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Eyes followed Eliza Kindall as she crept through the night, their judging gaze testing her control as she jumped the chain link fence that cornered off a part of the old, crumbling cemetery. Tombs and mausoleums, old and withered, stood against the dark night, casting inky shadows over the desecrated path. Further in, the mausoleums grew bigger, lusher with wealth and time, their shine accented by the freshly lain flowers in each stone pot, while the dilapidated ones were forgotten in the scheme of age and memory.
Magic danced across the night with the power of a thousand stars; electricity pulsed throughout the cemetery, a dazzling conduct of enchantments and curses; the whispers of the dead pulsed in Eliza’s ears, a consistency that reminded her of the wind.
Far up, Eliza could hear the screeches of crows in the branches of the dilapidated tree to her right, and hissed when they continued their squawking. But they weren’t what had her worried.
For at least three blocks, Eliza had sensed a foreign presence following her every move after she left the safety of the museum. The hair at her neck had prickled, and her sixth sense had begun humming, and with those sudden appearances, Eliza had begun winding her way through New Orleans like a mob of zombies were following her. She cut through blocks, disappeared down darkened allies, and hid herself in the throngs of people that littered the street.
Yet, she could still feel them watching her.
In the old cemetery, Eliza was completely alone. Those watchful eyes still followed her as she cut through the mausoleums. Everything was dark and eerily quiet, save for the occasional squawk of crows. Their cries followed Eliza as she disappeared among the tombs, echoing through the endless night. With the stars covered by dark clouds, Eliza could barely see a thing, but managed to refrain from pulling out the little torch she kept with her. Drawing attention to herself was the last thing she needed.
Eliza pulled herself through a destroyed wall and stopped short.
The air pulsed with a strange and dangerous magic, one that set her on edge. In the back of her mind, she could feel the foreignness of it whispering against her own magic. Suddenly, her attention was pulled towards the tomb to her left.
Standing on the flat roof was a man. Eliza could not make out any features, save for the fact that he had pointed ears that drew her eye. His lithe, willowy form was one of the Fae, and sitting on his shoulder was a raven, one with golden irises that glowed with an inner fire that lead Eliza to believe that the raven was not of their world, nor was it even a raven, but…
The cemetery stretched out before her with no exit in sight. The labyrinth of tombs and mausoleums hindered her view of the path ahead as she attempted to flee from the inevitable trouble that wafted from the Fae male and the otherworldly raven. Eliza tried going back the way she came, but was instead cut off by the ever-present raven, the Fae man not in sight.
********** Eliza muttered, swinging around another tomb, running straight through Miranda.
“Excuse you!” Her shrieks fill the air, causing Eliza to flinch. Ghosts close to midnight were not her cup of tea, especially one as practical and proper like Miranda.
“Hush,” Eliza scolded the two-hundred-year-old spirit, turning in a full circle. “Something’s following me,” she whispered. Eliza kept her eyes locked on the mausoleums and the spindly trees surrounding her, ready to whip out some unearthly mojo if she caught sight of the golden eyed raven.
But there was nothing. Eliza could not, for the life of her, sense anything other than the irritated spirit beside her. There was no strange magic in the air, no danger echoing in her ears. Eliza was alone.
“Ahem. Miss Elizabeth, what is it do you think is following you?” Miranda promptly asked, trailing Eliza as she manoeuvred through the tombs, navigating her way through the dead cemetery. Even with the light from the moon casting an eerie glow over the graveyard, Eliza was almost blind to the threats from the supernatural.
“I thought,” Eliza started, making her way to the cemetery entrance, “I was being followed by a knight. Maybe a ghost, maybe not. But there just wasn’t anything right about him.” Eliza couldn’t let slip that the knight wasn’t just a knight, but a Fae in this world, and that he probably wasn’t dead either. Miranda, unknowing of the realms that existed outside of her – their – own, wouldn’t be able to fathom such a thought, even if she had been dead for some time.
Eliza walked up to the stone wall surrounding the perimeter of the graveyard, and felt for a foothold. The entrance, although a safer mode of exiting the haunted, hallowed area, was being patrolled by reapers, and sadly, Eliza had already encountered far too many of them in her life time, considering the famous New Orleans cemetery gave her the extra dollars she couldn’t earn at the museum, so she had to suffer through midnight ghost tours with tourists and the occasional local playing the role of ghost. So, Eliza had to avoid the reapers, the beings that she could see and no other being could, who had a tendency to follow wayward witches, and that was not a part of Eliza’s Saturday night plan.
“I do not believe I have ever seen a knight here before. Was he wearing a helmet, Miss Elizabeth? If not, was he handsome, like the knights in Momma’s fairy-tales?” Miranda merely stood by the wall. Her hands above her bleeding heart, she looked up at Eliza with a mischievous glint in her dead eyes.
“Yes, he wore a helmet. I don’t think he was handsome. Maybe he was set on fire and his face melted to the inside of it?” Miranda made a choking sound that made Eliza laugh. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Miranda.”
“Good night, Miss Elizabeth. I do hope the bed bugs eat you.” Eliza laughed again. Jumping from the top of the wall, she landed silently on the balls of her feet, and rose. Silence met her still gaze. The streets were empty, save for the reapers, whom Eliza stayed away from.
Party goers still littered the almost empty streets of New Orleans, making sure to keep away from the river that swept through the centre of the quarter. The revellers held their drinks high as Eliza stalked between them, their sultry comments making Eliza twitch. Several locals wandered through the crowds, keeping the mass contained as a couple officers made sure to keep the peace.
No one said a thing to the rough looking seventeen-year-old girl who made her way down the street, hood obscuring her face from the on-looker’s stares. She passed by darkened windows with flyers offering magic and spells, necromancy and insight into one’s future. She scoffed at the notion, but knew better. New Orleans was a treasure-trove of magic; there was a spark of everything drizzled upon the *************** streets.
The ornamental fixtures on the railings and balconies above held wreaths and fairy-lights strung between the apartments and shops below. Eliza had once loved the beautiful designs, but tonight they cast eerie shadows over the bitumen streets. Within the crevices, she imagined the demons of her world hiding, their jaws coated in the blood of innocent humans, or the benevolent woodland-pixies that found joy in human embarrassment.
Eliza shook her head in disdain. Her watch, old and cracked, struck midnight, a thorough reminder of the trouble she’d be in when she arrived home.
Even in the omniscient darkness, Eliza could find her way. Since she could remember, she’d known the streets of New Orleans; they were her backyard, the growing metropolis of light and sound that taught her and cared for her. She could walk passed an old bar and swing in for a soda because the owner knew her one way or another, or could go into one of the many voodoo shops or apothecaries that littered the old, warn city, and be spoken to by name. The city she knew by heart knew her too, and it guided her home.
The old building Eliza had called home since she was six flourished before her; two storeys with a red-brick exterior and wraparound balconies, an inner courtyard full of strange and magical things that no human could imagine believing in, and rooms that held the keys to another world, a world Eliza still yearned to know.
And waiting for her inside were her only family.
Eliza spotted a light in one of the many windows that littered the exterior of the building, and shook her head, knowing that she’d be in trouble for getting home so late.
Still, though, Eliza waited. She waited for something else to happen, something else to ruin her night.
But nothing came.
She rolled her shoulders and took a step towards home, her heart racing in her chest.
No, she thought, spinning in a circle, something isn’t right.
Eliza took off in a sprint towards her home. Her breath rasped in her chest, and her fingers tingled with magic. She realised now why it was so quiet – there were no spirits about, no-one wandering the streets of New Orleans, no-one revelling in the magical atmosphere of the French Quarter. It was too quiet for Eliza.
She hit the pavement in front of her house, and with a flick of her wrist, the front door opened. She slid into the darkness, harnessing the shadows, and for a moment, she feared the worst.
“Elizabeth.” The shadows around her receded. Revealing herself to… her grandfather, and his ever-faithful, one-eyed sidekick, Doctor Paws. Both, unsurprisingly, looked disappointed.
Eliza stood at her full height – nearly as tall as her grandfather – and spoke. “I can explain, please.”
Davis Kindall was intelligent, wise, and most importantly – especially for Eliza – forgiving. She’d done worse throughout her teenage – and younger – years, and no matter how many times she arrived home late, or extremely drunk, or with bruises and blood covering her body, he always forgave and forgot.
Her grandfather crossed his arms and pursed his lips, his reading glasses slipping to the end of his nose.
Eliza knew that look well. “Really,” she stated, crossing her own arms. “Grandpa, I can explain. There was something… weird, following me.”
“Something is always following you.” Davis sighed and turned on his heel, heading towards the courtyard, Doctor Paws following quietly. Eliza followed too, rolling her eyes.
“I’m not lying. Or joking.”
Davis didn’t turn around. “I didn’t say you were.”
“But?” They walked into the courtyard, where Davis had set up an elegant tea-set, with Kay sitting at its head.
“Took you long enough,” she muttered, taking a sip of her tea.
“Like I said, I can explain.”
Eliza’s guardians were quiet, watching her; Davis had finally taken a seat at the wrought-iron table and had poured himself a cup of herbal tea that smelt of lavender and rose-petals, while Kay stretched her arms and crossed them. Doctor Paws had jumped up on to the table without disturbing the tea. They all looked at Eliza with questioning stares.
A strange sense of foreboding settled over Eliza, and with a quick snap of her fingers, it was gone. She could feel the stares of others on her; the hairs on the back of her neck lifted and a shiver shuddered through her body. The courtyard, though, was empty of the unknown.
She met Kay’s stare, then Davis’, and cleared her throat. “The museum had some late visitors. A creep from out of town. Wouldn’t leave. Ambrose let me leave out the back at around eleven. Then I had to bypass the main street and head into the cemetery because something was following me.”
Kay and Davis stayed quiet for a moment, their faces unworried by what Eliza was saying.
Finally, Kay sighed and rubbed her eyes, standing to meet Eliza’s height. “Ghosts follow you all the time without you even noticing. Don’t stress yourself too much. Just… call next time. Okay?” She strode over to Eliza and kissed her on the cheek. “Now that I know you’re home safe, I’m off to bed. I have a ritual to prepare for in the morning.”
Kay disappeared into one of the many hallways that were scattered throughout their large home. Eliza heard the whisper of a door closing, and knew that Kay – with her impeccable hearing, despite her age – was out of earshot.
“Grandpa, I’m not making this up.” Eliza slumped down on one of the seats, Doctor Paws jumping into her lap. “You’ll believe me if I say I saw an ogre or a demon, but not when something is following me?”
Her grandfather shrugged. “I am very tired, Elizabeth. I’m not as young as I once was.” Davis walked around the table and, like Kay, kissed Eliza on the cheek. He patted her shoulder. “Get some sleep. You may believe otherwise in the morning.”
Eliza waited until he, too was gone, before standing, Doctor Paws jumping to the ground. Irritation pulsed through her body, but she sucked in a breath and pushed away the magic that leapt to the surface.
Without another thought about the golden-eyed raven or the Fae-knight, Eliza shuffled towards her room. It still nagged at her, the strangeness of it all. She even felt disheartened by the fact that her grandfather and Kay refused to acknowledge the fact that Eliza had felt something out there. She had expected more – they were a strange family with strange traditions from a different world altogether, where myth and legend lived in harmony.
A world Eliza dreamed of going, where she wouldn’t have to worry about hiding the magical, ghost-seeing part of her, but couldn’t get to because of the barriers separating her from them.
Eliza flipped the light-switch of her room; above her, constellations appeared so bright they lit up the room, and in the centre, were the sister moons of Cadira. Her room was her only true connection to her birthplace.
Open, the window across from Eliza revealed the eeriness of the streets of New Orleans at midnight; the street lights flickered on and off, the buzz of electricity echoing in Eliza’s ears. She stepped toward the light, just as it flickered out.
Suddenly, underneath the light, a form, shrouded in shadows, appeared, their armour reflecting the light at odd angles.
Eliza took a hesitant step forward.
The knight raised his head and met Eliza’s stare. The raven, perched on his shoulder, squawked.
The light flickered again, and they were gone.
~ ~ ~
Eliza hated mornings – more than she hated unwanted visitors outside her windows at twelve in the morning.
She awoke to her grandfather standing over her bed, saying only one word before disappearing. “Come.” Eliza knew well that that didn’t mean anything good, so she’d dressed in her preppy private-school-uniform, having barely buttoned her shirt when her grandfather appeared again to tell her to hurry up.
They left in a hurry, Kay nowhere in sight. Davis explained only the bare-minimum to Eliza, but she caught the whiff of sulphur and dark magic, and saw Davis’ spell book in his jacket pocket.
He’d already packed their car with whatever they might need; Eliza realised then that there must be a breach.
“How serious?” Eliza asked when they had both gotten into the car. Davis started the ignition and began backing out of their parking spot before answering.
“Mildly distressing, but it is a good learning point for you.”
Because that answers my question. “Did you get a sense of what was trying to get through?”
Davis turned to look at her for a moment, face shadowed in secrecy. There was something, she realised, that he didn’t want to tell her.
“I thought this was supposed to be a learning point,” she muttered. Davis sighed, but did not reply.
They pulled up to a decrepit road outside of New Orleans, a road that probably lead towards the marshlands and the bayou. Forest surrounded them on both sides, and the road looked as if no-one travelled it willingly. There was something off about it, a sense of darkness seeping through the cracks of their world.
Davis said something – a spell – underneath his breath and waved his hand. Before them, light shimmered to reveal the breach in their world. From where she stood, Eliza could make out the forms of demons spreading on the other side; small, spindly creatures that bowed to a master, that had to souls of their own. They pillaged and destroyed whatever they came across. Eliza knew only what textbooks and spell books told her – that these creatures, in masses, were dangerous.
“If you look carefully,” Davis murmured, pointing. “you can see their master towards the back. A hood is covering their face.”
Eliza squinted and saw the warlock controlling the demons that waited to break through. She spotted a spell book and something else – blood, lots of it.
“Do you think…?”
“You can see the ruins of a Shadow station, and the body of its Keeper.” Davis bowed his head; one if his brothers, sworn to keep the balance and the peace between the worlds, dead.
Behind the demon master, Eliza caught sight of a shadow; it swirled around the master, steering clear of the Keeper’s body. She watched it, waiting for the spirit to come into focus – enough to identify if it were a friend, or foe.
Davis began chanting – the veil between their two worlds was growing thinner; Eliza could make out the figures of the demons clearer, could now see the body of the Keeper and the pages of the master’s spell book.
Suddenly, the spirit came into focus – the fallen Keeper, attempting, in one final act of nobility, to take down the demon master. She could see the struggle in the face of the Keeper as he tried – and failed – to draw the attention of the master long enough to help Davis close the portal.
It’s not going to be enough.
Eliza sucked in a breath, and focused her own power – she sent a wave of pure magic towards the demon master in an attempt to distract him, although her magic itself barely made it passed the stilted shield. She trained her thought to the keeper, and sent his spirit stability, enough for him to fight back.
Davis began his chant again, this time louder and faster – still steady, though. For as long as Eliza could remember, she had never thought anyone could go up against her grandfather, not with his training or skill. But the master… even with the stable spirit fighting against him, he still somehow continued his chant.
“I can’t keep going,” Eliza muttered, her head pounding, heart racing.
Davis didn’t reply; he strengthened his chant again, intertwining another spell underneath his current one. Eliza didn’t recognise the spell, but her head hurt so much she could barely breath.
Then, the master of the demons stopped; blood poured from his mouth, and his demons scattered. Eliza barely caught a glimpse of the killer before she fell to the ground, releasing her grip on the spirit of the Keeper.
Eliza watched as the breach began disappearing, until she could no longer see the Shadow station or the bodies of the demon master and the keeper, until she could no longer make out the killer, who had been standing there with a sword covered in blood.
“Are you alright?” Davis asked, helping Eliza stand.
She brushed off her skirt and rubbed her eyes, the lack of sleep and her spell catching up on her. “Do I need to go to school?”
Davis, unamused, patted her shoulder. “You aren’t sick or dying, so yes. Yes, you do.”
Eliza climbed into the car, head throbbing, and waited for her grandfather to finish checking the wards. She thought about the suddenness of the demon master’s death, of the man who had been standing behind him, and the bloody sword.
She thought about it until she got to school, then locked it out of her mind.
Something wasn’t right, and she was determined to find out what.
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