“Can’t you just relax for once in your life?” Katie said, hugging Mina tighter, threatening to physically drag her from the kitchen into the bedroom. Mina shook her head.
“Sorry,” she said. “It’s just so weird.”
“I barely felt the quake,” Katie pouted. “Why are you freaking out so much?”
“How many earthquakes have there ever been here?” Mina asked, and immediately regretted how harsh she’d sounded.
Katie only smiled benevolently. “I don’t care,” she said, hugging Mina even tighter. “We haven’t properly seen each other in five days, Mina! And now you’re only thinking of that miniscule earthquake. Stop it! There’s only one kind of vibration I’m interested in right now.”
Mina smiled, but not without a mental sigh. 'It just felt important,' she wanted to say. But she didn’t even know why.
She’d been in the university lobby, questioning some girl that had gotten mixed up with the wrong kind of people. It had become increasingly clear that the girl hadn’t done anything wrong herself, and that she didn’t know anything either. But – at the exact moment she’d shaken her hand to thank her for her cooperation, the quake had happened. It was just a stupid coincidence. It had to be. But something inside her just... insisted. Something inside her had... felt something. A sense of... significance.
Mina blinked. Katie was pouting at her, clearly impatient. She was nodding her head toward the bedroom, raising her eyebrows. For a moment, some instinct told Mina to be annoyed. To never put up with being made to – or even being coaxed into – doing anything, ever.
It was bad habit. A work habit. A cop habit. She put it aside.
“Sorry. Yeah. I’m here,” she said, put on a smile, and let herself be manoeuvred into bed. Katie laid her down, eating her up with her eyes, and her smile was warmer and softer than any blanket could ever be.
“Are those...?” Katie said suddenly, her brow wrinkling, and Mina realized with a stinging feeling of embarrassment that Katie’s eyes had caught on Mina’s earrings.
“They were too nice not to wear them,” she said apologetically, and she could feel her face turn red and hot as she blushed. She felt like a little girl trying to justify doing something irresponsible and stupid. Katie sighed, shaking her head. Her expression was equal parts amused, incredulous, and disappointed.
“You know I love you, Mimi,” Katie said, and Mina winced. She could feel the ‘but’ coming. She braced for it.
“—But this really makes me uncomfortable,”
Mina could tell that Katie was trying as hard as humanly possible not to raise her voice as she said it. Mina pressed her lips together tightly. There were many things she wanted to say. Justify herself. Get confrontational. Be hurt. She kept it to herself because she knew she was in the wrong. She’d gone behind Katie’s back.
“I’ll take them off,” she said. “I honestly thought you wouldn’t mind them if I wore them like this.”
“Did you?” Katie said, raising one eyebrow. “They’re nipple rings!”
“So what?!” Mina said in a small voice. “People don’t know that.”
“But I know it!” Katie said. “And I told you that I find them super icky. My boobs hurt just thinking about it. Ugh!”
Mina undid the stoppers and pulled the thin hooks from her ear lobes. She put the small earrings on the nightstand.
“You know I would’ve really liked to have them,” she mumbled.
“You’re so damn weird,” Katie said, and softly laid her hand on Mina’s cheek. “How can you want to get your nipples pierced? It’s so–”
Katie chuckled, grimacing. “No! I don’t want to suck on cold metal and have it hit my teeth when I’m in bed with you! I’m getting nasty shivers just imagining it.”
Mina swallowed down her disappointment. “They’re gone, Katie,” she said. “I’ll throw them out tomorrow. It’s okay. You pulled the Hard Veto on my nipples getting pierced and I’ll never not accept that – I just misunderstood you. But I got it now. No piercings, period.”
“You can wear earrings, Mimi,” she said. “Get ten ear piercings and a nose ring for all I care. I might not like that, but it wouldn’t make me cringe with second-hand pain.”
“What about a clit piercing?”
Katie screeched, screwing her eyes shut in disgust, but Mina could see a smile creep into her expression “Oh my God,” Katie said, grabbed a pillow, and jabbed it at Mina’s face. “Why would you say that?! You’re a monster, that’s what you are!”
Mina giggled and grabbed her wife, pulling her down towards her. “No!” Katie said through a smile, “Don’t you dare kiss me, you masochistic freak! I’ll bite’cha!”
“Maybe I’d like that,” Mina said, pulling Katie into an embrace. Katie relaxed in her arms, folding herself around Mina, and her face came to rest on Mina’s chest. She felt her wife’s soft skin against her own, her long auburn hair blanketing Mina’s shoulders and torso. Then, Katie shifted her head and bit Mina’s tit through her shirt. Mina yelped.
“Ouch! Too hard!”
“Seriously, where did you get the idea that I would be into that?” Katie asked.
It wasn’t about you, silly, Mina thought. It was about me. I would find it hot.
She didn’t say it. She knew when to ease off. That’s what relationships were. Sometimes, you just ended up wanting different things, and there was no middle ground. One of you had to yield. This time it was Mina. Next time, it would be Katie. That’s how they stayed sane and how they stayed together without falling out of love. Accept your differences.
Mina smiled. “You can do that again with your teeth, though – just a tiny smidge less violent,” she said, jiggling her eyebrows. “And without the clothes.”
“As long as I don’t have to bite down on steel.”
Mina sighed. “Just take off my clothes and fuck me, honey.”
Katie began peeling off her clothes and Mina finally, actually, relaxed. She let herself fall into Katie’s curves and smelled her familiar fragrance of perfume, spiced with traces of rubber gloves and disinfectant. Katie nibbled on the tips of her breasts, just hard enough to fill Mina with electric shivers. They shared deep, wet kisses and their hungry hands found the eager crooks and folds of their bodies. Katie went down on her and filled Mina’s world with joy and pleasure, and Mina gave it all back to the woman she loved. She tasted her lips and smelled her hair and her sweat, and descended into the fragrant, moist petals between her legs, and caressed her most sensitive and intimate places, licking her softly at first, then urgently, until her soft moans escalated into breathless yelping and Katie found her release with a wonderful squeal of joy.
They held hands and touched foreheads after, feeling each other’s breaths on sweaty skin, cooling in the air. Everything else was forgotten as they lay in each other’s comforting presence, breathing slowly as scattered raindrops patted innocently against the bedroom window.
Time passed gently and pleasantly, and Mina felt her heart slowly beating in a calm and steady rhythm. For a long while she listened to the soft breathing of the woman she loved, and felt the heat of her body against her own. Finally, she carefully untangled herself from Katie and got out of bed. It was still a little bit light outside, and Katie had fallen asleep. Mina, however, was wide awake.
This was what their life was like ever since Katie had quite her job at Doctor Ericsson’s private practice, and started working shifts at the county hospital. Sometimes, they’d only see each other in passing for more than a week at a time, as one of them returned home just as the other got out of bed. Other times, their shifts would line up, and they’d have whole days or nights together.
Mina had just as much respect for Katie as she adored her. She just wished that Katie would have picked a job that didn’t have the occasional thirty-hour shift. At least Mina had the police union keeping her from having to deal with the kind of bullshit work hours Katie had to endure.
She gently closed the bedroom door behind her. She took a shower, dressed herself, and decided to take a walk.
As she stepped outside into the falling darkness her mind was already buzzing like a hive of wasps again. Something was definitely wrong. Maybe she should be sleeping, too. Except she wasn’t tired at all of course. Not at eight in the evening.
So, inevitably, her mind was back on the case. Or the case was back on her mind. In any case, she couldn’t get rid of it. It was like a wine stain on a white sofa.
That fucking university, she thought, and she was already feeling a too-familiar headache starting to swell in the front of her skull. She’d never been stonewalled that hard, or that brazenly. It was almost comical. Captain Warner had told her to drop the case. Her colleagues had told her to give it up. The dean had told her that his students were nothing but a source of excellence and discipline and that all of this had just been a big misunderstanding. Mina had wanted to punch him in his smug little face.
Yeah. Real common misunderstanding! Here I was, thinking one of your students had been caught dealing MDMA and Cocaine, when the whole time, he was actually being excellent! Silly me!
She had ignored him, of course, and questioned the roommate – and that had been when the quake had happened.
In fucking New England.
She’d checked the internet; the tremor had been short and relatively weak, and only been felt for a couple of miles. Seismographs even a couple of counties over hadn’t been able to pick it up. A ‘minor seismic event’, but highly anomalous. Some extremely niche forums were positively flipping out – but despite pages upon pages of heated discussion, no one seemed to actually know what it meant or what had caused it.
Whatever the cause, Mina was sure that it meant something. Her certainty was heavy and solid like cast iron, and she had absolutely no idea where it came from. It was like a damn fairy had flown by and planted the idea in her brain fully formed, without any connections to anything else! Just the absolute conviction that it was important. It made no sense at all.
Mina walked down the streets for a long while, thinking – racking her brain on how to proceed. With the case – with her inexplicable feeling – with life in general. She had a sudden feeling of dissatisfaction. As if someone had pointed out a spelling error she hadn’t noticed before in the script of her existence.
I have to solve this fucking case.
She scoffed at herself. It’s just a fucking narcotics case, she thought. Small fish. Just some stupid affluent jock thinking he’s too good for consequences.
The fucked up thing: He probably was. She should just let it rest.
Let the world run its fucked-up course.
But she just... couldn’t. This wasn’t about busting some one-note basic jerk with a dispassion for following the law. This was about not being told to do the wrong thing, not to be told to look the other way. This was about showing them that they couldn’t just bend the law because they were rich and ‘important’.
But even more than that it was about the absolute fucking certainty in her mind that something else, something much stranger, something much more important was going on. And she had to get to the bottom of it.
The sound of keys turning in the front door echoed down tha hall, and Jordan stopped unpacking the moving boxes.
“Who’s there?” she yelled.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” said a young female voice with a British accent. It came from the common area of the dorm, and Jordan barely had time to exit her room before a pretty little white girl was right in her face. She jumped, and took a step back.
“Jesus!” she blurted.
“Oh God! Sorry!” said the girl. She sounded out of breath, “I didn’t mean to make you jump, and I... I’m so sorry for standing you up earlier! I know I said I would be here at five to let you in, but I had a really nasty hold-up. I’m so glad you got in! Did the custodian open up for you?”
The young woman looked at her with doe-like eyes. She somehow looked like she just had to be someone’s little sister.
“Yeah, in fact, he did,” Jordan said. “It wasn’t a big deal, he was there anyway for all the start-of-semester transfers.”
The young woman sighed with relief and smiled happily. All worry had instantly evaporated from her face, and she was beaming now like a little puppy dog, almost bouncing on her feet. Jordan couldn’t help but like that sort of frantic energy. She just hoped she wouldn’t have to deal with it 24/7. These kinds of people were best enjoyed in small doses.
“You must be Samantha,” Jordan said, finding herself matching the young woman’s smile. She could already tell however that she would never be able to match her enthusiasm.
“Samantha Collins! Call me Sam,” she said, and stretched out her hand. Jordan took it, and Tammy shook with surprising strength and buzzing vigor. “Theater and Literature.”
“Jordan Wright. No nickname, sorry,” she answered with a smile and a shrug, and Sam let out a small giggle. “History and English.”
“Cool! Real nice to—”
Suddenly the floor shook, and from behind her, Jordan could hear several books toppling over. It was over as quickly as it had started. Jordan looked around to see if anything precarious was about to fall from any shelves, and found nothing to worry about. She blinked. For some reason, her heart was pounding. She felt really worried all of a sudden, even though the quake really hadn’t been bad at all. It was like a sudden sense of doom. Like something important had just happened.
“Weird,” she said slowly, turning back around, ”that’s the second time—”
She stopped mid-sentence when she saw Sam’s expression of utter shock. Her new roommate was white as chalk. She looked like she had just seen a ghost.
“What the fuck,” Sam whispered with the voice of someone who had just seen a violent car crash.
“It’s okay,” Jordan said, unable to keep herself from being quietly amused by Sam’s look of exaggerated fear. “I used to live on the west coast. It’s really normal to get aftershocks like that.”
“No,” Sam said, looking down at her hands for some reason “It’s not that.” She stared at her palms, looking slightly confused, as if she’d just discovered them for the first time. Jordan laid her hand on Sam’s shoulder, trying to calm her down by changing the topic.
“These apartments are crazy, though! I had no idea student dorms came this goddamn luxurious!”
Sam blinked, still looking slightly overwhelmed. “What...? Oh yeah! Renford Hall is pretty great! Oldest Building on Campus, apart from the library! The rest of the campus burned down in the seventeen-hundreds.”
“Founded by Sir Samuel Renford in 1672 under Charles the second, back when you guys still called the shots around the colonies.” Jordan recited with a smile. ”Renamed to King James Hall in 1692 after Renford had been found guilty of witchcraft, then renamed to Jefferson hall in 1777, and once more renamed back to its original Renford Hall in 2003 to honor a free thinker in times of superstition.”
Sam blinked. ”Right. History major.”
Jordan shrugged. ”History major.”
“So, what do your parents do?” Sam asked after a moment of thought. It seemed to take her some effort to ask the question, like it was a painful procedure she had to undergo.
“Your parents. Who are they?”
It took Jordan a moment to understand before it clicked.
Yeah, of course that was what she would be thinking. Jordan shook her head calmly, like a parent patiently correcting their child.
“My parents aren’t paying for this. I’m here on a scholarship. Faculty upgraded my dorms for some reason.”
She didn’t know if Sam was naive, open-minded, or just too polite to think that a black girl like Jordan would come from a family with enough wealth to pay for a first-class ride. No. Jordan was what they called ’disadvantaged youth’. She was here for one reason only: So that semi-progressive old men could alleviate their white guilt. Probably the reason they’d upgraded her dorms, too. Whatever Jordan had expected Sam’s reaction to be, it hadn’t been her face lighting up in utter joy. Sam sprang forward and hugged Jordan, and Jordan reluctantly let it happen, more overwhelmed than off-put.
“That’s so awesome! Congrats!” Sam said into her ear before letting go of her. She looked so genuinely happy for her that it was putting Jordan off balance. “So at least one of the two of us earned their spot here!”
Jordan tilted her head. ”Wait, what? You... didn’t?”
“Daddy bought me in,” Sam said, raising her hands in an apologetic gesture. “His dearest Samantha has to get the best education money can buy, after all.”
She sighed deeply. “He means well. I can’t hate him. He’s exactly like you probably imagine him, ascot and mustache and all – but he also let me pick my major, and I can do whatever I want once I’m done. But he insisted that I go to university, and this university in particular.”
“Poor you,” Jordan said with a bitter smirk and crossed arms, but her voice remained playful. Part of her wanted to hate Sam for who she was, but found that it was nearly impossible to dislike her. She had a charming air of self-awareness and teenage rebellion. And part of it might be that she looked just so damn cute.
“I know, I know,” Sam said defensively when she saw Jordan judging whether or not to bundle her up with all the other well-meaning faux-woke white kids or not. “I’m privileged up the arse. One-hundred percent. I’ll never be able to relate.”
She shrugged. “But I want to get along with my new roommate, and, at the risk of being presumptuous: you seem like a person worth knowing. I swear I’ll try to be as cool as I possibly can! Just tell me when I’m being a posh upper-class bitch without noticing! Please!”
“I could use some friends in high places,” Jordan said with a mischievous smile, and Sam scoffed as if Jordan had told her a joke that was so bad that it had looped back into being amusing.
“Sure thing! I can get you into all the deathly boring dinner parties you want. In fact, why don’t you go in my place? Hope you like standing in high heels for hours on-end, pretending to care about Chaucer.”
“I actually like Chaucer,” Jordan muttered. “You learn to appreciate him once you’ve read the awful stuff the *other* white dudes wrote during that time.”
Sam bit her lip and looked at the floor, smiling, shaking her head, like she was debating with herself. Then she looked up at Jordan.
“Would... would you like to go have a drink later, once you’ve done some unpacking? Have some fun?” she asked with a sly wink, taking Jordan by surprise again. “It’s the weekend, and I know a couple of cool places. Or you can pick someplace, too! I don’t care.”
Jordan’s palms were suddenly sweaty, and her chest felt tight. Was Sam coming on to her? Had she already guessed that Jordan was into girls? Or was this just her, projecting? She wasn’t even quite sure yet if she was into Sam in that way, and if this was anything more than just an innocent, friendly gesture. Sam was undeniably cute, however, with her slim frame and dark-blonde bangs. Jordan was just now noticing the tattoos on Sam’s lower arms, and she found herself indecently wondering where else she might be tattooed... She caught herself. Damn, girl. This wasn’t at all how she had pictured meeting her roommate would go when she’d walked up to the braggadociously ornate sandstone building that housed her new dorm. She’d expected some stuck-up, self-important prom queen type. At least she would have known how to handle those. She had no idea how to deal with a shockingly-sudden crush on a rich white girl.
Sam was staring at her expectantly, wide-eyed like a kitten. “Uhhh, yeah, sure!” Jordan stammered, then stopped herself from incoherently babbling on. Some part of herself was incessantly screaming at her to play it cool.
What came out of her mouth, for whatever reason, was an exaggerated southern drawl. ”But... I’ll probably not enjoy the sort of establishments that are frequented by the kind of folk that occupy these here dorms.”
Very smooth, idiot, she thought, wincing inwardly.
“O do you hold me in such low esteem, madam?” Sam answered with a smirk and a little bow, taking it in stride. ”That I would... uh... partake with the vapid and conceited? Fear not! Verily, I...”
She snorted, shaking her head. “Don’t worry,” she continued in her normal voice. She still sounded posh, but in a cute way. “I know just the place. I think you’ll like it.”
Hundreds of miles away, the Scholar was frantically packing her bags. Foliants and scrolls and leather-bound books went into the black suitcase until it was nearly bursting. For a moment she hesitated, then decided to ignore what she’d been told, and packed the ‘questionable’ research, too. Just in case. Her heart was racing with anxiety. There was never such a thing as certainty, but the signs seemed worryingly clear. This had to be it. It was happening, and she was the one closest. She took a deep breath as she closed the door of her spartan apartment and rushed down the stairs.
Five times in the last millennium, the people of her Order had averted the Constellation. This will be just the same, she told herself. She might just be human, but so had been those that had succeeded before her. However monumental the task, she would be ready. She had to be. For her grandfather. For her brothers and sisters. For all of humanity. She took a cab to the airport and boarded the first plane to Boston. She’d travel by rental from there. Getting the contents of her luggage cleared was bothersome, but she had the necessary paperwork ready in triplicate, and all relevant laws firmly memorized.
In the end, they let her take everything along. Even the sword.
As the plane lifted off, she once more palmed the miniscule amulet around her neck. It had been years since she had worn an Amulet of Jordan. She felt its inexplicable energy pull her in and whisper in her mind in a wordless language no one knew how to speak. And with every mile in the air, she was sure she could feel the sensation grow stronger. She hated it. She had always hated it. She prayed to the divine powers to give her strength, to grant her luck. Despite all the preparation, all the training, all that she had done to turn herself into the version of her that could meet the challenge... she was still a Scholar, not a Warrior or a Mage. Her domain was books, not battlefields. All she wished for was for this to be nothing but a false alarm. But the amulet in her hands pulsed unmistakably, even if it was weak. She had never experienced its true energy until now. She had only felt the mutual pull between it and its brother amulets, not the gravitation to the presence of its creator. But there was no mistaking its hunger to be with her. She took a sip of water to wash down the acidic taste in the back of her throat and leaned back into the uncomfortable seat.
Most of all, she wished for help. To not be alone in this. Why did this have to happen the one day that everyone else was out of the country?!
She knew that help was coming, eventually. But the Order had grown thinner and thinner over the years, and those brothers and sisters that still remained were scattered all over the world, many of them in remote locations, searching for scrolls and tablets and artifacts. If she didn’t manage to locate the threat in time, any help might come too late. It was her that would be the first on scene, and she would have so little time to find the Heralds.
She turned the amulet over in her palms. She could not yet clearly interpret the dark palpitations emanating from the carved demon horn, and she was sure that she didn’t want to. But like one could tell if someone was angry even when not speaking their language, she could tell one thing: Lilith the mother of all demons was about to return, and she had to be stopped.
In a deep place, stones shift and crack, and it spills forth. The angry darkness that has grown and festered for centuries seeps into the world, and it takes form. Hidden has it lain, unceasingly waxing until it was ready. Slowly, slowly it erupts now into the depths of the material plane, coalescing and coagulating. It takes form.
Sharp noises echo against slick stone, and the darkness grows, fast now, ever faster, and with eyes and claws and teeth it takes form.
Ancient passages hewn into rock and earth, winding and hidden. The way gapes open as a mouth screaming in silent pain and the darkness taken form presses forth like black water on the rising tide, sloshing, swallowing, swelling. On a hundred claws it crawls forth. With a hundred eyes it sees its hidden path, up, up, and out, to find its prey.
The door is open, and the Heralds are gathered. The darkness knows its purpose, and so shall they know theirs.