Val wasn’t used to riding in limousines, but under the circumstances, she found she quite enjoyed it.
“We should be at the airport in plenty of time,” Laura said from the front seat. Outside the limo’s window Val watched as a highway full of cars sat in bumper to bumper traffic, inching forward across ever road rage inducing mile to the next exit. By contrast, the surface road Laura had pulled off onto two exits back had virtually no obstructions on it. The nearest vehicle ahead of them was a bike that was good quarter mile away and gaining distance as the rider ignored even the pretext of observing the speed limit.
“Think we should tell Anna that?” Val asked, smiling as she sank bank into the cushy rear seat. For as good as it felt to relax after a successful mission, not having to race (and lose) against Anna again arguably felt better.
“Are we supposed to tell her anything?” Laura asked.
Val laughed. Anna hadn’t intended to be intimidating. Val had seen her when she wanted to cow someone and nothing about the quick mission to resolve Laura and Stephanie’s difficulties had called for that level of force. Even without meaning to though, Anna radiated an aura of confidence and leadership that was damn hard not to get swept up in.
“You can tell her, and any of us, anything,” Val said.
“Really?” Laura asked. “I mean it’s kind of my first day on the job.”
“All the more reason,” Val said and did her best impersonation of the Russian accent Anna occasionally lapsed into when she wanted to appear more serious than she was. “You bring fresh perspective, yes? See things with new eyes, things rest of us might miss.”
“Ok. I can’t get over all this though. I mean, twenty four hours ago I thought I was going to be on the run for the rest of my life, and now I’m…in a club I guess?”
“As long as you want to be,” Val said. “From what Tam said, you’ve earned it.”
“All I did was hit a few guys with a stick.”
“Yeah, but who those guys are matters kind of a lot,” Val said. “Most people wouldn’t try that with a mob boss and two corrupt cops. In my book, that took guts.”
“Didn’t you walk into a whole warehouse full of his goons though?” Laura asked. “Alone.”
“Kinda had to. Didn’t want anyone getting too hurt,” Val said, and shrugged. It was probably the least dangerous thing she’d done that week. Just getting out of bed was a bigger peril some days, given how cranky Aranea could be when it was cold and she hadn’t gotten to sleep in properly.
“They brought six ambulances in when you were done though, didn’t they?” Laura had only been arrived at the skirmish after the shooting stopped and it was safe enough for Jimmy B to call in a ride to take Val home.
Technically the EMTs who’d shown up had only had to render first aid to most of the goons who’d been in the “all hands” warehouse meeting. The police had been the ones to take the majority of them away on various charges which they now had confirmation of thanks to the wire Val had worn. A few though? Well there was the saying about omelettes and eggs, but in this case it was more “crime rings” and “bad guy’s arms and legs”.
“There’s an excellent chance that everyone they took away will regain the full use of the limbs within a few months,” Val said. “Which, I will remind them is a lot better than things could have gone when I stop in here next time.”
“You’re coming back?” Laura asked.
“Yeah. Charlene, our boss, doesn’t like to give up on people,” Val said. “She usually checks in on the people we deal with, or has us check in on them, to see if they can learn from their mistakes.”
“Does that happen often?” Laura asked.
“Eh, I never count on it, but I’ve been surprised more times than I expected. I don’t know how this crew will go. The cops are probably a wash. There’s too much of a support network for ones who misuse and abuse their power, and they have too much invested in their self justifications. The other ones though? The career gangster types? Maybe? It’s a tough job to pull out of, but the ones who don’t get jail time might be willing to take up the offer to get out of that situation and move elsewhere.”
“I feel like I got really lucky there,” Laura said. “A few more years, and I could have been in that warehouse too.”
“That’s why we try to reach out to people we hurt as well as the ones we help,” Val said. “You can wind up in a bad place through a bunch of decisions where you didn’t have a lot of good options. Doesn’t mean you didn’t chose to be there but it might mean you’ll be willing to chose something better if you get the chance.”
“I can’t believe I get to chose this,” Laura said, her voice quiet and respectful.
“Driving for a living?” Val asked. “Or did you want to tackle more of the stuff we get involved in?”
“Stuff like taking down mob families?” Laura asked. “I don’t know if I can handle things like that.”
“You definitely don’t have to put yourself on the line like that,” Val said. “If you want to work with Jimmy B on the transportation side of things, that is going to be incredibly valuable.”
“Come on, anyone can drive a car,” Laura said.
“Yeah, and anyone can be there for someone else when they need it,” Val said. “Doesn’t mean it happens often enough, or that the people who step up aren’t doing something special.”
“I’m just a kid though,” Laura said.
“You’re a young lady with a hell of a lot of guts,” Val said. “And before you try to deny it, please remember that I just walked into a building with about a bajillion guys with guns who were ready to shoot me as soon as they saw me, so it’s just possible that I know what I’m talking about there.”
“See, but I couldn’t do that,” Laura said. “I can’t take down entire criminal organizations by myself like a superhero or something.”
“To be fair, I just dealt with the armed goons,” Val said. “It was Anna and JB tag teaming them on finances and administration that really closed things down.”
“What did they do?” Laura asked.
“I don’t know the exact details, but what Anna usually does is put together a pretty clear trail to lead the official investigators to where the bad guys have all their money hidden,” Val said. “JB’s got contacts basically everywhere, so Anna’s breadcrumbs get fast tracked to people with jurisdiction who we know will handle it right.”
“I thought things like subpoenas and warrants took time to put together though,” Laura said. “You always here about cops working on cases like this for months or years.”
“Cops can’t do the kinds of things Tam can,” Val said. “Some of which is just unreal. Like not ‘sort of illegal’, but like ‘sort of impossible’.”
“What does sort of impossible mean?” Laura asked.
Val hesitated for only a moment, and then sighed.
“Ok, this is something you’ll run into sooner or later since you’re in the Club now,” she said. “Short form: magic is real, and the world is about a billion times weirder than you can imagine.”
“You say that like it doesn’t explain how you managed to go all action movie hero on my old bosses crew,” Laura said.
“You believe me? Good. You don’t know how hard that is for some people to accept,” Val said. “Of course it doesn’t help that magic is flakey as hell. I was able to take on the building like that because we had the right alignment of stars and there are about fifty club members who lent me their speed, and toughness, and strength.”
“That sounds kind of cool. What other kind of stuff can you do?” Laura asked.
“It varies a bit from day to day. If you’re interested, James is our resident mentor, and he will happily talk your ears off for days if you get him started.”
“Is it hard?” Laura asked.
“Even that varies,” Val said. “I’ve tried to cast spells a couple times and that is just not my jam. They either fizzle or something completely unrelated happens. Tam though? She’s one of the best casters on the planet I think, and she only picked it up a few years ago.”
“What determines if you be good at it?” Laura asked. “Is it like a blood thing, or do you make a pact or something?”
“Nope. Or at least not for the kind of broad spellcasting Tam does. From what she said, real magic working skill comes from the caster being able to see a different world and needing to make it real. There’s a lot more to it than that – rules upon rules upon rules, built on math, and lost languages, and mythology, and so so many books. Magic supposedly always has a price but I think in a lot of cases the price is just all of the random stuff you need to keep crammed into your brain and all the time you have to spend on the most boring research in the world.”
“Would it be hard to learn just one spell do you think?” Laura asked.
“Depends on the spell,” Val said.
“I was thinking something to make transitioning a little easier,” Laura said.
“Good news/bad news there,” Val said. “One thing that our world doesn’t support is permanent transformations, so there’s no simple spell that will do all the work for you. Which sucks. Good news though is that there are definitely spells that can help the body heal and process things better and faster. So the hormones and stuff you’re working with now? James can probably set you up with some techniques that will make those a lot more effective and/or remove a bunch of the side effects. Just, you know, expect a migraine or two trying to memorize all the things you have to in order to make the spells work.”
“That would definitely be worth it,” Laura said.
“Yeah. I wish we could share things like that with the whole world, but up until recently it’s been more likely that people would hurt themselves with miscasting than that they’d get anything good out of it.”
“It’s different now? What happened?” Laura asked.
“There was an organization called PrimaLux,” Val said. “They were one of the major players in the mystical world. They’d scored a bunch of the paths that let magic flow into the world and closed them down so they’d have a better hold on it. They wanted a monopoly but they never quite managed to it get. Then we sort of destroyed them.”
“You destroyed them?”
“They messed with us one too many times. Even sank a boat we were on. After that they had to go. So we took them out of the picture. Without them around, there were a bunch of power vacuums and a lot more power on the table, so things got a bit unstable for a while.”
“How did that turn out?”
“There’s a couple of problems that we’re still working on,” Val said with a sheepish grin/
“Like what?” Laura asked, genuinely curious.
“The world’s kind of going to end,” Val said. “In about six months as far as we can tell.”
“Six months?” Laura laughed, having reached the end of what she could take seriously.
“That’s what the current forecast says. We’ve managed to change it by twenty minutes recently though.”
“Wait, are you serious?” Laura asked.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Val said. “For what it’s worth though, we are working the problem, and we’ve worked against some really long odds before.”
“You sound awfully calm about it,” Laura said as she pulled up to the entrance to the private airfield beside the main airport they’d been heading towards.
“My girlfriend has assured me that no one other than her is going to get to cast me into the abyss,” Val said. “Since she’s literally a goddess, I figure it’s safe to trust her when she says that.”
Before Laura could process how likely Val’s words were to be real, she saw the plane which had landed a few minutes earlier open it’s door and let its passengers out.
It’s not even vaguely human passengers.
With a shrug, she put the limo into park. This was her life now. Time to get used to it she guessed.