Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 30

The shadow hound did not show up again. In fact, things started to settle into a routine. What I did get was a letter.

It was in script almost as flourid as Mr. Otter’s. Which told me right away it was from Her Ladyship.

It was an apology, plain and simple, for everything that had happened. I didn’t count on it to be the end of things. But it meant something nonetheless.

It meant there might be a chance of something more lasting than a truce. I didn’t show it to Thea or Kanesha, though. I was oddly more comfortable with them thinking things were still uncertain. That way they would be ready to jump when needed. I hoped I would be. But I folded it up and put it away carefully, in the lockable drawer of the desk I had in my room.

That wasn’t the safest place to put it, but it was the safest place I had. For right now. And it was next to the horn.

No, I needed a safer place. For them. Possibly for me, but it was what it was. I looked in that drawer again. There was one other object in it.

My illegal gun. Who knew what would happen if I was caught with it. Shaking my head, I wrapped the entire kit and kaboodle up in my underwear. Perfect. Nobody’d go rooting through that. At least not a male somebody, and probably not much of a female somebody either.

For now, it was safe. For now, I had one less thing to worry about…except that I would. I needed my own place.

I thought about that for a long moment. About the safehouse. About the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to stay in this city.

I had to leave, as soon as I could get myself out of high school.

I had to leave, but I had no place to go, because I couldn’t remember where I came from.

Then I had to worry about where I was going to. It was as simple as that, and I thought I had an idea.

I was going to find out how to save the world. Then I was going to do it.


Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 29

The thing had stopped, sort of sniffing in my direction. It wasn’t shaped like a hound. It wasn’t shaped like anything.

“If it would manifest physically, we could shoot it a few times and that would probably do it,” the man said. “You can’t kill a spirit that way, but you can shock them into going home.”

I nodded. That fit. “Well. It doesn’t like churches.”

“Do you like going into somebody else’s home without an invite?”

That was so close to my own feeling on the matter that I flinched. It wasn’t a demon. But it wasn’t a nice thing either.

But maybe. “Well, if it’s a hunting dog, we could try something else. Like…is there anything that would be a…”


“Blast it. Anyone got a lighter?”

I was tossed one. Thank goodness one of them smoked. Stepping forward, I flicked the lighter on.

All of the shadow creature’s attention was on me. Even what had been wandering before. “Want a treat?”

I had a feeling it would want more than that. I looked around. Yes, there was a suitable container in the alleyway.
Getting my point, my erstwhile enemies were picking up trash. Soon, we had a nice little homeless person style fire going. Which the shadow dog was wrapping around like, oh, a constricting snake. Through the barrel, of course.

“It’s a dog. It’s going to respond to treats and maybe a bit of kindness. And then…”

“You can just ask it to go home.”

The smell of stale tobacco and sulfur was stronger, but it didn’t bother me as much right now. I walked up to the shadow and…petted it.
This time I didn’t feel it trying to drain my strength from me. Which I now knew had been a way to get me to stay quiet, while it did whatever or called whoever. “Why don’t you go home, Rover?”

I sensed a purr in my mind.

“It likes you.”

“You won’t be happy here.” My hand seemed to come into contact with something solid. “Good boy.”

Still that purr, not quite fitting the dog image. And then it slowly faded into the fire and was gone.

“Dang, girl.”
I turned to them. “So, are you going to shoot me now?”

“Truce.” It was reluctant.

“That’s all I want.” It was, for right now. More might come, but not having to worry about them?

It meant I could worry about worse things.

Like who was sending shadow hounds from Muspelheim after me. Yeah. Like that.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 28

I found a back door to the church, knowing that thing had been some kind of demon and knowing there were more of them out there.

Lots more. I just hadn’t noticed them before. Would Thea call it a demon? What would she call it? It hadn’t been corporeal, though. Not even in the way the fairy was. And certainly not in the way Thea and her “motorbike” were. I still had my suspicions about that bike.

But I had another immediate problem to deal with. I’d made it about halfway home when I realized Mr Gun was following me again.

And this time, he’d brought friends. Yet another thing I couldn’t lead back to my fixed address. Maybe this was all a good reason not to have one. That’s what they said in England, apparently. No fixed address. It was more picturesque than “homeless, but it also sounded more voluntary somehow.

But yeah.

Four men with guns, tailing me, looking for a place with no witnesses. At least, I assumed they had guns.

And there it was again. Dang it. I thought my cut through the church had lost it, but it was on one side of me, they were on the other.

I’d rather have the mortal enemy and I cut back towards them. The worst they could do was kill me. I wasn’t sure what that shadow could do, but I had a feeling it was far, far worse. Or maybe not. It had pulled back from my anger, which still smoldered, threatening to rise again. If it did, then somebody was going to end up dead.

“Watch out. There’s worse behind me,” I called as I reached them.


One of the men said, quietly, “She’s right. There’s something out of Muspellsheimr right behind her. A hunting dog.”

Looking for me. And that made, suddenly, more sense than demon. “It doesn’t want to hurt me. But if it’s a hound, it’s under orders.”

“And we don’t want to…”

“Truce!” I snapped. “You want to chase me down, do it later. Do you know how to send that thing back to Muspellsheimr?

Burnt tobacco. Sulfur. Heat. And I knew suddenly. The realm of fire. It was not a demon. It was an elemental, and somebody had set it on me.

“You can’t?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know how.” Why would he think I could? I wasn’t going to worry about that right now.

Something right out of the realm of fire might be vulnerable to…water? Maybe we could try putting it out. It hadn’t wanted to go through the church – but neither had I, particularly. I had felt like I was trespassing in somebody else’s house. “Water?”

“Not enough.”

They were closing around their leader, but I found myself stepping into the formation. Any of them could have stuck a knife in me.

“You guys could just leave. It seems to be me it’s after and we aren’t exactly friends.”

“Truce.” He sounded reluctant. “Help us get rid of it.”

“Just tell me what you need me to do.”

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 27

It didn’t, of course. Thea was still around, although she’d emptied the safe house we’d used. She said it was probably shot, that we’d been there too long.

Instead, she was renting a little studio apartment across the river in Rosslyn. I didn’t ask how – housing costs in DC being what they are. That was part of my despair, but the obvious solution was now bubbling up in my brain.

Once I was out of high school, there was no reason to stay in DC. I could fill a suitcase with everything I cared about and hop a Greyhound to somewhere cheaper. But it would also have to be somewhere I was needed.

Or maybe the trouble would follow me. Which it was right now. The shadows closed in as I tried to make it back home from work. Then I changed tack and course. I didn’t want to lead whatever was following me back to the group house to descend on my unsuspecting (minus one) housemates.

So, I took a different street, which took me further into the bad part of northeast. A few months ago, appropriately warned, I wouldn’t have taken my white skin into the place. This was where the really bad gangs hung out, the ones that had started in Los Angeles and spread east. Most of them were Hispanic, and now I saw them, the desultory grouping on the street corner.

Did I want to lead it even into them? Maybe, maybe not. I started to lean towards not. That same sense I thought hadn’t been working properly was flowing through me again.

Maybe it was something that showed up when I needed it, but I knew, knew with everything within me that they were just a bunch of lost, mixed up kids with nothing else to belong to, and I didn’t want to hurt them further.

But it was too late. The shadows surged past me, and that was all they were, shadows, investigating them, flowing around them.

Then back towards me. Apparently, I was more interesting than a bunch of gangsters. I wished for my sword, even though I knew it wouldn’t be any use against it.

What would? It wrapped around me and it smelled foul, but more an old man’s tobacco breath kind of foul than of the grave. Kinda like this one teacher we had who chain smoked and had that scent constantly around his clothes. But with a hint of sulfur to it.

Stale tobacco and sulfur. Joy. Not something I could fight physically, but it just seemed to want to wrap itself around me and hug me.

Ugh. Then I felt it trying to tug at me…at my self…maybe it was some kind of vampire, and I got mad.

Really mad. Red in my vision shaking heart racing mad. I hadn’t ever been this angry, or rather I had, but didn’t remember it.

Couldn’t remember it. “Get away from me!”

Dimly, I heard one of the gangsters yell something in Spanish. Probably about crazy white chicks.

Like the kelpie, this thing wanted to feed, but it pulled back, perhaps realizing it had bitten off more than it could chew.

It was a demon, I decided. A demon that might be driven off by something holy, and it was turning back towards me. There was a church nearby. Churches made me uncomfortable enough that I’d wondered about myself, but I was betting it would make that thing even more so. I ran for the church, with the thing pursuing me, got inside and closed the door.

It did not follow me. Outside, I heard running feet as the gangsters scattered. I hoped it didn’t catch any of them.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 26

School didn’t feel real. It felt surreal, as if nothing there was quite real. Or as if none of it mattered. It wasn’t like I was going to have a career.

Realism had settled in. I might be able to hunt monsters, but my money was going to be coming from flipping burgers, I’d be staying with a roommate if I was lucky…and I couldn’t and wouldn’t live off of Thea’s charity.

That reality hit me even harder as I sat through a math lesson. I was doing better than normal, mind, as if my mind was clearer than it normally was. Maybe it was. I did have a feeling all the running around and fighting was good for me, being natural to who and what I was. That it had made me…stronger?

No. More myself. And this stuff was suddenly a lot easier. Not that I remembered it, it was just flowing better.

Which made me realize right away that I needed to hold back. If I suddenly got good at math, people would be suspicious or something. Or they’d think I was slacking before.

Improve, I told myself, but not too much. It wouldn’t be too hard. Right?

Right. But that still brought reality down around me. I couldn’t graduate. Well, maybe they’d social me out, but with my GPA, I might not even be able to get a job flipping burgers. I must have looked pretty disconsolate as I stepped outside…to bump right into Barry Clark. “Uh, hi.”

“You look miserable.”

“Guess I’m just feeling the weight of reality today. You look ungrounded. Did they finally believe you didn’t take that crap?”

“Not exactly. I’m on probation.” He shuddered a bit. “Thanks. I never got to thank you for that.”

I let out a breath. “No problem.” I opened my mouth to tell him to stay away from me. Then I closed it again. He probably thought the entire thing was a hallucination. I didn’t want to disillusion him on that fact. He was safer ignorant.


“No. I wouldn’t like to hang out. I had a couple of scares over the summer. I still have stuff to work out.”

His metaphorical crest fell. He had really been about to ask me out and I felt a bit of regret. He was pretty hot, after all. Which reminded me that I liked boys.

“I get that. I mean, so did I. And…yeah, I get why you wouldn’t want to go with probation boy.” He turned and walked away, mostly looking at his sneakers.

Well, maybe that would get him to stay away from me. I tried not to admire the view, possibly successfully, as he walked down the corridor.

“Wow, you shut him down.”

I turned. “Oh. Hi, Priscilla. Nah. I’d shut anyone down right now.”

“Well, if you aren’t interested in him.” She produced a catty smile.

“He’s all yours, although I have to admit…you broke three hearts last year.”

“Just trying them on for size. I mean, how can I pick the right one without dating all of them?”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that. And it was the first time since all of this started that I’d felt, well, normal.

Which meant it couldn’t possibly last.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 25

“Just a stray,” I told Thea, later, cleaning my gun carefully.

“They’re going to be out there. But as long as they don’t come against you in force.”

“Not going to tell me I should have killed him?”

“Well…it would have got rid of him, but a persistent detective might have tracked you. So, no. Not killing him was probably prudent.”

From her tone, I rather thought she would have killed him and taken her chances with the police. I let out a breath. “I was hoping to feed him to the cops, but he was just that bit too smart.”

Thea nodded. “Well, take any opportunity, as long as they look nuts and you’re willing to risk a bit of perjury.”

I wasn’t telling the cops I was a specific target. They’d put me in witness protection in approximately five seconds flat if I did that. Which would work for maybe three months. “I also don’t want any dead cops on my conscience.” I felt my lips quirk. “I mean, they’re cops, but they’re just doing their jobs.”

Thea grinned. “Hey, some of them are okay. Straight laced, but okay.”

I laughed a bit. “Hot, right?” Thea, I was beginning to realize, was a bit of a flirt, although I’d never seen her do more than that.

“Good views.”

“That’s all you ever do, though, right? Look.”

Thea turned sober. “Let’s just say casual relationships would be…too dangerous for the person. And the same goes for you.”

“I worked that out. Bad enough that Kanesha’s involved.” Although that was more than a casual relationship. It was something else. Mostly friendship and I was determined to keep it that way.

“Something I’d never have agreed to if she didn’t have a good head on her shoulders and a solid ability to look after herself. But she can’t dodge bullets.”

“Neither can I,” I noted, wryly. “As far as I know, anyway.” This would have been a better story if I’d manifested superpowers…or at least more than I had. And that sense of everything I’d had out in the country had faded.

Or maybe it was just that there was less to sense in the middle of the city. I should go to the mall and try. Better yet, the zoo.

“So. School in a week. Do you think it’s safe?” Thea brushed back some stray hair as she fixed her gaze on me.

“I think it’s as safe as we can make it. If that guy shows up…blast it, I daren’t carry at school.”

Thea nodded. “Don’t. They wouldn’t just expel you, they’d send you to juvie. Or try. But your hand to hand is decent, and they won’t shoot into a school. Have they directly endangered civilians?”

I shook my head. “No. So, yes, I think it’s safe.”

Not that I was looking forward to it. But…well. Could I make a paid career out of monster hunting? Likely not.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 24

I could hear him coming up the last part of the fire escape. I was proud that I’d done it faster than he had, but now it was me, a roof, and a guy trying to kill me.

So, my mind was racing with ways to get out of this without killing him. I wasn’t good enough with a gun to shoot to wound and Thea had told me you didn’t do that. You aimed for center of mass. You didn’t care whether you killed them or not, because caring would make you hesitate.

Hesitating would make you dead. He was about to give me no choice, and this was still a part of town where, desire to feed him to the cops or not, a couple of gunshots wouldn’t draw much attention.

On the other hand, being wanted for murder would put a crimp in my style. I wondered if any deity or deities really was keeping a watch out for me, but the only direction that led to was Mr. Otter’s smarmy face, and if he was a god he wasn’t one I cared to worship.

Care for, maybe. Like, even, in a way. Worship, no.

“I know you’re up here, little girl.”

“Give it up,” I said quietly, but loud enough to be sure he could hear me. “Her Ladyship and I agreed a truce.”

“She’s going soft in her old age.”

“Truce.” I was giving him every chance, but the gun was in my hands now. It felt cold and very heavy. The sword felt alive, but I couldn’t carry it with me everywhere. I was stuck with the gun, and the gun was enough to pull me down, all the way down. To the bottom of the Potomac, perhaps.

Or maybe further than that, and if I used it? If I killed this guy, deliberately, maybe I crossed a line. But maybe I already had.

Which was probably why I reached out with everything that was in me in a request for help. I wouldn’t call it a prayer. It was more a…mental yelp.

The only immediate response was that a bullet whizzed past me. Then I saw it. There was a door.

A door…in the back of the elevator hood, and I circled around. Locked, so I kicked it in, remembering to aim for the hinges end, and stumbled into whatever was inside.

It was dark. I almost fell down the stairs, but I kept running down them, hoping he wouldn’t realize, right away, where I had gone.

Down and down, not going into the building. The doors were locked – they tend to lock stairwells in this city, because, hey, everyone’s fat enough without having to take the elevator all the time.

Down…and out into, thank the gods, a parking garage. I ran. If he followed me, he was far enough behind not to see me. The gun vanished back under my jacket as I ran past the parking attendant.

“What’s up?”

“Asshole tried to grab me!” I yelled. The guy might at least slow him down, especially with the implication I had left in that sentence. Rape hadn’t been on his mind, but he’d have to hide the gun too.

Somehow, in the television shows, they never had to worry about stuff like being caught with weapons.

But it was quite a few blocks before I stopped running.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 23

It had taken me a couple of days to really shake the funk that came over me at the discussion of goddesses of death.

And I wasn’t sure why it bothered me so much. I mean, sure, I didn’t want to die any more than the next woman did. Maybe old people who were sick wanted to, or people with really screwed up lives. Me? I had a screwed up life, but I’d much rather fix it.

But five minutes of research had shown that I was right. Hel. The Queen of the Underworld in Norse mythology, daughter of the god Loki and a giantess named Angrboda. The names felt natural and right, but that name scared me.

Somewhere in my past, something had happened to make me afraid not of death, but of this goddess. Which all fit in with knowing runes.

Somewhere in my past I’d been…raised to worship the Norse gods. Everything fit that pattern, even the martial nature of my training. Maybe I’d been raised by a bunch of fanatics. Every religion had them, after all. That fit it all too.

There were footsteps behind me. My hand dropped to my gun – I kept it concealed, but I didn’t go anywhere unarmed these days. If I got arrested, so be it. Besides, I had a feeling Thea and her sisters would get me out. She hadn’t said as much in words.

Then something made me dive to the side, right as the shot went past me. So much for Her Ladyship’s truce.

Or maybe so much for her control over some elements of her own organization. That was almost more likely. But I wasn’t going to fire back right now, instead, I moved into the alleyway.

Anyone bold and stupid enough to shoot at me in what was, while not broad daylight, certainly not the dead of night? I was going to feed them to the cops if I could.

Maybe that was a bad idea, but I was willing to swear up and down that I didn’t know anything about his ravings.

“Come out, little girl. This won’t take long.”

I ignored him, backing further into the alleyway. A dead end. No, there was a fire escape. It was hooked up, but…

But…could I jump that high? I crouched and leapt, barely grabbing it, pulling myself up with strength I knew was as much adrenalin as reality. It went all the way to the top of the building, but what did I do then? I didn’t have one of Batman’s grappling hook guns, and all I’d done was removed witnesses.

I could hope he couldn’t make the leap I had, but men were generally stronger. Hrm. I kept climbing, all the way to the top, breathing hard. Once there, I crouched behind the elevator hood.

And waited.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 22

Two weeks and school started again. The truce was all I could do. If they came and shot up the school…

I’d have to disappear for sure at that point. Probably leave the city. We sat around the table at the group home. I’d moved back in, because things had now been quiet for a week or so. “So, I think Kanesha was right and that horribly cliched hold-up really was a test.”

Thea pursed her lips. “It certainly seemed insanely coincidental, didn’t it. I’ve found out more about Her Ladyship, though. Baroness Maria Lenton. From a family with rumored occult connections for many generations. Noted mostly as a diviner.”

That spell probably had been a recipe. “So, she got her hands on this prophecy and what, gave it to the wrong people?”

“They’re her people. The Lentons have been handling…dangerous occult items and people for, again, generations. You got on the list.”

I sighed. “We’re supposed to be on the same side. Aren’t we? I mean, I’m all for handling dangerous items and people.”

“It depends how. The Lentons prefer to destroy what might remotely be dangerous. Maria Lenton seems mellow, but she’s older. And her son will take over and he’s a piece of work.” Thea sighed. “At least we know exactly which batch of crazies we’re dealing with.”

“The son’s a piece of work?”

“Likes to go around exorcising ghosts that are perfectly happy where they are, for starters.” She rolled her eyes.

“If I was a ghost…hrm. Well, I suppose some of them would be.” I hadn’t encountered any ghosts yet. Knowingly.

“I know somebody who can help with them. And it might…” She considered. “I’m trying to think what’s best for you to learn.”

“Guns. I’m really good at hand-to-hand and swords, mediocre at guns. And…how to better spot threats.” I looked at Thea. “I’m equipped to do the kind of thing they do and I think I know how to do it without going over the top.”

“But do you want to?”

“Yes,” I answered firmly. “As long as I can hold this truce with the Lentons. Maybe if they see me doing good work, they’ll leave me alone.”

“Maria Lenton will. I’m really not so sure about Barnabas.”

I snorted my drink. “Barnabas? No wonder he has issues.”

“His daughter’s worse. Heliconia Isabel Lenton.”

“Hel…what, that her mother’s favorite flower or something?”
Kanesha giggled. “That is a silly name, and it doesn’t even shorten except to hell, which is either where bad people go when they die or a goddess of death.”

“She’s a goddess of death,” I said without thinking. “I think the other term came from that.” I had no clue whether that was a real memory or something I’ve read, but the thought of the name made me shiver slightly.


Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 21

Kanesha was the first to act. She stepped on the man’s foot, grinding her high heel into him with an unpleasant sound. That caused me to roll out from under table and to my feet. Two of the others were in hand to hand with Her Ladyship’s bodyguards, and there was only one more.

Who was pointing a gun at me. No doubt I was the only target not too close to one of his own people. I hesitated not at all…I rushed him.

The gun went off, but it went over my head as I dropped to roll into his feet. He went down – unfortunately landing on top of me, but that only put me in a good position to get my fist into his solar plexus. I rolled him off myself. “Is that all of them?”

Her Ladyship was standing with grace. She nodded. I didn’t ask what the spell was, but now I thought it had to be something subtle.

A luck spell, maybe? “You know,” she said as she swept over to me. “You could have set me up to get killed.”

“And proved people right about me? I’d never get rid of your people if I did that.” Besides, I wasn’t going to kill an old lady. If I could. Not knowing how powerful she was, I wasn’t making that judgment. Sure, I could take her physically, but…

And, of course, that was when the cops pretty much sauntered in to do clean up. Oddly, they didn’t ask too many probing questions. If it was a luck spell, it was still in effect. “Truce?” I asked her as one of her bodyguards helped her to her car.

She nodded. “Truce.”

I turned to Kanesha. “Well, that was exciting. I can’t believe we randomly got held up.”

“Might not have been random.” Kanesha waited to finish until Her Ladyship was in the car and leaving. “I think she set us up.”

“To see which way I’d jump? It does seem odd that they were so easy to take down.”

Kanesha nodded.

“She was using magic.”

“Or maybe it was a recipe for goulash.”

At that, I laughed. “I think it’s borscht. That that’s a reference to. I don’t know. Something about swearing in Russian.”

Her grin broadened. “Given we didn’t exactly get much afternoon tea, how about we go somewhere and pick up some real food on Thea’s credit card?”

I wasn’t going to argue. I was, though, going to stay alert the entire way. I let Kanesha choose and she took us to a deli sandwich place. Ordered real subs with lots of toppings on them to deal with the memory of those entirely too neat little sandwiches.

I supposed they were a British thing too, but I preferred my sandwiches big and with lots of stuff in them.

Going native?

That thought was stray and I shook my head. It evaporated, but not quite from memory.