Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Second Chance Club – S2 Ep3 – Act 3

The full moon had risen, because of course it was a full moon when they were going to visit werewolves. It was casting a light so brilliant that Tam could have driven into the housing development without her light on. Behind her on the bike, Cynthia clung tight, holding onto Tam’s waist in part for comfort and security and in part to ward off the preternatural chill that cut through the early evening air.

“I’m shivering,” Cynthia said, clearly trying not to hold Tam any tighter for fear of crushing her.

“It’s the wolfscent,” Tam said. “We’re close enough that our noses are picking up on the fact that there’s are alpha predators nearby that we need to worry about.”

“I don’t shiver when I go to the zoo though,” Cynthia said.

“Zoos don’t have exhibits that are as dangerous as werewolves,” Tam said.

“Well, at least it’s easy to guess which house is theirs,” Cynthia said.

Tam had stopped her bike at the turn in to the Mare Luna Estates. Down a quarter mile road lay a half dozen large colonial style houses. They stood empty, wrapped in shadows and burnished bright by moonbeams. All of them that is except one.

At the top of the gentle hill the road meandered up, the most distant house sat with light peeking out of curtained windows.

“No lights on outside though,” Tam said. “Think they’re up for visitors?”

“It’s a bit late isn’t it?” Cynthia asked. “And if they are actually werewolves won’t they be, you know, kind of furry at the moment?”

She gestured towards the moon which hung perfectly suspended as a backdrop to the single lit building before them.

“That’s a distinct possibility,” Tam said. “But Anna’s going to be here in a few hours with the people from Bright Spring and we’ll need to get them into their new houses asap.”

“Are they in any more danger on the road than they might be if these people actually are werewolves?” Cynthia asked.

“It’s not that they’re in danger so much as they might still be connected to the residual magic in Bright Springs,” Tam said. “If we can get them settled into their new homes, that will sever enough of the connections to Bright Spring that Val wand Aranae will be able to collect the threads of magic cleanly. If they’re not settled in they may inadvertently drag a bunch of those threads along with them.”

“Should Anna have just left them there then?” Cynthia asked.

“No, that would have been even worse,” Tam said. “Val and Aranae wouldn’t have been able to clean up the stray magic that’s left in Bright Springs if the people it was bound to were still holding on to it.”

“How do you want to try approaching them then?” Cynthia asked. “Sneak up and peak in the windows?”

“I’d love to know more about them,” Tam said, “but they’re likely to notice any surveillance attempts. I mean, they probably already know we’re here.”

“Wolves’ senses are that good?” Cynthia asked.

“Werewolf senses can be. From what I read, they’re usually a lot sharper than either human or wolf senses,” Tam said. “There are a different kinds of werewolf though, so it’s hard to say what exact talents these people might have.”

A long howl rose from behind the house, a celebration of the moon, and the night, and the vitality of being alive. A primal voice in Tam’s mind recognized the cry for joy it expressed but also for the menace it carried. A happy alpha predator was still an alpha predator who might be even happier for a chance to tear your throat out.

Tam glanced to Cynthia before she pulled onto the development’s road. It was unfair to drag her into something like this. Tam had some tricks to rely on, both practical magics and arcane ones, plus signing on with Charlene’s crew made this sort of thing her job to deal with. Cynthia had been a trooper all throughout their journey through the Drowned City, but the world of the weird was a lot to ask anyone to face, even under the best of circumstances.

“We should probably roll on up there sooner rather than later, right?” Cynthia asked.

Tam could feel the shiver in the arms around her waist but, glancing back, Cynthia’s eyes were bright and steady with a gleam of mirth that accompanied the adrenaline high of daring the world to take its best shot and the knowledge that you could (probably) take it.

“You sure you want to come along for this part?” Tam asked. Cynthia didn’t need to impress her. She’d already done that the first night they were together on the boat simply by being open and candid and charming.

“Do you think I became a firefighter because I tend to run away from danger?” Cynthia asked.

Tam opened her mouth and then closed it, not having considered that idea but finding it fit too well to argue with.

“Onwards we go then!” she said and revved the engine.

They weren’t going to be sneaking up on werewolves, and even if they could Tam wouldn’t have been foolish enough to do so. The only thing worse than a large predator protecting their home is a surprised large predator protecting their home.

Despite the roar of the bike’s engine heralding their approach, no one was out on the house’s porch waiting for them when they pulled up in front of it.

Nor was the outside light on.

“Looks like we’re going to have to knock,” Tam said.

“Do we have some kind of cover story for why we’re dropping by so late?” Cynthia asked.

“Yeah. We’re here to visit with the werewolves since they’re going to be getting some new neighbors in a few hours and we want to make sure everything’s going to be cool.”

“Okay. That’s a bit less ‘misdirectiony’ than I’d have imagined from a stage magician, but I could see how it might work,” Cynthia said. “Assuming they can still understand English. You don’t speak wolf right?”

“Not at the moment, no,” Tam said with a small laugh and got off her bike.

Cynthia followed her up the cut stone path that led from street to the house’s front door. The developers were uninspired in the layout and aesthetic arrange of the house and its landscaping. The path wasn’t particularly well assembled, but it was serviceable and it didn’t take any dramatic turns, opting instead for the shortest (and cheapest) distance between the road and the porch at the front of the house.

The house itself was built to the same standard. Just good enough to attract a buyer’s eye, but without any extra touches of craftsmanship to reflect real pride in its construction. Once the neighborhood aged a bit the whole development would fade into obscuring normalcy, with the earliest homeowners being an unremarkable fixture of the landscape.

Unless they started eating people of course. That tended to draw attention from even the most jaded of suburbanites.

With thoughts like those buzzing around in her mind, and a few tricks literally up her sleeves (and on her eyelids), Tam walked forward trying for the best Anna-impersonation that she could muster.

When no one greeted them at the door, she looked for a doorbell and then settled on knocking instead.

It seemed a trifle silly. Even if the people inside were entirely mundane they had to be aware that someone was coming to visit.

“Hello?” The man who answered the door was not what Tam expected. He was tall but not exceptionally so, with a thin, academic’s build, deep black skin, and the sort of heavy eyeglasses that suggested he’d wrecked his vision reading far too many books from far too young an age.

“Hi!” Tam said. “We’re here to talk with the werewolves of the house.”

The man gave a surprised reaction. It was decently acted. Not professional grade in Tam’s opinion, but certainly acceptable for community theater or the like.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the man said, his gaze a little too measured and intent for someone who was truly shocked to find strangers spouting nonsense on his doorstep late at night.

Behind the man a large “dog” was laying on the couch very obviously bored and watching the TV. A smaller “dog” flounced through the room tearing into a chew toy with mad abandon.

“Red Wolf bloodline,” Tam said, pointing at the two “dogs”. “You must have family down in North Carolina?”

“I’m afraid you’re mistaken,” the man said.

“That’s probably true,” Tam said. “There’s a lot I don’t know about werewolves. Except that you’re one, and they are too.”

The man’s lips tightened but before he could respond Tam continued.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “You didn’t do anything to give it away. Take a look at my eye shadow.”

She closed her eyes so the man could get a better look at the iridescent shading on her upper eyelids.

“Moonstone?” he asked. “But why?”

“It’s a useful base for enchantments to reveal a shifter’s forms,” Tam said. “Also a pain in the butt to work with, but I have a friend who’s good with rush jobs like that.”

The adolescent red wolf and red wolf pup trotted over to stand behind the man, listening intently to the conversation.

“Why are you here?” the man asked again.

“Not to cause you any trouble,” Tam said. “Seriously, we just want to chat about some new neighbors that you’ll be getting in about, oh, three or four hours I think.”

“New neighbors?” the wolf pup asked.

“Awww”, Cynthia let out a delighted sigh before stifling herself and flashing Tam an embarrassed look.

The man, their father, let out an exasperated sigh and shook his head.

“Wow, that is fantastic control,” Tam said. “I thought it was really hard to produce human speech while shifted?”

“We’re gifted,” the man said.

“Hi gifted, I’m Tam,” Tam said, offering her hand.

“Oh my god, Dad jokes?” the adolescent wolf said, somehow conveying a teenager’s disbelief without the right body for the body language she used.

“You should come in,” the man said.

“Thank you,” Tam said, losing the disarming silliness from her voice. “This is Cynthia. We’re from the Second Chance Club. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of us?”

She followed the man and the two wolves inside in time to find a woman coming down the steps from the second floor with a baby in her arms. The woman was taller than the man, and more solidly built, though with glasses similar to her husband’s. If Tam had to guess, she would have bet that where the husband was a teacher and spent the majority of his time behind a desk, his wife was probably more of a field researcher.

“June, these are our guests, Tam and Cynthia,” the man said. “Somehow they know who we are.”

“Not much about who,” Tam said. “And even less about what. Just some basic info and that you’re werewolves.”

“And why do you know this?” June asked, her eyes never leaving Tam’s.

“Some quick research and a strong desire to head off any problems before they blow up unnecessarily,” Tam said.

She laid out for them the basics of what was about to happen and why. How their previously empty neighborhood was going to have over a dozen new tenants in the various houses, how the new neighbors were going to be a little shell shocked and out of touch with the modern world, why that was, and the kind of help they were likely to need.

Then she listened.

From Henry, the father, she drew out the concerns that the family had in general. The worries they felt over people learning their secrets, of worries about how judgemental people who’d missed the civil rights era were likely to be given how much prejudice and hatred existed in people who should have had decades of being raised better than that, and of how people were already starting to blame them for things that weren’t their fault without even being aware of the supernatural elements that made the family different from their neighbors.

From June, she learned about the specific difficulties they faced on a day to day basis. How the closer it got to the full moon, the more people could sense their wolf nature, and the more people grew fearful who otherwise knew them well.

“I don’t have answers for all of that,” Tam said. “And some of it will probably be a ‘work in progress’ sort of thing, but I can offer a few ideas right away. There’s a recipe I came across for a wolfsbane perfume. It’s potent stuff, but a werewolf named Karen Goldman left a book on it that said it could be made in a concentration that didn’t bother her nose but managed to suppress the wolfscent in her house and on herself. She lived in the Bronx and went from a social recluse to a kindergarten teacher and was beloved in the job for years.”

“My grandmother talked about a recipe like that but she said it never worked,” June said.

“There’s some finicky steps in the process, but if James can whip up enchanted moonstone eyeshadow in an hour, I’m pretty sure he can fix up a batch for you in the next day or two. At least to give it a try. If it works out, I can have him write down the directions, or show me how to do it and I’ll come back and lead you through it. If you’d like.”

“If it works, that would be very nice.”

“I don’t mean to pry,” Cynthia said. “But it seems like there’s a ton of misinformation about what werewolves. Do you really need to hide what you are?”

“We do,” Henry said. “The wolf nature we carry is still technically a curse. It didn’t work out quite how the man who cursed my ancestors intended, largely because we’re not the beasts he believed us to be, but attempts to repeat that curse on others could unleash the kind of troubles this world isn’t ready for and doesn’t ever need to see.”

“That just leaves one other likely cause for concern,” Tam said. “I read that there were some cows that have gone missing recently in this area?”

“Yes, that wasn’t us though,” June said.

“Yeah, the lack of a giant fridge to store the meat in kind of gave that away,” Tam said. “Any idea who could be responsible though? Something tells me that could be a problem that decides to complicate the lives of everyone here given how much residual magic there’s going to be floating around for the next week or two.”

“Well, there’s that research lab that had to lay off some people a month ago,” Henry said. “I know they’ve got a bio-tech division, and one of my students swore she saw one of their trucks driving around her farm before they lost three of their cows.”

“A bio-tech lab?” Tam asked, bring up her phone’s browser to do a check of the surrounding towns. She’d been diving so deeply into the werewolf research before she left that she’d skipped one of her most common steps.

“Yeah, Tartarus Technologies,” Henry said. “They’ve been here for decades I believe.”

Tam watched their homepage load and groaned as their logo appeared with a subtitle which read “A division of PrimaLux International!”

The Second Chance Club – S2 Ep 3 – Act 2

Val looked like a hundred miles of bad roads and a trip full of loosely observed speed limits. From the state of her bike, which was still cooling off outside the Second Chance Club’s mobile headquarters, Tam guessed it was closer to a thousand miles and that local speed limits had passed into the rear view mirrors much too fast to be observed at all.

“How do you keep up with this?” Val asked, seeing Tam and Cynthia entering the mobile home’s side door. Papers were taped to every wall and stacked on every horizontal surface. Val’s jacket was hanging by one sleeve from a peg on the wall over the dining nook where she had a trio of laptops setup.

“She usually has a bit more room to work with than the inside of an RV,” Jim Baughsley said from underneath the driver’s seat, where he was tinkering happily away. Tam was glad to see the Second Chance Club’s resident mechanic taking a turn out in the field. Jim had been the one to teach her ride a motorcycle after Anna and Val left her in the dust one too many times. She still had to work to keep up with Val, and she valued keeping her skeleton intact too much to try to outrace Anna, but thanks to Jim’s patient tutelage she had grown to love the machines he spent so much time and energy enhancing for them.

“Plus you usually don’t see my office when I’m at this stage in the preparations,” Tam said, clearing a seat for Cynthia to sit on.

“Well, the good news is that I’m farther along than it looks like,” Val said, tapping a few keys on the laptop to her left before swiveling it on the small dining table so that Tam could see the results.

“Ok, that looks like a housing division,” Tam said. “Why are we buying a housing division? And who are these old West refugees you were talking about.”

“They’re not technically refugees, or from the Old West,” Val said. “But they have lost their homes. The short form is Bright Springs was a bust, and we had to blow it up. Several times since the place was stuck in a time loop. It was kind of fun for a while but eventually we made the destruction stick, and then we had to deal with the fallout, which includes finding homes for people who haven’t had much contact with the outside world since the 1930’s. The good news is, with the town demolished all of the ghosts and the people are free to leave. The bad news is, they’ve got nowhere to go..”

“That’s a bit more than I expected you’d have to deal with,” Tam said, settling for understatement to convey her dismay.

“You gave us plenty to go on,” Val said.

“A time loop though?” Tam asked, disbelief eclipsing concern for the moment.

“Yeah, there was some kind of spell so anytime the town changed, or someone tried to leave it, the whole place blew up and reset everything to exactly how it was when the mineral rights deal was signed,” Val said.

“Oh good,” Tam said, breathing a sigh of relief. “That’s not a time loop.”

“Time loops are bad I take it?” Cynthia asked.

“In a wide variety of ways,” Tam said. “The short form is they take a lot of power and things go bad when they break. Like divide the universe by zero kinds of bad.

“I am kind of glad I didn’t know that half a day ago,” Val said. “So what was happening there?”

“Probably some kind of wide area restoration spell,” Tam said. “It would have prevented the town or anyone in it from changing much, but they still would have been part of the normal flow of time, not bubbled off or anything weird like that. It was still a good idea to move the townsfolk away though. We’ll need to head out there at some point and ground out whatever remnants of the spell remain, but for now we can focus on dealing with any weirdness that’s lingering around them.”

“Cool,” Val said. “I’d hate for all this careful research to go to waste.”

“As a warning, I’m betting that if you’ve found a place that seems great there’s about a 50% chance it’ll have some strange things going on of its own. Like tends to call to like,” Tam said.

“So 50% chance that this housing development is normal? That sounds like fantastic odds compared to what we’re used to,” Val said.

“If it looks normal when we get there, I’m going to be really worried,” Tam said. “Our chance for finding a “normal place” is probably less than 1%, maybe even zero. The other chances we’re looking at are for the various flavors of horror story that we might walk into.”

“Should you be walking into this place blind then?” Cynthia asked.

“Sadly the only method of detecting a lot of supernatural traps is to spring them,” Tam said.

“That figures,” Cynthia said. “What I meant though was do you have any resources to find out what’s going on with the area before you go in there?”

“Yeah, JB normally handles that kind of thing,” Val said. “Charlene’s got them working on another project though so we’re a bit understaffed at the moment.”

“We’re going to pay for that if we’re not careful,” Tam said. “Fortunately, in this case James might be able to help out.”

“You’re not going to drag poor James out into the field are you?” Jim asked.

“Nope,” Tam said. “Just ask him to put us in touch with one of his guildmates in the area.”

“James is in a guild?” Cynthia asked.

“Several as it turns out,” Tam said. “For a guy who’s pretty dead set against going out and meeting people, he’s got a surprisingly large array of associates and friends.”

“Is that why he’s got that Owl in his lab?” Val asked. “I’m going to be jealous if he’s got his own Hedwig.”

“No, he uses the internet like the rest of us,” Tam said. “He’s an arcane scholar, not a Luddite.”

“You think he’ll have a guildmate near this development?” Cynthia asked.

“It’s in Vermont and I know he’s got a few friends there, whether they’re right nearby is an open question but if there’s anything odd with the development there’s a decent chance they’ll have some sense of it.”

There was a knock on the door.

“I can get that,” Jim said, having extricated himself from beneath the driver’s seat.

“Are we expecting more visitors?” Tam asked, knowing that Anna wouldn’t have bothered to knock.

“No good ones,” Val said, rising from her seat and moving past Tam and Cynthia.

Tam bit back an objection that she could take care of herself. With how tired she felt, she wasn’t sure that was entirely true and she appreciated Val acting as a shield for Cynthia too.

“You’re not the one I came here to destroy,” a woman said when Jim opened the door.

Jim started to square up, the wrench in his hand clenched as an undersized club, when Val laid her hand on his shoulder and shook her head.

“Aranae?” she said. “Uh, nice to see you I guess?”

She stepped back and allowed the Spider Goddess to step into the increasingly cramped confines of the RV.

“I was hoping it would be,” Aranae said and planted a small kiss on Val’s cheek. “Your friend James reached out to me. Impressive that he knows how, dangerous too, but I won’t be adding him to list to throw into the Abyss. You might want to let him know that. He seemed a bit worried on the subject.”

“You’re going to do what now?” Tam asked.

“It’s complicated,” Val said.

“Not tremendously so,” Aranae said with a smile that was strangely lacking in malice or menace. “Hello, you must be Ms. Le?”

Tam glanced up to Val to see how dangerous the situation was. Val offered a sheepish shrug that told Tam both more and less than she needed to know.

“The only Aranae I know of is a pre-Hellenic deity,” Tam said. “She was either the first spider, or the mother of spiders, or a mortal woman who wove so finely that she became the embodiment of what it means to be a spider.”

“Like Arachne from the Greek myths?” Cynthia asked.

“A precursor myth, or one possible precursor,” Tam said. “Myth’s get kind of messy.”

“Yes,” Aranae said. “We do.”

“Why did James get in touch with you?” Val asked.

“We have an interest in common,” Aranae said. “There is a lovely shattered web. It used to be called Bright Springs. There is also a storm coming which is going to sweep up the threads of magic which blanket the ruins of the town.”

“Does the storm have a name?” Tam asked, a single unpleasant idea forming in her mind’s eye.

“Yes,” Aranae said, with a nod of satisfaction that Tam understood her.

“Scratch what I said about waiting to deal with Bright Springs then,” Tam said. “If the wrong kind of storm sweeps through Bright Springs and picks up all that energy it’ll be a disaster.”

“Like a Cat 5 hurricane?” Val asked.

“Like start building an Ark,” Tam said.

“Okay, I guess Anna can bring our townsfolk to a motel or something for a few days then,” Val said.

“If we’re not there to clear it first, it’s going to turn out to be the Bates Motel,” Tam said.

“There is another option,” Aranae said. “But I will need to abduct one of you to serve as my companion, a mortal life to allow a divine will to work within this world.”

“You’re willing to clean up Bright Springs?” Tam asked.

“The threads of magic would be useful in my web,” Aranae said. “So I don’t need to ask for a sacrifice or payment beyond the uncontested right to what I collect.”

“I’m happy to go with her, if you can handle stuff here Tam?” Val asked.

“Are you sure?” Tam asked. “She did say she was here to destroy you right?”

“All three of you,” Aranae said.

“Yeah, that’s, a thing,” Val said. “It’ll be ok for now though.”

“Come outside when you’re ready to be abducted then,” Aranae said. “I’ll start casting the strands to return us to Bright Springs.”

She turned and stepped out of the RV, but not before flashing Jim a toothy smile that left him blinking and pale.

“Val, seriously, are you sure about this?” Tam asked, grabbing Val’s wrist to prevent her from following Aranae.

“I am,” Val said. “Aranae and I are kind of, I don’t know, dating? It’s weird, but I think that’s because we’re still working things out.”

“What about the whole ‘destroy you all’ part?” Cynthia said.

“I’m working on that,” Val said. “Worst case, if this all goes sideways, we’ll know more about her than we would have, but I don’t think either one of us really wants to fight it out at this point.”

“So you’re dating a Spider Goddess?” Tam said.

“She’s nicer than she tries to let on,” Val said. “And we have fun together. And to be honest, I was kind of hoping to look her up anyways when this bunch of headaches was all done, so getting to spend a little time with her might be kind of nice.”

Tam looked for any sign of external compulsion or geas that might have been laid on Val but the only thing she could find in Val’s eyes was eagerness and delight.

“Be careful then, please,” Tam said. “If anything comes up that you’re not sure of, call me. If you can’t get through, then walk away and call me. I’ll be there whenever you need, okay?”

“Definitely,” Val said and pulled Tam in for a hug before joining Aranae outside the RV.

Tam watched her leave and then turned to the piles of paper Val had left behind in her wake.

“She either loves Aranae, or she just wanted to get away from this nightmare,” Tam said.

“No reason it can’t be both,” Cynthia said. “Can I give you a hand organizing it?”

“I can’t ask you to do that,” Tam said.

“You almost worked yourself into a coma,” Cynthia said. “I’d like to help make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

“It won’t,” Tam said. “And we don’t need to go through these. I know Val did a solid job on them. What we really need to do next is talk to whatever friend James can find in the area.”


James, as it turned out, had plenty of contacts to drawn on, one of whom even lived in the town Val had selected for relocating the citizens of Bright Springs.

“Oh yeah, I know that development complex,” Elizabeth Victoria said after Tam explained the situation to her. “They put it up where the Moon Valley Acres farm used to be. It’s a nice place. But…”

“I promise, whatever you say, I’m not going to think you’re weird or crazy,” Tam said. “I’ve worked with James for several years now.”

“Well, the missing cows you can read about in the newspaper, or online I guess,” Elizabeth said. “That’s what most people would consider weird. Most people don’t know about the family of werewolves that moved in recently though.”


The Second Chance Club – S2 Ep3 – Act 1

A police car ramped off a car parked on the side of the road, launching twenty feet into the air before it began to flip end over over. At the apex of its flight it exploded into a fireball that obscured the entire vehicle before its forward momentum and gravity brought it out of the flaming cloud to crash back onto the street. With a bounce, it landed on its somehow still intact wheels and the smoke covered driver floored the accelerator pedal, resuming their chase of the escaping bad guys.

Aside from its missing windows, omnipresent smoke stains, and some artful tongues of fire that were still burning, the car showed no discernible reduction in capacity related to the “Battle Damage” it had sustained after being hit with a rocket launcher.

“You know even with actual magic, I don’t think that would be possible,” Tam said, closing her eyes and leaning back against the lower part of her couch.

Cynthia, sitting on the couch above Tam, took the opportunity to adjust where she was massaging Tam’s head before answering.

“That’s the joy of these movies,” she said. “If you think about them at all you get brain whiplash.”

“No. Must. Overanalyze. Must. Science. Silly. Film. Geek. Cred. Demands. It.” Tam said in her best robotic voice.

“I thought you were going to rest that big juicy brain of yours tonight?” Cynthia asked, running her fingers slowly through Tam’s hair.

“Nitpicking movies is how my people rest,” Tam said, feeling tension that she hadn’t imagined she was carrying in her scalp melt away under Cynthia’s careful minstations.

“Well, lucky for you then, the stunts get a lot less plausible after this,” Cynthia said as the police car on the TV screen slid through an impossibly sharp turn and somehow wound up racing horizontally along the side of a building.

Tam chuckled when the car managed to reorient itself to land on its wheels in between camera cuts.

“Now that one, I could do,” she said. “But it would have to be near the middle of winter and I’d need a bucket of untainted spring water blessed by two opposing religious factions.”

Cynthia paused her work on Tam’s head.

“You realize I have no hope of figuring out when you’re being serious and when you’re pulling my leg, right?” she asked.

“Lying about magic is no fun,” Tam said. “It’s too easy, even with other magicians, and usually the truth is so much weirder and more interesting.”

“So everything you tell me is the truth?” Cynthia asked, both playful and serious at the same time.

“I hope so,” Tam said, curiosity rushing in with a thousand guesses as to where Cynthia’s question was leading. “I mean, I can always be wrong about things, but I don’t want to ever deceive you. I do that too much in both of my jobs. And I’ve seen what lying can do to a relationship. Or what it always does.”

“Yeah, I’ve lost a few thanks to one or both of us not being honest with the other,” Cynthia said. “It’s never pretty.”

“I don’t know that it’s something people grow out of,” Tam said, “but I hope that’s not going to be an issue for us. I feel like at 30, I should have learned enough of those lessons by now that being an actual grownup with a woman I care for shouldn’t be all that much to ask of myself.”

“I know what you mean,” Cynthia said. “Being with you is so easy, but there’s a part of me that’s still waiting for me to make one of the thousand stupid mistakes I made as a kid.”

“Maybe we should,” Tam said.

“Should what?”

“Make mistakes,” Tam said. “I don’t mean we should get into a fight for no reason, or go on a wild bender that leaves us with warrants across five states, I mean the simple screw ups. The things we can talk about. You’re so great to be with, but you don’t have to be great all the time. I want to be with you even if you’re feeling pretty mediocre. I want to be with you even if you’re feeling terrible. No matter how you are, I want to be with you.”

Cynthia let her hands drift down to Tam’s shoulders.

“Ok, well then maybe I should ask this,” she said. “What would you think about moving in together? I know we’ve only known each other for a few months now, so I will absolutely understand if you want to let things develop more gradually. I don’t want to rush you at all, I was just thinking that you need someone to watch your place while you’re on the road anyway and it’s always easier to cover rent with a roommate and…”

Before Cynthia could list off anymore reasons, Tam placed her hands over Cynthia’s and leaned her head over to hug Cynthia’s leg.

“I’ve been trying to figure out how to ask you that for the past week,” she said, with a chuckle.

“What? Really?”

“Yeah,” Tam said. “I mean, I’ve kind of felt like I was going with the sneaky weasel option of achieving the same thing by just being over here all the time anyways lately, but, yeah, I’ve been thinking I should ask you if you wanted to make it an official thing for a while now.”

Cynthia laughed.

“God. I’ve been trying to figure out if it was too soon, and how I should ask you, since the second time you slept over for two nights in a row,” she said.

Tam shook her head and sighed.

“Would you believe I talked myself out of staying a third night that time because I didn’t want you to feel too crowded?” she said. “Yes, I am a grownup. A grownup idiot.”

“Hey! We already did it then!” Cynthia said. “You said we should make mistakes together right? Look at us, on the ball and having it covered even before we knew we were supposed to be trying to mess up. Go us!”

Tam laughed and then turned around to climb up and meet Cynthia’s gaze at eye level.

“I am very lucky to have found you,” she said. “I know that and I think I’ve been holding back because I’m afraid if I show you how much you mean to me it’ll seem freaky, and I know I’m already super freaky as it is.”

Cynthia looked startled for the length of a heartbeat but then leaned forward and gave Tam a quick but gentle kiss before replying.

“Dating you has literally been out of this world,” she said. “I love the freaky parts of you and the regular parts. I love you, so you don’t need to hold back. I want you, all of you, or at least all you’re willing to give me, because I know I am very lucky to have met you too.”

Tam heard all of that but three simple words in the middle of it bounced back and forth in her head and drowned out all the rest.

She wanted to kiss Cynthia back. She wanted to make an even grander, more romantic gesture, possibly involving magic, or stagecraft, or both. She wanted to at least say those three words in return to Cynthia.

But her phone rang.

Before Tam could stop her, Cynthia reached over and picked it up.

“I’m your answering service tonight, remember?” she said.

It was part of Tam’s enforced rest that Cynthia had insisted upon. The world might be in dire need of Tam, but it was also as likely to be calling for tech support or to schedule something that could wait till later. Without putting up much resistance, Tam had agreed to the notion that Cynthia could handle any incoming calls that seemed important enough to answer in order to weed out the ones that Tam really didn’t need to deal with.

“Hello, you’ve reached Tam Le’s personal assistant, how may I handle your call?” Cynthia asked and after a moment added, “Oh, hi Val. Yeah, she’s in, is this important though? She’s still pretty wiped out.”

Tam waited and felt the tension that Cynthia had massaged out of her scalp starting to gather again.

“Refugees from an old west ghost town?” Cynthia said and Tam felt herself deflate.

She knew what that had to be a reference to. She’d been lining up hundreds of potential cases, but  the one revolving around the Old West town of Bright Springs had been in the Top 10 likely problem areas. That Val was calling about it suggested James had been able to track down the missing contract information and Bright Springs had gone from Top 10 to Number 1.

A pang of guilt passed through Tam at the thought that Anna and Val had been forced to deal with the problem without her, but she had to also admit that in the state she’d been in she would have been more of a liability that an asset.

The idea that the resolution had left them with refugees to deal with bothered her too though. It suggested a more destructive end to the case than she’d foreseen in her research on it. That was another sign that she’d been slipping from fatigue but also a sign that Anna and Val might have been in a lot more danger than they’d planned for.

“Ok, I’ll see what sort of shape she’s in tomorrow then and we’ll head over after breakfast,” Cynthia said before hanging up.

“Did Bright Springs explode or something?” Tam asked once Cynthia put the phone down.

“Umm, yes, I think?” Cynthia said. “Val didn’t give me the whole story but it sounds like there was a town with people from another era that need a place to live now. So I’m guessing the town they were in isn’t there anymore?”

“That’s not great,” Tam said. “The town I left them notes for, it was a place called Bright Springs, had some really complex magic woven into it. If it blew up, there could be all sorts of problems that rush to fill in the void the town left.”

“Like what? And is it something they can handle without you?” Cynthia asked.

“I’d need to study it in person to know for sure, but there could be bits of wild magic, or unstable portals to other places or times left behind,” Tam said. “Most of it would dissipate before too long, unless someone like our friend Sycorax decided to lay claim to the torn up threads of magic and weave them into something new to suit their own purposes.”

“You said James wasn’t good at field work right?” Cynthia asked.

“Yeah, it’s an area he knows that he struggles with,” Tam said. “He’s really brave, but new places and especially new people in new places he finds really challenging. That said though, he could do a lot to investigate Bright Springs without leaving his own Sanctum, so they’ve probably got that part covered.”

“And the people who lived in the town?” Cynthia asked.

“They’re a different story,” Tam said. “If Anna and Val are moving them, someone is going to need to go with them and make sure they don’t get snarled up between all the spells they’ve been living under and any existing magics of the place they move too.”

“Kind of like getting inoculations when you travel to a distant place in the world because the germs there are different than the ones we have here?” Cynthia asked.

“Basically,” Tam said. “We all adapt to the areas we live in, and that includes the casual magics that surround us. For normal situations, travel from country to country is trivial, magically speaking. There’s so few enchantments and spells that anyone runs into that carrying a thread of magic from Egypt into Greece wouldn’t even raise an errant spark, unlike a few millennia ago where it could have started a war. With a town like Bright Spring though, I’m guessing the among of lingering magic will be pretty substantial.”

“So are these Old West refugees going to start a war?” Cynthia asked.

“Not if someone can make sure that wherever they wind up is able to welcome them with basic human decency,” Tam said.

“Is there a place like that?” Cynthia asked, her cynicism having been sharpened to a fine edge by an awareness of human history, and especially recent examples thereof.

“There is if we make one,” Tam said, standing up and knowing that she’d gotten all the rest she was going to be able to afford to take.

The Second Chance Club – S2 Ep 2 – Act 4

Anna was walking into an ambush. There was a warm comfort to that. She could manage uncertainty and navigate delicate political situations but sometimes it was nice to know exactly what she was getting herself into right from the beginning. The moment she stepped into the gas station office, the world came to life and everything went wrong in just the way she hoped it would.

She’d waited a few moments after Val entered the Post Office on the off chance that things were more or less as they appeared to be. When Val didn’t emerge after a minute though, Anna knew that the buildings weren’t as empty as they seemed to be.

She could have followed Val, and normally would have. Second Chance Club associates backing up their partners was a standard operating procedure but if Tam’s guess as to the nature of Bright Springs was correct then Anna didn’t have any concern about Val being able to handle herself.

Plus, the Post Office wasn’t the building that was inviting her to enter.

From the outside, the gas station had looked well lit with only a few pieces of simple furniture on the floor and and walls. Waiting inside however, she found three men and two women, all armed, and all with the sort of sour looks that said there was violence in the offing which they had little taste for.

“Before we get started,” Anna said, “which of you is the one I can have a nice  conversation with once the unpleasantries are taken care of?”

The largest bearded man in the room twitched at that and, rather than answering with words, swung the baseball bat that he was holding.

It was a good swing, solid and from the shoulder. If Anna had stayed in place it would have cracked into the left side of her neck with enough downward force to shatter her collarbone and disable her left arm. The only flaw in the attack was the moment’s hesitation that preceded it.

Anna wasn’t the fighter that Val was. She did ok when they sparred but that was only because Val held back and Anna didn’t.  That was how she always fought, which was unfortunate for the man swinging the bat at her.

From the position where he had the bat readied, and the grip he held it with, Anna could see exactly where his swing was going to go well before he decided to make his attack.

With a small side step, she slid away from the blow, allowing the man to overextend himself. As he started to tip forward off balance, she grabbed his shirt sleeve and forced him hard into the door beside her.

The gas station door was old, and hadn’t been built with the sturdiest of materials to begin with, so when the man struck it with the full force of his face and torso, the door shattered into kindling.

Then the town exploded.

Anna blinked and spit dust out of her mouth.

She’d wound up on the ground somehow.

Beside her Val was rising to her feet as well.

“Well that sucked,” Val said, shaking her head to clear the ringing away from her ears.

The explosion had rippled through the town fast enough that Anna could barely recall it, but given the immensity of the blast she was having a hard time understanding why she was around to remember anything at all.

“Things did not go well in the Post Office?” she asked, getting to her feet. They were back at their bikes, but this time the lights were on in all five of the buildings that made up Bright Springs.

“I may not have been as diplomatic as I should have been,” Val said.

“I don’t think any amount of diplomacy would have avoided that,” Anna said. She had her suit jacket back and Val was wearing her own racing jacket again.

“Well, at least we found the townsfolk,” Val said, dusting herself off.

“And now you’ll regret that you did,” the baseball bat wielding man said as he exited the gas station flanked by the other ambushers.

“Aww, did you find some friends to play with? They’re just adorable with those little sticks,” Val said, stepping forward into a casual fighting stance.

“We don’t want to fight you,” the short, older woman of the group said. That she was clutching a branding iron raised questions that none of the others were leaping to answer.

“You are not wrong about that,” Val said. Five on one weren’t great odds, but watching the five townsfolk move as a group told her they would be more a danger to each other than to her if a serious fight broke out.

“What Hilda means is that it’s too late for you, so there’s no point in fighting anymore,” the other woman said.

The resemblance between them was too strong for Anna to believe the taller woman was anything other than Hilda’s sister.

“And why was it that you were so intent on fighting before?” Anna asked.

“We were trying to save you,” the man with the baseball bat said.

“You have an odd method of saving people,” Anna said.

The townsfolk glanced at the weapons and nervously dropped their arms to their sides to show they weren’t threatening violence anymore. Anna noted that they didn’t actually drop the weapons though.

“We wanted to get you out of here before you did anything,” Hilda said. “Then you went and broke the door and now the town’s got you.”

“I broke a window too,” Val said. “Or I guess the Post Office manager’s face broke a window. Kind of the same thing really.”

“You shoved him through a window?” Anna asked. “We weren’t even inside for two minutes?”

“Technically I didn’t shove him,” Val said. “It was a knee strike, and what can I say, he deserved it.”

“Miller must be fuming in there,” Hilda said. “Poor Bill, he’s gonna get it for sure.”

“Sounds like I need to go have another ‘discussion’ with Mitchy,” Val said.

“No! Don’t do that!” the baseball man said.

“If you break anything in the town, the judgement comes,” Hilda said.

“The Judgement? That why the town seemed to explode?” Anna asked.

“It didn’t seem to, it did,” the baseball man said. “Anytime the town changes from how it was when the contract was signed, the Day of Judgement comes and sets it all back to how it was.”

“Like Groundhog Day?” Val asked, but the townsfolk replied with only confused silence.

Tam had speculated that the ‘town being kept as it was’ clause in the contract could have a component of temporal manipulation involved, but she hadn’t given them the full details on what a time loop that could hold a town in stasis for a century would entail.

“So when I broke the door, and Val broke the window, everything reset?” Anna asked. “And somehow that has made us a part of this town?”

“Yeah, that’s how I got stuck here,” a smaller man at the back of the group said. “I stopped in to grab a bite because I’d heard of the restaurant here from my grandmother. Backed into the gas pump by mistake and that was it for me, I’ve been stuck here ever since.”

“When was that?” Anna asked.

“1961,” the man said.

To Anna’s eyes the man couldn’t have been older than his mid-thirties but she knew that deceptions were the easiest form of magic. Not that the deception was complete. The man might look like he was in his thirties but there was a quality to his eyes that suggested sixty years of weight those thirty plus years were never intended to bear.

“Why couldn’t you leave?” Val asked.

“We don’t know,” Hilda said. “Anyone who’s here is a part of the town through. Anything happens to them, or the town, and it all gets rolled back like you saw.”

“What’s the longest you’ve gone without a reset?” Anna asked.

“It varies,” Hilda said. “I know we had one time where we went about three months with time passing like it does for everyone else. Other times it just seems to skip back whenever it wants. Sometimes two or three times per day.”

“So anyone who’s here when the town resets gets added on as a permanent resident?” Val asked. “How come you’re not overflowing with population here?”

“Most people cannot find Bright Springs, I imagine,” Anna said. “We did because we knew of it through PrimaLux’s contract. He did because he knew of the restaurant from his mother. Without a connection to Bright Springs, we might have driven right through and never noticed it.”

“It seems like that,” Hilda said. “Back before this all started, we never had all that many people come through, but afterwards it was like nothing else existed at either end of the road.”

“What happens if you try to leave?” Val asked.

“If we get too far away that seems to be the same as taking something from the town,” Hilda said. “We wind up back wherever the town wants us to be.”

“Is that why you were in the gas station?” Anna asked. “Did the town put you there?”

“And gave us the weapons,” the baseball man said.

“We only wanted to knock you out and dump you outside of town before the next reset,” Hilda said.

“So you were concerned enough for her well being that you expressed it with a baseball bat?” Val asked.

“No,” Anna said. “It wasn’t for my sake. They didn’t want another member of the town to spend eternity with.”

“Not one the town didn’t like!” the baseball man said.

“But it was for your sake too,” Hilda said. “Who would want to be trapped like this? Never able to move forward or change at all.”

Anna and Val looked at one another.

“The guy who holds the deed that set this up I would imagine,” Val said.

“Perhaps we should all go pay him a visit?” Anna suggested and began walking towards the Post Office.

The others fell into line behind her, Val trusting her insight and the townsfolk having nothing better to do at that point.

Inside the Post Office, Bill was dutifully reading a handbook on postal regulations which looked like he’d read it a few thousand times already.

“Hello?” he said followed swiftly by, “You shouldn’t go in there!”

Anna ignored that and marched into the office of Mitchel Miller to find the man backed into a corner and pointing a gun at her.

“Under the circumstances, that is a singularly ineffective threat, don’t you think?” Anna said.

Miller’s gaze flicked around as more people entered the room before returning to Anna.

“Mitchel Miller,” she said. “Former PrimaLux Director of Natural Resource Development for their Americas division. This is quite the golden parachute you arranged for yourself.”

“What is she talking about?” Hilda asked. “Mitch has been here as long as the rest of us.”

“Of course he has,” Anna said. “This is the one place on Earth where he was safe from the machinations of his former employer.”

“Mitch? What are they saying?” Hilda asked.

“You weren’t the one who arranged the original deal, were you Mitchy?” Val said. Miller swung the gun to point at her but didn’t answer. “You had one of your flunkies come and make the offer after you bought some land here so that you’d be a legit part of the town.”

“Then you put together a deal that would snare the souls of the dead to power the time loop that you caught the town in,” Anna said. “The deal required PrimaLux to create the loop but since it was self sustaining and got them the resources they wanted, it was easy enough to convince them to take the offer.”

“Strange time loop,” Val said. “It seems like it rolls forward with regular time.”

“That’s what we thought,” Hilda said. “We get set back, and the town gets set back, everything just like it was, but the rest of the world keeps moving on.”

“It’s the perfect tool for someone who wants to live forever, but also continue to exert their power on the outside world,” Anna said.

“There is one odd bit though,” Val said. “I’m not a legal expert, but I thought the deal stipulated that the Additional Value clause or whatever it was that gives the owner control over the souls of the dead only came into force if PrimaLux had to relinquish ownership of the deed. Kind of a payback for the loot they were losing.”

“That’s true,” Anna said. “Which suggests that the transfer didn’t happen when PrimaLux fell. It happened right after the deal was signed.”

“And who could have been the one to get the deed from PrimaLux?” Val asked. “Could it be Mister Mitchy Miller himself?”

She strode over to him and slapped the gun out of his hand.

Firing it would have been useless. It just would have reset the town and they would have done the same scene all over again until it turned out how they wanted.

“Why, what do we have here?” she said, pulling a thin envelope out of his coat pocket and tossing it to Anna.

“This would look to be the signatory sheet for the Mineral Rights contract,” Anna said.

“It doesn’t matter if you destroy that one,” Miller said. “It won’t void the contract. There are still copies on file in safe locations, and I’m still the owner!”

“That is true,” Anna said. “Which is why you’re going to sell us the Mineral Right deed and we’ll put an end to this ourselves.”

“Why would I do that? I would never do that!” Miller said.

So Anna threw his nameplate through the window.

And the town reset.

She and Val marched back into Miller’s office. Miller objected to their presence. So Val threw Miller through the window, again.

And the town reset.

They didn’t talk to Miller or make him any offers after that. They merely repeated resetting the town until he ran out to meet them before they could enter the Post Office.

“I will get you for this,” he said, offering them the contract.

Val tossed him in through the window this time.

And the town reset.

“You don’t deserve it, but this is your second chance,” Anna said when he hobbled out to them the next time. “Here’s one dollar. This pays for the contract. You’re going to take it and walk out of here and pray that the rest of your life passes by without you ever seeing anyone from Bright Springs or either of us again.”

“Because if you do to scheme against us or them,” Val said, “we’re going to make sure the ghosts you’ve been abusing get a second chance at their revenge on you.”

The Second Chance Club – S2 Ep2 – Act 3

Ghost towns are supposed to be haunted. It’s the juxtaposition between the apparent emptiness of the buildings and streets set against the weight of time and memories that provokes fascination and dread. Walking through a ghost town involves brushing through hints and whispers of a past that foresaw a very different future than the one which arrived. The ruined windows and barren storefronts whisper a voiceless testament to mortality, quiet enough to be overlooked by a bit of bravado but clear enough to raise goosebumps on those who are either particularly sensitive or looking for a thrill.

Val wasn’t sure she fell into either category, but when she scanned the few buildings which made up Bright Springs, she didn’t feel like she was gazing on anything with ties to the afterlife.

There was something off about Bright Springs, something that made the hair on the back of her neck itch, but it wasn’t an absence like a proper ghost town should have had.

“I could swear we’re being watched,” she said, looking for the spots a sniper would naturally gravitate towards.

“That wouldn’t be unexpected,” Anna said. Her gaze was fixed on the Post Office across the street. “If so however, they seem willing to allow us to make the first move.”

“Where do we start then?” Val asked. It wasn’t a big town, but wherever they went in it she was sure they would find something. Whether it was something that wanted to be found or something they wanted to find was another story.

“Do you see a light on over there?” Anna asked, pointing at the Post Office’s dark windows.

“No,” Val asked, trying hard to see what Anna was talking about. “Do you?”

“It appears I am being invited inside,” Anna said. She brushed off her suit and straightened her shoulders, but didn’t move forward.

“But they don’t want me?” Val asked. There was roughly zero chance of an invitation like that turning out well. Despite that, history suggested there was a fifty-fifty chance that Anna would accept it anyways.

“Do you see any lights on anywhere here?” Anna asked, stretching the fingers on each hand as she contemplated the situation.

“Only the one inside the gas station,” Val said, nodding to the empty building behind them.

“Interesting,” Anna said. “To me, that building looks completely dark.”

“That’s probably not a good sign, is it?” Val asked. Separate perceptions of their surroundings either meant they were being drawn to different, and potentially disconnected, places, or someone was controlling what they could see. Neither was ideal, but neither was completely surprising either.

“Perhaps not, but I do think we can make use of it,” Anna said, unbuttoning her suit jacket. “Let me borrow your racing jacket.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s not going to fit,” Val said. The difference in the two women’s builds wasn’t as much a concern as the difference in their height. Anna in Val’s racing jacket would find the bottom of the jacket reaching her navel and the sleeves would barely make it halfway down her forearms.

“We don’t need to wear them,” Anna said. “Just drape it over your shoulders.”

“Ok,” Val said and shrugged off the jacket she wore. “Why are we doing this though?”

“I want you to be my spokesperson,” Anna said. She took Val’s jacket in exchange for her own and dropped it onto her shoulders like a black leather cape.

“That’s not exactly my forte,” Val said, folding Anna’s coat and carrying it over her left arm.

“Whoever is inviting me into the Post Office and you into the gas station has some particular ideas about us,” Anna said. “Since they don’t know us, they probably think I am the leader since I’m older, and you’re my protection.”

“That’s not exactly wrong,” Val said.

“I wouldn’t have asked you to talk Misha over to our side when we took down PrimaLux if I didn’t think you were just as socially adept as I am,” Anna said. “I have a little more experience, but you’re good at reading people. Go see what our friend in the Post Office wants. I’ll deal with the ones they wanted you to tangle with.”

“Wouldn’t it make more sense to stick together?” Val asked.

“It would but I noticed that the light in the Post Office is only on when I’m the only one looking at it,” Anna said. “As soon as you turned to it, the light went off. I’m guessing the same was true of the gas station.”

“I don’t see a light on inside it at all anymore,” Val said.

“And I do, or I did until you just looked at it,” Anna said. “Take a look at the Post Office.”

“It’s lit up now.”

“And now?” Anna asked, turning to see it’s dark windows staring back at her.

“The light just went off,” Val said.

“Then I believe our invitations are for one only,” Anna said.

“Great. I guess we shouldn’t keep them waiting any longer then, should we?” Val said.

“I suspect they’ve waited quite a long time already, but we do have other matters to attend to,” Anna said.

There was no need to make plans for what to do if they wound up in trouble. Walking into such an obvious trap meant they were in trouble already.  The key was determining exactly how much damage they would need to do in order to get out of that trouble.


The door to the Post Office swung open with the creak of a problem long in need of repair. The light Val had followed inside turned out to come from a central ceiling light with an ancient filament bulb above a battered old counter, behind which row of post office boxes sat.

A tall, thin man sat behind the desk working on a crossword puzzle in folded newspaper. His suit looked overly formal for a post office clerk while also being worn and threadbare enough that Val had to wonder why he wouldn’t have chosen something simpler if he wanted to put on a professional appearance. Also, she didn’t pay much attention to men’s fashion, but something about the cut of his suit seemed archaic. Not “Wild West Boom Town chique” but the cut of his lapel and the overall fit of the suit was definitely from earlier in the previous century.

He looked up when she stepped through the door and blinked in confusion.

“Hello?” he asked, sounding unsure as to whether that was an actual word in English anymore. “Can I help you?”

“I think that’s my question for you,” Val said. She and Anna were in Bright Springs to rescue the town after all. It seemed like the Post Office clerk was going to be the last person who could give them the answers they needed to do so though.

Before the clerk could answer, another man stepped forward from the back office area. Where the clerk was tall and thin, his manager was tall and solid. His features held hard lines of masculine beauty that had been chiselled from granite, and his frown looked tight enough to squeeze diamonds out of coal.

“Don’t worry Bill,” the manager said. “I’ll handle this one.”

Val compressed a chuckle into a short huff. She’d grown up with plenty of meatheads who lived in the gym long enough to turn themselves into perfectly taut specimens of testosterone fueled muscle. Contrary to the stereotypes, some of them managed to be decent guys too, but the gleam of malice in the managers eyes was familiar enough that she knew he wasn’t going to be one of the chill bodybuilder types.

“This ought to be good,” she said and glanced towards the manager’s office to see if he wanted to conduct their discussion in private or whether Bill the clerk was going to get a ring side seat.

“Please, step into my office, Ms…?” the manager said, fishing for her name.

“I’m with the Second Chance Club,” Val said, following him into an office that took up the back half of the Post Office.

The manager’s space was subtly different again from what she’d been expecting. Where Bill’s outfit and the faded decor of the reception area spoke of a time decades gone by, the manager’s office held a timeless quality. Nothing within it spoke to a particular time period, but everything spoke of wealth and privilege.

Val was half certain that when she’d stepped through the door to the Post Office, she’d done the equivalent of walking into a fairy ring. She might still be on Earth, but that didn’t mean there weren’t other rules which applied as well. Rules such as names being the key to far more influence over someone than they normally would be.

“I am afraid I have not heard of your organization,” the manager said. On his desk a name plaque gleamed in polished gold reading “Mitchel Miller”. It probably wasn’t his real name, but it was still something to work with.

“We work for Charlene Potestates,” Val said. James, JB, and Tam had all cautioned Val against giving her own name out freely in an unfamiliar realm, but Charlene herself had instructed her employees to use her name whenever they were in unfamiliar lands.

“Oh,” Miller said. “Her.”

His frown turned the delightful shade of sour disgust that told Val she was speaking with exactly the person she needed to be.

“Nice town you have here Mitch,” she said, dropping into one of the chairs in front of Miller’s desk without brushing off the road dust from her pants. She was tempted to prop her feet up on his desk but she knew that would push him over the edge and for the moment she was willing to play things closer to how Anna would have handled them. Diplomatically.

“Why are you here?” Miller asked.

“We’re here to oversee that the revision of ownership for Bright Springs is handled properly,” Val said.

“On whose authority?” Miller asked, sitting behind his desk and scowling at her.

“The Second Chance Club is acting as a neutral party in this affair,” Val said. “At the request of principals from the now defunct PrimaLux Holdings, we are tracking down some accounting irregularities with the older and more exceptional contracts which Prima had on the books.”

The “PrimaLux Principal” in question was Anna’s new friend Zoe, the former Director of Special Operations for PrimaLux, and the request was more along the lines of general tipoff which Zoe had provided to Tam about areas to look into where problems were likely to arise. Val channeled her inner Anna though and decided that Mr. Mitch Miller did not need to be enlightened any more than was convenient for her to tell him.

“There’s nothing for you to shove your noses into here,” Miller said.

“Right, nothing going on here at all,” Val said. She kicked her feet up and dropped them on Miller’s desk.

Anna could have kept him talking, could have dragged Miller around in circles until he was so dizzy from the debate that he collapsed and told her what she wanted to know. Tam knew she didn’t have that kind of patience though. Miller was already annoying her, and she knew it wouldn’t be long before he crossed the line and she was forced to feed him his teeth. Guys like Miller were predictable to a fault. They had to be right, they had to be the most important person in the room, and they absolutely couldn’t tolerate the thought of being called to task for their wrongdoings.

“Get out here!” Miller yelled, jumping to his feet.

Just like Val knew he would.

She took one foot and shoved the desk hard enough to push Miller into the wall.

“No,” she said, and folded her leg back without rising from the chair.

Angry purple veins roared to the surface of Miller’s face as he went crimson with rage. Rather than leaping over the desk at Val though, he began to scrambled to push it away so that he could reach one of the drawers.

She kicked it again, crushing his hand in between the edge of the desk and the window, which brought a torrent of profanity pouring from his mouth. He favored gendered insults, but made time to insult her heritage, her family, and her sexual proclivities as well.

“You’ve got one good hand left,” Val said. “If you want to keep it intact, don’t try to reach for gun in that drawer again.”

“I am going to kill you, you little…”

Val didn’t give him a chance to finish his threat. If he was going to use his mouth to spew hate then she was going to teach him what the consequences of that should be.

Stepping onto the desk, she didn’t bother with any fancy moves.

His mouth was vomiting words, so she shut it.

With her knee.

Hard enough that he crashed through the window behind them and tumbled into the street as the bloody, shattered mess he deserved to be.

Then the town exploded.

The Second Chance Club – S2 Ep 2 – Act 2

The conference room was cluttered, the cool breeze of the air conditioning threatening to blow the already chaotic piles of documents littered around it out of any semblance of order they might once have had.

“I thought paperless offices were the wave of the future?” Val said, holding a half dozen folders spread out like playing cards in her hand.

“I haven’t been home in four days,” Tam said, running her hand through the tangled mess her hair had become. “I don’t think I’ve showered in three. There’s been a lot to keep track of.”

“Have you slept?” Anna asked, placing a small cup of tea down in the limited open space near Tam’s laptop.

“Maybe?” Tam said. “That sounds familiar. Sleep is that thing you do in a bed right?”

“JB would you please take Tam back to her apartment,” Anna said.

“Can’t sleep yet,” Tam said. “There’s too much going on. We need to stay ahead of it.”

“We need to stay capable of dealing with it,” Anna said. “Go. Rest now. Val and I can ride this whirlwind for a while.”

“I’ll be ok, I’m perfectly awake,” Tam said, struggling to suppress a yawn.

“<Somnia>,” James said as he walked by her with a stack of aging books.

Like a balloon deflating Tam slumped down across her laptop, her arms just missing the tea cup Anna had left for her.

“Did you just put a sleep whammy on our magician?” Val asked.

“That was the precursor of a sleep spell,” James said. “Normally it wouldn’t have been enough to put an infant to sleep at naptime, but I suspected Ms. Le might have rather limited resistance to it under the present circumstances.”

“Just how long has she been working?” Val asked, concern slowly coloring her words.

“I think she’s been on this since she got back from Atlantis,” JB said, lifting Tam from her chair and carrying her towards the door. “I checked in with Cynthia yesterday and Tam’s gone back to her apartment a few times but even then she was in research mode. I’ll make sure she stays home this time until she’s rested and back up to speed.”

“What did you folks find in the Drowned City?” Val asked, looking over to Anna.

Anna paused and her gaze went distant for a moment.

“The Drowned City had more that called it home than just the scholars we saved,” Anna said. “There were ancient beings there as well, things that predate the dawn of humanity.”

“From Ms Le’s reports I believe they were older than that,” James said. “There are creatures which dwell in the myth-worlds which predate the formation of the Earth itself. Vast, cosmic powers which devour stars and to whom death is nothing more than a brief slumber before eternity passes and they can rise again to greet a new day.”

“And you met these things?” Val asked, her eyebrows arched in disbelief.

“No,” Anna said. “We saw shrines to them, and discovered texts in Old Atlantean which described their resting places.”

“Why would that put Tam into ‘all work, no play’ mode?” Val asked.

“We visited their resting places too, looking for an option to get back,” Anna said. “That wasn’t good. Most of the tombs were empty.”

“Like grave robbers got there first?”

“No, like something inside pushed itself out, despite all the bindings that the tombs were wrapped in,” Anna said.

“That…doesn’t sound good,” Val said. “Why didn’t you mention it before this though? We’ve been running around everywhere for weeks now dealing with all kinds of stuff. Some of it couldn’t have been as important as stopping the end of the world.”

“It’s not the end of the world,” Anna said.

“If the cosmic entities I spoke of had awoken we would not need to question their arrival. They are less creatures as we understand them and more cataclysms given a name and identity,” James said. “For as busy as we have been of late, we have yet to encounter any problems of the scale the Drowned Ones would bring.”

“So why is Tam melting down?” Val asked.

“She is trying to understand how the tombs could be empty without an apocalypse occurring,” James said.

“She’s been doing more than that too,” Anna said. “We’ve been busy because things are moving around. Different people and, in some cases, creatures, are rushing in to fill the power vacuum which PrimaLux’s collapse created. Some of them, like Sycorax, were freed from the binding arrangements they made PrimaLux, others are simply opportunists who seem this as a gold rush on PrimaLux’s former areas of operation and assets.”

“So did PrimaLux have deals with these Drowned Ones? Is that what was holding them out in the myth-worlds?” Val asked.

“We’re not sure,” James said.

“That’s part of what Tam was researching,” Anna said. “The rest was trying to get a handle on the overall trends we’re seeing to determine if there’s some larger player at work.”

“That sounds like a lot of detective work,” Val said.

“In this case, it is less about discovering who is guilty for a past crime and more about predicting who might be the next victim of a future one,” James said. “Ms. Le was able to isolate the incident with the school bus by finding a correlation between PrimaLux’s mining operations and the cage spells they employed on a number of Earth spirits.”

“The Old Green Man was the next spirit on the list to awaken and fortunately she sent me out there in time,” Anna said.

“Was she right then?” Val asked. “Do we need her working here to head those kind of problems off?”

“Yes and no,” Anna said. “Yes, her efforts are invaluable, but no, we don’t need her here at the moment. She’s already located the next issue we need to work on. We need to deal with that before we move on, otherwise we’re going to become too scattered. Let her rest for this one, and we’ll have a much better chance with the next problem, and the one after that, and so on.”

“I’m going to guess this is one we can handle with just the two of us?” Val asked.

“I believe so,” Anna said. “All we need to do is save the souls of a small town.”


Val cut her bike’s engine and wiped her face. She hadn’t swallowed the Gobi Desert but she was covered with enough dust that it felt like she had.

“When you said ‘small town’ you weren’t kidding, were you?” Val asked.

Anna had already parked and was pulling off her riding leathers.

“Bright Springs wasn’t a big city even during the gold rush,” Anna said. “From Tam’s notes there were only a few small strikes in the hills we drove through.”

“I’m surprised it’s still here,” Val said. “I thought little old west places like this turned into ghost towns and blew away a hundred years ago?”

“That was my understanding too,” Anna said. “Bright Springs held on though it seems. Tam says it’s location made it a convenient stop in the early 20th century for travelers and it had a well regarded restaurant to draw people in.”

“With a resume like that, if this was the east coast there’d be back to back strip malls here,” Val said looking down the single road which defined the beginning, middle, and end of Bright Springs. Along its left side sat a Post Office, a gas station, and a church. On the other side of the road there was a cemetery, a restaurant named ‘The Silver Spoon’, and a store that either served as a combination convenience store/hardware store or was the town dump. From the lack of organization of the various old fashioned tools strewn about the last store’s porch it was hard to determine its actual function.

“It worries me that no one is around,” Anna said. Underneath her riding leathers she wore one of her standard business suits, the sharp black lines standing out against the dusty backdrop of the town and marking her as a strange sort of alien visitor.

“They had to have heard us coming,” Val said. They’d parked in front of the gas station, both because it was the most reasonable place for travelers to stop and because it gave them the best view of the town, such as it was.

The pumps were old, maybe even the original ones which had been installed when the gas station was built a century prior. Val didn’t know if current safety regulations would allow for a pump to remain in service that long, but more important in her view was that there was no chance it was a self service station and yet no one was coming out to help fill up their tanks.

She looked inside the small station and while the lights were on, there didn’t appear to be anyone inside.

“What were the terms of the deal that PrimaLux had on this place again?” Val asked.

“In return for the town’s mineral rights, PrimaLux agreed to maintain the town in the condition it was at the time,” Anna said.

“There was an exceptional clause in there though wasn’t there?” Val asked. She didn’t want to put away her helmet and gloves. If anything, getting back on her bike and heading on out of town seemed like the smartest idea she could imagine. Something was nibbling at the corner of her vision, a hiccup in the world, that left her jumpy. Leaving would mean leaving Anna behind though and that wasn’t going to happen.

“Yes, it’s what drew Tam’s attention to this place,” Anna said. “There was a buyout clause on PrimaLux’s control of the mineral rights which said that if PrimaLux was ever required to give up their claim, the current holder of the deed would be reimbursed for the remaining physical wealth which was left behind.”

“And when they collapsed, they lost the mineral rights and the new owner of the deed was owed enough money to cover the value of anything that’s buried under the town. How does that get converted to souls though? Shouldn’t souls be priceless?”

“I gather from James that they are, in this context at least,” Anna said. “The key is that the mineral rights contract gave PrimaLux the right to anything more than two feet below the surface of Bright Springs.”

“How far down does that go? Do they own the opposite side of the planet too?” Val asked.

“No, the rights only go to the center of the Earth,” Anna said. “What’s more important is what is included just below the surface.” She nodded towards the graveyard.

“They own the corpses too?” Val asked, feeling sickened but not particularly surprised given Prima’s other projects.

“The corpses wouldn’t be that much of a problem,” Anna said. “The real tricky part came in a tertiary ‘Associated Value’ clause. The townsfolk at the time read it to mean that if there were any minerals in the soil that were part of a larger vein then the whole vein would be covered under the deed. What the wording actually enforced was that anything in the soil belonged to Prima and anything related to it did too.”

“So put a corpse in the ground and the person’s soul was theirs too? That seems like a stretch,” Val said.

“The wording is tricky, long, and in Latin,” Anna said. “It allowed them to get away with a lot more than would have been reasonable, though on the other hand it did require them to keep the town in the exact state it had been when they bought the mineral rights.”

“I was thinking about that part as we rode here,” Val said. “With mystic legalese like that causing problems, shouldn’t it be pretty easy to put the contract owner in violation of the deed and get it nulled out?”

“In theory, yes,” Anna said. “From how the contract was written, I would expect it to be terribly fragile. That it’s survived for over seventy years though argues it may be more resilient than we would think.”

“So what’s our plan then?” Val asked.

“I thought we would start by talking to the townspeople and asking what they know and what they wish to do,” Anna said. “Instead, it seems like we must first find the townspeople, and discover what it is they are hiding from.”


The Second Chance Club – S2 Ep 2 – Act 1

Anna stopped her car before it careened off the side of the road. It was a tricky feat. She’d been driving at triple digit speeds on a road that was barely adequate for pedestrians. Time being of the essence though, she hadn’t been left with much choice.

“Can you see if the school bus is down there?” JB asked over their commlink.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Anna said, looking over the lip of the ravine she had almost plunged into.

“And the children?” JB asked. There was a commotion in the background, words chanted in Medieval French and modern Spanish.

“There is movement within the bus,” Anna said. “They’re too far away for me to see if all of the children are safe though.”

Below her, teetering precariously against the edge of the cliffside, the Yellow Star #5 school bus was perched a quarter of the distance down the incline with only friction and a too small rocky outcropping keeping it from tumbling down.

“We’ve got fire and rescue trucks inbound, but they’re at least twenty minutes away,” JB said. “How stable does the bus look?”

It shifted an inch and then another inch more.

“Not stable enough,” Anna said and popped open the trunk of her car. Inside, lengths of chain and metal cabling awaited her. She reached past those, digging into the depths of the trunk to grab the chainsaw that lay underneath. “I’m going to have to cut them free.”

“Are you sure?” Val asked. “That wouldn’t be easy for a full rescue crew, and we only get one shot at this.”

“I am open to other suggestions,” Anna said. The chainsaw was a specialty model. It’s diamond tipped blades and oversized engine were guaranteed to cut through anything. The guarantee was mere marketing hype, but with the enchantment Tam had placed on it the hype could, in this case, be believed.

“Ok, get one of the drones going,” Val said. “I know we don’t have much time, but I’ve got an idea, I just need to see the layout of everything.”

Val had one of the video equipped drones from her back seat in the air in less than a minute.

“Wow, that’s pretty terrible,” Val said., inspecting the scene on a widescreen monitor.

“The roads are in miserable shape,” Anna said. “And I don’t think our not-so-friendly mountain spirit Old Man Green is done with his tantrum yet.”

“That’s ok,” Val said. “I think we can work with this. Though on a side note, since when do mountains get to decide to have their own personalized earthquakes? That seems pretty unfair to everyone else involved, no?”

“We’ll take it up with the mountain when the children are out of danger,” Anna said, scanning the path down the not-quite vertical cliff face to the bus. There were hand holds, but it wouldn’t be a simple climb even unencumbered. With the chainsaw in tow she was going to have a decidedly “fun” go of things.

“Yeah, right, good point,” Val said. “Ok. Here’s my plan. We don’t need to get the kids out, we just need them to safe. So rather than lifting them up right awaty, we’re going to drop the bus down.”

“That seems like it would be dangerous for the children,” Anna said.

“They’re not going to be in the part that gets dropped,” Val said.

“How is that going too…?” JB started to ask, but Anna supplied the answer in the form of her own question.

“You want me to cut the bus in half? How is that not going to be more dangerous for the children?”

“If you cut an opening to get the kids out, then as you change the number of kids in the bus, its weight will change.  That will cause the bus to move, and you don’t have the equipment to secure it properly.”

“Cutting the bus in two will also cause the weight to change,” Anna said. “Rather drastically.”

“Look at how the bus is situated though,” Val said. “The ledge it’s on is wide enough to hold it, but the front end is hanging off and dragging the rest slowly over the side. It’s only hanging on because the back axle shattered and the back tires are all deflated.”

“I see, remove the front end and the bus will stay settled on the ledge regardless of how many children are extracted from it. Especially since the engine will fall away with the rest of the front, meaning all the weight that’s capable of pulling the rest over the edge will be gone.” JB said before asking. “But can the chainsaw handle that sort of load?”

“Easily,” Tam said, switching to English for a moment as her chant completed. “And we should have a full day before Old Man Green acts up again.”

“That will give us time to be in a better position for the rescue workers,” Anna said. “But we have minutes at most before we’re out of time and options. Are you sure this will work?”

“No,” Val said. “I’m gambling on the chainsaw being implausibly good, and the ledge holding up during the cutting process. I can’t be sure about either of those, but I think this is the best chance we have.”

“That’s good enough for me,” Anna said and began her descent.

The wall was rough from the landslide that had scoured the road out. If she’d been climbing for fun, Anna would have felt the need to add a few flourishes to the climb to impress whoever she was climbing with. On a solo climb though, and with dozens of little lives on the line, she kept her work neat and controlled.

The bus shifted three more times as she crawled down to it, but she didn’t let that distract her or hurry her pace. She was already traveling as fast as she could without running a serious risk of falling. A fall which would leave the trapped children with noone to saved them.

“Sorry you got the call for this one,” Val said.

“I was the closest,” Anna said.

“Yeah, but this kind of thing is my job,” Val said.

“What are those drones showing you? Do I look like I’m getting too old for this?” Anna asked, allowing a trace of levity into her voice.

At fifty six, she knew she’d lost some of the resiliency she enjoyed in her youth. Aches took longer to go away, if they ever disappeared fully at all, and her sleep wasn’t as restful or brief as it had been when she was at her prime. Despite that though, she was happy with how well she’d managed to keep up with her younger teammates.

The trick was to be aware of her actual limitations and reserve the times when she exceeded those to only when it was truly important. For example, when the lives of a busload of children were on the line.

“You’re looking fine,” Val said. “And you’re doing as good as I would have. Probably better. I just like being out in the field.” Her worry wasn’t entirely unfounded Anna knew. If something went wrong, the younger woman would have had more reserved of strength and endurance to meet the challenge with. Anna’s strategy therefore was to substitute experience for stamina and make fewer mistakes. It was a good plan, but inwardly she was all too familiar with the limits of how well one could simply choose to avoid mistakes. Sometimes they just happened, and all she could do was pray this would not be one of those times.

“The next school bus which plunges off a cliff is all yours,” Anna said, grunting as she pulled herself across the cliff to the bus’s rear door.

She’d chosen that end of the bus because it was where the children were gathered, as far from the end that was pitching down as they could get. Anna wasn’t sure if it was an intentional strategy on their part but it was a fortunate one in any case. Their combined weight at the end of the fulcrum the bus teetered on was enough to balance the weight of the engine which gravity was insisting should take a rapid trip towards the bottom of the ravine.

“Is anyone hurt?” she asked when she got close enough for the children to hear her.

“The driver!” one of the fifth graders said, pointing towards the front of the bus.

Anna looked through the back window and saw a woman her own age collapsed in the aisle seat, having fallen out of the driver’s seat at some point in the descent. Anna saw the woman’s chest rise and fall, but other than that the driver was unresponsive.

That complicated things. Anna began to unclip herself from her climbing harness.

“I need someone who is brave and small,” she said, scanning the children’s faces. Two tiny girls both with the same face and same pig tailed hair looked back at her from the horde that had gathered at the window.

“This door is too broken to open,” Anna said, pointing at the twisted mess that had once been the rear exit door. “So I’m going to pass this harness and rope to you. I need one of you to take it to the driver and put the harness around her shoulders.”

It was a lot to ask anyone, especially a fifth grader, and not even vaguely a good idea with a person as injured as the driver, but since the alternative was a fatal plunge to the ravine floor, Anna didn’t hesitate.

“I can do it!” one of the twins said. Her sister stuck out her tongue at her and looked away with aloof disinterest.

Anna passed the climbing harness to her volunteer and climbed onto the bus’s ruined back bumper to add weight in an effort to counteract the effect of the little girl moving forward.

The bus shook and slipped a few more times before the girl had the driver clasped into the harness, but once she did Anna wasted no time hauling the woman to the back.

With the bus as secured as she could make it, she instructed the children, “stay towards the back here, I need to do some cutting,” she held up the chainsaw, “and it’s going to a bit loud. Don’t worry though, I’m just making it so we’ll be safe enough to get out here.”

The children, without exception, looked puzzled but accepting. Anyone who promised safety in the present circumstances was worth listening to in their book.

Anna climbed to the top of the bus and walked forward, keeping a careful eye for end of the ledge.

“It looks like the kids are away from the cutting zone,” Val said. “I’ll keep an eye on them in case they freak out when the sparks start flying but I don’t know if you’ll hear me over the chainsaw.”

“I’ll cut slow,” Anna said.

“No. Don’t,” Val said. “The weight will start shifting when the front end begins to fall. This will be safe if you can make a fast, clean cut.”

“Do chainsaws make cuts that fast through metal?” Anna asked.

“That one does,” Tam said.

Anna had never known Tam to exaggerate her achievements. If anything she tended to undersell herself unless she was on stage and performing a well rehearsed routine. Fearing that this might be the first time she encountered a claim which one of Tam’s enchantments couldn’t live up to, Anna kicked the chainsaw to life and touched it to the bus’s roof.

It slide through the metal like it was cutting through a thin slice of paper.

It took no more than a flick of her wrist for Anna to carve a circle into the bus which she dropped down through, making sure to land on the correct side of the ledge’s end.

The children gasped at her arrival, but their shock turned to a quiet confusion when she flashed them a calm smile before turning back to her work.

Starting at the spot where the floor and wall met between the second and third seats, Anna plunged the mystically sharpened chainsaw into the frame and sliced a cut across the floor, up the other wall, across the roof and down the last wall and fast as she could spin her arms around.

In a mighty shower of sparks, the front of the bus surrendered to gravity and hurtled down to crash into the bottom of the ravine. The remaining bit where Anna and the children were enjoyed a less dramatic fate, settling onto the ledge where they had landed with a solid thump which said it wasn’t going anywhere no matter how people shifted their weight, or who was rescued from it.

“Thank you so much!” each child said as they were pulled, one by one to safety.

All except for the twins.

“Can I be your sidekick!” the volunteer twin asked.

“I just want that chainsaw,” the other said.

People made all sorts of uses of the second chances they got but something told Anna that she should keep an eye on these two over the next decade or two.

The Second Chance Club – S2 Ep 1 – Act 4

Sycorax waited on the beach, enjoying a pleasantly cool beverage with little swizzle stick in it. She would have preferred a tiny umbrella but she could sense her prey drawing near and she wasn’t going to miss their arrival for a minor aesthetic concern.

Once she’d banished the last of the field agents who worked for the detestable Potestates, she could claim the titles she’d lost long ago to PrimaLux and its founders.

“That’s gotta be her,” a muscular young woman said. Another, taller, woman stood beside her. The two weren’t sisters. There was no family resemblance between them. The hard lines they had chiseled their bodies into though were points of similarity strong enough to blur that line.

They had arrived dressed for a day at the beach, unlike the previous pair. Both wore knee length shorts and sports bras with colorful patterns. The only thing out of place about their ensemble were the laced gloves each had hanging over their shoulders.

Sycorax ignored those. Doubtless, they were some form of enchanted weapon, but no sorcerer’s tool could endanger her. Her mastery of the mystic arts exceeded that of any earthly caster by a margin as wide as the Milky Way.

“Greetings to you, daughter of the rock, and to you, daughter of prosperity,” Sycorax said. She knew their names, but what she cared about was their essence. Name a quality of the essence and bind them to your words. It was the simplest of magics, but Earth dwellers were so careless with their identities that simple magics always caught them in Sycorax’s experience.

“This is the witch?” the taller woman, Nike, asked.

“No,” Val said. “She’s not a witch. Witches aren’t bad guys. Well except for Yasmin Jones, but that’s just till she pays me back the five hundred bucks she owes me.”

Sycorax smiled. The daughter of the rock wasn’t taking the situation seriously. It was as good as over already.

“But she is the one we’re looking for right?” Nike asked.

“Oh, definitely,” Val said and shrugged the gloves off her shoulder. They were big puffy things, red, with laces that secured them over a good part of the wearer’s wrists.

Sycorax kept smiling. She’d seen a wide array of mystic talismans employed to thwart her aims over the centuries, but these had to be the silliest ones anyone had yet chosen to wield.

“Come now, Earthborn champions, it is time for you to follow your destiny and sacrifice yourselves in an attempt to save those dear to you,” Syrcorax said. It had been so long since she’d been able to sport with earthly mortals, it would have been fundamentally wrong not to enjoy toying with them.

And what could the harm be? They were already doomed. The poor fools were simply too limited to see it.

From the moment they’d arrived, Sycorax had felt their intention pressing in on the space around her. Valeria Perez and Oyenike Lapido, two warriors who did not kill (an absurdity in Sycorax’s view), had come before her with the sole purpose to retrieve those she had already lured to the depths of her Lost Ocean.

It wasn’t a question of whether they could escape or not. The two women didn’t have any interest in walking away. All of Sycorax’s schemes and contingency plans for them refusing to fall into her trap were unnecessary. The fools had no thought for their own safety. Their only concern was reaching their friends in time, before the fold between the world unraveled.

“Lace me up?” Nike asked.

Val helped secure the puffy gloves on Nike’s hands before wiggling her own hands into the oversized gloves she’d brought.

“Offer me tribute and I will set you on the path you need to walk,” Sycorax said. “Deny me the honor I am due and you will wander for all eternity.”

It wasn’t true. They would perish before more than a handful of days had passed no matter what they did. Extracting offerings from her prey pleased Sycorax though, and would grant them the small measure of immortality in that she might some day remember them if she spied their treasure, whatever it might be, in the gleaming horde she planned to collect from the Earth.

“She wants us to give her what she’s due?” Nike asked.

“Think she knows what she’d asking for?” Val asked.

“Pretty sure she wouldn’t be asking for it if she did,” Nike said.

It occurred to Sycorax that neither woman was speaking to her. Neither in fact seemed to be acknowledging anything she said. That set her left eyebrow twitching. She was an Elder Being. She was not to be ignored.

Val stepped up to her, hands held in front her body in what could have been supplication.

It wasn’t.

Sycorax felt her jaw shatter as something with the force of a runaway cement mixer collided with the side of her face.

Blinking back pain she hadn’t experienced in an eternity, she struggled, stumbling backward but keeping her feet beneath her.

A city bus hit her in the ribs, fracturing them.

It wasn’t possible. She wasn’t made of mortal clay. She couldn’t be broken.

Val disagreed.

Sycorax tried to spin their names into a binding.

A red glove collided head on with her face and the words were broken to pieces.

Rubbing blood from her lips, she blinked and found the two hard women standing over her.

She’d fallen?

“How?” She gasped out with a weak breath.

“You out magicked Tam, and social-fu’d Anna,” Val said. “So I decided not to take any chances.”

“”But you cannot hurt me!” Sycorax said. The pain was nothing. The damage was nothing. She wasn’t human. All wounds could heal in an instant if she chose. All pain could be ignored or forgotten. Except none of that should have occurred in the first place.

Not from a human.

And certainly not from so small a creature as one of the women which Potestates employed. They had the credit for felling PrimaLux, but PrimaLux’s downfallen had been more attributable to its founders shortcomings and the weak links of failure sown throughout the organization.

“We can’t hurt you?” Nike asked. “Ok, I guess we can keep going.”

She raised her right hand but Sycorax flinched away, raising her hands to ward off the blow.

“So here’s how this is going to work,” Val said, towering over Sycorax like one of the primordial titans. “You’ve got a whole spiel you want to lay on us. We’re not listening to any of that. We’re going to rescue Tam and the rest. All three of us. Whatever fate she meets, you’re going to meet it too.”

“Oh and if you think you’re immortal,” Nike said. “Allow us to assure you that with what we can do to you, that’s the last thing you want to be.”

Sycorax looked from one woman to the other. She considered the stratagems available to her. Every path open to her ended in disaster. Worse, none led to the recovery of her stolen titles.

“We can’t go after them,” Sycorax said. “They are in a labyrinth of corrupted desire.”

“Yeah, we know about that,” Val said. “James figured out how your puzzle box is setup.”

“Then you know that seeking them will ensure we cannot find them,” Sycorax said. “And even if we did, we could never escape. The labyrinth will turn our intentions against us. The more we struggle to achieve them, the harder the resistance will be.”

“Let us worry about that,” Val said.

“Sacrificing me won’t save them,” Sycorax said. It was what PrimaLux and so many others would have tried, so she had made certain to close that loophole in her trap’s design.

“Lucky for us we don’t work like that,” Val said, and lifted Sycorax to her feet.

Sycorax felt her wounds knit back into place. The damage done was an illusion because the body she wore was as much illusion as reality. She couldn’t quite forget the blows she’s suffered though. They were a puzzle and an irritation and a mystery. She found herself following Val and Nike as much to learn the answer to their strength as anything else.

“They lie at the bottom of the Lost Atlantic, in the ruins of Drowned Atlantis,” Sycorax said as they stepped across the fold and into the other Earth.

“What’s that  tower?” Nike asked, looking out across the long descending hill which was the ocean floor. Around the tower tower strange beasts of a thousand different shapes soared and swooped. The world before them was unmistakably alien, but it shared a fundamental connection to the one they knew. It wasn’t home but even the strangest alien elements felt somehow familiar and alluring.

“That was my first snare,” Sycorax said. “It is what drew the daughters of Lighting and Fire into this realm.”

“James said it was a Tower of High Atlantean Sorcery,” Val said. “And that it was an illusion, which I guess is bad.”

“Imagine a library with all the knowledge you could ever seek,” Sycorax said.

“That doesn’t sound that bad,” Nike said.

“Now imagine trying to find what you need there, amidst a sea of infinite knowledge,” Sycorax said.

“It’s called the Dewey Decimal System,” Val said.

“Or Google,” Nike said.

“But it wouldn’t really be a trap if it was organized would it?” Val said. “Or if it didn’t come with a compulsion to keep studying a problem endlessly.”

“You understand more than your companion did,” Sycorax said.

“Not really,” Val said. “Tam bypassed the tower, and I’m just repeating what James told me.”

“Yes, I planned on that. She was adept enough to see the danger. As I expected, she sought deeper, more dangerous answers, which led her to her doom,” Sycorax said. “As for her mentor, his work is irrelevant. He makes no mark on this world, his own domicile confines him more securely than my trap ever could.”

“Wrong on both counts,” Val said. “Tam wasn’t seeking answers. She was looking for mysteries that you hadn’t explored yet. And James? Everyone makes a mark on the world. James just does it from behind the scenes, by supporting the rest of us.”

“How do you know this?” Sycorax asked.

“Because I told them,” Tam said, stepping from a shadow from behind them.

“But you are trapped in the Great Depths! You can’t be here. Drowned Atlantis does not give up those who cross its borders!” Sycorax couldn’t see how her plan had come undone. Nothing that was happening made sense by the rules she knew.

“The Sovereign of the Realm decides its rules,” Anna said. She and a party of twenty others, including Cynthia and Zoe, stepping from around a bend in the path which lead down to the bottom of the ocean.

“Drowned Atlantis has no sovereign,” Sycorax said, eyeing the party with suspicion. In its ranks were men in monastic robes from centuries before, women in laced dresses from the turn of last century, and people in suits from decades past.

“It had no Sovereign,” Anna corrected her..

“Bow before your Queen,” Cynthia said, gesturing to Tam.

“That is absolutely not necessary,” Tam said.

“How?” Sycorax asked. “How is she Queen?”

“Drowned Atlantis has been collecting scholars and seekers of the unknown for a long time,” Tam said. “Time runs differently in the Depths though so most, or maybe all, of them are still alive and searching for the answer that drew them here.”

“But they are not Atlanteans,” Sycorax said.

“They weren’t,” Anna agreed. “But once Drowned Atlantis claimed them, they, in turn, gained a claim on it.”

“It was a clever trap,” Zoe said. “You just missed the part where someone else might change the rules of the game on you part way through.”  She shot Anna an accusatory look.

“But none of them was a sovereign,” Sycorax said.

“Funny thing about that,” Cynthia said. “We explained things to them, and the New Atlanteans were all pretty happy to elect Tam as Queen once she promised her first royal act would be to set everyone free.”

“There is a more important matter at hand though,” Tam said.

“Take care,” Sycorax said. “You may be able to order my execution, but my death curse can strike down even the Queen of Atlantis.”

“She’s really into the whole death thing, isn’t she?” Val asked.

“People play hardball where she comes from I guess,” Nike said.

“We have no intention of taking your life,” Anna said.

“We wanted to understand why you would do this,” Tam said.

“We figured it wasn’t just for power,” Cynthia said.

“There are other, better methods of acquiring power than baiting people like this,” Zoe said. “But I know PrimaLux carved a lot of mystical power base out of people like you, so I was able to guess what it was that connected you to this place, and what it was they’d taken from you.”

“The fold to this world is unraveling already, so we don’t have long,” Tam said. “But before it fades, we want you to have this.”

She handed a coral encrusted ring to Sycorax.

Sycorax blinked, her breath escaping in short, panicked gasps.

“My ring?” she asked.

Tam nodded.

As Sycorax put her finger through the ring, the encrusted coral fell away and a brilliant circle of multi-hued crystal was revealed.

“I was looking for my lost titles,” she stammered, unable to believe what she held in her hand.

“The titles were only the smallest portion of who you are, Daughter of the Seas,” Tam said. “Take back what was lost when your realm fell below the waves. Reclaim the Heart of the Ocean. Atlantis is reborn and it is yours once more.”


A mountaintop retreat was about as far as they could manage to get from the sea, and in Tam’s view that was the best possible location for their debriefing session.

“So what does it mean that Atlantis is back?” Nike asked.

“For us? Less than you might think,” Tam said.

“Atlantis is a mythical land,” James said. “It’s history touches on our own in only a few spots.”

“So we can’t take a boat out to visit it then?” Val asked.

“Not unless the boat is driven across the waves by a sprite who knows which stars to follow,” James said.

“Think of it like it’s on another world, which is close enough to the truth,” Tam said. “We can get that with some magical cheatery but otherwise its in its own little corner of reality.”

“But you’re still Queen of it right?” Cynthia asked.

“Not exactly,” Tam said. “I was Queen of Drowned Atlantis. When we restored Sycorax’s position and brought Atlantis back, it wasn’t drowned anymore, so no more sunken city, no more Queen to rule it.”

“What about all those people you found?” Val asked. “Why did they stay with Sycorax when the fold started coming undone? I thought they wanted to get out of Atlantis?”

“They wanted out of Drowned Atlantis,” Tam said. “Aka the dead version of the city. Sycorax’s Atlantis will be a living, breathing place.”

“And one without the corruption of intention turning their efforts against them,” James said.

“Plus, there is one other thing in its favor,” Anna said.

“Yes, the fold is gone, but a bridge remains open,” James said.

“I was wondering if you would do that,” Zoe said. “Why give Sycorax a second chance to cause you trouble? You know she’s capable of it.”

“She has lived in a world dominated by powers who seek to tear each other down,” Anna said.

“She needs a chance to see another way for things to be,” Tam said.

“And that’s what we do,” Val said.

The Second Chance Club – S2 Ep 1 – Act 3

Val woke to the buzzing of a phone that she was certain was both turned off and missing its battery.

“This cannot be a good sign,” she grumbled, slapping her hand on the nightstand trying to find the horrid device so she could shatter it into a thousand pieces.

It took several seconds before she managed to find the wiley little rectangle and when she did her fingers somehow brushed both the “Accept” button and the “Speaker” option. Not that either Accept or Speaker were available on the back of the phone where her hand landed, but then that didn’t seem to matter any more than the missing battery did.

“Ms. Perez,” James said, his voice far clearer than her phone’s external speaker should have produced. “There has been a development which Ms. Ilyina has requested your aide in resolving.”

“Ugh, tell Anna to go to hell,” Val groaned and felt the sleeping form next to her begin to stir.

“I’m afraid that might be where she is,” James said. His concern sounded real but it was so restrained by the tension in his voice that it didn’t quite penetrate the haze which still gripped Val’s only partially awake mind.

“That’s good,” Val mumured, flinging the phone to the other side of the room, before her brain finished parsing James’ words.

“I believe she is counting on you to extricate both herself, Ms. Le, and their companions,” James said, his voice no more distant than it had been before she tossed her phone away. “Failing that, I will need to give it my best try.”

Val sat bolt upright.

“What?” James did not do field work. James was abysmal at fieldwork. If ever anyone was specifically born to live in a library and read books, it was James.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t go out. Val, and Anna, and Tam had dragged him out to celebrations more than once. Each time though illustrated just how poor he was at dealing with things like “exciting situations”, or “the hint of danger”, or even just “normal people”.

“James, what has happened?” Val asked, fully awake and alert.

“Ms. Le and Ms. Ilyina have gone missing,” James said. “Ms Le has been missing for over a day now. Ten minutes ago, Ms Ilyina stepped over into the world where we believe Ms. Le is being detained.”

“Anna knew where she was going?” Val asked.

“Yes,” James said. “She spoke with an entity calling themself Sycorax who claimed to have captured Ms Le.”

“Good,” Val said. “That means Anna has a plan. Did she tell you to call for me, or is this standard procedure?”

“She requested we contact you immediately,” James said.

“Damn,” Val said. “I’ve got to get moving now then.”

“Unfortunately the general conditions for our respective locations are not suitable for portal transportation, and I am afraid I did not think to enchant any of your belongings to accommodate it under the conditions we do have.”

“That’s ok,” Val said. “I would have thrown out anything with special mojo on them even if you had thought of them.”

After the PrimaLux work, Val had been stuck dealing with a bunch of the fallout from Prima’s Special Assets team, including the subdual of some genuinely icky mystical beasts. When the time had rolled around for her to take a vacation, she’d been feeling rather aggressive about having a nice stretch of uninterrupted time off without any of the magical hijinks that characterized her work life.

Of course, even that hadn’t worked out exactly as planned.

“Is someone else trying to destroy you?” a goddess asked, clearing the sleep from her eyes as she propped herself up on her elbow on the bed beside Val.

“I’m sorry Aranae,” Val said. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I can take this outside if you like?”

“No, don’t worry,” Aranae said. “I’m already awake.” She yawned. “Sort of.”

“My apologies for interrupting your vacation time,” James said, sounding embarrassed enough that Val had to wonder if whatever spell he was using allowed for a visual as well as auditory connection. Val doubted it, James was too scrupulous to omit mentioning something like that, and too conservative on his expenditure of the club’s resources to waste the magic when a voice link was sufficient for his needs.

“It had to be done,” Val said. “Damn those two though. Couldn’t they wait one more week before they got in trouble again? Or even like five days?”

“When I cast you all into the Abyss, I can make sure they land on the bottom,” Aranae offered.

Val shook her head and gave the goddess beside her a gentle bap on the shoulder.

“So no teleporting home?” Val said. “How soon can Jimmy B have a car out front for me?”

“One will be there in five minutes,” James said.

Val groaned.

“I love that boy, but does he have to be so damn efficient all the time.” She’d been hoping for at least an hour to say goodbye to her…she wasn’t exactly sure what Aranae was to her when she took a moment to think about it. An enemy in theory? A frenemy? Whatever it was, it was complicated enough that they’d have to work it out some time else.

“Don’t worry, I’m going to need to leave before the sun rises anyways,” Aranae said.

Val inhaled and held her breath for a moment before sighing away her regrets.

“You know how to find me, right?” she asked.

“When I care to,” Aranae said, mischief crinkling her eyes.

Val turned and kissed Aranae back down into the pillows, her lips tingling from the slightest hint of Aranae’s venom. Pushing around a literal goddess carried certain risks, but their relationship, brief as it had been, had consisted primarily of play fighting and even more playful flirting, at least once they’d made it beyond the initial awkward stage, so combining the two seemed like fair game.

“Stay in touch,” Val said when she broke the contact between them, “At least until you’re ready to cast us into the abyss.”

Normal relationships were for normal people, Val decided, and despite the dangers of dating a goddess of chaos, she was kind of curious to see how it would turn out.

With Aranare’s smile to encourage her, Val she hopped out of bed, and got dressed. There wasn’t time to gather her things, but she knew she could count of Jimmy B to have her back there. That was how the Second Chance Club worked, and even with the lack of sleep, she wasn’t about to let her friends down.


While teleportation wasn’t an option, Jimmy B was able to work his own brand of magic and got Val back to the Second Chance Club’s headquarters in record time. Inside a small gathering awaited her as soon as she stepped inside.

“The good news,” JB said, “Is that nothing’s changed.”

“The bad news,” James said. “Is that nothing’s changed.”

“Ok, bring me up to speed then,” Val said. “It sounds like whoever this Sycorax is, they jumped Tam out of the blue, and then surprised Anna too?”

“I’ve done some more scrying and it’s not quite that simple,” James said. “Please take everything I’m about to say with a grain of salt though. There were significant distortions to sort through, so seeing what happened clearly was even more difficult than usual.”

“I thought difficulties tended to make overt spells fizzle?” Val asked.

“In most cases yes,” James said. “In this particular situation though there was a large enough violation of mundane reality that disguising it would have been close to impossible. With Ms. Le and Ms. Ilyina having been present, I had our connections to draw on to help navigate the shadows which cloud the actual past.”

Val knew that James was simplifying things for her. A fully detailed explanation would involve delving too deeply into the sort of arcana metaphysics that required years of study she hadn’t put in and had no intention of ever pursuing.  She could work with the simplified version and rely on Tam to handle the finer details.

Once she got Tam back of course.

“So what did you see?” she asked.

“Ms. Le and her friend Ms. Williams were enjoying a day at the beach when they were drawn in by a…” James searched for a simple term for the phenomena. “A fold between worlds.”

“Like one world overlayed the another?” Val asked.

“Exactly that,” Jame said.

“What was the other world like?” Val asked. “You’d mentioned ‘Hell’, which leaves me wondering why Tam wouldn’t have jumped right out of there?”

“I couldn’t see the world they stepped over too distinctly, but I was able to measure its properties to a degree,” James said. “It is a Lost Ocean, meaning a world where the bottom of the ocean is traversable as easily as the land because the waters have been removed, leaving bare the secrets that were once hidden in the depths. What Ms. Le saw was a world like our own but filled with mysteries. Please understand I do not mean mysteries such as you would find in a detective novel. These mysteries are creatures and things which have been lost or hidden for a reason.”

“Like demons?” Val asked.

“Some demons fall into that category. Also some places, and some mystical creatures which were once residents of our world but were banished or left of their own accord,” James said.

“So, dangerous then?” Val said. “Could Tam not get away from that on her own?”

“I believe she could have,” James said. “At least originally. When the fold occurred, she and Ms. Williams would have been standing within both worlds. Ms. Le is practiced enough to shunt them back fully to our own world if she’d chosen.”

“But she didn’t?”

“That is where the trap lies,” James said. “The fold would have at first looked like the start of an incursion. Incursions are far more rare than they are believed to be, and in the overwhelming number of cases bring more benefit to our world than peril. Ms. Le may have been concerned about those who would try to profit from the creatures that might become stranded in our world, or she may have simply wished to investigate what would have seemed like a very odd occurrence. Once she stepped into the other world though, she would have felt the trap’s pull.”

“That had to be an unreal trap if it caught her. I’ve seen Tam escape some pretty incredible stuff,” Val said.

“In this case I believe she was trying to protect others,” James said. “Exploring mysteries is a temptation for any researcher into the arcane, but in this instance, someone, likely this Sycorax, weaponized the natural curiosity mysteries evoke and turned it into a compulsion. I have no doubt that Ms Le would be capable of breaking free of the enchantment if she chose to, but from reading the threads of the spell that remained it our world it seemed clear that the compulsion would have then reached out and drawn in another victim instead.”

“So she went with it and headed in to find out how to break the compulsion safely?” Val asked. “That sounds like our Tam. Why didn’t she send Cynthia back though?”

“I am not sure,” Jame said. “It would have been the sensible thing to do.”

“Yeah, unless, could she have known that the compulsion was artificially created?” Val asked.

“Almost certainly,” James said.

“That’s why then,” Val said. “If she knew that someone was behind the magic that trapped them then she wouldn’t separate from Cynthia and risk this Sycorax picking off her girlfriend while Tam was distracted playing riddle games or whatever.”

“I suppose it’s possible that Ms. Williams would have elected to remain with Ms. Le as well,” James said. “I doubt firefighters are used to leaving people behind in dangerous situations.”

“Probably not, and even more so in this case,” Val said. “So what about Anna?”

“Ms. Ilyina and Ms. Skillings arrived at fold’s location and were greeted by a person calling themselves Sycorax. We have a transcript of their dialog and an audio recording if you wish to review it.”

“I will, but summarize it for me,” Val asked.

“Sycorax admitted to trapping Ms Le and invited to Ms Ilyina to enter the trap as well,” James said. “Sycorax claimed that they were going to capture you all and that you would go willingly.”

“Interesting plan,” Val said. “There’s an obvious method of disrupting it – I can just stay here – but I’m going to bet that’s not an option is it?”

“Very likely not,” James said. “Folds are unstable and short lived by their nature. That this one still exists and connects these our two worlds is probably only due to Sycorax’s interference. If they have reason to believe you will not be joining the other two in their trap, then they can release the fold and strand our friends in a world which is will be exceedingly difficult to return from.”

“So Anna went in to ensure the trap stayed open for a while longer, and to buy me time to use what she learned by talking to Sycorax? I’m willing to bet that Tam can get them all back, but Sycorax has engineered this to demonstrate that at the very least it’s going to take a while. If it’s months or years, that’s a long time for me to have to hold the line on my own. Of course if we’re all lost forever then there’s nobody to hold the line, so that’s bad too.”

“It does not seem as though they have left you with any good options,” James said. “What are you going to do?”

Val thought for a moment and then smiled.

“I think I’m going to pick up a friend, some old gloves and then introduce this Sycorax to a few very bad options.”