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

This time it was Sly feeding unexpected treats to Mx. Cardoso’s mouse familiar Arcie, while I was the one explaining that magic was real, the animated glass cat had to be enchanted, Hugh was a vampire, and he’d just hit Sly with some kind of charm.

“It didn’t help that he’s my aesthetic.” Sly slumped in embarrassment.

I raised an eyebrow. “Really? That…?”

“Crisp suit. Clean lines. Sharp angles. Impeccable. What, you thought I’d be into… black clothes, chains and spikes, clomping military boots?” She looked at the mouse in her hand, then over at me. “Yeah, okay, the physical stuff rarely hits me all on its own. Personality plays a big factor.”

“When you’ve had an encounter with a vampire as a child, before puberty, it… doesn’t hit the same way,” Mx. Cardoso inserted, shaking their head. “Their charms don’t work on kids, and for some, it innoculates them against future vampiric influence—if they survive. It’s just best to avoid vampires.”

“Wait. Does that mean you crossed paths with a vampire before puberty?” I asked. Since this question wasn’t about Paxwood House, maybe they’d share.

“Two, both when I was in middle school, but that’s a long story, and we don’t have time for it.”

They looked at the bowl beneath my hand.

I sighed, letting the thread go for now.

“This was inside the hidden compartment in the Paxwood jewelry box. It might run once I let it out, so be ready.”

Mx. Cardoso clicked their tongue, then Arcie scurried across the counter, nose twitching in the plate’s direction.


I lifted the bowl.

We all leaned in.

The cat was curled up in the center of the plate. It could almost be mistaken for a simple figurine again, except its tail continued to swish back and forth.

It outsized Arcie by an inch or two, not counting tails. Still, Arcie pounced. Brown mouse and glass cat launched into a hissing, spitting, spinning animal brawl right there on the countertop.

“Should we… stop them?” I asked.

Mx. Cardoso had their eyes closed, brow furrowed in concentration. They only gave me a librarian-sharp shush.

“You could cash in on videos of this,” Sly stage-whispered.

I snickered, while Mx. Cardoso shushed again. Our resident wizard was in action, funneling magic through their familiar to make sure the brawl went in Arcie’s favor.

It took a moment, but when Arcie pulled back, the glass cat stayed frozen, mid-slash.

Mx. Cardoso opened their eyes, then smiled. “That is a clever enchantment. The ruby heart contains an animation spell built upon the memories and essence of multiple cats. Wizards were using datasets to train their constructs long before programmers were making AI.”

“Did you break it?” I asked.

“No, I found the magical equivalent of the off switch. My best guess is that the jewelry box puts it in stasis.” Mx. Cardoso lifted the glass cat, holding it close to their face. “Amazing craftsmanship.

The little details match Bungle perfectly.”

“Bungle?” Was I the only person who hadn’t read the Oz books?

“From The Patchwork Girl of Oz,” Mx. Cardoso confirmed. “All your love of faerie stories and you haven’t read the original American fairy tale?”

“Wouldn’t that be Native American folklore?”

Mx. Cardoso set the glass cat down. “Native American fairy tales are not the same as American fairy tales. L. Frank Baum is not without his faults, but Oz holds up a mirror to so-called traditional American values from his time. You could spend your time researching Baum’s feminism and measure it against his racism toward indigenous peoples instead of getting tangled up in vampires and haunted houses, you know.”

“That’s not the story I’m interested in today. So, the Silphium lawyer is a vampire, then.”

“Hugh has a reflection and a day job,” Sly said. “One that involves going into sunlight without combusting into flame, collapsing into a pile of ash, or glittering like your skin is made of diamonds. He doesn’t have the teeth, either.”

“Prime vampires and their spawn are the ones without shadows or reflections, and sunlight actively harms spawn vampires.” Mx. Cardoso sighed. “Sanguine vampires like Hugh blend in with their prey, wolves in sheep’s clothing. Some are mages, shifters, or espers—talents they carried over from life. Sunlight weakens them to the same strength as mortal humans, but it doesn’t harm them. All of them have that alluring charm.”

Mages. Espers. Shifters. I filed those categories away for later because right at that moment, we were on the vampire topic.

“Sanguine. Prime. Spawn. Three kinds of vampires?”

“That depends on how you want to define vampire, and whether you’d include vampiric thralls—undead animal servants of vampires—as vampires themselves. But, for vampires of European origin, those are the main three flavors, yes.” Mx. Cardoso looked between me and Sly. “The more you know, the more you’ll see, and when you pay attention to something as private, predatory, and conniving as a vampire, they won’t like it.”

“Yeah, yeah, ignorance is bliss, got it,” Sly said, shaking her head. “I wasn’t looking for vampires when one came in and hit me with whatever that was, and it still affected my day.”

I hummed my agreement and met Mx. Cardoso’s gaze. “Trouble is headed for Paxwood, me, and my friends, and I can’t close my eyes and hope it’ll play nice if I pretend it isn’t there. You’ve got to understand that.”

“Did you know I have six older brothers, and my father was the youngest of seven sons?” Mx. Cardoso asked after a moment of pause.

I shook my head.

“Seventh son of a seventh son,” Mx. Cardoso said. “No one else in my family has magic, but the numbers add up. Call it random chance, call it fate, but for whatever reason, if you’ve got a seven sons with no daughters between them, followed by another seven sons with no daughters between them, you get someone born with a deep, resounding magical strength. Granted, with me… it gets a little more confusing. My parents thought they got a daughter, but that label didn’t fit me. In numerological lore, my magic strength labels me a son, so I tried that for a while, and it didn’t work for me, either. I don’t feel comfortable with any gender, so here I am, choosing who I am every moment of the day.”

Mx. Cardoso petted Arcie with their index finger, gentle, smiling.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is I’ve always had a choice, no matter what the world, society, or magic would choose for me. So do you.” Mx. Cardoso looked between the two of us then. “If you choose, right now, to ask for help with the trouble you’re facing and walk away from it, I will do everything in my power to keep you safe and let you travel any course of life you desire. But, if you can’t ignore it… I can’t hold that against you. I’ll support you. Only if it is what you want, not what you feel obligated to do.”

I understood where Mx. Cardoso was coming from at that moment. He wasn’t trying to keep dangerous knowledge hidden away. It was more about making a conscious decision, asking questions, challenging every piece of information that someone presented. He wanted to preserve my self-determination.

“I can get on board with that, only if you accept my decision to ask you a million questions about magic, and vampires, and mages, and espers, and shifters, and faeries, and anything else you know that actually exists.” I glanced over at Sly.

Sly nodded, too. “I want to know what I’m facing and what Tricia’s bringing into my life.”

“All right, then.”

16: Meeting Trouble with Open Eyes

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