Darcy had just been messing around on the internet, again, and gotten sucked into a spiral of one blog post after another. It was something she liked to do sometimes, just for fun. She knew all the stuff on those paranormal and supernatural blogs was a bunch of bull, but she liked to laugh at them, and really, they were all so far from the truth it really was laughable. The fact that all of it was written by a bunch of ordinary people who had no idea what they were talking about was to blame for that, but that’s what made it fun. The fact that different moderators got into fights and flame wars with each other over whose completely ridiculous theory was right just made the hobby even better.
So she didn’t expect all that much when she decided to trawl through one of the better blogs she knew of that evening. At first, it was everything it usually was, until she came across a link to a website she knew was frequented by conspiracy theorists – another source of constant hilarity. But the article the post mentioned wasn’t the usual ‘aliens built the pyramids’ or ‘ufo spotted in Bristol’ crap. It was about magic, ‘witches’ in particular. And the title of it read more like a dissertation than the ravings of an obsessed idiot.
Curious, and with a strange sense of dread, Darcy clicked on the link, still not really expecting much. She downloaded the pdf and wound up reading all one-hundred and eighty-six pages. With every paragraph she grew more and more shocked, and when she finished she just sat, staring at the computer screen in absolute disbelief. She couldn’t believe what she’d just read. It had to be some sort of mistake. There was no possible way for what she just read to exist. It couldn’t be right.
She read the whole thing again.
When she finally resigned herself to the fact that no matter how many times she read the paper, it wasn’t going to miraculously say anything different, it was morning. Her eyes were dry as sandpaper and her head was pounding worse than any hangover she’d ever experienced. She still couldn’t believe it. How the guy who posted the damn thing got a hold of any of that information, she couldn’t even imagine. But he had to have gotten it from somewhere, because he wasn’t just another crackpot rambling on about a stupid theory without any real evidence.
Every single thing he had in the paper was true, and he shouldn’t have known about any part of it.
She scoured the article for any sort of mention of a source, but she didn’t find any. But she was able to determine the information was so accurate there were only two possibilities, one of their own wrote it or a normal person somehow got one of them to tell him everything he wanted to know. Either way, it was really fucking bad, and they had to do something about it before the post got popular.
Darcy was jarred out of her panicky reprieve by the sounds of her family waking up and moving about the house. She took a shaky breath and stood up from her desk, her back cracking loudly as she stretched out her stiff muscles. Grabbing her laptop, she left her room and hurried downstairs, hoping to catch one of her parents or her grandmother before they left for the day. With any luck one of them would be able to keep it together enough to come up with a plan to deal with it.
When she ran into the kitchen it was to the raised eyebrows of her grandmother. Darcy skidded to a halt by the island counter and slammed the computer down in front of the older woman. The gesture prompted Maeve to take a closer look at her granddaughter, and what she saw brought an expression to her face that matched how Darcy felt herself. She set down the batter she was mixing up and turned to face Darcy and gave the girl her full attention.
“Did you sleep at all last night?” she questioned with a concerned frown.
“No,” Darcy admitted, “I found a paper on the internet, it’s about us, and it’s really bad.”
“On one of those supernatural blogs? You know better than to take anything on them seriously.”
“Yeah, I know, but this one’s serious. Whoever wrote it knows about us,” Darcy insisted vehemently, jabbing her finger at the paper in question, “Read it yourself, there’s way too much in there that’s right to dismiss it. I’m serious.”
Her grandmother regarded her for a moment, then nodded and reached for the computer. Relieved that Maeve was taking her seriously, Darcy sagged into one of the bar stools and laid her head on her arms, her exhaustion finally starting to take hold of her. She waited while her grandmother read through the paper, which considering its length, took a while. She fell into a dose, which Maeve had to shake her out of when she finished the article. Darcy sat up, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and gave her grandmother a questioning look.
“You’re right,” she admitted with a sigh, “I’ve already sent out a message to the family, we’re having a meeting this evening, dinner time. Until then, I’ve messaged your aunt; she’s going to keep both ‘Tumblr’ and ‘Conspiracy Café’ down until we can figure out how to deal with this situation.”
“Those are both huge sites, it’ll take a lot to keep them down. But I don’t think its spread anywhere else yet.”
“That’s good, Anvi just asked me about that before I woke you. Are you quite sure those are the only places the paper’s been posted?”
“Not sure, but I keep up with most of the popular blogs and sites that post that kind of thing, and some others. It’d be pretty easy to check them now. Some of them are really insecure, so they’d be easy to hack and take down any links to the paper or repostings.”
“Perfect, we’ll keep those two down while we look into this ourselves. Well done darling. Now we’re going to have breakfast, then we’ll take a look at those other nutty websites you like to make fun of.”
“Okay,” Darcy agreed uncertainly, “You seem very calm about the whole thing.”
“There’s no reason to worry just yet, and no point panicking.”
“No reason to worry?” Darcy asked incredulously.
“None,” Maeve assured her, “I’ve dealt with leaks like this twice before. I’ll admit the internet wasn’t as prolific or pervasive then as it is now, but handling it should still be a matter of containment, discrediting the source, and destroying the evidence they gathered.”
With that Maeve returned to preparing her pancake batter. She seemed perfectly at ease with the whole situation, so Darcy was inclined to take her at her word. It didn’t do much for her worry, but that Maeve felt confident in her approach did allow Darcy to feel more secure in the plans herself, even if her grandmother had yet to share any of their details. It put her at ease enough, at least, to assist Maeve in making their breakfast without breaking anything or vomiting from nerves.
But once they were done eating she threw herself into scouring through every single paranormal and conspiracy blog or website she could find. It took hours of intense research, but it was worth it because at the end of it Darcy was able to confirm that only three of the sites, aside from the original two she found the article on, had any mention of the paper. Unfortunately, not a single one of them mentioned an actual name for the author, only a web-handle ‘fr33d0mf1ght3r68’. Frankly, Darcy thought it was an incredibly uncreative pseudonym, and was a little confused as to why they felt the need steal it from a children’s TV show nothing they posted did more than vaguely reference.
She brought the information to her grandmother, who had remained with her at home, as soon as she was sure that was all there was for her to find. She also relayed the web-handle that recurred with all of the paper’s postings. There wasn’t anything more that she could do with the name, she wasn’t any kind of hacker, and didn’t have access to that kind of sensitive information. But, they had people who were hackers, who could access to the kind of sensitive information they’d need to identify and locate the author.
“This is excellent my dear,” Maeve complimented her, with a triumphant expression, “I’ll pass these along to Anvi right away. In the mean time I need to pick your brain a little more. Then I’ll meet with the rest of the family and plan our next steps. But after that, you’re taking a nap.”
“A nap, what am I, five?” Darcy asked indignantly, snatching up her mug of coffee defiantly, frowning at her grandmother’s disapproving look.
“No, but you’ve been awake for over thirty hours. If you don’t sleep soon, you’ll be absolutely useless to us. I might want this business settled quickly as possible, but I’m not going to do it by burning out my family and greatest assets. And, the nap is what you decided to focus on, Darcy, really? Your priorities are as arseways as your sister’s.”
“Fine, what else d’you think I can add to all this?” Darcy wondered, genuinely confused. She’d already repeated everything she thought her grandmother would find important.
“I’d like to know about the kind of response the posts got on the different sites you’ve been looking at.”
“Oh,” Darcy said, a little taken aback, but shrugged and explained, “That’s easy, just scroll through the comments.”
“That, I can do easily. What I can’t do, however, is understand what the hell most of your generation mean by the half of what they say on the internet. For that I need interpretation.”
“Well some of them think it’s just a story, the blog I went on first posts a lot of horror stories and fiction like that, so it’s pretty reasonable to think so. Others think it’s just a dumb theory that someone made up to get hits, and ‘can’t wait to debunk it’. Generally, none of the people outside of the conspiracy theorists are taking it any way seriously.”
“But the conspiracy theorists are taking it seriously?”
“Yeah, a small group of them. But these are the same people who think the old gods were aliens who enslaved the human race to mine the earth for resources. No one outside of the conspiracy community takes them seriously.”
“The commenters who wanted to debunk the theory, do you think any of them were serious about that?”
“Some of them, yeah. One in particular, ‘sgtlgevans’, I talk to her a lot. She lives in Cardiff, and she’s a phenomenal researcher, especially when it comes to history – she’s got an MA. She’s especially interested in the more oddball aspects of history. Her seeing this would be like dangling a bag of crack in front of an addict.”
“Do you know a lot about her?”
“Her mother’s from Nigeria, her father’s Welsh, and a sergeant in the British Navy. Her first name’s Lupita, not sure whether she uses her mother or father’s surname in real life, but that her father’s is ‘Evans’,” Darcy informed her grandmother, “She’s got an excellent reputation online and, from what I can tell, in academia too. But unless she has access to the information the original writer had, she won’t be able to prove anything.”
“If this Lupita, or someone with a similar reputation on the site, looks into it and declared the theory fake, will others go along with their assessment, or will it just spark debate and draw more attention to the paper.”
“If a few of them agree that it’s bull, then yeah, most people’ll leave it alone. There’ll be a little bit of argument around it for a few days, but it’ll probably be ignored by anyone outside of the site. I say, let them at it, once we’ve secured the source of the leak.”
“Hmm,” Maeve hummed under her breath, “We’d have to put that off until we’ve found the original writer. That kind of response could be the thing that pisses them off enough to prompt them to make their sources public.”
“I can see that happening. I could get into contact with Lupita about it, admit that my family’s one of the ones they’re implicating in their work. I’ll tell her they’ve had people following us and we’re afraid they’ll expose more private information about us if we do anything to correct their theory.”
“You think that’ll make her, and others like her, back off?”
“She can, and knowing her she will, put the word around to other people she knows are interested in the theory that going after the author could expose innocent people they’ve fixated on to the anger of an unstable and obsessive person. That should keep any of them from looking into it.”
“You trust her that much.”
“Well, I trust your judgement on this, get in contact with her soon as ‘Tumblr’ is back up and running.”
“And forward the article to everyone before they arrive for the meeting, will you?”
“Already taken care of.”
“Excellent, darling,” Maeve complimented warmly, “They should arrive in a few hours, I’ll wake you when dinner’s ready.”
“Oh, come on, you weren’t serious about the nap?” Darcy demanded.
“I was, and I am. You can go upstairs willingly, or I can put you to sleep now and put you to bed myself.”
“Alright, I’ll go. But it’s under protest.”
“Your protest has been noted, and overruled.”
She wasn’t happy about being sent to bed like a child, but she knew her grandmother was right. She could feel her exhaustion weighing on her, and it was getting difficult for her to move and keep her eyes open, not to mind maintain any kind of rational thought. Besides, she couldn’t do any more for them at the minute. She wasn’t a computers expert, and she wasn’t in a position to access any kind of sensitive information. The extent of her research abilities were stretched to its capacity.
She needed to sleep, so she went to bed. Even though there was a lot still going on, she’d be completely useless to anybody if she didn’t. And though her research skills were capped, it was entirely possible that her grandmother would want her to explain what she found to the family, or for something else to do with the whole affair. It was with that in mind that she, quite literally, crawled into bed and fell unconscious the instant she lay down.
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Far too soon later someone shook her awake, to which Darcy objected strongly and loudly. Those objections were smoothly and totally ignored, and that someone gently pulled down the covers to expose her face. She sent a withering look at her father, who remained unaffected and smiled at her indulgently. She slapped at his hands, which were still holding her blankets hostage. He just laughed at her and stood, stealing her blankets entirely.
“Come on, my dear, up you get. Lunch is ready, and the family assembled,” he announced cheerfully, “It’s time to actually get dressed, and tell us all what’s going on, and why we’re all up in arms over a blog post a conspiracy theorist put up on line.”
“Alright, alright,” Darcy groaned as she dragged herself out of bed and towards her dresser, to find something to wear that was clean and not pyjamas, “That’s not going to happen with you here.”
“Okay, but if you fall asleep again I’ll be back,” he conceded with a chuckle, and left her alone, still carrying her blankets, to her frustration. She made a face at him as he closed the door, but he just grinned at her.
It didn’t take her long to wake herself up properly and get dressed. It took her a while longer, however, to steel herself to the fact that she was about to descend into pure and utter madness. Every single adult member of her family within driving distance was downstairs. They were worried, confused, and probably annoyed at being dragged away from their plans for the evening. They were more than she could handle when it was a good day for everyone involved, and she needed time to collect herself before she went down to talk to them all.
When she finally entered the dining room it was so loud she could hardly hear herself thinking. Her relatives were chattering away among themselves, joking, laughing and bickering as they always did. She took a deep breath and entered the room, already anticipating a terrible headache. Darcy was spotted almost instantly by her grandmother from her customary seat at the head of the table, who then waved her into the room very obviously, and effectively ended her thoughts of turning around and going back to bed.
“Darcy, you’ve surfaced,” she commented with a wry smile, “come on and sit down so we can get started with dinner.”
Their dinner was a loud, uproariously jovial affair, considering what they were assembled to discuss. They didn’t rush the meal, and none of them really seemed bothered by the situation in which they found themselves. Darcy, on the other hand, was almost vibrating out of her skin at that point of the day. She understood why her grandmother felt very assured; she had already examined the situation at length, and had experience successfully resolving similar shitstorms.
The rest of them, they didn’t have that kind of experience. They should be taking the whole thing a little more seriously. Darcy figured they hadn’t actually bothered to read the article she sent them before they came to the house, that they just skimmed it, or closed out of it all together as soon as they saw what kind of person wrote it. She knew one or two of her cousins would’ve disregarded the paper just because it was her that brought it to their grandmother’s attention.
Maeve didn’t do anything about it until everyone finished eating, as everyone knew she would – honestly, it was the only reason Darcy was able to make herself eat. When she decided it was time for the meeting to begin, she cleared her throat and the entire room fell silent. Darcy thought that was a very impressive thing to accomplish, and Maeve was the only one Darcy had ever seen to succeed in doing it.
“Have you all read the article I had Darcy forward to you?” she asked pleasantly. A good number of her relatives nodded and made other gestures of assent.
“It looks like whoever wrote this got information directly from a mage, or someone involved in the magical community,” Evelyn began the discussion, “Do we have any idea who leaked the information, or who posted it?”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any names,” Maeve answered, “but thanks to your daughter we do have a pseudonym the author uses for online dealings. It was included in the information she sent to all of you earlier today. Those of you who haven’t read through the paper and additional information, I suggest you do so now.”
“There’s nearly two hundred pages, do we all really need to go through the whole thing?” Amanda asked, tapping away on her tablet.
“At some point yes, but for now Darcy’s summary of our findings will do. Speaking of, do you still have that open on your computer darling?”
Darcy nodded and quickly went to fetch the device from where it still rested on the living room coffee table. She returned to the dining room and pulled up the article, along with everything else she’d gathered on the situation and writer, for her grandmother to pursue. She placed it on the table in front of her grandmother, and showed her where everything was on the laptop, then headed out again. She was familiar enough with the family’s meetings to recognise her queue to leave, as she was always required to do when things like that were going on.
Darcy was never really happy about the arrangement; it made her feel as juvenile as being sent to bed for a nap had. But no one was made part of the meetings, or officially included in the family business, until Maeve decided they were ready to be involved. Darcy had long given up arguing about her banishment from those serious meetings. She’d also long given up trying to eavesdrop on said meetings; there were far too many extremely talented and observant people present at them to get away with shit like that.
It was because of all that Darcy was incredibly surprised when her grandmother gestured for her to come back, and retake her seat. She wasn’t the only one. Darcy saw her father’s raised eyebrows, her mother’s pinched expression, her sister’s delighted grin. Some of her cousins were a lot more vocal in their shock, and their objections. Devak snorted a laugh, and Amanda let out an offended sound that was garbled to be almost unidentifiable through her mouthful of tea.
Maeve silenced them both with a quelling look.
“She’s no younger than anyone else in this room was when I brought you in,” she reminded them in a tone which left no room for argument.
“Besides, she’s a lot better than either of you were back then,” Lucy added with a grin as she steered Darcy back into the seat next to her. Her scathing comment left their cousins scowling at the both of them, and the rest of their relatives laughing at the pair of them being called out.
“And weren’t you still tromping around your jobs like a heard of stampeding rhinos when you started working Amanda?” Darcy’s brother Ryan chipped in with a smirk.
“That’s enough bickering, all of you,” Sam cut in before the issue could devolve further into the type of messy spat typical of their childhood – and unfortunately their adulthood too, “Considering it was Darcy who found the article and all the other information we have about it, she has as much right to sit in as anyone else.”
“Exactly right, Sam,” Maeve agreed.
Evelyn consented, albeit a little reluctantly, and the combined approval of Maeve and Darcy’s parents effectively ended the argument about her involvement.
“And before another argument starts, I’m taking her discovery very seriously, if any of you aren’t, I think what she has to say will change your opinion.”
And so Darcy stayed. She stayed with them for the rest of the day, through the night, until the sun was raised once again, and shining into her eyes at a near constant, and very annoying rate. She briefed them on the article, all the information she’d gathered, helped them dissect the article and all of the circumstances surrounding it.
Darcy spent a lot of time helping Anvi, Navya, and Ryan find the author on other sites and trace them. Meanwhile, the rest of the family called around to spread the news of the leak to their fellow mages, and made strategies for dealing with the writer when they found them, and to stop any further spread of the information. In total, the meeting lasted for the guts of twenty hours, if you include meal breaks.
By the time Maeve called an end to the meeting and assigned everyone their new duties Darcy was more exhausted than she could ever remember being. But it was worth it, because at the end of it all they had the name of the original author, his address. With all that, it was just a matter of time until they got to Jason Carlisle or ‘fr33d0m3f1ght3r68’ as he preferred to be known, and ‘convinced’ him to come forward and say he fabricated the whole thing.
The only thing Darcy could see going wrong with the plan was that it would take time to get to him. Time in which the websites they were blocking could get back up and running, since her aunt’s attention was focused elsewhere for the past day or so, and she would require sleep at some point very soon. Time in which Carlisle could decide to post his article and/or sources on another website, one that they and their compatriots weren’t monitoring. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for something like that to slip through the cracks long enough to cause a problem. They didn’t exactly have unlimited resources to hound every website full of crazies twenty-four/seven.
And if he did post elsewhere, others could look into it in that time; they could spread the shitshow further. The only way to prevent him from doing it would be to hack his computer and delete all the files they could find. But they couldn’t pin down his IP address, he was using some kind of signal jammer, the paranoid git, and it was unbelievably irritating.
And so, containing the leak relied on them, or their contacts, getting to Carlisle before any of that could happen. It was risky, and it required a lot of fraught waiting around for news, but it was the only plan they could reasonably carry out without drawing unwanted attention to themselves. There were a lot of things that could go wrong, but once again Darcy was just too tired to care about that by the end of their meeting.
That time when she crawled into bed, barely able to keep her eyes open, it wasn’t under her grandmother’s orders. But she fell asleep just as quickly, vowing to herself that if anyone tried to wake her up and the house wasn’t burning down, she’d poison them.
She really was very good with poisons.
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