Mysteries Wrapped in Puzzles

It was another day.  Frieda and Liesel went out on their bikes once again.  This time, they were just going to ride around Opa’s neighborhood and see what they could find.  Johannes came with them on his roller skates.  Sometimes, they didn’t like having him around, but he was good at keeping up with them and it was nice to have him there when they went exploring.  He was very good at remembering how to get back to Opa’s house.

They rode around the different side streets near Opa’s house for some time.  Then, Frieda noticed a path that led off through the trees.  “A bike trail,” she said, as she stopped to read the sign.  She looked over at Liesel and Johannes.  “Do you want to check it out?”

“Sure,” Liesel said, nodding.

Johannes frowned for a moment and then looked up towards his right, where Michael probably was.  Finally, he nodded.  “We’ve got a few hours until Opa calls us for supper,” he said, grinning.  “Maybe it’ll lead out by one of the lakes or something.”

Frieda nodded and then kicked off, steering her bike down the trail.  Liesel and Johannes followed behind along her.  Soon, they were lost in the enjoyment of exploring the trail.  In the shade of the trees, it was cool and refreshing.  Little birds flitted from the branches that hung low overhead, singing and chattering to each other.

As they rounded a corner, Frieda saw a lone figure walking along the trail.  She eased her bike to one side of the trail, so that she wouldn’t hit him.  However, she frowned when he moved directly into her path.

“What’s his damage?” Liesel murmured.  She rang the bell on her bike and then glanced at Frieda when the man stopped, still standing directly in their path.  Together, they put their feet down and stopped their bikes.  Johannes skidded to a stop between them.

“Engel Cross,” the man said, his voice soft.  “You shouldn’t have come here.”

Frieda tensed and glanced over her shoulder.  Behind them, there were two other figures.  “Are they tainted spirits?” she whispered.

“They’re people,” Johannes said, shaking his head.  In a soft voice, he added, “I think… maybe they’re like the Thurmans were – people who serve the Great Father’s adversary and who aren’t nice.”

Konrad had mentioned that Mr. Gilbert was like Johannes – but served the adversary as well.  However, he wasn’t a bad person.  He didn’t agree with randomly opening portals to let whatever wanted to come enter their world.  He simply didn’t like the idea of trapping good spirits in their world.  That was, sometimes, what corrupted them, after all.

“What do you want?” Liesel asked, as she hopped off her bike.  She shook her head.  “We don’t want any trouble from you.  We’re just riding our bikes.”

“Let us have the Cross, then,” one of the people behind them said.  She smiled at Johannes and added, “Then, they can be on their way and we’ll be on our way.”

“We’re not going to let you have our brother,” Frieda growled.  She let her bike fall to the side of the trail as she summoned her pike.

As she watched, one of them summoned a whip.  The lone stranger summoned a bow with arrows.  The third summoned a long staff with metal tips.  “Then, it seems we’ll fight,” he said, his voice soft.

Johannes breathed a soft curse.  He was about to sing when a low, dark melody began echoing through the trees.  Tears sprang to his eyes and he covered his ears with both hands.  It was the same reaction that he had whenever Singers would sing at him.  However, Frieda was certain there was no Singer this time.

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Two Opposing Sides

The next day, Konrad took them to a park that was somewhat closer to Opa’s house.  He ran beside them while they rode bicycles that they were borrowing from Opa.  Johannes used his roller skates, because he didn’t feel comfortable on a bicycle.  As they neared the park, Markus pointed.  “There’s a place that we can lock the bikes,” he called.

They slowed as they rode around the side of the park and past a group of picnic tables.  As they locked up their bikes, Konrad pulled Johannes’s sneakers out of his bag.  “I’ll sit in the shade and keep an eye on your skates,” he said.  “All right?”

For a moment, Johannes looked torn.  Did he want to leave the skates on for a while.  Finally, he nodded and sat down on the ground to tug at his laces.  “There are tables with parasols over to the right, Brother,” he said, as he began tugging his sneakers onto his feet.

As Konrad settled down at the tables, he waved toward the nearest climbing toy and a pretend stage that was set near it.  “Stay kind of in this area, you three,” he told Johannes and his sisters.  He looked over at Markus.  “You’re old enough that I don’t need to watch you closely, but don’t leave the playground area.”

“Right,” Markus said, nodding.  He scampered over to a slide that led to the lower playground area and then made his way over to the larger of the two climbers.

Frieda and Liesel exchanged a look and then ran over to the pretend stage.  Behind it, there was a set of play drums that Liesel began pounding on.  Meanwhile, Frieda stepped over to the stage and began tap-dancing on it.

Johannes watched them for a moment and then he stepped over to the small climber.  His brows furrowed as he looked it over.  Konrad watched him examine the slide.  Then, he scrambled up and climbed through the tunnel to the other side.  This led to a set of parallel bars that he edged across to an overhead ladder.

Konrad nodded slightly.  The slide was a bit too small for Johannes, but he really wasn’t big enough for the slides on the largest climber yet.  Frieda and Liesel were big enough for it, but he knew they would enjoy pretending to be performers more than they would enjoy simply scrambling around on a climber.

“Frieda,” a high voice called.  “Liesel!”

He chuckled as his sister froze and then ran over to greet another little girl enthusiastically.  “Olivia,” Frieda said, hugging the girl.  “It’s so good to see you!”

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A Time Apart

Frieda found it difficult to put the matter with the Thurmans completely out of her mind.  Until they’d started attacking people at the picnic, they’d seemed like a nice elderly couple.  They fed the squirrels and the birds.  Opa said they’d always been good people to have as neighbors.

So, if they’d always served the Dark One, had all of that been an act?  The part of her that had trouble trusting people said that evil was good at pretending to be nice.  That was what made it so dangerous.  People could do evil things and think that they were still good people.

However, thinking that way also scared her.  It made her wonder: what if she was evil without even realizing it?  Maybe the crosses weren’t the good ones after all.  Maybe it was the ones that served the other god who were good.  It made her uneasy.  She had trouble sleeping.

Opa decided that they needed to get out of the house for a while – away from the garden where so much unpleasantness had happened.  So, after Tevas had gone back to West Virginia, he packed up the kids and brought them to the park for the day.

Frieda had never seen a park like the one they visited.  Not only was there a lake with a beach, but there was a playground and something that Opa called a splash pad.  The moment that she saw it, she understood why they were wearing swimsuits.  Frieda and Liesel lingers with Opa long enough to get their first coating of sunblock.  Then, they went over to the splash pad, where a few other children were already playing.

As they arrived, the water suddenly cut off.  Frieda frowned and looked at a girl about her age with her dark hair tied in braids.  “Is it done already?” she asked.

“It’s on a timer,” the girl replied.  Turning to a woman with the same kind of dark hair, she said, “Mom!  Hit the button, please?”

“Sure,” her mother replied.  She pressed a button on a red megaphone-like thing and the water began to spray around them once again.

“Thank you,” Frieda and Liesel said, along with the little girl.  She turned to the girl and smile.  “I’m Frieda Engel.  This is my sister, Liesel.”

“I’m Olivia Gilbert,” she said, grinning.  “I’ve never seen you here before.  Are you new in town?”

“We’re visiting our Opa for the summer,” Liesel said, pointing over towards the edge of the beach, where Opa had laid out the blanket.  “He decided to come here for the day, but he lives in Eden Lake.”

“That’s really close by,” Olivia said, nodding.  “Mom takes me to a cookie shop there sometimes.  Do you go there too?”

“Miss Hannah makes the best chocolate cake cookies in the whole world,” Frieda proclaimed, nodding.  Then, she pointed over at Johannes, who was playing on a spinning rope climber with another boy.  “That’s our little brother, Hansel.”

“He’s playing with my little brother,” Olivia said, chuckling.  Then, she beckoned to them and dashed under a plastic palm tree that was showering water downward.  From there, she went under an arcing pipe with water spraying from it.  Finally, she circled around to climb onto the spinning rope climber.

“Hey, Josh,” she called, as she climbed through the ropes to join the boys.

Frieda grinned.  “It’s like a merry-go-round,” she said.  She waved at Liesel, who ran around to the other side.  Then, they began spinning it until it was the speed they wanted.  They jumped up together and rode it, along with the two boys and their new friend, Olivia.

They played with Olivia and Josh until their mother called them for lunch.  As they were waving to their new friends, Opa called to them.  They ran over to the blanket he had set up in the shade and settled down for their own lunch.

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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?”

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What are the Thurmans?

Continuing from where we left off…

**

Frieda caught Henry’s hand and he looked down at her.  She was frowning at Mr. Thurman.  “He’s not like the Singers,” she said, her voice faint.  She looked at Johannes and shook her head.  “They don’t hiss at you when you sing the Purification Song.”

Panis Angelicus,” Nancy said, her voice faint.

Konrad’s lips twitched and he shrugged.  “Potato, potato,” he said, pronouncing the word two different ways.  “You call it by its lyrical name.  We call it by its functional name.”

Henry looked over at Liesel.  “How’s Mr. Thurman different from the Singers and the other tainted spirits that Johannes purifies, Liesel?” he asked.  Somehow, he felt like it was important to know that detail at that moment.

Liesel’s brows furrowed and she tilted her head.  As the wind ruffled her hair, her eyes widened.  “He serves the Dark One,” she breathed.  “So does Mrs. Thurman.”

Mr. Thurman suddenly straightened.  He thrust out his hand at Johannes.  At that moment, a long jagged blade appeared in his hand.  Konrad pushed his younger brother back as Mr. Thurman struck.  Konrad hissed in pain as the blade slashed across his arm.

“Konrad,” Claire breathed, leaping forward without a thought for her own safety.  She grabbed a napkin with one hand and his arm with the other, pressing the napkin firmly over the wound.  As a nurse, some things just came as instinct.

Without missing a beat, Johannes left off singing the first song and switched to a series of chanted lyrics in Latin.  As he said the two phrases over and over, Mr. Thurman continued to try to attack.  However, each blow bounced harmlessly off a barrier between him and everyone else.  Then, he hissed and leapt onto the porch overhang.  He ran and leapt off the roof before vanishing into the garden.

Johannes turned to Konrad, rushing to his side as Claire helped him sit down.  “It’s all right, Aunt Claire,” he said, patting her arm.  Then, in a sweet, clear voice, he began singing yet another song.

Nancy released a shaky breath and looked over at Henry.  “Do I want to know what Ave Maria is going to do?” she asked, her voice faint.  He could tell that she was having trouble taking it all in.  After all, Henry didn’t mention work very often.

“They call it the Healing Song,” he said, his voice soft.

Claire heaved a sigh and carefully eased the napkin away.  Then, she gently wiped at were the wound had been, revealing newly healed flesh.  Looking at Konrad, she said, “Are you all right, sweetie?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Konrad said.  As Johannes finished the song, he smiled.  “Thank you, little brother.”

Johannes looked at his brother and nodded.  Then, he looked at Claire, before turning to Nancy and then Henry.  “I think we know who opened the portal in Opa’s garden,” he said.

“The only question now is… why?” Henry said, nodding.

Here Comes Ugly

I had fun with this…

**

As soon as Mrs. Thurman moved towards them, Liesel moved between her and Meredith.  Frieda darted in with her pike, blocking the attack and shoving the older woman back with surprising force.

Liesel watched as Mrs. Thurman growled and tried to get around her sister.  However, Frieda wasn’t going to let that happen.  In fact, she went on the offensive, swinging her pike around in an attempt to strike the woman.

“Protect the Cross,” the wind whistled in Liesel’s ear.

Gasping, Liesel turned to her cousin.  “Go and get Markus,” she said.  “Tell Konrad that he needs to stay with Hansel.”  Meredith nodded once and then hurried away.

Growling, Mrs. Thurman moved to block the girl, but Liesel struck her arm with her hammer.  Then, she was working with Frieda to keep the woman back.  Liesel’s mind whirled as she fought.  Was Mrs. Thurman tainted with darkness?  Was she possessed?  Was there more going on than they realized?

“Focus,” the wind told her sharply.

Liesel slipped on the grass as Mrs. Thurman took a swipe at her with clawed fingers.  As she went down, Frieda blocked the attack.  She rolled out of the way and hopped to her feet once again.

 

Henry looked up when Meredith came careening out of the garden calling not for her mother, but for him.  “Meredith,” he said, moving to his feet.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” his sister asked at the same time.

“Uncle Henry,” Meredith said, “something’s wrong with Mrs. Thurman.”  As Mr. Thurman moved to his feet, she turned to Konrad.  “Liesel said to get Markus, but you have to stay with Hansel.”

Konrad gasped and moved to his feet.  At the same time, Mr. Thurman moved with surprising speed, running for Johannes.  There was the sound of a sword hissing against a scabbard and Konrad swung his weapon around, setting the flat of it against Mr. Thurman’s chest.

While several people gasped and Nancy called his name in a scolding tone, Konrad was quite calm as he said, “Hansel, get behind me.”

“Yes, Brother,” Johannes said.

Sophie caught Meredith and drew her back, so that she was in her arms.  “I think Konrad’s got this handled,” she said, meeting Henry’s eyes.  “Maybe you and Markus had better go and check on the girls?”

Henry nodded once and then beckoned to Markus.  “Let’s go,” he said, his tone brisk.  “Dad, explain what’s going on to Nance, before she has a heart attack.”

“I’ll explain, Tevas,” Konrad said, nodding.  He tapped Mr. Thurman lightly with the sword.  “Do sit down, please, or else… yeah, Hans will have to sing at you.”

The old man hissed and Nancy gasped softly.  “Did he just… hiss?” Andrew said.

Henry nodded and then he and Markus hurried away from the rest of the party to where Meredith had left Liesel and Frieda.  The garden was large enough that Henry wasn’t sure where to find them.  However, Markus seemed to know, so he followed the boy.

As they drew near the water feature in the garden, the sound of fighting reached his ears and Henry darted ahead of his son.  “Sing,” he said, as the girls came into view.

With that single word, all three of his children began singing the song that was repulsive to tainted spirits.  Henry had heard it all his life and knew it as “Donna Nobis Pacem.”  Until he’d adopted the Engel children, he’d never imagined the power in the simple repetitive melody.

As soon as Liesel and Frieda began singing, Mrs. Thurman fell back from them, hissing and growling.  After a moment, she spun away and fled back into the brush, leaping and bounding with surprising agility.

Liesel released a shuddering breath and, banishing her hammer, spun to face Henry.  “Is Johannes all right?” she asked, tears in her eyes.

“He’s fine,” Henry assured her.  He wasn’t surprised when she ran into his arms and hugged him.  Rubbing her shoulder, he repeated the words a few more times.  He looked over at Frieda.  “Are either of your girls hurt?”

“I think she scratched me,” Frieda said, looking at her arm.  Then, she grimaced and said, “Liesel fell down.  Did you bump your head?”

Shaking her head, Liesel pulled out of Henry’s embrace.  “Just my bottom,” she said, grimacing.  She rubbed at her eyes and looked up at Henry.  “Is everyone all right?”

“Aunt Nancy’s torn between horrified that Konrad drew a sword on Opa’s neighbor and freaked out that he hissed about it,” Markus said, smothering a laugh.

Henry heaved a sigh.  “She’ll get over it,” he said.  Then, he glanced towards the Thurman’s house.  “So… Dad’s neighbors are tainted then?  Are they… possessed or were they always evil and just really good at pretending?”

“Evil’s always good at pretending, Tevas,” Frieda said.  “That’s what makes it so dangerous.”  Then, she banished her pike and hurried back through the garden towards the patio.

Markus and Liesel exchanged a look and Henry shrugged at the pair.  Sometimes, there was no talking to Frieda.  She tended to work on instinct.  That was simply how Lances were.

When Henry returned to the party, it was obvious that Johannes had decided he was done hiding behind his elder brother.  He was singing the purification song at Mr. Thurman.  That was really the only way to describe it.  The boy was staring at Mr. Thurman and singing in a clear, sweet voice.  Most of the people gathered on the patio were actually enjoying the song, but it was obvious that Mr. Thurman was not enjoying it at all.

The older man was hiding his face and cringing away from the boy, as if hearing the song was actually painful for him.  Perhaps it was.  Henry heaved a sigh and looked over at Konrad.

Shrugging, his son said, “Mr. Thurman started trying to convince Opa’s guests he wasn’t evil.  This… was Johannes’s way of proving him wrong.”

“The hell, Henry,” Claire breathed.  She looked up at him.  “It’s so beautiful.  How… How is that painful for him?”

“He’s evil,” Henry said, shrugging.  There really wasn’t any other way to describe it.  He was singing about bread from heaven.  Only something or someone evil would find that distasteful.

Party Crashers… continued.

Picking up right were we left off…

**

They both got their plates and went back for some of Aunt Sophie’s salad, as they’d promised they would.  Then, they settled down on the platform leading to the slide to eat and talk with Liesel.

“Did you get a bad vibe off anyone?” Meredith asked, keeping her voice soft.

Frieda shook her head and then glanced over at Mr. Thurman.  “So far, he’s the only one that’s making me at all uneasy,” she said.  She looked over at Liesel.  “Did he do anything while we were gone?”

“Other than sending creepy looks Hansel’s way, no,” Liesel said.  Then, she looked at Frieda and Meredith.  “Here’s a question, though: where is Mrs. Thurman?  Have you seen her since they arrived?”

Frowning, Meredith shook her head.  “I saw her when they got here, so I know he didn’t come by himself,” she said.

“Let’s find her,” Liesel said, nodding.  She went down the slide and waited while Meredith and Frieda cleared their plates.  Then, they headed off into the greenery.

As the sounds of the party faded to the background, Frieda began to feel on edge.  If something happened, there wouldn’t be a way to call for help.  No one would hear them.  On top of that, they had Meredith with them.  While it was clear that their cousin wasn’t normal, she wasn’t a Defender either.

Frieda was about to say something about it to her sister when Liesel waved at them to stop.  Then, she crouched behind a bunch of tall grasses that were near their Opa’s garden pool.  “Look,” she whispered, pointing out beyond the pool.

Mrs. Thurman was standing near the place where they’d found the portal.  She was pacing back and forth with her hands on her hips.  It was obvious that she had realized that the portal was only as big as a dime now.  It was also obvious that she wasn’t pleased with the situation.

Finally, she whirled around started back towards the party.  Unfortunately, her path would lead her directly past the three girls.  She was moving briskly, far more quickly than one would expect of an elderly woman.  There was a chance that she wouldn’t notice them, in her haste.  However, it was just as likely that she would notice them.

Frieda looked over at her sister and realized that Liesel’s eyes were closed.  With her head tilted to one side, it was obvious that she was listening to the wind.  Frieda could guess what Liesel was asking: Would Mrs. Thurman find them or not?

Liesel’s eyes flew opened when Mrs. Thurman was just a few feet away from them.  Nodding at Frieda, she summoned her hammer.  As Mrs. Thurman’s gaze locked on the tall grasses, Frieda summoned her pike and moved to her feet.  She placed herself between Mrs. Thurman and their cousin.

Mrs. Thurman gave them a very unfriendly smile.  “You girls wandered away from the festivities,” she said.  “I wonder why…”

“We were looking for you, Mrs. Thurman,” Liesel said, shrugging.  “I wonder why you wandered away from the party.  Were you looking for the portal?”

Hissing, Mrs. Thurman launched herself at them.

The Dark Ones are Party Crashers

Any other time, Frieda would have been enjoying spending time with her cousins, aunts, uncles and the other friends that she’d made on their visits to Opa’s house.  Tonight, she was distracted.  It was one thing to say that they had to be on the lookout for someone that might have opened the portal.

The problem was that it could have been nearly anyone.  Someone who was tainted by darkness didn’t change outwardly.  It wasn’t as if they grew horns or a tail.  They didn’t suddenly have a dark aura surrounding them.  They didn’t begin speaking in strange languages or cackling menacingly.  They seemed normal.  That was the danger of evil: it seemed normal, even reasonable.

It would have been great if she could have pointed at Aunt Nancy, who still hadn’t quite accepted them, and said that she was clearly tainted.  Edward, who was always disagreeable and enjoyed taunting the younger kids, was also an easy target.  That, though, wasn’t how evil worked.  They were simply unkind.

True evil was a sneaky thing.  Sometimes, someone who was tainted seemed kind and sweet… until they were poised to act.  Even the Singers smiled while they got ready to kill you.  No, it wasn’t as simple as looking for someone who looked dour or acted disagreeable either.  That left Frieda with a problem: how would she recognize that someone was tainted with darkness?

Tevas stepped over to her and handed her a plate with a hot dog and some potato salad.  It gave him an excuse to check on her.  “All right?” he asked, his voice soft.  “Sensing anything?”

Frieda took the plate and met his gaze.  “How am I supposed to know?” she asked, her voice faint.

“Trust your instincts,” Tevas said, squeezing her shoulder.  “Is there anyone here that makes alarms ring in your head?”

“Not yet,” Frieda said, her brows furrowing.  Now, she had something to go by.  She knew what Tevas meant by alarms in her head.  It was more than simply disliking someone or having trouble getting along with them.  It was an uneasiness that didn’t go away no matter what she might do.

Tevas patted her on the shoulder and headed over to check on Markus.  Frieda watched him whisper to her elder brother before heading back over to where the adults were working at the grill.  Frieda carried her plate as she made her way over to where Liesel was with chatting with Meredith.

Meredith grinned brightly as she joined them.  “Are you going to come with Mom and me when we visit the craft store?” she asked.

Frieda nodded.  “Probably,” she said, returning her cousin’s smile.  She wasn’t getting any sense of uneasiness from Meredith, so that was something.  She turned to Liesel.  Her sister was eating mostly fruits and vegetables, but Uncle Andrew had barbequed chicken too, so she was enjoying that.

“Did you tell Meredith?” she asked.  There was no need to explain what she meant.  Liesel would know immediately.

Nodding, Liesel said, “I’m not sure what we’re supposed to look for, though.”

“Tevas said… someone who makes us nervous, even though they shouldn’t,” Frieda said, frowning.

Meredith’s eyes widened.  “What about Mr. Thurman?” she whispered.  She nodded towards him.

Frieda and Liesel glanced over at him.  Mr. Thurman lived next door to Opa.  His wife was the one who fed the neighborhood birds and squirrels on their deck.  Mr. Thurman was smiling and laughing as he chatted with their Opa and Tevas.  Konrad was sitting beside Opa with a strange sort of expression on his face.

Frieda and Liesel frowned at each other and then turned to Meredith.  Tevas’s family wasn’t from the Haven community – there wasn’t one in Minnesota – but that didn’t mean that Meredith couldn’t have special gifts.  Frieda took a step closer to her cousin.  “Does he make you nervous, Meredith?” she asked, keeping her voice soft.

Frowning, Meredith nodded.  “He never used to, but… he seems different,” she said.  “He keeps smiling at Johannes when he thinks no one is looking and it’s not a happy sort of smile.”

Liesel nodded.  “I’ll watch him,” she said, her voice soft.  “You and Meredith can sneak around and see if any of the other guests makes you nervous.”

Nodding, Frieda finished her potato salad and set the plate down.  Taking her hot dog, she beckoned to her cousin.  “Let’s go and get a drink,” she said, for the sake of anyone listening.  Like bringing her something to eat had done for Tevas, it would give them an excuse to move around among the other guests.

“Right,” Meredith said, as she climbed down from the jungle gym where she’d been chatting with Liesel.  Together, they made their way over to the table where the food and drinks had been set up.  While Frieda grabbed a couple bottles of water, Meredith greeted her parents.

“Have some more salad,” Aunt Sophie invited her daughter.  In a softer voice, she added, “I don’t want to bring it home.”

Meredith chuckled softly and nodded.  “Sure thing, Mom,” she said, nodding.  “We’ll have to get out plates from the jungle gym, though.”  As Aunt Sophie flashed Meredith a smile, Meredith the bottle of water from Frieda.

They slipped through the crowd, back towards the lawn, by an entirely different route.  Frieda used the need to bring a bottle of water to Johannes as an excuse for the change.  As she handed him the water, she said, “Mr. Thurman is watching you.”

“I know,” he breathed.  Giving her a weak smile, he added, “Liesel and Konrad are watching him.  I’m fine.”

Nodding, Frieda followed her cousin back to the jungle gym.

By the Light of Day

The next morning, they got up before dawn to greet the day at the family altar in the sitting room.  After dawn, while Opa was making their breakfast, Frieda and Liesel got Konrad’s attention and then slipped outside to the patio.

As Konrad joined them, he frowned.  Looking from one to the other, he said, “What’s going on?”  He kept his voice soft enough that Opa wouldn’t hear and Liesel appreciated that.  After all, she wasn’t quite certain about letting him know yet.

Frieda glanced at Liesel and, at her nod, she said, “There was a fairy in the garden yesterday – except that it wasn’t a real fairy and it definitely wasn’t nice.”

“A tainted spirit?” Konrad breathed.  He adjusted his glasses.  “Were either of you hurt?  Did Johannes take care of it?”

“No and yes,” Liesel said, nodding firmly.  “We found a portal too and, last night, he closed it.”

“Mostly,” Frieda murmured, which Liesel echoed.

Konrad heaved a sigh.  “Setting aside for a moment that you should have told me at the time,” he said.  He shook his head.  “Why are you bothering to tell me at all, seeing as it sounds like you’ve taken care of everything already?”

“Because…” Liesel started.  She grimaced and glanced at Frieda.  It was one thing to break the rules and tell her twin her secrets.  She really wasn’t meant to tell anyone exactly how her gifts worked.  She heaved a sigh and then looked back at Konrad.  “I know that it’s not over,” she said.

Frowning, Konrad said, “What do you know?”

“We need to beware of the dark ones,” Liesel said.  Then, she shook her head.  “The problem is that we don’t know who the dark ones are, Brother.  You’re the Sword… do you know who the dark ones might be?”

For a moment, Konrad just frowned at them.  Then, he heaved a sigh and nodded.  “It’s something we’ll all need to be together to discuss, though,” he said, his voice soft.  He looked from Liesel to Frieda.

Then, he crouched down so that he was level with them.  Putting a hand on each of their shoulders, he said, “I know that the Elders and the other crosses seem to thrive on secrets, but… that’s exactly why Muti and Vati pulled away from the Haven community.”

“I thought it was because the Elders didn’t want them to be married,” Liesel said, frowning.

“That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back,” Konrad said, shaking his head.  “They were already having friction with the Elders over all the secrecy.  We’re family.  Families don’t keep secrets from each other.  If something like this happens, you need to let us know.”

“Should we tell Opa that there’s a portal in his garden?” Frieda asked, frowning.

Konrad gave a weak chuckle and then nodded.  “I’m really tempted to say no, but that would contradict what I just said about keeping secrets from your family members,” he said.

More

Midnight in the Garden

That night, after Opa had gone to bed, Liesel and Frieda slipped into Johannes’s room.  He nodded at both of them and then they headed down the steps.  Opa wasn’t a terribly light sleeper, so they weren’t too worried about sneaking out of the house.  However, their eldest brother, Konrad, seemed to wake at the slightest sound.  So, they moved as quietly as they could, until they were outside.  Once Frieda had eased the door closed, they all breathed a sigh of relief.

“All right,” Johannes said, nodding.  “Let’s make sure that the garden is clear of portals.”  He slipped off the patio and into the garden itself.

Liesel could hear him singing softly and she knew the song well.  Most people would have recognized it Tallis’s Cannon, but they knew it as the Tracking Song.  It was the song that Johannes used to sense if there were any spirits in the immediate area.  If he was singing it now, she assumed that meant it could find whatever he might be looking for – including portals into the spirit world.

He nodded and made a beckoning gesture.  Liesel glanced at Frieda, who nodded.  A moment later, they had both summoned their weapons.  If there was going to be a fight, they both wanted to be ready.  After all, they were meant to be protecting Johannes, not the other way around.

After they had gone deep into the garden, Johannes stopped singing and pointed.  “The portal is there,” he said.  He glanced at both of them and smiled faintly.  “It makes sense for it to be here, actually.  This is about where Frieda encountered that spirit of pride.”

Liesel glanced around and then she noticed the daisies around them.  She nodded.  “You’re right,” she said.  Turning back to Johannes, she said, “Are there any other tainted spirits around.”

Frieda set a hand on his shoulder and pointed.  “There,” she said.  Almost hidden among the greenery there was a little winged being.  She glanced at Johannes.  “I’m getting the same nervous feeling from her that I did the other one.”

“Trust your instincts,” Johannes said, nodding.  As the fairy glided up, so that she wasn’t hidden anymore, she giggled.  Then, she began to glide to one side.

Liesel gasped and swung her hammer, but the fairy dodged her attack.  Frieda leaped forward with her pike and slashed the fairy’s wings with a well-timed attack.  Then, Johannes held out his hand, as he had towards the first fairy.  “I name you, spirit of pride,” he said.  “I bind you!  Be sealed in my ring and trouble us no more.”

Once the fairy had been drawn into his ring, Frieda heaved a sigh of relief.  She nodded towards the place where he’d said the portal was.  “We need to close it, before any more of them come through,” she said.

Johannes nodded and stepped over towards the portal.  Then, in a soft, clear voice he began to sing what most people would recognize as the familiar hymn, “Be thou my vision”.  For them, it was the song that would seal portals closed.

As he sang, the portal became visible to their eyes as a swirling circle of light.  As Liesel and Frieda joined in with him, the circle grew smaller and smaller.  Finally, it was no larger than dime.  Nodding, Johannes stopped singing and smiled at his sisters.  “That’s done,” he said.

“Nothing else can come through it,” Frieda said, frowning.  “Why not seal it entirely, though?”

Johannes shook his head.  “According to the Elder Cross… they don’t stay closed,” he said.  He shrugged.  “If you leave it opened just a tiny bit, they seem to stay that way.  No one is sure exactly why.”

“I wonder why,” Frieda murmured.  Then, they hurried back towards the house.  It was getting late and there would be uncomfortable questions if they were caught in the garden at that time of night.

Once they were settled into bed once again, Frieda found that she couldn’t go to sleep.  Her mind was racing, like a hamster on a wheel.  She rolled over and looked over at her sister.  Liesel slept on a trundle bed next to her own when they visited Opa each summer.  It meant that every night was like a slumber party.  “How did the portal get into Opa’s garden in the first place?” she whispered.

Liesel sat up and frowned thoughtfully at Frieda.  “I don’t know,” she admitted.  Then, she slipped out from under her blankets and climbed up onto the bed with Frieda.  As Frieda sat up, she said, “I might have a way to find out, though.”

Frieda bit her lip and nodded.  Liesel was a Hammer and they had the gift of Knowing.  Although, technically, they weren’t supposed to tell anyone exactly how those gifts worked, Liesel had told Frieda.  They were twins and twins didn’t keep secrets from each other.  “Do you want me to call some wind?” Frieda asked, her voice faint.

“Just a little one,” Liesel said, nodding.

Frieda closed her eyes and hummed softly.  Outside, the wind began to shake the trees.  Focusing on that breeze, Frieda directed and guided it, so that it sang around the corners of Opa’s house.  As the air whistled outside the window, she opened her eyes.

Now, it was Liesel’s turn.  She was tilting her head to one side, as if she were listening to secrets being whispered into her ear.  As she listened, her brows furrowed and she frowned.  As the wind died back down, she shook her head slowly.

“What did the wind say?” Frieda whispered.

Liesel met her gaze and then heaved a sigh.  “It was strange,” she said.  “I asked it where the portals came from and… it kept saying was to beware of the dark ones.”

“The dark what?” Frieda asked, shaking her head.

“I don’t know,” Liesel said, her voice faint.  She glanced towards the window and shook her head slowly.  “I asked, but it only told me that the dark ones come at night and to beware of them.”

“We’ll ask Konrad in the morning,” Frieda said, nodding.  Their oldest brother was the family’s Sword.  He might know things that they didn’t.  Between being the youngest defenders and being less important than the Sword, there was a lot that the Elders wouldn’t tell them.

Liesel nodded and then climbed down onto her own bed.  They both curled up under their blankets so that they were facing each other.  Somehow, it felt safer knowing that her sister was close enough to touch.  Soon, Frieda managed to fall asleep.

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