Premium Content (Yearly): NN4 Draft – Chapter 7

It took an hour and a half to format this to allow 2 chapters to be released and I uploaded it and it didn’t work… And as per usual: as premium content members read this draft of Movement in the Shadows: I have rewritten this book. This is NOT the final version. There will be similarities to the finalized version that will publish in April, but it is not this version. The rewritten version does still have some similar plot points (for example: Helia’s forays into a new part-time profession).

Chapter 7 Seven

Jerome’s feet slapped the floor as he loped into the kitchen in the morning. He had bags under his eyes and the whites of his eyes were bloodshot.

“Did you sleep last night?” I asked him. I’d slept like the dead, not even waking when Angel got up from bed.

“Not well,” Jerome admitted. “I think there will be more amplifiers.”

“Me too.” I nodded and handed Jerome a glass of juice.

“I don’t suppose you’d let me play hooky today?” Jerome sat down at the table.

“Do you want to stay home and sleep?” I asked him. “Or are you going to try to figure out the amplifier?”

“I want to come to work with you and figure out the amplifier. These things usually snowball fast, look at the demon boxes,” Jerome said. I leaned against the counter drinking my second cup of coffee. I’d had the same thought when I woke up this morning. It had taken less than a week from finding the first demon box to having more than a dozen floating around St. Louis. Jerome was a lot better with magic than I was. I didn’t agree immediately because letting Jerome play hooky to help me with work, made me feel like a failure as a guardian. The truth was, Jerome didn’t just have a lot of magic at his disposal, he had the ability to understand magic in ways no one else did. He could see it and feel it, he could even track it back to a source. If another amplifier showed up, we would need Jerome. Jerome fixed himself a bowl of oatmeal while I debated whether to send him to school and pick him up if I needed him or whether to just let him stay home. He’d missed six days this year, five of them at the anniversary of his mother’s death in October. It had coincided with the sudden arrival of the demon boxes. He’d missed one day in December because Ariel had accidentally turned him blue and he didn’t want to go to school and have blueberry jokes hurled at him. It was April, he only had two months left. He had As in every class, and he was active in sports. One day wouldn’t tank his grades or his life after high school. When I’d met Jerome, he’d wanted to become a certified exorcist, last year he’d toyed with the idea of becoming an investigator for the AESPCA. However, Remiel and I were both convinced that as soon as he graduated, he’d want to come to work for Angel Investigations which would allow him to investigate supernatural crimes as well as perform exorcisms. He loved looking through our case files and tagging along on investigations and exorcisms.

“Principal Grace? This is Soleil Burns, I’m sorry for calling so early. I actually thought I’d get the schools answering machine and leave a message.” I said into the phone when Principal Grace answered the school’s phone.

“I heard about yesterday, is Jerome okay? Was he hurt?” She immediately squeaked out.

“No, he’s just exhausted.” I told her. “I am hoping we can excuse him from classes today so he can rest up. I can’t really say much about what he did yesterday, it’s an ongoing police investigation, but neither of us slept very well last night and I don’t feel like my batteries recharged overnight either. So, I can’t imagine how awful he feels.” I lied to her. I had slept fine. “I know this will be his seventh absence this year, do we need to do anything special for it?”

“No, we allow students to miss up to fifteen days as long as they are excused by a parent. And realistically, the five days he missed in October, don’t count against him because we allow five mental health days a year for our students because magic in teens can cause severe mood swings.” Principal Grace said. “So, you go right ahead and keep Jerome home today and hopefully over the weekend you can both recover. I hear the game was rescheduled for Saturday.”

“Yeah, I did too, but I think we will probably watch it from our couch.” I told her smiling. “And thank you.”

“No problem, I’m glad you are both uninjured.” Principal Grace said and hung up.

“Thank you,” Jerome said.

“If you weren’t passing all your classes at nearly 100% or you were missing a lot of school, I would have forced you to go.” I told him. “Unfortunately, I think we are going to have a very busy weekend, the game was rescheduled for Saturday afternoon, it will be a double header.” I told him.

“Don’t lie to the kid,” a voice suddenly said, and I found myself looking at a semi-transparent Valerie. “You would have let him stay home regardless.” Valarie said to me.

“Mom,” Jerome jumped up and ran over to the apparition. He stopped a few inches from her, arms raised. Valarie’s ghost had appeared before, but usually Jerome and I had to make preparations and cast spells. She’d never shown up on her own.

“Hi Jerome,” Valarie said, and I watched the ghost raise her arms, then drop them. “I keep forgetting I can’t hug the living. You’re doing amazing in school, I noticed. And your baseball coach loves you. How are you doing?” Souls couldn’t die, human souls became ghosts and supernatural souls became demons. However, human souls don’t have magic, so even though they are ghosts they don’t interact with the living very often and it usually requires some magic to bring them from wherever ghosts are to this plane. Valerie and I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about where ghosts went when they weren’t here, but I got the impression there was a heaven and Valerie was in it.

“How did you get here?” I asked her, trying not to be rude, but genuinely curious.

“You,” Valerie said. “I felt you needed me and then I felt your magic call to me and viola, here I am.” Valerie answered.

“I’ve never summoned a ghost before, normally Jerome has to do it.” I told her.

“I know.” Valerie turned to me and I saw her arms raise again and then fall back to her side. “I wish I could hug both of you so much. I don’t have long, I can already feel the magic ebbing away, but I wanted you both to know how much I love you and how proud I am.” I surreptitiously wiped away a tear. Then I put an arm around Jerome’s back at the shoulders and pulled him to me and gave him a hug. We might not be able to hug Valarie, but we could hug each other, and I felt we could both use a hug.

“We miss you too,” I told her and tried not to start sobbing.

“I am also supposed to tell you to research time slip spells,” Valerie said.

“Okay,” Jerome said eyeing his mother’s ghost.

“I have friends where I am and while all of them are human, some of them know a great deal about magic. I love you Jerome, you are going to be a great man one day.” Valerie’s semi-transparent figure said and then disappeared.

“I didn’t know you could conjure ghosts,” Jerome said.

“I’ve never done it before and I don’t know how I did it just now, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves and decide this is an ability I have.” I told him.

“Time slip spells,” Jerome said with wonder. “I’ve never heard of a time slip, what is it?”

“Beats me,” I shrugged. “I know your mom says she can’t watch us, she just gets flashes of how we are doing, but it still kind of creeps me out that dead humans know how the living are doing.”

“I find it reassuring,” Jerome said. “It’s nice to know that mom gets to know how I’m doing and is proud of me.” Jerome’s father was another story, he was in the Stygian. Jerome had managed to conjure his soul once in human and not demon form, but it had taken a lot out of him. Leviathan the Hell Prince was trying to help us figure out what demon Jerome’s soul was reincarnated as, so Jerome could talk to him, but it was tricky. Dead supernatural souls do not retain memories or connections to this plane like human souls did. Except when they were around me. For whatever reason, being in my presence caused demons to remember who they were when they were alive. Sometimes this was a good thing and sometimes it wasn’t. It was part of the reason; I was in regular communication with Leviathan. We met once or twice a month to discuss it face to face either in the Stygian or in my yard, depending on what was being discussed. Sometimes, when I brought Leviathan here, my uncles and dad knew it and would pop in to visit, which made it hard for Leviathan and me to talk. Leviathan was too absorbed with life as Zadkiel when his siblings were around to provide me with information. Unfortunately, it was tricky for me to go see Leviathan in the Stygian because the hell prince Belial wanted to possess my soul, which I was unwilling to give him regardless of what he offered. Beelzebub thankfully avoided me when I went to the Stygian, he was still pouting because I’d exorcised him last October. Which served him right for trying to take possession of Jerome.

I poured myself a third cup of coffee into my travel mug and added an eighth a cup of flavored liquid creamer and a pinch of sugar to it. I stirred and put the lid on it. Jerome finished his oatmeal. We were both dressed.

“Grab some extra pendants, if there are more amplifiers it’s possible, we’ll get more possessions than normal, and I only have about twenty left in my office.” I told him as he grabbed a messenger bag. When Jerome came to work with me, he acted like an assistant, even though I didn’t expect him to. He took notes on everything he saw, heard, smelled, and tasted. The kid was eager to learn about everything he could and felt the best way to do it was to take notes. He had three notebooks that were infused with magic that took the notes for him. The words magically appearing on the page as things happened. He’d filled more than thirty very nice leatherbound hardback notebooks. He’d even figured out how to use magic to emboss titles and move pages around so that all notes about a certain subject were in the same notebook. They were all neatly organized on a bookshelf in his workshop. I had to admit, I never expected to see a fifteen-year-old put fancy notebooks on their Christmas and Birthday wish lists.

My family was weird, and I knew it. Anytime a child was born, it was a big deal. All the uncles pitched in to help raise them and make sure they got started in their adult life as functioning and capable productive members of society. This was why all of my uncles were involved in Aurora, Ariel, and Jerome’s lives so much. They were the youngest members of the Archangel clan and until they became adults, my uncles would act like they were their own grandchildren not their great nieces and nephews. Most supernatural families were not especially close, which I understood when breeding ages lasted thousands of years, it was hard to get excited that a new baby was born to a 1,000-year-old vampire and that they had a sibling five-hundred years older than them. It was super unusual to have children as close in age as Helia and I were, to do it twice, because Helia’s two children were also very close in age was unheard of. I had first cousins that were several hundred years older than my mother. The point being, Jerome had gotten at least one fancy notebook from each of my uncles, his adopted great uncles and a few of my cousins, at Christmas this year and even some of my cousin’s had gotten him small gifts. Michael’s son, who was an archangel and could read family bloodlines had given Jerome an antique feather quill pen from the 1700s and taught him how to make ink for it. Leviathan had given us an old book at Christmas that talked about magic from before the time of human civilization in Egypt that Zadkiel had written and hidden. He’d given Aurora a Stygian Kitty a new creation of his, which Helia was sure was going to grow up to be the size of a sabertoothed cat, which was possible. Right now, it was about the size of a bobcat and it was only six months old. Aurora had named it Sprinkles. To Ariel he had given a sword, not the most age-appropriate gift for a ten-year-old, but she loved it and he thought she needed it, so no one had objected. We put Angel, Pinkie Pie, and Luna Sparkle into the backyard and not the pasture, because I was a bit nervous about the previous night’s events. I then texted Abigail my 1,000-year-old vampire neighbor and thanked her a second time for stabling them the night before and assuring her I would be home at a more reasonable hour tonight and that Angel was out to protect them.

Jerome and I headed into the office. We arrived fashionably late, as per usual. I was almost always five or ten minutes late to work in the morning. It happened often enough that Helia had stopped scheduling anything for me before nine in the morning, despite the fact that my schedule said I’d be there at eight every day.

Janet wasn’t in yet, but Remiel was. He was using his big fancy coffee machine to make some kind of big fancy coffee drink. He handed it to Jerome as soon as we entered the break room. Jerome took it and looked at it. Then he sniffed it. Remiel looked younger today than he had the previous night. I’d put him in his forties instead of fifties. However, according to Zadkiel’s book on magic, he was around 200,000 years old, which made his new looks even though “older” still amazing. For the briefest moment, I wondered what would have happened if Angel hadn’t tossed him out of the parking garage.

“I would have aged more and possibly permanently,” Remiel said as I took a seat at the table in the break room. “Same for you.” Remiel added as Jerome sat down with his strange coffee like drink.

“What is that?” I asked Remiel.

“I’m going to call it the Soleil. It is half coffee, half hazelnut creamer, with a tablespoon of real cream, all of it steamed, whipped, and blended into a frothy creamy coffee that you might need a spoon to drink.” Remiel answered.

“Why’d you give it to Jerome?” I asked.

“Because you had your travel mug, and he didn’t have any coffee. He can’t survive a staff meeting without coffee.” Remiel replied getting a cup of regular coffee for himself. Remiel only uses sugar in his coffee.

“We’re not having a staff meeting,” I said.

“Yes, we are as soon as Helia and Janet arrive.” Remiel said. “It’s not like them to be later than you. I’m glad you brought Jerome in; he should be here while we sort this out.”

“Sort what out?” I asked suspiciously.

“I bought the empty spot next to us last week. We’re going to expand a get bigger offices and better furniture. None of these pressed wood desks and wobbly waiting room chairs.” Remiel said.

“I hate moving. Why do we need bigger offices?” I asked.

“We don’t. Our offices are pretty nice, we do need new furniture and Jerome needs an office and a bigger workspace. And we need an actual conference room so we can stop having meetings in this tomb like room. And I want a full kitchen, not just this microwave, fridge, sink, and coffee machine with tiny table. However, most of the new space is for Jerome and Janet. Janet needs a place to mix potions that you and I use as well as store extras. Jerome could probably help there. too.”

“Jerome is not authorized to make potions for our use. He doesn’t have his practicing wizard certificate yet.” I pointed out to my uncle.

“Details, he will soon.” Remiel waved his hand at me.

“He’s fifteen, he won’t have it soon.” I reminded him with a scolding tone.

“He could have it soon. I’ve been looking into it and he could get a provisional certificate if he takes a test and passes that would allow him to make potions that we can use, or he could sell. And he only has to be fifteen for that.” Remiel informed me.

“Why do you want Jerome to sell potions? Aren’t demon possession protection necklaces enough?” I asked.

“Personally, I don’t care if Jerome decides to sell potions or not. I’ve sampled the kid’s homework and he’s an amazing potion maker. I want to have his potions at my disposal should I need one to banish a ghost or something. Or banish the effects of a time slip spell.” Remiel said to me and it clicked.

“Jerome has more magic than Janet, so his potions are naturally stronger, and you want to have them available for your own use.” I said.

“Yes, and technically, I can because he’s your son and we’re family. But I can’t use one to right a time slip for someone not related to him.”

“And since yesterday’s amplifier spell was related to a time slip spell, you’re worried.” I said.

“Yes.” Remiel nodded. “I picked up a bunch of old books on time spells and amplifiers and potions for Jerome to read.”

“Jerome you may take the books, but you are not required to read them or make potions for Remiel.” I told the kid.

“I want to help,” Jerome replied seriously.

“I know, but you’re still young. I don’t want you to feel pressured to do any of this. You are welcome to go curl up in my office on the couch and sleep all day and not have anything to do with Remiel’s books or plans.”

“Soleil, it was my idea. I am the one that told him about the provisional practicing wizard certificate. I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of time slip spells, but I thought it could be useful for me to get one. I just need your permission, the supervision of someone not my parent, and to attend the pre-exam study session and then the test both of which are offered at my school. But I was worried if I brought it up to you, you’d tell me to enjoy being a teen and stop working so hard and that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do.” Jerome told me.

“Huh,” I said with a bit of a huff. “Jerome if you are worried about money for college or vocational tech training your possession protection necklaces have earned you more than enough to learn whatever you want to learn after high school at any school you want. You do not have to sell potions to earn more money, it’s all been earned. You’ll also have enough for a down payment on a house and buy yourself a brand-new car.”

“It’s not about the money, it’s about helping you, Remiel, Helia, Aurora, Ariel, Raphael, and anyone else I can help.” Jerome looked at me with a touch of melancholy.

“You didn’t fail your mom. Even if you’d discovered a way to help her, she might not have been willing to take the help. Remember, she wouldn’t let an archangel heal her because it would risk his life.” I said to him, reaching out and taking hold of his hand.

“I know,” Jerome said with a sigh. “It’s not about that, not exactly. I do feel bad because I couldn’t save my mom, but I have always felt the need to help anyone I could. That’s what drove me to talk to you for the first time. And this is just another way I could help people. I’m not talking about dangerous or crazy stuff like love potions, but potions that could help sick animals or help prevent Magic Pox or bring houseplants back from nearly dead, protect houses from fires, those sorts of things.” Jerome told me, squeezing my hand. “I think I even have an exorcism potion nearly perfected.”

“How have you been testing that?” I asked raising an eyebrow.

“Azrael and Uriel.” Jerome replied.

“Aren’t they worried an exorcism potion will remove the need for them?” I asked. Silently I added and me.

“No, it won’t force a demon out completely unless it’s a baby demon and brand new. It mostly just makes exorcism easier and gives some protection against repossession for a short time. With it, someone like Janet with limited exorcism skills could exorcise a demon as strong as Dantalian.”

“I think with a few ground rules, you should let him.” Remiel said. “I think you should let him get the provisional certificate regardless of whether you let him do anything with it. Besides, the provisional certificate would qualify him to work for us this summer.”

“Which is what he wants to do?” I asked suspiciously.

“Yes,” Jerome said quickly. “I could do evaluations for exorcisms and help investigate magic cases. Right now, I have to be supervised to be here and you have to have permission from every client. However, with the certificate, I could be hired as a part time trainee consultant.”

“He could help me with billing,” Helia said coming into the kitchenette. “I hate to eavesdrop, but I’m with Remiel, I think it’s a good idea even if you don’t let him make and sell potions for human consumption. And it’s not like you are forcing him to do it. It is his decision and he made it, now he just needs your permission.”

“Thanks,” I said to her.

“Oh my! I have such incredible and amazing news!” Janet said as she came into the office. “Where is everyone?”

“In here,” Helia said taking a step back from the door.

“You are never going to believe this, oh hey Jerome. Do you have Magic Pox? I hear it’s going around. One of my nieces have it and she said about half her classmates have it.” Janet said, not coming into the room.

“I do not have Magic Pox.” Jerome assured her and Janet came in. “I was at the baseball game last night. Soleil let me stay home from school so I could rest up and talk to her about something important.”

“What?” Janet asked a little abruptly.

“I want her to let me get my provisional practicing wizard certificate so I can be hired as a trainee this summer.” Jerome said. “Hence the staff meeting.” I considered how well he’d worked that into his narrative instead of the real reason for the staff meeting and wondered if I’d been set-up.

“No,” Remiel said answering the question in my head.

“What’s your big news?” I asked Janet.

“I’m in love!” Janet squealed and stuck out her hand. There was a giant platinum ring on one finger, and it was definitely brand new.

“Is that an engagement ring?” I asked. Two days ago, Janet had been single, and I knew that because we had discussed it.

“It is, isn’t it amazing! He’s a magical crimes lawyer with Hancock, Henry, and Angel Law Firm. His name is Blake Henry and he’s a partner. My date Tuesday night was a total wash, the guy forgot to mention in his dating profile that he was half angel and half asshole. It was so bad I dumped a bowl of rigatoni over his head and some of the sauce and a couple of ziti tubes hit the guy at the table next to us. Which is how I met Blake. Anyway, we went to dinner on Tuesday because I didn’t get to eat my ziti, then we went to a movie Wednesday night, and last night he came to a coven meeting with me.” Janet told us excitedly.

“Great, and when did you get engaged?” I asked, tying not to sound skeptical.

“This morning over coffee,” she said. I really wanted to ask her if she was out of her mind, but I was able to refrain myself from letting it pop out. “He’s coming by this afternoon to take me to lunch and I hope all of you can meet him, especially you Remiel.”

“I don’t mettle in affairs of the heart,” Remiel told her. “If he’s a con man or something, you won’t appreciate me telling you that he is.”

“He’s a lawyer,” Jerome said whimsically.

“He’s not a con man, I just want to make sure he doesn’t have like a wife and kids somewhere that he’s hiding.” Janet told him.

“How am I supposed to ask your boyfriend if he’s married?” Remiel asked.

“You can just poke around in his mind and find out.” Janet replied.

“No, I can’t. I can only see things on the surface of the mind. If he’s not thinking about having a wife and kids, I won’t see that he does even if he has ten wives and eighty kids.” Remiel told her.

“Well, we have a couple of hours, I’ll figure something out. Now, staff meeting?” Janet said taking a seat. She sat for about five seconds before getting up and getting back up and starting a cup of coffee. Remiel intervened and took over because the fancy coffee machine was his toy. There were all sorts of unanswerable questions about why he’d bought the hulking complicated thing that would have been more appropriate at a coffee shop than in our kitchenette, since he rarely drank coffee in any way other than black and we kept a regular coffee pot for that. It dawned on me after watching him about ten seconds that he was making Janet his new signature drink. He handed it to her in a biodegradable paper disposable cup.

“I bought the empty space next door. I’d like to make it a workshop, archive, and office space for Jerome. You’ve said your apartment is too small for a really good potions workshop and Jerome is expanding his potion making skills, so I figured we could put you two a workshop in there to share. I might also put in a small display case and if you guys want to sell potions that are relevant to what we do, you could.”

“So, Soleil agreed to the provisional certificate?” Janet asked and I tried not to let my mouth fall open.

“Did you discuss this with everyone before you brought it to me?” I asked.

“Yes,” Jerome answered. “Since I’m not part of a coven, I have to have a sponsor who will monitor my potion making and make sure I don’t make anything toxic or illegal. That would be the job of Janet and Remiel.”

“Remiel?” I asked.

“I’m not part of a coven, but I am part of a host.” Jerome nodded. “Someone from my host has to agree to monitor me and it can’t be my parent, as well as a qualified witch or wizard. Janet is qualified, she even has an advanced potions degree. And since I want to work here over the summer, it makes sense to use Janet and Remiel as my monitors.”

“Well,” I said, not sure how I felt. “Can I have a day or two to think about it? I’m willing to let you get your provisional certificate and I’m willing to hire you as an intern or trainee over the summer.” I said wondering how I wanted to word the last bit.

“But she doesn’t want you to think you have to become an adult today or tomorrow or even next year or in five years.” Helia said for me and I nodded.

“I know,” Jerome said. “Everyone is always telling me to enjoy being young, but when have I ever been young? Remiel is younger than me in many ways.”

“Did he tell you to say that?” I asked.

“No, but he’s not wrong. Everyone in this room is physically older than Jerome, but few of us have his wisdom or connection to magic or his maturity. None of us have faced as many hardships and losses that force us to mature, as Jerome has and because of it, there are times when Jerome is the most mature of us, even though we are all older than him.” Remiel said. I looked at Jerome. They were both right. There were times I looked at Jerome with my uncles or even my father and realized that Jerome was in some ways more mature than they were. Jerome’s life had been altered by black magic while he was in the womb. Since then, it hadn’t gotten easier or simpler. And all I had done was take him away from his tiny apartment and allowed his mom to not work two jobs to ensure the kid got enough to eat during the last year of her life. Now, with his soul aching to help anyone and everyone he could, I was standing in the way because I wanted him to enjoy being a teenager. But I knew, my uncles and father were happier now than they had been when they were youths. They had years of experience to draw on to help them realize what they wanted, what was truly important, and to understand how much of themselves was available to give to the world before it started to make them miserable. As an immortal, there was time for Jerome to go on dates, get kisses from girls, and play video games. If he wanted to make potions that he thought could help people, he needed to learn how much of himself he could give before it made him miserable and it was better to learn it while he was young than after he had a wife and kids that needed him. I sighed, wondering if any of those thoughts had made sense. I’d read a parenting book while Valerie was alive and she’d laughed at me and told me the best parents followed their hearts and Jerome wasn’t a normal teen, he wouldn’t fit into any of those teen types in my book. For the first time, I realized she had been completely correct. Most teens were selfish, self-centered, difficult, moody, and well teens. Jerome was not any of those things. Jerome felt guilty if I had to buy him new shoes because his shoes were incredibly expensive. Jerome felt bad for snacking all the time, even though both supernatural teens and human teens snacked a great deal because their bodies were growing. Jerome agonized over buying gifts because he always wanted to get someone the absolute perfect gift because he knew what it would mean to them. I’d had to force him to put something other than clothes and notebooks on his Christmas Wishlist the last three years and he refused to add any details about the kind of notebooks he preferred because they were more expensive and he didn’t think he should be picky, since a notebook was a notebook. But in his case, that wasn’t true. The nicer notebooks would last longer on his bookshelves so he could use them as references longer without the pages falling out or getting moldy because they couldn’t be in a controlled environment with the cheap biodegradable covers.

“Like I said, I agree to let you do what you need to do to get the provisional certificate, and I have no problems hiring you when you aren’t in school. But anything beyond that, I want time to think about.” I told him again and let go of his hand.

“That works for me,” Jerome grinned from ear to ear. And because he wasn’t like most teens, he’d drop the commercialization and human consumption stuff until I brought it up again. “I’d like to look at those books about time spells and time slips.” He said a few heartbeats later. “If someone is trying to mess with time, yesterday will definitely not be a onetime incident.”

“Who’s trying to mess with time?” Janet asked.

“We don’t know,” Jerome answered. “But I get the feeling it’s going to be a big problem.”

“I must have missed something. What happened yesterday?” We told her about the events at Busch Stadium and in the parking garage. We adjourned the staff meeting so I could meet with my first client of the day, a potential exorcism. Janet had a client that needed a hex removed. Remiel was going to be interviewing someone about their missing spouse. Jerome asked what he should do and Remiel had him follow him to his office and gave him a stack of books.

“You can use my office,” I told him. Then I sneezed and Dantalian was standing in our waiting room in a mostly corporeal body. It was a shock for all of us, even Dantalian. He stared at me.

“Well?” The demon huffed. “Usually when you summon me, it’s bad. What’s wrong now? Did Beelzebub escape again? I can’t tell you where he is because I didn’t know about it until just now.”

“I don’t think Beelzebub escaped the Stygian again,” I said. Blinking at him.

“I have a body,” he said touching his chest which was bare. “Did you summon me because you’re lonely? You’ve never done that before.”

“I sneezed.” I told him.

“You summoned me because you sneezed? Do you think demons run around with handkerchiefs?”

“I didn’t summon you because I sneezed, somehow my sneeze summoned you.” I snapped at the incubus and then looked at the clock over the reception desk. We had maybe fifteen minutes before clients would start arriving and I had summoned a demon. The problem wasn’t actually the demon, I could get rid of him with no problem, it was how I’d summoned him that bothered me and prevented me for sending him right back across the divide.

“You did that a few times as a kid,” Remiel suddenly said. “So, how’s it hanging Dantalian? Anything new happening with BEDR or in the Stygian that we should know about?”

“I try not to associate with those nutcases. But now that you mention it, they have been surprisingly quiet as of late. Usually, my sire’s demonlings are constantly popping back and forth because of BEDR, but lately they’ve been disconcertingly stationary. Maybe they found something else to do.” BEDR stood for Beings for Demon Rights. Their core philosophy was that demons were just misunderstood, and we should welcome and accept them into society. They were half right, demons were misunderstood. However, they could not be welcomed into our society, we wouldn’t like it, and neither would demons. Demons drew power from fear. If they are working regular day jobs, joining bowling leagues, and hanging out at the bars, people were going to stop being afraid of them and they’d be powerless. Which would require every demon to run amok and cause mayhem, death, and destruction just to retain trace amounts of power. It was a lose/lose situation. Their lack of constant presence in this reality and being misunderstood ensured most people were afraid of them and fear crossed the Stygian Divide just fine. As long as they were able to visit once in a while, they’d continue to get power and living beings seemed more than willing to help them visit from time to time whether it be a practical joke or a night with a bottle of wine and Ouija board.

“You’ve gotten taller,” I said to Dantalian. “Are you sure it was my magic that summoned you?”

“Yes,” Dantalian snipped. “I know your magic when I feel it. No doubt when I get back Belial will be trying to bust his way into Ashtaroth’s territory to question me about why you summoned me.”

“He needs a new hobby,” I said. “Okay, sorry to have bothered you, I don’t know what happened.”

“Uh, Soleil,” Dantalian stopped. He rarely used my name preferring to call me just Exorcist. “We should have a few words in private.”

“Uh, no,” I answered.

“Well, see, I don’t think I should tell everyone what I need to tell you.” He became serious. It was something I’d never seen in Dantalian before. He was flirty, dirty, and sometimes charming, but he didn’t do serious.

“It’s fine, as long as it isn’t sexual,” I told him, giving him a warning glare.

“Hm, well, this is tricky.” He turned his gaze to the room for the first time. “Oh, well maybe not. It might not be just you that has the problem. Soleil, you’ve been touched by black magic recently, I can see it on your soul. So has Remiel and Jerome.”

“We encountered a time slip spell of some sort yesterday,” I told the demon. “They were with me. Touched by it how?”

“I think someone tried to kill you.” Dantalian blurted out. “I mean it may not have been meant for you specifically, they may have just been trying to kill anyone, that would explain why it touched the other two if you were in really physically close at the time.”

“We encountered a time slip spell,” I repeated to the demon.

“That could do it. A time slip can erase your birth or speed up your death by aging you.” Dantalian said.

“Why would someone want to kill someone that way?” I asked.

“Who knows.” Dantalian shrugged. “Your magic may be wonky for a few days though. All of you. Anytime black magic touches non-black magic inside a person, it can make things weird for a short time.”

“Thanks,” I told the demon.

“You are welcome,” he nearly purred back, and I sent him back to the Stygian.

“We definitely need to learn more about time slips.” I looked at Remiel. “You are the oldest person in the room, wasn’t there a time when time slip spells were common?”

“No, it has always been forbidden to mess with time.” Remiel answered. “You don’t seem to understand, really bad things happen when people cast spells that mess with time. Bad and unexpected things.”

“Like sneezes conjuring demons,” I said.

“Much worse,” Remiel said. “I’ve never experienced it firsthand but messing with time has caused psychotic breaks from reality before as well as damaging people who are just innocent bystanders. Coupling that with death spells is insane. Even the worst people in history wouldn’t have done it.” Jerome gave my uncle a look, but I already knew he’d just told me a lie.

“I don’t even need to be a mind reader to know that’s not true,” I said.

“Yes, well, The Banished One was all about everything dark and evil, of course he would try to mess with time and cast death spells at the same time.” Remiel said sheepishly.

“Azazael,” I said.

“He was a cambion, it makes sense he could draw power from fear,” Jerome said. I nodded. “Anyone else mess with time that you can think of that is still alive?”

“No,” Remiel said. “Messing with time is basically signing your own death certificate. It might be okay the first time or the second, but eventually it’s going to backfire and if it doesn’t kill you, you’ll wish you were dead.” A man in a suit suddenly entered our offices. His suit was wrinkled, his face heavily lined, he smelled of stale coffee and sweat. It took me about three seconds to realize he was a police detective. Except, I was pretty sure we weren’t expecting any police detectives today. I looked at Helia and then Remiel. They were both giving neutral bland smiles that didn’t touch their eyes.

“Welcome to Angel Investigations,” Helia said suddenly.

“I’m Detective Barclay Maupin, I was hoping to talk to Remiel the Archangel about a case.” I tried to smile and failed. He had a ring around his iris, marking him as half human, but what the supernatural element was, I couldn’t even begin to guess. Hell, if it hadn’t been for his eyes, I wouldn’t have guessed him for human or supernatural. He didn’t seem comfortable in his own skin, sometimes it happened when a person was possessed, it was as if the demon couldn’t figure out how the body worked. But this guy wasn’t demonically possessed. I’d given up on reading auras ages ago. I’d been fooled by a few on a case in Chicago, so now I ignored them as best I could. Not that his would have given me any clues, it was basically like every other cop aura I’d ever encountered.

“I have an appointment soon, but I could give you a few minutes. Do you have a missing person you need me to help you find? Or is it a magical crime case?” Remiel asked leading the detective down the hall. A knot had formed in my stomach. The death spell hadn’t been aimed at me, it had been generic, trying to kill anyone. It had touched me, it had also touched Jerome, and Remiel, both of whom were in the parking garage with me when we started aging.

“Let’s go look,” Jerome said. I took some of the books from his stack and we carried them into my office.

“Helia, see if you can reschedule my first appointment.” I said as they walked in the door. “Never mind.” I said. “You start looking, I’ll be as quick as I can.” I told Jerome. “Janet may I use your office for a moment?” A conference room would be nice. As I started that direction Janet’s first appointment of the day walked in. I muttered never mind to her. Yes, a little more space might come in handy.

“We’re here to see…” the woman started to say to Helia.

“Yes, your husband is possessed by an incubus,” I blurted out. “I can do an exorcism; it will take about four minutes. Follow me, we’re having a space issue today, so we’ll have to do it in our break room, unless you would prefer your husband remain possessed until later in the day.”

“Uh, no,” the woman blushed. “He’s like a dog that needs to be fixed. He tried to mount my sister a couple of days ago.”

“Ah, yes, I see. This way.” I ushered her and her possessed husband into the breakroom. “I am really sorry about this, normally we are completely professional, but I get the impression you really want this demon gone. And I think I am about to become very busy for the rest of the day, which I didn’t expect.”

“Is there a problem?” The woman asked.

“Uh, did you hear about the parking garage melting and the ghosts invading Busch Stadium yesterday?”

“Yes, you’d have to live on another planet to not hear about it.” The woman gave a weak smile as I pushed her husband into one of the chairs at the little table.

“I was there. A detective just showed up to ask questions about the incident and I know when detectives who don’t work in magical crimes, come asking questions about a magical crime it takes a long time to explain.” I said.

“Oh, tell me about it. I’m a school nurse and one of our students, a human came down with Magic Pox. There’s an outbreak at all the schools right now, I spent three hours trying to explain magic pox to human parents. I finally had to tell them I had seen enough cases of magic pox to know it when I see it, and if they didn’t want to quarantine the child while awaiting the removal of the hex, I would have to report it to child services, which took even longer to explain to them.” She rolled her eyes.

“And that was probably after their kid’s school sent out detailed letters explaining Magic Pox, the quarantine procedure, and how to find someone to remove the hex.” I smiled. “I got one of those letters from my son’s school. I was surprised by the amount of detail it gave me about magic pox.”

“Yes, now can you tell how my husband became possessed?” She asked.

“Maybe,” I gave a small shrug. “What does your husband do for a living?”

“He teaches Latin,” she said. For the first time I realized she was half supernatural. Jerome came into the room to get something. I frowned at him.

“Mr. Barn-Nagal?” He asked, looking at the man. He blinked. “I am so sorry; I just came in to get some juice.”

“Your son?” The woman asked me.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Jerome,” Mr. Barn-Nagal said. “Dolly! This is the kid! This is the kid I told you about! This is the most powerful wizard I have ever had the pleasure of teaching! How are you my boy?” Mr. Barn-Nagal stood up and began shaking Jerome’s hand.

“You finally told your wife?” Jerome asked.

“Yes, but she doesn’t believe me about how.” Mr. Barn-Nagal sighed.

“Back up, I am currently really confused,” I said. “Why doesn’t everyone have a seat. We can discuss this and then…” I trailed off. “Jerome is this your Latin Teacher?”

“No, he was my Latin teacher last year,” Jerome answered.

“When you were out of school that day in December didn’t you tell me, some kids played a prank on one of the Latin teachers, but nothing seemed to happen?” I asked Jerome.

“Yeah, Betsy told me Leon and Art, changed some of the words in their homework as a joke and that it would cast a very impressive spell when he read them out loud to the class. Then Betsy told me nothing happened.” Jerome said. “So, I forgot about it until a few weeks ago, when I saw Mr. Barn-Nagal in the hallway. When he walked past me, I realized he was possessed, but I didn’t have time to do an exorcism, so I told him to tell his wife, so she could make sure he got one. I thought he’d taken care of it. I was going to tell Principal Grace, but…”

“But every time you go to talk to Principal Grace, the secretary stands right outside the door and eavesdrops.” I finished for him. The main secretary at Jerome’s school hates me and by extension Jerome because she is convinced, I used magic to steal Valerie’s son and then killed her. Twice child protective services have done surprise house calls to see if I am having an inappropriate relationship with Jerome. The first time, Valerie had still been alive, and she had yelled at them to the point they had been pretty embarrassed when they had to come back. The second time, Valerie wasn’t there to defend her decision to have me adopt Jerome and it had gotten ugly.

“Yes, and I was worried if she heard me tell Principal Grace about the possession, she’d start rumors or worse, have him fired.” Jerome admitted, looking down at his hands.

“This really happened because you gave two students Ds?” Mrs. Barn-Nagal asked.

“Leon’s father is a director on the school’s board. As a result, Leon does whatever he wants, like start a plague of Magic Pox.” Jerome said. “Art is Leon’s follower. I used to think they were friends, but I have since realized Art has more magic than Leon and Art is a little troubled. Leon pretends to be Art’s friend so Art will help him cast more complex magic spells. And it is virtually impossible to get either of them in trouble.” Jerome said.

“Wanna bet?” I asked. I pulled out my cell phone. “Mr. Barn-Nagal do you still have that homework assignment?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said very quietly.

“Great, is it at home or at the school?” I asked.

“Home,” he replied.

“Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to exorcise your husband now. It won’t look impressive, there won’t be any music or popping noises and the lights won’t flicker and he won’t change much, but afterwards, you’ll know the demon is gone simply because you’ll have your husband back. Then you are both going to drive home and get that homework assignment and bring it back to me. And while you’re gone, I’m going to have my billing agent create a giant bill for this exorcism, nearly triple my regular fee. But the bill isn’t for you guys, so don’t worry about it. I just want you to be prepared for me to tell someone it is a lot more expensive than what I originally told you it was. Can you do that for me?” I asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Barn-Nagal nodded. His wife looked bewildered and unsure. But I was kind of expecting that. I stood up and put my hands on the small teacher’s shoulders. The demon in him was itty bitty, possibly Mr. Barn-Nagal hadn’t known he was possessed until Jerome told him, because this demon was on his first possession. After Jerome told him, he became afraid and the demon gained some power, but it was still a demonling and didn’t know what it was doing. Then because I was sure his wife didn’t quite believe her husband had tried to hump her sister because he was possessed, I grabbed the demon and plucked it from Mr. Barn-Nagal and threw it on the table. It was less than a foot tall and probably it had been about half a foot tall before Jerome told Mr. Barn-Nagal he was possessed. Mrs. Barn-Nagal looked at the demonling and fainted.

“Oh, thank god!” Mr. Barn-Nagal shouted jumping from his seat. “I have been trying to do that for weeks! Hallelujah! I felt awful for months because of that! It’s a lot smaller than I expected.” He said his voice dropping a little.

“My guess the boys didn’t write the spell exactly right and as a result a demonling, a baby demon possessed you. They can make you feel terrible, like you have mono or something, but they aren’t powerful and can’t do much until they grow a little bit and that requires fear, but you weren’t afraid, just depressed because you thought you were sick, not possessed.” I said.

“You can bet I am gonna find a way to whammy those boys!” Mr. Barn-Nagal said. He was livelier than I had expected, especially from a Latin teacher.

“You are going to bring me that homework and I am gonna help your whammy them,” I smiled at him and he grabbed Jerome and gave him a big hug.

“Thank you so much!” He said to Jerome. “I am so glad you put your mom’s card in my pocket and my wife found it. I feel great! I want a steak and a milkshake and a giant bucket of French fries!”

“Hmph,” Mrs. Barn-Nagal gave a small groan and lifted her head off the table. “What happened?” I sent the demonling back across the divide.

“She did it! Jerome’s mom got rid of the demon! Let’s go Dolly! We have to get that homework and bring it back to her! It’s amazing!”

“Bob,” Mrs. Barn-Nagal said.

“I want to get a triple cheeseburger from somewhere on the way home. I’ll eat it in the car and a double order of large French fries and let’s go somewhere with milkshakes.” Bob was saying as he took hold of his wife’s arm. Dolly smiled for the first time since entering the office. “I feel great! I didn’t know a demon could make you feel ill. Especially a little demon like that.”

“He seems more like himself,” Jerome said to me. “He’s always very exuberant in the hallways and in class. Most students really like him, because he makes learning Latin kind of fun and since it’s a pretty boring and difficult language.”

“I can see that. He was very subdued when he came in.” I said.

“Yeah, that’s what he was like the day I passed him in the hallway.”

“I guess it’s a good thing you gave him my card.” I said. “I didn’t know you carried my card around.”

“I am in school with a bunch of witches and wizards, possessions happen regularly.” Jerome smiled.

“Well, I have to call Principal Grace,” I said.

“That is not going to be a fun call,” Jerome said.

“I don’t know, it has potential.” I smiled at him. “Go grab your new books and take over studying in the breakroom for a while. I’m going to need you here when Principal Grace shows up. What is Leon’s father’s name again?”

“Quinn Vanders.” Jerome said.

“Oh yeah, I remember that smug jackass. This is going to be fun.” I called Principal Grace first and explained the situation. I told her the homework was already in my possession and I needed Quinn Vanders phone number. I also told her, I was going to be turning the matter over to the police and that there was already a detective at my office. Then I gave the phone to Jerome and had him explain why he hadn’t told Principal Grace about the possession.“ They talked calmly for a few minutes then Jerome hung up and I called Quinn Vanders. A secretary answered the phone and explained to me that Mr. Vanders was in an important meeting all day and couldn’t be disturbed, so I explained to her why I was calling. I gave her my name, number, and the address of my office. Sixteen minutes later a goon showed up at my office. I couldn’t think of another way to describe him, he was hulking and probably part troll. He demanded Helia turn over the homework to him. He also demanded all the office files. Helia frowned at him and told him she had no idea what he was talking about. He made the demand again. She handed him the invoice I’d asked her to make up. He snarled at it and ate it.

“Where is the fucking homework!” He bellowed at Helia. Helia continued to smile at him sweetly. She had worked at the courthouse in traffic fines for years, a troll demanding homework was no big deal. “Mr. Vanders told me to get that homework and all the files linked to his son and the possession!” The troll bellowed again. Helia shrugged at him and told him she didn’t know what he was talking about, but she was expecting him to pick up a bill for Mr. Vanders related to a demonic possession. She printed another copy of the invoice and handed it to the troll, who ate it again. She printed another copy. He picked up the printer and threw it through the wall that separated reception from Remiel’s office.

Detective Maupin came running out, gun drawn, Remiel on his heels. The troll swore again and demanded the homework.

“I said stop!” Detective Maupin shouted. The troll grabbed one of the chairs in the waiting area and chucked it at my sister. I casted a spell before I even thought about it and the troll fell in a heap on the floor. Detective Maupin ran over and handcuffed him and called for backup. Jerome came out of the breakroom.

“You alright?” He asked. I nodded. “That’s going to be hard to explain.” Jerome said.

“Would someone like to explain why the fuck a troll is tearing up your office looking for his homework?” Detective Maupin asked me.

“Sure, I’ll explain when he’s out of here.” I told the detective. “Was Uncle Remiel helpful?”

“Maybe,” Detective Maupin shrugged. “He says I probably need to talk to you, and someone named Jerome.”

“That’s me,” Jerome said.

“Oh,” Detective Maupin’s face fell a little bit. “Fine, we’ll deal with one mess at a time. The troll?”

“The case?” I asked and opened my office door. He sighed and went inside. Jerome and I followed. I explained about the exorcism of Mr. Barn-Nagal with Jerome occasionally breaking in and adding the bits about school and the rumors about the kids. Then I told him about calling Principal Grace and Quinn Vanders. At which point, I admitted I had expected Mr. Vanders to send someone to try to buy the homework from me, not trash the place. Then I gave him the video from the six cameras in our small waiting room, the one from the hall, and the one from Remiel’s office.

“Were you intending to sell him the homework?” Detective Maupin asked.

“No, I was going to get it on camera that he had offered to buy it from me and if you hadn’t already been here, I would have called the police before calling Principal Grace or Quinn Vanders. But you were here, so I figured a call would be redundant.” I pointed out.

“I see.” Detective Maupin nodded. “If his family’s rich, he’ll probably just get community service for the possession spell and his lawyer will incompetence and say they didn’t know it would cause possession.”

“I know. But maybe he’ll stick to less dangerous practical jokes from now on.” I said.

“I hate to do this, but I’m going to need to see your provisional wizard’s certificate. You just admitted to being in ninth grade.”

“I don’t have it yet. I don’t work here, I’m here because my mom didn’t want to leave me home all day after the incident at Busch Stadium last night.” Jerome said.

“Where’s your mom?” Detective Maupin asked. “I take it she works here, if you are here.”

“Jerome came in with me,” I said. Even though Jerome had used the word mom, I was careful not to, because he had never called me his mom before.

“I’m going to need to speak with his mom or dad.” Detective Maupin said. “Wizards his age can go to work with a parent, without a provisional certificate, but…” He shrugged.

“Soleil is my mom.” Jerome said and I looked up at him.

“She’s your mom?” Detective Maupin pursed his lips together.

“I’m his adopted mom. Unfortunately, Jerome’s father was murdered before he was born, and his mom got cancer some years ago. We lost her a year and a half ago, but before she passed, she made sure we had at least started the adoption process.”

“I’m sorry,” Detective Maupin said, and I could tell he meant it, as well as understanding why I hadn’t just automatically called myself Jerome’s mom. “Well, I have a few pictures I’d like to show you Mrs.?”

“Miss Burns,” I said.

“But they are gruesome. I also have some questions for you about the going to the baseball game.” The detective said and looked at Jerome.

“Jerome knows more about magic and death than you and I combined,” I nodded. “If you think the person was killed with magic, Jerome may look if he wants. Secretly, I’m hoping he won’t, but Jerome isn’t your average kid, and he will probably be more help than me.” I said.

“Uh, well,” Detective Maupin pulled a couple of photos out of his jacket.

“Sometimes, if you are thinking something hard enough, I can read minds,” Jerome suddenly said. Detective Maupin blushed. “And I’m a mimic.”

“From what we can tell, Jerome is the most powerful wizard ever born.” I told the detective.

“Yes, that’s why my mom wanted to make sure I was with a family that would love me as their own, before she passed away.” Jerome said. “She was worried about me growing up feeling alone, unloved, and becoming bitter and angry with the world. When she realized Soleil and her family loved me like their own, she wanted nothing to happen to prevent Soleil, who is single from being able to get custody of me. So, my mom started the adoption process while she was alive, because it would prove that even though Soleil was not my blood kin, my mom wanted me to be raised by her.”

“Oh, I am so sorry,” Detective Maupin blushed harder. “It must be difficult to keep presents a surprise with him around.”

“It can be, you learn how to live with it. However, as I said, Jerome intuitively understands magic in ways no one else does. If you have a murder you think is related to magic, Jerome can probably confirm it, even if he doesn’t look at the pictures. I will look at them and he will know what is in them and he will tell me things I didn’t notice about them. So, you might as well let him look.”

“Which is why he said not yet on the provisional certificate.” Detective Maupin said and put the photos on my desk.

“Did you take these?” Jerome asked.

“No,” Detective Maupin said.

“But you are part angel,” Jerome said. Detective Maupin looked surprised and confused. “I can feel it. You’re also part were, I’m not sure what kind of were, but a were. One of your parents was half were and the other was full angel.”

“Yes,” Detective Maupin nodded. Jerome moved one of the photos.

“This person died in the parking garage that melted, where the amplifier was,” Jerome said.

“Yes, did you see them inside of the structure before the fire?”

“No, I didn’t feel them either. Neither did Angel. They were dead before we entered.” Jerome picked up the last picture, a closeup of a face.

“You feel living people?” Detective Maupin asked and we both looked at him confused for a second.

“Oh, no, sorry, Angel is our hell hound.” I said.

“Your hell hound?”

“Yes, a gift from the hell prince Leviathan. He thought Jerome and I needed a dog, so he sent us a hell hound.” I said.

“This person died of old age,” Jerome said. “The amplifier was drawing in magic to cast a spell that did something with time. I haven’t had time to research it yet though. That’s why I’m here. Remiel has some really old books and he brought them in for Soleil and me. Well, mostly me. Soleil is an archangel of limited talents.”

“And Jerome does not have those limits,” Remiel said.

“He’s also not an archangel. I would have read about it in the Cherubim News. I did read about Soleil and Helia Burns proving themselves as archangels.” Detective Maupin said.

“Eventually, you will. There’s a lot of red tape. But Jerome is a very powerful wizard with enough angel genes to be part of a host, that should be enough to get him the designation as an archangel.”

“Who gave him his angel genes? You said both his parents were dead.”

“They are. Explaining how he got them is complicated, but about twenty percent of his genome is angelic. Last year, he joined a host instead of a coven. I am working to get him designated as an archangel.” Remiel said.

“Wow,” Detective Maupin said. I nodded.

“Let us research time spells and get back to you on why someone aged this man to death.” Jerome said.

“Oh, well, oh.” Detective Maupin frowned.

“If anyone can find the answer to why someone casted a very powerful time spell near Busch Stadium on the opening day of baseball, it’s Jerome.” Remiel said. “I suspect when the AESPCA told you to ask me, they expected me to turn to Jerome.”

“Really?” Detective Maupin raised an eyebrow.

“He is incredibly powerful, the AESPCA knows all about him.” Remiel said. “They were kind of keeping tabs on him before he and Soleil accidentally crossed paths.”

“Are you sure it was an accident?”

“Yes, I was on an exorcism case and Jerome was a witness. I instantly felt like I had known him and his mom all my life. Valerie and I became as close as sisters in a single week.” My eyes filled with tears and the room became blurry. “Sorry.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow, if I can.” Jerome said.

“Sure,” the Detective looked at him and then wrinkled his forehead. “Without a certificate, I can’t actually use you as a consultant.”

“Fine, I’ll read up on it and tell Remiel and he can call you,” Jerome told him. He nodded once.

“I will also help you with your intentional possession case,” Detective Maupin said.

“Good, this time it was a demonling, next time it could be a full-grown demon or worse and someone could get really hurt, emotionally and physically.” I said.

Chapter 8 Eight

We were all discussing where to order lunch from after a full morning of exorcisms, police officers, and Magic Pox hexes, when a tall skeletal figure dressed in a black suit with a purple dress shirt and a black tie walked into the waiting room. He didn’t look happy to be there. He had a silver tie tack in the shape of a moon with a fleur de lis in it. The fleur de lis was in purple enamel. I checked his feet and sure enough the socks were purple, and the shoes were black. I sighed. Remiel sighed. Everyone else stared at him.

“Does our business license allow us to cover fines for employees?” I asked Helia.

“I think it depends on the fine.” Helia answered.

“That is incredibly cynical.” The black and purple skeleton said.

“The AESPCA issued me a fine when someone used Stygian Fire to burn down my house,” I said. “Excuse me if I’m not thrilled to see you.”

“The AESPCA issued you a fine because a hell hound in your possession suffered an injury.” The skeleton replied. “If you can’t take proper care of magical animals, you shouldn’t have them.”

“An arsonist burned down our house with Stygian Fire when we weren’t home.” I said. “What did I do now?” I asked with a sigh.

“As far as I know, nothing.” The skeleton man replied. “I am here to see Remiel the Archangel.”

“What do you think I did?” Remiel said.

“This is a private matter and certainly not a matter for a child that should be at school learning how to control his magic.” The AESPCA Enforcer said.

“There is nothing you have to say to me, that you can’t say in front of my family, even my nephew, who for your information has magic pox.” Remiel said.

“He doesn’t look like he has magic pox.” The enforcer said.

“We have a witch on staff.” Remiel snapped at him. “Why make the boy suffer for days when we can bring him in and immediately get the hex removed.”

“I want to talk to you about a murder, Remiel.” The enforcer replied.

“You’re the second person today,” Remiel answered.

“Who else came to talk to you about this murder?” The enforcer asked, suspicious.

“A detective left about an hour ago, he wanted to find out how a supernatural could die of old age.” Remiel said.

“That’s a different case. I have no interest in it. The AESPCA believes a forbidden spell was used in St. Louis yesterday, at the same time, a murder was committed. We want to talk to you about that murder.”

“You can talk to all of us about it because what you are thinking is wrong. Soleil Burns was with me at Busch Stadium when the forbidden time spell was used. Before that she was at lunch with her father, myself, and Jerome. It was opening day for baseball, we were not going to miss that game, until we encountered the amplifier. Considering what you think happened, Soleil will be of assistance to you, because you need a new suspect.” Remiel told him flatly and I could tell my uncle was trying not to yell. Jerome paled and stepped closer to me. The knot in my stomach returned. Helia and Janet looked confused. But I had just heard my uncle give me an alibi. This guy was here because he thought I had murdered someone yesterday. Remiel and Jerome had both read it in his thoughts.

“Last year, in a fit of anger, she intentionally possessed two people in view of witnesses, including police officers.” The enforcer said.

“Woah, wait. That’s true, I did do that. The people I forced to become possessed had just cut off my niece’s wings with a fucking hacksaw. I was very careful even though I was angry to not force a powerful demon in either of them or I set a time limit on it, long enough for them to understand what it felt like to be violated, but not long enough to do significant damage to their souls if they have them.”

“Inspector, I can assure you, Soleil wouldn’t murder anyone,” Janet said.

“I’m not an inspector,” the man said. I looked at Janet. She blinked twice.

“He’s an enforcer. He’s here to arrest me.” I told her. Her mouth fell open.

“But she couldn’t have committed the murder, she was with people the entire time.” Helia said.

“That’s what the time spell was for.” The enforcer said. “By casting a time spell, she was able to be in two places at once.”

“That’s crazy,” I said. “I don’t know how to stir a cup of coffee with magic and you think I can do time spells?”

“I think Remiel and Jerome helped you,” the enforcer said. “They have both been tainted by black magic recently.”

“Yes, from the amplifier that was casting the time spell.” Jerome said. “It killed someone in that parking garage and forced Remiel and Soleil to age. That’s why our hell hound Angel melted it.” Jerome told him.

“There were dozens of people there that interacted with Soleil. If she had used a time spell to split herself to be in two places at once, someone would have noticed.” Janet said. “Also, as a member of the AESPCA you should know what Soleil can and cannot do. And she can’t do time spells or split her soul in two to be in two places at once.”

“Hence why she needed the amplifier.”

“Dude, you are clueless.” Janet said. “Soleil is the most disappointing archangel ever. Literally the only thing she is good at is exorcising demons.”

“And summoning them,” the enforcer said. “Yesterday, at 3:59 pm, she separated her soul in two, used a time spell to distract everyone so they wouldn’t notice, and slipped away to commit a murder by summoning the hell prince Belial.” I shivered at the name.

“Didn’t happen,” Helia said. “I had joined them by 3:59 pm yesterday and the amplifier had been running for a while.”

“If you’re so convinced, she did this, then who did she kill?” Remiel asked.

“James William Fitzpatrick.” The enforcer said.

“Who?” I asked.

“James William Fitzpatrick.”

“I don’t know him.” I said.

“Which makes it even worse that you killed him.” The enforcer said.

“I didn’t kill him.” I said. “I have trouble stepping on insects to kill them, I certainly am not going around killing people. Especially, using Belial.” I felt my nose wrinkle when I said his name. “Belial wants to possess my soul, I am not willingly summoning him for any reason, and I definitely wouldn’t put my soul in debt to him. I don’t know why you think I did this, but you’re wrong.”

“Miss Burns, please sit down. I’m going to talk to Remiel the Archangel and then, I will talk to you. There are enforcers all over the building and in the parking lot. We’ve also put up a magical barrier, so don’t even think about running.” The enforcer said to me. I sat down. Remiel and the enforcer went into my office, since Remiel’s was going to need some new drywall. Jerome came and sat next to me. Helia was on the phone. Janet sat on the other side of me.

“We’ll sort this out, Soleil.” She said reassuringly.

“What do you know?” I asked Jerome.

“I know that man hates you. I don’t know why though. Victim James Fitzpatrick was found chewed up in his apartment by his girlfriend last night. All the clocks in the house had stopped at 4:01. Belial’s sigil was in several places around the apartment. The neighbors reported seeing an angel with red wings walk into Fitzpatrick’s apartment, then they heard shouting as if two people were having a fight, then the entire building began to smell of sulfur. There was a lot of noise, things breaking and whatnot, and then nothing.”

“Was it a big apartment?” I asked.

“No,” Jerome said.

“Then it wasn’t Belial that came to do the killing. Belial wouldn’t fit in an apartment.” I sighed. “What is the enforcer’s name?”

“Lance Grainger.”

“I thought he looked familiar,” Helia said. “He was in my grade at school. He’s a cherub, maybe, I remember he’s a member of one of the lesser choirs, but I don’t remember exactly which one.” I frowned at her. I thought putting angels in choirs was an archaic idea, it was basically just an acknowledgement of families. Helia and I had belonged to the choir of archangels because our father was Raphael, even before getting designated as archangels ourselves. Fan-fucking-tabulous. The enforcer they sent to haul me in, hated me and I didn’t know why.

Outside, it sounded like a car flipped over. Then there was a great deal of shouting and all the windows on that side of our office imploded, sending shards of glass whizzing past us.

“Did you call dad?” I asked Helia.

“Well, duh,” Helia replied. Without windows, I could understand the shouting. My father was yelling at someone, calling them morons. My mother suddenly appeared in the office doorway. My dad didn’t force my mom to fly very often, she was afraid of heights, but that was the only way they’d both gotten her so fast was if dad had flown mom here. I gave her a weak smile. A guy was tossed through the broken window and landed at my feet. A few seconds later, my father stepped over the small wall where the window had once been and entered my office. He was glowing and some of the feathers in his wings were quaking. My father only glows when he’s incredibly angry and I’d never seen him so angry his feathers shook. I felt sorry for whoever he was pissed at. Then I had a moment when I hoped he wasn’t that angry at me, surely, he didn’t think I had done something like commit murder.

Remiel and Lance Grainger ran out of my office. Raphael turned his eyes to Lance Grainger and I half expected him to turn into a pillar of dust or salt. Lance Grainger didn’t wither under Raphael’s gaze and it dawned on me that he might be stupid, which would explain why he thought I was summoning demons to kill people I didn’t know.

“Raphael, I take it your daughter called you.” Lance Grainger said with a smug smile.

“Does your superior know you’re here?” Raphael asked and the smile disappeared. “Helia call the AESPCA and tell them Lance Grainger put up a magical barrier around this building and that Enforcer Lance Grainger is here to arrest Soleil Burns and I want to know why.”

“That is a call you need to make,” Sophia said to Raphael. My father turned his eyes on my mother and some of the anger leaked away. The glowing stopped and he took one of her hands. A stillness and calm followed their touch. I considered standing up, but Remiel froze me in my seat with a look and I knew Lance Grainger was prepared to do whatever he had to do to take me into custody. Except face off against my father and possibly his supervisor at the AESPCA. I also didn’t say anything, but it was obvious Lance Grainger’s magical barrier sucked. However, it was better for me to appear harmless and not be a smart ass. We were all silent and didn’t move for several minutes that felt like hours. Then my father slowly walked over to my sister’s desk and picked up her phone. Lance Grainger told his men to pack up, they’d deal with their incompetence at headquarters. He was almost to the door when he suddenly stopped moving. I looked at Jerome and his eyes were wide. Then I saw it, my tiny mother had grabbed Lance Grainger’s arm and was holding him in place with an icy stare that rivaled my dad’s angry one.

“Nearly thirty years older, but still a bully, I see Lance.” My mother said very quietly.

“No, ma’am,” Lance replied, and I wasn’t sure if he was disagreeing that he was a bully or if he didn’t want her touching her. But his tone was completely different than it had been when he came into my office.

“No, you’re not still a bully?” Mom asked, cocking her head to the side. “You were able to get this job because Raphael and I told the school not to suspend you. I’m starting to think I made a mistake.”

“No, ma’am,” Lance said, and his voice was hoarse.

“Oh god, that’s right! You’re the creep that pulled down my pants in third grade!” Helia burst out. “And you hexed me with magic pox the following year!” Helia shouted at him and Raphael held up a hand for her to stop talking and sit back down. Lance had the grace to turn a little red at his ears, but I wasn’t sure if it was embarrassment or anger or both. I also wasn’t sure it mattered. He was obviously a bully. My father was speaking very calmly into the phone. It didn’t take long after my father hung up the phone for all of us to feel ripples of magic and a little old woman to appear in my office.

“Magda,” my mom said letting go of Lance Grainger. I didn’t know who Magda was, but Lance paled at her appearance.

“Oh fuck,” the little old woman who was shorter than my mom said. “I’m getting too old to travel like that.” She surveyed the office damage. “Did I do this?”

“No,” I told her. “Most of it happened when my father broke through Enforcer Grainger’s magic barrier.” She turned her eyes on Lance and if finally dawned on me, she was a witch and she was Lance’s direct supervisor.

“Enforcer Grainger, when you left my office, what course of action had we agreed on?”

“I was to come here and enlist the help of Remiel the Archangel. But when I arrived ma’am, I discovered Soleil Burns matched the description of the woman seen going into the apartment.”

“How so?” Magda asked.

“She has red wings, here and her sister both do.”

“Yes, they do.” Magda did something and a ghostly image of a man appeared in my office.

“I saw a woman go into William’s apartment, which was weird, because it wasn’t his girlfriend. I only saw her from the back. What I remember most was she had dark red wings coming out of her back.” The ghostly man said. “They looked like someone had glued feathers onto the wings of a feather. They looked very fake.”

“Does that sound like angel wings?” Magda asked Lance.

“No, ma’am, but she could have used a spell to make them appear that way. And the AESPCA has a thick file on Soleil, no one can summon a hell prince at will in St. Louis except Suspect Burns.”

“May I say something?” I asked the witch named Magda.

“Yes,” she told me.

“Jerome do you have that video still from the school last year where Belial appeared?” I asked him. He nodded. “Would you please show that video to everyone?” I asked. When Belial had appeared in a school the previous October, some kids had taken video of it and passed it around school. Someone Jerome had gotten a copy. Jerome did something with his phone, then handed it to Helia. They did some stuff together and then set up a projector on Helia’s desk. Helia clicked some keys on her keyboard and the video appeared on the wall from the projector they had pulled out.

In the video two teen girls were standing near an office door and giggling. There’s a loud pop immediately proceeded by the sound of things breaking, then screaming and behind one of the girls the hell prince, Belial is suddenly sitting. His head poking a hole in the ceiling, drywall and bricks were crumbling off the walls he’d touched when he appeared. The area Belial appears in is nearly twelve feet tall by twenty feet wide by fifteen feet long and he doesn’t fit in the space well. After about thirty seconds, a wall next to Belial gives out and a teacher can be seen running to it and casting magic to keep the school from collapsing.

“I’m sorry, but there is no way, you killer summoned Belial into an apartment without serious destruction of it. And according to what Remiel saw, that didn’t happen.” I said. My father looked at me.

“Remiel or Jerome?” Magda asked me.

“Ok, Jerome. It’s just not possible. The more powerful a demon, the bigger they are. Belial is huge and even his demon form on this plane, does significant damage to buildings if he’s summoned indoors. If Belial really is your killer, and that is unlikely for another reason, the only way he got into that apartment to kill, was taking possession of a person and entering it.”

“Why is unlikely a demon killed this person?” Magda asked and I wasn’t sure why she asked me. She was a powerful witch, she had to know.

“Dead people don’t generate fear.” I said. “If this person made a deal with Belial, Belial might have killed him to collect his soul faster than natural causes was allowing, but even that is rare. Demons are bound by their deals. And when beings make deals with hell princes it’s usually for longer lives and more power. If a hell prince breaks a deal with a soul, by say killing them, they can’t collect it and that drains some of their power.”

“The victim was a member of BEDR,” Magda said to me.

“Then he definitely didn’t make a deal with Belial. I think BEDR is a stupid organization and I admit that. But members of BEDR tend to feel alone and rejected by society. They make deals with Ashtaroth because they believe if they have the power of the lust on their side, they will find people to love them and they won’t be alone anymore. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between what an incubus or succubus can offer them and love. No hell prince would offer a deal guaranteeing love, because there’s no way for them to fulfill it, even Ashtaroth understands lust and love are very different things.”

“His killer took his heart,” Remiel said and Lance glared at him.

“Uh, okay, I’d like to point out something else obvious, demons don’t have any use for hearts. Souls, absolutely, but hearts no.” I said.

“Some potions do use hearts, but the dried hearts of a couple dozen earthworms work just as well as the dried heart of a human.” Janet said. “And it’s a lot easier to get earthworm hearts.” I blinked at her.

“I usually use cat hearts,” Jerome said. “Principal Grace gave me the information for the school’s supplier in the city that grows cat hearts outside of cats, they harvest them like giving a cat a haircut.”

“Can I get that info from you later?” Janet asked and Jerome nodded. Magda did some magic, and my office was fixed. The enforcers that had been outside were inside, sitting in my waiting room.

“Miss Burns, have you considered getting Jerome his provisional certificate?” Magda asked.

“I talked to Principal Grace about it today.” I said.

“Good,” Magda nodded. “Jerome can you think of a reason for a demon to take a heart?”

“No, ma’am, like Soleil said demons take souls, not hearts.”

“Has Soleil’s uncle asked you to research time spells for you yet?” Magda asked.

“Yes, ma’am he brought me in some books today.” I had expected Jerome to lie to her and was surprised when he didn’t.

“Has anyone asked you to research time spells before today?” Magda asked.

“No, ma’am.”

“Miss Burns did you summon a demon to kill someone and take their heart?” She turned to look at me and I knew why Jerome hadn’t lied. He couldn’t. If I had summoned that demon, I wouldn’t have been able to lie to her either.

“No, ma’am, I did not.” My sister parroted me a couple of seconds later and I stared at her.

“Good, Raphael, Sophia it was good to see you. I apologize for Enforcer Grainger’s overzealousness. Miss Burns, you and Jerome will report to me tomorrow morning, I have a special job that I want you two to work on. Jerome’s provisional certificate test will be administered tonight, if he thinks he can pass without spending several hours in Mrs. Morales very boring study class. Who will be his overseers for the exam?”

“I have volunteered to be his witch overseer and I believe Remiel will be his overseer from his host.” Janet said.

“Good, you two can help him prepare as well as the others here.” A couple of books appeared on the receptionist countertop. “Make sure he has a good dinner, Miss Burns, he will need the energy.” Lance Grainger began to protest and then shut his mouth and disappeared. The other enforcers disappeared as well. Finally, Magda disappeared after making plans to go shopping with my mother.

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