Sunday, 19 May 2019, Afternoon
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
Eyewitness: Kerry

Maisey’s Diner had been a Paxwood staple since it opened in the fifties. Local, fresh, and classic—the menu hadn’t changed much, and neither had the decor. There was something novel about the white and red checkered picnic tablecloths over the booth tables, the red vinyl seat cushions, the chrome trim on every counter and table. Every visit to Maisey’s was like taking a step out of time.

Now that I had Mx. Cardoso sitting across the booth from me, ready to actually tell the truth, I supposed I could start there.

“Okay, is this diner an actual magical time capsule back to the fifties?”

Mx. Cardoso laughed. “I wondered that when I was a kid. The original Maisey had some minor cleaning magic that helps keep this entire space fresh. If they remodeled, they’d break the spell. That’s all.”

“Just a minor magical enchantment that’s lasted over sixty years.” My tone dripped sarcasm. I couldn’t help it. “Not like that’s unusual or anything.”

But before Mx. Cardoso could quip back, Rowen leaned in, resting her prosthetic arm on the table.

“I have this strange feeling that some day, you’ll be writing my biography,” she said. “For now, let’s keep it simple.”

Nobody told me that the prophecy foretold my death. They only told me, trained me, and prepared me for the other part of the prophecy—the part where my destiny, alone, was to slay a demon prince named Veroriax.

The Hands of the Seers stepped into my life when I was a vulnerable teenager, wide-eyed and ready to be a Chosen One. They funded my education. My handler made sure I had every skill and resource necessary to kill the demon. The Hands of the Seers safeguarded my quality of life because they knew the prophecy.

When I fulfilled my destiny, I’d pay for it with my life.

They didn’t give me what I needed to survive that battle. To them, my death would serve the greater good. Veroriax and I would kill each other. The world would survive. This was what the prophecy said, and they would ensure I fulfilled the prophecy.

A few weeks after I finished graduate school, I fought Veroriax. Alone.

I would have bled out alone if an off-duty paramedic hadn’t put a tourniquet around the stump that remained of my arm and called an ambulance.

Instead of losing my life, I lost my arm.

When my handler arrived at the hospital, she claimed they lied to her. They’d abducted her that night and kept her in a holding room so she couldn’t interfere. They hadn’t told her until that night.

I survived when I shouldn’t have. So, I wasn’t part of any other prophecies.

They didn’t need me. They didn’t even want me. They gave me a hefty retirement package and left me.


Rowen somehow finished two burgers and a very large order of fries over the course of her telling. I nibbled, too riveted for food.

“That’s horrible.” The statement wasn’t adequate for the depth of empathy. Besides, this short version had only whetted my appetite for the whole. Did her family know about the prophecy? How had it affected her friendships? What dark forces arose to stop her? What epic adventures had she already faced?

Mx. Cardoso’s caution echoed, and I latched onto it so that I wouldn’t get carried away by the tidal pull inside of me. “That’s what you meant. The manipulators in the magic world who offer big promises with hidden strings.”

“Exactly. The Hands of the Seers—” Mx. Cardoso started.

But Rowen cut in. “—do a great deal of good for the world. There are actions that set consequences in motion, strands that psychics and mages with foresight can grasp at and try to understand the patterns. I would have ended up on a crash course with Veroriax’s forces, with or without training. They’re just… blinded by the letter of the prophecy.”

Mx. Cardoso gave a shrug, but kept their mouth shut, a silent acknowledgement of exactly what I could see in front of me. Rowen had been fed the company line for years. Even when she could admit that they’d set her up to be sacrificed, she was still defending their underlying principles.

“But that’s what you mean about the shield of skepticism,” I said to Mx. Cardoso.

Rowen did actually smile then. “She’s smart. Are there a lot of smart kids in Paxwood?”

“They’ve got to be to survive around here.” Mx. Cardoso looked away, shoulders sinking with a sigh. That weight they carried, unseen, was more story. I could tell. But then they refocused, eyes on me. “So, doubt everything. Look at Rowen Hayward’s past. Use those journalistic research skills of yours to dig through public records and news articles. You’ll only find the mundane version, but you’ll see the dots lining up.”

Another thing occurred to me. The diner wasn’t exactly empty around us, but no one seemed to care that we were talking about magic, demons, prophecies, and hauntings.

“Do you talk freely about magic and everyone ignores it?” I asked, looking between the two.

Rowen was quick to nod her head, but Mx. Cardoso smiled mischievously, then stirred at the air with one index finger. A swirl like dust motes reflecting sunlight caught my attention, except that there was no beam of sunlight.

“Minor obfuscation spell,” Mx. Cardoso said. “Anyone who might accidentally hear a few stray words and get curious or anyone actively trying to eavesdrop will hear something that sounds like English, but they just can’t quite anchor on the words. If someone comes over to the table and talks with us, they enter the radius of the spell and they’ll hear us clearly. It’s one of the quick enchantments I’ve got anchored to my ring.”

“What ring?” I looked more closely at Mx. Cardoso’s index finger and spotted a silver ring. Or was it gold? No, black? “Oh, the ring’s also obfuscated, huh?”

“See? Smart.” Rowen laughed. Then she leaned in. “So, here’s the point. Kids like me don’t deserve to be left fighting alone. I want to set up a community center for Chosen Ones and anyone fighting the good fight, a haven where they can trade information, network with each other, help each other, stand together when the situation is dire. We should be able to stand together, regardless of the Fates.”

Mx. Cardoso’s expression grew serious. “Bringing Chosen Ones to Paxwood House feels a little like leaving goats in a velociraptor pen. Before it becomes any sort of community center, you’re going to need a hardcore exorcism. Not a minor one. No amateurs. No future students. Team effort. Deep clean.”

“I concede to your wisdom,” Rowen said. “Seems like it’s ideally situated otherwise. Out of the way community, but still close to major urban centers. Strong ley lines run through. Small power grid.”

“Ley lines? Power grid?” I asked.

“Ley lines give mages access to raw energy to craft spells,” Mx. Cardoso said. “Power grids… are more complicated. But the short is that magic and electricity don’t always play nice.”

I raised an eyebrow, but Rowen tapped the table before I could get caught up in that detail.

“So, Kerry, your mother is on the city council. The city council must approve the property sale. Alex tells me you’ve been at every meeting. Catch me up. What’s the situation?”

This was a story I knew. I leaned in. “Gladly.”

12: The Buyer’s Story

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