Thea had headed for takeout, leaving me in a townhouse. Barely furnished and not at all lived in.

No, didn’t feel safe, and she’d told me not to leave. The gun was a weight in a pocket. I needed a holster for it. And ammo. I only had what was in it. She’d said she’d get some of that too.

Could I use it? I thought I could manage to at least point it in the vague direction of the bad guys and pull the trigger, if I had to. Better to run. Better to hide. Which was what we were doing. Running, hiding, but I hadn’t done anything irrevocable yet. The group home thought I was spending the summer with an unspecified friend’s family. Heck, they were in favor. I probably wouldn’t be adopted at my age, but if they could get me into somebody’s care until I turned 18 it would suit them fine.

I didn’t want to be adopted. I still thought I had parents who loved me out there somewhere, and that would be a betrayal of them.

I wished that was the truth, not this pacing of the hotel room. I pulled out the runes I’d bought, the ones Bruce had encouraged me to get, feeling the weight of the stones in my hands. At random, I pulled one out of the bag. It was marked with an H and the word bubbled up in my brain. Hagall. The rune of Destructive Nature.

I hit the deck. It was pure instinct, grabbing for the gun as I went down. The bullet went through the window above me. I moved across the floor to the window quickly, flattening myself against the wall. It was brick, not wood, it would stop bullets. Another shot came into the room. These people were definitely trying to kill me.

“We know you’re in there,” came a voice.

I turned, popped off a shot out the window. There was no follow up sound; I’d missed. But they already knew I was in here, and it might make them keep their heads down.

“Oh, give it up. You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.”

They were probably right. The gun didn’t feel natural in my hands. “Come and get me,” I challenged. The door was locked, but the window was broken.

They came through the window. I didn’t try to shoot them…it was one man…but rather launched myself at him almost before he hit the ground. One man, and he went down with a yelp of surprise.

“Who are you and why do you want to kill me?”


I brought my knee up and applied just a tiny bit of threatening pressure to his crotch. One jerk and he’d be regretting it. “Then what is it? Somebody put a price on my head.”

“Somebody said you were going to cause the end of the world.”

I laughed. “Oh, whatever’s going on, I’m not going to do that.”

“It’s not a matter of what you might do. Just what you are.”

“How many of you are there?”

At that moment, Thea’s shadow appeared outside the window.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 26

On the motorcycle, then. With the things that mattered…clothes, the gun, the horn. I did believe Otter on one thing; it might be useful to me. And I still got the vibe that as smarmy as he was he did have some thought and caring for my wellbeing. Just a bad way of showing it. Or, it almost seemed, like he didn’t know how to show it. “I have something Mr. Otter wants.”

“That’s dangerous. He’ll talk it out of you sooner or later. Or, failing that, trick it out of you.”

That was all we could really say, as Thea gunned the engine. I had this vague feeling the motorcycle was alive, as I had before, was somehow cooperating with us. And at the same time I felt that it was an echo.

I waited until we stopped. In Old Town Alexandria, but not the main street. Quite a few blocks from the magic store. “He said it might prove useful.”

“Then it’s definitely dangerous. Anything that old trickster thinks is useful is going to have a blade on the hilt for sure.”

I didn’t need to know what she meant to translate that saying. Something as dangerous to you as the person you wanted to hurt. “It’s a horn. Marked with Tyr’s rune.”

“Oh. He stole it.”

From her tone, it sounded like he did that sort of thing all the time. “And then used it to mess with my head.”

“We really need to tighten his leash,” Thea grumbled. “You’d think…well…that’s the way of things.”

“He does this all the time,” I hazarded, glancing up at the blue sky. Good, no threat of rain.

“Oh, no. Usually he does worse. But the horn…”

“What is it good for?”

“It does interesting things to liquids you put in it. Turns them into truth serums or makes somebody who’s guilty of something break out in hives. It’s for…finding out if somebody’s guilty.”

“I drank from it.”

“Oh, it would be harmless enough to drink from in private. It’s only a problem if somebody hands it to you.”

“Would the person behind all this recognize it?” I couldn’t help but grin.

“Oh, I see that glint in your eyes. If it’s who I think it is, yes. But he may be working through people who don’t even know who they’re working for…so, he’s right. It could be useful. Either way, don’t break it. It’s rightful owner wants it back.”

“It’s in my duffle. I wrapped it in, uh, underwear.”

She flickered a grin.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 25

“I see he’s still around,” Thea noted.

“Not any more. I think he’s worried you’ll kick his butt.” I flickered a grin at her. She felt so much safer than he did, even though I knew she could beat me up with a blindfold on and one hand tied behind her back.

“Only if he does something. Just watch it. He’s very persuasive.”

“Barry got grounded. They don’t believe he didn’t take that stuff on purpose. And they’re watching me.”

Thea nodded. “Figured. Probably the point of the exercise. But we’ve got something more serious going on.”

“And you came looking for me. What, am I your sidekick now?” I actually didn’t really mind the idea of being exactly that. If I was honest, I was developing a bit of a crush on her…and I wasn’t sure it was a schoolgirl BFF crush either.

“No, but you might be in danger. The people who took Barry.”

“So, they’re probably behind that hold-up too.” I frowned. “They want me dead.”

“Apparently. I’m not sure exactly who they are, but they definitely want you dead. Barry was bait..”

“I was thinking it was Mr. Otter.”

“He doesn’t want you dead. That’s the last thing he wants. He wants you on his side, serving his agenda. And I’m not sure what that is right now.”

“Don’t worry. I don’t trust him. So, what can we do?”

“You’re in a very insecure position. Far too easy to find. Not nearly enough protection.”

“I have a gun.” I admitted that very quietly.

“With you?”


“Then go get it. Can you use it?”

“I think so.” Our eyes met. “I don’t remember.”

“Get it anyway. And anything else that might be useful. We’re moving tonight.”

“Moving? If you plan on hiding me in an undisclosed location, I won’t be happy.”

“I plan on keeping you out of their hands, in one piece. Alive would be good, too.”

I laughed a bit. “I’ll get the gun. But I’m not going to be some package for delivery here.”

“You will never be that.”

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 24

I wrapped the horn carefully and hid it in my underwear drawer. It wasn’t anything magical after all, and I’d get into a ton of trouble if anyone found out I’d stolen it. Mr. Otter had tricked me.

Or maybe just annoyed me into doing something he wanted done, but I couldn’t imagine what he’d want with it. And maybe he was responsible for Barry’s problems too. And…the bastard was waiting for me when I left school.

“Give me one good reason I should give it to you,” I said flatly. “For all I know, you’re why Barry’s grounded.”

He actually…smiled, hands clasped behind his back. “Now why would I have done that?”

“I don’t know. To mess with my head. To get what you want…which isn’t a shabby old drinking horn.”

“Oh, somebody I know is rather attached to it.”

“So, you’re using me to prank another person.” Somebody who would put a rune of justice on a drinking horn…that had to mean like a cop or something. Or just somebody who followed Tyr. “A follower of Tyr.”

Except that didn’t explain the appearing, disappearing, appearing horn. Nothing did, really, except magic or insanity or him slipping drugs into my drink.

“Close. It’s harmless. Give it back to me and I’ll return it to the person it belongs to. No harm, no foul.”

“Why don’t I believe you?” I wanted to…but that wanting to was so strong it, alone, made me suspicious of the man. I kept one eye on him. Long grey hair. Hints of red in it. And there was something about him that reminded me, oddly, of an elf from Lord of the Rings.

“Because nobody ever does,” he said in an obviously-teasing woe is me voice. “Never mind. Keep it, then. It’ll find it’s way home eventually, and I suppose you might find it useful.”

I started to say it didn’t do anything, then thought better of it. If he thought I would find it useful then maybe it was, in some way I didn’t know about yet. I also felt that it was best not to mention that I’d drunk from it.

And right at that point, I saw Thea. “Uh oh.” The two of them in the same place struck me as a bad idea.

And him, too, because when I looked back from her, he was gone. And Thea was striding towards me.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 23

They didn’t entirely believe him. Barry got a warning and then grounded for the duration. Which made me wonder if that was part of the plan.

I hadn’t planned on hanging out with him anyway, but it was seriously unfair. It wasn’t as if he’d done anything. He’d just been seen with me once too often. Now I couldn’t be seen with him anyway – they always watched us for any signs of drug use. I’d be grounded to the house if I did anything that even made them think I might be on something.

Which was another reason not to tell my therapist anything. I lay on the bed in my room, wishing I could leave for good; but as much as running away appealed, I was smart enough to know where that road ended for most girls and many boys. And where the end of that road was, but I did have one advantage; any pimp who tried to add me to his stable would end up hurting or dead.

And then I’d end up in jail. Whatever way I looked at it, it boiled down to the same thing. I needed backup and I needed friends. Thea might be backup. Looked at it the right way, Mr. Otter might even be backup. But neither of them could be friends.

I got up and stalked out, down the stairs, out into the street. I was actually hoping for Mr. Otter to show up but, of course, he didn’t. Instead, I stopped outside the pawn shop.

Yup. There it was. “Come to me,” I whispered. It was as good a tactic as any, and then I tried to reach through the glass as if it wasn’t there.


Okay. If there was real magic, if this was a fairy story, it would have come to me when called. The store was open, so I slipped inside, as quietly as I could, and made a great show of browsing the row of multi-colored trumpets that hung from the ceiling. The store owner looked up, then lost interest when I didn’t come to the counter or ask him anything.

I turned to where the sword and the horn were. And this time it was still there, as if reading my mind, feeling my intent. “Come on.” I didn’t want to steal it, but he hadn’t known it was there anyway. It had been invisible to him. Somebody had hidden it here.


Mr. Otter had hidden it here, and then I reached out and my hand closed on it. I walked out as if nothing was happening, shaking my head with the air of a dissatisfied customer. I didn’t even look at it until I had it home.

Then I did. A ratty drinking horn with Tyr’s rune on it and a leather strap to hang it from. Honestly, it looked like something somebody had made for a RenFaire, only cheap. Definitely cheap. Which meant…it was definitely a test. Well, except there was one thing I could do with it.

I filled it with water, and took a sip. Nothing happened.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 22

I left the hospital before Barry’s parents arrived. Maybe I just didn’t want to face them. He’d been given an addictive hallucinogen and possibly other stuff as well, and I knew it was to get at me.

The obvious answer was not to have any friends.

The less obvious and more sane answer was only to have friends who could look after themselves. It’s in books when the hero decides never to have friends again and has to be beaten up by his friends to get over it.

I wasn’t that stupid. But I didn’t have any friends except maybe Kanesha, and she sure as heck couldn’t look after herself. Thea was never going to be my friend. She intimidated me far too much. A big part of me wanted to grow up to be like her. A big part of me wanted to never see her again.

So, she wouldn’t be a friend. Maybe an ally, not a friend. Which left…Bruce? Nah. I wasn’t going to involve him further. He was too old to be a friend, and while he definitely knew stuff.

Definitely knew stuff. I called him, asking if we could meet at the store again, then went home and tried to sleep.

Sleep wasn’t very quick in coming, nor was it helpful when it did come. I remembered, on waking, snatches of dreams about fiery people, Mr. Otter laughing…with me or at me, I wasn’t sure which, deformed horses…yeah. I woke up even more tired than when I’d gone to bed and I had to somehow drag myself to school. I really wished I went to one of those schools with a later start. Teenagers, supposedly, weren’t ever any good at getting up early. I fell asleep twice in class, and it was no better than the sleep I was supposed to be getting. All it got me was yelled at about how I was already behind. I didn’t want to tell them the edited version of what had happened, but I escaped with last bell into the heat. Summer break would start in a week anyway. Thank the gods. Then I only had to worry about work and trying desperately to study and catch up, but at least I could sleep in a little. I didn’t have to work, so I headed to the store to meet up with Bruce.

“You won’t believe what’s happening.”

He took one look at me and started to head for the waterfront, at a slow pace. “Try me.”

“One of my friends got kidnapped and drugged.” A pause. “Probably the closest thing I have to a real friend. And I think it was to get to me.”

“Have you talked to the cops?”

“They wouldn’t believe me.” The cops weren’t competent, couldn’t deal with this. “I think…I know this is crazy, but I think there’s actual magic or something or…”

Bruce fell silent. “Real magic isn’t like in the movies. If you only think it’s there it’s more likely to be real. As for your friend. He needs protection.”

“He does. And I’m worried about you, too. About anyone I’m seen with.”

“Let me worry about myself. You need backup.”

I hesitated, but something told me not to mention Thea just yet. “I can manage. I got him back.”

With help. I realized not admitting that made me sound cocky, but it was all I could say.

“Then keep doing what you’re doing, but I do think you need to call the cops.”

“They know Barry was drugged. I think they believe me when I said he hadn’t done it himself. I think.”

I wished I could be more sure.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 21

We found Barry in the last cell-like room. It wasn’t quite the dungeon you might have expected – it was more like a crib, but he had been locked in for sure. Thea simply took the key from the hand of our escort and unlocked it herself.

“Come on. Let’s go.”

“Whaaa?” Barry seemed groggy, so I grabbed his hand and pulled him out. There was no feasible reason he would have chosen to come here. I started to wonder if he’d been drugged or something. Either way, I cared about getting him out of here.

Thea shoved the employee into the room and locked the door, which got her a bit of a smile from me. I rather wanted to do the same thing, after all. Well, no. I wanted to do worse to whoever was behind this. With a bit of a goofy smile, Barry followed us. “I’m not taking him home like this. Any way we can sober him up first?”

Thea shook her head. “Take him to the hospital. Give them some good story that ends with spiked pop.”

That…did sound like a good story, as she led us out through the back of the club…if anyone saw me go in, they’d at least have seen me go in without Barry. Hopefully no twos would be put together. Once we were somewhat clear, I called 911, asking for an ambulance. By the time I’d finished talking Thea, and her motorcycle, were gone.

Barry slumped against the wall. “Jane?”

“Don’t worry. Somebody spiked your drink.” I had a feeling he’d believe me, right now, seize onto that as some evidence and vestige of sanity.


“I called an ambulance.” The nearest hospital was just further away than I wanted to try and walk through the streets with him.

“I don’t remember anything except weird people…one of them had a sword.”

A hallucination? Or reality? Supervillains with swords? It could have been worse, and part of me struggled for some knowledge of what was worse, hoping worse didn’t exist.

I hoped I hadn’t somehow ended up on the side of the villains…had I made the right choice trusting Thea over Mr. Otter?

Or had it been a choice at all? The ambulance pulled up, took charge of Barry. Experts, checking his pulse, looking at his eyes, doing all the things they needed to do.

“Somebody gave him PCP. You did well to bring him in.”

“He drank his pop, got really…weird.”

“You’ll stick by that with the police, right?”

“Hell yes. Barry doesn’t take drugs. And that stuff’s bad, right?”

“Bad enough.”