Maisey’s Diner was, well, a diner in the truest sense. Like most every business in Paxwood, it was locally owned and operated. They made their pies on-site, and most of their diner food was made the same as it had been almost since the diner first opened. There was something novel about the white-and-red checkered picnic tablecloths over the booth tables with their matching red vinyl seat cushions, regularly maintained so that none of them looked worn out or unappetizing. There was a counter with a very fifties diner vibe to it, metal trim on the edge of the counter and the rims of the seats of each stool that was anchored firmly to the floor.
Kerry didn’t eat here much. It was one of the places in Paxwood that felt a little too out of time–like if she spent too much time inside, she might walk through the doors and find herself back in time. And once she was seated in a booth across from Alex and Rowen, she decided this was the perfect time to ask.
“Is this diner, like, a magical time capsule that can actually take you back to the fifties?”
Alex laughed outright. “I actually wondered that exact same thing when I was a kid, which admittedly wasn’t that long ago. But, no, no magic. Just a chain of owners determined to maintain a very specific type of diner-with-fresh-pie vibe. Nothing supernatural about that.”
They ordered, and then Rowen leaned in. It was a bit odd to watch her prosthetic arm bend at the elbow as she rested it on the table–the bend triggered by Rowen leaning on her arm in just the right way instead of flexing any muscles.
“Some day, I have a feeling I’ll tell you my whole story,” she started. “But let’s just focus on your question for today. Why should you trust me when I tell you magic is real, and everyone else your whole life has been telling you it’s a lie?”
Nobody told me that the prophecy foretold my death. They only told me, trained me, prepared me for the other part of the prophecy–the part where I, alone, was destined to slay a demon prince named Veroriax. My training began when I was a teenager and persisted through high school, undergrad, right into graduate school. The organization that wanted to see to it that Veroriax was slain, a group called the Hands of the Seers, paid for my whole education and made sure I had every skill and resource necessary to kill the demon.
But, they didn’t see to it that I had what I needed to survive that battle. And their interpretation of “alone” was that it meant I had to fight Veroriax by myself, not that I was the only one capable of slaying him.
So, a few weeks after I finished graduate school, after a ramping series of battles with his followers, I fought Veroriax, alone. And I would have bled out and died, alone, if an off-duty firefighter paramedic hadn’t shown up, put a tourniquet around the stump that remained of my arm, and called an ambulance for me.
Some chosen ones are blessed with superior healing abilities that help them recover incredibly quickly from serious injuries and they can even reattach and regrow limbs. I’m not blessed in that regard. I heal a little more quickly than your average human, but my arm was gone. And my life should have been, too.
When my handler arrived to talk with me about next steps, she explained that the organization had lied to her, too. She hadn’t known I’d be sent into battle alone. They abducted her that night and stuck her in a holding room so she couldn’t interfere. And, since I wasn’t supposed to live, I wasn’t part of any other prophecies, and I wasn’t needed. They gave me a hefty retirement package and cut me loose.
Rowen had somehow managed to finish off two burgers and a very large order of fries over the course of her account, but Kerry had only barely been able to nibble at her own fries, riveted.
“That’s… terrible,” Kerry said, the only words she could find. She wanted to know more of Rowen’s story, Rowen’s whole journey, who the Hands of the Seers were, how large of an organization, whether Veroriax still had followers that wanted to make sure that Rowen was dead, but her thoughts came back to her initial question. “But I still don’t know you. You could be making it all up. And even if it’s real, a tragic backstory isn’t a reason to trust someone.”
Rowen elbowed Alex, grinning. “She’s smart. Do you have a lot of smart kids like this in your hometown?”
“Same as any other town, really.” Alex was smiling, too. “It’s good that you’re going into this skeptical. If you bought everything you were told at face value, I’d feel even more confident that it would be wrong to tell you the truth about magic. You can use your internet search skills, look up Rowen later, and see if what she says lines up with the local Boston and college news articles that were written about her tragic accident afterward. They’ll give the mundane version that she thought she heard someone calling for help in the abandoned warehouse and tragically fell through the floor, and somehow that led to her losing her arm. But you’ll find the stories there.”
“Okay, so, I can verify, but that still doesn’t prove I can trust that she says magic is real, so it must be real,” Kerry said. “What about that?”
Alex lifted a hand and waved at the air around the booth. Now that he called attention to it, Kerry noticed a faint swirling effect around them, almost like heat waves rising off sand in a desert, but more subtle.
“This is a barrier of obfuscation. Anyone who’s trying to listen to our conversation will hear something so boring their minds just won’t latch on to be able to recall what we were talking about. Whenever the waitress comes over, I drop it for us to do the normal talk, then I put it right back up again. It’s something I like to keep handy, so it’s anchored to this.”
He held his hand out to Kerry and pointed at the thumb ring he almost always wore–nothing so flashy that it really caught attention or lingered in her memory, but she was sure it was part of his hand.
“Oh. Oh, the spell is on the ring, too, huh?” Kerry guessed, eyes widening. “That’s why my mind is having a hard time latching on to its presence, even though usually I can easily file away small details like this.”
“Eidetic memory?” Rowen asked.
“Had it my whole life.”
Rowen hummed. “Well, that’s handy. So, you see now, that Alex is actively doing magic, and therefore magic is real, right?”
“So, here’s where my story comes to a point: I was lied to and left to fight alone because of my prophecy. There are other chosen ones out there who think they have to fight alone. There are people who think they’re the only ones who’ve experienced something unnatural, or they have some kind of paranormal ability and no context for how they got it, and they have no one to talk about it with. I want to make a safe haven, a community center, a networking space where chosen ones, especially young chosen ones, can make the ties they need so none of us ever have to fight alone again.
“It’s got to be somewhere a little bit out of the way, where we can do what we do without drawing too much attention. It’s got to be somewhere close to ley lines so anyone who relies on magic can have an easy tap.”
“Ley lines?” Kerry interrupted. “That’s a real thing.”
“All in good time,” Alex said. He waved for Rowen to continue.
“It helps if it’s somewhere with a little bit of a threat because, well, it’ll give the network the chance to do some good and practice being united. Alex tells me Paxwood might fit the bill, and Paxwood House–even if it’s haunted–has potential.” Rowen smiled. “Maybe especially because it’s haunted.”
“You’re not going to bring tasty delicious chosen ones into that building en masse until you get it professionally exorcised,” Alex objected. “And not by a novice exorcist who’s coming to be your student, either.”
Rowen held her hands up in the air. “I concede to your wisdom. So, Kerry, I’ve never bought a house before, let alone from a city council. Can you help catch me up on what I need to know?”