The team gathered around their table, Rob helping Amanda haul over a large monitor and a computer. Olivia took her seat, a plastic folding chair with the backrest sawn off, and waited alongside Miya and Ben. She curled her tail under the table as Rob passed by behind her, cords dangling from his hands.
Ben drummed his fingers on the table, his usual half smile looking somewhat strained, not quite reaching his eyes. Olivia rested her wing on his shoulder. We’ll get your brother back. The screen Amanda and rob were fiddling with turned on, showing a still image of Taauth when he’d interrupted a presidential address.
“We need to bring everything together. What do we know about him so far?” began Amanda as she stood by the head of the table. Rob stood at the other side of the monitor.
“According to Cyrus, he’s ancient. He was old when Cyrus was young, apparently. When did the Persian empire first start?” asked Miya.
“500 BC, more or less,” said Amanda.
“How’d you know that off the top of your head?’ asked Rob, shooting her a questioning look.
“I looked it up. I figured it would be good to know when Cyrus knew all of this about Taauth.”
“So Taauth is stupid old,” said Ben.
“And he apparently can control any kind of magic that’s just sitting around. Miya, Olivia, does that mean anything to you?” asked Amanda.
Olivia shook her head. Sorry. I don’t know enough about magic still. Miya said, “I’m not quite sure. Magic is everywhere. Mages are able to draw out more and control it. Olivia is constantly drawing magic out, but it automatically goes to making her, you know, her. That’s why she’s not really able to use it like a normal mage.”
“Oh, is that what was happening?” asked Olivia. I was wondering about that. I should tell Beth and Red.
“Yeah, that ache you felt was probably your hand feeling weaker, you didn’t have the magic keeping it near invincible anymore.”
“OK, back to Taauth,” broke in Amanda. “What does that mean about what Cyrus said his power is?”
“Right, sorry,” apologized Miya. “The real question is whether Taauth is drawing out any magic or not. If he is, then he’s limited by what he can before it melts his brain. If not, then all that’s left is that he can use the magic all around. All stuff has it, the air, animals, but it’s unusable to mages.”
“But you think Taauth can use it?” asked Amanda.
“Yes. Except for iron, that’s completely magically inert,” replied Miya. As everyone’s attention turned to her, Olivia spotted Amanda wince, a hand drifting towards her stomach.
“So I gotta make a bunch of iron weapons an’ bullets?” asked Rob.
“A mage doesn’t have to heat up the iron directly, he can just throw fire from somewhere else at it and melt it. I don’t think that’s going to be the answer,” replied Miya.
“Fuckin’ magic,” he grumbled. What are you talking about? Screw iron, that stuff hurts.
“There’s also the question of how he knows how to use all the magic streams,” added Miya. At the sight of the confused looks on Ben, Rob, and Amanda, she said, “Think spells. You have to take the streams of magic and weave them in specific ways.”
“No, I know that,” said Amanda. “But how hard is that to remember?”
Miya’s face darkened. “Very, very hard,” she replied, her voice flat. “It sounds simple, but takes a lifetime to get truly skilled.” She wasn’t trying to be mean, Miya.
“He’s had a thousand lifetimes,” pointed out Ben, fingers still hitting the tabletop.
“Remember what Cyrus said? He’s can’t remember more than a century. That means Taauth can’t either.”
“Maybe he magic-ed his way to a better memory,” said Ben.
Miya burst into laughter. “It’s insanely hard to figure out even the most basic shit on your own,” she said. “I wouldn’t even know where to start with the brain. I don’t think you can work on that for under a century and get it right.”
“Yeah, but you work with bones.”
“And in comparison to the brain, bones are simple. Have you ever taken a biology class? Even I know that.”
“Sorry,” said Ben, holding up his hands. “Just spitballin’ here.”
“And if he messes up during an experiment, he might mess up his own memory,” added Amanda.
“And then it would take a long time to figure things out again,” said Olivia. “He didn’t have writing, did he?”
“That’s a good point,” said Miya. “Magic is hard to translate to writing, but he didn’t even have that option for however long he was around.”
“So we’re going to go with Cyrus like memory?” Amanda sked the group at large, receiving a series of hesitant nods.
“Think he knows any more than that?” asked Rob.
“I don’t think Cyrus knows any more than he’s told us. He’s definitely an ally, though,” replied Amanda.
“Sure about that?” asked Ben, eyebrow raised. What are you talking about?
“I don’t want my brother dead. He does.”
“He’s right,” added Rob. “He’s lookin’ for a way to kill, just like we’re lookin’ for a way to get Sam free. If he finds it, he’ll use it, an’ to hell with Sam.” Olivia frowned. I thought he was a good guy. He wouldn’t just kill Sam, would he? He’s Ben and Rob’s brother, and he’s on our side.
“Maybe we could just ask him,” said Olivia. “We could tell him we want Sam back.”
“You want to sow that seed of doubt? Cyrus will start questioning how ‘on his side’ we are. No, I’d say we go with business as usual with him,” said Amanda.
“We ain’t fuckin’ killin’ my brother,” said Ben, his voice low.
“Cyrus isn’t wrong. Taauth is a serious risk to everyone, we need to have every possible option available,” said Amanda.
“Fuck that, an’ fuck you,” shot back Ben, fist on the table.
“Ben,” barked Rob. “You know it might come to that. Keep your head straight.” Ben shrugged off Olivia’s wing and stormed out of the lair, the door slamming shut behind him. What are you doing? “Give him some time,” Rob said as Olivia began to rise from her seat to follow him.
“The question now is what exactly do we need to do?” asked Amanda, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
“You an’ me, we’ll work on gear. For everyone. We need to throw everythin’ we got at this,” said Rob.
“Yes, but we need more information. I think that was the limit on what we know,” said Amanda, shooting Olivia and Miya questioning looks. They nodded.
“Olivia can help with that. I think Ben could help us test our gear.”
“What about me?” asked Miya.
“You’re our magic expert,” said Rob. “Research. Anythin’ an’ everythin’ that might help. An’ this goes for everyone: ask if you need help. A fresh set of eyes never hurt.”
Amanda beside him nodded in agreement. “I think that’s all we have for now. Let’s get some rest. Or if you’re an owl, get started,” she added, glancing at Olivia.
The group dispersed. “Hey, ‘liv’, give me a hand?” called out Rob by his workshop. Do you need something heavy lifted again? She mutely walked over to him. “Gimme your arms.”
She held them out. “Are you about to give me something heavy?” she asked as he pulled out a tape measure.
He laughed. “Nope. Gonna give you some shin an’ arm guards, just gotta know how big to make ‘em. You take a lot of scuffs an’ shit like that.”
“Do I really need those?” she asked.
“Won’t hurt. If someone’s got an iron knife, it’ll just bounce right off. I’ll make ‘em light, don’t worry about flyin’ with ‘em.”
“But don’t the others need stuff like that more?”
“Yeah, but they’re gonna be gettin’ more,” he admitted, gesturing to his chest. “Yours will just be quick an’ easy to get done first.”
He pulled the tape measure away from her forearms and knelt down by her shins.
“Should I tell Ben what he missed?” Olivia asked him.
“Don’t worry about it, I got it,” said Rob with a shake of his head. “He’s just mad.”
‘Just mad’? “I hope he’s OK.”
“Don’t worry, he’ll get over it.” The tape measure snapped shut. “There, you’re good to go.”
“Do you need anything else?”
“Should be good, thanks.”
Olivia nodded and wandered over to Miya, at the table with one of Amanda’s laptops.
“Where should we start?” she asked.
“That’s a great question.” Her phone began to vibrate. “Hang on,” she said, raising her phone to her ear. “Miya here. Oh, hey Quarrel!”
Quarrel! The smile quickly vanished from Miya’s face. Uh oh.
“What, is he giving some nasty sermons at the temple or something?”
“Oh, she. Same question.”
Behind Olivia, the door opened. Ben teleported to her side a moment later. “Who’s she talkin’ to?” he asked in a hushed voice with a gesture to Miya.
Olivia leaned down to his level and whispered back, “Quarrel, I think.”
“Can you hear ‘em?”
“My ears aren’t cooperating right now. Her phone is too quiet, all I hear is ringing.” That’s probably not good.
“That’s bad. Why?” said Miya into her phone.
She frowned, softly biting her lower lip as she listened to Quarrel.
“And the temple guard? What do you expect us to do about this, again?”
“Yeah, I watched it.”
“Repeat that! Taauth? She mentioned Taauth?”
At that six letter word, the lair went still. All eyes locked on to Miya.
“It’s a long story. Let me talk to the others. Actually, hang on. We’re all here. I’m going to put you on speakerphone, you can tell them what you told me.” Her phone let out a beep as she pressed a button on the screen. The others hurried over, crowding around Miya.
“Hey everyone, it’s me, Quarrel,” spoke up a familiar female voice from the phone speaker. “Listen, we need your help. A high priest has come into town from Mexico City. She’s not on an evangelizing mission, though, she’s killing people.”
“Ain’t that illegal now?” asked Rob.
“Technically. This girl is old school, though. Very fire and brimstone-y. She’s sacrificing people to her god.”
“Which god?” asked Miya.
“Huitzilopochtli,” said Quarrel with a slight pause every syllable. “I think I pronounced that wrong, Roach is shaking his head at me. You get the point.”
“That’s the… fuck, which is that one?” asked Miya.
“The war god.”
“The war god,” Miya repeated, deadpan. “Wonderful.” Why would they have a god of war? Isn’t war bad?
“Exactly. The police aren’t prepared for this in any way, they’re still mopping up the Tzontli and Overlord mess here. The Watch hasn’t been willing to send us anyone else. Me and Roach need help, bad.”
“You said somethin’ about Taauth,” spoke up Ben.
“Yeah. She mentioned him, I think.”
“You think? In what context?” asked Amanda.
“We couldn’t tell you, we were too busy running. She’s a high priest, you don’t get that title by being a kindhearted being of kittens and puppies.”
“She’s right,” said Miya. “I’ll explain later.”
“Don’t worry about a place to stay or food or anything. Me and Roach can keep you covered there. We can’t offer much, but we can pay.”
The group exchanged glances. In response to some unspoken question, they all nodded. “We’ll be down there in a day, two tops,” said Rob.
“Oh my god, thank you all so much,” said Quarrel with a palpable sigh of relief. “We’re sorry to drag you into this mess.”
“No worries, just don’t get yourselves killed,” said Ben with a grin.
Quarrel laughed. “We’ll try. Talk to you later.”
Miya hung up the phone and sighed. “Damn it, I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to go back there again.”
“Phoenix ain’t a bad city. We do kind of stumbled over the absolute worst of it, but that’s just cuz god hates us,” said Rob.
“You know, I’ve talked with people in the security business before,” said Amanda, weary resignation on her face. “You know what they describe it as? You stand around, look intimidating, and keep your client safe. Then you get your paycheck and go home. That’s it. No mass murder, no alien conspiracies, no ancient gods. Just a paycheck at the end. It sounds great.” That does sound great.