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Chapter 13 A FAMILIAR FACE


It's official-Dervish Grady luvs Juni Swan!

It's only been a week since she turned up at the mansion, but she's seen more of my uncle in that time than I've seen of him in three months. She spent most of last weekend at our place, four of the nights since, and they're getting together this weekend too.

They talk about magic a lot. Juni is able to channel magical energy when it's in the air around her. She tapped into her power in Slawter. She wanted to discuss it with Dervish and learn how to hone her talents, but she wasn't ready to face him. So she made enquiries, found others who are part of that magical underworld, and studied with them in her spare time while she was putting her professional life back together. She made rapid advances and has blossomed into a powerful mage over the past few months.

Dervish has gone gaga over her. He was attracted to her in Slawter and thought of her a lot since then. But his feelings have gone haywire since she came back and he found out they had so much in common-most importantly, magic. He's so dazzled by her, it's unreal. I think if she asked him to get on his bike and ride to the other side of the world, he would.

I'm a bit dazed by it all. From being a vague friend and temporary school counsellor, Juni's become a central part of my life. I feel like a tornado has struck and nothing will ever be the same again. I was used to just having Dervish about the house. It got to feel natural. Now that's changed faster than I would have believed possible. I can't get my head around it.

But I'll have to, because these two are just warming up. I came down for breakfast this morning and found Dervish and Juni already in the kitchen, kissing passionately, and I swear if he'd had his tongue any further down her throat he'd have been licking her lungs!

Bill-E thinks the Dervish/Juni match is great. We've been spending more time together since Loch's death, hanging out at lunch, having long chats like in the old days. I thought he might be jealous of all the time Juni spends with Dervish but he's not bothered.

"It's what Dervish needs," he contends. "He's been alone too long."

"He had me," I huff.

"Hardly the same thing," Bill-E laughs. "It'll be good for him. Maybe he'll get out more and stop moping about the place."

"Dervish doesn't mope."

"Yes he does," Bill-E insists. "At least he did until Juni came along."

Juni knows I've been thrown by recent developments. She hasn't mentioned her relationship with Dervish or how her moving in might affect me. But she's asked several times, at home and in our sessions, if there's anything I want to talk about apart from Loch's death, if anything else is bothering me. Each time I've said no and glanced away. She hasn't pressed. Giving me time. Leaving me alone until I'm ready to discuss it with her willingly.

In the middle of all the confusion, Reni starts back at school.

I don't know what to say when we first come face to face. Apart from at the funeral, when we didn't speak, I haven't seen her since Loch's death. My first reaction-a huge bolt of guilt. I covered up the truth about the accident, helped move the body, lied to protect Dervish's secret.

Several seconds of horrible silence. Then, "Hi," Reni whispers.

"Hi," I croak.

She leans towards me and rests her face on my chest. "I miss him, Grubbs," she says, voice cracking.

"Me too," I moan.

Floods of tears. Both of us.

It's easier after that. Not the same as before-it never will be-but it's OK, especially when we're with the others. Now everyone talks openly about Loch, the accident, how hard it's been, not shying away from the subject. We have Juni to thank for that. She's had all of us in her office-or visited us at home-since she came, working doggedly to help us talk about and deal with our grief. Life for us would be a hell of a lot harder without her.

"What are you doing this weekend?" Shannon asks Reni on Friday.

"Nothing much," Reni says. "Staying in. Studying. I have a lot to catch up on."

"Scratch that," Shannon snorts. "You're coming to the cinema with the rest of us. I won't take no for an answer. Grubbs, you're coming too."

"Yes, boss," I grin, glad for an excuse to get out of the house-Juni's not very big, but the place feels crowded when she's about.

"How will we get there?" Reni asks. There's a small cinema in the Vale but we hardly ever go to it. Much more fun going to a multiplex in one of the bigger towns nearby.

"Frank's Dad will take us," Shannon says. Frank's father is a taxi driver and owns a people carrier. "Won't he, Frank?" Shannon flutters her eyelids at him, buttering him up.

"I'll see what I can do," Frank mutters.

"Can Bill-E come?" I ask, eager to involve him.

"Sure," Shannon says after a moment's hesitation. "The more the merrier."

The gang's been kind about Bill-E since the accident. They don't mind me including him in our lunch-time chats and after-school activities. But I can feel the mood shifting back to the way it used to be. Bill-E's not one of us, and though he was temporarily accepted due to the exceptional circumstances, the natural order of the school world must soon be resumed. The day's fast arriving when I'll have to make a choice-Bill-E or the others.

But that's a bridge to cross another time. This weekend's about friends, films and fun. The more serious stuff can wait.

Dervish and Juni spend the night practising magic. It seems that Juni has quite a gift. She's learnt a lot over the last several months and can run rings around many of my uncle's spells.

"Have you asked her to join the Disciples?" I enquired earlier this evening, half joking, half serious. "You could head off on demon-bashing weekends together, maybe check out some punk concerts at the same time."

"I don't know," Dervish muttered, not picking up on the joke. "I really don't want to involve her. That life's so dangerous. But I can't stand by and let such power go to waste. We need all the mages we can get. And I think she'll want to join. That might even be why she came looking for me-personal feelings aside, she's seen the Demonata in action, and learnt about the Disciples when they came to Slawter to clear up. She knows what the world's up against, the war that's being fought. Maybe she wants to help. I'll have to broach the subject soon but I'm not looking forward to it."

As wrapped up as he is with Juni, Dervish hasn't forgotten about me. He still checks on me most nights, monitoring me, quizzing me about what I'm feeling, worried about what might lie ahead. We're halfway through the lunar month. I'm just a couple of weeks away from the madness again. Dervish isn't treating it lightly. For all the time he's spent with Juni, and all the excitement and hope he's experiencing, he hasn't neglected his obligations to me. He's been in contact with everyone he can think of, trying to find out more about my situation, if anyone's heard of anything like it before. Working hard for my benefit.

He hasn't mentioned the Lambs, but I'm sure he's thinking about them, just as I am every night, unable to turn away from the thoughts of what must be done if the beast emerges and I change.

Heading out to the cinema. I stick my head into the study, to let Dervish and Juni know I'm going. They're sitting together on the floor, facing one another, fingers joined, eyes closed, breathing deeply. Working on a spell. They don't hear me when I call.

I walk in and scribble a note. As I'm sticking it to the front of Dervish's PC, my glance slides to where Juni's sitting. I can see her eyes glowing behind her lids. She looks creepy. I exit quickly and race down the stairs, not sure what it was that freaked me so much, only knowing that I'm glad to be putting some space between us.

Eating in a 1950s style hamburger restaurant before the movie. Everyone excited and buzzing, except me. I keep thinking about Juni's eyes, trying to pinpoint what it was about them that unnerved me.

Bill-E's excited to be with us, though he finds it hard to join in all the talk. He'll start to say something, then stop and think about the best way to phrase it. By the time he has the words straight inside his head, the topic's changed. If he'd just be himself he'd be fine. But he thinks he has to be extra witty and cool around us, and by worrying and hesitating, he comes across as dumb and stumbling. I think about saying something to him, but then I fall to thinking about Juni's eyes again.

Reni sits beside me for the film. After a while she takes my hand. I half-turn to smile at her and she smiles back. I thought Loch's death might drive a wedge between us, but it hasn't. She still wants to be my girlfriend. Maybe it's even more important to her now than it was before-the more she focuses on me, the less she'll brood about Loch.

I start to lean over, mouth dry, spinal cord tingling.

But then I think of Juni's eyes again and it finally clicks. The glow reminded me of the fiery, eyeless sockets of one of Lord Loss's familiars-the charmless hell-baby known as Artery.

I draw away from Reni. She stares at me, surprised and slightly hurt. I force a bitter smile. "Later," I whisper. "I'm nervous, you know?" Letting her think I've gone shy. Unable to tell her that thoughts of demons have set my teeth trembling, that I'm afraid I might accidentally bite her tongue if we kiss.

Reni smiles back and gives my hand a squeeze. "I know," she says, finding it sweet. She leans her head on my shoulder and sighs. "When you're ready, give me a shout. I can wait."

I lay my head on hers and close my eyes, drowning out the sounds of the film, trying to listen to her heartbeat, feeling her hair soft against my cheek-but not able to stop thinking about Juni's eyes and demons.

As we come out of the cinema I spot a tramp sitting by the side of one of the mall's fountains. We're a long way off but he looks like the same one I ran into on the path home last week. As the others file to the restaurant again, for milkshakes, I halt and fix my gaze on the tramp. I'm certain it's him-same shaggy beard, long hair, old clothes, posy of flowers in a buttonhole. And maybe it's my imagination, but he seems to be looking back at me, returning my stare.

I start towards him, not entirely sure why, but bothered by his being here, wanting to make sure it's the same man. Then Reni notices I'm not with the group. She calls my name. When I don't respond, she calls again, sharply.

"Sorry," I mutter, taking my eyes off the tramp. "Thought I saw someone I knew."

"Who?" Reni asks.

"Nobody." I smile when she frowns at me. "A teacher. But it wasn't. Come on, let's go tuck into our shakes."

"You're in a strange mood tonight," Reni comments, towing me along to catch up with the others.

Just before we turn the corner, I look back at the fountain. But nobody's there now. The tramp has gone.

Home. Troubled. Thinking about the tramp. Probably nothing, just coincidence that I've seen him a couple of times. But it might be something more. We're protected here from demons, Dervish has said it dozens of times. But some demons have human assistants. What if the tramp is working for Lord Loss, waiting for the chance to knock me out and cart me away to a spot where the demon master can set his evil hands on me?

I decide to tell Dervish. I might wind up looking like a frightened fool, jumping at shadows, but it's best not to take chances with stuff like this. I go searching for Dervish in his study, then his bedroom, but I only find Juni, sitting on the edge of Dervish's bed, staring out the window, pensive.

"Hi," I say. "Is Dervish about?"

"He's gone for Chinese."

"Oh." The local Chinese takeaway does home deliveries but Dervish doesn't trust them to send the correct food. He always fetches it himself. "No worries. I'll catch him when he's back." I start to leave.

"Grubbs," Juni stops me. She pats the space on the bed next to her. There's a long silence as I settle beside her. She continues to stare out the window. She's so slender, I feel even bigger than normal sitting next to her.

"I saw you earlier, in the study," Juni says.

"How?" I frown. "Your eyes were closed."

"I could see through the lids-part of the spell. You looked scared. You ran away as if I frightened you." I fidget uncomfortably. "Are you afraid that Dervish is falling in love with me? That I'm going to steal his love for you?"

"No," I laugh. "That wasn't it at all."

"Then why did you look so spooked?"

"Your eyes." I clear my throat. "They were like a demon's that I fought."

Juni tenses when I mention the D word. Then relaxes. "We haven't talked much about that, have we?" she notes softly.

"No."

"I'm still haunted by what happened," she whispers. "I'm dealing with it, but it's hard. Knowing there are demons in the world... or tearing at the edges of it... wanting to grab us and destroy..."

"I know exactly how you feel. I hate them too. They terrify me." I blush at the confession. "That's why I ran. I didn't realise it till later, but your eyes reminded me of a demon's. I panicked. It was silly, but..." I shrug.

"You think I have a demon's eyes?" Juni asks, bemused.

"No," I chuckle. "It was just magic. Dervish told me magic comes from demons, that the energy we tap into has seeped through from the Demonata's universe. Every time we cast a spell, we use a bit of demonic energy. I guess it makes us look like them sometimes. This was just the first time I noticed it."

Juni nods, understanding. Then, out of nowhere, she says, "Dervish is going to ask me to move in."

"Oh?" I blink.

"I don't know if I should." She looks worried. "This has taken me by complete surprise. Maybe I need to slow things down. Stay away for a while. Give us all some space and time."

I stare at her clumsily. I can't think of anything to say. I know nothing about stuff like this. After a few seconds, Juni laughs and lays a hand on my knee. "Sorry. I don't expect you to decide for me. I just needed to say it out loud."

"I... I think... I mean... Dervish likes you. Really likes you. I... I think you should say yes."

"You wouldn't mind?" she asks softly.

"No."

"You're sure?" Her fingers tighten on my knee. "Since I got involved with Dervish, I've noticed a change in your response to me. I wasn't sure you approved of our relationship. I thought you didn't like me, that you didn't want me to-"

"No," I interrupt. "That's crazy. I... No." Smiling now. "It's been strange, having you here, but I'm not against it. Honest. I'd like it if you moved in."

Juni smiles blazingly. "You don't know how glad I am to hear that." She leans over and kisses my cheek. My blush darkens and spreads. She tweaks my nose, then gets up. "Come on," she says, heading for the door. "Dervish will be back soon. We ordered extra in case you wanted any. You can help me prepare some plates."

Following her down the stairs, grinning to myself, delighted to find that I truly don't mind if she comes to live with us. Figuring crowded might not be such a bad thing for this hollow old house.

Late Sunday. Juni was right. Dervish asked her last night if she'd come live with us. She agreed, but said it would have to be for a trial period. They'll see how they get on and if things don't work, she'll move out again.

She made the big switch today. Didn't have much to bring. She's moved around a lot this year, living out of a suitcase. She had a house once, but sold it when she accepted the movie job with Davida Haym. She's been living in hotels since then. Says she has bits and bobs in storage, which she can fetch later, but there's no urgency.

Dervish is like a child at Christmas. When Juni left to check out of her hotel this morning, he spent the time polishing and cleaning, making sure everything would be shiny and perfect when she returned. He's been dancing around the house like a pantomime fairy, whistling, sometimes singing out loud.

Give me strength!

They're in bed now. It's nearly two in the morning. They've probably been asleep for hours, but I can't nod off. Worrying about lycanthropy. Magic. Juni moving in and how that's going to change things. Loch. Reni. The tramp. (I forgot to tell Dervish about him.)

I get up and dress. Pad downstairs and let myself out. Start walking, then jogging. Soon I'm running, breathing hard, breath turning to mist on the cool night air. I develop a stitch. Ignoring it, I run until it feels as if my stomach is on fire. Finally I stop and bend over, panting like a thirsty dog. When I can breathe normally I set off again, but only jogging this time, pacing myself.

It's hard to jog at night. The forest is dark around me. Have to be careful where I put my feet. But I'm not afraid. The sounds and smells of the night don't scare me. I'm safe here, on home turf.

I jog without direction, simply enjoying the exercise. Letting my feet guide me. Not keeping track of my route, confident I can find my way back.

Then I round a patch of briars and spot scatterings of rocks and earth-I'm at the entrance to the cave. I stop and squint suspiciously. Dervish hasn't had time to fill in the hole. He stuck a crate down it and covered it with soil and small stones so nobody would fall down into the cave, but that's as far as he got.

I approach the hole cautiously, wondering if I've been drawn here by some external force or if it's just coincidence. I listen closely for whispers but I can't hear anything. Can't sense anything either-no magical warmth within, or feeling that I'm being summoned.

I stop at the edge of the hole and stare down into darkness, thinking about Loch. It seems so long ago that we were messing about here, dreaming of Lord Sheftree's buried treasure. Everything was simple then. You don't recognise the good times in life until it all goes bad and you look back and see how lucky you were, how easy you had things.

I wonder where Loch is now, if there's an afterlife, what it's like if there is. Is he sitting on a cloud, plucking at the strings of a harp? Wrestling with angels? Being waited upon by beautiful women? Does he know the answers to all the questions in the universe? Has he come back as somebody else or as an animal? Or is there nothing when you die? I know people have souls, but do they vanish into oblivion when the body shuts down? Is life the start and finish of all that we are? Is Loch-

"You're out late."

A voice behind me. I whirl and spot the tramp, half-hidden by shadows, watching me with a little smile that's hard to distinguish behind the tangled bush of his beard.

"Who are you?" I shout. "Why are you following me?

The tramp steps forward and I get my first good look at him. Dark skin, but I think the colour's more to do with dirt than flesh pigment. Black hair streaked with patches of grey and white. Small build. Cracked fingernails, but not caked with dirt as you'd expect-clean as a surgeon's. Small eyes, blue or grey.

"You should be asleep," the tramp says. A deep voice. Hard to place the accent.

"Who are you?" I growl again, looking for something to defend myself with.

The tramp walks past me to the edge of the hole. Stares down, the same way I was staring moments before. "A grave fit for a king," he murmurs, then looks at me and smiles crookedly. "Have anyone in mind for it?"

"Who are you?" I ask for the third time but my voice is trembling now. This is no ordinary tramp. There's something powerful and dangerous about him.

The tramp doesn't answer my question. Instead he looks up at the sky-at the moon. "Won't be long now," he says casually, then skirts the hole and walks off, not looking back, disappearing into the cover of the forest within seconds.

I stay where I am for a minute, shivering. Then bolt for home, to wake Dervish-the hell with his beauty sleep-and tell him about the mysterious, ominous stranger.

Almost back at the mansion, ready to scream myself hoarse about the tramp, when I slow, frown and pause.

Maybe Dervish already knows.

The tramp knew who I was. I'm pretty sure he knew about the cave too and what happened there. And he definitely knew about the moon and what it's doing to me-that was clear by his mocking tone. If he was a servant of Lord Loss, that would have been the perfect place to ambush me. I was alone. I didn't know he was there until he spoke. He could have clubbed me over the head or injected me with a sleeping drug. But he didn't. So I doubt he's in league with the demon master. If that's the case, he could only have known all those things if he'd been told. And Dervish is the only one who could have told him.

Flashback. Dervish's study... him on the phone... checking afterwards... finding the black folder with the numbers and names.

Figuring-the tramp must be one of the Lambs. A scout, sent to keep an eye on me. Dervish promised to summon a magician to help, but instead he called in the Lambs, to be safe, in case I turn and he can't handle me alone. The tramp has been shadowing me ever since, ready to move quickly if needs dictate.

I enter the house and creep up the stairs. I don't wake Dervish or ask him about the tramp. Just undress and crawl into bed. Cold. Stiff. Terrified. Alone.

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