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The Apple Tree Golem offering its basket of golden apples to park visitors.

Chapter 001 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

7:00 AM September 13th 2026

Manhattan Island in Central Park

Outside The National Museum of Unnatural Science and History

It was a nice day, a nice morning. Clear, skies. It was also stupid-bright for this time of day and Kyle was shading his smartphone’s screen, walking from the shade of one security golem to another as he tried to read.

“Cook!?” He whisper-screamed with irritation and a flare of magic enveloped him with a full body aurora of translucent dark blue flames filled with fuchsia sparkles as he expressed his displeasure. One of the dozens of security golems that lined the perimeter of the park turned its head to assess him as a threat.  "Oh. Oops.” The young man looked up startled. "Don’t mind me. Just reading. Good golem. I’m not a threat. See?”

He groped for the lanyard around his neck and held up his tie instead of the identification card he’d been intending to.  Large, blocky, and vaguely humanoid in shape, the dark granite security golem’s supposedly emotionless stare began to seem terribly baleful at that moment.

Kyle realized he was holding up his tie and fumbled around his neck again before successfully holding up his ID badge.  He stood very still as he was magically scanned because he was pretty sure that they did not like him.  No siree.

In Kyle’s, admittedly, biased opinion, those golems thought Kyle was shifty as heck. Were the other golems watching him out of the corners of their eyes?  Were their heads turned ever so slightly to keep focus on him?

The surface of his badge flashed pearlescent as the magical security identifiers it was enchanted with activated at the golem’s query.  Satisfied, the golem returned to its assigned position, looking like nothing so much as a statue facing outward from the protected grounds of Central Park.  The others in the row also shifted slightly as well, their heads returning to a neutral position.

“Pft!  I knew it.”  He crowed quietly.  "They are watching me.”  After a second of squinting his eyes at them to make sure the golems had returned to their normal behavior, he let out a relieved breath and ran a hand through his short wavy hair giving it a quick tug of frustration.

“Whew!  That was...”  The young man scrubbed a hand over his face.  "I’ve got to talk to the boss about lowering the sensitivity on their sensor enchantments.  That is way too high.”  Grumbling, the young man returned to hurrying along while quietly cursing under his breath and scrolling on his phone.

“Cook.  They said I’m a bloody cook?  Damn this sun.”  Kyle squinted his eyes and shook his fist in the general direction of the sunrise as he continued with his distracted rant. "Anna gets a brilliant write-up, but me?  Oh, he’s just the family cook.”  His voice changed pitch and octave as he mocked what had been written about himself.  "I can’t believe...ah, hello.”  Noticing someone standing in his path, Kyle looked up to apologize and saw that it was just another golem.

This one was not the impeccable imposing dark stone edifice of the others.  Nor was it one of the security golems that he swore held some kind of grudge against him.  Instead, it was old, one might say ancient even.  It had clearly been destroyed and reassembled.

The white marble of its weathered body was a crisscrossing tracery of golden lines welding the cracked stone together in a beautiful example of Kintsugi style art being used to restore an artifact.  Of course, the regular type of lacquer used in pottery kintsugi wasn’t strong enough to hold a marble golem together.  This was enchanted.

Bright morning light reflected off the repairs where it hit them but they shone with magical light where they were in shadow.  And a series of enchantments and runes of restoration were carved into the stone body to reinforce the welds.  They glowed softly on the parts of its body that were shaded from the sun.  The magical carvings were not bright enough to glow in the sun, but in the lighted areas, the carvings of the runes could be seen faintly in the old stone.

It was the Apple Tree Golem, a favorite feature of the park and one of the many wonders curated by the museum.  This golem was actually a New York City mascot, and its image was used heavily in tourism advertising.  Visitors to the museum could buy miniature, non-functional versions of it in the museum gift shop.

The Apple Tree Golem carried a woven basket of golden apples over one arm.  They really do just look like solid lumps of apple-shaped gold.  Kyle mused at how they glinted in the morning light.  As he paused on his trek to work, the golem took one golden apple from its basket and held it out to Kyle with its free hand.  The apple glowed softly despite competing with the sun.

Magic apples.  Magic apples the golem harvested from the tree it guarded and offered to parkgoers as they wandered by.  A tree that was gifted to Central Park and The National Museum of Unnatural Science and History by Ladon, the guardian dragon of the Garden of Hesperides.  These weren’t those magic apples, the apples of immortality.  Ladon would never give one of those trees out if he could even be persuaded to admit that they existed.

The tree had been a historic gift to celebrate the restoration of the ancient Golem which had been destroyed during a monster battle decades ago.  It had protected the remains of its sacred grove until the very last.  Ladon had been so moved by the story he’d felt the Golem deserved a new grove to protect and the tree he’d gifted was the first planted in the museum’s Magical Tree Grove in Central Park.

It stood across from the entrance to The National Museum of Unnatural Science and History, golden apples glowing faintly nestled among the leaves of the tree. Kyle could see it over the golem’s shoulder.  Beyond that, the multi-story façade of the museum with its wide steps and pillars making it look like some ancient temple of the Gods sized for them to appear in their true forms. Already, the leaves of some trees in the orchard were beginning to change colors for the Fall season. That didn’t matter though.  The trees would fruit year-round.

“Thanks.”  Kyle took the proffered apple as the golem once again offered it to him.  While it might not make him live forever, one of these a day would keep the doctor away for most minor ailments.

It wouldn’t work on anything a good elixir couldn’t fix just as well or even better.  Which was probably why no one fought over them or tried to steal them.  And museum employees received an Apple Stipend as part of their benefits package.  He shoved the apple into the deep pockets of his Warlock’s robe, a rather modern design that resembled a dark trench coat with a hood but was enchanted to protect the wearer from magical and alchemical mishaps.  Kyle hurried on, his robe swirling around his knees as his cell phone began to ring.

The ringtone was set to a song that amused him and the Mountain King Mover’s advertising jingle began playing.  It was complete with lyrics set to the iconic In the Hall of the Mountain Kingmusic.  The young man began to sing along as he squinted at his phone screen angling it away from the sunlight again to see who was calling.

“When you need to move your stuff,

Trust in us,

We are tough,

When you need to move your stuff,

We will get it done.”

Kyle waited until the entire first verse had played before picking up the call.

A stone golem  in a park on a sunny day holding a basket full of golden slightly glowing magical apples.

Chapter 002 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

“Cooks R’ Us.” He smiled as he glanced at the caller ID, thought better of having fruit in his pocket, and pulled it out to tuck into his shoulder bag.  If Samantha was calling for the reason he thought she was, she’d get the reference to his greeting, and he might as well beat her to the punch. Mock himself before she could.

“Kyle?”  His sister hesitated slightly at his new greeting then plowed ahead with the conversation, ignoring the chance for friendly banter. "You wouldn’t happen to know any memory-erasing spells, would you?”  That was...not what he was expecting.  He frowned and pulled the apple back out of his bag realizing he was a little peckish.

“I am legally required to say no”.  His glib reply was interrupted with a crunching bite into his golden apple. "However,” the young man continued as he crunched annoyingly, “...if you tell me where the body is and who’s involved, I can probably manage something for you.” His chewing continued as silence came from the other end of the call. After a thoughtful pause, his sister finally spoke again.

“What!?”  Kyle stifled a laugh that almost resulted in apple chunks up his nose.

“Ah...  So, your government friends will take care of it. Gotcha.” He sniggered at Sam’s offended response as he swallowed.

“No!  No one’s dead, Kyle!  Have the article yet?”  Yep.  She’d called for the reason he thought she called.  He’d been thinking she called to tease him about what the guy profiling their family for the PR campaign his mom was part of wrote about him, now he wondered...

“Working on it now.  They did a nice bit on Anna.  Too bad she’s going to hate it.  Just finished reading about me.”  A sigh of relief came over the line.

“So, you haven’t seen the section on me yet?  Good.  I want you to erase everyone’s memory of those stupid tissue commercials, so they don’t haunt me until the end of time.”  Oh, really?  That instantly piqued Kyle’s interest.  Did he smell more ammo for the sibling war?

“Haha, no!  Sorry big sis.  I’m afraid you’re stuck with that.”  He’d turned his body to shield his phone from the sun and began looking for the section of the interview on his sister. "Give me a second to skim...Oh!  Oh.  That is hilarious.”  Somehow the writer had found...well, it wasn’t that obscure.  But that this, this, was what the author of the article focused on for Sam when she had such cooler aspects of her life to write about!

“What?”  Samantha demanded hotly.

“I’m changing my ringtone to the jingle. Medicsayswhat!”

“Fuck you!”  She called back.  Kyle could just picture her face coloring with shame at the enduring nature of embarrassing stuff sticking around on the internet.  The commercials she’d made for that business class project.

“Gesundheit.”  Kyle cackled with delight.

“You suck, Kyle” He had intended to stop, but this was a perfect opening for another shot.

“At least I didn’t blow.  Then I’d need a medic” Samantha smacking her hand into her head was loud enough to hear over the call.

“Normally, I’d have a good response to that, Kyle.”  Reasoned even tones that bordered on hysterical came to him.  “Except for the fact that I’ve been receiving calls from people I haven’t heard from since high school asking for a medic.”  It came out in an almost-sob.  "I had deliberately made the ads as outrageous as possible specifically so that I wouldn’t win the contest. I was trying to prevent my ideas from being featured in the Tissue Medic advertising campaign.  Please help me make it go away?”

“Oh.  I’m crying you a river.  It’s so deep I think I need a tissue...medic.”

“Yooouuuu...!  I hate you!  Ugh!”  The call went quiet.

“Sam?  Did – she just hang up on me?”  He stared at the phone as the call counter beeped off.  "She did.  I’ll call her back on break and apologize after she’s cooled off a bit.”

An incoming call from his younger sister started while he was dumbly looking at the just-ended call from his older sister. The new ringtone began playing.  It was a jaunty jingle even if his sister had badly written the corny lyrics and Kyle chimed in with the catchy song.

“Dry your eyes.

Staunch blood flow.

Cheer you up,

on the go.

Body, heart, or mind,

enchanted Tissue Medic tissues

salve every wound from exes to skinned elbows.”

The jingle began to repeat itself and Kyle interrupted it by answering the call.

“You have reached the cook’s phone.  He can’t speak to you right now because he’s busy slaving away over your favorite meals.”  He was trying to cheer up his younger sister by making fun of himself because he knew she wasn’t going to be happy.

“Kyle, I think I’m going to do something my classmates will regret.”  While, intellectually, Kyle knew he shouldn’t encourage it, he couldn’t help himself chuckling.  "You laugh but if someone messes with me today because I’m in the stupid news again I’m going to lose my cool.”  He sighed and put on his ‘responsible-big-brother pants’.

“If you lose your cool, just don’t let anyone find it in the chest of one of your classmates.”  It was going to take a while to talk Anna down off the murder-everyone ledge and he realized with a sigh he was not, in fact, going to have time to get doughnuts before work.  He stared longingly at the Enchantress Doughnuts food bike about half a mile past the museum.

“Cryomancer jokes.  Ha, ha!  Like that’s not the same one you use every time.”  Usually, references to her magic cheered Anna up, however this was not looking like it was going to be a home run of cheering up kid sis by the big bro kind of day.  "Fine.  I promise I won’t get caught.”

That was...better...than outright massacring people with no regard for getting caught, he supposed.  Frankly, the thought of people bullying his little sister just boiled his bones and Kyle was more than willing to bring the pain on anyone who tried.  However, Mom had left orders about how to deal with the inevitable article fallout.  Keep her calm and de-escalate.

“Anna, it’s just one little section of a PR puff piece meant to humanize Mom to the people who might be a little bit scared that she’s the magical equivalent of a flying super soldier with nuclear laser lances and wing missiles of divine wrath.”  Halfway through that sentence, he noticed a few of the pedestrians walking in the opposite direction eyeing him with concern.

“I shouldn’t have had to participate,” Anna grunted through the phone and seemed to be out of breath for a moment.  She was doing something that made thumping sounds and he assumed that she was probably still getting ready for school.  "I’m a minor.  Aren’t there laws about protecting my privacy and safety?”  Inwardly, Kyle admitted it was a valid concern.  The youngest member of the family was only fourteen and she went to a super prestigious private school full of spoiled children of the uber rich for a reason.


All the bodyguards and security on campus were the reason.

“I’m pretty sure you are the only eighth-grader on the planet who has a personal I owe you from the president of their country.”  This had been the plan that they’d worked out with Mom beforehand.  Anna was inevitably going to be upset about whatever was written.  She was a kid in a school with shitty spoiled-asshole classmates.  The family knew beforehand that something, something would go down because of this.  Their goal was to mitigate Anna’s reaction to the bullies.

“You’re right.”  Anna grudgingly admitted.  "I do have that I Owe You from him.”  Kyle knew for a fact that it was framed on her dresser.

“Right next to the ones from three different Joint Chiefs of Staff.”  He reminded her of how she’d had to be bribed into participating so that Joe Q Public could have a chance to get to know their terrifying parent as the doting mother she was. Or at least, make them think she was.  There were more IOUs, from various mom-related events over the years, and Kyle doubted that the individuals in debt would ever let her call them in... but if she ever did...

“It’s a hobby.”  She admitted sheepishly as she tried to conquer her discontent.  "Today’s just going to suck.”  He could hear the resignation in her voice and his heart bled for her.

“I know.”  It wasn’t hard to play the sympathetic older brother when he really was sympathetic to her plight.  It wasn’t that long since he’d been her age and she had it rougher than any of her three elder siblings.  She was the only one in the family who was visibly magic-touched.  She stood out with her waist-length white hair, dark eyes, and tan skin.  “Hey.  At least you got a nice bit about you that makes you seem really impressive while I’m the cook and everyone thinks Sam’s in advertising.”

“Yeah.”  Anna snorted and Kyle thought he may have heard a snot bubble pop.  Someone needs a medic, a tissue medic.  He couldn’t help the thought whispering in his head though he wisely kept it to himself so that he didn’t aggravate his baby sister further.  "They made me out to be like I was so powerful and maybe the heir to mom’s magic and position.”

That?  That had been bad.  Kyle had thought it was a bad move while he was reading it.  That should never have been okay to publish, and it was a damn good thing that Anna attended a school with security up the wazoo already otherwise they’d have to pack her off to some obscure boarding school built like a medieval fortress for her own safety. The crazies would be out in force for her after this.

“It wasn’t as bad as all that.”  Kyle soothed while lying through his teeth.  The golden apple clutched forgotten at his side.

“The writer called me the next Harbinger and said that I ‘Light Up the Dawn with my magic’.”  She scoffed.  Kyle was nearing the museum where he worked and paused in a shaded spot near the steps so he could keep talking uninterrupted.  He heard the beep of an incoming call and pulled the phone away from his face to see who was calling now.  It was, not surprisingly, his mother this time.  

He sighed with resignation.

“Just don’t worry about it, kid.  Go to school.  Have the best damn day you can.  And spit icicles in the face of anyone who gives you grief.”  It was not the most responsible thing he could say, it was however the most big-brotherly thing to say.  "Look.  I gotta go.  Mom’s calling.  Probably to tell me not to encourage you to do anything rash and to stop making fun of Samantha.”

“Kay.  Bye, Kyle.  Love you.”  Her morose response gutted Kyle a bit, if he thought he could get away with it he’d play Hookey and hang out with Anna all day.  Unfortunately, he had to adult, and they’d get caught when the school notified his parents that Anna wasn’t there.

“Love you, too, Snow Cone.”

Black cell phone screen with an incoming call from "Mom" showing a profile image of Camina Wattkins in full battle armor.

Chapter 003 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

Kyle glared at the screen of his phone as the incoming call from his mother took over the place the one from Anna had just held.  Whereas Anna’s image was a cute little cartoonish picture of a snow cone, his mother’s well, it was just one of the more epic shots of her that someone had taken.  He wasn’t sure if it was a captured image from video footage or if someone just happened to be that lucky.  It was just about one of the most epic things he’d ever seen in his life.

The image Kyle used in his phone book was one of her in her full-powered exoskeleton armor.  Her magical wings spread behind her with her lance raised and ready to fire.  She was ringed with power in all the glory of divine wrath that her patron gifted her with.  His mother looked like the most badass anime warrior goddess come to life.  His mother, a warlock of the Archangel Michael.  Known throughout the world as one of the most devastating forces in existence.

A warrior patron for a warrior woman.

Normally, Kyle was so proud when he looked at that photo.  Because his mother was amazing.  Today the image of her mid-attack represented the darker side of being one of her children.  The expectations that everyone else placed on them to live up to her greatness.

And the teeny tiny size of the picture on the screen did it no justice at all.  He scoffed, not bothering to sing along with the song playing as his ringtone.  It was no longer amusing him.  His mom had messed up.  Fine.  He’d have to talk to her eventually.  So, he slid his finger over the button to answer his phone for the third time that morning.

“You promised.” That was how he answered the call.  The cold flat tone of his voice trembled with anger, and he had to stop before he said anything he’d regret.  On the other end of the line, Camina Watkins, The Harbinger of Dawn, The Light Bringer, The Morning Star, THE Valkyrie, The Last Sight You’d Ever See, The Last Resort, The Last Line, sighed as she heard her son’s tone of voice.

“So, that’s how it’s going to go.” It was more statement than question.

“You promised they were going to lay off of Anna.” The young man continued doggedly. If it had been himself, he might have capitulated and let himself be pressured, for his little sister...NO!

“You promised that they were going to stop pressuring her to take Michael’s pact.  You promised she’d be allowed to choose her own patron if she ever chose to become a warlock.  She doesn’t need to take a patron.  Anna’s got enough natural magic that she doesn’t need a pact to be a magic user.”

He kept his voice to a low growl and glared off into the park, watching pedestrians on their way while he took the time to have the inevitable conversation.  He knew he was the only one who would do it too.  Once again, he heard his mother’s sigh. However, her voice, when it came, was steel.

“First of all, what went to print wasn’t what I was shown and approved of.  Secondly, I’m just a soldier.  I couldn’t have prevented this even if I had known they’d gone this way with it.  And thirdly, everyone, and I literally mean every person on the entire planet knows that Anna has been offered a divine patron.”  Her voice dripped with scorn at the obvious.

"The angels put a God damned star in the sky over the hospital when she was born.  It doesn’t have to be Michael or even one of the angels, but that doesn’t change the fact that the offer stands.  That the offer will always stand.  I can’t change that!”

“You could remind people that she’s just a kid and she’s not ready –” Kyle never got to finish his sentence.

“Not ready?  Not ready?”  For the first time in the conversation, Camina’s voice began to rise with anger. "Samantha entered her pact at thirteen.  You?  Not much older.  I was burning monsters with the power of an archangel when I was ten.  My entire family has been powerful military assets for centuries.  Centuries Kyle.  I’m literally called The Last fuckingLine!  You know what that’s of?”  Kyle wanted to turn around and throw his phone at the wall he was leaning against, instead, he let the word come from between his gritted teeth as his mother spoke at the same time.

“Defense.” The word was sullen as he said it, but fiery in his mother’s tirade.

“Defense!” She paused and lowered her voice.  "My superiors, they look at the history of our family, 

they look at me aging, and they are freaking out.  Have you ever seen a five-star general have a panic attack and an existential crisis because Idon’t have an ‘heir?  There is no one in our country at my level to replace me.  Not one of my older children has chosen to be an actual Warlock despite taking warlock pacts with fairly powerful patrons.”

Here Kyle thought he might be able to argue, but his mother wouldn’t let him.  They both knew why she didn’t have a proverbial heir.

“I know Kyle.  I know that Samantha isn’t cut out for it and her pact item is too unstable and her patron too bloodthirsty even if she were willing.  I know your brother has a peaceful patron even if Asclepius is powerful.  I know!  I also know that you are capable of so much more even if no one else does.  But I also know that, Anna.  Is.  Special.  New-stars-in-the-heavens kind of special.  And the whole world knows that too.  There’s only so much interference I can run, and I know that I’m failing her as a mother.  I know.  And I am sorry for that.”

She finally stopped long enough for Kyle to get a word in edgewise.  She’d already said out loud the thing he was going to imply quietly without ever outright saying.  She was failing Anna as a mother.  Camina Watkins was a soldier first, a warlock second, a wife third, and a mother last.

That was a quote from her official biography.  She didn’t say that about herself.  It was something the author had said.  Kyle pushed down the lump that had been forming in his throat as his mother waited patiently for his response.  Finally, he spoke, and his voice was only slightly hoarse.

“Will...” He coughed to clear his throat and continued quickly.  “Will you just make sure you tell Anna that?”  He pleaded. "Not all the other bits that will make her feel guilty and pressured, just the part about being sorry.”

“Yeah.” Camina gave a rueful laugh. "I think I can do that.”

“In person.” Kyle admonished, as he rubbed something from his eyes. "Not a text.  At least a voice call.”

“Yes.  I pro –” Kyle cut her off before she could finish her sentence.

Don’t promise!”  He felt like a jerk, yet it was a well-known fact in their family that their mother couldn’t be relied upon to keep some promises. "Just do it.”

“Alright.” She was quiet; ashamed with the knowledge of shared history as to why he spoke that way.  “I better let you get to work before you’re late.  Lots of love baby boy.”  With that, she hung up and Kyle puffed out his cheeks with a huge sigh of relief.  He loved his mom, however these conversations...sometimes she made him feel like he was the parent.

He made sure the call had disconnected and locked the screen on his phone before shoving it into a pocket of his robes.  Kyle looked down at himself with that same assessing self-loathing he felt whenever someone tried to ‘guide’ Anna into being their mom’s replacement.  It didn’t matter that as a warlock of an archangel Camina Watkins was going to live and be a viable military asset for a good long while yet.  It mattered because if Kyle had chosen a different path, maybe Anna wouldn’t have had to deal with those fools at all.

Yeah.  When other people looked at Kyle, they saw an academic warlock.  Someone who took a patron to help them gain knowledge more than magic.  But what if...No!  The young man shook his head and straightened the strap of his messenger bag over his shoulder.  No.  He’d chosen the Archivist and knowledge, and magic for magic’s sake.  Knowledge was power after all.

Another ringtone came from the phone in his pocket, and he pulled it out again.  It was just his alarm, telling him work started in fifteen minutes.  His shoulders slumped as he trudged out of the shadows.  Sunlight glinting off the natural blonde highlights in his light brown hair.  He was just an average apprentice warlock – not even a full warlock like his older siblings – working an average job as a museum intern.

Nothing more.  Nothing less.

Well, a little more. He also had some wizard powers.

Not nearly as spectacular as all the other members of his family.

Girl in a school uniform with dark tan skin, brown eyes, and white hair waving ice magic around in the air.

Chapter 004 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

10:00 AM September 13th 2026

New York Preparatory Academy, New York, NY

It started out a nice day. Except for that stupid article.  But the weather was nice.  Really nice.  Like most days that change the course of history, they are stereotypically either really nice weather or very terrible weather.  It’s never just an average blah kind of day.  Today it was an absolutely gorgeous Fall morning.

The leaves had just started turning colors, the sky was an unbelievably deep blue for that time of year, and it contrasted incredibly with the red brick buildings of the grounds for the New York Preparatory Academy for the absurdly rich and spoiled.  That last part about the absurdly rich and spoiled wasn’t actually part of the school’s name.  That was just something Anna’s big brother, Kyle, would say to cheer Anna up about going there.

It was a really beautiful campus.  Austere red brick facades on emerald-green manicured lawns, obsessively landscaped formal gardens, shingled rooftops, and fall leaves.  That was why Anna Watkins was deep in concentration, working on a watercolor pencil landscape sketch when Sara White approached unnoticed and kicked her sketchbook out of her hands.

Confused and startled Anna shrieked in surprise and jerked her head up to see who had interrupted her while she was in the zone.  Seeing it was the most popular – which everyone knew meant richest – girl in school, Anna contained her sudden urge to destroy the first person she saw.  Her nostrils flared, and she pushed the few strands of hair that had escaped her bun back over her ears in a nervous habit.

“What the fuck Sara?”  So, what that they weren’t allowed to swear at school.  Sara’s behavior was bullshit.

“You think Liam Ecclestone would ever be interested in a freak like you?”  The brat’s golden curls jiggled around her porcelain face as perfectly painted glossy red lips spat scorn at the girl sitting on the ground.

“Um, nooooo…”  Anna arched one pale eyebrow unsure of what had spawned the current confrontation.  "I’m not even sure who that is?”  Unable to scoot back as she was leaning against a tree, Anna rose in one smooth graceful movement.  That only seemed to infuriate her opponent more as Anna towered a full five inches over the other girl once standing.

“Stop pretending you aren’t into him.  Gina saw you say ‘Hi’ to him before school this morning.” In a moment of clarity that made even less sense, Anna was able to place the interaction that seemed to have garnered her this unwanted attention.

“Look, I was just being polite to someone who was polite to me.  He said ‘Hi’ so I said ‘Hi’ back.  There’s no interest between us from either party.”  Remembering her mother’s words that it’s harder to de-escalate a confrontation than to escalate it and that no one really wins in a fight, she tried to reassure Sara that she was not‘competition’.

Anna had noticed that Sara had shown up with her little clique of bullies.  Not that they were there for intimidation or anything, just that the five of them went everywhere together.  Sara’s shrill accusation that Anna was ‘into’ someone had drawn kids from around the school grounds.  There hadn’t been a real knock-down drag-out fight yet as the school year had only started that week and everyone was aching for some drama and gossip.  A crowd was forming, and Sara had noticed she now had an audience.

“Well, good!  Wouldn’t want a freak like you who bleaches her hair white for attention thinking she was good enough for a man like that.”  It was all verbal poison and vitriol from Sara who didn’t seem to want to de-escalate anything.  A sigh escaped Anna that she couldn’t quite suppress.  Her hair was naturally white, all of her hair.  This made for a striking contrast against her dark tan skin. It was eye-catching. And who the fuck called a teenage boy a man?  The dumb bitch trying to let him know she was willing to let him in her pants, that’s who.

“It’s naturally white.  I asked my parents if I could dye my hair dark to look more natural, but they said that they weren’t going to let me change the way I look just because an insecure little cunt like Sara White is afraid a shallow boy that only cares about looks will like me more than her.”

It was wrong.  Everything her parents preached was for her to stay out of fights and avoid conflict.  Yet she was done tiptoeing around the girl who had made the lives of half the students at school miserable for years.  If the spoiled little princess wanted to throwdown with ‘the next Harbinger’, Anna was more than capable of beating some sense into her. She was having that kind of day and in that kind of mood.

“You expect us to believe that you have skin that dark with hair that white.  Puh-lease!”  Sara scoffed and glanced at her gaggle of girls who laughed along with her.  "That’s complete and utter bullshit.”

“I come from a magical family.  Sometimes magical abilities affect the way a person looks.”  She paused for a moment to let that sink in with the crowd.  It couldn’t hurt to remind Sara where she came from and what picking a fight with her really meant.  "You would know that if you had been smart enough to pass any grade and not just had your parents bribe the school into advancing you so you could still play with your friends.”

“You bitch!”  The shorter girl gasped.

“At least bitches don’t get known for being easy like you, skank!”  Anna shot back unconcerned as Sara dropped her bag and handed her coat to one of her friends in preparation for the fight she’d been looking for.

“I’m going to kick your freak ass.”  The crowd let out a collective ‘ooOOOOhoooo’ of appreciation.

“You sure you want to do that?”  She was more than willing to fight and deal with the consequences.  It would be her first offense, she was a decent student, and her parents would support her decision even if it was against what they would encourage.  Okay.  Her dad, the pacifist, would be hella disappointed.  Her mom would one hundred percent approve of Anna’s choice to beat the ever-living hell out of this obnoxious immature little shit. Maybe.  "You know who I am.”

“You can’t hide behind mommy’s skirts forever.  Eventually, you’re gonna have to take your medicine like the upstart piece of trash you are.”  For a moment, Anna couldn’t believe she had just heard what she’d heard.  Did Sara White, the girl who called on her daddy’s wealth and power to threaten, bribe, and coerce everyone from classmates to teachers, to school officials really just accuse Anna of hiding behind who her mother was?

“Bwahahahaha!”  Laughter erupted out of her, and the pale-haired girl doubled over with uncontrollable amusement.  The crowd watched in stunned awkward silence.  Then a few chuckled while others smirked.  "See?”  Anna straightened as she caught her breath.  "They get it.”  She gestured broadly at the giggling teens around them.

“Get what?”  Bewildered disgust twisted Sara’s face and Anna took pity enough on her to explain.

“That was funny.  That you, who only have anything because everyone is afraid of her father, accused someone else of hiding behind their parents.”  Unable to stop herself, Anna giggled again.  "It’s funny.”

Sara had been glancing around at the crowd whom she had thought were on her side.  Now she realized that maybe they were not rooting for her but laughing at her.  She balled up her fists and lunged for Anna only to stop short when Anna pulled her hands up to a ready fighting position and each fist flared with balls of cool white light.  A crisp chill wave blasted out from the white-haired girl and her hands frosted over with ice.

“Oh, what the heck.  Kicking your ass without magic is going to be so much more fun.”  She shook her hands and dissipated the spell.  Where the balls of summoned ice had been moments before were just bare knuckles now.  Then she swung a hard uppercut into Sara’s stomach driving her fist through the girl’s diaphragm.

The teens around her screamed with delight as the biggest bully in school doubled over gasping.  ‘Fight!  Fight!  Fight!  Fight!’

“Oh, for fucks sake!”  Anna muttered under her breath.  "Why do teenagers have to be such animals.”

“That’s not fair!”  Shrieked one of Sara’s clique.  "You’re bigger than her.” The girl threw a bookbag at Anna.

“And there’s five of you who wanted to fight over some boy whose name I don’t even know.”  Snatching the bookbag out of the air, Anna hurled it back with superhuman strength at the girl who had interfered sending her sprawling on her back several feet away.

Meanwhile, Sara had caught her breath and rushed Anna.  Which was a mistake.  With a general air of unconcern, Anna backhanded Sara across the face.  Her head jerked to the side with a split lip before she fell.

“Anyone else want a piece of me?”  It looked like one of the three girls from Sara’s clique that were left standing might have been about to step forward when an adult could be heard shouting.  The group who’d been chanting ‘fight, fight, fight’ let out a collective ‘ahh’ and a few ‘booo’s’ and parted to let a teacher and several security staff through.

“Anna Watkins?  Fighting with magic?  What would your mother say?”  The teacher tisked her disapproval.

“Hit hard, hit fast, make sure they don’t get up.” The teacher scowled at Anna as she quipped the famous Camina Wattkins quote almost automatically. “Hey, I didn’t use magic to fight.  Just to try to convince her she didn’t want to fight.”  Shrugging, Anna pointed a finger briefly at Sara then collected her belongings while trying not to scoff at the girls who were now worried about getting in trouble.  "Besides, Mom says it is the moral obligation of the strong to stop bullies and protect the weak.  Didn’t we just cover that quote from her in modern history class?”

“Get out of here everyone.”  The teacher frowned, her face looking like she had a bad taste in her mouth as she made expansive shooing gestures with her hands to send the gathered teens off.  "Not you five.”  She whirled and pointed a finger at the three trying to help their two fallen comrades slink away quietly with the disbursing crowd.  "You are going to the dean’s office with Miss Watkins.  We need to have a chat with your parents.”

And the day was still gorgeous.  Multicolor leaves rustling in a brisk breeze under a sunny azure sky. Anna sighed up at the heavens in resignation. Was this really what Michael and the angels had in mind when they chose her?

Anime style beautiful brunette in a black and gold mech armor suit with golden wings.

Chapter 005 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

10:45 AM September 13th 2026

35,000ft Altitude between New York City and Washington DC

A statuesque brunet rested her head against the window frame watching the landscape and fluffy clouds slide by beneath her. She let the vibrations of the passenger jet soothe her while she tried not to offend the young gentleman sitting next to her.  He had already requested her autograph while jabbering on about what a big ‘fan’ he was of her work.

“Really, the way you took out those monsters during the last Appalachian magic surge…”  He shook his head and exhaled with what appeared to be something between a sigh and a moan."…It was pure artistry.  I watched the whole operation.  Everything that the embedded journalists filmed.”  His gushing was annoying, to say the least.

“Embedded journalists can’t film everything in high magic areas.  High enough levels of magic can cause even magically hardened electronics to fail.  So, the monster battles that were filmed and broadcast to the public were only a small portion of the cleanup that actually happened."

The correction was almost automatic now and she tried not to groan in frustration.  This was why she hated traveling on civilian airlines even if the seats were slightly more comfortable.  And quiet. Was it weird that she was more relaxed flying in some giant military cargo plane with the rattling and the roar of the engines getting ready to do a high altitude jump into an untamed magic zone overrun with monsters than sitting in relative comfort next to a... fan?

But, if the public continued to believe that the dangers out there were all known and easily dealt with, they wouldn’t take funding the military seriously.  And that’s the problem she was having with the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Somehow, the fact that known dangers had been successfully eliminated or removed meant to the politicians that the military didn’t need as much money as they had been giving it. So, she said the words that needed saying.

“Really?”  Her seatmate brightened at her words.  "So, there was stuff that you saw that wasn’t broadcast?”  Placing one tanned hand to her face the woman rubbed the bridge of her nose in a failing attempt to ward off the migraine she knew would soon follow.  "I’d love to hear all about it?”

Before she could think of anything to say to avoid this part of the conversation, her phone rang.  Her shoulders sagged with relief as she jumped at the excuse to avoid talking to yet another Gore Groupie about disemboweling monsters.  The number wasn’t one she recognized yet she was determined to take the call anyway.

“Excuse me.  She interrupted the young man.  "I need to take this.”  Seeing the flight attendant on their way down the aisle, she paused for a second before answering the call and whispered hurriedly to her seatmate, “If I’m still on the phone when the flight attendants reach us, tell them I want coffee with two sugars and one cream.”  Then she quickly answered the call.

“This is Camina speaking.”  Camina hadn’t recognized the number, but anything had to be better than talking about work on her day off while traveling for work.  Right?  The young man next to her narrowed his eyes in suspicion and casually tilted his head as he nonchalantly strained to listen in on her conversation.

“Hello, is this the parent of Anna Watkins?”  The voice was brusque and tinged with a level of disgust Camina had never before heard directed at her by someone she didn’t know.

“Yes.  This is her mother, Camina Watkins.  How can I help you?”  For a few breathless moments, Camina was worried that something had happened to her daughter, and she pursed her lips together expectantly.

“This is Dean George from New York Preparatory Academy.  I’m calling because Anna has been suspended for fighting and a parent or designated guardian needs to pick her up.  I’ve been unable to reach Mister Watkins."  A frown creased Camina’s forehead and the corners of her full, expressive lips turned down.

“Suspended for fighting?  Well, certainly I hope it was the bully that keeps breaking her stuff because I told Anna I’m not replacing anything else that Miss White breaks anymore."  Silence from the other end of the call strung out long enough that Anna’s mother thought the line had disconnected.  "Are you still there, Dean George?”

“Ahem.  Yes."  Hearing the discomfort in the Dean’s voice, Camina’s frown curved up into a smile.  

"Be that as it may, your daughter participated in a fight and has therefore been suspended along with all the girls she had been fighting with.  When can we expect someone to pick her up from school."

“I’m currently on a flight heading toward New York, but I’ll be landing within the hour.  I could probably pick Anna up within two hours if there aren’t any delays on landing.  You could just release her and let her walk home.  We don’t live far from the school."  She’d tried to sound as cheerful as possible but let some aggravation into her voice.

“Umm…Unfortunately, school policy does require that a parent, guardian, or an adult designated by a parent or guardian pick the child up when they’ve been suspended."  The Dean had been taken aback by Camina’s suggestion that her child be released to walk home.

“Then I’ll be there as soon as I can."  She paused artfully knowing full well that she would be annoying the heck out of the Dean.  "Probably around 1:00 PM but maybe not until after 2:00 PM.  I really can’t speed up the plane.  That’s a bit beyond my control."

The young man beside her stifled a giggle as a flight attendant handed him a hot coffee, two sugar packets, and a creamer.  Glancing over her shoulder Camina winked at him as he handed her the coffee and condiments and she mouthed Thank you!

“Umm hmmm."  Her mouth occupied with a hot sip of beverage; Camina agreed absently to something she didn’t quite hear.  "See you then.  Ba-bye, Dean."

“Ba-bye?”  The young man next to her sniggered as the call clicked off.

“I’m allowed to say ba-bye."  She blinked innocently at her neighbor.  "Thanks for grabbing my coffee for me."  The cool air of the plane made a pleasing contrast on her face as the steam from her cup caressed her cheeks while she took another sip.  "I haven’t had a chance to have any yet today and I’ve been craving it."

She fumbled with the knob to release the seat back tray in front of her.  One hand held her coffee, and the other, her sugar, creamer, and the snap-on lid to her cup. Juggling the way she held her condiments, she easily opened the tray and lowered it to set her things on.

“Trouble at home?”  Camina’s erstwhile traveling companion asked with a look of intrusive concern that bordered on glee.

“No, not really."  Her smiled reassurance was more than just an act.  She was sure that her husband had just been busy with a patient and that he would be picking up their daughter soon.  As the gears in her mind spun up back into ‘mom mode’ after the time she’d spent away, Camina absently doctored up her cup of joe the way she liked it before taking a thoughtful sip.  "Mmmm…”  Tension poured out of her body with the taste of her caffeinated savior.  Her shoulders sagged gratefully.  "So, good.  Thank you, again."

Gesturing with her cup, the woman indicated what she was thanking her neighbor for.  Then she opened the contacts list on her phone and scrolled through.  Finding the name she was looking for, she dialed.  The phone rang, and rang, and continued ringing several more times before eventually going to a generic voicemail box prompt asking her to leave a message.

“Hey, honey.  It’s me.  The school called and needs someone to pick up Anna.  I’m on a flight back to New York now and should be landing in less than an hour.  I came back early to surprise you.  So…surprise!  If you get this message before I pick up Anna, let me know if you are planning on doing it."

She hung up.  There wasn’t any reason to be concerned that her husband wasn’t answering the phone.  He was sure to have patients today, and he’d check messages between them.  It was almost guaranteed that he would be calling her before she landed.

Anime style black clad motorcycle rider with face covered by black helmet.

Chapter 006 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

10:50 AM September 13th 2026

Radio Empire Concert Hall New York, NY

Backstage was bustling as sound and light crews jogged and speed-walked through the final preparations for the show.  Backup dancers, showboating rockstars, and the puffed-up wannabes who were going on before the main lineup made for colorful and flamboyant obstacles as they ducked in and out of dressing rooms calling for makeup artists, hairdressers, and last-minute costume alterations.

Of course, there were the inevitable groupies too.  Wearing outfits that were too tight and consisting of too little material to justify the outrageous prices of designer clothes.  One particular groupie in a loud purple jacket and jean shorts, with back pockets hanging out a hem that might as well have belonged to a bikini, caught Deveraux’s attention.  His long blonde hair swirled loosely around his shoulders as he spun to watch her go by.

He wasn’t checking her out.  No.  But her aura was out of control.  Angry and swirled up with hints of vengeance and rage.  In the dressing room she had just walked out of the band was gathered around a pre-concert snack table filled with baked goods.

There was a small tingle of magic surrounding the food.  Not enough to set off the security monitors or affect the electronics of the building; but enough to be no good if the dark spell coiled through the cookies was anything to judge by. Deveraux considered going in to warn the main attraction yet was discouraged by the dour-faced security guard at the door.

“You might want to warn the band to not eat any of the…whelp…never mind…”  He had tried, but the leather-clad young men had already started stuffing treats into their mouths.

“They wouldn’t have listened anyways.  Not when there are ‘magic cookies’ to eat."  The security guard harrumphed with disdain.  The way he had made air quotes when speaking the words ‘magic cookies’ implied that the band was expecting something recreational.

“OH…”  The long-haired hippie…or maybe he was a hipster douchebag…sucked in a sympathetic breath through his teeth.  "It’s not the kind of magic they think it is this time.  The girl who just left was very upset."  He shook his head and shrugged as the security guard laughed before heading into the room to wrangle some discipline into his charges.

The show would be starting any moment now and Deveraux wanted to get a last look at his makeup before heading up on stage.  He ducked into his dressing room and pulled his cell phone from his back pocket.  Checking it for messages and then setting it to silent, he chucked his phone into his bag.

Wouldn’t do for it to go off while he was performing and distract him.  Or worse, for it to be picked up on a microphone.  Or…worst of all, for him to lose it.  The thought made him pale, and he blanched at himself in the mirror while he was giving his makeup a cursory final glance.

He looked good.  He knew he looked good.  Muscular?  Toned?  Long sexy hair?  Check.  Check.  And check!  Jeans that made his butt pop?  Check.  He headed up to the stage prepared to face the biggest audience he had ever Deejayed for.

While the sound crew next to the stage fitted him with his wireless mic, he could hear the announcer introducing him.  He blushed and grinned when the crowd cheered for DJ Deveraux as he jogged and jumped out on stage.  Raising his hands like a prizefighter for the crowd to cheer.

They weren’t really cheering for him.  They were cheering for the main act that would be coming out later on, but DJ Deveraux didn’t mind one bit riding the high their response gave him. After all, how often did he get to shed his normal persona of a responsible husband and father to indulge in his craving for praise and use his talents in Technomagery the way he loved most?  Back in his changing room, his phone in his bag was ringing with a call he was missing from his wife.

10:50 AM September 13th 2026

Industrial Park District Near the Port of New York

Two individuals in black padded motorcycle gear with molded black body armor sped through the streets of New York City without a care for the flow of traffic.  They weaved and dodged expertly among the sparse vehicles in an industrial part of town as they headed toward their quarry.

Their target was an innocuous everyday average moving truck.  It moved placidly along at the average speed of traffic.  There wasn’t anything to call attention to it aside from the fact that maybe it was unusual for it to be in this part of town.  Though not out of the question.

It was the kind of moving truck anyone could rent for about fifty bucks a day.  It was shades of blue and white with the Mountain King Mover’s logo of ice-capped mountains under their name in gold.  A company that reliably had franchise locations in every large city and small town in America.

Not until the driver of the truck heard the two cyclists and glanced in his side view mirrors to see them pulling up behind him did the moving truck have anything about it which would draw attention to it.  Once the driver realized he was being pursued, his behavior changed drastically.  The truck accelerated and passed the vehicles ahead of it, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with an oncoming flat-bed semi, laden with small crates.

The semi swerved off the side of the road.  Water exploded from barrier barrels as it impacted.  Restraints securing it precariously stacked boxes snapped and the crates toppled from the flatbed and spilled across the road.  The two individuals in pursuit dodged the rolling boxes.

One motorcycle nearly crashed, the armor on the rider’s kneepad sparking on the pavement as the vehicle slid onto its side.  The rider released the handlebars with the hand closest to the ground and punched the pavement, launching themselves and their vehicle back upright with a visible shockwave of magical force.

A chase was on, and the pursuing motorcyclists gunned their engines as they followed determinedly.  Behind the speeding vehicles, a crack split the road where the fallen rider had righted themselves.  Traffic in both directions was stopped by the widening rift in the ground.

Anime style blonde Caucasian musician on stage singing with a microphone.

Chapter 007 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

10:52 AM September 13th 2026

Industrial Park District Near the Port of New York

Inside the back of the Mountain King Movers truck, four security guards uniformed in armor and covered with weapons huddled uncomfortably around a locked steel crate.  They looked like a typical group of Hollywood-ugly heroes from an action movie who were about to launch a four-man war against the Bad Guy.  In reality, they were…maybe not the Bad Guys, but they definitely weren’t Good Guys either.

They were guarding the locked steel crate and a man in a lab coat.  None of the guards liked the balding, middle-aged, arrogant asshole who pretended to be cocky and confident, but who clutched his briefcase too tightly to his chest to be anything other than terrified.  His nervous habit of pushing his spectacles up his nose gave him away further.  He’d push them up even when they did not need to be, then had to adjust them back down to see properly.

When they felt their vehicle’s speed increase, the four guards glanced at each other with only mild interest.  One raised an eyebrow and another shrugged back at him.  When they were jostled to almost fall over as the truck swerved to miss the semi, that’s when the lead guard became concerned. He frowned and grabbed the radio clipped to his uniform chest.

“Check in.”  His voice was steely, calm.  Then the vehicle swerved again, zigzagging through traffic wildly.  “Hey, I said check in.”  There was no answer.  The radio clicked.  It whined.  The radios of each of the guards began to whine, a low buzzing at first that ran steadily up through the octaves.

“Shit!”  One of them exclaimed, unclipping his radio and staring at it horrified.

“High-level magical interference.  Radios off.  Eject the batteries before they blow.”  Their leader was still calm, but his voice had an edge to it.  “Don’t worry.  The truck is hardened against magical activity so we’ll keep moving and the collector will maintain ambient magic below toxic levels.” He’d been removing the battery from his radio as he spoke, and his subordinates followed suit.  “Just be ready.  

There’s something out there.”

10:52 AM September 13th 2026

Radio Empire Concert Hall New York, NY

Deveraux finished his set to so many cheers. The crowds were screaming.  He couldn’t see them really, just a seething mass of bodies in the dark, his eyes blinded by the stage lights.  He didn’t care.

His heart was pumping, racing so fast.  It was so gratifying.  So, exhilarating.  Sooo intoxicating.  He could sense the emotions riding high and he’d been able to use his magic to accentuate it with the tones and rhythms of the songs he had played.  They were ready for the main act.  But the main act was probably not going to be ready for them.

There were a few more openers before the band was scheduled.  Maybe they had time to get themselves unhexed before the show was on.

“Thank you, New York.”  Deveraux grabbed the bottle of water a stagehand had set aside for him.  He took a long gulping drink letting some of it run down his throat and front.  Making magic was hard work and he was dripping with sweat, but this was part of his act...and some of the ladies, and lads, loved it.  The water made his tight shirt stick to him and transparent where it was wet.

Then he grabbed the single red rose laying on the same side table where the water had been.  He swaggered jauntily to the front of the stage and tossed the rose as far out into the audience as he could.  Deveraux didn’t wait to see where it landed.  He swiftly exited the stage as the screaming fans surged to even greater excitement. Overhead the announcer’s voice gave him an outro.

“That was DJ Deveraux.  He makes music that the heart always knows.” There was a suggestively lewd lilt to the announcer’s voice but that was show biz.  Sex sold.  And Deveraux was sexy, if he did think so himself.  At least, his fans told him he was sexy.  “Now where is the lucky audience member who caught that rose.  What’s that?  You’re sharing it with your friend?  Well, congratulations ladies.  You have just won yourselves a backstage pass to meet Maiden’s Voyage after the show tonight. Say, thank you, to DJ Deveraux.”

Even more wild screaming followed the DJ, and he smiled broadly all the way back to his dressing room. He continued smiling until he saw the missed call from his wife. By the end of the voice mail, Deveraux was frowning with disappointment.

Now his plans for rubbing elbows at the afterparty and spreading his name for more gigs was going up in smoke.  Or maybe that should be frost, considering it was his icy frost queen of a daughter who had messed things up.  No.  That wasn’t fair.  She’d been complaining about that bully for a long time.  It was bound to happen if the school didn’t take action.

This just...

It wasn’t fair.  None of his other kids had ever....  No.  That wasn’t true.  Samantha..., Samantha was a statistical outlier and while she’d never started fights, she made sure she finished them.  In a way that prevented the loser from ever wanting to fight her again.

What had Kyle called her?  Oh yes.  The Prodigy of Pain.  Remembering that bit of his oldest daughter’s hellion years made Deveraux feel a bit better.  And remembering that his son Kyle was now old enough to pick Anna up from school made Deveraux smile with guilty but unrepressed glee.

Just this once.

He sent the text.

‘Kyle.  Need you to pick up Anna from school.  She got suspended I’ve got a busy schedule today.  Your mom took an early flight but she’s still not back.  You can just drop her off at home. 



Anime style motorcycle rider in a black, spiky techno-motorcycle suit.

Chapter 008 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

10:53 AM September 13th 2026

Radio Empire Concert Hall New York, NY

DJ Deveraux was just packing up to get a head start on the afterparty when he heard the call. The drummer and the second bassist of Maiden’s Voyage were out of commission and the lead singer was desperately calling for anyone who could fill in from the openers. Before he could muster the arrogance to volunteer himself, someone else chimed in that ‘DJ Deveraux is a technomage, he could cover both parts”.

“Really?” The leather-clad singer grasped at the statement with desperation and relief. “Where is he? He hasn’t left yet, has he?” Swallowing the crow of joy that threatened to leap from his throat, Devereaux sauntered up to the frantic frontliner as he turned to look for the technomage.

“I’m right here.” Devereaux gave the other musician a big friendly grin even though he knew the star would never have given him the time of day in any other circumstances.

“Did you hear? Are you willing to stand in? There are thousands of tickets we’d have to refund if…” The man trailed off as Devereaux held up a hand graciously. One might even say he did it calmly. This was it. This was his chance. This was his one shot at being famous for his music. He was shocked that his hand didn’t quiver even the slightest and his voice was clear and firm, reassuring even.

“I’d be honored and delighted.”

As if the entire backstage had been holding its collective breath for a frozen second, unsure if he would accept, some hoping he wouldn’t so that they might have a chance, then the spell broke, and everyone sprang into action.

“Alright, Comeon.” The singer had an accent that Devereaux hadn’t noticed at first. Now it came out strongly. Though the technomages could not place it. “I got George’s bass on stage. Hey, you, roadie,” he called out to one of the technicians dressed all in black that were all over the backstage and most definitely weren’t all part of this particular band’s personal roadie group. “Set up the bass for hands-free operation.”

“Don’t forget the drums,” Devereaux added.

“The drums too?” The technician called back uncertainly.

“They’re electric, aren’t they?” He turned to the singer from Maiden’s Voyage who nodded.

“Yeah?” His tone was voice made it clear that he didn’t think they could be used that way.

“Then I can operate those hands-free also, I can switch back and forth between the two if you like. The grin of delight that met his words was immensely gratifying.

“I do like.” He clapped the DJ on a shoulder as they walked to their locations on the stage. “I would like that very much.”

Before he knew it, the curtains were going back up and he was reading sheet music someone had discreetly placed for him. It was cleverly lit with one of the effects lights that were on him. But it wasn’t necessary. He recognized the song from the radio, and he was playing it mostly from memory.

They’d started out quiet and the announcer was letting everyone know that Technomage DJ Devereaux was guest appearing with the band. Like no one was going to notice that he was covering for two missing members. That was fine.

His magic was humming through the drums and the bass as he sat down and started playing by hand. The singer and the backup were belting out the lyrics, but they were notlooking good. They were looking quite bad actually. Sweating and swaying like they were about to topple over.

The lead singer lost it first as he ran for the side curtain. He barely made it past the sight of the crowd before tossing his cookies all over the stagehand who had rushed to bring him a bottled water and a bucket.  There was a faltering in the cheering of the crowd before DJ Devereaux started a crazy drum riff.

He rolled out the snare into a fast complicated rhythm on the toms that wasn’t part of the song but that he knew would punch it up a bit. After laying into the hi-hat with a crash for good measure, Devereaux chucked the drumsticks out into the crowd. Then he pointed at the lead singer’s abandoned guitar lying on the stage and made that baby stand up and walk into place as it rejoined the song.

The lead guitarist waved at the technomage to get his attention and clutched at his abdomen. Devereaux nodded and gestured for the guitarist to toss his instrument at him. With a doubtful cock of his head, the musician complied. The audience lost their minds.

And Devereaux flicked out one hand and caught the guitar with his magic only to set it playing immediately. With a quick gesture of his other hand, one of the abandoned microphones leaped into his fingers. Coordinating so many instruments at once was only a light strain for him. He’d practiced this kind of thing for years. Now, he began to sing, finishing up the song he’d started.

Three songs later, the lights went out as every piece of electronics in the Concert Hall not hardened against magical overload whined with a piercing crescendo. Cell phone batteries exploded in people’s pockets while cameras burst into flames taking a few hands with them. Plastic cases started melting and the music stopped.

It wasn’t Devereaux’s doing.

10:55 AM September 13th

Industrial Park District Near the Port of New York

The two motorcyclists chasing the Mountain King Movers van approached quickly. Though the van was now speeding through the streets, its driver was unable to shake the more mobile bikes behind it. Knowing there is nowhere for their quarry to go, the duo close on the vehicle quickly. Their expertise allows them to avoid falling or crashing despite the less-than-ideal road conditions in this part of town.

Dodging cracks and potholes as they swerve around corners, the bikers are undeterred even with freeway overpass pylons flashing by. Closer and closer they creep until one is able to reach out with their left hand and touch the handles on the back gate of the truck. The other cyclist grabbed the left handlebar of the first cyclist’s bike as the first biker grabbed the truck.

Smooth as silk, the transition. The first cyclist jumped over the handlebars of his bike onto the back bumper of the truck as their partner took control of their bike and pulled it along with them. They used their grip on the handle to pull themselves forward and up. It was a maneuver intended to protect the vehicle rather than let it fall to the ground and be damaged. They wanted a fast getaway.

After taking a moment to stabilize their position the grim bandit shoved one hand through the solid metal rear gate of the moving truck. The metal tore with a screech. Once they had the more secure handhold of the deformed gate, the attacker took their other hand off the handle and used it to help push the opening they’d made even further open. Little by little, they forced their way inside.

Staccato gunfire echoed around the intruder, ricocheting off their head and shoulders. From inside one of the defenders shouted.

“Either they’ve got the mother of all defensive magic or they’re not human.” His words are followed by curses. “Barrier up.” The hum of a spell activating chimed loud enough to be heard even over the gunfire.

Behind the barrier and the armed men was the one unarmed man and his metal box. He cowered with terror and seemed to try flinching with the sound of each shot fired. Upon hearing the guard’s shouted warning about the attacker’s defensive magic, he began frantically working to open his box.

“What are you doing?” One of the two guards who was inside the barrier with him called out angrily. The man they were guarding had distracted the guard at a critical time and it might…it did. One of the two guards outside the barrier was pummeled with a crushing blow from the unknown attacker.

“This artifact will disable any magical protections he has.” He was fumbling hastily with unlocking the box when a gurgling scream drew his eyes up from his task. The scientist, or whatever he was, stared in horror as the second guard outside the magical barrier was chucked out of the mangled rear of the truck to bounce sickeningly off the pavement. It was then that he remembered that there was not one, but two such terrors to worry about as the second motorcycle rider dodged the rolling body with both bikes, keeping pace with their fleeing vehicle easily.

Now nothing stood between them and the thin but sturdy barrier protecting the thing they wanted. The tall humanoid shape disguised in thick motorcycling gear stalked toward the group and began smashing down their barricade.

“What are you doing?” The keeper of the box screamed hysterically. “Shoot them!” He’d paused only briefly in his fumbling to open the box as layer after layer of protective insulation was ripped off in his haste.

“If we fire before he takes down the barrier the bullets will just bounce around inside it and hit one of us.” The leader shouted back. This was not how today was supposed to go. It was supposed to be a simple relocation job.

With a whoosh, the barrier came down and the two remaining guards began to fire. They only stopped when they had to reload but there wasn’t any point. They were going to die. Then the civilian shrieked in triumph.

“Yes! Take this, whatever kind of monster you are!” There was a high-pitched whine, like the sound batteries made before they exploded from magical overload. The protective barrier was trying to sputter back to life, but it didn’t matter because the person-sized attacker went down like a thousand-pound sack of flesh, hitting the floor with a clang. Behind the van, the remaining motorcyclist following them lost control of both motorcycles and rolled away in a devastating flipping disaster.

Then the whining sound was followed by a whump that shook the whole van as it moved. A few seconds later there was a small compressive explosion inside the van, and everyone ceased moving. That might have been the end of it, but the cause of that small explosion was an enormous surge of magical energy. A devastating shockwave of arcane power spread from the scene of the event.

Luckily the city was built to harvest and direct harmful quantities of magic. The infrastructure built into the roads directed the wave of power into the conduits that fed the city’s magic collectors. The magic collectors, miraculous workings of science and magic that protected all of New York City, in turn, made a similar high-pitched whining sound albeit magnified a thousand times before they too were overloaded by the massive influx of magic.

Across the city, batteries exploded, plastic melted, and Prometheus-brand emergency flares went off, their color-coded light, notifying residents of how much magic they were currently exposed to.

Anime style teen with dark tan skin and white hair wearing a school uniform.

Chapter 009 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

10:55 AM September 13th 2026

New York Preparatory Academy, New York, NY

After three hours sitting in the office Anna’s butt was getting sore. She’d tried to get up and stretch her legs, but the Assistant Dean had snatched up a yardstick from next to his desk, and menacingly smacked it on the edge of his desk before pointing at her threateningly then back at her just vacated seat. Geez, that guy was so over the top. He might as well have been pointing two fingers at his eyes and then at her to indicate that he was watching her.

Where did he get that stick from anyways? From her position, she should have been able to see the object. Yet when she observed him putting it away, the thing just kind of disappeared. As if it had been subsumed into the material of his desk. Maybe it was a warlock pact item from his patron –

Did he have a patron? Was he a warlock? She didn’t know. Until this morning Anna had never spent this much time with the school’s administration. She wasn’t even sure if she’d ever been in the office. Sure, she’d walked past it literally hundreds of times. But inside?

And now she’d been here for hours.


So many hours!

Hours, and hours, and hours, and hours.

Next to the stuck-up, spoiled little shit-for-brains, cunty bitches – No. Stop. She had to stop. If she got riled up, she might start oozing cold. Once she got too upset, she was going to become a hazard to others. So…calm. She had to be calm.

While sitting on this hard, hard, wooden torture device of a chair. Seriously! Who still uses wooden chairs in schools? It wasn’t even enchanted for comfort. Nor was it one of those creepy ones carved into the ergonomic shape of an ass for, you know, comfort.

Over the course of the three hours since she’d gotten the worst grilling of her life, two of the girls had been picked up. Their parents had sent chauffeurs and family limos for them. Ironically, Sara’s parents couldn’t be inconvenienced to even notify the help to get their daughter early. Anna might, mighthave gotten caught sniggering when she overheard that conversation.  She’d received stern looks of disapproval from both the Dean and Assistant Dean. But the glares of hatred from Sara and her cronies? Priceless!

She fidgeted uncomfortably. There was something seriously wrong with her chair. From the corner of her awareness, she noticed that Sara and her two remaining cohorts were fidgeting also. They seemed to be experiencing the same discomfort that she was. The young cryomancer was almost of the opinion that it wasn’t possible to make a more uncomfortable chair even if it had been enchanted…

Wait a minute! Anna straightened in sudden suspicion. Everywhere else in this hoity-toity school is filled with state-of-the-art ergonomic bliss. But in the school’s office, the chairs where students had to sit were the epitome of gluteus abuse? Now that she thought it out, it was clear that this was a subtle form of punishment.

Her eyes narrowed and her expression turned flat. Of course. That was the kind of thing mister I’ve-got-a-magic-stick man over there would do. For the first time since she had been filed in here with the other fighters, Anna turned her ire on the administration. Then she sighed and forced herself to relax.

She’d done the crime and now she was doing the time. Things would only get worse if she lost the strict control she had to keep over her magic, and her ‘cool’ ended up being even the slightest bit noticeable by someone else. The only thing for it was to accept it and remain calm. Besides, it wasn’t all bad.

There was television.  It had been on the twenty-four-hour news channel the whole time. But still…good and proper brain rot to zone out on and distract her from her desire to cause other people serious bodily harm. Anna leaned her head back against the wall behind her in resignation and returned her focus to the droning of the news anchor.

“In preparation for the expected arrow swarm intersection over Southern Lake Michigan, Chicago has reinforced its defensive grid while the recently emptied magic collectors have been set to the highest absorption capacity. The Governor of Illinois has activated the Magicorps division of the National Guard to aid in diverting this natural disaster. Experts say that the empty magic collectors will siphon off enough magical energy from the enchanted arrow swarms that the city defense grid combined with the efforts of aeromancers from the National Guard will be able to divert both swarms as they intersect.”

“That’s right, Bob.” The second anchorperson added, butting in helpfully. Probably following a script written on some teleprompter. Now that they’d done the grave reporting, they would put a positive spin on the potential danger and follow the segment up with some light-hearted puff piece. Was she getting jaded already? It must be Kyle's fault. And she nodded in satisfaction as the commentator continued.

“Enchanted arrow swarms are volleys of enchanted arrows from ancient wars that are still flying and traveling the world today because they were made to draw on ambient magic to power their speed and flight enchantments. These swarms may have started as man-made phenomena but they have been around so long they are now basically considered a natural disaster. Which swarms are we watching today, Bob?”

Anna resisted the urge to snort. Everyone knew what a magic arrow swarm was. It was stupid that the news reiterated their definition every time one intersected near a large city. After all, nobody went over the definition of a hurricane every time Florida flooded.

“We’ve got the Trojan Six swarm, the swarm generated during the sixth Battle of Troy, and the Punic War swarm intersecting ten miles North of Chicago. It’s uncertain how their enchantments will interact as there are no historical records of these two swarms intersecting before. It’s possible that they will join together, forming a larger more powerful swarm. Or their enchantments may negatively react causing both swarms to self-destruct.”

“Don’t forget the third option, Bob.” The second anchorman added continuing the friendly but mildly concerned banter bit.

“What’s that George?”  Bob was getting irritated with George. There was a bit of a bite in his tone. Anna was right there with Bob; George was an irritating a-hole. Just look at him, he was so polished and suave that he had to secretly be a serial killer.

“There’s the possibility that there will be no synergy or reaction between the enchantments and the swarms will pass through each other with nothing more than a few light collisions.” Bob rolled his eyes at the same time as Anna because, when in the entire history of the world had that actually happened?

“Whatever the case may be, stay tuned to find out.” Bob continued smoothly, busying his hands with a few prop documents on the desk before him. “We’ve got a countdown clock at the bottom of the screen there below the streaming updates.”

“Yes, Bob. Stay tuned to find out in just under four hours. But on a lighter note, a new article profiling Camina Wattkins, The Harbinger of Dawn has shown the world the lighter side of divine wrath as a homemaker and mother. The writer interviewed all of her children as well as her husband and painted a picture of life at home with a Holy Warrior. Your thoughts, Bob?”

“Well, George, I loved the article. Mrs., Wattkins is probably one of, if not, the most famous Warlock in modern history. I have to admit I’ve been a fan since high school and even then, she was already finding her way into our history books. I’m sure that everyone who has been following her meteoric career was thrilled to see this more personal side of her.”

Anna had stiffened slightly from her repose of negligent boredom when the segment started but she relaxed as she saw they were focusing on her mother, as they should be. Then that asshat, George, started talking and she stiffened right back up again.

“The profile of her youngest, Anna Wattkins, was particularly intriguing.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. It’s everywhere.” She’d half risen out of her chair when the Assistant Dean looked up from typing industriously to glare at her in reprimand. The yardstick appeared in his hand and the teen slammed herself back down with her arms folded angrily. She went back to watching the discussion with far less equanimity as the school’s fluorescent lights flickered with a dangerous rising hum.

“I’m warning you, young lady.” Yardstick guy pointed at the lights and then back to Anna, brandishing his yardstick like it was a wand.

“It’s not me. I’ve got my powers locked down. It’s the AMD rising.” The hum in the lights continued rising in octaves and she glanced at it nervously. The ambient magic density of the air was rising far higher than it should in a city with magic collectors as big as New York’s. The offending news segment continued under the increasing noise.

“Everyone’s speculating on her potential. Perhaps we’ll be seeing another young Warlock enlisting in the Magicor – ” The television the lights, and every electronic device in the room blew out at once.

Two teenage girls shrieked as the cellphones in their pockets – which should have been powered off in their chic white leather backpacks – burst when the batteries overloaded. Anna, who had been expecting something like this, lifted her sturdy messenger bag over her head and used her textbooks to protect her head from falling glass. There was no explosion from her bag.

“Down!” Her reaction was instinctual, knee jerk really. “Down now!” The fact that she actively loathed the girls beside her didn’t matter. What did matter was that the school used backup batteries on all the important computers, the building was loaded with electronics, and clearly, the board hadn’t used 

the generous donations and the absurdly high tuition to retrofit the buildings with magical shielding.

She threw herself on the floor and two of the girls followed her. The third must have been wearing a watch, she was scream-crying and holding a bleeding wrist in her other hand. Anna pulled the girl down with the other two. Not bothering to see who was who, she summoned a barrier shield to protect the four of them until all the secondary explosions were over.

Anime style tall blonde man in chef's clothing with blood splatters on him.

Chapter 010 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

10:50 AM September 13th 2026

Inside The National Museum of Unnatural Science and History

“Miss, you dropped your phone.” A woman in an ‘I love NY’ T-shirt where the ‘love’ was replaced with a doodled heart paused in her return to the tour group and groaned. She’d waited as long as she could before making a break for the bathroom because she hadn’t wanted to miss any of the tour. It wasn’t every day that your tour guide looked like the son of the famous Harbinger of Dawn, but this guy wasn’t a cook so it couldn’t be him. Still, if she got him to take a selfie with her no one would have to know he was just a lookalike.

So, she’d held it waiting for an opportunity to ask which had never come. Eventually, she’d had to give in to the call of nature and it had been the most explosive – she’d been quick. So quick, that she hadn’t shoved her phone deep enough into the stupid mini pockets that cursed her stupid pants. And she hadn’t even heard her phone drop.

Suspecting that it was just some bozo trying for an excuse to strike up a conversation she ran her hands over her ass, double-checking her pockets to make sure the phone was really gone even as she turned to the speaker. Yep. Her phone was missing. That was probably her phone. She was already plastering a grateful smile on her face before she’d turned far enough to see the individual speaking.

The hallway was dark too. Unnaturally dark despite the dim lights glowing overhead. Yet not so dark as to be unnavigable. She had to squint at first to get a good look at the person calling her and when she saw the man, her face fell. The was no head where she expected one to be. Only a broad chest. With a museum identification card on a lanyard. He was still off away, but he was huge.

She slowly trailed her eyes upward and saw a large man with thick straight blonde hair that came down over his shoulders. Light-skinned, he was too far away and too dark in this hallway for her to tell what color eyes he had but he looked like the discount version of a hot Viking. The distinct lack of obvious muscles and the chef’s whites is what made him the discount version.

Too tall. Shoulders aren’t broad enough. No muscles. She thought crassly as she headed toward the cell phone in his outstretched hand. Then she noticed the stains on his white clothing. They weren’t large. But they weren’t old. Fresh.

Bright red blood.

On his hands. On his knee. And a bit on his collar. A small dabble near the large knife in the sheath on his belt.

“Good thing I caught you.” He grinned and she saw more blood on his face. Was it dripping from his mouth? She slowed. Stopped. Then began backing away.

Seeing her hesitation and movement away from him, the giant of a man sped up his walking trying to get close to her faster. This only unnerved the woman more and she turned and fled.

“That’s okay.” She called over her shoulder. “Just remembered that someone is waiting for me. Drop it off with the security desk and I’ll pick it up later.” She was in full retreat sprinting down the hallway back to the tour group before she had finished shouting her excuse.

The man stopped, sighed sadly, and trudged back the way he had come. Kyle met him coming from the opposite direction. He stumbled, caught himself, and continued on.

“Hey bro.” He called out to the Viking looking chef. “Do you know when the director is going to do something about the lighting in this hallway? It has got to be an OSHA violation. A damned hazard at the very least.”

Kyle was friendly and cheerful, having just finished the last of the dreaded, guided tours that he hated giving for the day. Knowing he wasn’t on tour duty for a few more days always put a spring in his step. But his smile dropped a bit when he saw the frown on his coworker’s face and the sparkly pink phone in his hand.

“Ah, man. Did it happen again?” The chef nodded and neither had to specify what it was. “Well, you get cleaned up, I’ll hit the John, and we’ll drop it at the lost and found when we head out on break.” The Viking chef nodded and they walked into the men’s room together.

A few minutes later they emerged, the tall chef looking decidedly less like he just finished eating his latest serial murder victim. After a brief stop to drop off the lost phone, they strolled out the front doors of the museum and onto its giant Greek temple-esque steps talking animatedly like the good friends they were.

“The look on her face, Kyle. It was bad.” He scrubbed a now clean hand through his hair and continued his self-castigation. “I feel like I’m cursed with this height.”

“Nah, bro.” The apprentice warlock assured his friend with a good-natured laugh. “If I had walked down that hallway looking like a cannibal serial killer, she would have probably reacted the same way. At least with your height, when you freak people out they choose to run away instead of deciding that you are small enough they actually can take you if they ‘defend’ themselves.” Kyle made air quotes to emphasize his point. “And look on the bright side, with a vampire for a boss, it’s not like you are going to get in trouble for wearing a little blood around from the kitchen.”

“Ha, ha.” His friend responded with only mild sarcasm before smiling and agreeing. “Yeah. It would suck if people tried to fight me every time I weirded them out. Okay,” He clapped his hands together then flung them wide and took a deep breath as they descended the stairs. “You know how my morning went. How was yours?”

“Will you look at the time? I guess we won’t be able to discuss that particular topic.” Kyle jokingly made to run off before his friend made a grab at him with a face. “Actually, shoots, no! I can’t look at the time. I forgot my phone.” He glanced back up the stairs then waved a dismissive hand. “I don’t need it. We’re just going for doughnuts.”

“Yeah. It’s just doughnuts. Not like there’s going to be a catas – ” It was said nonchalantly but Kyle gave his friend the evil-side-eye as he joked.

“Don’t even joke. You’ll jinx us.” He scolded as his friend shoved his hands in his pockets on their morning stroll. It was still a gorgeous day. The sky was very blue, the leaves were just changing.

“Oh, look, the cloud hopper rabbits are eating cherries from the Alchemist Tree.” His friend interrupted. “We should stop by it on the way back, I promised Sam a photo next time she came by your place.”

“Uh, huh.” Kyle gave his friend the side-eye again, this time deeply suspicious and far less evil…for now. “You could just text it to her.” The apprentice warlock volunteered, not sure if he was thrilled by the idea of his slightly older friend sharing numbers with his sister.

“Oh, I don’t have Sam’s number.” He commented, studiously not looking at Kyle as he said it. “I figure that if she wanted me to have it, she’d give it to me.” The wistful sigh – was that a wistful sigh, it better not have been a wistful sigh – that escaped the proverbial giant of a man would have garnered Kyle’s sympathy if they’d been talking about any woman in the world that wasn’t related to him. 

Because it was his sister, Kyle decided to update his how-to-dispose-of-bodies plans in the near future.  Friend the chef may be, dating his sister he would not.

“Come on, you keep changing the subject. How did the morning go…” He paused and grinned slyly at Kyle “…my fellow cook.” Kyle stopped and stared up at the heavens shaking his fists at the sky with both rage and entreaty.

“You read the article.” Came his flat reply after his moment of self-indulgence.

“And saw three news segments discussing it.” The chef nodded happily while providing more fodder to upset the weary Kyle. “They even played some of those Tissue Medic ads that Sam wrote back when she thought she wanted to be a business major.

“Oh, Sam and Anna are not going to be pleased about that.” Cackling with glee, Kyle pulled out his wallet and began checking how much cash he had. “If you’ve got links text them to me. I’m making a long edit of all the coverage for grandma...” Then laughed evilly and added conspiratorially, “And I’m collecting all of Sam’s commercials as ammo for later.”

“You two have issues.” The other laughed, “My siblings and I were never so…whatever you and Sam are. Before the…incident…we all got along all the time.”

“Yeah.” Both sobered quickly but the chef chimed up with a question before they could become morose.

Animal style young man with brown hair and blonde highlights wearing a suit and a magical wizard robe holding a magical book.  He is surrounded by bluish-purple lines of magic on a black to grey Ombre background.

Chapter 011 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

10:55 AM September 13th 2026

Central Park, NY, Outside the National Museum of Unnatural Science and History

“What was that bit about doughnuts, though? You don’t really think that they are the greatest food on Earth, do you?” His incredulity was offensive to Kyle as they passed by the Magic Tree Grove and the golem that guarded it. It was still passing out apples to passersby and that, as well as the question, made Kyle smile bigger.

“Doughnuts are the best food on Earth, and everyone knows it,” Kyle assured his friend with a swagger and all the bravado he could muster.

“No, they aren’t.” The chef argued back. And I’m pretty sure that there are many people who do not even like doughnuts.”

“Get stuff!” Kyle cried out in mock rage. “Everyone loves doughnuts, and if they don’t, they haven’t had the right doughnuts. Because Enchantress Doughnuts are bewitchingly good. Magic doughnuts, enchanted to be delicious. You know that no one can dislike them once they’ve tasted them.” As Kyle repeated both the slogan of his favorite doughnut chain and the urban myth behind them the chef shook his head in amusement.

“I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.” He admonished.

“Nope. Not illegal to make it taste better, only to make it addictive.” Kyle assured his friend, replacing his wallet and frowning as he felt something else in his pocket. Taking it out he saw that it was the unfinished apple from this morning, he picked a bit of lint off it and gave it another bite.

“Oh, man.” His friend looked away in disgust. “You are a bachelor.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kyle protested with a full mouth, spraying a few bits of apple flesh as he spoke.

“Old half-eaten apple and doughnuts for breakfast?” He shook his head with disappointment this time. “Nobody likes doughnuts. It’s a fringe food. That’s why I’m the only one who will go with you to get doughnuts on break.”

“You take that back.” Affronted, Kyle paused in his walking and took a step back from his friend. 

“Doughnuts are gifts from the Gods and no one else comes with me because they just don’t have enough self-awareness to understand that it's okay to indulge in your inner child and have doughnuts as an adult. They have to wait for someone with a more highly developed pallet and magnanimity to bring doughnuts into the breakroom for them. I just choose to have you come with me because I like you best and want to share the blessing with you directly.”

“Right,” Chef scoffed with a raise of his eyebrows. “If doughnuts are so great, I bet you couldn’t even give one away to a stranger on the street let alone talk someone who wasn’t me into going to get one with you.”

“I could get anyone to come buy doughnuts with me.” Kyle exclaimed. “Challenge accepted.” Before the chef could blink, Kyle had strode off on a tangent and was approaching a woman pushing a stroller and wearing exercise clothing. She took out her earbuds and Kyle began animated gesturing as he was talking to her. Chef could not hear what he was saying but she shook her head, laughed, put her earbuds back in, and jogged off while Kyle was midsentence.

Undismayed, the apprentice warlock hurried up to the next closest person. The chef checked the time on his watch and began strolling after him. They had time. And this would be amusing.

Kyle was on his third person by the time the chef had caught up with him. A balding middle-aged man, who still had more hair than not, was listening avidly to Kyle’s lurid and graphic descriptions of the doughnuts at Enchantress doughnuts. And Kyle was deftly luring him in the direction of the doughnut stand at a slow distracted amble.

“Even though they are plain glazed doughnuts, they are delectable. The sight of the creamy glaze dripping down through the hole of a fresh warm doughnut. Glistening with sweet sauce. You’ve never tasted anything so light and creamy. Sometimes I like to lick it off – ”

Kyle paused in his monolog as his robe jumped. The man backed away from his startled.

“What the?” he exclaimed “What is that? Kyle’s robe jumped again, and he raised his arm as a plain leather notebook jumped out of it to float in the air before him. He was backing away with distrust, but Kyle wasn’t paying attention to that anymore. He’d noticed a sudden change in the ambient magical density, and it was not good.

“That’s not normal.” The chef commented as he watched mesmerized over Kyle's shoulder.

“No. It’s not.” Kyle agreed. The notebook was his warlock pact item, a gift from his patron to channel the power it shared with him. As he watched, it opened itself to a page and letters began writing themselves into existence.

His patron, the Archivist, was an intellectual. As a collector of knowledge, the Archivist’s pact item had been a book from which Kyle could access any knowledge that the Archivist had collected, and which Kyle would use to transfer new knowledge to his patron. It didn’t generally move around on its own like that. It wasn’t that kind of item.

Kyle carried it around in a concealed magic book holster under his robe to keep it close and prevent it from being stolen or lost. Or to avoid not having it when he might need it. There were any number of reasons, really, for going through the trouble of getting a concealed carry license for a magical tome.

It wasn’t a security book. He wasn’t being weird, Samantha. It was practical. But now his pact item was doing something he’d never seen it do but was aware was possible, it was warning its holder of danger to his life. His look of concern grew with each letter that appeared in bold text at the bottom of the open page.

Ambient magic density has reached dangerous levels.

“Holy shit.” The chef breathed in disbelief. He glanced around at the perfect weather, the blue skies dotted with occasional light puffy clouds. There were people playing throughout the expansive manicured lawns of the park without concern. “It can’t be right. Look at…” He struggled for the words and gestured helplessly around, “…everything.”

“Magical density doesn’t have to affect the weather,” Kyle murmured quietly as he grabbed the book hesitantly and closed it. “Check the danger level indicator on your ID badge.” Kyle was reaching for his badge with one hand as he was returning his book to the holster with the other.

“Yeah. Of course.” The chef replied, remembering that bit of trivia. Only the employees who actively worked with the artifacts usually had to worry about magic levels. Dangerous artifacts were contained and stored. But all museum employees had an ambient magic density indicator on their badges, just like people who worked around radiation had radiation indicators on their badges.

“It’s purple,” he whispered to Kyle.

“Mine too,” Kyle replied quietly.

“Were we exposed in the museum? Or is it out here?” That was the question, wasn’t it? If it was out here, they should get to the museum and take as many people as possible. If it was something inside the museum, they should get as far away from it as possible.

“I don’t know.” Uncertainty had him waffling between the two choices. Run, or go back. Then he realized something. “Wait. None of the indicators in the park have gone off. It must be inside. Come on.” Kyle gestured for his friend to follow him, and they began trekking across the lawn of Central Park to get as far away from the museum as possible. “Call the boss and tell him we got the notification. They’ll start evacuating any second now.”

Then every security golem in and around the park activated at once. Statues hopped off of pedestals, splashed out of fountains, or stood from their repose to join the dedicated security golems that lined the periphery of Central Park. They began the trek to form a protective ring completely encircling the perimeter of the park, feet stomping in time with military precision.

A few seconds later the magical streetlamps in the park turned on and flared purple. Prometheus ambient magic density indicator flares placed regularly throughout the park blazed into life with a flickering purple flash. Kyle knew they were color-coded to indicate the level of magical danger. 

Purple meant that the ambient magic level was high enough to generate monsters from inanimate objects as well as mutate non-magical animals into monsters.

From the museum, the external and internal alarms began sounding and a speaker broadcasting an automated voice began a prerecorded message.

“Warning.  Ambient magic density has reached dangerous levels.  Monster formation is imminent.  Seek shelter immediately. The Museum is a safe zone and possesses a magical insulation barrier. If you cannot evacuate the vicinity, you may seek shelter within.”

Kyle and his friend looked at one another briefly, then began running back the way they had come to the shelter of their workplace.

Anime style Dark-skinned woman with long brown hair and wings in  plate chest armor and a skirt and holding a shield on a background of glowing light.

Chapter 012 Kyle the Apprentice Warlock

11:15 AM September 13th 2026

35,000ft Altitude between New York City and Washington DC

Camina laughed, really laughed, at the snarky comment her seat partner made.  He’d been regaling her with stories about his own high school indiscretions, and it made her issues with Anna pale by comparison.  Though...Samantha...Samantha and her patron gift Gleipnir gave Camina ulcers on a regular basis still.

“I can’t believe it.”  She shook her head at the young man who’d been so eager to cheer her up.

“Swear on a stack of Bibles.”  The young man held out a hand in front of his face to emphasize the height of the stack he would swear on.  “We turned her desk transparent, and she was feeding a entire freaking nest...of micro-sparrows in her drawer.”

“Oh, wow.”  The woman chuckled and shook her head appreciatively. “Thanks so much for sharing some of your misadventures with me.  I feel less worried about the one and only fight that Anna’s been in.”

“Anytime.”  The young man smiled hugely almost shy for a second. “I mean, come on.  How often does a guy get to say that he cheered up his hero with embarrassing stories of his childhood?” He ran a hand through his hair nervously.

“True.” The woman nodded in agreement. “That’s true.  But I can’t possibly be your hero.”

“No.  No.  I mean.  Yes.”  He laughed and corrected himself.  “Camina Watkins.  You are my hero.  And probably a lot of other people’s hero also.  But I want to be, I’m trying to be, an embedded journalist....”

“Really?!”  Camin felt briefly guilty for thinking earlier that his interest had been purely because he’d been a Gore Groupie, someone who liked watching monster battles simply because of the blood and guts.

“Yes, really.  And people like me can’t do what they do without people like you to protect us.”  He had that determined look in his eyes that said he wasn’t going to cry even if his hero said something shitty that might squash his dreams.

“Oh. You are going to do wonderfully if you keep thinking like that. Just remember that warriors and adventurers can fail and that you will be in danger.” The young man had been so honest and vulnerable that she smiled kindly at him. “I hope you have some basic self-defense abilities?”

“Yes. I’ve had my Tier Four license for a few years now. Though I had to leave my wand at home since you can’t get a license to bring a wand or magical item on a plane until – ”

“Tier Six.”  Carmina volunteered.  This was something she was familiar with.  Magical law and restrictions. “Something that drives any frequent flier warlock batty, are the security protocols around the transport of magical conductors on passenger transports. It’s one of the reasons I hate traveling as a civilian.” The young man nodded emphatically.

“While I’ve never flown as anything but a civilian,” he started “I’ve got nothing to compare it to. But I hate the lines, the waiting, never knowing who you will sit next to. It’s a complete lottery unless you’re traveling in a party. And arrival and departure times are not guaranteed.”

As he finished distractedly, he looked out the window now that something dawned on him. He craned his neck and angled his head to get a better look out the window. He’d finally noticed the change, and Camina waited for him to comment on it as he checked the time on his phone.

“You know, I’ve been so distracted talking to you, I didn’t notice that we were supposed to have landed by now.” He scratched at his head with confusion. “I could have sworn I felt us turning in preparation for landing a little bit ago.”

“Don’t be loud about it.” Camina smiled and kept her voice conversationally low. “I noticed us changing direction several minutes ago. We seem to have been redirected to another airport and the captain has chosen not to tell us passengers. Why do you suppose that might be?” The young man thought about it for a few seconds before his eyes went round.

“Well, shit!” He exclaimed quietly and dropped his hands into his lap. “That’s bad.” Camina chuckled at his calm response. He’d do well as an embedded journalist with the Magicorps. She’d had to work with people who wouldn’t have reacted with even half as much aplomb as this young man.

“Eh. It’s not good, but it’s not necessarily awful.” Camina amended. “We know it’s not really bad yet.” She commented cheerily and he gave her a twisted look of doubt.

“How could we possibly know that?” He was skeptical, but Camina was prepared and held up her phone with a grin.

“No one’s called for me yet.” But her grin only lasted for a few seconds before her seatmate shot back.

“You’re assuming there’s anyone left to call you.” She’d just been playing around, trying to cheer up and reassure the young man who was undoubtedly going to be upset about their flight being redirected. A catastrophe of that level never even crossed her mind. For a moment she was stunned, then shook her head in disbelief.

“No.” She paused, then repeated the word again as if to dispel any chance of such a reality.  “No. My patron would have let me know if it was something like that.” Pausing, Camina frowned. “You know, I’m sorry, I just realized that I forgot to ask your name.”

“Oh.” The aspiring journalist exclaimed. “I’m sorry. My bad. I was so star-struck I totally forgot to introduce myself.” He wiped peanut salt off his hand on the front of his worn lightweight jacket.

She noticed for the first time, the many-pocketed vest showing beneath. A vest like the kind all her embedded journalists wore when they followed her on a campaign. The pockets bulged with camera equipment that was probably a pain to get through airport security. Camina hesitated as she absorbed more about this young man, dedicated to his career even when off the job. Finally, she smiled and took the proffered hand.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Camina Wattkins.” They shook as the young man finally provided his name.

“Hi, Camina. I’m Jim Thafesh, aspiring embedded journalist for the Magicorps. And I’m your biggest fan.” He shook her hand enthusiastically for probably longer than he should have then winced sheepishly through the grin that was splitting his face before finally letting go. “It’s an honor to meet you.”

“Well, Mister Thafesh, the Magicorps is always on the lookout for talented people. Why don’t you show me some of your work? If you have any yet that is?” She hadn’t thought Jim’s grin could get any bigger, yet somehow it did.

“It’s mostly just projects for school. I’m at NYU, just heading back after an internship in DC over the Summer. But, yeah, sure. I’d love to. Please don’t be too harsh?”

The last bit was a little pleading and Camina smiled with indulgent reassurance. This charming young man reminded her of her son Kyle. Chronologically, he was probably a few years younger. Practically, Kyle hadn’t really ever been young. Always a level of maturity and cautiousness that Jim didn’t exude at all.

“I promise I will not judge the work of a student harshly.” And she didn’t. He did good stable camera work. The exposures on his photos were great. The video was in focus and not shaky. He didn’t use any obnoxious filters. And his articles were factual, and non-biased while hitting all the right emotional buttons. Most importantly, he was already a level four magical license holder at the young age of twenty with an extreme sports enthusiast’s nerves of steel and adrenaline addiction.

A plan began to form in her mind. A plan that she was not proud of herself for having. No. It wasn’t even coherent enough to be called a plan. Just a sense of knowing that this young man was the kind of person her superiors wished her children had been.

I can work with this. Camina thought a little selfishly. This one can be molded for greatness.

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