About a week after Circe broke the power plant because she wanted to fry all the gremlins in a hurry.
Circe looked out over the improvised tent city that had extended the main city's borders outwards during the power outage while they fixed the damage to the plant. One thing she really didn't expect was the smell, but as it turned out without much of a working sewer... There were similar encampments in the city's parks as people struggled to manage modern city living with bare minimal power. Many who could left, but there were a lot of problems – and she was trying not to be crushed under the guilt of it.
She hadn't thought things through at all. Looking back on her cavalier attitude she really wanted to go back and kick her past self in the rear. She'd been scolded more than once over the whole thing, but she was already feeling pretty awful just from the gradual realization of the scope of her error.
“You look like you've been crying,” Derek startled her.
“I...maybe...” she huffed with annoyance and crossed her arms over her chest.
“You know your Peter Parker at all?”
“You're getting at that whole power and responsibility thing?”
“Yeah, and you know THIS,” he gestured at the sea of tents, “is why.”
“How many times do I have to say I'm sorry damn it?!”
“I don't care about what you say, I care about your future restraint in throwing a million volts of electricity around. I won't have any idea if you've really learned your lesson or not unless something similar happens again and you don't blow up the power of a million people.”
“Ass,” Circe sniffled a little and sat down.
Derek scowled at her and dropped a stack of papers in her lap, “Look through that.”
Circe went through the papers, police reports mostly. There were a few dead people, found mauled and partially eaten. It looked like they were cut fairly cleanly and the guess was some kind of serial killer cannibal.
“What's this got to do with anything?”
Derek flipped through some of the photos and she cringed away until he came upon one he was looking for, “The clean cuts are a cover act, look at this mark in the bone.”
Circe fought looking and when she did it was with a squint and trying to keep part of the image blocked with her hand, “What is it? I don't see anything...”
“This here looks an awful lot like the big fangs in a ghoul to me. Their claws are so sharp the damage they do looks like knives. Older and smarter ones will use them to cut out bits of people so it looks like a person did it. These teeth though, I'd say are a young one getting ahead of itself.”
“Attracted by the chaos and vulnerability here. Congratulations Circe, it looks like you're going to have your first real monster hunt, that is if you're adult enough to help fix your own damned mess.”
Circe tried to retort but instead just found herself bawling. She tried to talk but her voice caught and the tears wouldn't stop running. Then the snot came, great, no semblance of dignity now.
“Oh damn,” Derek fidgeted, “That was harder than I should have been.”
“No, I'm -hic- awful...”
“No Circe. You're reckless and too strong for your own good in some ways, but no... look... try and stop crying, would you?”
It took a little while to get a hold of herself, but she did, “You really want me along?”
“Well, let's not go there. You have to remember though, even though most ghouls are only about as physically formidable as a human if we had claws and fangs, and that really doesn't seem that impressive if you compare it with the insane speed of a vampire or the savage power of a werewolf, they are absolutely capable of killing you if you're sloppy.”
“Every now and then some of them get to old age and in the ultimate example of life not being fair, supernatural creatures only get stronger the older they get in a lot of cases. Generally assume an elder ghoul can tear a human apart in a couple seconds at most. Not to jinx us, but let's hope this is just a couple of rouge youngsters, eh? Try to get some sleep and bring all your gear and remember your protective spell is your best friend, you can't... spam it too much, ok?”
“Did you seriously just try to use young person lingo there? Please don't do that, it just sounds... off.”
They didn't have clear leads so they were just patrolling the area that people had gone missing in and where the bodies had been found looking for something. They didn't really find anything of consequence that first night and turned into their respective places just tired. The second night however they came across one around one.
She really felt Derek had been rude about it, but he'd made it pretty clear he didn't trust her aim or firing control so as they chased the monster through the park she was tasked with shooting lightning into the air to illuminate things. Supposedly it should just look like regular lightning albeit with a reverse of expectations path of going up to the sky as long as she didn't use her full power spell.
“Lightnin' Up-tha-Sky!” Circe shouted and pointed her want upwards sending a coursing blast of lightning up into the distant clouds.
“That's a terrible spell name.”
“You only gave me a damn second! You want good, you tell me the spell we need some time before hand!”
The monster ran with pretty impressive speed, but not more than a person might. Sometimes it flinched as the thunder of Circe's illuminating lightning washed over the park. They were trying to herd it, but it was a bit faster than either of them. Then she saw Derek reach up his staff and bring it down, launching a fire spell at the area in front of the monster.
“IGNITIZE!” a crater was blasted in front of the beast and it scampered back away from the flames.
That was almost her spell! Hell, he did it with her magic, the excess that didn't convert to lightning!
“THE HELL MAN?”
“You're wasteful! Someone might as well make some use of it! Now quiet!”
Derek seemed snappier than usual to her and she figured it was just the stress or adrenaline or whatever. They continued that way a while, her blasting lightning into the sky and Derek pulling down excess magic to throw at the ghoul. Then it stumbled on a gopher hole or something and stumbled forward and Derek hit it with a bolt of lightning.
“You one of the ones that learned to talk or not?”
The ghoul hissed and Derek used his flamius spell to burn away the meat of a leg and let the monster howl in pain a moment. Circe stared at the scene with shock, not sure what to do. Sure it was a monster, but that was just sadistic beyond call...
“Tell me how many more of you there are,” Derek was almost snarling with rage, and he only gave it about half a minute before he burned off its other leg.
“JUST KILL IT!” Circe had her hands clamped over her ears trying to drown out the ghoul's screams, “This is wrong!”
“It's just a damned monster Circe. It's nothing it wouldn't do if it could.”
Circe stepped back a little, there was honest hate there. Probably a ghoul or something similar had gotten someone close to him, but it was disturbing to watch the monster's torturous death. When it did die the remains started to liquify into ectoplasm which would evaporate later.
Circe shrunk away and looked side to side trying to think of something to say and then came up with, “a good use of time.”
“Maybe not,” Derek shrugged and sounded cold, “but you're the student here. It's not your call to make.”
There weren't any more encounters that night, but the next they came across a pair of ghouls and barely saved a man. They managed to wound one of the ghouls, but they got away.
The next day after that Circe felt ready to fall asleep on her feet. She was outside Derek's office waiting for someone, but he didn't tell her who. She hoped he'd come down or she'd recognize them somehow. When a midnight blue Honda with a slightly askew headlight drove up she knew.
“Linda, hi, Derek asked you back?”
“He did, said there's something of a ghoul problem here. Induced by a Circe problem.”
“I keep saying I'm sorry! I didn't think it through!”
“No. Clearly you didn't. If you have any sense of consequences or empathy for other people Circe... Derek.”
“Were you about to chew Circe out? I've done that. She seems honestly contrite.”
“Still, this is pretty big. I'm not sure how they'll explain this away.”
“Well, let's focus on our ghoul problem. We have to find out where they're coming from, or where they're sleeping during the day.”
“Alright then, that does make some sense. No need for this incident to have a higher body count than it already does.”
Circe fought to keep from crying again, she didn't lose it entirely, but she didn't keep tears from falling. She followed them inside and they pulled out a bunch of maps and started going over them. She tried to keep up for a while but she eventually sat down on the couch and fell asleep right off. When she woke up it was clearly hours later, the evening sun casting warm light into the western window.
“What? Uh, why'd you let me sleep like that?”
“You needed it, obviously,” Linda waved her hand at her kind of dismissively, “there's only a few hours before dark, you'll have to get on our task quickly if we're to use this plan tonight.”
“Oh, what's that?”
“Make some wards.”
Circe's face fell, “seriously? I hate everything about wards! They fade if you don't do upkeep, they're weak, and making them is so boring.”
“Cheer up Circe,” Derek said, “the idea behind these should entertain you if it works out. Work for reward and all that.”
Circe felt like she was kicked out of the loop, Derek and Linda were now the ones out hunting for ghouls while she was stuck laying a trap and waiting out of the way. Things were quiet for a long time, every now and then there was some random person that woke up in the middle of the night and milled around, but there was no action. She went from super anxious to bored out of her mind at almost random intervals. Then it got even worse when the noise started. People stirred but didn't seem to dare move out their tents.
Circe waited tensely for her cue. Finally she saw them, a set of three ghouls running down the improvised streets, or lanes or whatever they were. Whenever they veered from running her way an enormous ball of lightning flared to life in the way and drove them back her way. Circe never trained under her directly, but she knew a few of Linda's tricks. Rather than a traditional wand she had a fold-out baton, and she had a thing where she could throw it in the air and make it fly, spinning the whole time. She must have it flying along the ghouls and channeling a ball lightning spell to herd the ghouls. They hit the marked point and it was time.
The wards she planted into the ground early into the evening exploded into balls of fire all at the same time. Two of the ghouls were caught entirely in the blast and burned away in seconds. The third had barely entered the range and fell away with a badly burned face and forearms, but it was still alive. It looked around frantically and ran off to the side, probably dodging Linda and Derek.
Now people started to come out and Circe ran out and started yelling, “GAS FIRE! Be careful dang it!”
She looked around and the light of the fire illuminated things fairly well. She could see the ghoul looping around. It still wanted to head east, abut it was looking like it would outpace Linda and Derek. If she ran at its path from the side she might be able to just intercept it. She took off with almost no hesitation. Even burned the thing moved quickly, but its four-legged gallop looked painful with its blistered and charred hands. She ran as hard as she could, but it was tricky to hop over people's possessions that didn't fit in their tents in the dark. It was going to get out ahead of her.
She willed her decorative chain, one end adorned with a reptilian head and the other a tail, to drop from her wrist and to her hand. Its length dangled in her hand for a moment and she willed fire to it and threw it. It glowed with red hot intensity for a moment before a spectral form of a flaming wyrm formed around it, extending its apparent size in all dimensions. It slithered through the air vertically, hunching its back like an old illustration as it darted towards the ghoul. The chain caught the ghoul in a rear leg just barely and wrapped around it, the heat carried it through the monster's flesh and bone and there was suddenly a three-legged ghoul flipping forward in an uncontrolled tumble.
The pain must have stunned it, it didn't make much effort to get up until Circe caught up to it. She stopped short, unsure what to do. It was true about the claws and fangs and she suddenly didn't want to get close to those. She heard footsteps and turned to see Derek and Linda catching up. She saw the expression on Derek's face and made a snap decision. She exerted her will on the chain again and it blazed into a spectral wyrm again. With another mental command it flew around the ghoul's neck and burned it off.
“What was that?”
“A quicker death than you give them.”
“They don't deserve a mercy kill Circe.”
“It's not about that, it's...it's...” Circe struggled to find the words.
“Torturing something to death stops being about the target and starts being about the one doing the killing,” Linda cut in.
“Yes! Thank you! It doesn't matter how rotten it is, sure it probably deserves to die, but that...”
“Both of your damned opinions are noted, ganging up on me isn't going to change my mind,” Derek was definitely grumpy.
“Ethical arguments aside Derek, it looks like you were right that we should have told the apprentice the whole plan.”
“Yeah, we were hoping to follow one back to their nest. We figured you wouldn't time it quite right and there would be one wounded enough to keep up with, then we'd find the lair when it ran back.”
“You were counting on me to screw it up?!” Circe was indignant but put it aside for the moment when she thought of its insistent direction, “Well it was intent on coming this way, maybe we can find something!”
“There's too much to search...and there she goes running off before hearing what I have to say. Is this normal teen behavior?”
“Got me, I never had that much energy. Come on, we can't let her be running around in the dark alone.”
Circe ran along looking side to side, barely taking note of Derek and Linda lagging behind. She noticed proper houses a few streets away and was feeling fairly winded by the time she got to them. A few homes on the outskirts of town, some had tents set up but it looked like most were just dark. She slowed to a walk and was breathing heavily, her sides aching. The yards here was pretty modest sized compared to what she was used to, but that was probably just part of the crowded city.
“Circe! Finally. Ugh, just stop would you?”
“There's too much to search, we'll have to come up with something else,” Linda was very business like about the whole thing.
“Wait. Look at the house there, with the gargoyles.”
“Well.... Circe, come back here to us.”
“Why? What's...oh. Oh crap,” Circe saw it then, they were trying to stay still but there were a handful of ghouls amongst a yard full of stone gargoyles.
“How's your reserves?”
“I think we can take this group if you have anything left. Then there's Circe.”
Circe was backing away slowly, but her odd motion had caught their attention. She was wondering what spells she might have that she could yell quickly enough and make the motion before they closed the distance. Her force barrier was the best option, but that was defensive and she wasn't good at a full bubble yet. From each side she felt some kind of force but she couldn't see anything but the briefest glimpse of a flicker in the air. On one side a gargoyle shattered and flying pieces made a pair of ghouls flinch. The other hit a ghoul dead on and it squawked as it flew back a half dozen feet. She was really going to have to learn that kinetic force thing. The ghouls all screeched and whooped and suddenly tore off in multiple directions.
“Circe!” Derek shouted something more at her, but she didn't hear it. She chased after one of the ghouls. Hopefully it was heading for the lair and she could keep up. Then they'd have this problem taken care of, then she wouldn't be responsible for any more deaths.
The thing was getting ahead of her though, she was tiring and their weird gallop was a match for a good runner. It rounded a corner and she was afraid she was going to lose it. When she rounded the corner she saw the creature down on the far end of the street. It was scrabbling down a manhole, the cover being held up by another, much larger ghoul. She found herself walking towards it, though she moved to the driveways and tried to keep something between herself and it as much as possible. It was much bigger, but its claws and teeth also seemed a bit over-sized. Then she noticed the spots of discoloration after she got close enough. Its face was longer and lined, wrinkled even. Great, she was just going to go back down the street and find the others...
The van she was creeping along beside lurched at her, tipping over. She stuck out her chest and willed her shield into being. The van hit it and the top crumpled, glass cracking, and the van fell back down. It moved again, higher up and then down, hitting her shield again. This time some of the windows broke, but mostly held together. There was a sudden increase in pressure and the top deformed again, the roof buckling. Circe stepped back quickly and the van teetered over and fell onto its top altogether. Another of those big aged ghouls jumped atop it and snarled at her.
Circe's voice came out panicked and the form in her spell's casting was off enough that the spell didn't quite have its usual power. Still it nearly smashed the van in two, a wheel exploded from the heat and molten metal and plastic splattered around. The ghoul had jumped out of the way but it had not entirely cleared the blast radius. It hissed as globs of molten material rained down on its arm and side. It charged forward and swung a clawed hand at her, it struck her shield and stopped. Circe barely saw the first one in the corner fling its arm, but her shield was battered from another angle surprisingly quickly. She had to wait for the rattling object to slow down before she realized that the one down the street had thrown the manhole cover at her like a Frisbee. The sudden stop of her barrier had bent it out of shape.
The one down the street was running straight at her faster than seemed plausible, and the other one was trying to get around her. She backed up trying to get her back to the wall, but it was just so damn fast! She had to turn to it to raise her shield up in its way again. She had her chain drop to her hand again and willed the ethereal flames back around it. She kept a hold of it and lashed the head at the nearer ghoul, flames erupted in an arc in front of her and it hopped back away from them. She kept going with her spin to see where the other ghoul was and saw it was way too close for comfort. Her chain snapped at the end of its arc and flame leapt forward at it. The monster dodged to the side, but kept coming at her. As she spun she shouted her improvised lightning spell and pointed it in the direction of the ghoul she was turning herself away from.
There was a snarl and she heard something scrabbling behind her, turning to look the other ghoul was trailing smoke as it climbed up the house she was trying to back herself up against. It was more than ten feet up the side, spun around and kicked off in her direction faster than she could follow. It was clashing against her shield again before her eyes finished closing. It was involuntarily, flinching away from the monster jumping at her and she tried to quickly correct the mistake.
“FLARIA!” Circe stuck both hands out to the sides and spun around, blasting fire 360 degrees around herself. A ring of fire settled into temporary existence about ten feet around her while she looked around to get an idea of where the monsters were. It was a panicked move, but these things were so damned fast she didn't know where they'd be. One snarled and jumped back, but the other stopped short and moved back in a more calculated manner. It ripped up a tree and threw it through her fire ring. The tree caught blaze and bounced off against her barrier, and she was starting to feel the effect of the blows on it.
Circe backed down the street breathing heavily, the use of magic was starting to take a toll after the days of late night monster hunting. The beasts were circling around her, keeping on opposite sides and slowly moving in. She felt her heart hammering hard from fear, too fast and too strong, she was growing more and more certain they were going to get her. She whipped her chain about and moved from one hand to another, trying to lash out a whip of fire, but the fear was making her aim wild and they rarely had to dodge out of the way even.
Something that looked like a solid rod of lightning spun through the air and smacked one of them upside the head into the air. The rod's light downed down as it flew up after the monster and exploded into a ball of lightning. On the other side Derek ran forward with a big .45 drawn and gunshots barked out. The monster jumped back and held up a clawed hand, moving it about like it was trying to keep it in the way of the bullets. There was a spark on its claws and sharp ricochet sound twice so it must have had some success. However the other four bullets tore holes in it, one in the arm only but the others in its body and it leaked dark blood that looked nearly black in the dim light.
“Are you alright?” Linda asked as she caught her returning baton.
“Yes! Thank you! God I was...”
“Save it until we're out of this!” Linda snapped at her and lifted her arm with the heavy bracer, and her shield came to life in front of her, it looked nearly like a physical object, if something could be made of clear light.
Ghoul claws raked against it and Linda pulled her arm back towards herself and swung it outwards, the shield of light in front of them mimicking the motion and pulling away from the ghoul and then slapping it off its feet.
To the side Derek had started backing away when his gun emptied and raised his own shield. The ghoul charged forward and struck it and Circe could see the barrier rattle and give like a rickety fence. He took his staff in both hands and swung it like a bat at the monster's head. Her heart sunk when she saw the ghoul catch it almost casually in one hand, but then the end erupted in a ball of fire and lightning. The monster screamed and scrambled backwards. Derek hustled over their way and Circe threw a fireball at the monster to keep it from chasing him.
“You both ok?” he asked as he joined up with them.
“So far no wounds.”
“You really shouldn't have run ahead, but good work fending them off kiddo,” he started to reload his gun.
“You're that tapped out?” Circe asked.
“Close to it, Linda how are you doing?”
“Better than you, less than Circe I'd say. I haven't been doing this for days like you have but I can tell she still has reserves.”
Circe and Linda each threw a fireball but neither hit their marks, the elder ghouls simply too freakishly quick. Still with the three of them together they had pretty solid shielding on all sides so she didn't have to worry about covering all angles herself, except for the matter of Derek's fading reserves.
“I know I was offended before, but you know what, you can borrow now,” Circe offered.
“Well it's not like we can pull it straight off you, it's just the excess magic you throw out with the spell. Oh, duh. You've thrown a good few already,” Derek tapped his head with the staff as he said 'duh'.
“Circe, go big,” Linda told her sternly.
“This situation calls for it, and we need some cover to call on that excess.”
Circe stepped forward and lashed her chain back and forth, willing the fire brighter and bigger, it moved outwards in waves. The ghouls took the first couple waves head on and tried to charge through, but after the third they ducked and weaved to keep out of the fire's path.
“Lumicly,” Linda's spells were said in an even tone of voice, and this one made a shaft of white light appear from the end of her baton. The ghoul on her side of Circe hissed and staggered back, getting caught in the flames. On the other side of her Derek unloaded his gun into the other ghoul again. Then they shifted and started to pull the magic out of the atmosphere that she'd sent out in raw form.
The ghouls moved together to a driveway and grabbed each end of a smallish car Circe didn't recognize and together they rocked it back once and then threw it at them. She felt some of the impact in her barrier as the car struck their combined defenses and bounced off. The ghouls wasted no time once they through the car, one jumped on top of it and straight at them and the other ran along at its disturbing pace to circle around them.
“Linda!” Derek pointed at the one bounding the car with his staff, then he turned to point his wand at the circling one and said, “Circe with me.”
Circe saw lightning flash from Linda to the ghoul, but lost sight of it quickly as she turned to track the other one. Derek launched a stream of his fireball spells, setting a good number of things on fire and totally ruining someone's lawn. The monster jumped away, back and then to its left. It kept making similar dodges.
“Circe, do you see the pattern here?”
“On it! IGNAIZE!” she threw her fireball spell about where she expected the ghoul to jump back to to avoid Derek's spell.
Unfortunately it saw the blast coming and changed course, but it was pinned between their trajectories. Even though it tried to jump over Derek's fireball it caught some of the blast and slowed down which then meant it was hit hard by the exploding backlash of Circe's spell.
It snarled and surged forward but then a piece of the sidewalk jumped to one side and threw it completely off balance. It hit the asphalt hard and left a streak of its blood on the street. Two fireball spells hit it before it could recover and dash away again and the monster died in the street and the remains started to evaporate.
“One down, one to go.”
Linda was buffeting the monster with super powered gusts of wind, tossing the monster around but not stopping its advance. Circe saw her arm with the big bracer tensing, she was getting ready to summon her shield again. Linda got the barrier up in time but the monster's impact seemed to transfer through the barrier to her and she stumbled into Circe. Derek brought his staff around in a swing and hit the monster in the back. There was another flare up of fire and lightning but it was smaller than the other time. The monster snarled as it spun around and knocked the heavy hardwood staff away. Circe swung her chain and a whip of fire lashed across the creature, leaving a long ragged burn mark on it. It whirled on her and Linda shoved her baton into its face and a blast of lightning nearly made her vision white out. The monster seized up and fell to the ground twitching like a person hit with a taser. Derek threw his fireball spell in its face and it flopped around screeching a moment before stopping. They stood there watching it ready to attack if it got up again, but its form started to melt away into electroplasm.
“Thank god that's over,” Derek sighed and slumped a bit, holding his knees.
“We should make a note of the location and leave,” Linda said, nearly ordered.
“There,” Linda pointed to the open manhole, “this is the very outskirts of the city, it doesn't make sense for there to be such an access area here.”
“Unless it's leading to the monster's lair,” Derek finished, “There are still those other ghouls out there and we're spent. We need to come back tomorrow to finish this.”
“I'm ok. Well, I'm less than half a tank, but I can still go,” Circe protested.
“It's not enough for all three of us, not enough to destroy a ghoul lair. We're coming back tomorrow.”
“Yeah, come on kiddo. We need some sleep at least. They shouldn't be too active after these losses, we're all ok, so let's keep it that way.”
“Ugh, alright. You know, now that I'm not afraid I'm about to die I'm actually feeling pretty good! I like this!” Circe hopped up and down a little.
“Oh that's not something I want to hear,” Derek groaned, “you're going to be one of those that looks for trouble because they think it's fun.”
“Like you weren't?”
“I grew out of it.”
“When you started to go gray.”
“Hehehe, point. Come here Circe, you're really ok?” Circe sighed and subjected herself to inspection, “Fourteen year old girl holding off a pair of elder ghouls and not a scratch. I'll be damned. Man am I glad you're ok.”
Circe beamed at the praise, “yeah?”
“You bet, do you know how much paperwork you have to fill out if an understudy dies on your watch?” Derek chuckled when she made a face, “and damn, the families just never stop giving you grief.”
Circe thought about her parents and went quiet with horror at the idea of her parents hearing she'd been eaten by monsters, “That's not funny! Don't joke about that one!”
“Yeah, you should have cut it off at the paperwork part.”
“Right, sorry. Anyway, Circe I notice you're hardly using your lightning.”
“I...well, it caused this whole mess...”
“Its your best element, you shouldn't turn away from it. You just need to learn when and how much a little better.”
“You might want to think about renaming it though,” Linda offered and indicated they should walk and talk so they started to move, “I wouldn't want to be caught using Thor's name for a magic blast of lightning if those old gods ever move back in.”
“But I saw him,”
“Come again?” Linda looked really surprised.
“I don't know if it was a daydream or just a dream, it's a bit fuzzy now, but I know I saw Thor. He wasn't speaking English but I understood somehow.”
“I've forgotten most of it, but I'm pretty sure he said something like 'you'll do ok' and the next day was the first time I ever did magic. I pulled electricity from the wall to my chain here.”
“That's probably coincidence Circe, and even if it's not you probably don't want an endorsement from a Norse god. If you don't fight well enough they consider you unworthy and if you do fight well enough they kill you young.”
“I saw what I saw, I was like eleven, I had no idea what it might mean. I just know one day I saw a big viking guy with a hammer that no one else saw and the next day I was controlling little bolts of lightning. I only figured out it was probably Thor later.”
“A lot of the old gods did leave some of their things behind, for various reasons from simple negligence to outright malice or wanting to leave a powerful tool for human use in the right times... Mjölnir is one of them, though I”m pretty sure it's his alone in the old mythology.”
“There's comic books.”
“You read comic books?”
“I read a lot of things, tvs and computers all blow up if I so much as look at them, remember? Anyway Marvel made a superhero out of Thor. In the comic books sometimes the other heroes can use Mjölnir, and our fiction changes magic things right? I mean Mrs. Franklin, my last magic instructor, told me that Odin only left earth's plane rather recently because he was sick of how we keep making him be Santa earlier and earlier.”
“The gods and their artifacts are the most resilient to change of anything. It would take a massive change in the human collective consciousness to change Mjölnir, certainly no comic's ever going to do it.”
“Eh, maybe they'll make a movie... I know, I know 'but Circe their big comics are the X-Men, Spiderman, and the Fantastic Four, they'd never make a movie of such a C-Lister...' I've had that discussion enough times.”
“You have any idea what she's talking about anymore?”
“None at all.”
Circe was wound up for a while but when she crashed it was all at once and she passed out until noon the next day. When she woke up she found Linda and Derek close to suited up and going over a few old wards. A raven was perched on the bookshelf.
“Who let the bird in?”
“Jack is my familiar,” Linda answered her rather monotone as she was looking things over, “we need a way of looking after you while we go on ahead.”
“You're leaving me behind? You can't you know, I know where it is as well as you do.”
Derek sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, “Would you please just humor us? I might have been an ass last night, but I mean it when I say I don't want you to get hurt out there.”
“How many more of those things can be left?”
“We know of at least five regular ghouls and there are usually three elder ghouls in a pack, so it's very likely there's another.”
“Just one huh? It sounds like we should be able to take what's left.”
“We will, but not with you. Things do go wrong even if it looks like it should be a clean in and out.”
Circe protested and they argued back and forth a while. Eventually they found themselves positioned outside the manhole after acknowledging they didn't really have a way to stop Circe without hurting her. They told her again and again that she was to wait outside the sewer entry and fry anything that came out and wasn't human. Linda's familiar would keep a high lookout to help alert her to anything coming her way from the street. They would go down and eliminate the last of the ghouls. There was a portal to the Realm of Nightmare in the sewer meant to deter or kill intruders and they didn't want her anywhere near it.
Circe tried to follow orders, really she did. She sat and waited and even mostly kept a look out for a long time. Then her burning desires to help and know what the heck was going on overcame her. As she lowered herself down the hole in the street Linda's raven Jack flew down following her and when she was down the ladder perched on her shoulder.
“So you're my back up eh? Well let's see what's going on,” Circe headed down the sewer, which seemed a lot smaller than she ever saw on TV, forcing her to duck and Jack to re-orientate himself a lot.
The smell was nasty but she knew that would happen, it was when she came upon an area too small to walk or duck through that she lost her tolerance. She wasn't sure she could make herself crawl down here, and there was some kind of noxious vibe coming from the little tunnel. As she got closer she felt more and more fear, this had to be the portal. From what she learned there should be a little path through Nightmare that would bring her to another portal where she'd reappear in the real world. It might only be a foot or two in the real world, but it would be a long sprint in Nightmare giving the denizens of the realm time to get her or scare her off the path to the other portal. She was about to turn back and go back up to the street when she heard the souns of fighting.
Circe took a deep breath, pulled off her outer shirt and bunched it up and just let her knees get nasty as she started off down the tunnel. She fought to keep from throwing anything up as she shuffled awkwardly down the little tunnel with raven claws pricking the small of her back. She was startled by the abrupt shift to something completely different. There was no ceiling anymore, but she could hardly see. Everything was dark, nearly shades of black. Circe looked around trying to make something, anything out in an endless sea of dark.
“I was afraid of this, come along,” the raven's voice was raspy as it flew off her shoulder and turned white, starting to glow, “follow me! And don't stop!”
Circe ran after the raven and nearly stumbled when a zombie appeared in front of her. Then there was another and she had to slip between them. They appeared in front of her again and she realized they were familiar, they weren't zombies, they were the corpses in the police report Derek showed her.
“You brought them here.” “You killed us.”
A half dozen more appeared, featureless but similarly maimed, the other victims that she'd never seen the photos of. They all accused her, just like in her nightmares. Made sense, but it was horrifying.
“It was an accident! I didn't mean it! I never wanted to bring the monsters!” Circe covered her ears and cast her gaze low to run by them. Then she looked up for the raven's light and everything was different.
There was a field littered with craters and corpses. Trenches full of more still and old, archaic weaponry all over the place. Moans and screams of dying mean made her want to cry but she pushed forward, trying to remember where the path was. Explosions rattled around her, but she didn't feel anything. It only lasted a short time before the scene changed again.
She was in a city somewhere, not her home or with any of her instructors, this was...New York maybe? It was hard to tell, everything was blasted out and burned. There was a river of blood running through the drainage and mountains of corpses every which way. The view shifted just like a dream and she was on top of a skyscraper, looking down on the carnage. She looked around and behind her was a grim throne adorned with skulls and misshapen metal. A red-haired woman some inches taller than she was stepped up off the throne and looked around, apparently her kingdom of ruin. She was dressed in black and carrying wicked magical foci, a clawed gauntlet and spiked club. Circe noticed she had quite the rack being supported by a black leather top.
Circe stepped close to her and gasped in shock as the woman turned to face her with her own electric blue eyes and asked, “Who could stop me?”
There was a pain in her ear and Circe shouted and swatted at it, the view changed again back to the field of black and she could see the raven nipping her ear, “Don't stop here! Never stop here!” and flew off down the path again.
She felt blood tricking down from her ear, but she couldn't be too mad at the raven. Running out of this place as quickly as possible sounded like the best idea in the world at that moment. Everything seemed to go on forever, she couldn't see an end to the path and the world all around her was growing darker and darker to the point she couldn't make out shapes anymore. Then she was suddenly running through a too-tall sewer, much more like what she'd seen on tv back when she could watch it. The raven twisted in the air and landed on Linda's shoulder and Circe could see she had blood drying on a large chunk of her face. Beside her Derek had his left arm hanging limp and blood staining his shirt. All around them were the bodies of ghouls, and in front of them one live one.
“Damn it Circe!”
“Oh what's this now? This one's young, she'll be tender” the aged wretched thing in front of her said with a nasty grin full of sharp miss-matched teeth, “Tell you what, I'll let you watch me tear into her first, as a bit of payback for what you did to my young ones.”
'Crap, some of them really do talk.'
The monster charged forward and slammed into Derek's shield which flickered and faltered as the creature started to slowly push it's way forward.
“Wait!” he shouted at Linda, then he turned to Circe, “Circe, there's a spell that brought these things here. I think one of them should see it up close.”
“Are you sure?”
“YES,” he nodded at Linda, “NOW!”
Linda fired a blast of air and lightning at the ghoul and forced it back before it could overwhelm Derek's shield. There was an opening between them as the monster started to regain its feet. There wasn't much time to act so she ran forward and drew her wand.
A massive blast of lightning nearly filled the tunnel with light and the monster was promptly reduced to a twitching mass of dried out, burned up flesh over bone. It started to melt away before the twitches of electricity died down entirely.
Circe turned and to her side Linda was twirling a hand in an air spell gesture, “What are you doing?”
“Keeping the air around us normal, the air where all the lightning passed through is going to be less than healthy.”
“I'm done for today. You guys done? It's too bad no one's open right now, I could so order pizza.”
Days later as the light started to dim the city finally countered the encroaching dark with artificial light from its every corner and not just a few select spots and Circe felt like a great weight had been removed from her.
“Everything's going to be ok, right?”
Derek led her towards her own little rental room, letting her walk in first, “yeah, things should get back to normal fairly soon. When it came time you stepped up and did your best, so for what it's worth I'm really sorry about this.”
“About what?” she was confused and suddenly figures appeared out of thin air on each side of her and grabbed her arms.
Vines crept out from underneath their cloaks and tied her up, binding her into place. They grew until she couldn't fight any more but her left forearm remained bare, but it didn't let her move much. Another person dropped their invisibility veil right in front of her and she recognized the armor and decorations of one of the Arcane Council's enforcers.
“WAIT! NO! I'm trying ok! I'm sorry! It'll never happen again!”
“You're right about that.”
“Don't kill me!”
“Hush, child, we're not going that drastic. However, it is the council's decision that you can't be trusted with responsible management of your powers.”
“Don't seal them away either! Please! I can learn to be better! Don't take that from me!”
“The decision's been made, it's not mine to question,” he held out a set of strange looking bracelets, more like a set of three manacles interlaced together without a chain or twin for the other arm, all inscribed with all kinds of runes. He quickly and methodically clamped them down in succession on her wrist, interlocking with each other and then vanishing from sight. As soon as they did the vines relaxed their grip and started to shrink away. Circe slumped to the floor and the council's enforcers walked away without a word, quickly vanishing again.
Circe spun around to look for Derek and saw him leaving too, “YOU SON OF A BITCH! YOU KNEW ABOUT THIS! YOU BETRAYED ME!”
“It's for the best Circe, I hope you understand that someday,” Derek didn't even really turn to look at her as he stopped and he started walking away quickly.
“IGNAIZE!” she screamed knowing it wouldn't do anything and was shocked to see a ball of fire the size of a medium sports ball form in her hand and fly off.
She pulled her hand back and thought of lightning and watched a little show of bolts dance around in her hand. It wasn't all gone! It was really weak, but it was still there! She clasped her hands together and stepped back inside. She slunk around to close the door and vowed not to tell anyone she still had some power.
“Why can't you take me home Linda? He's the bastard who sold me out!”
Derek walked away to load something in his car and Circe had to fight to keep from spitting at his back.
“Hardly Circe. The council is well aware it would take four of those manacles to totally seal your power. You still have some right?”
Circe was surprised and couldn't hide it, there went her plan, “Uh...yeah, a little...”
“Derek spent a lot of time arguing them down from a total block to a partial block. I think he called in about half his favors to make sure that happened.”
“What? He's only just met you, he's hardly going to call them all in for you. Are you that self-absorbed?”
“No, that's not what I meant at all. Here I've been swearing at him and calling him everything rotten I can think of every time I see him... Why didn't he say anything?”
“I can't say, maybe he feels a little guilty and maybe deserves some of it? Maybe he doesn't think you'd believe it coming from him? It might be best to be nicer to him anyway.”
“I'm still pissed. I have this big well of power in me still and I can barely let it out... it's...it's...ARGH...IT MAKES ME ANGRY!” she kicked some furniture to emphasize the point.
“Try and look on the bright side, if you can get good at magic and ever convince the council to remove the blocks, you'll be far stronger than you were already.”
“I was already strong! I don't want to build back up to that! I want what I had!”
Linda sighed and fingered one of the gray streaks in her hair, “A lot of us feel that way about something or other Circe. We don't always get it back.”
The trip to Circe's parents was quiet. Circe refused to talk to Derek, even to be navigator and her presence destroyed his car's radio. He knew she couldn't help it, but she didn't have to smirk about it. When they got there Derek groaned and said something about how she wasn't kidding about where she grew up. He walked her to her house and started talking to her parents, at first with a somewhat awkward high gaze. Circe went up to her room, something of a tree house really, given the odd building nature of the area and listened in.
“Why do that to Circe?”
“She needs to learn some technique first, but if you ask me three blocks is too much. She would have been reduced enough to have to learn to manage her powers better with two.”
“Why did they use three then?”
“Some of the council is scared of her.”
“Why would they be scared of Circe? She's a good kid at heart.”
“This isn't commonly talked about and it's old history so I don't know all the details, but you see...the last time there was a mage as strong as Circe as young as she is...well, he kind of went mad with power and ended up helping start World War One, all to fuel some dark ritual.”
She recognized a hurt and offended tone in her mother, “my Circe might backtalk a little, and be rather rash, but she's hardly going to start a world war! That was someone else, just because she's strong like that...”
“It's more than that though. Since we can't find any kind of genetic reason for magical talent, a really popular theory for explaining it is reincarnation. Some of the older wizards fought that war, the war to stop the ritual and they lost friends or family. They look at Circe with her cocky, flashy attitude and immense power and they're afraid they're looking at the dark wizard reborn. They sometimes get a little irrational about her.”
“I happen to agree, but I'm just one person.”
Circe went down to the main house and went to their library. She looked through a set of big red encyclopedias and pulled out the edition that included 'W'. She flipped through it a while before she came to the entry on World War I. Other entries were such that World War One barely showed up on its own first page, taking up only about a paragraph. The rest of the surely large entry would be on following pages and she found herself staring at that paragraph a while. She was thinking about that first vision she had in Nightmare. Trenches full of death and a field of antiquated weapons. She set her finger to turn the page and then changed her mind, slammed the book shut and stuck it back on the shelf. She didn't want to know if the images would match up.
She went out into the kitchen and found the three of them there, rather to her annoyance and heard Derek saying, “having talked to people that have lost power and limbs, there are a lot of similarities. Circe's feeling a lot like someone that had a leg maimed to near uselessness. Try and help her get over it, and if she does and wants to try to learn magic within her new limits, I'm willing.”
“Thank you, that's very nice of you to offer,” her mother grabbed Derek's hand in a friendly gesture, and her dad...well...
“Of course your dad's the hugger in the family! Of course he is!”
Circe let out a little giggle.