Good evening, my loves.
Counting down the days to Halloween. And one juicy in-between stop is “Witches in Fiction” where this year it was all about “Crafting Blooming Howls”.
Thank you, Magaly, for creating such a fun event and such a ton of inspiration! :-)
Once I got started writing my short story about Ward Witch Robin Armstrong, I somehow couldn’t stop. (Might have had something to do with the male lead, Sky. The photo I modeled him on is on the right side ;-)
30 pages later, I was done, but couldn’t polish all of the story in time for the deadline. So you can read not the whole story here yet, but a lot of it.
I promise to upload the ending (the showdown) once I am finished polishing it.
I hope you enjoy! Let me know. It’s a new world for me, but one I love playing in.
Once it’s all complete, I’ll upload it at Smashwords for more easily digestible formats.
All Hallow’s Morning. A Robin Armstrong story
(dedicated to Julia, Queen of magical Halloween mornings)
“Cinnamon latte? You know how to spoil a girl, Professor.” Robin took the paper cup. The Dean had called her in for the assignment, but of course it was Micah Young who was waiting for her at the gates in the freezing cold instead. Despite his thick down jacket, he looked frozen through. The streets were almost deserted, and still it had taken Robin nearly an hour to navigate the circuitous route from Greencrest to the university.
“It’s a selfish act. I need you in top form.” Micah gave her a tight-lipped smile. Robin never knew where she stood with him. Micah wasn’t that much older than her and tended to treat her like a buddy – until he suddenly didn’t. He was the university’s youngest Professor of Metamagic and the Dean’s right hand. If she ever got on his bad side, her funds would dry up quicker than she could wave a smudgestick.
Robin suppressed a yawn. “Why aren’t you tired and hungover?”
“Can’t say I’m that thrilled to be called in for a job on All Hallow’s morning.” Robin popped the lid of the coffee. The scent of pumpkin-spice wafted out. “Everyone else gets to sleep in.” If they had even found their beds yet after last nights’ parties. When she got up, her two room-mates were still out.
Robin lifted a small dollop of the fragrant foam with the tip of her finger and licked it off. So good. Micah had probably bought it at Sean’s place, across the road. She took a first sip, grimacing when the coffee burned her tongue. Never mind, caffeine was what she badly needed.
“Where do you think you’re going?” The man had appeared out of nowhere and was now leaning against the guardhouse, beefy arms crossed over his broad chest. He had “obstacle” written all over him, from his buzz cut to his familiar uniform. Padded top with sleek pants, all in black. Two red stripes sat on each shoulder.
“Oach no,” Robin groaned. “You didn’t tell me the Roses were here. I’m not getting in there if they are.”
“You’ll do what you’re paid to do and if it’s dance the tango with that guy,” Micah said sharply.
The agent’s brows drew together. “I don’t dance.”
“And the world’s a safer place for it,” Robin muttered.
Micah elbowed her side.
The Red Roses were the agency called in on any Gaian-Evan infractions. They were ex-elite soldiers, former profilers, ex-FBI and ex-NSA. Lots of special talent who had lost their place among the humans when they were bitten by a were, spelled by a witch or changed by a vamp. Which made for a lot of grumpy people just waiting to get back at either humans or Gaians, preferably at both.
“They just arrived and they’re here for something else. Someone set fire to the library last night.” Micah kept walking until he was almost toe to toe with the agent.
“Oh no!” Robin felt devastated. Like every student, she practically lived in the Library of Spells. Without its resources, one-of-a-kind grimoires and scrolls no student would ever advance enough to pass the Bar.
“They caught it before it could spread far.”
Robin blew out a breath of relief. “Let’s go then.” She took a step forward.
The agent lifted his arm, barring her way. “No-one’s getting in or out until my boss clears them to enter the scene.”
Micah stepped right into his face. “Robin was hired by Dean Robertson. Let us pass.” He pulled out his phone.
“She’s on a squad?” The agent let his gaze rove over Robin. She knew what he saw. A witch with short legs and a big bust who was too young to have graduated yet, cutting her off from her family’s spells and magic assistance.
Her fists balled. “I joined the roster of the Ward Team six months ago.”
“Here, talk to the Dean.” Micah held out his phone to the agent. “We’re done here.”
* * *
Robin was still stewing when they were already deep inside the windowless, frigid basement of Riverdale University.
Micah was talking on the phone to someone about the fire. Apparently, the Roses had found remnants of a spell in the library but no traces of humans. So it was debatable whether they had jurisdiction at all.
Tim and Pete, the two guards leading them to the incident site, cussed when the box of tools they were carrying clanked to the ground for the third time. One of the handles was broken and they kept dropping it. It didn’t help that the two also looked half-asleep on their feet.
No word had been lost on why they needed any tools. At least they weren’t bringing guns with tranq spells. Then she’d be really worried.
The guards ducked under a low arch to the left and Robin sighed. She should have known. When the Dean had called her about a ward-breaking earlier, he hadn’t specified where in Riverdale University. Now they had just left the human part of the basement behind, going deeper and deeper into the maze of old cellars and dungeons.
Micah ended the call.
“So, what’s the incident?” Robin glanced at him. “I’m assuming another prank?”
The university’s dungeon was part of Riverdale’s history tours, so rusty tools of torture were displayed in some of the rooms. Every few months, some student had the bright idea to pull off a prank and Robin’s job was to undo whatever crap they had wreaked with their spell. The worst so far had been a transmorphed frog.
“Not quite,” Tim, the thick-set guard, muttered.
“We were just getting off our night shift. We saw him and called the Dean right away,” Pete added.
“What do you mean, him?” Robin asked.
“You’ll see.” Micah’s clenched jaw didn’t bode well and dread bounced in her stomach. A bad mix with the coffee. She had been prepared to deal with smudged chalk outlines of some malign spell, maybe a neat little cauldron and atame arrangement. “I’m here about a ward, right?” Wards and living beings never were a good mix.
They ducked through another archway, past a sagging door made of heavy wood.
The guards’ witchlights bounced off dank stones, then crossed to illuminate the far wall.
“This is new,” Robin whispered.
A nude man was shackled spreadeagled to the wall. He hung slumped over in his restraints, his face hidden by a glossy curtain of black hair.
Probably a were, Robin thought. The coloring was way too normal for a vamp and he looked too ripped to be a witch. His impressive chest muscles and biceps were stretched holding his body weight in suspension.
“Is the were dead?” Robin gripped her heavy leather bag tighter.
Tim shook his head. “He’s breathing. But we couldn’t get closer because of the wards.”
The poor guy. How long had he hung there until he passed out from pain? She had to hurry. Robin set her coffee and her bag down and advanced carefully forward, sensing for the invisible barrier around the man.
“You think he’s a were?” Pete asked.
“With that build and coloring?” Robin nodded to the pale skin and black hair. “I bet his eyes are sky-blue.” Usually, any Gaian could tell another’s race – if they were witch, vampire or were, and what kind of were. The ward must be extremely thick that it could block out their senses completely.
“A husky?” Pete frowned. “No. A wolf, perhaps?”
Robin squinted at the man again. “Hard to say as long as his eyes are closed.”
“Cat?” Tim suggested.
Pete and Robin both shook their heads.
“Too bulky for a cat.” Robin stopped in her tracks. The ward was straight ahead. Strange – it wasn’t drawn around the man but bisected the room from wall to wall. It meant that anyone trying to break it couldn’t draw a circle of protection that included the ward. She raised her hands, palms facing forward. The others retreated a few steps when her palms started to glow. It was the ward-breaker’s blessing and curse that they weren’t just attuned to their own wards like the other witches. They could sense wards, much like bloodhounds, analyze their make-up and, hopefully, find a way to crack them without dying in the attempt. Because of the high mortality rate, ward-breaking jobs payed nicely. She was the youngest on the Ward Team and the least experienced. A dangerous combination, but ward-breaking was the only way she could pay the steep tuition fees at Riverdale University.
The ward didn’t give up its secrets when she probed it. Any kind of witch could raise a ward and each kind left their own subtle pattern behind. This ward was blank. Almost as if had been wiped clean of any residue. Weird.
The shrill ringing of Micah’s phone disrupted the stillness of the dungeon. Robin startled and the ward bit her. With a curse, she whisked back her fingers.
“Sorry.” Micah turned away from her, accepting the call.
Robin got busy laying out the tools and spell ingredients she’d need. No sense in prolonging the inevitable. She drank the rest of the coffee. It had quickly cooled in the dungeon, but the spices and coffeine were still a blessed combination. Literally, in this case.
When the spices had dispelled some of her fatigue, Robin bowed to all four directions, calling the quarters. Chanting under her breath, she reached right into the ward and worked her spell. When the wall started bubbling, becoming visible, she grabbed at the substance with both hands. Realizing her intent, the ward bit her again, but she held fast. Goodness, it was strong. Stronger than any Robin had encountered yet. The drain of the spell made her vision turn gray and she swayed.
“Are you sure you’re up to it?” Micah’s voice came from behind her. “I can call in someone else.” Someone more experienced hung unspoken in the air.
He was much too close to the ward. If it lashed out at him, there was no telling what it would do to him.
“Micah, I can do this,” Robin cried. “Go!”
The ward gave. With a subsonic boom, the freed energy slammed into her. It cut her with a hundred knives. Whimpering softly, Robin crashed to her knees, cradling her hurting body with her arms.
Heavy boots clomped past her. The box of tools rattled when it was dropped. Metal banged on metal – they were trying to break the shackles.
“He’s human!” Pete called.
“Mid twenties,” Tim added. “Maybe one of the professors?”
Their voices were filtering to Robin through a fog. She blinked but her vision was still filled with swirling white and red spots. Man, to break a ward like that before breakfast …
“I’ve never seen him before.” Micah sounded puzzled. His voice was very close. He must be crouching next to her.
Her leather jacket was pushed back from her shoulder. Cold fingers slid aside her t-shirt, baring her skin. Robin knew what was coming and braced for it. With the sensation of sharp teeth the trauma patch pierced her skin. They’d deduct the patch from her fee, but Robin wasn’t going to argue. Normally, she healed herself after a ward-breaking, but after this mother of a ward, she didn’t have it in her.
Micah’s face slowly came into focus, his almond-shaped eyes wide and worried. Not about her, Robin was sure. If a human was contained with Gaian magic, it only left one conclusion. “A vamp? Here?!”
Micah nodded, looking disgusted. “He must have brought the human down here. He chained him up – ”
“– and you guys,” Robin nodded at Tim and Pete, “interrupted him before he or she could finish their meal.”
The guards looked uneasy at the idea of a vampire hunting on university grounds. Humans were strictly forbidden to vampires, but Robin had yet to meet a vamp who played by the rules. Humans were simply too easy to prey on.
“But where are his clothes?” Tim asked. “His ID?”
“Maybe the vamp took them when he fled?” Pete suggested. He ran his witchlight scampering over the walls, as if the vamp could jump out at any second. Robin shivered when she realized it was a very real possibility. Four against one wasn’t bad odds for a vamp.
Nobody was talking about the elephant in the room. Oh well, then she would. “The ward could only be created by a witch. Even if he was attacked by a vamp, that vamp must have been working together with a witch.” She caught Micah’s gaze. “A very skilled witch.”
He was rubbing the bridge of his nose, as if his glasses were suddenly too heavy. “Yes, you’re right.”
“I’ll check his vitals and then for vamp or were activity.” Robin tried to push to her feet. Micah had to help her up. Embarrassed, she dug around in her bag for the spell she’d need.
Micah let go. “Are you fit enough for it?”
“Of course.” Robin forced her voice to sound much more chipper than she felt. Never let the boss see you’re in over your head. Her fingertips grazed the symbol she was looking for. Omnis Oculus, the all-seeing eye.
She crossed the room to where Tim and Pete were still working on freeing the human. He swung in his restraints with every attack of their tools. His wrists would be rubbed raw. A shame she couldn’t get him out of the shackles first. But the spell might scatter all traces of what had happened before they arrived.
“Are you sure he’s human?” Robin frowned. Now that the ward was down, they could all sense clearly that he was. But something was off about him. Time to find out what. She breathed on her fingertips then placed them under the mystery man’s chin to test his life energy. As a Ward Witch, she wasn’t too good at healing or sensing, but good enough to tell that the man wasn’t physically hurt, apart from the strain on his muscles. And boy, he had muscles. The guy was extremely fit. His hair fell back behind his shoulders when she lifted his head. A silky mane, cut in a shaggy style. The better to seduce you with, no doubt. With that figure, he wasn’t going home alone, ever.
Gaaah, focus! She’d blame it on the lack of sleep that the gorgeous stranger could rattle her so. She gently released his face.
Pricking her finger, she invoked the charm. When the small muslin bag began to smoke, she rubbed it over her closed eyelids. Tim and Pete turned away. Robin didn’t blame them. It was never a pretty sight to see someone’s eyeballs through their closed eyelids, even less seeing them through a film of salve. She checked the man thoroughly.
“And?” Micah asked, impatience thick in his voice.
“No vamp traces on him. No were traces either. No-one even so much as licked him.” Robin used a cloth handkerchief to wipe the salve residue off her eyes. So all this had been the handiwork of a witch or a group of witches. A chilling thought.
“Ugh, thanks for that image,” Micah groaned. While he called the Dean with the news, Robin rummaged in her bag for a dissolution charm. She had a feeling they could be here all day if they waited for regular tools to break the shackles.
“Robertson says the Roses have just left the library. They’re headed our way. I’ll keep them busy and you do your thing and get this guy out. Pronto!” Micah snapped a photo of the man and turned to go. “I’ll check if he’s in the staff database, but I doubt it.”
Robin quickly fetched her travel cauldron and liquified the contents of another muslin bag in it. Time to get out of here if the Roses were getting involved.
Tim and Pete held up the Evan when she poured the thick broth over the restraints. The shackles bubbled and frothed, turning into a stinking grey mess. It splattered to the floor in fat drops. The dissolution charm added a couple hundred bucks to the total of the bill. Robin smiled. She had just recouped the cost of the trauma patch.
Pete slapped a trauma patch on the guy. No reaction. He ended up using four patches. Any more, and there was the very real danger they would do more harm than good. Why wasn’t he waking up? The human was tall, with a lot of muscle mass, but still. Whatever had knocked him out had done a number on him.
Robin pushed to her feet. “We can’t do anything else. Let’s get him out.”
They had lugged the man almost to the stairs when he cracked open his eyes. They weren’t sky-blue but as close as human eyes got to the startling were-color. He looked groggy and he blinked in confusion at Robin and the guards.
“Where am I? What happened?” His voice was a deep baritone, stroking Robin’s ears. Hell, this guy could read her a phonebook any day.
“You’re at Riverdale Univer–“ Robin began.
“What the hell!” The guy had looked down. He wrenched his arms from their grasp and covered his groin, smacking Robin’s heavy bag into her side in the process.
“No time to be shy, buddy.” Robin grabbed his arm again, tugging him forward. “We have to go.”
The guy dug in his heels. “What the hell’s going on?”
She motioned for the guards to get him moving. “An excellent question and one you should get to the bottom of once we’ve left the building.”
He didn’t resist when the guards pushed him to the stairs. He shuffled forward, studying Robin intently. A frown line was forming between his brows. Robin could almost see the pennies drop one by one. The sign on her clothes marked her as Gaian. They had to wear the insignia in places where Gaians and Evans met. Her violet eyes – in her case a violet so dark it almost passed for blue-black – and the small tattoo on her temple marked her a witch. Who knows if he had ever met a witch before? Some Evans lived pretty sheltered lives.
“Robin Armstrong, Ward Witch. I work for the university.” No need to tell him she was a student here.
The guy didn’t react to her introduction and his stare was making Robin uncomfortable. She quickened her steps. “What’s your name?”
“I’m …” He fell silent. Opened his mouth once more to say the name, then closed it. His frown deepened.
Step by step Robin tugged him up the stairs while he tried to piece together memories. She wanted to leave the dank dungeons behind and finally get some breakfast.
“Do you work at the university?” she prompted.
“Uh —“ The man looked even more bewildered now.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
He scrunched up his face in concentration. “I really don’t know. I —“ He looked at Robin with something like pain on his face. “Why can’t I remember? Did I have an accident?”
What could she tell him? Oh well, Robin never liked sugarcoating things. They came smacking you straight on the ass sooner or later anyway. “Someone used you in their spellwork. We found you chained in the dungeons with a strong ward around you. But you were lucky. There wasn’t a trace of were or vampire activity.”
He nodded, vaguely.
“You do know about Gaians and your own kind?” Robin asked. Apparently the spell had wiped his mind. The question was: how much of it? And was it a temporary wipe or permanent?
He gave another vague nod. The helpless puppy routine made him look even more scrumptious. Such a shame he wasn’t a Gaian.
“I’m an Evan, right? A Child of Eva. And you are …” His gaze slid from Robin to the guards, taking in their university-issued uniforms, the insignia on their lapels. “You lot are … the others?”
“What a polite way to put it,” Steve scoffed. “A nice change from the things that go bump in the night.”
The man gave him a bewildered look. Robin couldn’t bear confusing him even further. “You’re right. We’re Gaians. You must have met us at the university?” There weren’t a lot of other places where Evans’ and Gaians’ lives touched. Apart from Halloween, that was, the one day of the year when they freely mixed. Not always to the humans’ advantage, though.
“Where are you taking me?” The man was staring at the walls of the narrow corridor with dread. Goosebumps had formed all over his body and he hugged his arms around himself for warmth.
Tim gave him a sympathetic look. “We have some clothes for you in the Lost & Found. It’s not far. They’d have gone to the homeless shelter after the holidays anyway.”
“See, all settled.” Robin gave the human a bright reassuring smile.
“I’d feel better if I could carry your bag.”
“What?” She stared at him bewildered.
“Give me your bag.”
Reluctantly, Robin handed it over. The Evan held it in front of his groin. “Now I feel somewhat better.” He climbed the last steps all on his own. “Will you take me to a hospital?”
“Not before we know what spell caused your amnesia,” a man’s deep voice said before Robin could reply. Dean Robertson was holding open the doors at the exit from the dungeon. Robin smiled in relief at seeing his massive figure. This morning, the Dean was wearing a red checkered coat. With his white beard and big gut, it made him look like Santa Claus personified.
“Quickly!” He ushered them into a lecture hall and closed the door behind them. Tim and Steve hadn’t followed them in. Seconds later, voices rang out at the other side of the door. Micah was arguing with a bunch of guys.
Robin scowled. “The Roses.”
“What’s going on?” the Evan hissed.
“This way!” The Dean hurried through the hall and out the other side.
When they were well away from the entrance hall, he stopped to catch his breath.
The Evan glared at them both. “Why don’t you just turn me over to the Evan police?”
“And what do we tell the Evans exactly?” the Dean asked. “Sorry, but some witch messed him up. Bye-bye.’? No. You stay with us while I figure out what happened and how to revoke the spell.”
“The memory loss?”
The Dean nodded.
The Evan clutched Robin’s bag tighter. “Yeah, I’m all for that.”
“About that spell …” Robin filled in the Dean. She felt very aware of the Evan’s gaze on her while she sketched out the details of the ward.
“I don’t think he’s safe at the university,” she concluded. “Not while the Roses run around here.”
One of the Dean’s bushy eyebrows rose. “And you’re suggesting what? That you take him home with you?” His piercing gaze traveled from Robin to the shivering Evan. The very nude Evan …
“Well …” Robin hadn’t thought that far but the thought appealed to her. Show the lost and handsome man the nicest sights of the city while the Dean found out who had crafted that ward … “I think he’d be safe with me. I know enough defensive spells …”
The Dean scoffed. “Unless the witch who made that ward decides to target him again.”
“We don’t know who made that ward.”
“You said yourself that the ward was clean. Whoever made it masked his spellwork perfectly. We’re looking at a very skilled witch or wizard.”
“You don’t want to babysit a human all day,” Robin blurted out. “You need to find who did this. And how to fix it.”
“Armstrong …” The Dean’s voice held a touch of amusement. “He’s not some toy your parents got you for Hallow’s Morning.”
The Evan’s eyes lit up with a strange spark.
Robin blushed furiously. What if he was? She couldn’t explain the sudden urge to protect the guy. Alright: the sudden attraction.
The Dean winced, probably realizing belatedly what he had said. “I’m sorry, Robin. I didn’t want to –“
“It’s alright,” she quickly waved off his next words. They would have been a form of condolence, a show of compassion. She had gotten enough of both in the past year.
“Do I get a say in the matter?” the Evan asked.
The Dean threw up his hands. “What is this, kindergarten?”
The Evan moved closer to Robin. “I go with her for the day under the condition that you find a way to revoke my amnesia. If you don’t manage by tonight, she takes me back to the Evan side. Deal?”
The Dean stroked his beard. “I must be nuts. But: deal.” Stern gray eyes zeroed in on Robin. “You take him straight home and that’s where you’ll stay! If you get any whiff of being followed or if anything’s off at your house, call in the Roses.” He dug a business card from an inside pocket of his coat. The card was black with a red rose embossed in the upper right hand corner. Only a last name and a number. “This is the agent dealing with the library mess. John Grey.”
As if it would bite, Robin took the card with two fingers and quickly sank it out of sight in her bag. Tangling with the Roses was never good.
Twenty minutes later, she found herself back on the street, the mystery man in tow.
“And now?” He had shoved his hands into the pockets of his newly acquired jeans. They went with a grey, figurehugging Black Sabbath t-shirt. For a Lost & Found item, the pants fit him quite well, snug in the hips and with a straight leg.
They were at the university’s main gates on the Gaian side. They’d have to get away quickly or the Roses would swoop in. Robin set out across the street. “First order of the day is giving you a name.” She buttoned her jacket against the November cold.
He raised a brow. “You’ll give me a name? How about I pick one out for myself?”
“So which one do you want?”
He chewed his lip thoughtfully. “Don’t know yet.” He blew on his fingers, then shoved them back into his pockets. His nipples had puckered under the shirt.
Robin’s gaze lingered. Yummy and yummier. “I’ll use Sky until you find something you like.”
He grimaced. “Sky?”
“Come on. We’ll get some coffee to warm up. Some food.” She hurried to the corner diner and straight inside to the counter. Gosh, she was so hungry. Before Sean, the witch who owned this place, even made it from the back room, she had already grabbed one of the pumpkin muffins from the display. Flicking off the wriggling deco spider, she dug in. Mhmm, succulent heaven.
Sean nodded to the street. “You lost something en route.”
Robin turned to the door and saw Sky standing in the middle of the cobblestone street, motionless. He was gaping at the buildings and vehicles.
“What’s his deal? Straight from the farm?” Sean chuckled.
“Make that two extra-grande pumpkin-spice coffees with a triple-shot of espresso. To go.”
“Geez.” Sean grimaced. “You want a syringe with that?”
“No, just another muffin. One without enchantment.” Robin plunked six bucks on the counter and ran back to Sky.
She pulled him to the sidewalk just in time before an anti-grav sedan would have flattened him. The witch driving the vehicle shook his fist at Sky, his curses swallowed by the thick glass around the spell compartment.
She dropped Sky’s arm. “You have a death-wish?”
He shook his head. “It’s so crazy. Where are we?”
“Riverdale, where else?” Robin gazed around, trying to see what had rattled Sky. But there wasn’t anything remarkable about University Road at ten in the morning, especially on the morning of All Hallows. Some witches and weres swerved around them on the sidewalk, but since the three days of Halloween were bank holidays, the street was almost deserted. A few howdahs and sedans were weaving with skill between and over the pedestrians and regular cars. Perhaps he was intrigued by the flying cars?
“Stay put!” She fetched the coffees. Handing Sky his cup and the extra-muffin, she led him to the side street where she had parked her howdah. He kept falling behind, gazing at the buildings, remarking on the colors. Robin knew from her Halloween excursions that Riverdale on the human side ran to grey stone buildings and mirrored skyscrapers. The Gaian side was much prettier, with smaller and older houses, each one a different color of the rainbow. It looked deceivingly friendly and cheerful.
“Here we are.” She stopped at her car, pleased she hadn’t gotten a ticket yet. There was virtually no legal parking on University Road and she had been in a hurry.
“What is it?”
“A car?” Sky parroted weakly. “Robin, it has no wheels. And it freakin’ hovers!”
She grinned. “You’re cute when you’re fretting. – Hold this.” She pressed her coffee cup in his hands and dropped her bag to the pavement so she’d have both hands free to unlock the wards of the vehicle.
“It’s your car?!” Horror was written over Sky’s features.
She gazed over the howdah, wondering what made him sound so criticial. The paint job was still looking fairly decent, only the yellows and oranges had started to fade a bit. Maybe the pentagram on the door put him off? “That’s only a decal. For Halloween, you know?”
Sky grimaced. “I don’t mind the decal so much. It’s the whole –“ He made a motion that encompassed the car. “Ugh … design?”
Robin shrugged. She liked howdahs, the gaudier the better. She took back her coffee and drained the cup. She pulled open the back door with a flourish. “Slide in.” The howdah was small but he should fit.
Sky looked horrified. “No way.”
“Hey, it was only pre-owned like five or six times. It’s in fine condition.” Robin took off her jacket and tossed it in the driver’s cabin with her bag.
Sky still wasn’t getting in. She gave him a shove. “It’s only a howdah. Totally safe. Now get in!”
She slammed the door behind him and settled in the spell cabin up front. The howdah buckled when she seized control of the steering rods. It was a bit temperamental and her magic wasn’t up to speed after this exhausting morning. In the rearview mirror, Robin saw Sky grip the red railing in the passenger compartment with a death grip. Perhaps she took off from the curb a little too sharply, enjoying his reaction. Sky held on, cussing a blue streak.
Robin’s grin widenend. This promised to be an interesting ride home.
By the time they reached Greencrest, Sky looked decidedly green. Robin parked the howdah in the drive. No need to freak the poor man even more by bantering with the gargoyle who protected their garage. She had tossed Lump his daily pigeon before setting out this morning and the gargoyle would be sleepy and grumpy if she woke him now.
She helped Sky out of the vehicle. He inhaled deeply and leaned against the howdah’s side. “Phew. Man. What a ride. You always drive crazy like that or were you trying to impress me?”
Robin blushed under the intense gaze of his too-blue eyes. “Course not. Just having some fun at your expense.”
“U-hum.” Sky didn’t look convinced.
Robin pressed her hand to the spellbox next to the door. The door swung inward. “This is my home. Houserules: Don’t snack on any of the herbs, put the toilet seat down and try not to get eaten by my room-mates.”
Sky’s brows rose. “Witches eat people?”
“No, but weres do.”
“You bunk with werewolves?” Sky looked worried.
Robin pushed him into the hall and closed the door. The wards activated with a satisfying whoosh. “I bunk with two were-skunks. They’re out but will be home soon.” Their boots were not in the hall, but after the excesses of last night, Matthew and Ryan wouldn’t stray far.
Sky grinned. “Sure.”
“Disbelieve me at your own peril.” Robin tossed her jacket over the chair in the hall and shoved her bag underneath it.
Were-skunks were banned from the uni dormitories and nobody wanted to bunk with them off-campus. The guys paid her a premium for the two rooms and shared kitchen — the only way Robin could make rent, even in a run-down neighborhood like Greencrest. Matthew and Ryan had never sprayed inside the house yet, but it might happen one of these days if someone rattled them enough.
Sky sniffed the air. “I still think you’re just yanking my chain.”
Robin grinned. “I could have, this morning.” She headed to the kitchen. “I still wonder who did that spell on you. Has nothing come back?”
Sky didn’t follow her in. She returned to the hall and found him studying her Halloween decorations. The whole hall was filled with glowing ceramic pumpkins, little ghosts, red and purple glass jars with flickering fake tealights inside. She loved the combination of warm lights and biting cold outside, orange and black, so she went a little overboard each year.
“I’ve never been inside a witch’s house.” Sky was staring with some trepidation at the brain just to the left of the kitchen door. Ryan had carved it from a pumpkin last night and Robin had preserved it with a spell so it’d would keep for a few days longer.
She grinned. “But you do celebrate Halloween, don’t you? This is all just for Halloween.”
“Phew.” Sky’s smile was a little sheepish. He frowned. “Halloween’s over, right? That much I remember.”
“Well, it’s over if you’re Evan. But not for us. We celebrate it for three days.” Robin stroked the smooth head of a cat painted for Day of the Dead. “It’s good that you remember stuff like that, though. Probably the rest will come to you in a few hours.”
Sky nodded, leaning forward to check a photograph of Robin at highschool. A small pyramid of river stones sitting in that corner of the hall fell over.
“Oops! Sorry.” He knelt, quicker than Robin could intervene, and piled them up again.
“Uh.” Robin winced. He was messing with her ward and it felt as if someone was violently pulling her hair. “Better let me fix that. It’s one of the quarters, you know.”
“Quarters?” Sky looked around the hall with a puzzled expression.
“North, East, South, West. You know.” Her hands made quick work of the spell, aligning the stones.
“So this is …?”
“Earth. I warded my house with a protection spell. One circle inside, one outside. So if you see a feather or a candle, don’t rearrange it.” Wow, it was weird having a non-Gaian in her house. She’d never had to explain any of this before.
Sky parked his pretty bottom on one of the bar stools in the kitchen.
Robin squeezed past him. “Would you like breakfast or leftover Halloween food? We’ve got pumpkin pie, soup, fiesta salad, crickets, cookies …”
“Breakfast,” Sky said hurriedly. Maybe it was the crickets. She moved around him, gathering breakfast supplies. “You like cereal?”
“I don’t know.” He picked at a a half-eaten Halloween cupcake sitting on the counter. “Do I like bacon or pancakes? Boxers or briefs? I have no clue.”
“You take it well.” Robin plonked a bowl and a spoon in front of him.
“No. It’s freaking me out.” Sky took the spoon, fiddled with it. “But there’s nothing we can do, right? If the ritual just happened last night, I might not be missing long enough for a missing person’s report at the Evan police. I’m sure this stupid spell will just wear off before then.” He lifted his gaze from the spoon, hitting her straight-on with those piercing blue eyes. “Right? Spells just stop working with time, don’t they?
Robin busied herself with slapping some bacon into the pan.
“Robin, look at me! This bloody spell will just wear off and I’ll remember who I am. Right?!”
She should make three eggs. No, five. He was a grown man after all.
With a growl of frustration, Sky jumped from the chair and was in her space, crowding her against the stove. “Robin, tell me if this thing wears off or not!”
His scent enveloped her. Sea salt, sage and something else that was shooting straight to her instincts. She found she had closed her arms around his waist without remembering raising them.
“I don’t know,” she told his chiseled chest.
Warm fingers pushed under her chin, lifting her head. His eyes were a darker blue now, filled with a storm. “You mean maybe I lost my memories for good? That someone just broke them?!”
Something was off. He was vibing strongly, much stronger than a human should have been able to. Time to call in the cavalry?
She slid her hands under his shirt, to probe him. His firm stomach was hot against her palms.
“What are you doing?” Sky’s voice had changed, become deeper.
“Just … uhm … Touching you?” she finished lamely. She needed to distract him so she could read him. She’d fill his ears with witch-lore. He had asked, after all, so he’d listen. “I can tell you this: It’s better for your brain if we let the spell evaporate by itself. Counteracting spells like this always carries a high risk. But there are spells with temporary effects and those with permanent effects. Until we know what the witch was trying to do with you, we don’t know what sort of spell they used and if it will wear off.” She nodded to the tomatoes in the fruit basket. “I can turn them into rubber balls for a time or for forever. To make that change permanent is the easier spell of the two.” Her sensing indicated he was human and he wasn’t under some spell. He was healthy. Dammit, if all was normal where did this feeling of unease come that was sitting like ice at her neck?
“So breaking my memories might have been the easier spell instead of just making them disappear?” Sky’s eyes looked haunted.
Maybe he was just under shock and that’s what she was reading wrong? Robin slid her hand up under his shirt, resting them on his chest. “Look, it might be temporary after all. The memory-loss was probably just a side-effect of the real spellwork. And side-effects like that are often temporary.”
“So I hang out with you until the culprit is found or my memory returns?” He laid his hands over Robin’s. His gaze was still haunted but there was something else moving in the blue depths. A flicker of passion.
“Uh …” Robin licked suddenly dry lips. “Yes, we …” She cleared her throat. “I’ll ask the weres to bunk together and you can have the room …”
Sky bent closer, his gaze focusing on her lips. “You know, I’ve never kissed a witch before.”
> Read on: Part 2 of “All Hallow’s Morning”
Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.