“It will be a day or two for them to finish their investigation,” Galen said, hanging up the phone. “Then I can come and collect whatever remains they said.”
“I’m sure they’ll say it was some freak accident,” Thomas said.
“Most likely,” Galen said, taking a chair at the table. “No one reported hearing any shots or keening.”
“Must be some effect from the brood,” Rhae said, “or Peccant.”
“Is that possible?” Thomas stared into his coffee mug.
“Well,” Galen said, “emotions have a powerful impact on the brain’s capacity to lay down memory to begin with, so yes. Evoke an emotion with high enough intensity, the brain will prevent the memory from being created in the first place.”
“So no suppression, therefore no recovery?”
“Correct,” Galen said. “You can’t recover what isn’t there.”
“There was no magick involved to do that,” Thomas said. “Now hear me out. The brood isn’t from Earth. Compared to many of the worlds we’ve been to Earth is…”
“Sleeping,” Galen said.
“Unprepared,” said Rhae.
“Right,” Thomas said, “so how much would it take for an encounter with the likes of the brood for an unawakened, untalented Earthling mind to deny its existence and just simply not create the memory? I’m mean to preserve sanity?”
“No effort at all,” Galen said. “Happens every day in fact with far less.”
Thomas leaned back in his chair. “Shit.”
“What are you thinking?” Rhae said, sliding her hand across the table towards him.
Lacing his fingers through hers, he stared off out the window behind her. “Who’s protecting these people?”
“What people?” Rhae said. She placed her other hand over their intertwined fingers.
“The normal people,” he said, feeling the beads on his wrist grow pleasantly warm, “and people like Nessa. Who’s protecting them from people like us that would do them harm?”
“There are small bands of people, like us, all over this world Thomas,” Galen said, “each doing their part, in their own way, what they can.”
“We could join your mother,” Rhae said. “I’m sure she would welcome us.”
“No,” Thomas said, pulling his hands away. “If she is the Phoenix Avatar, then she is fighting different battles. We’ll help her when she needs it.”
“But you seek a different calling,” Galen said.
Thomas folded his arms. “You know,” he said, “I have no idea what exactly Lynnette did.”
Galen’s face grew grim as his thumbed the rim of his coffee. “Even the occult and paranormal has its black markets.”
Rubbing his face with his hands, Thomas groaned. “How could I be so naïve?”
“This is why we were told next to nothing.”
“And you,” Thomas said, “did you deal in it as well?”
Galen rolled his eyes with a light shrug. “How much product did you bring my way?”
“I’m not dealing in that.”
“And if you noticed you haven’t received a request for it either.”
“What do you mean?”
“People know that Lynnette owned the business,” Galen said. “They also know that you got the business. When you decide what to do with it, the clients will return.”
“Just like that?” Thomas said, resting his elbows on the table.
“Just like that,” Galen said, “and by turning the business beacon back on of course.”
“Of course,” Thomas said, looking at the office door.
“So no black market trade,” Galen said. “What exactly do you want to do then?”
“I don’t know,” Thomas said. “I just want to help people.”
“Very noble,” Galen said, “and how do you intend to do that?”
“I don’t know,” Thomas said, pounding his fist on the table. “I build things with my hands. Even the runes. I just build with them. I build things.”
“You also think,” Rhae said, looking at the freshly made puddle of coffee from her mug. “You’re smart, Thomas. You’ll figure it out.”
“Well Galen can set up a new shop in Lynnette’s old office,” Thomas said.
“No way,” Galen said. “That office is all yours. You were the only one that opened Lynnette’s seal. I’m willing to bet she placed seals all over that office.”
“Fine,” Thomas said. “Maybe we can build something out here for you then?”
“For what?” Galen said, smiling.
“Legit product. Whatever. Supplies we need.”
“Right,” Galen said. “You realize there isn’t a lot in the way of the true occult and paranormal on Earth that is legit as you define it?”
“Okay fine, I realize there is a lot of gray area,” Thomas said, “but I’m done with dishonest dealings and theft. That’s what got us in the mess we’re in right now.”
“The only reason I did business with Lynnette was because of you two. I imagine plenty other folk feel the same. I can get what you need honestly without stealing, Thomas,” Galen said. “Oh, that reminds me. Do you still intend to set the gemstones and the trans-dimensional crystal into your weapons?”
“It will only strengthen them,” Thomas said. “Are you sure your jeweler friend can work with the crystal safely?”
“Yes, my friend has worked with such crystals before,” Galen said, a note of sorrow tainted his tone.
“But you can no longer pay this friend of yours?” Thomas said.
“The books he wanted are likely destroyed,” Galen said.
“But you have something else he wants you don’t want to give him?”
“Nessa’s sword, Astrum Kotero. The Star Cutter. I was going to give it to her for her birthday,” Galen said. The pained expression on his face made Thomas wince.
“Don’t give him that. Keep it,” Thomas said. “What else is there?”
Galen spread his hands out across the table with his palms up. He shook his head at a loss. Then he folded his hands behind his mug, pressing his lips together.
“Look if I can get it I will,” Thomas said. “Within reason.”
“His wife and son are currently enslaved by the goblin horde.”
“Fuck nuggets,” Rhae said. Her tail twitched in annoyance. “We can’t rescue anyone while with the brood out there.”
Thomas rapped the table thoughtfully. They did have something for payment and it would be beneficial to this family too. His mind set, Thomas headed for the basement. He collected the bag of gems and the pouch of crystals. Returning to the kitchen, he gave both to Galen.
“Tell your friend to keep the crystals to save his family,” Thomas said. “If he isn’t able to by the time we’re finished with Peccant then we’re willing to help.”
Galen’s eyes widened as Thomas set his holstered gun on the table in front of him. “Are you sure Thomas? The crystal has a lot of power.”
“Family first,” Thomas said firmly. “Setting the gemstones should be enough for now.”
Rhae nodded and got up to collect her shotgun. Then she placed it and her sheathed combat knight next to his magnum. “Family first.”
“I will let him know.”
They carefully wrapped and packed the weapons to be loaded into Galen’s truck first thing in the morning.
Galen hung up the phone with a sigh. “Well the fire marshal has declared that it was a faulty gas line leading into my home,” he said. “My insurance at least should cover most of the losses.”
“Aren’t the propane tanks for the kitchen in the back of the building?”
“Yes Thomas,” Galen said, picking up the weapons they packed last night, “and it’s best we leave well enough alone at this point.”
Thomas and Rhae watched Galen carry the load out to the truck.
“So who altered the scene?” Rhae said.
“Peccant probably did,” he said.
“Why would he do that?”
Thomas shoved his hands in his pockets and sighed. “Because they’re friends,” he said. “Ultimately he’s the reason Nessa is dead. Chances are he didn’t plan for that. I’m also guessing he’s the reason Galen’s wife is dead too.”
“How do you apologize for that?”
“You can’t rectify something like that,” Thomas said. “You can either run from it or spend the rest of your days in atonement, but it still won’t undo the iniquity.”
“Who is suffering more?” Rhae said, wrapping her arms around him. “Peccant who is still trying, or Galen that understands?”
“I don’t know,” Thomas said, hugging her back.
Galen shuffled back inside and quietly shut the door. “Well the truck is all loaded,” he said. “We can swing by my place first and pick through what can salvaged first. Shouldn’t take long. Then I’ll stop by the jeweler’s to get your weapons commissioned.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Thomas said, grabbing his trench coat.
The wreckage was soul crushing. What hadn’t burned took either smoke or water damage. Only the parlor hadn’t been left in complete blackened crud and glop. Some of the books here could be rescued. A bit scorched and damp but they were still readable. They were carried to the truck. The chairs and ottoman smelled of smoke, but fixable. Those too were loaded up. Rhae found the painting of Nessa with her mother. Galen tucked that away with care. Digging through soggy, crumbling black books and scrolls he dragged out a scorched two foot chest.
“Ah, here it is,” Galen said, relieved.
He opened the chest to examine the contents. Inside were a pair of baby shoes, a white infant gown, a small blanket, a rattle, and a foot long box. It was this box Galen removed and closed the chest. Softly he stroked this box as tears slid down his cheeks. Clutching the box to his chest, he began to sob. Rhae and Thomas knelt to either side of him in silence. Today would have been Nessa’s twentieth birthday. When the sobs slowed to weeping, he wiped his eyes and faced Thomas solemnly.
Handing him the box, Galen said, “Take this.”
“I can’t,” Thomas said, trying to push the box back.
“It’s what Nessa would have wanted,” Galen said. “All the joys and all the sorrows.”
“Together,” Thomas said, accepting the box.
Releasing the latch, Thomas lifted the lid. “Sweet Vesta.”
“Behold the Astrum Kotero. The Star Cutter. Some say that this is a true astra. A living weapon in the proper hands. In your hands, it just might be.”
The ornate hilt bore filigree runes similar to the ones he engraved on their weapons. Tiny opal and amethyst jewels were set at key points in the design. Simplistic in its elegance, it flowed across the steel with life. Shining from the hilt was the blade made of something other than metal. Thomas could almost see through its shimmering iridescent material. Color shifted constantly along the edge of this blade. Where did it come from? Who crafted it and why? How did Galen come by it and at what cost? He looked up at Galen to ask all these questions but saw the wry smile on his face. There would be no answers today.
“Thomas doesn’t know how to sword fight,” Rhae said.
“The blade lives,” Galen said. “If he is willing to trust it, it will guide him.”
“This was your sword,” Thomas said.
“My wife’s actually,” he said, gazing far away. “Her name was Luann and with that blade she could dance like no other. The blade sang in her hands. She was magnificent.”
“Why give it to me?” Thomas said, feeling the burden of the legacy.
Galen smiled warmly. “Because you believe as she does, as Nessa does,” he said, “and by the gods you might have saved me from losing sight of that. Now stand up and let’s get the sword belt strapped on you.”
“It feels weird,” Thomas said. “I’m glad I draw the magnum from the other side.”
“Why else do you think I put the sword here,” Galen said. “Don’t worry, with enough practice this will all become second nature to you. Just like the gun.”
Thomas adjusted his trench coat and found that it easily concealed the newly acquired blade. “Thank you, Galen.”
“No need to thank me,” Galen said. “I should be thanking you.”
Galen picked up the chest and carried it to the truck.
“So,” Rhae said, “what are we going to do while we wait for the weapons to get back?”
“I don’t know,” Thomas said. “We ought to lay low and steer clear of trouble.”
“You love birds could try going on a date,” Galen said. “If fact, why not now? I’m about ready to head for the jeweler’s since I’m all set here for today.”