Monday, September 7, 2015

Practical Magic: Hunting (Practical Magic #5)

Deidre and Cal sat together listening to Deidre’s father address The Guard. “We know we are looking for members of The Gifted. We know who ever they are they are working magic that is leaving scars on the land. We know these pockets of wild magic are dangerous and still touched with the remnants of the spells used to cast them. These spells have not been cast in our woods or lands but in the neighborhoods and parks of The Others. The reasons are obvious, those that are casting them do no want to be found. However this is leaving The Others open to dangers they have no way of recognizing let alone fighting. You will be teamed with members from their police force to search for and locate as many of these pockets as you can. Then we can send in Gifted to close the circle.”

There were grumbles among some of the Guard. As Warriors they were disinclined to believe that anyone from The Others could help them do their jobs better.

Commander Keeper listened to the murmuring for a moment then held up his hand for silence, “Would it surprise you to hear that their police forces are just as unhappy having to work with us? They have successfully protected their own people for generations just as we have ours. Show them the respect you would wish to be shown and do not embarrass me. You will find your assignments posted in the hall. I expect a full report at the end of every shift. Dismissed.”

Cal had the first shift with Deidre going on later. They said their goodbyes and Deidre headed home to wait for Aska to get home from school. She was 7 and just started second grade. She was aware that there were big changes happening among The Gifted and The Others but they didn’t mean much in her day to day life. What she knew was her Great Aunt Dot and her Uncle Aric had been in meetings with people from The Others. That her mother, father and grandfather were worried about something to do with The Guard. But they were almost always worried about something with The Guard. That was their job.

When Aska got home from school her mother was there waiting. That meant her father was at work. When things were quieter they sometimes had full days where everyone was home at once but ever since The Joining The Guard had to work around the clock. That meant there were only a few hours every day where both her mother and father were home. One would work mornings and one overnight. With dinner being the only time they all saw each other. Aska didn’t mind too much as she got time with both of her parents every day, but she was hoping that things would be quiet enough for her mother, father and grandfather to all be able to come to her 8th birthday party next month. She had been planning it for ages. She wanted a cake that had sparklers for candles like her friend Sarah had for her birthday. And she wanted a pinata that was shaped like a unicorn. She wanted her Uncle Aric to teach everyone how to make a blue flame in their hand. He said when she was 8 he would teach her so she thought he could just teach everyone else. It would be better than any other party prize.

At dinner that night Aska listened as her parents talked about the first shift with The Others. Cal was frustrated with the slowness of the searching. They had found one small old pocket on his shift and the circle had been closed easily enough. But finding the pockets was more difficult than he would have liked. Dealing with The Others was not like dealing with The Gifted. There seemed to be a suspicion of their own police force let alone The Guard that kept many of them from speaking freely. The Captain that Cal was working with said that his people had grown up with the belief that they had the right to remain silent and many of them took this to mean they should remain silent. They didn’t like the idea of telling the police about seeing someone or even a group of people just sitting in a park. What if they weren’t doing anything? What if they turned over a group of picnickers to the police for no reason? Cal couldn’t understand this. If the people were doing nothing wrong then there would be no issue, but somehow even being questioned by the police seemed to make The Others nervous.

“This is what happens when people believe they are separate from each other. When they believe that what they do has no effect on their neighbors. We believe that we are all connected, that one is tied to the next. They don’t. Individual freedom or group dynamics. I’m not sure how we are going to work past this.”

“Uncle Aric says it’s what makes them strong.” Aska told her father. “He says that they believe they are separate and still act for the good of the group and that makes them strong. You just have to find the strong people.”

Deidre kissed Aska on the forehead, “Out of the mouths of babes.”

“Mom! I am almost 8. I am not a baby.”

“Yes, dear, you are absolutely right. Almost a full grown adult. And wise beyond measure. Now finish your dinner and get your homework done before bed. I need to get ready for work, I will see you in the morning.”

And with that Deidre kissed her husband and child goodbye and headed in for her first shift with a combined work force.

As Deidre met the group of men and women she would be working with she was struck by the similarities between her force and theirs. They all had the same bearing. The same way of watching the world around them. Even when they were relaxed there was a part of them that was aware. There was also a fair amount of posturing going on between both sides. Who was tougher than whom? Who had the most training, who was best with weapons? Who had the better weapons? Deidre had already met with the Captain of her joint force and they had decided on a course of action for the evening.

“My name is Deidre Springwater, I am the lead for our group of guards. Captain Taylor and I met at the beginning of shift and discussed our role for this evening. The day and swing shifts have been conducting interviews in neighborhoods near areas where pockets have been found. We will be patrolling those areas tonight to keep watch for anything suspicious. What we are looking for is a group of at least 3 people, though it could be more. It might not appear that they are doing anything more than sitting together talking but if they are casting a spell they will be calling forth the Earth magic and should be considered dangerous. Approach with extreme caution.”

The police force from The Others shared incredulous looks at “calling forth the Earth magic” and a few rolled their eyes. “Are they armed?” one asked.

Deidre turned to the police force and spoke calmly, “We don’t know what all they are armed with. What we do know is they are unconcerned with leaving open pockets of magic. This to us, is the same to you as leaving a loaded gun within reach of a child. This is a blatant disregard for the safety of those around them. We also know that at least one of the spells they were casting was designed to steal the g..the magic from another member of our society. It is a maiming of a person so deep that it changes who they are, and can cause their death. We are not sure what the repercussion would be if a member of your force was hit with such a spell. Yes, you could consider them armed and extremely dangerous. Captain Taylor?”

The police captain stepped to the front of the group and addressed the joint force, “I understand that some of the earlier shifts had a little friction adjusting to differences in our societies’ laws. Our commanders have worked out that while we are operating on our lands the law that needs followed is ours. However, if we do find the group we are looking for they will go in to custody with The Guard. Tonight our job is to patrol. To keep an eye out for any groups that are out. If you do find a group of people keep them in sight and call it in. Under no circumstances are you to approach any group on your own. This goes for members of both forces. Are Captain Springwater and I clear in our instructions? Good. Team up and move out.”

The groups had three Guard and three to four police officers each. The Guard insisting of groups of three while the police broke their groups by skills and knowledge of the neighborhood they would be patrolling. Never less than three as they were still not comfortable being outnumbered by these new people in their midst, but not more than 4 as they didn’t want to appear to be trying to impose their rule on them either. It was a fine balancing act. When they were first dividing their people Captain Taylor had been surprised to find Deidre had assigned herself to one of the groups, “You are leading this charge, you should be in a point of central command where you are accessible to both shouldn’t you?” Deidre couldn’t understand how the Captain thought that sitting in an office behind a desk would make her more accessible to her force. “We don’t work that way. I would never send my force out where I wasn’t willing to go as well. And you wouldn’t want to deal with a member of The Guard who was kept inside while the rest of their company was on patrol. We tend to get antsy.”

It would all be a learning curve for both groups. Promotion among the Police force seemed to lead to less time outside and more time working on specialty crimes or running operations from behind a desk. Promotion among The Guard meant being in charge of more people and having the opportunity to lead the charge instead of following someone else’s plan. The age difference in their commanders showed the inherent danger for The Guard that this method led to. The police relied on their older policemen for wisdom and guidance to the younger force. They had been there and would instill knowledge and guidance. Deidre understood the logic of the police method, but she was a Warrior, staying inside and teaching the next generation was what you did when you could no longer go in to the field. Injury and if you were lucky advanced age were the things that slowed a Warrior enough to get them to teach. And even with age it often took someone making the suggestion it was time to step down. Deidre did not envy the person who would have to approach her father about taking over a teaching position when the time came.

Captain Taylor had been surprise when he had met Captain Springwater. She was at least 20 years his junior. Already leading a company of men and women and leading them with the quiet authority that showed she had done it for awhile. Her group followed her every move without question. When she spoke they listened intently and soaked in every instruction waiting until she was finished to ask questions. Though there didn’t seem to be many. The Guard was working at an advantage as they seemed to be more aware of what they were looking for. He was still fighting with company to let go of their preconceived notion that there was no such thing as magic. He understood, and would have felt the same way if he had not been part of the group chosen to meet during The Joining. There had been representatives from both communities and much discussion about how best to blend their communities. Captain Taylor was sure there had been many meetings before this one. Smaller groups, each building on each other to get to the larger meeting he was part of. Not the largest, that came a little later, but a large group. There they had discussed this new group of people they had lived among but never realized were different than they were. There was much discussion about the shared danger that had brought them together. The meeting had ended with a group from the police force being led to what was called a pocket of wild magic that had been found. They hadn’t yet “sealed the circle” as they called it, because they wanted everyone to understand the danger.

As they had walked in to the park Captain Taylor had started to feel uneasy. The lead member of their own police force, The Guard as they called it, had explained that some of them were already feeling the effects of this pocket. That it would effect everyone a little differently, some would be feeling unease, some would be frightened, some would feel they should just turn and leave right now. And then there were those that were truly in danger, the ones that felt nothing, yet. As they came to a marked area Captain Taylor noticed his hand on his gun, he wasn’t even aware he had placed it there, but everything in his body was warning him of danger. Commander Keeper told them to watch as he opened the door to a cage he had been carrying. In it were a dozen field mice. He explained that the mice were like people, they each felt this magic or didn’t feel it the same way we were. And as Captain Taylor watched he saw some of the mice turn and run as fast as he had ever seen a mouse run away from the circle, some approached cautiously then turned at the last minute walking away. But one little guy marched straight in to the circle. And at that point everyone watched in disbelief as he seemed to shrink in front of them. It was as though he was drying out. Caving in on himself. Never letting out a squeak he was soon reduced to a dry husk of what used to be a field mouse.

“As you can see, the real danger is to those that do not feel the pull of the magic.” Commander Keeper motioned to a group near him, “If you please?”

With that six of their kind sat around the edge of the circle and bowed their heads as if in prayer. They stayed this way for just a few minutes and as they did Captain Taylor could feel the tension leaving his body. He took a full deep breath for the first time since they had entered the park. As the group sitting on the ground finished and raised their heads Commander Keeper opened a second cage of mice. This time the group scattered as you would expect. Each going their own way with those that wandered in to the circle facing no consequence of their choice.

“We need to find these pockets and close them. And more importantly we need to find who is opening them in the first place.”

And with that demonstration Captain Taylor had become a believer in magic.

“The joint teams have been questioning people who live near the areas where the pockets have been found. I think we should probably add in a round of visits with our people who have integrated in to their communities.” Commander Keeper unfurled a map which had houses marked where members of The Gifted lived among The Others. Those that had either been sent to live among them and those that had chosen freely to go.

Mayor Adams, the representative for The Other’s government at this meeting, looked at the map, “You track your people?”

Commander Keeper started, “Of course it …”

Aric looked at his father and raised his eyebrows, “Excuse me for interrupting, this is an area I work with so I would be comfortable speaking to Mayor Adams about this?”

Commander Keeper took a deep breath and motioned to his son to go on. He knew it was for the best as he had little patience with the way The Others dealt with things. Too much time. Too many committees. They should just make a plan and move. But he also understood that this was an area his son was the most prepared to handle.

“Thank you. Yes, Mayor Adams, we follow any member who leaves our society and lives in yours. Me for instance, when I attended high school and college I registered and kept our agencies aware of where I was living. Sort of like changing your voter registration or your driver’s license when you move?”

“Why do you need to track your people? Are they dangerous? Is this what you are concerned about? That this issue has been caused by one of your people who live with us?”

“We would be remiss if we didn’t talk to them, that’s all. The same way we talked to everyone who lives around the parks and woods. We are looking for anyone with information. Because these houses,” Aric pointed to the map, “hold people who might be more able to identify when magic was being used they might be more helpful. We don’t have any reason to believe any of these people have anything to do with what we’ve been seeing. Most have lived among you for years if not generations with no issues.”

“Generations? You are tracking entire families?”

“Yes. It’s the best for everyone concerned. If someone who was say, called to Healing but didn’t get very many components of healing they might feel that they could do more good leaving our society and joining yours. That they would need to have the training your schools offer in your western medicine because they wouldn’t be able to perform the same tasks with just magic. They would still want to help and be a physician, but it would be better for them to do it with you. Now just because their magic was latent and even if they married someone who had no magic per se their child might. Or their grandchild. And if for some reason they have not shared with their family where they were born and what might happen, well, you can imagine it could be an issue.”

“No, I don’t imagine how it could be an issue.”

Aric smiled his most reassuring smile, “Say your great grandfather was one of ours. He left to come live among you and married and had children. None of the children seemed to take after him and he did not feel the need to say anything to his wife or his children about where he came from. Maybe he didn’t want them to think he was different. Maybe he didn’t think he would be believed. What ever his reasons are they are his. So then his children have their own children. And they also do not seem to take after their grandfather. So now he is sure he made the right choice. He dies in his sleep after having a long and productive life, never revealing his secret. Then one morning as his great granddaughter is getting ready for school she remembers she needs her math book that is sitting on her desk in her room, and bam! The book is on the table. How do you think her family is going to react to this?”

“That’s possible?”

“It is. The family trait can be passed down as a recessive gene for generations when our two people have children together. By tracking family lines we are able to keep an eye out for any one who might need an explanation or our help in understanding what is happening to either them or their children. It’s a precaution we take. Not a safety precaution for you but for them.”

“How many of these lists do you have? How many generations do they go? How much do you watch?”

Aric could see Mayor Adams was thinking about how he was going to tell his own people about this. They would not understand at all. The Others worried about surveillance from their own government, to learn that there were some among them that were being watched by another government, one that they hadn’t even known existed before then, that would be a challenge. “We track as far as we can. It’s a voluntary registration for our people as they leave, they understand why it’s done and it is up to them if they tell their families. We are not intrusive in how we watch, we just pay attention. You tend to hear the story spread if a child can sudden do, let’s call them, unexpected, things. We only intervene if they appear to need help in guidance. Sometimes that means they choose to come live with us. Go to school to learn more about what they’ve inherited.”

At this the Police representative, Captain Taylor started laughing. Mayor Adams turned bright red and practically shouted at him, “Captain Taylor, I fail to see what is so funny about this situation!”

“Don’t you see? Don’t you? We actually have a few kids out there that will get their letter to Hogwarts.” And with that he started laughing again.

Commander Keeper looked puzzled.

“It’s a book series, Dad, about kids who have magic powers. Sometimes a child who wasn’t born to a magic family is magic and gets an invitation to go to school and learn how to use their power. It’s very popular with the kids. It’s actually not badly done, a little more fanciful than true but it is a book after-all.” Aric turned back to the Mayor and the Police captain, “Yes, you could sort of look at it that way, though we prefer not to be called witches just as I’m sure you’d rather not be muggles.” With that Captain Taylor started laughing again.

Mayor Adams started to talk again when Aric interrupted, “I know you are not overly comfortable with this knowledge. I understand the position you feel you are being put in by knowing this. What I ask is that you wait until you see how the system works more clearly before you do anything. Go with us to a few home visits while we talk to the families living with you. Where you can see that they are members of both of our communities and understand what that means. The extra level of responsibility that entails.”

“I will hold off on informing anyone else until after I can review this information in more detail. That is all I can guarantee.”

Commander Keeper looked to his son to see if he was through, Aric made the same go on gesture to his father he had received a few minutes earlier. “Good, now that that is settled lets make plans for some home visits.”

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