Innogen and Enk only had a few days after the return of Magic before they set out on their journey. Barbara had over a month, practising her warlock powers. Holland hid from school for weeks, knowing that with all the people disappeared, nobody would notice the one who was not. Angus slipped into the arms of Grey London mere days after it all began.
For Enk, the day of magic’s return was the start of winter; for Holland, the dawn of summer. No seasons sat at the equator, though, the boundless torrent of sunshine sheeting down onto dull, jade fasures, each one as large as a warehouse wall, into which were carved three faces.
The faces did not own human shape; they were symmetrical down the centre, but not possessed of humanoid character in any other way. Each face was markedly different, with one possessed of a pair of grasping tentacles, studded on one side with shimmering, interlocking plates, and on the bottom with soft flesh from which finer hairs sprouted. Another had a pair of stalks, folded in against the central line of its pouchy, shelled cheeks, eye of polished stone that shone brightly even through the ages. The third had not a single mouth but rather an orchestra of interlocking and interconnected pedipalps, little bony structures that were rendered so lifelike in the unmoving stone that they seemed to twitch as the eye scanned from one side to the other.
Cards looked down at the shape from her position in the helicopter. White hair flying, her thumb on the rack of paper in her pocket, duffel bag by her feet with something indescribable bobbing in the ocean before her. It was as close as she’d ever felt to home, at least since the many microfractures in her life that had put her in Colombia’s jungles before the threats that the drug cartels brought.
Next to her, the general was bellowing.
“Basically, getting too close to it is dangerous! Y’see the channels on it?” he said, leaning forwards, pointing at the jade. “The water runs into them, lights up, and something goes, like, really wrong!” The roar of his voice only just matched the blades and the whipping winds. “We’ve landed a few frogmen on it, but we can’t send ’em in without knowing for sure what we’re getting in to.”
Out flipped the card: Not Surprised.
A laugh. “Basically, nobody wants to be responsible for what goes on! It’s in international waters, nobody wants to take credit, and we’ve all got our own fires at home to take care of! So!”
Take Care Of It, Right?
“Just recon! We need you to tell us-”
A flat look.
“… We need you to report back on what you see in there!”
Cards sighed, resting her hand on the frame of the helicopter. The duffel bag. Shoving her foot against it, she considered just how full it was, how much more she had to go. Shoving with her foot, she kicked the bag underneath the bench, against the older man’s wheelchair, producing another card in one hand.
I will be coming back for these.
He swallowed slightly, gripping the buckles of his seatbelts. Hesitation got you killed in this job. “Okay,” he said, gesturing. “Take us down!”
The kiss of whipping air, the embrace of the water, the silence of the water. The rippling waves around carried a stranger character, a literal sussurus that rippled wordlessly through her skin, her bones, her skull. Right there, she knew how the ships were kept away.
The whispering rippled through the fluid of the water, and a clear spiral of empty air circled around the Floating Entity. Things that drew close disturbed the still air; the still air pushed air into the patterns, and that started the magic, which set up crosswinds – and worse, shooting lances of cold air against the thing that disturbed the pattern. The unnatural stillness of the ocean was more of this pattern – the water lapped the sides of the device, flowed up into the patterns, then magic flared and spiralled back down against the surface again. It was flattened. It was stilled.
Throughout her career, she had many times faced situations that others had described as weird. You saw a combat veteran going native, or delve into something barbaric, or you watched the ways people transformed their culture in response to drug cartels. Sometimes, people commented on what they’d seen her do.
Continually in her mind, the word bubbled back up. This was weird. Not once had anything ever felt so weird. Weird was relative. Weird was what people thought an albino latina mercenary with CIA training was. To Cards, that wasn’t weird. She lived that every day. An area larger than a football field in the middle of the ocean with water so still that it sounded like it was whispering … that, that was weird.
Fingers gripped the surface, and like a shadow fleeing a sunrise, she slid up the side of the structure.
Those were thoughts for another day.