Episode 2: The Witch's Pendant
Go get a fancy pendant from a crazy old woman in her crazy old mansion. That's the job. It would be worth one of my favors. "Must be some pendant," I muttered and took the binoculars from my eyes. That house looked real expensive, and I'd really hate to mess it up. If everything goes according to plan though, I won't have to.
In theory, the crazy old woman was a witch, and the pendant was a powerful talisman that she stole from some knights. That's why returning it falls into the good deed favor category thingy, and I still owed four of those suckers. The problem was, of course, that if she really is a witch, she probably has a whole nasty mess of enchantments and supernatural security guards in there. I groaned softly to myself. The stipend the holy warrior jerks gave me after the incident with the troll only managed to top off my angelic reserve tank and give me a few more fancy bullets.
Movement up at the house caught my eye, and I looked back into the binoculars. The batty old woman stepped out of her front door and walked over to her garden on the side away from me. I looked at my watch. It was almost time. That's one good thing about old people, well old mortal people. They always had another doctor's visit coming up. Even a witch is mortal, so it was game time.
I sat back deeper in the trees and waited. God, I hate waiting around for no reason. Hmm, I didn't flinch at the thought. Was that a good sign or a bad one? Eventually, and man do I mean eventually, the cane-wielding pendant stealing harpy got in her car and left. The fake phone call from her "doc" had worked. "Who needs magic anyway?" I said.
I felt my joints creak as I stood back up. Mortality sucks. As I crossed around the side of the house just inside the treeline, I pulled my sunglasses out of a jacket pocket. I slipped them on and surveyed the house again. This time, the HD vision the sunglasses gave me showed a very different scene. Crisscrossing lines of power covered the walls. So, she really was a witch. I looked for a pattern in the pulsing spiderweb of defenses. The nexus appeared to be coming from an upstairs room with a cracked stone balcony. "Gotcha."
I took one more look around the premises and, satisfied that I was in the clear, darted for the wall. Large light brown squares of stone made up the barrier to her house, and their pockmarked faces provided enough grip for my hands and feet. I jumped and scurried up over the wall quickly enough. It wasn't a graceful ascent, but hey, I'm dis-Graced remember. Maybe I could try a little finesse next time, but did it really matter? It worked fine after all.
After vaulting the wall, I looked both ways before crossing the vegetable garden. I didn't want to get run over by any bewitched onions or anything. I passed the patch and leaned up against the side of the house. I felt it practically humming with energy from the ward lines. They were all tangled in knots. It was powerful due to the way the strands bound together, but the knots were work of amateurs.
I slipped out of my body like taking off a jacket... by unzipping it. Once free, but tethered, I could touch the energies directly. It took a couple of minutes of fiddling, she had really tied those suckers tight, I got them disentangled, and the strands hung limply safe in their places. The power holding them together had to go somewhere though, and I knew it shot straight back to mother dearest to go tattle on the horrible angel. Now, I was on the clock. She'd be coming back in a mad fury, but hopefully, I'd have the time I needed to get in and out.
I flew back to my body and zipped my jacket back up so to speak. I made a silent prayer of thanks that the same rough, easy-to-climb brick which composed the witch's wall was the same for her house. I scaled it to the rim of the balcony with just as much elegance. Once I had a finger hold on the balcony, I used a firmer grip to get myself the rest of the way up.
I didn't see any other external magic security do-hickeys, so I started in on the small latch to the inside of what looked to be a study or private library. It only took a second, and it clicked open. "Oh yeah, Jonathan. You're one amazing angel thief extraordinaire," I muttered as I opened the door.
"What in the name of..." I said much louder than I should've and covered my nose with a hand. "What kind of mothball cat piss and formaldehyde is this witch using." I used my other hand to fan the air in front of my face. "Jes, uh... Louise," I said and made a silent apology to the sky.
Moving further into the dusty library, I saw that for as much power as what came from this room, the witch didn't come in here very often. I didn't see any disturbances in the furniture, dust covered every surface, and the carpet looked fluffed as if it had never been trod on. I walked up to the drawer in a desk on the far wall. It thrummed with power. I felt that talisman before.
I pulled the drawer open and stared down at it. "This is bad. This is oh so very much not good," I said. It glowed a soft gold that reflected off my face like a treasure in an Indiana Jones flick. The Talisman of Zeus did not belong to a group of knights, or for that matter, an old witch.
Only ancient and mighty beings could even touch the Greek Talismans. There was just one God. I know as I've worked for him for a while now, but the Greeks found a way to force energy into a set of talismans which granted abilities to their wearers. Those people strong enough to withstand their, uh, side-effects, were considered gods.
This particular talisman had one nasty bloody history. You know the German word Blitzkrieg? Yeah, that means lightning war. Now, I wonder just how it got that name? Hmmm? "Oh, boy," I said.
"Oh boy, indeed," the witch agreed. I turned around to face the door. Well... Shit, I thought.
"Well... Shit," I said. "You got back rather fast."
"Yes, I tend to do that when I get all of my wards back at the same time," she replied with a poisonous smile. I felt a series of magical shields flare up around her person. "Now, who the hell are you and what are you doing in my study?"
"Well, that's a funny question," I said. "My name's Jonathan, and I'm actually trying to steal a pendant." Honesty is always the best policy, right?
She raised an eyebrow in surprise. "That's not a pendant." Stepping forward into the room the witch's expression soured. "You're not what you seem," she said.
"Uh, no. I'm not. Neither, it seems, are you," I said and pointed to the talisman. I knew that one of two things had happened. Option one: The knights didn't have a clue what they were getting themselves into. Option two: They knew, and they wanted to send me into a huge fight against a power I vastly underestimated. I don't know what it is, but something about being around for a few millennia makes me a bit of a skeptic when it comes to mortals.
"Option two it is," I told the witch.
"What?" she asked.
"Oh, nothing. I was just figuring out if the idiots who hired me were completely ignorant, or if they wanted us to throw down."
She closed the door behind her and sat down in a red armchair near the wall. She didn't turn her back or even break eye contact as she took her seat. I almost suffocated on the smell of human preservatives which plumed in the enclosed space.
"Who hired you?" she asked.
"Man, you really get right to the point don't you," I replied smirking.
She crossed her arms, and I felt the pulse of her probing energies press against my defenses. She was much stronger than I first thought. She might even be able to wield the Talisman. "I find it takes less time if I don't dance around the subject," she said.
"Can you use this talisman?" I asked, dancing away from her question.
She sighed and glowered at me. "Yes, I can," she replied.
"No one in the last hundred and fifty years has been able to use it without killing themselves."
"That's true," she said. I loaned it to the Germans, but when they fell, I took back what was mine. The bodies they stacked helped power some of the more complex incantations I needed at the time." She crossed a leg over the other and took on a closed posture. "Now, tell me who hired you before I have to show you what those incantations gave me."
"Look, lady. I don't want a fight, but I also think that you're up to some bad juju up in this place. The thing is, I'm kind of on probation here, so if I don't deliver, I'm looking at a lot worse than you burning me at the stake."
"What," she paused and sighed again, "do you suggest?"
"I propose we overlook this little escapade and rig up a decoy pendant to give to them. They don't need or deserve that level of power. Hell, they'll probably just end up blowing themselves and the nearest populated area sky high," I offered.
She blinked. "What do I get out of this... deal?" she asked.
Well, crap. Why did I start dealing again? "What do you want?" I asked.
"I can't simply allow someone to steal my possessions, nor can I allow them to hire others to do the same. I want to know who hired you."
Is it wrong that I actually considered her for a moment? I did, but then my caution kicked back in. "No dice," I replied. "What else? There's got to be something?"
She crossed her fingers and held rested her head on them contemplating. After a moment, she said, "There is one other thing. You could recover something for me, a child."
"Woah, I'm not a babysitter, and I'm not into human trafficking."
"That's the final offer, or I will have to- how did you put it- throw down," she said.
To be fair, I can hold my own pretty well, but if she had enough power to use the Talisman of Zeus, I didn't want to find out if I could win this fight. I had only a small portion of my strength. Losing my grace put a lot of my magical clout locked in a safe and very far away from me.
"Fine. Who is it?" I asked.
She smiled devilishly. "Her name is Beth Rastin, and she lives in Austin."
"Alright, I'll track her down. Now, give me a decoy," I said.
She snapped her fingers, and her eyes flashed red. A second talisman appeared right next to the original. I reached out my senses and felt a power there. It wasn't nearly as strong as the original, but it should pass inspection. I snatched it up and put it in my pocket. I turned to leave out the window I came through, but her voice stopped me. "One more thing," she said. "She's a half-demon. That's not a problem is it?"