Eleanor Warwick’s world is a secret.
It’s not only her secret. Many people know it. Just not everyone. Because then it wouldn’t be a secret.
The secret of Eleanor Warwick’s world is magic. Eleanor Warwick is a wizard, or sorcerer, or mage, or witch, or whatever you fancy. She and many others like her can conjure and control the elusive force. This gives them a great deal of power, and we know what people say about power.
Eleanor Warwick’s secret world was around long before she was. Long before her parents met. Long before the city her parents met in was founded. Long before the country within which was the city her parents met was established. Long before the continent upon which was the country within which was the city her parents met was “discovered” by Europeans.
For centuries, practitioners plied the art to shape the world around them. Thirst for power prompted a few lapses in judgment. The Black Death was no one person’s fault, but let’s just say mistakes were made.
Inhabitants of this secret world colloquially know it as the Shadow Side. It is home to all manner of scary things. Vampires and werewolves and zombies and ghosts and just about anything else that could stand to threaten a plucky heroine of fiction. Luckily, Eleanor Warwick doesn’t scare easily. She has a slight apprehension of bees, but she doesn’t cross paths with them much.
She lives in the venerable metropolis of Carmadie, after all. For almost two centuries, powerful wizard Houses rose, all grasping for power. The power of the wizards continued to grow until the other denizens of the Shadow Side feared they would soon be dominated by wizards.
The vampires were the only group with the numbers to do anything about it. The numerous vampire covens were close to uniting against wizard dominance when the city’s elder House proposed a series of treaties.
The rules would restrict the behavior of all parties. They were difficult to negotiate and everyone left the table with a bitter taste in their mouths. The first few years were ugly, with violations on all sides, but the strength and influence of Carmadie’s elder House kept the peace. If the House of Warwick stood strong, the treaties would as well.
Our tale begins in Eleanor Warwick’s bedroom. It is a bedroom unlike the bedrooms of most 12-year-olds. There are no posters of popular singers on the walls. There are no video game entertainment systems.
Instead, a large globe with shiny brass fittings sits in the corner. A telescope points out the window. Almost every night, she and her telescope fight a brave, but futile battle against Carmadie’s light pollution. A small, overburdened bookcase sits against the wall.
Eleanor leans back against her pillows. She turns slowly through a worn copy of Breakfast of Champions. The light of her bedside lamp reflects off her thick-framed glasses. Her curly blonde hair sprouts from her head like a bud of broccoli.
Her door opens a crack. Lowering her book, she watches. The door remains still for a moment but then begins to close. “Dad?” she calls.
The door stops again. After another still moment, it opens fully. Gordon Warwick enters his daughter’s room with a smile on his face. A similar pair of glasses rests on his nose. The two look nothing alike.
He is tall and thin, with sharp features. Eleanor is an average height for her age, with a softer, rounder shape she would maintain into adulthood. The only thing marking them as father and daughter were their eyes; shimmering blue with flecks of gold.
“What are you still doing up?”
“It’s not that late.”
“Hey, I’m the one that decides that.”
The elder Warwick sits on the edge of the bed. He takes the book from his daughter’s hands and looks it over. “More Vonnegut, huh? What do you see in him?”
“Conversational prose and dry wit.”
“He rambles too much. He’s a literary scattergun. Now Hemingway- .”
“Hemingway is boring.”
Gordon feigns offense before smiling. “I’m going to get you for that one.”
Eleanor smiles back until her dad glances back at the door. “Are you alright, Dad?”
Looking back at her, Gordon smiles unconvincingly. “Of course. Everything’s fine. There’s…there’s just something I have to take care of.”
Eleanor sits up straighter. “Let me come with you! I can help!”
“But I want to do what you do! I want to protect the city, be a hero!”
Gordon places his hands on her shoulders. “Calm down, Ellie. First of all, we’re not heroes, okay? That’s not why we do what we do. What does it mean to be a Warwick?”
“It means doing what no one else will, taking responsibility.”
Gordon nods slowly, his eyes heavy. “That’s right, sweetheart. We don’t go looking for fights. We just do what must be done. That doesn’t make us heroes.”
Eleanor lowers her head, disappointed.
“Hey,” Gordon says. His daughter looks up at him. “What is magic?”
“Come on, Dad.”
“What is magic?”
Sighing, Eleanor answers, “A gift.”
“That’s right. We have a responsibility to wield it to make the world better. There are so many of us that use it for selfish ambitions. We have to be above that sort of thing, right?”
“It’s a tremendous power we have, and what does power give you the right to do?”
“Good girl. The Warwick mantle will be yours…someday You’ll have your chance and when it comes, I want you to remember that.”
Eleanor brightens at the possibility. “I’ll be just like you,” she declares, excitedly.
Gordon smiles faintly. “Hopefully better.”
“What do you mean?”
Ignoring the question, Gordon pulls Eleanor in and hugs her. “I love you, Ellie.”
“I love you, too, Dad,”
Gordon raises and heads for the door. He looks back. “Henry’s going to stay with you.” Eleanor makes a displeased face that makes her father chuckle. “I know. He can be a pain, but he knows his stuff. I want you to listen to him. Do as he says. Until I get back, I mean. Goodnight, Ellie.”
Gordon offers one more reassuring smile before closing the door. Eleanor is only 12, but she can sense something is wrong. After giving her dad time to walk away, she slips off her sheets out of her bedroom.
She pads down the carpeted hallway of her family home until she comes to a staircase. Peeking around the corner, she finds her dad talking quietly with his oldest friend.
“This is a mistake, Gordon,” Henry says.
“I have to do something.”
“You don’t, and absolutely shouldn’t.”
“A Warwick does- .”
“Oh, spare me the propaganda. Only a fool takes on a fight he can’t win. You have a daughter to think about.”
“I am!” Gordon snaps. “Every time I chase some new threat out of this city, I’m doing it for her!”
“This isn’t just another threat.”
Gordon nods. “I know. It’s the threat. Which makes it impossible to ignore, consequences be damned.”
“Damning consequences don’t make them go away.”
“As long as Eleanor is taken care of, I don’t care about the rest.” Gordon places a hand on Henry’s shoulder. “And should the worst happen, I’m confident she will be.”
Henry looks at Gordon’s hand and then back to him with an incredulous expression. “Me? You can’t be serious.”
“There’s no one else I would trust with her.”
“I’m on my third marriage, Gordon.”
“None of them have produced children. That’s on purpose.”
Gordon smiles. “It’s just a worst-case scenario, Henry. I’m sure I’ll be back before you know it.” He turns to the door out of his House.
“Gordon.” He stops and turns back to Henry. His friend wore a grim expression. “Don’t do this.”
Gordon hesitates before turning back to the door. “I’ll see you, Henry.
As the door closes, Henry stares forward. After a moment, he looks over his shoulder to the top of the staircase. He sees nothing.
Eleanor races back to her bedroom and throws herself onto her bed. She hugs her pillow like a life preserver. She buries her face in the linen.
She isn’t sure what Henry and her father talked about, but they didn’t seem confident. It makes her stomach tight. Sleep eludes her even into the early morning hours. She continues to cling to her pillow.
Suddenly, a rush of energy washes over her. She gasps as she can feel her awareness expand. The House’s magic, built up over generations of Warwicks, surges inside her. Her senses spread like a bat’s sonar.
She can smell the disinfectant in the bathrooms. She can hear the soft hum of the freezer in the kitchen. She knows Henry is still down in the study. She can feel him. It’s as if she and House Warwick are the same.
Her lip trembles and her crystal blue eyes water. She knows what has just happened. She inherited House Warwick and received her birthright. That meant only one thing: her father was gone.
She cries out in agony and presses her face into her pillow, sobbing uncontrollably.