Saoirse's corner cubby

Sharpening an athame was hard work, especially one made out of obsidian. Delicately chipping at bits and pieces here and there without compromising the entire blade could take hours, even weeks, just to finish half of it. And even then, it was possible for there to be minute imperfections one couldn’t notice until a ritual blew up in your face and you had to mint a new blade entirely.

So Derrin felt reasonably angry when, mid strike, someone had the absolute gall to blow the outside courtyard up.

“Fucking hell.” He muttered, throwing the small flint striker off from the branch to the ground in disgust. “If you’re going to fuck around with explosives, you have to tell me first! I’m going to have to toss this now!”

Aria ignored him, too busy focusing on the small fire which had resulted from whatever experiment she had been performing.

Small vials lay shattered in the dirt, and the table she kept notes on was letting off a noxious smoke. “Help me get the fire out and I’ll say sorry later!”

Derrin lurched off of the tree, letting gravity pull him back on the ground. It looked like a chemical fire, but given the nature of their work it was entirely possible that the fire wasn’t even fire at all.

Rummaging around in his back pocket, he found a stub of green chalk left over from some casting circle or another he’d left back in realspace Birmingham. “How’d this even happen, you pyromaniac?”

Running a hand through the mess of curls in her hair, Aria started to explain. “I was trying to calculate the amount of mannic fire that it needed to be animated and I must have miscalculated the number, because right now it looks like the phosphorous did not like whatever it was that I did wrong!” She awkwardly tried to pat out the fire with a spare folder, to no avail. “Could you just please help me put this out?”

Manna wouldn’t be too tricky, all things considered, as it was a relatively calm force in the grand scheme of magic. “You didn’t cross manna with anything too volatile, right? Anything involved with sacrifice or antireality.”

“I don’t think so. Jani let me borrow her manual, but there was nothing related to nihilistic theory or the corruptor.”

Derrin scratched a rough water rune onto the part of the table which had yet to burn, then spit on it, trying to channel the element on the fly without a water bottle handy.

The flame reared up higher, glowing intensely.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a water bottle, would you Ari?” Derrin asked. “I think the fire’s a bit miffed about us putting it out.”

“Let me get my purse!” Ari replied, snatching at a vial which hadn’t yet been consumed by the small disaster on the table.

The fire puffed itself up further in the sky,then leered down, letting out a shrill sound like a kettle on for tea.

Derrin knelt down, torn jeans already stained with dirt, and started scribbling out a containment sigil on the bottom of the table.

“Well, I’m not going to say that you’re not interesting, at least. Let’s see if we can get you to bugger off.”

Practically in response, the fire lowered, smoke obscuring Derrins vision. It roiled under the table, spilling over the few marks Derrin had sketched out as he started coughing.

“Jesus, you’re stubborn!” Derrin muttered, scrambling back away from the table.

The fire hissed, letting off sparks in agreement. Derrin glared at it for a few seconds, trying to show it that messing with him was absolutely the wrong idea.

“I’ve got it!” Aria called out from behind, her words accompanied by the sound of water sloshing out of a bucket. “Are you ready to take care of it?”

“Hold on.” He answered, continuing to stare at the fire which was starting to turn in a circle, resembling a fiery tornado. “Shit, Ari, I think you actually did get the result you were looking for! Isn’t that something?”

“Does that mean I can put down the bucket of water?” She asked quizzically.

“You made this thing obedient, right? You should be able to scoop it up somewhere. Got any of those acid phials?”

“Always carry at least one,” Aria confirmed, putting the lime green water bucket down to rummage through her jacket. “I was hoping it’d be a bit more… corporeal.”

“Magic, love. Always turns out different than you expect it to, even with the little things. At least he didn’t kill you!”

Taking out a small phial with a gold cap, Aria grimaced. “Just wish we could get a little more consistent results is all. Would be a bit nice.”

She gently scooped up the fire into the phial, which gladly complied with it’s maker to fill the flask with an ashy red flame.

“Whoa, careful there mate! Putting supernatural stuff in containers, trying to replicate your results? You’re not turning back into a janitor now, are you?” Derrin’s voice was thick with sarcasm, but Aria could see his eyebrows narrow a fraction in suspicion.

“Couldn’t turn back even if I wanted to, boss. That’s what happens when they figure out you’re behind a containment breach. You still don’t trust me?”

“You’ve been with us for a pretty long while now. I’m maybe 99% sure you’re not a Foundation plant.”

Aria glared at Derrin.

“You look at me like that it’s going to dip down to a 98% pretty quick! Opsec, mate. It’s important. I’ve been held in enough normal jail cells to know not to trust people.” Derrin said, smiling at her. “You don’t stay alive long in this line of work without some paranoia.”

Aria rolled her eyes. “At least not all of that work was for nothing, anyway. Was there anything left to salvage from the mess?”

Derrin gestured to the charred pile of papers left on the blackened desk. “You tell me.”

A muffled beeping sound came from the depths of Aria’s jacket. “Shit, that’ll be Jani then. You think anything happened out there?”

“Nothing big. This pocket hasn’t been used since the 70’s, doubt anyone’s thinking to look for us here. Doubt anyone even remembers this place exists!”

“Except us.” Aria pointed out drily.

“A remarkable exception to the rule.” Derrin replied. “Only other person who’s been here decided to go full time with the bookworms, anyway.”


Aria threw her phone into the grass, which started to grab at it with green tendrils.

“You might want to get that out of—” Derrin started, but Aria interrupted him.

“Seeing Red. That’s the message.”

The words hung in the air for a second before they really hit Derrin. Wordlessly, he overturned the table, brushing the soot off onto the ground.

Aria, working on the same unspoken plan as him, ran back to the hill they’d been making into a storage cache for the group, ready to collapse it. Derrin looked for anything else that might have been left out, and noticed the grass trying to eat at Aria’s burner phone was starting to smoke.


He snatched it off the ground, the metal having heated due to whatever thing had managed to break into the bracken. The plastic was already starting to slag off, but the screen was still readable. Two words.

Found You.

He cut it in half with his athame, which hissed angrily as it severed the various wires and charms Aria had put into it.


A shudder in the soil confirmed she’d done her part. Aria hurried over to him, her boots kicking up dirt as she went. “Everything we didn’t need, gone. I’ve got passports, phones, and books in my bag.” She lifted up the leather purse in her hand.

“They have Jani.”


“You heard me.”

Aria nodded, bringing a hand to her chin as she thought. “Do we know who they are, exactly? What they want?”

“Red King cultists, and they only want one thing, to hurt people. The only question is the specific how.” Derrin said, shaking his head. “I don’t even know how they got in here. Fucking redheads.”

“So what’s the plan?” Aria asked. “We’re not leaving Jani to that, right?”

Derrin nodded. “At the very least, we’ll try and kill her before they do anything to her. First we have to see what we’re up against, though.”

“Right. Where d’you think they are, then?” Aria started. “I remember telling her we were going to meet up at Abbotsford, with the entrance by the mosque. They must have got her on the way there.”

“No.” Derrin said. “They sent a message. Found You. That means they must have followed her in.”

Aria looked up to survey the wooded reflection of Birmingham. “You mean they could be anywhere in here, with us.”

Derrin nodded. “If I had to guess, I’d say they’re coming towards us right now.”

“How many, would you guess?” Aria asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Great.” Aria said bitterly, her lips pulling into a grimace. “Just when I thought we were done with running from one group of super powerful crazy people, we have to go on the run from another group of super powerful crazy people!”

“That’s the life.” Derrin replied calmly. “Only place that’s ‘safe’ is the Library, and you’ve still got some big risks there.”

“Fuck that.” Aria replied. “We’re human. We belong on Earth, and we belong here, at home. I’m not running.”

Derrin took a deep breath. “So you want to end up dead?”

“I didn’t say that.” Aria said sharply. “I just don’t want to run. This is our turf— this is Serpent’s Hand turf! That means something!”

“Staying alive also means something.” Derrin started. Aria fixed him with a glare. “But you’re right when you say it’s our turf. We know the terrain better than they do.”

“Damn right.” Aria said. “Let’s start by setting this place up. We know they’re coming here, we can take advantage of that.”
The woods twisted in many directions over the ruined edifices of buildings, the verdant reflection of a Birmingham which had long been abandoned. Still, the reflection wasn’t perfect— partially due to the vegetation, but also because some parts had just been copied wrong.

When the cell had reoriented itself in the bracken of Birmingham, they’d chosen one of these places which was off. What had been a car park in the real world had somehow been flipped over into a mansion long covered in earth, with the group setting up camp nearby. The mansion refracted into dozens of rooms which shouldn’t have fit into the space allotted to it, according to the maps, but it was still navigable if you knew the rules to it.

The red heads, whoever and however many they were, didn’t know the rules. Easy pickings, then. Derrin thought to himself. As long as we aren’t dealing with anyone too powerful.

But that was the issue. The lack of information meant that this was an incredible gamble, and although Jani wasn’t the strongest in the group it still would have taken a lot to bring her down. But could they have just gotten lucky?

Luck was always the question. Derrin had seen people far more talented than him taken out by stray bullets or improperly managed spells.

“Well?” Aria stood at the threshold of the manse. “I’m waiting on you.”

“I’m coming.” He replied.

Stepping over the threshold gave him a sudden wave of invertigo, distorting the rotted floorboards creaking under his boots. Whatever had made residence in this house before still left echoes of its presence after it had left.

“Go to the attic, and make it obvious that’s where you are.” Derrin told Aria. “I’m going to try and follow behind them when they enter.”

“What if they see you?” Aria asked.

“Then I’ll fight them, and either my death will be noisy enough you’ll know to run or they’ll turn out to be a bunch of pussies. One or the other.” Derrin said nonchalantly. “If it sounds like I’m dying, try to set up some nasty surprises for them before they get to you.”

Aria nodded and bolted up the grand staircase, casually dropping a small charm as she did so to leave a trail.

The entry room was vast, and dirty, and dark. This made it excellent for hiding oneself in the small crevices and corners it contained, but had made marking it out in the past difficult.

One of the less noticeable features was the grand grimoire just a few feet to the side of the main entrance, carved out of black oak. And, luckily for Derrin, large enough for a man of his stature to comfortably hide inside with enough slats poking out to keep a watch on the main room.

He gingerly swung open the doors to the interior, filled with musty coats and some cobwebs. Brushing aside a particularly garish mink coat, he settled in and strained his ears, waiting for their pursuers to burst in.

It took a surprisingly long time before he could hear the sound of footsteps outside. Long, excruciating minutes, listening to every creak of the floorboards, the dripping of water to the floor, the sound of his own breathing.

In a way, it was almost a relief when he heard the front door crashed open.

“They must have set up in here.” A posh London accent spilled from the doorway which had been so rudely opened. “You bunch really know how to liven up a place, don’t you?”

They’re talking to Jani, Derrin realized, which means she’s still alive.

Jani refused to reply. “Aksin! This is it.”

The voice sounded closer, the sound of loafers clipping against floorboards echoing through the dusty hallway into Derrins ears.

“You sure?” Another voice, this one more northern, chimed in.

“Absolutely. It’s the only place we’ve checked where the bitch hasn’t had anything to taunt us with.” The Londoner replied.

“Could’ve just been that after you stuck her for the fifth time she finally learned what was good for her, eh?” Aksin pointed out. “People start to sulk after you prod’em long enough.”

The Londoner didn’t reply, instead moving further into the hallway to survey the surroundings. Derrin could make out some bits and pieces— somewhat long brown hair, formal dress suit, red tie, and glasses. And tall, as well. Too tall to fit right.

“They dropped something.” He said, noticing the charm Aria had purposely dropped earlier on the stairs. “Looks like they were going to clear their base out upstairs.”

“Well, girl?” Aksin asked, presumably to Jani. “Have you been setting up your little dallies into the mystical up them stairs?”

“Go throw yourself off a cliff and die.” Jani answered. Derrin heard the sound of her hocking spit at her interrogator.

“Ah, there’s blood in that one, love.” Aksin replied, oddly nonplussed. “Best be careful before we give you another taste of the steel, yeah?”

Jani cursed, which trailed off into mumbles.

“She’ll learn to apologize properly one day.” The Londoner said with an edge in his voice. “Either way, the idiots she was with are upstairs. Let’s get this over with already.”

Aksin didn’t reply, unless he’d nodded or given some other signal Derrin couldn’t see from the wardrobe. The trio started to shuffle up the stairs, and as they did Derrin made out the form of Jani, hunched over, her blonde hair dyed red with blood.

“Fuckin’ bastards.” He whispered under his breath.

The northerner, Aksin, paused as he said it.

“There a problem, Aksin?” The Londoner asked impetuously.

“Ah, no problem.” Aksin replied. “Just thought I heard something.”

They continued to climb the stairs, and Derrin watched, hardly breathing, until the last step was crossed.

Fuck. He thought to himself. This is going to be a lot easier than I thought.

There were only two of them, and only one of them seemed really experienced, despite the damage they’d managed to inflict on Jani. It must have been an ambush— one quick attack, and then something to keep her down with.

Smiling with relief, he quietly pushed out of the grimoire out into the open, being careful to not disturb the floorboards too much. Londoner, whoever he was, seemed more like an edgy prick than a dedicated redhead. And Aksin was pretty reserved, but still sounded young. Most likely he’d survived a little longer than the average cultist, but given that was a time measured in weeks, that wasn’t particularly impressive.

And besides, Derrin had been in the game for years now. He could handle two kids who thought they were on top of the world because they’d stumbled onto some ancient tome of unknown powers.

Skulking up the stairs, he kept his ears pricked for more noise from them, until a turn in the upper halls emitted Jani’s laboured breathing.

“Which way! Where are your friends hiding, hm?” That was the Londoner. “You’re only making their deaths more excruciating the longer you try to hide them from us.”

Wet, hacking coughing came from the room they’d ducked into to interrogate her, followed by the sound of skin against skin.

“Someone sounds like they don’t want to cooperate, huh? Well, you know what that gets you.”

“Fuck you, and the red horse you rode in on.” Jani said it so quietly, Derrin barely heard her, silently stepping over the carpet which layered the floor on this level..

“Can’t say we didn’t warn you.” The Londoner said. “But I always was curious when it was used on a person more than 7 times.”

“Wait.” Aksin said, grabbing his companion by the hand. “Someone’s coming—”

Derrin ripped through the oakwood door like it was paper, reaching out to stab at the posh prick who’d been threatening Jani as he was snatched back just in time by Aksin. The athame hissed with a dull green glow at the presence of the two interlopers.

“What the hell.” The Londoner grunted out as Derrin slashed at him again, this time drawing blood from his forearm.

Evidently, they’d been holed up in a bathroom. The blood which fell stood out against the dirty white tiling.

Aksin was more weighty than his southern friend, and his neck was folded in an odd way against his skin, almost like a frog. When he smiled, his teeth were fangs.

Derrin switched his focus, making his next lunge towards the stodgy northerner. Aksin contorted in response, folding his knees and collapsing under the blade. As Derrin’s hand overshot, that awful neck unfolded, fangs rearing up to take a piece out of his intended victim.

Derrin had been stabbed plenty of times before, and it was never a pleasant experience. This was a thousand times worse. The instant the teeth broke skin it was like something had set his nerves on fire, or poured poison into his veins. Realistically, given that it was the Red King’s cultists, most likely Aksin just had.

No time to focus on the pain, Derrin thought, bringing his knee up as fast as he could in response, lodging it in his opponents throat.

Aksin’s teeth unlodged quickly as he choked in reaction, and Derrin brought the knife down into the toadies shoulder. The cultist let out an awful shriek in response, crumpling again to the floor like an empty coat.

“Fuck!” Londoner cried out from close behind, and when Derrin turned around he saw why— Jani had bit him on the leg before he could get the drop on Derrin.

The Londoner swiftly kicked Jani off, but it was already too late. Derrin gripped him by the collar of his suit.

“I bet you have questions about what we’re doing here,” the Londoner started, smiling. “Well, if you really—”

Wordlessly, Derrin slammed him head first onto the bathtub.

“What—” The tall cultist grumbled out from a mouth full of blood, to which Derrin promptly slammed him into the bathtub again, shattering a piece off of it.

He didn’t speak up again after that.

Aksin was still wordlessly shrieking in the corner, clutching at the athame which had been shoved into him.

“You okay, Jani?” Derrin asked. Jani looked back at him bitterly.

“I mean, will you live. Obviously you’re not okay.”

“I’ll be fine after some tea and a nap.” She replied blankly. “Just fine.”

“Don’t suppose there’s anything in the medicine cabinet.” Derrin said, looking at where the mirror had been busted open. “We’re going to need a lot of bandages.”

“Where’s Ari?” Jani asked.

“In the attic. Still waiting for us.”

The shelf didn’t have anything in it other than broken glass, unfortunately. “Looks like we’re going to need to find Ari quick, eh? God knows she’s got more healing capabilities than I do. Medic and all that.” Derrin slammed the cabinet door shut.

Jani let out a shuddering breath. “What’re we going to do about these pricks, then?”

“Nothing much. Interrogation. And then, quick funeral.” Derrin answered.

Aksin let out another hissing shriek, which slowly contorted to laughter. “Think that you’ve finished us off, eh? That we’re the only ones who served the Red King?”

“Only ones in Birmingham, sure. You lot tend not to last long.” Derrin pointed out. “I mean, your posh mate there’s about bled out.”

“There will always be more. Always. And we will chase you, yes. Chase you to the ends of the earth. I will be rid of this awful thing you’ve trapped me with, and we will hound you.”

Footsteps rang from outside the bathroom door, boots hitting floorboards. Jani looked toward the door wildeyed, then towards Derrin, as if begging him to do something.

“Relax love, it’s just Ari. You remember Ari, aye? Nice girl who’s gonna stitch you up.” Derrin assured her, dropping into a crouch all the same.

“Such paranoia from one so self-assured.” Aksin hissed out. “The only thing you should be certain of is that we’re going to kill you in the most terrible way imaginable. It’s practically too late already for the blonde bitch you’ve got there!”

Aria burst through the bathroom door screaming, knife held at the ready, only to be disappointed by the actual scene waiting for her.

“Couldn’t’ve knocked?” Derrin asked.

“You said you’d try and die loudly, and you’ve been plenty loud. Didn’t exactly want to be giving away my ambush to the redheads.” Aria replied indignantly.

“We heard you coming like 10 meters off, love.” Derrin said. “But good to know you came to avenge us, at least.”

Aria was about to snipe back at him when she noticed the state that Jani was in. “Oh my God. What the fuck did they do to her?”

“Something you folk will see as a mercy when we’re done with you.” Aksin replied with venomous humour. “Oh yes, something you’ll be thinking quite fondly of.”

“Shut it, you old git. Ari, I need you to patch up Jani. I’ve got questions for this miserable piece of human garbage I want to get through.”

“I mean, I can try, but what did they even attack her with? What’s the extent of her injuries?” Aria asked, tying her curly hair back. “We have limited supplies right now and they might not be enough to save her with.”

“They’ve been sticking her with that awful mess of metal on the bathroom floor over there.” Derrin answered, kicking at the jagged shape of iron on the tiles. “And for your sake, you froggy fuck, it better be reversible.”

Aksin just smiled in response as Aria picked up the metal device from the floor. “At least it looks like they didn’t stick it too far inside.” Aria said, running a finger over the tip of the metal. “There’s probably a ton of bullshit magic with this thing, but other than that she should be able to survive with any non-anomalous wounds it would’ve given her.”

Derrin grabbed Aksin by the man’s tattered jacket, dragging him out into the hallway. “Well, lucky for you. Your death just got a lot quicker.”

“Been through worse than you, grass eater. You and your bunch of so-called freedom fighters over there are a joke, have been for years. Serpent’s Hand is a washed up version of what it was, and it weren’t ever much to begin with.” Aksin croaked out.

“Aye? Well, we’re more than enough to deal with you.” Derrin replied coldly, stalking down the stairs.

“Prove it.” The git croaked out again, smiling.

Derrin stopped talking and shut the door behind him.

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