I found myself standing out in my old backyard.
The day was nearing its end and the sun and dipping below the horizon, casting long shadows. The insects were already out in force and I could hear the crickets chirping incessantly beyond the boundary of the property.
The headache that had been building up over the course of the meeting had slowly dissipated as I had drank in the cold, fresh air of the early evening. It made easier to think, which in itself was as much a blessing as a curse.
"You feeling any better now?"
I looked over at the balding wizard who had volunteered to accompany me outside. He was standing a few feet away and looked pretty relaxed considering everything. "A bunch," I said. "Your name's McCoy, right?"
"Ebenezer McCoy," He introduced himself and stepped closer. He passed the gnarled staff in his hands to his left and held out his right hand.
"Harry Dresden," I said back to him as I reached over and clasped his hand. I immediately felt a faint charge akin to static electricity pass between us at the contact. If I had had any doubts that he was a wizard before, that swept them away. You only got that sort of reaction from touching another practitioner.
The older wizard's grip was almost painfully firm and his palm was tough and leathery. I responded in kind, squeezing back just as hard until the older man relented and let go.
He gave me a brief grin and nodded to the staff I held in my left hand. "That's a mighty nice lookin' staff you've got there," he said, "It good for anything aside from looking fancy?"
Despite the situation, I found myself returning the grin. "As much as I imagine that hunk of driftwood you're lugging around is good for."
McCoy gave a bark of laughter. "Quick witted, ain't you?"
"I'm not too shabby," I admitted and found myself glancing toward the still figures surrounding the yard. Their grey cloaks made it hard to see them in the dusk. "You're American as well, aren't you?" I asked suddenly, looking back toward the balding wizard.
"That's right," McCoy said as he leaned on his staff and regarded me for a long moment. "Complicated situation you've got yourself into, ain't it?"
"Looks that way," I said and looked back toward the charred and busted remains of my old house.
"I'm not one for politics," McCoy told me. "I like to keep things clean and simple. So, I'm gonna ask you straight." He nodded toward the house. "When they were talking in there about who was responsible for you, you didn't look too thrilled about leavin' the Leviathan."
"That's a statement, not a question," I pointed out.
"The way I see it, it's both." He said. "You seem like a smart kid, I reckon you're smart enough to know that no matter how young she looks, or how ditzy she likes to act, she's a devil and she's older than the country we're standing in.
"What's your point?"
"My question for you, lad, is why are you so interested in sticking with her? Her savin' your life don't mean she owns you."
"She didn't just save me," I said to the balding wizard. "She took me in and gave me a home after everything that happened. I'm not going to repay her kindness by running away the first chance I get."
McCoy was silent for a second or two. "I reckon that ain't unfair," he said.
"So what's going to happen now?" I asked suddenly. "They're going to fight over who gets to keep me?"
The old wizard gave a nod. "Mai isn't one to give up without exhausting all her options. But, while we'd prefer to keep you away from the devils for your own sake, if you don't want to, we can't exactly force you." He went silent for a moment. "In the end it's your choice, and you're going to have to live with the consequences of it."
I frowned and glanced back to the house. "If it's my choice, why does it feel like mine was the only voice that didn't matter?"
"Even though it's your choice, you still have to abide by the Laws set down by the council." McCoy reached up and ran his fingers through his beard. "Truth be told, Mai wasn't lying. The concern that DuMorne may have messed with your training and addled your mind in ways that ain't clearly obvious is a big one."
I nodded slowly and licked my lips. I wanted to come right out and say that there was nothing wrong with me. But then, I wasn't entirely sure that was the case.
Justin had kept Elaine and I isolated from anything that could give away the ruse. No one on the white council had known about us, and we hadn't even known it existed. What would the point have been to do that, if Justin hadn't always intended to enthrall us? What would the point have been, unless he was afraid that we'd do something to give his treachery away?
"How can I tell?" I finally asked, glancing back at the older wizard.
"You can't," He admitted. "People going down a dark road can never tell where they're headed."
I grimaced. That was awfully poetic, not something I'd have expected out of a grizzled old man like him. But, I had expected as much.
Nothing was ever that easy in my life.
"Who would they send me to?" I asked. "How long would it be?"
"I don't know," McCoy said. "Your case is fairly unique, off the top of my head I can't think of a youngster who's been stuck in your situation. Usually when the council finds them, they're either just coming into their magic and need a full apprenticeship, or they've already broken the laws and need to be taken care of before they hurt more people."
He hadn't come outright and said it, but 'taken care of'… If that wasn't a PG way to say 'killed' I didn't know what was. I was suddenly feeling a lot more grateful for Lea's intervention. If it had been just me I don't know what would have happened, what I would have done.
It was only then, as I found myself becoming introspective, that I noticed that the sun had well and truly set, and night had arrived. Over inside the house, I could see the flickering lights of candles inside that cast strange shadows through the broken windows.
I had hated coming back here the first time, and this time wasn't any different. "Can I ask you a question?" I said suddenly.
"I don't see why not."
I took a moment to carefully think out what I was about to ask. "I'm trying to make a protective talisman for fire," I told him. "I've made a few prototypes, and I thought I had it figured out with my last one, but once it absorbs all the fire it starts to overheat and get hot enough to melt through plastic."
As I spoke, McCoy's grey eyebrows rose up. "That's mighty complicated for someone your age. It's impressive that you managed to get that far on your own," he said and took a moment to consider. "The issue is likely to be one of two things. Either you're forcing it to absorb too much thermal energy at once and it's overloading, or the formulae ain't precise enough and the energy is leaking."
I held back a grimace. Bob had been pretty clear that I had to be laser precise with the runes that I had carved, and I was certain that I had been, despite it being too damn hard to inscribing them on the inside of the ring with a nail. It had taken me hours to even get one done correctly, and if what he was saying was true, I hadn't managed to even do that.
On the other hand, he had said that I could have been overloading it with fire. I never had tried to use less fire, but then, what good would it have been in the Rating Game? There was no reason that Raiser and his peerage would just use 'less' fire, for all intents and purposes the amount I used would pale in comparison to an actual fight.
Less wasn't an option.
I was so deep in thought, I didn't notice the look that McCoy was giving me until he spoke. "I have an offer for you, if you're interested."
"What is it?"
McCoy was silent for a few seconds. "A compromise. You want to stay with the Leviathan, and from what I gather, you've been living in Japan. While it'd be a bit of a hassle, that ain't much in the grand scheme of things."
The old wizard regarded me for a long moment. "Come stay with me for a month. We'll get everything sorted out and the council will be happy you ain't gonna jump off the deep end."
"Just a month?" I asked, surprised. "From the way they were talking it sounded like years."
"To complete your apprenticeship it would take years. Three weeks is the bare minimum that it'll take to satisfy the council. A few months would be more preferable, but, as I said, all sides will have to compromise on what they want."
I chewed over the idea in silence. A month was all I had until the match between Rias and her ass of a fiance—technically, I had under a month.
But that wasn't the main thing, was it? This wasn't about Rias and her match. This was about me and my future. Serafall had gone out of her way to make it appear that I was still human, and to keep me in the White Council's good books. She'd also gone out of her way to make sure that they couldn't just take me away.
"What happens at the end?" I suddenly asked.
McCoy gave a shrug of a shoulder. "One of three things. First, if you're cleared, we can, if you're still interested, continue the apprenticeship, though it'd be piecemeal. The second is much like the first, except, if you impress me enough I'll give you a hand on speeding up your recognition as a wizard and you'll be out of my hair a lot sooner."
"And the third?" I asked, my voice quiet.
He didn't answer straight away.
I understood why. If I didn't get through the evaluation, and it turned out that Justin had done something, or taught me something wrong, it wouldn't be a case of him letting me go on my merry way.
"We'll cross that bridge if we ever come to it," he said finally. "I think it's your best bet at this time, but in the end the choice ain't up to me."
I nodded slowly, falling silent once again and digesting what he said. It was a hard choice to make, but everything inside me told me that the old man was on the up and up. I didn't know what it was, but there was something about him that made it easy to trust him.
But if that's all it took, then I would have already said yes. There were other things to consider. I still needed to see Serafall every few days to stabilize the evil piece she had placed inside me.
Sona was another issue. Somehow, I don't think she would have approved of me ditching school for a month to study with a wizard.
Or maybe she would? It was a kind of learning. Either way, there was no doubt that when I got back my schoolwork would be waiting for me.
"I can leave whenever I want?" I asked suddenly, looking to McCoy.
He didn't answer straight away. "I won't stop you," he said finally. "But we'll both have to answer to the council, and they won't be happy about it. Best case scenario you get a stern talking to and are politely asked to continue the apprenticeship until you're a full fledged wizard."
"And worse case?"
"They send someone after you to bring you in and things become a heck of a mess."
That much I expected. Somehow I couldn't see Serafall reacting pleasantly to any heavy-handedness. When he said things would get messy, I believed him. That left one last question that I had to know the answer of.
"Why are you offering to help me?"
The balding wizard let loose a faint chuckle. "Call me sentimental, but you remind me a bit of my old apprentice, perhaps a bit less headstrong."
I stared at him before glancing over at my old house.
It took me a few moments to say what I had already decided.
"Alright, let's do it."
McCoy gave me a nod of approval. "Good, now let's go tell those old dames in there that we young men have made our decision."
I gave him a funny look.
He raised an eyebrow as if daring me to challenge him on his choice of words.
I just shook my head and smiled as we made our way back toward the candle lit house.
The atmosphere inside the derelict house hadn't improved since I had stepped outside.
Serafall was glaring at Ancient Mai, her arms folded across her chest. The wizards in the room looked to be on edge—really, the only one who didn't look like they were about to throw down was my godmother.
Lea stood to the side, seemingly at peace with everything, a placid smile on her lips despite the tension in the room. Her eyes had locked onto me the moment I had stepped foot inside. The others followed soon after and I found myself the centre of attention again.
Ebenezer stepped in to the room beside me and to my relief, drew the attention away from me. "The boy—Harry—" He nodded to Serafall. "—has agreed to spend a few weeks with me to allay any concerns," McCoy announced, nodding his head toward the other wizards.
"You are overstepping your bounds, Wizard McCoy." Ancient Mai frowned. "Your role here is to provide security, nothing more."
"Be that as it may, a solution that we can all agree on is better than the alternative, is it not?"
The old Asian wizard was silent as she stared back at the balding American wizard until finally she inclined her head. "It is as you say, Wizard McCoy. A diplomatic solution is always preferable to the alternative."
A flood of relief ran through me that lasted about as long as it took for Serafall to grab me by the hand and drag me over into an unoccupied corner.
"What's he talking about, Harry?" Serafall demanded to know, her voice quiet and confused.
"Isn't this what you wanted?" I asked her. "A few weeks with him and he'll give me a clean bill of mental health and I don't have to worry about this stuff again."
Serafall bit down on her bottom lip and looked away from me. I could practically see the gears turning in her head as she tried to come up with any sort of reason for me not to.
Her eyes soon returned to me, filled with determination. "But if you go with him you'll miss school!" she insisted. "You can't miss school! Sona would think badly of me, you don't want that, do you?"
I considered it.
Serafall's eyes widened in panic. "H-Harry?" she stammered, a pout forming on her lips.
"She'll be fine with it as long as I catch up on school work," I pointed out to Serafall, a smile on my lips. "Plus, I'm sure she won't complain about it since technically I'm still being taught something."
The pout fell away and Serafall's expression became impassive. "Are you sure?" she asked, her voice quiet.
I wasn't, but I didn't let it show. "It'll be fine," I told her. "If anything goes wrong you'll come and save me, right?" I said, intending it to come out playfully.
Serafall's eyes went hard and she nodded seriously. "Of course," she said, more to herself then me. "I'll freeze heaven and earth to protect you and Sona." She took a deep breath and turned around to face Mai and the others, before walking over to them.
As Serafall engaged the wizards in the room in diplomatic relations, I watched my godmother move to my side, unobstructed by the twin-tailed Satan.
"A curious creature, the Leviathan is," she spoke, her voice quiet and only for my ears.
I glanced at Lea and found her eyes directed toward Serafall. I couldn't help but find my gaze stuck on her lovely, otherworldly features. She noticed, and her gaze briefly drew back to me, a languid smile upon her lips, for a brief moment before her eyes returned to the other devil in the room.
"Such a playful demeanour she puts forth, childlike and full of delight and wonder, and yet for all the innocence there are few creatures of power in this world or the next that would wilfully incur her ire."
I wanted to ask her what her point was, but something in my gut told me to hold my silence for the moment. Lea wasn't speaking to me. She was speaking aloud to herself, and I just happened to be overhearing due to how close I was to her. It was a fine line that she had to walk and I was more than happy to let her do it, it saved me incurring a debt toward her.
Considering I hadn't fulfilled our previous one, that seemed more than a bit dangerous to me.
"It was many seasons ago, the old devils sought to tame the Leviathan by stealing away the Sitri's young upon the eve of its birth." The red headed sidhe closed her eyes and a shiver of delight ran through her. "Such was the pain she visited upon her enemies that even my Queen took notice."
A pit formed in my stomach, it was the same feeling I got when I had seen the straitjacket that Justin had intended to use on me—or when I had found out that I still had to go to school, despite having been turned into a devil.
I would be willing to bet my left arm that she was talking about Sona. Serafall was absolutely obsessed with her younger sister, that much had been obvious from the get go. She loved her sister with a passion that bordered on inappropriate.
I couldn't say I knew a whole lot about the Sidhe, comparatively. Most of what I had learned had come from Lea and Justin when he had occasionally instructed Elaine and I about them, like their inability to lie, but twist the truth and present it in a misleading way, or their abilities with Glamour, able to make realistic illusions and false emotions, or their aversion to cold iron.
The most important thing that I had learned, was that there was a universal food chain, and at the top, above wizards, gods and everything in between was the Queen of Air and Darkness.
There was a reason that when She said 'Sign these Accords and abide by them' that everyone listened. The stories that I had been told painted a terrifying picture. If Justin was to be believed, just thinking about her was enough to draw her attention to you, and if you were feeling suicidal then saying her name three times was a sure fire way to die in the most horrifying ways possible by a being whose cruelty was only outdone by her creativity in administering said cruelty.
It was that nightmare that had taken note of what Serafall had done.
Had anyone but my godmother told me, I wouldn't have believed them.
Instead, I found myself staring at the back of Serafall's head as she discussed the terms of my staying with Ebenezer for the next month. She was the only one with a smile on her lips. The wizards were all straight faced and tense.
I suppose I would have been as well in their position. No matter how full of smiles and playfulness that Serafall was, she was still a Satan, and you didn't become one of the four rulers of the Underworld by collecting bottle caps.
But, that didn't mean I had any reason to fear her, nor should I— Unless I had plans to harm Sona. Serafall had never done anything to hurt me, it was entirely the opposite.
It made me wonder why Lea had told me what she did. Had it been to warn me about Serafall? Unlikely, and it was just as unlikely that she had said it to make me distance myself from the twin-tailed devil. It may have been as simple as her trying to impress upon me who Serafall was or far more complex than I was able to realize.
I was so deep in thought that I barely noticed when Lea's fingers touched on my cheek, and I only stirred when I felt them draw down to my chest and rest over the amulet hidden beneath my shirt. "I do not like being made to wait," Lea said to me, her voice soft and chiding. "If you persist, I will have to visit."
Between her close proximity, her touch and honeyed voice, I found myself briefly struggling against the feelings she inspired in me. "I thought you said you couldn't go where I was going," I blurted out before I could stop myself.
Lea's smile widened ever so slightly, revealing those lovely white teeth of hers. "Japan is not so far out of way, in hindsight," she said, her hand dropping away.
It was probably for the best, a second later Serafall turned back toward us and her eyes immediately narrowed. "What are you doing so close to Harry?" The violet eyed devil demanded to know, all but stomping over toward Lea and I.
My godmother's smile simply widened. "A pleasure as always, Leviathan," Lea demurred, casting me one last glance before she departed. It wasn't so much that she left, as much as it was that she simply wasn't there anymore.
Serafall gave a huff. "You need to stop talking with her, nothing good comes from that woman," she told me sourly before perking up. "It's all sorted!" she exclaimed. "You're going to go on wizard camp for a few weeks to get your magic wand license."
I decided not to correct her. "Cool," I said.
She smiled brightly and bobbed her head up and down quickly. "It is! I wish I could go," she said wistfully before sighing and reaching forward.
Her hand touched upon by chest, much in the same way that Lea had mere moments before, except unlike Lea, Serafall wasn't quite as tall and had to reach up, rather than across.
This time I felt the magic circle forming before it appeared beneath us.
"Where are we going?" I asked her, unable to ignore the intensity of which the wizards in the room were focusing on us.
"We're going to get your things, of course," Serafall said happily.
As the circle below us began to increase in intensity, I shut my eyes and clutched my staff a bit tighter in my hand. I was rewarded by not being blinded as the power took hold and whisked us away.
When I opened my eyes again, I found myself standing in Sona's living room and Serafall was already on her way to find Sona, noticeably heading toward her bedroom. "I'll tell Sona everything!" She said, casting a glance over her shoulder at me with a grin. "Get packing."
I didn't bother to respond and followed after her into the hallway toward my room.
The first thing I did when I opened my door was realize that there was a problem that I hadn't even considered. Two— to be specific, and they were both at the derelict church.
Mittelt and Bob.
Leaving them together for a full month was a horrible idea. I had been hesitant to leave them together for a few hours this morning. But I had no way to get there and take Bob back without letting Serafall know about the fallen angel. I was under no illusion about my ability to sneak out without Serafall noticing, and I had no idea what her reaction would be to Mittelt.
Chances were she'd blast first and ask questions never.
Separating the two bad influences from each other was only one part of the troubles I found myself considering. Mittelt didn't have enough food to last a month, especially with how voracious an appetite she seemed to have. That wasn't to say that she'd starve, I doubted that would happen, but it'd be unpleasant to say the least— especially for me once I returned.
If being a whiny pain was an Olympic sport, Mittelt would take the gold. It made me wonder why I had taken on the task of taking care of her. Surely the kitten that Bob had brought home had been enough of a stray.
Thankfully packing turned out to be a small task and only required enough brain power that I only failed to shove my clothes into my old backpack twice while I considered what I was going to do.
In the end I decided to have a little faith in Bob and Mittelt, as much as everything inside me told me it was a bad idea. The only dilemma left was somehow telling them what was happening.
Unfortunately, most of my acquaintances had an aversion to going to Church. There wasn't really anyone I knew that weren't devils.
Well— that wasn't entirely accurate, I just wished it was.
With my bag packed, I made my way toward the telephone in the living room. There was one benefit to living with the student council president, especially one as dedicated as Sona. She had the contact information for everyone at the school in a neat little book near the phone that she had insisted that neither Issei, nor I ever touch.
Unfortunately it seemed the honor system was able to take its first hit.
I flipped through the pages and found the number I needed before I punched it in.
The phone rang a few times before someone on the other end picked up.
I pinched my nose and took a deep breath. "Hey, it's me, Harry. Look, I don't have much time, but I need a favour."
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a few long seconds, before a faint chuckle reached my ears through the static of the phone line.
"Well isn't this a pleasant surprise." Kiryuu Aika's voice came from the other end of the line, mild and with an ever present hint of teasing and innuendo. "Did Issei give you this number?"
"Something like that," I said dismissively, "Like I said I don't have much time so—"
"Do you know where Isebella and Asia have gone? They weren't very clear at school about where they went." She spoke over me without hesitation.
I could practically feel her smirk through the speaker. I took a breath and exhaled. "Alright. Let's start over," I said to Issei's perverted friend. "Hey Kiryuu, how are you today?" I said as politely as I could.
"Good." Her answer came after a brief pause. "My friends are missing from school, where are they?" she repeated.
I debated the possibility of just hanging up but instead tried to deploy the tactic of 'telling half the truth'. "They've gone somewhere with the Occult Research Club," I told her honestly. "It's like a camp or something to do with the club. Don't ask me what it's about, I don't know, I wasn't invited."
"That wasn't what I wanted to hear." The response came followed by a sigh. "What were you talking about before? A favour?"
"I'm about to head back to America for a month to take care of some unfinished business," I said after a moment, deciding to stick as close to the truth as I could, "And before you ask, no it has nothing to do with Isebella and Asia."
"This is going to sound really strange, but it's really important. I need you to go to the abandoned church in the city and leave a written message that I'm not going to be around for a month."
"That's not strange at all," Kiryuu reassured me.
I furrowed my brow. "Really?"
"Are you kidding? Of course it's strange. I'm not going to ask why you need me to do it, but I'm also not going to do it for free." She said to me in an almost refreshingly straightforward bluntness.
I couldn't say I hadn't expected anything less. She may have been my friends' friend, but we weren't friends, and she wasn't a charitable kind of girl. I reminded myself that this was something that needed to be done and the only other option was the two creeps who kept trying to pressure me into watching porn with them.
"What's it going to cost me?" I asked, resigned.
"I'd feel bad for charging you for something that only costs me time," Kiryuu said, "So I'll be taking the same amount of time back from you."
I couldn't help but frown. That was only slightly ominous. "In what way?"
"I'll figure something out before you get back from America, yankee."
She hung up after that and I found myself holding the phone to my ear, wondering if I had made a terrible, terrible mistake.
I set the phone back down and put Sona's little black book back where it was supposed to be. As I did, I heard a door open in the hallway and a few seconds later Serafall walked into the living room, with an inordinately pleased look on her lovely features.
"Ready to go?" Serafall asked.
"As ready as I'll ever be," I told her, picking up my bag off the ground.
She clapped her hands together. "Excellent!" She exclaimed. "We just need to make a brief stop to see a friend of mine and then we'll get you off to wizard camp!"
That gave me pause. Serafall had never really referred to anyone that she knew as a friend, at least in my presence. Friendship implies mutual interests. Serafall's interests included cosplaying as a magical girl, stalking her kid sister and running the Underworld.
One of those things were better than the other two, and if I was being completely honest with myself, I wasn't entirely sure which one it was.
I didn't have time to voice my concerns before we were somewhere else.
It took me a few seconds to see again after the magic faded away, and when I did, I found myself standing in what looked to be the lobby of a building. The walls were an almost sterile white. It was a clean and smooth aesthetic that seemed more empty than anything else, and it was at odds with the intricate circle beneath us that seemed to be carved into the ground— it definitely wasn't the Gremory or Sitri circle.
At the other end of the lobby was a long reception desk with an attractive looking red head sitting behind it. There were other things that I noticed as well, such as the only visible exit from where we were being behind her— from the look of it, it was an elevator.
Serafall grabbed my hand and tugged me forward toward the receptionist with strength unbefitting a girl of her stature.
"Where are we?" I asked her as I quickly moved to keep pace to avoid her dragging me.
"No idea!" Serafall supplied happily and looked up at me with a cheeky grin.
I rolled my eyes and just as I was about to ask her how the hell she didn't know where we were when she had been the one to bring us here, I noticed something.
Specifically, I noticed what the attractive receptionist was looking at.
That is to say, I observed her observing something that wasn't actually there.
Which was to say, that she was looking at something that while it looked to be there, was in fact not, despite the fact it clearly was.
"That's a hologram," I blurted out, my eyes wide and locked onto the translucent floating display in front of the red-headed girl.
I watched as her eyes refocused and looked through the holographic display toward me. "Yes it is," she agreed, her accent exotic and difficult to place. Her gaze dropped down to the tiny Satan at my side. "Lady Leviathan," the receptionist greeted politely. "Do you have an appointment with my Master?"
"Nope!" Serafall said from somewhere beside me. I was too busy staring at the marvellous creation in front of me. Between this and the remains of the Lightsaber I had broken, I was a spaceship short of living the dream. Thankfully the government was in hot pursuit of that lead. All that was left was to figure out how to build a hyper drive and pick a galaxy far, far away to set out to.
I was brought out of my daydream by Serafall poking me in the side. "Come on Harry, let's go," she encouraged me and walked around the reception desk. It took me a few moments to realize that at some point they had finished talking and the elevator door had been opened. I quickly followed Serafall into the elevator and the doors shut behind me.
The interior of the elevator was roomy and the ascent was barely noticeable. The only hint that we were even moving was the faint whirring sound above us and the floor numbers ticking up.
Beside me Serafall hummed. The tune was something upbeat and impossibly quick. It took me a few seconds to realize that she was humming the opening theme to her television show.
"So," I remarked as I watched the floor numbers tick. "You said you didn't know where we were, but you brought me here for a reason," I stated. "To see your friend. I imagine it has something to do with the trip I'm about to take, but I can't figure out what. Mind filling me in?"
"It's a secret," Serafall said in a sing-along voice. "Don't worry," she said, brightly. "You'll like him, he's super smart, just like Sona!"
She probably meant it in a comforting way, but I found myself apprehensive. Sona, as lovely as she was intimidated the hell out of me when she used those smarts of hers.
I didn't have long to consider Serafall's words before we reached the top floor. There was a faint chime and the elevator doors slid open to reveal a woman wearing a suit. Her eyes flickered up to my face briefly before she turned toward Serafall. "Lady Leviathan, my Master is waiting on the roof," she said politely and stepped aside. "If you would kindly follow me, I shall take you to him."
We stepped into what looked to be a very large, very spacious office. When I said spacious, what I meant was that someone had taken the entire top floor of the building we were in and converted it to an office the size of a basketball court. Tables lined the walls covered with things that I didn't even know their purpose, let alone their names. We were led right past it all to a stairwell that ascended to the next floor and opened up onto the roof.
Roof may have been a bad way to describe it. The only thing it had in common with a roof was that it was on top of a building.
It was all green, and I didn't mean painted. I meant that the very ground beneath my feet was grass.
Not only that, but there were flowers and bushes apparently growing out of it. Actual trees had been grown and from the look of it they had been growing for a while. In the very middle there was a waterfall, and around it there were ivory benches, each shaded by a nearby tree.
At first I thought we were alone on the roof top, and then I noticed him sitting on the closest bench. In hindsight, I had no idea how I hadn't at first glance.
"Ajay!" Serafall exclaimed from beside me and rushed ahead toward the man, a look of delight on her face.
I followed after her, my eyes trained on the man she called out to. He was clearly older than me, but he still looked young. He was probably in his late twenties. He had fair skin and even fairer blond hair. He was also handsome, that much I was unashamed to admit, but beyond that there was something enigmatic about him that I couldn't put my finger on.
"Serafall," the blond man remarked idly from his seat, glancing up at the twin tailed Satan from his book. "What a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting another visit for at least another decade. How is your sister?"
Serafall's lit up like a kid in front of a candy shop at the chance to talk about Sona. "She's doing great!" she said happily. "She's enrolled in high school with Sirzech's younger sister, she's really smart you know? Give her a few years and I bet she'll be smarter than you," she boasted, before pausing and considering. "How is your younger brother…" her brow furrowed briefly. "Di…Dio…Ditto—"
"Diodora?" Ajay raised an eyebrow, before a faint frown took over his lips. "He has picked up some unsavoury tastes of late," he said. "No doubt from the unfortunate choice of company he has chosen to keep as of late, but he is making his own choices and will have to bear the responsibility of them."
Serafall pouted. "Don't be like that," she protested. "It's an older brother's responsibility to help their younger brother!" She brought a hand to her chest and continued in a heartfelt tone. "Sona is really, really mean to me sometimes, but that doesn't mean you stop trying!"
The blond man was silent for a long moment as he regarded Serafall. "I can't imagine you've come all this way to talk to me about my younger brother," he stated, before slowly he turned his eyes toward me.
For the briefest moment out eyes met, and I barely managed to look away before we were drawn into a soulgaze.
"Curious," Ajay said, his eyes roaming over me. "It's a rare occasion that a wizard is resurrected as a devil," he noted. "I suppose if anyone was able to sidestep the political fallout, it would be you."
Serafall had a sheepish look on her features that caused the man to stop and regard her for a long moment. "They do know, don't they?" he asked. If he didn't sound so much like he didn't care about the answer, I'd almost say he sounded exasperated.
"Of course!" Serafall said, clearly offended by the suggestion, before she seemed to recall that they didn't in fact know I was a devil. "I mean, not exactly," she admitted reluctantly, before offering a bright smile. "That's why I'm here!" she exclaimed. "Harry is going to spend a month with one of the wizards so they can evaluate him, so I was wondering if you're be able to do that thing you do?"
Ajay looked at Serafall for a long moment before he sighed and gestured for me to approach him.
I looked to Serafall, confused as to what was about to happen, but all she did was nod encouragingly to me.
I stepped closer, a bit apprehensive at the lack of details of what she had asked him to do. I assumed it was some sort of spell to cloak the demonic power inside my body, or mask it in some manner so Ebenezer couldn't tell I was a devil after spending time alone with me.
"How does this work—Ajay is it?" I asked as I stepped forward, only for him to hold up a hand and stop me.
"Do not call me that," He warned me. "Only she is allowed to address me by that deplorable nickname, and that is because I cannot physically stop her without significant collateral damage."
"Last time he tried he broke an island," Serafall said, clearly proud of the accomplishment.
I decided to hold back my comment and nodded my head slowly. "What do I call you then?" I asked after a long moment of consideration.
"My name is Ajuka, it will suffice." The blond devil said, and as he did, he brought his hand to my chest. I watched in curiosity as a dozen tiny magical circled appeared all over my chest, each one comprised of rapidly spinning glyphs and numbers.
From the angle I was looking I couldn't get a good look at the characters that comprised the circles, and even if I could have, I doubted they'd have made much sense to me. In retrospect, that was something that I needed to start working on.
Instead of trying to decipher the demonic symbols I instead focused on a more realistic goal; figuring out who 'Ajuka' was. The name rang a bell, but for the life of me I couldn't remember where I had heard it before. No doubt it had been from one of Sona's lectures on devil history, or something equally tedious and mind-numbing.
"Fascinating," Ajuka smiled as he stared intently at the glyphs spiralling on my chest.
"What's fascinating?" I asked.
Ajuka turned to Serafall, his smile growing slightly. "Did you know?" he asked mildly.
"Know what?" I demanded to know when it became clear he wasn't going to answer, turning to Serafall.
"Of course!" Serafall said, beaming and puffing her chest out. "Harry is very special!"
"On that we can agree." The blond devil turned back to me, an amused expression on his features as he refocused on the shifting glyphs.
"What are you both talking about?" I demanded to know, looking between the two. "What's fascinating? What do you know? What aren't you telling me?"
Ajuka's smile slowly vanished and he looked to Serafall yet again. "You haven't told him?"
"Told me what?" I all but growled out.
Ajuka turned back to me.
"That you are Starborn."
It was a term I hadn't heard before, but I had heard something very, very similar from something that should never have been able to exist in this world.
Child of the Stars.
It had been what He Who Walks Behind had called me when he had attacked me on Justin's orders.
"What does that mean?" I asked him, keeping my voice as level as I could, despite the trembling anxiety that seemed to overcome me.
Ajuka answered nonplussed. "Simply put it means you were born during a very specific celestial alignment," he told me as he continued to focus on my chest. He paused very briefly and considered. "Technically speaking, any mortal child born during the time frame would qualify as 'Starborn'."
I clenched my fist and bit down on a biting remark. That told me a big fat load of nothing except for the origin of the name.
"However," the blond devil continued, "In the classical sense, a pure lineage and genetic propensity toward manipulating mystical forces is required."
That I did understand.
"You're talking about wizards," I said, and suddenly a lot of pieces began to fall together.
Technically they weren't 'falling together'. If anything the pieces were still scattered all over the place, but I was starting to get an idea of what the finished picture was supposed to look like.
Between the strange heat inside me that seemed to flare up when confronted with life threatening danger and the apparent ability to lay the mystical smack down on fallen angels and eldritch abominations, it was apparent that it was a title with significance beyond a unique cosmic event.
"What else can you tell me about it?" I demanded to know.
Ajuka raised an eyebrow at my tone. "There are many things I could tell you, much of which you are not ready to know. You are the first Starborn Devil in all of known history, reincarnated or not. That should be enough for you to know, for now."
I'd gotten enough of those talks from Justin to know that he wouldn't change his mind. So instead of smashing my head against a brick wall, I turned toward Serafall, intending to ask her, only to find her, for one of the rare occasions, with a serious look on her face.
It was that, more than anything else that gave me pause enough to reconsider pushing them on this issue. If they didn't want to tell me, and didn't want me to know, there wasn't much I could do aside from stomp my feet and throw a tantrum, and considering who Serafall was, and how she apparently viewed this Ajuka on the same level as her, It wouldn't end well for me.
Serafall noticed my restraint, and she gave me a smile. She nodded in approval before turning back to Ajuka. "Is it in sneaky mode now, Ajay?"
Ajuka paused for a brief moment before he lifted his hand up, causing the magic circles to briefly reappear on my chest. A bunch of the symbols abruptly changed, then the circles vanished again. "Done."
"If that's all it took then what were you doing before?" I couldn't help but ask. I hadn't felt any different at all before, and to be honest, I still didn't.
"Diagnostics. I didn't anticipate someone like you being resurrected by the Evil Piece system, errors were beginning to build up that may have resulted in something unfortunate occurring."
"Unfortunate like what?"
"Unfortunate like you exploding."
"Oh." I said awkwardly. "That would be bad."
Ajuka raised an eyebrow. "Yes," he agreed. "Yes it would."
"It would be the worst!" Serafall exclaimed, her pink eyes going wide. "The absolute worst! Good thing we came here, right Harry?" she asked, turning her attention to me with a big beaming smile.
"If that's everything, Serafall," The blond devil said, "I'll ask you to take your leave, while this has been interesting, I was in the middle of a project that should yield some interesting results in the near future."
"Don't be like that Ajay!" Serafall protested, a pout forming on her lips as she balled her fists. "We barely spend any time together with how busy everyone is, don't you want to reminisce about old times?"
"Didn't you come here for a reason?" Ajuka asked. The blond devil raised an eyebrow. "Something about wizards," he offered, an amused smile forming on his lips.
Serafall stared blankly at Ajuka for a long few seconds, before her eyes widened. "Oh yeah," she murmured, more to herself than anything. She smiled up at Ajuka and turned toward me, looking up to my face. "Ready to go, Harry?" she asked and reached over, grabbing my hand even as a magical circle appeared beneath us.
"What's the point of even—"
I shut my eyes a fraction before I was blinded again by the predictable flash of light.
"—asking. You're doing that on purpose aren't you?" I accused Serafall, slowly opening my eyes as the glare faded.
"Of course not," Serafall, dismissed instantly, turning away to hide the smile that she no doubt had on her lips. She would have gotten away with it to if it weren't for the snicker that she couldn't hold back.
I rolled my eyes, but just as I was about to say something about it, I noticed that we weren't alone.
Serafall's magical circle had taken us right back to ruins of my old house. We'd appeared right out the front, where we had left. Night time had arrived in the time we'd been gone, and from the looks of it, the majority of the wizards had left. Even the Wardens that had been guarding the property were gone, only two wizards had remained behind.
Morgan's dark gaze had turned toward Serafall and me, as we had appeared. His hand had swept down toward the handle of the sword that rested on his hip, and despite the recognition in his eyes, his hand lingered. It wasn't a hostile motion, I noted. Just a wary one.
Wizard McCoy stood beside him. The short wizard had ditched his formal robe at some stage and instead was wearing a white shirt and denim overalls. It made him look a lot more like a hillbilly than I'd be willing to say to his face.
"Lady Leviathan," McCoy greeted respectfully, his gaze locked onto her tiny frame. He held his staff loosely in his hand, the long hand hewed staff resting against his side.
Serafall twirled around to face McCoy and Morgan, a big bright smile on her lovely features as she clasped her hands behind her back, causing her suit jacket to strain. "Ebenezer McCoy," she greeted back a friendly smile on her features before her eyes slid to Morgan. "Warden Morgan, thank you both for being patient while we collected Harry's things."
I smiled at Ebenezer briefly, before I glanced to Morgan. I was a bit worried as to why he was here.
McCoy noticed and smiled at me. "We'll be travelling through the Nevernever," he explained. "The ways from here to where we're going can be a bit tricky at times. He's here to give me a hand in case things get a bit tricky."
That got me excited. I'd never been to the Nevernever before. Justin had never trusted me enough to show me how to open a doorway through to it with how dangerous the realm could be. In hindsight, there were probably other reasons that he had held back teaching Elaine and I how to do it.
"Cool," I said, unable to help myself. "Any chance you could show me how to do it?" At the curious look McCoy gave me I clarified.
"You don't know?" McCoy asked, his white eyebrows rising in mild surprise before a thoughtful look crossed his features. "No, I don't suppose you would." He chuckled and smiled at me. "After we get you comfortable we can work on all that stuff." He gestured for me to approach him and Morgan. "Come, we must be off."
I was about to take a step forward, when I heard a sniffle from my right. I turned to find Serafall looking at me, her eyes wide and sad look in her eyes. Her bottom lip began to wobble. "You're growing up so fast Harry," she sniffed. "It feels like only yesterday that I became your new mommy, and you're already leaving me!"
It probably felt that way because it was only a few days since she'd managed to get the adoption papers and officially become my new guardian. Still, seeing her get emotional tugged at my heartstrings, even if I half suspected she was playing it up.
"It's just a few weeks," I reassured her with a tiny smile.
Serafall took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds before exhaling and smiling up at me. "You're right," she said. "After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder right?" She said more to herself than me, before giving me a bright, beaming smile.
"I'll be returning him to this place in a month's time," McCoy told Serafall, nodding toward her as he leaned against his staff.
Serafall frowned. "You mean if nothing goes wrong."
McCoy inclined his head toward the suit wearing Satan. "As you say."
Serafall gave a sigh and shook her head before smiling at me once again. "Be safe, alright Harry? I'll be very cross with you if something bad happens, you know?"
I had a vivid flashback to the last time that Serafall had been 'cross' with me. I swallowed and nodded. "Gotcha."
Serafall's gaze lingered on me for a long moment, and then she was gone.
Just like that, I found myself standing alone with McCoy and Morgan.
"So," I said, turning toward the two wizards. "What now? You going to open a Way right here?"
"No," Morgan said bluntly and regarded me with an almost curious look. "What do you know about the Nevernever?" he asked.
I stared at him blankly for a moment, before I stared to think back. It was pretty obvious that he wanted to see how thorough my knowledge was and this would be a good time to show my competence. "It's a sort of spirit dimension," I said to Morgan. "It's much bigger than Earth, Justin told me that some people thought that it was boundless in size." I went silent for a moment and thought about what else I knew. "Parts of our world overlay with it, places with the same energy on the other side."
"Good," Morgan nodded, giving me a look of approval. "You understand the absolute basics."
I held back on rolling my eyes.
"There are two important things that you said that I would draw your attention to." He held up a single finger. "The Nevernever is vast in size." He held up another finger. "Places with similar resonance are connected."
I waited for him to get to the point.
"It is because of these two facts that a wizard may open a gateway to the Nevernever in one location, travel a short distance, open another gateway and find themselves on the other side of the planet. The locations in the Nevernever do not align geographically with our world. Throughout the centuries wizards have refined and built upon our knowledge of the paths that can be taken through the Nevernever to arrive at various locations. We call them the Ways."
I listened patiently and nodded all the while, still waiting for him to get to the point.
"Locations in our world that resonate with those in the Nevernever are not static. Events that change a location will ultimately shift it's resonance. A garden where a murder has been committed and blood has soaked into the ground is a vastly metaphysically different place compared to one which is pristine in condition. Where once it may have resonated with a peaceful forest in the Nevernever, that change may result in it connecting to one filled with predators and danger at every turn."
Morgan's gaze hardened as he looked down at me. "Now with this knowledge in mind, tell me. Where would we find ourselves if we opened a gateway on this property, where you burned down DuMorne's house and ritualistically ended his life?"
My mouth went dry, but all the same I tried to swallow. "I… I didn't think about that," I said after a long moment, grimacing. I didn't consider that at all. Or rather, I didn't realize the implications of what I had done and what it would mean.
Morgan was apparently satisfied with my reaction. "Your expression shows that you understand what a grave and foolish decision it would be. That is good, it shows you are capable of learning despite your attitude and disposition."
McCoy let out a bark of laughter. "Maybe you should be the one teaching him," the old wizard said with a grin. "Seems you've got a knack for it, Donald. You've certainly left an impression on young Harry that won't soon be forgotten."
"No kidding," I muttered under my breath. I sincerely doubted that I was going to forget that bit of information any time soon.
The expression on Morgan's face took on a sour note and he turned away. "We're wasting time," he said and began to stalk toward the front of the property along the drive way.
"Come on, Harry." McCoy gave me another grin and gestured for me to walk with him as he followed after Morgan.
I stared at Morgan's retreating back for a long moment before I made my decision. I shifted my backpack into a more comfortable position and began to walk, my staff clutched in my hand and my head held high.
We walked in silence for a long while. Neither McCoy or Morgan seemed interested in breaking the silence and I had no idea how to start a conversation with either wizard. It wasn't until we arrived at and entered into a familiar park that McCoy spoke up.
My brow furrowed as I glanced around. "This is it?" I asked dubiously. "I used to come here all the time with…" I trailed off and shook my head. "Where's the entrance to the Nevernever then?" I asked.
The park was bland and boring—I should know, Elaine and I had been here more times than I could count. There was a single path that wormed its way through that began with a weird sort of japanese ornamental gate. It was half filled with trees and maybe a swing or two—It was almost always empty and made for some heated make out sessions, once upon a time.
I stopped and turned back toward the gate with a raised eyebrow. "No way." I turned to McCoy. "Really?"
McCoy gave me an amused look. "It's called a torii," he explained, " traditionally the japs use them as a sort of gateway to their holy places. Think of them as a sort of marker for a place that's safe to enter into the Nevernever from. While not every torii leads to a Way, the council has gone to great lengths to ensure that there are enough of them scattered around that if a wizard ever needs a quick escape, it's available."
McCoy lead us over to the front of the torii and stopped in front of it. He closed his eyes and lifted up a hand. I watched as he drew upon his will and exercised it on reality. He waved his hand and inside the gateway reality bled away, revealing a viridian forest beyond.
My eyebrows rose. It was an act so smooth that I barely noticed any magic being used, and if I hadn't been watching I wouldn't have noticed at all.
"So that was a way," I murmured as I stared intently at the doorway into the Nevernever. He had made it look easy, it was like he'd been wiping away the fog on a mirror. "Can you teach me how to do that?" I asked, flashing McCoy a grin.
"In time," McCoy said, before gesturing toward the portal. "Let's get going."
Morgan, who had been silent all the while gave a grunt and stepped on through first, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword at his waist.
I followed after, and I felt a brief sense of vertigo as I stepped out of the real world and into the Nevernever for the first time.
We'd come through into the forest on to a what appeared to be a trail through the forest. The air was thick with the pungent smell of earth, as if it had just rained. All I could see were trees as I looked around, all different shapes and sizes from saplings to a gargantuan oak in the distance that blotted out the sky with its branches and leaves. The greying bark on a few of the trees branches was dropping, revealing the reddish off-colour wood beneath
"Do not step off the path," Morgan warned me as we began to walk.
My first instinct was to ask why, but the question fell dead before it even left my lips.
The forest was deathly quiet. I couldn't hear the rustle of the trees from wind, nor the sounds of insects, or wind. The only thing I could hear were the sounds we were making. The trudge of our shoes on the dirt. The rustle of cloth and the clank of Morgan's sword against his leg.
Every footstep echoed as if we were in a particularly long corridor.
I frowned, and found myself glancing around as we walked. Something wasn't right. It was then that I noticed something that I had missed at first glance. What I had originally thought was loose bark on the trees, wasn't.
They were… things. Inhuman things.
Monsters whose faces were contorted in agony, who had been impaled upon the trees branches. The red on the branches wasn't the wood at all, it was blood that had long since dried up. The greying bark were the remains of whatever the creature had been, shrivelled and dried up as its bodily fluids had been sucked out by the tree for nourishment.
I felt nauseous.
What the hell was this place?
A voice with no apparent source began to whisper quietly into my mind.
"The tree's don't like it when outsiders step off the path. Always avoid touching the branches, even if they cross the path. If you can't get around it without touching it, then turn around. That's what the Wayfinder's know, that's all they remember. The forest is only silent when someone is there who shouldn't be. The tree's sing when they're alone." There was a pause, before the voice spoke again, this time a bit more breathy as if they'd been running. "A red followed me into the forest and I knocked it off the path. A tree ate it. Notation: They like it when you whistle."
I stumbled on my step and straightened up, turning around in surprise and looking for the source of the voice. There was no one else there.
The voice had belonged to a woman. It had been throaty and calm and… familiar. I couldn't place where I had heard it before. It made me feel warm, listening to it was like an old, favorite piece of music that I hadn't heard in years. I trusted it unconditionally.
"What is it?" Morgan asked.
"No, no, I just thought I heard something," I said after a few seconds. I furrowed my brow and then pursed my lips and let out a low whistle.
The closest trees swayed and for the first time I could hear the faint rustling of the leaves. It was as if someone had suddenly turned up the volume as a wave of motion swept through the trees before going still once more.
"How did you know to do that?" McCoy asked, an eyebrow raising up as he regarded me.
"I dunno," I lied. "Just sort of decided to whistle."
Neither he nor Morgan looked like they believed me, but they didn't push the issue and we continued to walk.
Five minutes of walking later McCoy opened another way, and we found ourselves in the middle of a mountain range. We headed south along a mountain ridge, along a precariously placed path that looked as if it would fall out from beneath our feet.
The path eventually came to an end with no way to continue on.
This time it was Morgan that opened the way.
We crossed back over into the Nevernever and came out in front of a massive hole in the ground. Even calling it that was doing it a disservice. It was if someone had taken a mountain, emptied it out, turned it upside down and shoved it down into the ground.
It took me a few seconds to realize that that was exactly what I was looking at. I was hesitant to take a closer look, even Morgan and McCoy were standing away from the edge.
Still, I wondered where we were going from where we were, it wasn't as if there were more paths. The only way anywhere was down.
I heard the voice again and I listened in rapt attention as it began to whisper into my ear details about the location I found myself in. It told me depending on which way a wizard was facing when they opened a way here and how far from the edge they were, it would take them to an entirely different mountain range in the real world.
True to the voices word, Morgan was carefully measuring the distance from the south facing edge and slowly turning around. When he was finally satisfied he opened a new way and then we were in the real world again.
It went on like that for another five trips. Each time we'd slip from the Nevernever into the real world and move from as little as a few feet to half a mile before crossing again. Each time I found myself wondering about the place, and each time the voice answered, whispering the secrets of the Ways into my mind.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, we arrived at our final destination.
"A farm?" I asked incredulously and turned to McCoy.
The short balding wizard just smiled as he turned toward Morgan. "Thank you for the escort, Warden. I'll be able to handle him from here on out."
"Of course, McCoy," Morgan said with a nod before he turned his gaze to me. "You would do well to pay attention to the lessons that he teaches you."
With that said he nodded to McCoy and left.
"He's always a bag of smiles," I said dryly as I watched the sword wielding wizard depart.
"Morgan may not be the most friendly of fellows, but in a fight there are few others I would have watching my back," McCoy said as closed the wooden gate behind us.
"I'd believe it," I said. "I saw him stand in my godmother's way without flinching."
"Rule number two when dealing with things that ain't human, never let them see you sweat," McCoy told me as we began walking.
"What's rule number one?"
"Rule number one is don't get involve with them at all," McCoy told me. "Seeing as you're neck deep in it with the devils and sidhe I figured there was no point starting with it. Ain't got a right clue as to how a kid like you managed to attract their attention."
"You can blame my mom for my godmother," I told McCoy. "She made some sort of bargain with her to look after me."
McCoy glanced aside at me. "Any chance you know the wording of the bargain they made?"
I hesitated in replying.
McCoy smiled. "Not to worry," he said, "I won't pry for now."
I gave him a return smile of gratitude. "Thanks."
Honestly, I had no clue what the bargain my mother made entailed. It wasn't until Justin tried to enthrall me that I had really learned anything of value.
I learned that Lea was perfectly content to let bad things happen to me as long as it benefited me in the long run. That she had been willing to let me go along with McCoy without any fuss at all meant she thought it would be a good experience for me—or that she thought it was important to get me away from Serafall.
I wouldn't find out until I got the chance to ask her, and even then I probably wouldn't get the truth out of her. I'd have better luck trying to wring water out of a rock.
A particularly sexy rock, but a rock none the less.
As we walked my mind stayed on my godmother. Something was niggling at the back of my mind. The last time I had seen her had been after I had killed Justin. Serafall had appeared quickly after and we hadn't had much time to talk but she had given me something of my mothers after extracting a promise that I would go to her once I understood what it was.
My hand absently rose up to my chest and brushed over the pentacle beneath my shirt. It had belonged to my mom, just as the ruby that Lea had given to me was. She'd said that the gem was knowledge and understanding.
I felt my heart begin to beat faster.
She had said that once I understood what it was, to use it to come to her.
My mouth went dry. I thought back to the first time I had heard the woman's voice. How familiar it had been, how… comforting it was to hear it. There was no doubting it.
The voice belonged to my mother. The knowledge the gem contained was of the Ways. I knew my mom had been chummy with the fae. She'd been close enough to Lea to manage to make a bargain for her to become my godmother. It shouldn't have surprised me that she knew her way around the Nevernever. She'd have had to.
"Here we are," McCoy said, "It ain't much, but it's been home for the last century."
We'd finally arrived at the farm house.
I had no idea what I had expected to see, but I was surprised at how… picturesque it was.
The main house was wide and two storied painted a bright brick red with white trim and a porch out the front. A tractor sat outside a big red barn a dozen or so yards away.
McCoy moved ahead and stepped onto the porch. "Take a seat," he said, gesturing to one of the benches as he himself dropped down onto what I assumed was his usual seat. "We need to lay down some ground rules and expectations."
I would have groaned if I didn't know that was the response that he wanted. I dropped down onto one of the wooden benches and laid my staff across my knees, steeling myself for what would no doubt be a long arduous lecture.