"Horner has been made," Peridot reports to Geoffrey, "We have to neutralize him."
"I saw the feed," Geoffrey answers, "Horner isn't a total loss yet. Shadows suspects something, but he doesn't know about the chip we implanted in him."
"But when he lets their local doctor run a scan..." Peridot says, not needing to finish the sentence.
"We'll get the chip removed before we send him back to Drake's Hollow," Geoffrey replies.
Peridot shifts slightly in her chair, her eyes resting on the large relic of book Geoffrey has on his desk. He hasn't mentioned it or told her what it is, and she won't ask. He doesn't tell her everything, she's noticed, and she wonders if that's a sign that he doesn't fully trust her. "I don't understand," she says hesitantly, "What use is Horner to us without the chip? Why go through the trouble of removing it and sending him back? He's become a liability; who knows what he could tell the Brannons about Bluewater? His contract with Bluewater would allow us to deploy him anywhere in the world, and quietly take him out. No one would be the wiser."
Geoffrey frowns sternly at her, "You put so little value on a man's life?" he asks. Her mouth opens as if to speak, and closes again as her brows furrow in confusion. "No, you are what I made you to be, aren't you?" he asks, a rhetorical question he doesn't expect her to answer, "You're an assassin, trained to put the needs of the company ahead of everything. Even your own life. I won't pretend to have clean hands, but I'm not ready to throw Horner away just yet. The chip has to be removed before we send him back, but I do want him to go back. There are still ways he can be useful to us. I've been working on less invasive ways to get a mole into their nest. Post hypnotic suggestion may even work against the Hawksquill's ability to read the past, if we go deep enough, repress real history with a false one. I've sent an agent in recently to test that theory. If it works, we may be able to do the same with Horner."
Shadow's shop manager, Charlie Glover, quit suddenly, giving no explanation, leaving Shadow in a bit of a bind to find a suitable replacement. Drake's Hollow is a small town and not many of its citizens have the interest or knowledge required to manage a shop dealing with magical potions and the like. But as luck would have it, an applicant with excellent qualifications arrived the same day Charlie failed to show up. Adan Smythe has a vast knowledge of the occult, and, a recent immigrant to Drake's Hollow, is in need of a job.
Iola can read the man's whole history just by shaking his hand. He seems sincere enough, and passes her test.
So far neither Ryan nor Fergus have shown signs of having precognitive visions, but they've both inherited the Hawksquill ability to read the past, so Iola spends time with them each evening, training them as her father trained her, to take in so much history at once without allowing it to overwhelm their consciousness.
Fergus has some difficulty paying attention to his mother, entranced by the painting over the desk he shares with his brother. He had shown a strong interest in art even as a toddler, so on his birthday, his grandfather Farrell let him choose any painting he wanted for his room. As soon as he saw this image of a man battling a dragon, he knew he had to have it, and spent many hours since gazing at it.
His mother explains about how objects accumulate memories as they pass through time, pass through hands. "People invest emotion into objects, and that emotion remains within them for a very long time. The longer an object has existed, and the more people that have interacted with it in some meaningful way, the more history you will read from it when you take it in your own hands," she says.
The painting of the dragon slayer has no history, Fergus knows. It went from manufacturer to shop to his wall with little meaningful contact. The man who drew the original didn't even invest much emotion in the creation of it, it was simply his job to create a series of paintings based on fairy tale themes to decorate the childrens' rooms. But whenever Fergus looks at it, he's filled with the sense of history he gets from very old objects, but more, it's i history he feels as one who lived it, not something he sees played out like a movie in his mind. The weight of armor on his chest, the heft of a sword in his hand, the heat of the dragon's fiery breath, the exultation of taking it down, watching the life die in its eyes...
Farrell and Aouregan pay a visit to their daughter and her husband.
Their son, Dexter, is a toddler now, and hasn't inherited the magical ability of Aouregan's line, though he has her bright blue eyes.
Sometimes he's the dragon slayer, but sometimes, Fergus is the dragon. (No one has been able to convince him that this costume is a dinosaur and not a dragon.)
Fergus the dragon takes revenge on the human village for slaying one of his brothers.
"Witches are more powerful than dragons," Ryan challenges, "I could defeat you with a simple spell."
"Go ahead and try," Fergus taunts.
Fergus does not have fiery breath and his talons are soft and plush. Both boys have inherited their father's magic, but neither is old enough to cast a spell yet. So their duel must be resolved another way, with the pillows from their parents' bed.
"Sweetie, it works better if you scootch back a bit so you aren't sitting on the xylophone," Delaney advises, spending some time before her planned job for the night with her daughter.
She leaves Jilly to figure it out on her own, glancing back one more time before heading down the stairs, a bit reluctant to leave.
Jace passes her on the way down. She's never come out and told her family that she's a master thief, but it's hardly a secret, either. Jace grew up learning to never speak of it, or ask his mother questions about where she went at night.
"So, I had Dr. Hawksquill check me out," Jack says, meeting Shadow for a drink at the Toadstool, "No tumors or anything."
"That's good," Shadow says, in a voice that doesn't sound quite convinced.
"Well, yeah," Jack says, puzzled by Shadow's response, "Not having a tumor is pretty damn good."
"No, of course," Shadow says, mustering a smile, "I am happy for you. It's just, I wish I knew the source of the darkness I felt. It clings to you..."
"You think this darkness is worse than being sick?" Jack asks.
"I really don't know," Shadow says, "I've never seen or heard of anything like this. I wish I was just imagining it, but I don't just imagine things. Now that we've ruled out a medical condition, I'm going to continue my research into a more spiritual source for this darkness."
"Maybe it's just me," Jack says quietly, "I haven't been exactly the best kind of guy..."
"It's not you, Jack. You aren't a dark person by nature. And you are the best kind of people. I know you, I've known you since childhood. You were mischievous, and rebellious, but never really mean. You don't give yourself enough credit."
And turned it into the perfect empanada.
"Your father says Jack is okay," Shadow tells Iola.
"Well, that's good," she answers.
"I'm still worried about him."
"Of course you are," Iola says, "You want to solve everyone's problems and won't rest until you have."
Jace will be graduating soon, and has already started making plans for his future. "I'm going to propose to Kirsten right after we graduate," he says, "And then we'll have our first baby."
"Slow down there," Delaney laughs, "You're a little young to start thinking about being a parent."
"You were my age when you had me," Jace says, "I'm going to finish school first, but I want a family right away."
She's too young to have a midlife crisis. She also too young to have a son graduating high school and talking about making her a grandmother. Delaney looks at the pictures of her childhood, pictures with Cassidy when they were children and shared this room, a picture of herself and Jack as teens at the Autumn Festival, not long before she got pregnant with Jace, and a picture of the three of them right after she and Jack started getting back together again. Life has gone by so quickly, the son she had as a teen is now a teen himself, getting ready to become an adult. And here she is, still living n the same room she grew up in. She always liked it here, and never wanted it to change, never wanted Cass to leave her behind, but for all of them to stay young forever.
"A retirement party?" Jack laughs, "Babe, you haven't even got your first wrinkle."
"And I'm not going to get one any time soon. Cole has taken off and I haven't heard from him, and I'm tired of running his show. I was only in it for the thrill, and the thrill is gone," Delaney says, "So I'm throwing myself a big bash and quitting." And what better place to have getting out of the business party than the warehouse they use to stash their gods before they fence it?
Shadow and Iola come to dance the afternoon away.
Even Ian shows up with his cougar wife.
"What about Cole, Laney?" Jack asks, "He's probably going to come back sometime and want to know why his business went to shit."
Delaney shrugs, "I'm not afraid of him. And, I know more about him. He's not in this for money, either. He left this in my hands when he took off, and I'm changing direction. I'm thinking of converting this place into a coffeeshop. It's already set up for it, pretty much."
"Let's take a picture," Delaney says, "I want to remember this day."
After installing UL, my game decided to shuffle around my shop cashiers, and the previous cashier in Shadow's shop, Charlie Glover, disappeared, replaced by new guy. So I decided to work that into the story.
Her 'retirement party' is actually a party thrown by Jack, Ian and Cougar Wife, who still all live in that warehouse together. For the story, Jack lives somewhere in the city most of the time while training for Bluewater, and 'lives' with the Brannons when he's in Drake's Hollow. Of course he's only spending the night when he's there, since Delaney has the single parent roll. But since in the story, both Jack and Ian have moved on from the crime career and are not supposed to be living there, I made the party be Delaney's.
It was actually pretty rockin' for an NPC party, though I didn't use any pictures of the guests, there were lots of them. And they all brought food, so it wasn't one of those lame affairs where everyone, including the host, is going around complaining of starving.
I will be finding new homes for Jack, Ian & Cougar so I can re-convert the warehouse into a coffeeshop using the barista thing from UL.
This party also counted for Shadow's 'social bunny' goal. The book club idea is fun, but the venue I have is too small and gives me a lot of routing failures. So, hopefully the new venue Delaney is buying will work better. It certainly has a larger space for roaming around in.