Chapter Seventeen: The chapter wherein Hero shares dinner with a new friend and gets a lesson in preter social media.
Kyle chose that moment to return. Both Kate and I heard the car stop in front of the house, and HP walked over to the door, his claws clicking on the wood floor. I glanced out the window and watched him getting out of the car and pulling out bags of what I hoped was food.
I shook my head at Kate, “She never even gave you a clue?”
Kate shook her head.
“I guess I should go and help Kyle,” I stood up, and found that I was light-headed and dizzy. I swayed a little and took a few deep breaths.
Kate had jumped up to help me, but I waved her away. “Don’t think you’re off the hook. You’re going to explain everything to me,” I said, and I swear I saw her shiver, “Just stay here, and I’ll be right back.”
By the time I made it to the door, Kyle was already at the porch. I didn’t think that he needed help. I just needed some space. Kate’s visit was proving to be my tipping point. I could not stand any more surprises.
I opened the door for Kyle and told HP to stay.
“Hey, sorry it took so long.” He said and his voice trailed off when he saw HP. “Hero,
where did that come from?” He asked, his face growing pale.
I sighed, “It’s a long story.” I gestured for him to come in. HP sniffed at him for a second and then returned to sit with Kate. I could smell food and realized that I was starving. “Can we talk and eat?” I asked hopefully.
He raised his eyebrows seeing Kate, “I think we have a lot to talk about.” He made his way into the house and set the bags on the table. He rummaged in the kitchen for plates and I noticed that he brought enough for a small army.
“Kyle this is Kate,” I said rummaging through the bags. He’d gotten Mexican food from an amazing local place. “Um, she was Dee’s student.” I started heaping food on my plate. I glanced up at him, “Sorry,” I said gesturing to the plate, “I didn’t realize how hungry I was until you came back with food.”
He gave me a rueful smile, “If he is what I think he is,” he gestured at HP, “I’m surprised you can still stand.” He sat next to me and invited Kate to join us. He narrowed his eyes at her a moment and then nodded slightly to himself. I wondered if he knew her, but even if he did, neither one of them was admitting it.
I shoveled a few forkfuls of food into my mouth. I don’t think I’d ever been this hungry before. After I chewed and swallowed, I turned to Kate. She was picking at tortilla chips and keeping her eyes off of Kyle. “So Kate, start over about why you think someone killed Dee.” She stared at me a moment and her eyes flickered at Kyle. “You can tell him anything you’d tell me,” I said.
Kyle’s mouth twitched into a small smile and he busied himself with his own dinner.
Kate sighed. “They found the gate.” She shrugged. “What else do you need to know?”
I was still confused about why that was so significant, but Kyle choked on this food and gaped at Kate. I guess finding the gate was pretty impressive to him too? I patted Kyle on the back and pushed his drink towards him. He swallowed gulps of soda and turned to Kate.
“Are you seriously telling me that Dee knew where the gate was?” The disbelief dripped from his voice.
Kate nodded curtly. “Yes, at least the North American gate. At first, she and Lenore were working with Sosostris to find it. But they realized what Sosostris wanted to do with it, and they hid it.” Her answers were becoming sharper and shorter I noticed. Maybe it was just distrust of Kyle, maybe it was something else.
I turned my attention back to her. “Ok, so that’s what they stole from Sosostris? The location of the gate?”
Kate nodded, “They, Sosostris, had expended all of their resources, energy, and money and stuff, to find it. They were close, and the search weakened them. Lenore and Dee beat them to the gate and then used the gate to break them all.”
I could almost hear the bitterness in her voice. But I guess if I was in her place, I might sound a little bitter too. If Sosostris hadn’t been destroyed, Kate’s life might have been very different. She wouldn’t be some weird outcast, she’d likely be some kind of important preter. “So, you think the people who killed Dee, did it to try and find the gate?” I asked. Between Kyle and Kate’s reactions, I knew this gate thing was important, but I wasn’t entirely sure why. Then I remembered Jenny talking about my ability to tear a hole between the worlds. She’d mentioned how much power other preters could get from that tear. If I had to guess, and I kind of did, I wasn’t comfortable letting Kate know just how much I didn’t know, I’d guess that the gate was like a million of the holes I could open.
Kate nodded her eyes shifting between me and Kyle. “But, I know it wasn’t Sosostris who killed Dee. Someone else has to have figured out what Dee and Lenore did and that person wants the gate.”
Kyle raised an eyebrow at her, “And how would you know that?”
She narrowed her eyes at him, “Because, I run the network. And no one is active, and no one is missing. Everyone is accounted for.” Her voice was sharp.
Kyle gave her an appraising look. I had to guess that “running the network” was important or impressive or something. “What about the people who’ve been missing since Sosostris was taken down?” He asked.
Kate shrugged. “It seemed unlikely that any of them are even left. Maybe some of the kids, but other than circe, no one could have survived being broken.” She jerked her chin at him, “You’d starve in what a month if you couldn’t eat?”
I was pretty sure that I was following all the preter language. I was assuming that breaking a preter involved taking away their powers. So preters like Jenny and Kyle lost their ability to eat and would starve. I wondered what would happen to someone like me? Would it matter if I couldn’t talk to dead people? I’d gone almost 30 years not doing it, and it hadn’t seemed to make much of a difference. But that wasn’t true. It had made a difference. All of my indecision, my feeling like an outsider, all of that came from not knowing what I was. I pushed those thoughts aside and focused on Kate’s claim about a network. Of course, I was left thinking of some sort of social networking site for preters a preterspace or a preterbook. “Wait, there’s a network?”
Kate nodded sharply and continued to play with the chips on her plate. It was like she couldn’t stop moving her fingers. It reminded me of Dee. She was always tapping her fingers on something or toying with something. I used to joke that she should take up knitting to keep her hands busy. Now, I wondered if the constant movement was some sort of hecate thing. HP had certainly responded when Kate’s hand gestures seemed purposeful. Kate must have noticed that my eyes lingered on her hands because she purposefully rested her hands on the table.
“After Sosostris was destroyed, Dee created a network spell,” She glanced at me as trying to gauge my understanding of spells. “It’s kind of like a GPS tracker. Anyone she tagged with a tracker and their children and their children’s children can be found anywhere in the world. It also gives the watcher an indication of the power of the specific preter.”
I nodded slowly. I guess it made sense to keep track of the bad preters, but to follow their grandchildren, that seemed a bit big brother. “Can you show me?” I wasn’t sure why I asked, but I found myself wanting to see this network.
Kate nodded again, “It takes a little magic,” she said with a questioning glance at HP.
I looked down at the dog, he looked happy enough with the scraps of food I’d been slipping him under the table. “HP,” I said to the dog, “Behave and let
Kate do her magic.” The dog yipped and wagged his tail.
I glanced at Kyle a little chagrined at talking to a dog. But he seemed unfazed by me talking to a dog. “This is ok, right?” I asked him.
He nodded, “Kate’s a good kid.” He glanced at Kate, who looked almost asleep. Her eyes were closed, but she was sitting ramrod straight in her chair. “But, I didn’t know that she was in charge of the network.” When I cast him a questioning look he replied, “Dee told me about it. I thought it would be an awesome way to keep track of the entire preter population, but it takes too much energy.” He shrugged and glanced back at Kate. Her fingers had started moving, twisting, and bending almost like sign language. “Anyway, she’s cool. I didn’t realize she was one of them, though.”
I shot him a glance, “You mean a,” I paused, what had Kate called herself, “a Wasteland Kid?” I noticed he at least looked a little chagrined. “Isn’t that a little, well shitty? It’s not her fault.”
Kyle almost squirmed in his seat. “Yeah, but there’s a reason to keep track of them.” He frowned, “No one knows what these kids will be. Like how powerful they are, or what kinds of powers they’ll even have.” His eyes flicked to Kate. “Can we talk about this later?”
I nodded, but I made a mental note to not let this slide. I wanted to know the truth about the preterworld and evidently, that included the icky, bigoted attitudes about bloodlines and family history.
Kate’s fingers stopped moving and she took a deep breath and blew it out toward the wall. I’d swear that I could almost see her breath, like when it’s cold. The wall shimmered and I saw some vague lines and a lot of glowing dots. They were different colors and different brightnesses.
“Um Kate, what am I looking at?” I asked, my voice hushed. I glanced over at Kyle and even he seemed a little stunned by what he saw.
She kept her eyes trained on the lights, “This is the network.” She answered. She tilted her chin toward the lights, “This is only the west coast section. But you can see no one in the network is anywhere near here.”
I squinted at the map, trying to figure out where Fullerton was. If Kate was right, it did look like all the dots were at the top of the map, so I guess that meant north.
“Kyle,” I tore my eyes away from the map, “Do you get this?” I gestured at the map.
He smiled at me, “Sure, Dee showed it to me once.” He began pointing to various areas on the map and pointing out ley lines. He paused and glanced at me, I guess checking up on my vocabulary. I just shrugged but gestured for him to continue.
What I got out of the whole thing was that no one from Sosostris was anywhere near us, at least geographically. And that preters couldn’t use normal shit like roads or cities on their maps. They used some other weird-ness for directions.
“Hero, can I close this now?” Kate asked?
I noticed that she was looking pale and tired. “Yeah, sorry.”
She shrugged and her fingers started moving again and she blew out another breath and the map dissipated like smoke.
Kate sagged noticeably in her chair. Kyle got up and returned with a cup of coffee and handed it to her. He piled a plate with food and set it in front of her. “Eat.” He said.
She smiled weakly and sipped at her coffee.
I tried to wait, to give her time to recover, but I wanted to ask her more questions. I settled for replaying all the information I had, at least that way I might be able to ask intelligent questions. I had Aidan suggesting Sosostris and circe as Dee’s killers. On the other, I had Kyle saying he didn’t know of any Sosostris or circe in town with a problem with Dee. On the other hand, I had Kate saying that there was no way anyone left from Sosostris did it. I realized that I had too many hands. The only thing that people seemed to agree on was that it was most likely a group of circe.
“Kate, how much do you know about circe?”
Kate looked up from the plate in front of her, “A bit. You know they’re pretty similar to us, um hecates.” She took another bite of enchilada and chewed thoughtfully. “You’re thinking that a coven killed Dee?”
I nodded, and something Kate had said hit me. “Wait, you said that circe could survive being broken?”
Kate nodded, “Survive as in stay alive. But they’d have no power left at all.” Kate said around another mouthful of food. “But even if any of the Sosostris circe escaped, they live a human lifespan. And I can’t see a bunch of magically dead 80-year-olds getting together and raising any kind of power.”
I glanced at her, “But would their kids, or their grandkids, have any kind of power? Couldn’t they have continued the,” I shuddered, “breeding program?”
Kate pushed the plate away. “I guess it’s possible, but it seems far-fetched. Like even if a few got away, and could find other preters willing to be part of their program, why wait this long for revenge?”
I noticed Kyle had been watching our exchange closely. I wondered what he thought about my theories. After all, it was his job to investigate not mine. And I had to admit that what I knew about the preterworld could fill a 3×5 card.
Kyle broke in, “Hero, Kate might be right. I haven’t heard anything about any new preters in the area. And geography isn’t a huge deterrent to circe, but no one has even heard of a coven, anywhere.” He ran his hands through his hair, “I’m not going to discount your idea Hero, but I think we should stop focusing on circe as the killers.”
I frowned at him, “But, Aidan said it was a circe.”
This time Kate frowned, “Aidan Markson?”
I noticed that she fought to keep her expression neutral, but Kyle and I had both heard the discomfort in her voice.
“Yeah the mortician, he was friends with Dee,” I watched her face grow troubled, “Wasn’t he?” I was starting to get nervous. He’d known so much about Dee about me, he had to be telling the truth right? He’d been so nice, so concerned. And it hadn’t been creepy like Bayless guy from Nekyia Press.
Kate’s gaze drifted to the floor, “Yeah, she’d known him for ages.” She pressed her lips together.
Kyle cocked his head at her, “What aren’t you telling us?”
Kate kept her eyes on the table and shook her head, “Nothing.” She fisted her hands in her lap, “Dee trusted him.”
I glanced at Kyle, and he met my eyes. We both knew that Kate was hiding something. She didn’t like Aidan, or she had some issue with him. I couldn’t figure it out though. He was a nice man, and if Dee trusted him, why wouldn’t she?
Before I could try and prod her for more answers, Kyle broke in. “Well, I guess we will have to see how things play out tomorrow.” He glanced at HP, “I assume that he was easier than hiding?”
I flushed, “I couldn’t find anything about hiding my powers.” I shrugged, “And the book said that cerebuses are protectors.” I patted the dog on the head.
Kyle smiled, “Well he is that. Has Jenny come back yet?”
I shook my head. I’d assumed she’d be back late. She had to collect clothes for both of us and visit one of her friends for dinner. “Her errands will probably take a while.”
Kate silently watched our exchange, “Hey, thanks for dinner and listening.” She rose from the table, “I don’t want to keep you guys from the stuff you need to do.” She glanced at me, “I’m really sorry about Dee, Hero. I wish we could have met before all of this.” Kate said nervously twisting the hem of her shirt in her hands.
I smiled at her, “I wish we had too.” And as I said it, I realized that I meant it. And for the first time, someone apologizing about Dee’s death didn’t put my teeth on edge. I think I liked Kate, even if she was holding something back about Aidan, she’d been pretty brave to come here and see me. She knew what I was, and still came to tell me about Dee’s murder. I respected that. “Thanks, Kate. And you’ll be at the funeral tomorrow right?”
She seemed to hesitate a second too long, before nodding. “Yeah, I’ll be there.” She gave us both a brief wave and left.
Kyle and I exchanged looks but he spoke first.
“Hero, what were you thinking opening the door for her? She’s a stranger, and well someone out there is trying to kill you.”
HP pricked his ears up at Kyle’s angry tone. “Hellpuppy would have warned me. He seemed fine with her.” I said, feeling my ire rising. We still haven’t settled our issues about his over-protectiveness, and I was far too overwhelmed with Kate’s revelations about the gate and the idea that some unknown group killed Dee. “Maybe it was stupid, but what am I supposed to do, hide in this house for the rest of my life?” I heard my voice rising.
Kyle glanced between me and the dog. He ran his hands through his hair. “No, you’re not supposed to hide here.” He looked up at me, his eyes apologetic. “I’m sorry Hero, I shouldn’t have snapped at you. It just, we don’t know who’s out there trying to hurt you. And Hellpuppy isn’t invincible.”
I heard the hesitation in his voice at the dog’s name. I smiled, “I’ve shortened it to HP. I wasn’t expecting it to work.” I said petting HP’s silky head. “But he showed up when I called.”
Kyle shook his head and started to laugh.
His laugh seemed to lower the tension between us. If he was laughing, he wasn’t going to start yelling again, so maybe I wouldn’t have to start yelling again.
His laughter died down and he took my hand. “Sorry, I was being a jerk again.”
I smiled at him, “I think it’s just been a lot to deal with.” I sighed and looked away. “So you didn’t know about the gate?”
He shook his head. “No, I didn’t. I didn’t even know Dee all that well. I told you before, my uncle was her friend. I just inherited the job.” His hand tightened on mine, “I can understand why Dee would have kept this from everyone.”
I jerked my head to face him, “Why?” I felt my anger about all of Dee’s lies bristling again.
“I know it must feel awful, that’s it’s just one more thing she kept from you, but it was probably her only choice.” He tried to catch my eye, but I looked away. Kyle continued, “If she found the gate, and anyone knew, it’d be war.”
I frowned at him, “What do you mean?”
“The gate is a permanent opening to the underworld. Think Orpheus and Virgil.” He must have caught my blank stare, “Um right.” He paused a moment, “Ok, think of it this way, why don’t people post naked pictures on the internet?”
I blinked, “Um they do.”
He let out a little laugh, “but everyone says you’re not supposed to because once something is on the internet, it never really goes away.”
I nodded slowly, “Ok, but I don’t get it. How is the internet like the gate?”
Kyle paused a moment, “Most preters are keyed to feel power, and once the gate is used they would have felt it. So when Dee and your grandmother used it, they essentially launched a viral video that is still bouncing around the ether.”
I considered this. While I was sure that I wasn’t going to be able to just click on the word “gate” to find it, his analogy kind of made sense. “So like, they left viral videos on the magical internet?”
Kyle nodded, “Kind of. The preters actively looking for it could follow the energy trail, sort of. Anyway, I’m sure they tried everything they could to hide it. So now it’s like an encrypted file.”
I considered this. I still wasn’t sure I entirely got it. I wondered if it was like Kate’s network. If there was some way that other preters “saw” energy or power or whatever. “So, like if I saw the physical location of the gate, I’d know what it was?”
Kyle raised an eyebrow, “Sure. I would too, and Jenny and Kate.” He paused, “We’d all see it differently though. Like the tear you started to open the day we met. What I saw wasn’t what Jenny saw.” He bit his lip, “Hero, looking for it would be a really bad idea.”
I paled a little. How did he know I’d been thinking about that?
He reached over and took my hand, “I’m not reading your mind or anything. But you’re a lemuria, and well, when was your mother born?”
I blinked at his change of subject. “huh?”
“Humor me.” He said, “I’m trying to work something out in my head.”
I tried to remember the dates on her birth certificate, but couldn’t. I did some quick math instead and I realized where he was going. “Wait, she would have been born after they used the gate. After they destroyed Sosostris, right?”
Kyle nodded slowly.
I narrowed my eyes, “Does that mean someone else knows where the gate is? Some guy my grandmother was into or something?”
Kyle shrugged, “Maybe…” He paused and seemed to be thinking about something. “If we knew who he was, I guess we could ask.”
I heard the hesitation in his voice. It was like he decided not to say something. I narrowed my eyes at him wondering what he was thinking and why he was trying to hide it from me. I was considering pressing him for answers when Jenny came flying through the door.