Subtle Year

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Chapter 2: A Secret World

The green-eyed man tapped his fingers on his steering wheel, sighing impatiently. Hired goons were not exactly paying off for him. It’d been a drastically long time since he’d had a decent associate. That was why he refused to call the idiot he currently had at his disposal anything other than a lackey. It was a ridiculously simple task. Get the key from the stranded little girl and return to him.

“If you want a job done right,” he moved to open the car door.

Suddenly, he spotted another set of headlights approaching the mansion and he found himself recognising the black vehicle that pulled up nearby.

“Oh, this just got interesting,” he settled back in his seat, a sly smile on his face.

There was something excellent about finally being free of monitors. Freedom without limits was only remarkable after you’d known life without it.

The newcomer moved swiftly through the shadows, approaching the house at an impressive speed. The man sighed irritably, resting his elbow against the window with his fingers propping up his head and he scowled. If his lackey hadn’t done his job by now, he certainly wasn’t going to now. He had history with the person approaching the house. In his younger days, he may have been angered at the sight of his old nemesis turning up like this but now he realised that he simply got an opportunity to toy with him. There was no doubt that the newcomer only turned up because he knew who was involved. However, it’s be best if he wasn’t in the area. It’d be no fun to pick a fight now. Well… he wouldn’t necessarily go that far. However, it would be unwise for now. He had other things to be doing anyway. He pulled out his phone, dialling a number with a smug smile on his face.

“We’re closed,” a voice grumbled after a few rings.

“Well, you’re up now and in this day and age, I’ll bet you need the business,” he chuckled shortly.

“Not yours,” the man on the over end of the phone snapped.

“There’s very little love in the room, isn’t there?” he wasn’t put off. “Come now, aren’t our differences in the past?”

“I’d rather them be buried with the people you’ve slayed, right alongside you.”

The green-eyed man wasn’t certain there was room in the earth for him to be buried alongside those he’d slaughtered in his lifetime, but he decided to keep that quiet for now. After all, he was a changed man.

“I don’t suppose I could offer you a bottle of vodka or something and I’d be forgiven?”

“I’m hanging up now.”

“I’ve been accepted by the rest of the community, I’m an ally now,” the man put on an overly simpering voice, a little too amused to be aggravating an old enemy so easily. “I have a job for you, perfectly legitimate, I assure you.”

“What’s the deal? You’ve got a book that’ll give you some supreme power or something?”

“As a matter of fact, a beloved poetry anthology has unfortunately seen better days. You’re the best in the business, aren’t you? I’ll pay as much as you want for a quick repair job.”

“Sure, why don’t you drop it over? We’ll see how quick a repair job they can do on your face when I’m done with you.”

“Such violence. You know, your hypocrisy insults my intelligence,” the man chuckled. “You’d be willing to commit a violent act in order to enact revenge over the violent acts I committed in another life. Who’s really the bad one here?”

“You expect me to believe that tripe about ‘another life’? You’re the same man you always were., except now you’re a soldier with nobody to follow. I’d pity you if your heinous acts weren’t only second to your master.”

“In the past, I assure you. I will be haunted by what I did until the day I die. Tell me, will your dear friend feel the same? I saw him recently, springing into action and sticking his nose where it didn’t belong. You forget what he did because he was on the winning side, but my memory isn’t so curiously conditioned. You call one-man friend while you make idle threats to the other. Now, we may never see eye to eye, but I simply ask you not to take it out on my book. It’s a wonderful piece of literature, you know?”

For a long moment, there was silent and the man began to compulsively tap his steering wheel again as he pulled up at a traffic light but the man on the over end of the phone let out a long sigh.

“Fine,” he reluctantly gave in. “Drop it off in the morning.”

“You’re up now. It’ll be on your doorstep within the hour.”

“Alright,” he groaned. “But don’t think you’re coming in.”

“We’ll built bridges slowly, I’m sure.”

The man grunted in response before hanging up and the green-eyed man chuckled shortly, putting his phone aside. A book that’ll give him supreme power? What an idea.

A gunshot was fired and the man dropped me. I couldn’t prepare myself and landed hard on my knees, hissing with pain. My eyes flickered open and the man who attacked me was suddenly on fire. Oh, my god! I cried out in horror and scarpered back into the living room in an attempt to get away from this mess. Unfortunately, the two men followed me.

My attacker was punched in the face and kicked in the crotch but he just winced before lurching to attack the new guy. They both fell to the floor and fought each other for a few moments before forcing each other away. This was going nowhere fast so I grabbed another rod from the fireplace and hit my attacker again. He groaned in pain and fell in an unconscious heap on the floor. The other man pushed himself up and brushed himself down. It was then I realised who he was. Mr Black, from the reading of Callum’s will. What the hell was he doing here?

I rubbed away the tears from my cheeks as I tried to catch my breath, groaning irritably as I saw blood on my hand from where that guy had scratched me when he slapped me. Is there any chance that this was all just a dream? Sure, I totally just strangled myself in my sleep and my mind had created a scenario around that. Don’t be stupid, Onyx.

“You were…” I began to speak, feeling I should address the situation but then I trailed off. “I’m sorry, but your tie is wonky.”

That always gets on my nerves. I couldn’t conduct a conversation even at a time like this with that distracting me.

“Thanks,” he straightened it, his voice the same as I’d heard yesterday. “And yes, it was me at the reading of Callum’s will. My name’s Flash, Flash Blackguard. You’re lucky that I was on this guy’s trail, Onyx.”

“What happened to Mr Black?” I folded my arms, raising my eyebrow.

“It’s just a pseudonym, like the one Callum used for his books. It prevents my name cropping up in places it shouldn’t.”

There weren’t many more features to Flash that I could take in, even now. He was no longer wearing that long coat; the gloves were gone and so were the sunglasses. His eyes were interesting. A common brown colour, not dissimilar to mine, but there was a definite intelligence behind them. I think his hair was a pale, fawn brown colour but he was still wearing that hat so he could be bald for all I know.

“I saw someone here yesterday, after the funeral. Was that you too?” I studied him, trying to see if I wasn’t crazy after all.

“I was there but it wasn’t me you saw. I’m a bit too clever for that. If anyone it would have been Grey here,” he kicked the unconscious man. “He’s not the cleverest of stalkers, but he does know how to create suspense.”

“Yeah, funnily enough, I kind of noticed that,” I looked at Grey’s singed clothing. “I don’t understand, how did you set him on fire?”

“Would you believe me if I said the hot-rod?” he attempted to keep the truth from me.

“Nope,” I put my hands on my hips.

“Are you sure you want to know?”

“After what I just saw I think you have no choice but to tell me,” I remarked.

“You want to know the whole truth?”

“Did I stumble into a game of twenty questions?” I arched an eyebrow.

“I knew I liked you, Onyx,” he chuckled slightly. “If you really think you can handle it. I set fire to him using magic.”

“I thought you said you were being honest?” I scowled.

“I am being honest.”

“I don’t believe you.”

He clicked his fingers and a ball of fire formed in his hand. My eyes widened in pure astonishment and he let it go out.

“That’s nothing,” he shrugged.

“Modest,” I was amused enough to fathom words.

My attacker started to stir and Flash glanced at me before holding out his hand. I didn’t think twice before passing him the rod and he smacked the man around the head with it. With a groan, he fell back to the floor and posed no further threat.

“You don’t have to worry about him now,” Flash assured me. “He’s going away for a hell of a long time. Attempted murder on a mortal isn’t a crime we tend to be lenient on.”

“Are there any more people like you?” I asked as so many questions swirled about my mind, I didn’t know which one to pick. “Does he have magic?”

“You already know far too much,” Flash shook his head. “It’s best if you don’t know anything else or you might remember things you aren’t meant to. It’s for your own good.”

Well, that’s not at all threatening…

“What do you mean?” I stepped away from him.

“I mean, by this time tomorrow you won’t remember any of this.”

I took another step away from him and hugely regretted giving him that rod. Flash didn’t look like he was going to hurt me, especially not after he’d saved me from that Grey guy, but I’d heard the phrase ‘looks can be deceiving’ plenty of times before. He stayed silent for a moment, studying me but then he opened his mouth to speak and what came out surprised me.

“Your uncle was a good man, Onyx,” he looked almost sad. “I really am sorry that he passed away… but I’m afraid rules are rules.”

“You knew Callum well?” I felt myself frown.

“Oh yes, very well. Since before you were born. He really was a great man.”

“He knew about all of this, didn’t he?”

“It was his cross to bear.”

“So, what was it about him that meant he could know but I can’t?”

“Callum wasn’t one for rules. But don’t get any crazy ideas, he was an exception in a difficult time. Now, all the rules have to be followed. Even by dashing heroes like myself,” he told me. “You don’t have a chance.”

“I’m hardly one for rules myself. If Callum got to be an exception, why not me too?”

He was still for a second, consideration on his face, and then he shook his head and strolled through to the kitchen. I sighed with relief, thankful that he hadn’t done anything to hurt me, and followed him through there. Flash was sat in one of the seats at the table and he looked at me when I walked in, he did not look impressed.

“You have no idea what you’re getting yourself in for.”

“At least it’s my decision to find out,” I sat down too, rubbing the tender skin on my neck slightly.

Flash sighed and leaned back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose for a moment before looking back up at me.

“Your uncle is turning in his grave right now.”

“Don’t blame me for the fact that he’s claustrophobic,” I shrugged my shoulders. “He always told me crazy stories about magic when I was a kid. Maybe he wanted me to get used to this sort of thing.”

“Callum was a strange man. Don’t take anything he did to heart.”

“He was Callum; there was method behind his madness. He was mad but he was a genius all the same.”

Flash shook his head again before addressing me seriously.

“You need to know what you’re getting yourself in for here… you could die, Onyx.”

I could die… that wouldn’t be good. Well, that was an understatement. But there was something about Flash’s world that I wanted to be a part of. Who in their right mind doesn’t want an adventure? Something more than the average life of being born, going to school, going to university, going to work, getting married, having kids, retiring, having grandkids and dying. Never amounting to anything more than procreation and an indentation in an office chair. That wasn’t what I wanted. Even if I died and ended up living a short life, at least I would have lived. I couldn’t turn this down. I’d regret it for the rest of my long, lacklustre life.

“I understand what I’m getting myself in for. It’s risky, I get that. Trust me,” I looked up at him.

For a second neither of us spoke but then he groaned and raised his hands in defeat.

“Fine,” he gave in.

“Really?” I felt my eyes light up.

“You want me to second guess myself?” he raised an eyebrow.

“No!” I spoke quickly. “Thank you.”

“You don’t know what you’re thanking me for,” he shook his head. “You’re just lucky you didn’t find out about this during the war.”

“What war?” I frowned. “What do people who have magic have to fight over?”

He gave me a funny look. I recognised that look. Callum did that. It was the sit down, shut up, it’s story time look.

“Eleven years ago, a terrible war ended. A sorcerer, possibly the most powerful the world has ever seen, tried to take over the world and anybody, mortal or sorcerer, who knew about the war, had to fight. Your uncle helped us too. He was a very brave man and he did everything in his power to help. When we needed some respite, he let us stay here and he even helped us to plan our next moves. He was a man of many talents. It took us a hundred and fifty years to start to force the opposing side back. The army was losing ground but he started one last fight back. I was in a team of seven; we went against the leader’s scoundrel of a right-hand man. He nearly killed all of us; he did kill one of us. Arguably the best among us, but we didn’t have time to grieve. When we were almost beaten, the master began winning again. He was fighting like a winner again, and that nearly lost it for all of us. We drew back our forces and began to rethink our approach. Then, in the last battle, we struck. It was life or death; if we failed the world would be taken over by this madman and we’d all die. The world we have now wouldn’t exist. We thought through our attack brilliantly, he didn’t see part of our plan coming. And that was when we won. We over-powered the two of the three generals and we caught their master. He didn’t have any hope. He was killed and his army fell back, we won the most influential war of, perhaps, all time and the mortal world, your world, didn’t even realise what was going on. That’s what we were fighting for.”

Wow, I could listen to a story like that all day. It was a lot like Callum’s stories. That was what suddenly made me think of another question.

“The stories Callum told me, the ones he wrote about, were they true?” I asked.

“The ones he wrote about? God no, he wouldn’t do that. He’d be killed by all sorts of different people if the stories he wrote were true. They were just loosely based on true stories. They were vague enough for him to plead innocence. The ones he told you, on the other hand,” he paused and I looked at him a bit closer. “They were possibly true. Callum loved to talk about you. He missed seeing his favourite niece every weekend.”

I looked down at the table sadly, digging my nail into the wood as I felt the guilt from the past few days grow again.

“I missed seeing my favourite uncle every weekend too…” I tried to stop the tears from growing.

“He knew that, Onyx,” Flash sighed, a slightly sympathetic edge to his tone. “You were the closest thing he ever had to a child. He loved you, never stopped talking about you. His sharp-tongued niece who treated others the exact same way they treated her. I heard you sometimes get in trouble at school for doing that.”

“Okay, that is not my fault. My wit is either lightning-quick or waits three years before coming up with an adequate response. Am I supposed to waste it just because the person speaking is a middle-aged man who won’t shut up about the fact that he wrote a book about his time in the army?”

“Apparently yes.”

“Don’t start. The education system is a damn menace,” I muttered.

“Well,” Flash stood up. “Are you still coming with me or not?”

I hesitated before answering. This is going to be the pinnacle moment of my life. Whether or not I say yes is going to change my life forever. I’d always felt so bored at school and at home. They say youth is wasted on the young so why shouldn’t I experience it while I can?

“Yes,” I nodded. “I want to do this.”

“Okay then, but you’re going to have to make yourself useful.”

“How do you mean?” I asked as I stood up too.

“I left my car at the main road so you’ll have to help me carry this guy to it and to the Freedom House,” he strolled back through to where we’d left Grey.

“What’s the Freedom House?”

He opened his mouth to explain but then stopped himself. I couldn’t decide if it was the apparent ‘rules’ keeping him from telling me things or whether he was hoping to get rid of me.

“I think I should wait until they give me permission to tell you everything,” he decided. “If they say no, then I’ll be in more trouble than my busy schedule will allow.”

“Who gives you permission?”

“Stop asking questions. You’ll get me in trouble when I accidentally answer one.”

“How are we going to get past the bridge?” I surprised by how heavy Grey was to lift.

“Trust me, we’ll get past.”

There wasn’t a drop of water on the bridge now. Flash must have used his magic to get past or maybe even Grey had done it. We got to the main road and Flash threw Grey in the boot of his sleek black Mercedes. He went into a long speech about his car. Apparently, it was Mercedes S320 with radar-controlled cruise control and the ability to put your seat back up, tighten your belt and close all windows and sunroofs in the split second before any accident. All I knew was that I fell in love with his car. He tapped on the door of the passenger seat, gesturing for me to get in, before getting in the driver’s seat. I sat in the comfortable seat and he paused before starting the car.

“Don’t touch the radio; I’ve got it on a really good station.”

“I won’t,” I was slightly taken by surprise.

The car skulked silently through the late-night streets, not meeting any kind of traffic. I think I may have witnessed a stabbing going on in one of the back streets but, knowing this city, I would not be shocked. I was slightly confused when Flash pulled up outside an old warehouse.

“This feels very serial killer-esque,” I glanced over at him.

“You’d be surprised what goes on in the most inconspicuous of places. You’re looking at the most important building in England.”

“But… we’re in the North?” I felt my eyebrows furrow.

“Shockingly, not everything goes on in London,” he shook his head.

“That really is shocking,” I nodded slowly.

“Come on then,” Flash let out a sigh and cracked a smile. “This is going to be good.”

He got out of the care and went around to open the boot to a stirring Grey. The revolting man belched loudly and both Flash and I shuddered from the stench.

“You disgusting man,” Flash muttered then punched him in the face.

He opened the door to the warehouse and paused before he turned to me.

“You wait here and don’t touch a thing,” he instructed.

“I’m sixteen not six,” I crossed my arms.

“Just be good.”

He disappeared into the shadows and I leaned against the wall of the building. I wasn’t sure about Flash. He seemed nice, if not a little kooky and obnoxious at times, but then he was scarily serious. Maybe it was just the fight with that guy, Grey something. That was another thing, who would be called Flash Blackguard?

“Come on,” Flash made me jump as he opened the steel door behind me. “They might kill me but it’ll be fun to see them try.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about our Grand High Sorcerer Abalone Jacobson and his three vices.”

“And… who are those three?”

“They help the grand high sorcerer rule the country.”

“Okay… and what is a Grand High Sorcerer?”

“Essentially the sorcerer prime minister or president or whatever. Democratically elected to lead the country and protect it from danger.”

“Isn’t Abalone a type of shell?” I thought about it as I tugged on my sleeve slightly, twisting a bracelet on my wrist. “I’m pretty certain this is an Abalone bracelet.”

“It’s not his real name,” he let out a slight chuckle before his face became serious again. “Nobody in our world uses their real names. Our real names are a key to our past and our families and they’re just an inconvenience. If someone decides they want something from us, our families and lives could be at stake… although changing the name doesn’t always help.”

There was a darkness in his voice, like there was something deeply personal behind that statement.

“I thought Flash Blackguard was a weird name,” I mused.

“Humph, I like it,” he sulked. “Now, when we get in there I want you to be quiet.”

“I can do that,” I beamed at him.

“Are you sure about that?”

“Not completely but there’s only one way to find out,” I shrugged.

“Oh, they’re going to love you,” he let out a brief chuckle.

What was that meant to mean?

He opened the door to the warehouse and I followed him down a sloping path that I hadn’t noticed at first. He guided me into a large oval shaped room that was dark and sterile. I noted the table with four chairs behind it. I thought it looked like the panel judges sat behind on talent shows. I could belt out my rendition of You’re Beautiful by James Blunt. The singing isn’t up to much but I put on a Scottish accent that cannot be beat.

“We are here because?” I looked at Flash.

“They like to keep me waiting,” he replied. “They’re just jealous of my flexible job and great hat.”

“Oh, I’m sure.”

“I thought I told you to be good.”

“That was outside.”

“Then just be quiet.”

I stayed silent but gave him a salute. He shook his head and sighed, a slight smile on his face.

Suddenly, three men appeared from thin air and I hoped that they didn’t notice me jump. One was incredibly old, probably in his eighties or nineties, one was about thirty and the third was in his early twenties and rather handsome.

“Where’s Abalone?” Flash didn’t look impressed.

“Grand High Sorcerer Jacobson does not have time to deal with this petty proposal of yours,” the oldest man replied. “He has more pressing issues to deal with.”

“Vice Waltham,” Flash spoke tightly. “I hope you don’t take offence in what I am about to say but I follow the Grand High Sorcerer’s rules and his rules only.”

“We have the exact same amount of power as his Grandness,” he thirty-year-old said. “That is a hell of a lot more power than you have.”

“Then you do my job,” he pouted before apparently remembering who he was talking to. “Vice St Alde.”

“We don’t have to. We hired you to do it.”

“I want a raise.”

“Never going to happen.”

The youngest man stayed silent but looked at me suspiciously. I met his gaze and felt an electric shock up my spine. I thankfully didn’t jump. What the hell was that about?

“So, where did you find her?” he asked, passively looking past me.

“She was the girl Grey Withers was after,” Flash replied.

“And she’s here because?”

“She hit Grey Withers and it impressed me.”

“You’re an idiot Blackguard,” the oldest remarked.

“Also, she’s Callum Brooks’ favourite niece.”

For some reason, they all looked like they suddenly understood something. They all exchanged a look and nodded slowly.

“Oh, dear god what did Callum do?” I spoke before I could help myself.

“I told you to be quiet,” Flash glanced over at me.

“He wasn’t quiet, was he?”

“I apologise for Onyx,” he sighed. “She’s new to entire prospect of our world and she doesn’t understand that you oversee the country.”

The youngest glared at me again and I felt another jolt of electricity. I didn’t like it but I stayed quiet. It was apparent that he didn’t like me so I made sure not to make him dislike me even more. Well, for now.

“I take it that she still has her family name,” the oldest studied me.

“Not good,” the thirty-year-old shook his head.

“So, what you’re saying is, she can stick around as long as she changes her name?”

“Well, we didn’t necessarily mean-”

“Excellent, brilliant,” Flash stopped the youngest as he clapped his hands together. “We can do that. A fantastic decision.”

The three Vices let out a sigh but seemed to relent. It seemed like they knew Flash well. They want me to change my name? But… it’s my name. I mean, it was never my first choice of name. The only cartoon character that was named after me when I was a kid was a Troll but that Troll became my role-model in life. I suppose I’d still be sarcastic and look great in black without the name Onyx. I would have to think about this.

“Don’t forget Blackguard,” the youngest caught Flash’s attention. “That you have to make sure she doesn’t die if she doesn’t have any magic of her own.”

“Of course, Vice Ludwhig,” Flash nodded as we both moved to leave the room.

They strange trio vanished again and Flash took me back to the mansion in his Mercedes. I liked the idea of seeing this car more often. The heated seats were nothing short of heavenly.

“So, I have to change my name?” I looked over at him.

“You do,” he nodded. “Just remember that Flash is taken. You can’t have it.”

“I wouldn’t want it,” I pulled a face.

“You know you would,” he chuckled slightly.

“I can’t think of a name,” I frowned.

“Trust me; you’ll come up with one,” he cracked a small smile. “Just remember, Flash is out of the equation.”

“I get it, I get it. I’m not picking the name Flash.”

He pulled up outside the mansion, the rain finally subsiding. It looked like the door was back on its hinges again. That’s good, it would have taken a lot of effort explaining that to mum.

“I’ll pick you up after school tomorrow,” he told me.

“Right, school,” I let out a laugh of disbelief as I leaned back in my seat. “I completely forgot about that.”

“Good night, Onyx.”

“Good night, Flash.”

I got out of the car and waved to him as he drove away. I walked into the house and locked the door, kicking the abandoned rod back into the living room. I noted that the food and DVDs that I’d left littered around were cleaned up. That meant that I could just flop down on the couch and fall asleep.

Mum woke me up the next morning and chided me for falling asleep on the couch while staying in a mansion with so many bedrooms. The drive home was uneventful and my sleepy brain was mesmerised by the water at the side of the road that splashed to a great height around us.

“How was your night, Onyx?” mum asked as we got inside.

“It was…” I pondered for a second. “Normal.”

“You weren’t reading Callum’s book, were you?” her tone grew firm.

I wondered through to the kitchen and got a few pain killers to ease the headache I’d woken up with. I turned to her a smiled innocently.


“I thought I told you I didn’t like you reading those books,” she sighed. “And what did you do to your face, and your throat?”

“Hmm?” I raised my hand absently to the scratches on my face, remembering that crazy dream about an attacker. “I must have done it in my sleep. You know how much of an active imagination I’ve got.”

She shouted up to Danyal to get him downstairs and dad, who was sat at the kitchen table, lowered his newspaper so I could just see his brown eyes, glittering with curiosity.

“How was it?” he spoke quiet enough so mum couldn’t hear him.

“Incredible,” I grinned.

“The man had a talent,” he nodded. “Don’t tell your mother but I’ll be reading it myself when I get the chance.”

Mum came back into the kitchen and dad feigned a look of interest at the sports results, not at all convincingly either I should add.

“Huh, Tottenham won again…”

“You’re a strange, strange man Derek,” mum shook her head.

“You’re the one who married me, Melissa,” dad chuckled.

Mum sighed and flicked the kettle on for her morning cup of coffee. She looked like she needed it this morning too.

“So, Bambi how did you sleep?” dad chuckled.

Dad always calls me Bambi. Apparently giving me a bizarre name like Onyx wasn’t enough for him. He’s a very strange man.

“Terribly,” I replied with a sigh. “After mum called me I had the weirdest dream and any sleep I got after that felt useless.”

Last night had to have been a dream. There’s no such thing as magic or Freedom House’s or a weird dude who didn’t want me to have the same name as him. I just have an overactive imagination.

“So, when do we get the money?” Danyal asked as he entered the room.

“I take it you mean your uncle’s estate?” mum arched an eyebrow.

“Yeah, that.”

“We have access to it now. I take it you want your part of the share?”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” he cracked a crooked grin.

Girls at my school tended to fawn over my brother. He was the bad boy that everybody thought they could change. I don’t know. He was my big brother and I used to want to be just like him. Because of that I was interested in the resurgence of punk rock like he was and I pretty much only wore black, just like him. He wasn’t the best influence but he was all I had.

“Come on, I want to go to bed.”

“Your child,” dad kissed mum on the cheek.

He ruffled my hair and patted Danyal on the back before leaving for work.

I rolled my eyes as mum left for work too and followed Danyal out to his tiny little Clio. He was obviously unimpressed that he had to go and drive me to school because the rain had made me miss the bus. I knew this car was going into the tip soon. He dropped me off at school, which realistically was within walking distance, then he trundled of in his sad little car.

I signed in at reception before dashing off to my history class that I happened to be over half an hour late for. If I’d been cleverer I would have decided to ditch the rest of the lesson and spare myself from the wrath of Mr Smallwood, but no, Onyx Brooks is not the cleverest of things.

“Onyx Brooks!” he boomed as I dared to enter his class.

“Yes, sir?” I winced slightly.

“Why exactly do you think you can come to my lesson at this time?”

“I only just made it in, sir. After my uncle’s funeral, I was stranded at his house by the rain. I could only get out this morning.”

Only semi-true but, come on, my uncle died! He should be at least a little bit lenient because of that.


Apparently not.

“But, sir-”

“Do you want me to make it an after-school detention?”

“No, sir,” I muttered.

“In fact, since you’ve disturbed my lesson already, you can go and get a head start on the lines you’ll have to write.”

Writing lines? Do teachers still make students do that? Well, it seems Mr Smallwood does. His detention methods were as archaic as he was. Go figure.

I took the detention slip he handed me and I stormed off to the coffee bar that doubled for a detention room. Stupid school… Everyone says I’m smart, I have excellent grades and I’m targeted all A’s, so why do they constantly pick on me when I’m a little loud or laughing a bit too much? If magic did exist, then I wouldn’t be stuck here all the time. I shouldn’t be so down hearted. I know that a hell of a lot people have it worse than me being in detention all day but I can’t help but think about how much better life would be if I wasn’t stuck here. I want excitement, I don’t want to be one of those people who has all the energy of their youth drained away by screens or to squander my brief time of freedom from responsibility only to lament it when I’m old. There must be something I can do so I know I’m not wasting my life.

I spent my time in detention pondering what I could do with my life and came back with no more answers than I’d had when I’d started. Finally, at the end of lunch I was freed only to find myself with a free period. I may as well have not bothered coming in. What is it with my luck?

Thankfully, I had two friends who were also free last lesson so I took the opportunity to walk home with them. If nothing else, I was going to be social today. My friends were Connie and Dylan. Dylan was just Connie’s boyfriend, not somebody I was overly close to but I was friendly because I cared about Connie.

“Alright, picture the scene,” she fell into step beside me. “My brother is out for the weekend on that school trip to London. So, his room will be…”


“Empty!” she groaned. “Although actually… fumigation might be a good idea. Anyway, left alone in his room will be his…”


“Would you really want to eat a sandwich from my brother’s room?”

“Your brother makes a good sandwich,” I shrugged. “Or so I’ve been told.”

“His Xbox will be free, you idiot,” she rolled her eyes. “And guess what he got the other day?”

She’s not going to let up. I best give a mature answer.

“A new game?”

“Ding-ding, correct answer!” she spoke like some goofy quiz host. “So, you coming over or what?”

“Sure thing,” I smiled. “I haven’t got anything better to do.”

“You do now,” she grinned. “I’m going to kick your arse.”

“You’re not going to throw a controller at me again, are you?”

“Last time she got me with a plate,” Dylan muttered.

“I apologised for that!” she scowled. “Come on, Onyx, you’re not going to flake on me again, are you?”

“I’ll have to check with my mum, but I shouldn’t have to flake on you again,” I rolled my eyes.

So, I liked staying inside where it was warm. Was that such a crime?

“Alright then,” she beamed. “See you later.”

“Bye Onyx.”

I waved to the pair as I went down the pathway to my house, opening the door as I prepared my top precious-only-daughter voice.

“Hey mum?” I skipped into the living room.

“Where do you want to go?” she sighed.

“Can I go around to Connie’s for a while?” I batted my eyelashes.

“Let me guess, her brother isn’t home?” she raised an eyebrow.

“She doesn’t have a lot of friends, I should really humour her.”

“And you aren’t going to change your mind, again?” she raised an eyebrow.

“I am leaving to go to Connie’s house. What? Am I going to flake on her half way down the road?”

She raised an eyebrow at me, her arms folded.

“That happened one time mum,” I sighed.

“I remember three occasions in the last month where you flaked.”

“It wasn’t in the last month,” I mumbled.

“Yes, it was, Onyx,” she rolled her eyes. “I hope you’re not sneaking out to go see a boyfriend.”

“When was the last time I had a boyfriend? You know my taste in those of the male variety,” I put my hands on my hips. “And when have I ever snuck out?”

“I know you know how to get down the tree outside your room. You’re speaking to me, not your father, Onyx. I don’t mind as long as you’re being safe.”

“This is getting dangerously close to being an uncomfortable conversation, mum,” I sighed. “I’m going to go get changed and go out. I slept in these clothes. That’s uncomfortable.”

“You’re just as dramatic as every other Brooks I’ve ever know,” she shook her head, smiling slightly with a knowing look on her face. “Why don’t you go check out your brothers’ new car? I think you’ll like it.”

“I’m going to be jealous, aren’t I?”

“Go look, go look,” she shooed me away.

I laughed slightly as I left the room, heading upstairs to get changed. I didn’t really have much variety in my wardrobe. A lot of black jeans and a lot of black tops. I know what I like and I like black. I’m not a goth and I’m not trapped in eternal solitude. Dark colours just suit me. I shimmied into a pair of black skinny jeans and shrugged on a black button up shirt. The white buttons of my shirt were probably the only the only sign of colour in my attire. Well, unless you counted my hair and jewellery. I pulled on a pair of ankle boots with a low, chunky heel before dragging a brush through my hair and sighing as I rubbed my cheek. They were more red scratches than cuts but they were still kind of noticeable. I blame that damn dream. It was clearly crazy since I could remember it so vividly still.

I went down stairs, dipping into the garage to see my brother’s mysterious new car and my jaw dropped. Danyal had bought himself a black Ferrari. I took a slight step forward, admiring the beautiful creation. I recognised the make, of course I did, it was Dan’s dream car… and mine. It was a Ferrari 458 spider in a gorgeous matte black. I moved to the window, peering inside to the gorgeous interior but not daring to touch it. Why was Dan so awesome? I knew his little Clio would have been long gone by the end of the day but I didn’t think he’d buy a Ferrari. Supress your jealousy, Onyx. You’re better than that.

“I’ll see you later, mum,” I called.

“Too jealous to stay in the same house as the car?”

“Just a tad. However, I do want to be present when Dan’s studded belt scratches the car.”

“You won’t need to be present, Onyx. You’ll hear the scream no matter where you are,” she laughed slightly as I left.

I strolled from the house, turning down the path as I absently checked my phone. I don’t know what I was expecting. I barely got any texts anyway. Although my beloved ex did text me on occasions. What a joy he was…

Suddenly, I came to a standstill as I spotted something very familiar at the end of the road. A beautiful Mercedes was parked as if it was trying to blend in with those around it, not that it ever could, and leaning against it, waiting leisurely, was Flash Blackguard. Funny, he couldn’t blend in too well either. I slowly approached, totally in shock at the sight of him. Last night was real, that was so crazy.

“You know, I think you’re crazy for going through with this Onyx,” he addressed me as I reached him. “A lot of sorcerers would kill to be a normal mortal.”

“Does that apply to you too?” I raised an eyebrow.

“That ship sailed a long time ago,” he opened the car door for me.

“Good to know,” I didn’t even question getting in the car.

“Welcome to hell.”

He started the engine, heading in the direction of the Freedom House or whatever it was we went to last night.

“So, do all sorcerers’ have a different power?” I felt inclined to ask.

“Pretty much,” Flash nodded. “Some are lucky enough to have two powers but most just have the one, not that having one power is any less impressive-”

“Do you have tw0?” I stopped him.

He paused for a second, clearly annoyed to be stopped mid-flow. Flash was clearly a man who like the sound of his own voice. He was quiet for a moment but then he sighed.

“Yes, I do. I can control fire and water. You won’t enjoy a demonstration. Please don’t interrupt again.”

“I won’t,” I grinned.

“Why do I even ask? I know you will. You proved that last night. It’s a good quality to have in our line of work. Anyway, at the Freedom House we have every possible power we can get hold of. We have a teleporter but he’s an idiot who doesn’t work. But most countries in the world don’t even have them, it’s a very rare power now, there aren’t many of them left in the world… in that sense we’re lucky.”

“Does luck have a lot to do with it?”

“More than you can imagine.”

For some reason that made me smile slightly as he pulled up outside the Freedom House. I thought of the meeting that had taken place the previous night and the youngest of the three vices, Vice Ludwhig. He had been strikingly handsome but also rather intimidating.

“Can I ask you something?” I looked over at him.

“You just did.”

“Can I ask something else?”

“Go for your life.”

“What is Vice Ludwhig’s power?”

“Why does it interest you?” he asked.

“It doesn’t interest me, it scares me.”

“I see why,” he smiled. “Vice Ludwhig can inflict pain with his mind. It’s a form of telepathy. That is one of the rarest powers on the earth. As it happens all the people who have it are irritating and don’t like me. Come on.”

We both got out of the car. As I shut the door I leaned against the side of the car and looked to him on the other side.

“And yet he’s only a vice,” I remarked.

“The people believed that Abalone would be a more trustworthy leader and, to be honest, he is. Abalone is a great leader, one we’re very lucky to have. However, we were all shocked when he chose young Ludwhig to be one of his vices. Vice Ludwhig was a very strong contender to be Grand High Sorcerer and he is still bitter about it now, fifty years later, despite Ludwhig respecting Abalone just like everyone else,” Flash replied with a brief, amused chuckle. “So, I wouldn’t mention it around him.”

“That’s impossible,” I was stunned. “Vice Ludwhig is in his early twenties.”

Flash laughed, clearly amused by my reaction and I followed him into the Freedom House as he held the door open for me.

“Age is different when magic is involved. Your body ages slower than your mind does,” he tapped his temple with his forefinger. “I’m almost four hundred years old myself.”

“I’ll be sure to get you a birthday card.”

“I doubt they make them for four-hundred-year old’s.”

“There are websites, and I know the internet. I’ll find one.”

“Very funny,” he shook his head.

“You’re not the only comedian around here.”

“Ah, but you’ve got a long way to go to beat me,” he chuckled again.

We walked past a lot of sorcerers and Flash got as many icy looks as he did friendly ones. It seems Flash is well known around here. Maybe for some bad things too…

“We have to do something about your schooling,” Flash mused.

“How do you mean?” I frowned.

He guided me into a room full to the brim of books and files. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I loved library’s and reading but this was a mess of sheets and dust. I’ll bet this room was full of spiders… how awful.

“I mean we get you a replacement,” Flash turned to me.

“You’ve still lost me here, Flash.”

“We’re going to give you a clone of sorts.”

“Where has this been all my life?” I rolled my eyes. “The time I could have spent sleeping.”

“Do not use your clone for evil,” he seemed amused again. “Also, you need to know more about all this.”

I watched him search through the files for books, leaning against a cabinet as I watched him curiously.

“How am I going to do that?” I was intrigued. “Have you got some cool magic trick?”

“We’re in a room full of books and you think I’m going to do a magic trick?” he turned to me, his eyebrow raised.

“You’re looking for a book with it in, right? Right?” I felt dead.

“Wrong,” he shook his head and put some books on a table.

“Then what do I have to do?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“Read,” he dropped another book on top, a plume of dust growing in response.

That night, long after mum and dad had gone to sleep, I was reading the books Flash gave me. I was reading by the light of my gently bubbling fish tank, my blanket covering my legs for warmth as I turned a page. The books were engrossing. Usually I didn’t like non-fiction but it was all about magic and monsters. It felt like fiction. Like a world of make believe. I wasn’t feeling a slight bit tired, in fact I was wide awake.

I was reading through the different sorts of powers that were known when I heard a knock on the window. I pulled the curtains open and Flash was waiting patiently for me on the window ledge.

“I would ask how you did that, but I know that it’s a stupid question,” I rolled my eyes. “Why don’t you come in?”

“Thanks, it’s cold out there.”

He hopped into the room and noted that I had been reading.

“Bit late, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Then why are you here?” I countered.

“I doubt you’ll want to be sharing too much space with your clone in the morning. They can be creepy at first,” he replied easily. “I was being considerate.”

“Well, thanks. Although, it doesn’t sound too much different than me.”

“I should have gotten to know you better,” he sighed. “Come on, we’re going out.”

“Where are we going?”

“You don’t know anybody in our world,” he shook his head. “That’s never useful.”

“So, where are we going?” I repeated.

“There are two people you need to meet. But, the first one can never be trusted,” he became deadly serious. “She’ll sell her own soul if it means she’ll become more powerful. At first glance, she seems sweet and innocent but she can be a vile, venomous woman. Don’t tell her anything, not your last name. If you can avoid it, your first.”

“She sounds like a jolly woman,” I muttered sarcastically as I pulled on a pair of shoes.

“Oh, she really is,” he suddenly grinned. “We know each other very well.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“You think so highly of me, Onyx. Come on then,” he jumped back out of the window and I froze.

“How the hell am I meant to jump from that window?” I leaned out of the window.

“You won’t die,” Flash replied. “Hopefully…”

“That really isn’t helpful,” I grumbled and folded my arms.

“Well, come on then,” he called up.

“But I don’t want to die!”

“Then don’t,” he shrugged his shoulders.

I looked around and then felt myself grin. My favourite oak tree had a strong, thick branch not too far from window. I used to sneak out via that branch when I was younger, clearly mum knew but my dear father had no idea. I hopped not so deftly out of the window and scrambled down beside him.

“I could think of more elegant ways to do that but it gets the job done,” I brushed myself down.

“You’ll get used to it, this line of work calls for very little grace.”

“That may be the best thing I’ve ever heard,” I suddenly felt very happy.

I followed him to the Mercedes and I got in the passenger seat, glad he’d turned the heating on. It was a chilly evening and I was not made for cold climates.

“So, you enjoyed those books I gave you?” he glanced at me.

“Yeah,” I nodded. “I’ve always liked to read about magic. I blame Callum.”

“We all blame Callum,” he muttered. “You never know; you could be lucky enough to have some of your own.”

I looked at him, surprised but his intelligent eyes simply watched the quiet road ahead of us despite the Mercedes being the only car on the road at this time.

“Could I have magic?” I dared to speak again.

“Well…” he hesitated, looking back at me. “Your uncle did.”

“He did?” my eyes widened in shock.

“Yeah,” he nodded, slightly reluctantly. “Callum was essentially a human lie detector. I’ll bet you could never get away with anything when you were around him. But, he didn’t want it; he just wanted to write his books. He learned about magic and all its mysteries but, well… it did him no good to learn about all those things without having magic to defend himself.”

“How do you mean?” I raised my eyebrow.

“He was murdered.”

I was stunned to a silence. Callum, had been murdered? Why hadn’t dad mentioned that? But… he had. He’d told me exactly what killed Callum.

“The post mortem said he died of a brain aneurysm,” I frowned.

“They can’t trace magic,” Flash countered. “I’m afraid to say, Callum looked his killer straight in the face. He knew it was going to happen.”

“That’s awful,” I felt a weight in my chest.

“Your uncle was just unlucky. He was such a brave man,” he seemed to notice. “If you learn your magic earlier then you could protect yourself.”

“If I have magic,” I pointed out.

If you have magic,” he agreed.

Silence fell as I watched the lights of the city go by. I hadn’t really seen the city so late. I’d gone to London earlier in the year with school and had been on the train at going on one in the morning. It was pleasant seeing the London Eye at that time of night but otherwise, I didn’t see much of any city after dark, not even my own.

“We’re here,” Flash broke the silence eventually.

I had been in a world of my own and had hardly noticed we’d slowed down. We’d been in a rough part of town anyway, so I hadn’t expected him to pull up. Especially when he pointed to a big graffiti covered building near a dark and foreboding alley way. It looked as dodgy as hell. I thought he was playing some weird Flash joke.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I gawked at the building.

“Nope,” he got out of the car.

I followed him as he walked down the alley, scurrying to catch up with him as he entered the building. There was no way in hell I’d like to be left alone out here.

“Calypso owns the top floor of the building,” he explained. “She lives in one half and lets people use the other half as a safe house from whatever follows them, people can come and go without her even noticing them. No laws apply in there except her own. Which is no killing or harming others but even she doesn’t follow them. She made the rule so she wouldn’t get blood stains on her carpet but then she got one of those cleaning machines and she changed her mind.”

“Oh, I’m so happy to hear that,” I muttered as we trudged up the dirty stairs.

Flash told me to wait at the door as he poked his head inside, glancing around for a few moments before deciding that there was no-one around. He sighed as if he was used to it and gestured for me to follow him as he crossed the corridor. He knocked on the door to the apartment and then seemed to realise something as he turned to me.

“You may want to take a step back.”

“Why is that?” I asked cautiously, taking a rather large step back.

“You’ll see.”

About half a minute later, the door opened. A woman leapt out at Flash with a knife. I almost jumped out of my skin but Flash took it smoothly. He caught her arm and twisted it until she dropped it, an unimpressed look on his face.

“Damn you, Blackguard,” the woman snapped. “You know that the only people that knock on my door want me dead.”

The woman who had just dropped the knife could have graced any billboard or magazine cover, or even one of the magazines that my brother thought he had well-hidden in his room. She was so perfect, I would have instantly said she was photoshopped had she not been standing right in front of me. She was beautiful in both a classical and contemporary way. She didn’t have flowing golden curls or ivory skin; nor did she have piercing green eyes. She looked like the desert maiden from ancient tales. Her Latin looks and high cheek bones made it so simple for her to be able to silence me at the very least. Her cream suit had a tailored look that was bold against her dark skin and encircled her slender waist while revealing just enough of her cleavage to catch someone’s attention without making it too obvious. Her blue eyes were like a sea on a pleasant day, calm and emotionless despite the irritation that caused her plump lips to twist into a clear expression. Her hair fell down her back, a stray lock rolling over her left shoulder. It was hickory colour and was voluminous but tamed. I was stunned to silence but Flash just looked annoyed.

“Calypso,” Flash spoke sternly. “Come at me with a knife again and I will not be so nice as to just make you drop it.”

“Somebody’s being nice,” she smiled at him flirtatiously, her voice melodic no matter the tone she took on. “What’s the occasion?”

He nodded to me and she seemed to notice me for the first time. I hoped my cheeks didn’t flush as red as I thought they did as she looked me up and down.

“Not bad,” she remarked. “Definitely different to you.”

She glanced at us both again before she turned and walked into her apartment, leaving the door open for us both.

“Oh, good,” Flash muttered.

“She’s different,” I wasn’t sure if I could think of anything else to say.

“She’s certainly something, isn’t she?” he still didn’t look impressed as he followed her. “Come on.”

I hurried through the door to catch up with him as he strolled after Calypso who delicately perched herself on a red fabric armchair.

“So, what’s her name?” she glanced at Flash.

“That doesn’t matter,” he replied, not sitting down.

“Has she changed her name?” she pressed.


“Well, why ever not, darling?”

“Well… err…” Flash looked to me. “Err…”

“As eloquent as ever Flash,” she also looked at me.

“I’m not sure what I want it to be,” I admitted quietly, feeling a little stranded.

I noted the small smile that flickered on her lips, it fell into an innocent look as Flash glanced back over to her.

“But I think you do,” she still smiled.

“She does?” Flash looked surprised.

“I do?” I frowned.

The smile on her lips widened, revealing crystal white and perfectly straight teeth as she leaned back slightly in her seat.

“It seems I know more about you than you do yourself,” she noted.

“Calypso,” Flash’s voice became irritated. “That’s enough.”

The beautiful woman giggled and Flash looked incredibly annoyed with her attitude. I’m not sure I like Calypso all that much. She appeared to be a woman who enjoyed knowing what others didn’t and dangling it on a string in front of them.

“You really are terrible at the first impressions,” he spoke after a moment.

“I believe ours was no better,” she winked.

“As I recall, I beat you senseless.”

“I recollect it was a different story,” she bit her lip flirtatiously.

Flash sighed irritably. Funny, he didn’t seem too fond of Calypso but didn’t appear to dislike her either. Well, of course not. He had brought me here. He obviously had a reason.

“I suppose you’ve heard of Callum Brooks’ passing?”

“You don’t think it was just a passing, do you Flash?” she sighed.

“You know I don’t.”

“I had an old friend of yours visit yesterday,” she looked at her nails, spotting some invisible imperfection. “He started asking about his masters lost weapon.”

I looked from Calypso to Flash and back again. What were they talking about? Judging from Flash’s sudden change in movements, it was something he was interested in.

“Do you have it?” he raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, no, darling. Of course, I don’t, something like that takes incredible skill and hard work to find. You know I loathe hard work when I have little personal gain,” she shook her head. “And personally, I’m not interested in some old war trinkets. Things like that are best lest forgotten. Callum was the man who liked that sort of thing.”

“Yes, it’s a shame he’s passed,” he glanced over at me.

“What did Callum like?”

“Magical trinkets, he was a bit of a collector, dear Callum,” Calypso replied, sighing slightly. “He was very good at hiding all his little bits and pieces from his family too. He’s the only one in our line of work who could keep his family and the magical world separate. He wanted all sorts of magical trinkets and he owned many too.”

“You’d kill to get some of his collection,” Flash mused.

“Kill, flirt,” she shrugged. “Whatever’s easiest.”

“Is there anything else you think would help us out?” he pressed. “You normally know something.”

“On this occasion, I’m afraid I don’t,” she shook her head. “In regard to Callum, he did visit me not long before he died.”

That took both Flash and I by surprise and we both looked up at her, a sly smile on her face again.

“You never mentioned that,” he noted.

“You didn’t ask.”

“What did he say?”

“Not too much. He called me a devious vixen, the man did know how to charm me,” she trailed off for a moment. “He left me something for you.”

“You opened it, didn’t you?”

“I tried, but he put a spell on it. It was good; I didn’t know he had it in him.”

“Where is it?”

She stood up again and sauntered off, sashaying slightly as she ventured deeper into her luxurious and modern apartment.

“I haven’t seen anything about magic in Callum’s mansion,” I spoke quietly.

“Neither have I,” he admitted. “He must have kept it all hidden.”

Calypso reappeared a few moments later, promptly ending our surreptitious conversation. She handed a letter to Flash and I could easily see Callum’s writing. Flash looked over at me and I shrugged my shoulders. There was no way I could know what the letter held.

“Well, open it then,” Calypso rolled her eyes. “I’ve been seeing that envelope for the last two weeks! I’d personally like to know what’s inside.”

“Got a knife?” he raised an eyebrow.

I was taken by surprise when the lock of hair over her shoulder suddenly moved as if like a second arm and reached behind her back, pulling out a knife before handing it over to Flash. I hoped I didn’t look as shocked as I actually felt. I’ll bet I did.

Flash seemed both used to it and sick of it so he didn’t say a word as he opened the letter. A folded-up piece of paper and another envelope fell out. He ignored this for the time being and read what Callum had written to him.

“Flash, get this to my niece and make sure she doesn’t get killed. I’ll haunt you if you do. Calypso I hope you drove yourself crazy trying to get into this.”

“I hate that man,” Calypso grumbled.

“We all do,” I muttered.

What would Callum want to tell me? Flash shrugged and tried to the open the envelope but it refused to budge.

“What’s in there that he couldn’t tell me?” he sounded slightly offended. “Hold onto this, I know I’ll lose it.”

“Any more questions?” Calypso studied him. “In case you were wondering, I am free for drinks tonight.”

“Shame, I’m busy,” he rolled his eyes. “We should be leaving. Come on.”

“Don’t be a stranger.”

“Don’t attack me with a knife,” he called back as he gestured for me to follow him from the apartment.

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