Party’s Over, Everyone Go Home

After Mr. Thurman’s abrupt departure, most of Opa’s neighbors went home.  Meanwhile, their aunts and uncles gathered on Opa’s deck to discuss the development.  Tevas seemed tense for some reason that Konrad suspected had little to do with the Dark Ones and much more to do with the need to explain his job to his brother and sisters.

When Tevas didn’t speak up right away, Uncle Andrew looked at him and cleared his throat significantly.  Konrad imagined the older man was arching his brows as well, but it wasn’t quite dim enough for him to see in that sort of detail.

Heaving a sigh, Tevas leaned towards his brother.  “How much did Hans get to explain before he started singing at Mr. Thurman?” he asked, looking among them.

It was Aunt Sophie who spoke up first.  “He said they’d found a portal into… the otherworld in Dad’s garden,” she replied.  She hugged Meredith a bit closer.  “That it was clear that the Thurmans were involved in opening it and he didn’t quite know why that might be.”

“That was Mr. Thurman claimed ignorance,” Uncle Andrew said, his voice soft.  “Johannes’s retort was to ask him if he thought we hadn’t noticed him trying to attack Johannes.”

“We certainly noticed,” Aunt Claire murmured.  She shook her head.  “How stupid does he think we are?”

“People who aren’t used to dealing with magic have an amazing capacity to explain it in mundane terms or just… forget they’ve seen it,” Tevas said, shrugging.  “I’ve had to take care of situations with Singers where they went after a civilian.  Once they’re dealt with, the civilians might even ask us what we’re doing there.”

“What just happened here?” Aunt Nancy said, her voice strained.  “Where did Konrad get that sword?  How did Mr. Thurman… do that?  Where’d he get his sword, for that matter?”

Konrad glanced at Tevas.  Turning back to Aunt Nancy, he said, “Do you know anything about Haven communities or Cross families?”

“Yes,” Aunt Sophie said.  Her voice was faint and tinged with surprise.  “You’re crosses?  Oh, my God, Henry!  Crosses?  Is that what happened to their parents?”

“Kamile and Adrien were killed by a Singer,” Tevas said, his voice soft.  He waved at Konrad and continued.  “The Engel family has been a cross family for… as long as anyone has been keeping track of such things.”

“Crosses fight against demons,” Uncle Lukas said.  “Are they all Defenders?”

“Johannes is the True Cross,” Tevas said, setting a hand on Johannes’s shoulder.  “What you saw him do today… that’s only a small sample of his abilities.”

Nodding, Uncle Lukas said, “If what the Council of Wizards knows is anywhere near accurate, he’ll be fighting these things for the rest of his life.”

“It’s our job to make sure that’s a very long time,” Konrad said, his voice faint.  “Defenders are the only thing that stands between a True Cross and the tainted spirits they fight.”

“But the Thurman’s aren’t tainted spirits,” Aunt Nancy said.  “You said that they were something different… Dark Ones?”

“It’s not something that’s common knowledge,” Konrad said, “even among the members of cross families, but… When a True Cross becomes corrupted, their Defenders do as well.  That’s why the Elders are so proactive when they think one of us might have been tainted.”

“This is something else altogether, though,” Tevas said, looking at him.  “The Thurmans… they work for the Adversary of the Great Father.  They’re not just corrupted, they serve… what, an evil god?”

“They wouldn’t see him as evil,” Johannes said, speaking for the first time.  He shook his head.  “The Great Father’s objective is to keep this world and the otherworld separated.  The denizens of the other world – spirits – have a different set of morals than we do.  Sometimes, that means they see us as prey.”

“And this Adversary,” Uncle James said, shaking his head.  “What’s his objective?”

“She wants to open the Veil, so that the two worlds become one world,” Johannes said, shrugging.  “This isn’t out of a wish to do harm, though.  Even if that would probably be the result.  It’s… she feels like keeping the Veil in place is against the natural course things should take.”

“So… then, the Thurmans aren’t evil after all?” Aunt Nancy said, scowling.

Konrad shrugged.  “They’d like to kill us and open portals to let demons into this world, Aunt Nancy,” he said.  “I wouldn’t call that very nice.”  He looked at Johannes.  “Can you get any idea how many others there might be in the area?”

Johannes hesitated.  “I could try the Tracking Song,” he said, shrugging.  “If I focus on people like the Thurmans, it might work.”

Tevas nodded slightly.  “Try it out, Sprout,” he said, his voice soft.

Konrad took a deep breath along with his brother and then watched as Johannes sang the song they used to detect any tainted spirits in the area.  He joined in, as did his younger brother and sisters.  By singing with Johannes, it would boost the range of the spell song.

As Johannes finished the song, he nodded.  Then, he looked at Tevas.  “I’m definitely sensing more than just two, but it’s hard to get a good count,” he said, his voice soft.  “I can just…” he trailed off and then pointed in the direction of the Thurman’s house.  “There are a lot of them and they live over that way.”

“What if they have something that mirrors the Haven communities?” Aunt Sophie said, her voice soft.  She shook her head.  “I mean, do you know how like you they are?  Is that possible?”

“It’s not something I’d like to think about,” Konrad murmured.  Then, he grimaced and looked over at Johannes.  “It would explain what you’re sensing, though.”

“It would also explain why there’s no Haven community in the area,” Frieda said.  When everyone looked sharply at her, she shrugged.  “Would you want to live that close to someone who wanted to kill you, so that they could open portals in peace?”

“Why open portals at all?” Uncle Andrew asked, shaking his head.  “Why not just… take the whole thing down at once.  I mean, that’s what they want.  Isn’t it?”

“The theory,” Tevas said, “is that they can’t take it down all at once, but… if they punch enough holes in it, that will make it collapse on its own.” He shrugged and added, “It’s just a theory, but it seems to make the most sense, given what we know.”

“So… we still don’t know why they opened the portal in Opa’s garden,” Frieda said, looking around.  “I mean: was it because of us or for some other reason?”

“I don’t think the Thurman’s knew you were from a cross family until today,” Uncle Lukas said.  He shrugged.  “It’s just a hunch.”

“You’re right,” Liesel said, nodding.  “They aren’t used to any crosses being in the area, because they know that there’s no Haven community here,” she said.  She looked over Opa and shrugged.

“Right,” Uncle Lukas said. “Given that, I’d say they were more likely after Henry.”  He looked over at Tevas and shrugged.  “It may be that they know that you aren’t from a cross family but that you work with them to fight tainted spirits.”

Tevas nodded.  “I have since Ann and Emily were killed,” he said, his voice soft.  “The man who killed them was possess by a spirit of wrath.”

Konrad looked sharply at Tevas.  It was the first time that he’d heard just who had killed Tevas’s first wife and daughter.  His brows furrowed as he wondered just how much the members of his team had explained to him about how such spirits chose their targets.  It was anything but random, after all.  Just who had Ann Shepherd angered enough to make her a target?

“What’s on your mind, Chief?” Tevas asked, his tone curious.

Flushing, Konrad shook his head.  “I just… wondered who she’d angered enough to have a spirit of wrath attack her,” he said, his voice soft.  “With the exception of True Crosses… they don’t just attack at random, Tevas.”

He grimaced and shrugged.  “I was never able to find that out,” he admitted.  “All I know is that, after he’d gotten done killing them, he went after Sachiko.  I caught up to him just as she and her Sword were taking care of the problem.”

“They were able to drive the spirit out,” Johannes said, his voice soft.  When Tevas nodded, he turned to Uncle Lukas.  “Are you a wizard, Uncle Lukas?”

“I am at that,” Uncle Lukas said.  He glanced over at Aunt Sophie.  “I’d be willing to bet that Meredith has inherited my gift.”

“That’s why she could sense something off about Mr. Thurman,” Liesel said, sounding pleased.  She looked over at her cousin. “Our magic works by singing, not saying incantations and waving wands.”

“I’m going to get a wand?” Meredith asked, her eyes wide.  She giggled and looked up at Aunt Sophie.  “That’ll be really cool.  Won’t it, Mom?”

“No,” Aunt Sophie said.  When Meredith sighed, Aunt Sophie snuggled her and added, “It will be totally awesome, Meredith.”

Uncle Lukas chuckled.  “You did very well today, Meredith,” he said.  “I’m proud of you, but… you scared both of us half to death.  Let’s try to be more careful in the future.  Shall we?”

“Sure, Dad,” Meredith promised.

“Meanwhile,” Tevas said, looking at the Konrad and his siblings.  “I’m going to get in touch with Jocelyn.  She’ll send in a team to collect the Thurmans so that they can’t cause any more trouble.  You kids… stay out of it.”

“Yes, sir,” Konrad said, along with his siblings. Even as he said the words, though, he had to wonder: would he be able to keep the promise?  These things had a habit of spinning out of control rather quickly.  If two Dark Ones had learned of their presence, would they tell others about them?  What would happen if they’d already passed that information on to the others in their community?

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