She held out her leather-bound arm as she looked to the sky, squinting from the glare from the sun. An owl landed softly on her outstretched forearm, fluffing its wings as it settled onto its perch. The Mystic smiled thinly and rubbed the owl on the head.
“I was beginning to wonder if you had gotten into some adventure without me,” she said. “Show me what lies ahead.”
The Mystic’s eyes glossed over, going pure white, as her mind joined with that of the owl’s. She searched her pet’s memories, scanning quickly through the images for something very specific. After several moments, she saw it: a single hut, tucked into the woods, a small trail of smoke sneaking out from the chimney and getting swept away by the breeze immediately.
“Good, you’re home,” she muttered to herself. Her eyes returned to their normal hue, and she reached into her pouch for a piece of jerky for the bird.
“Good girl, Echo; you’ve earned this,” she said softly as the nightbird hungrily snatched the meat from her hand.
Nascha took a deep, slow breath through her nose, the pines around her calming her soul and sharpening her senses. She closed her eyes for a moment, listening to the forest animals chirp and squeak at one another; somewhere in the distance, a buck bleated out his mating call. The Mystic reopened her eyes and tossed the owl into the air.
“Let’s go, Echo; we don’t want to be late.”
And she ran through the forest, followed closely by the nightowl. Her hide-bound feet padded the earth as she raced through the trees in near perfect silence. The pines rustled in the light breeze, and the only other sound was the flapping of the owl’s wings. The woods were oddly quiet, as if the very forest itself was holding its breath in anticipation of the coming meeting.
As she approached her destination, she stepped into the clearing that surrounded the shack. She stopped running abruptly and stared at the shack, lost in thought. Her mind floated to the last time she had set foot on the Old Man’s land. The circumstances were very different. Those were better days; the world made sense back then. Well, it at least didn’t pose so many questions and problems as it did now. The good guys and bad guys were easy to spot, and no one had to look over their shoulders for anything except to wave goodbye and say “See you next time!”
She shook her head, bringing her mind back to the task at hand as the owl came to roost one her shoulder. She reached up and stroked the bird under the beak. “Well, girl, let’s go see the Old Man.”
The Mystic waved her hand in front of her, and the wards surrounding rippled visibly. She cleared her throat.
“Mind lowering the deadly ones at least, old friend? Just for me?”
A swift chuckle came wafting through the open window, and the wards rippled colorfully once more. Nascha smiled thinly and walked across the clearing to the front door of the shack. As she approached, the door opened, and in the doorway stood a tall, broad shouldered man in his early sixties. He had a long, grey beard that hung down to the middle of his chest. He was sporting a look of amusement, with a slight grin toying at the corners of his lips and one eyebrow cocked up high.
The Mystic stopped a few feet from the door. “Hello, Damien.”
The Old Man nodded. “Nascha.”
“It’s been a long time.”
Damien shrugged. “Depends on your point of view, I suppose.”
“Four years is considered a long time by most accounts.”
“What’s a few years when you’ve been around the sun as many times as I have?”
Nascha nodded, and the two were motionless and silent for a moment. Echo fluffed her wings.
“So…are you going to let me in, or are we going to have this conversation out here?”
The Old Man stepped to the side and beckoned for her to enter. Nascha eased her way through the threshold. Inside was just as she remembered it. Simple. Rustic. Basic, yet comfy. A bed sat in the far corner. A fire burned slowly in the hearth. Various weapons hung around the walls, and a bookcase stood opposite the bed, filled from floor to ceiling with old books.
The Old Man sniffed and popped his neck as he closed the door.
“So, to what do I owe the pleasure, little bird?”
The Mystic turned her gaze back to the Old Man. “I’m not really sure, to be honest. Things are getting out of hand. We’re losing the balance. And, I don’t know, this was just the first place I wanted to go. You’ve always been the one we turn to when the water gets murky.”
“As you should. I am the best.”
“I see you’re arrogance hasn’t failed you yet.”
“Eh, confidence is key, my dear.”
Damien tilted his head to the side and crossed his arms. “I have a feeling you didn’t come here just to stroke my ego. Say what you came here to say.”
Nascha reached back and tied her jet black hair into a ponytail. “Damien, we’re drowning out there. They’re all over the damn place now. And coming back faster than ever. I’ve come across repeat crossovers more often than ever before. Hell, Elijah has a team of Malchizidek’s men assigned just to him. He’s been fighting the same thugs for nearly a year; he hasn’t won all of those fights, either.”
“The Outlaw has a habit of making more enemies than friends.”
“That he does.”
“And your point would be?”
“That maybe it’s time for you to come out of retirement. You said we should call you when all hell broke loose. Well, that seems like it’s about to happen.”
“It hasn’t yet, though.”
“Cut the crap, Old Man. We need you, Damien. This shit is about to get real ugly. We’re spread too thin, and Malchizidek knows it. He’s been gearing up for a big strike for centuries. He knows this is his chance. He has to.”
Nascha exploded in fury. “Goddammit, you old bastard, we need you!”
Damien grinned once more, spreading his arms out wide. “There, was that so hard? Let’s get going.”
Nascha blinked. “Wait, what? That’s all it took?”
The Old Man laughed. “Oh, yeah. I really only wanted to hear you say you needed me. I’ve had a bag packed for weeks now.”
“You knew I was coming? You were just waiting here?”
“I’m a fool, not an idiot, little bird. I knew I was getting called back up to the majors sometime soon.”
Nascha sighed and stroked her temples. “Have you always been this much of a pain, or has age made you crotchety?”
“Whiskey only gets better and stronger as it ages, my dear Mystic.”
“Good god. Am I going to have to put up with your nonsense all the way back to the pier?”
Damien stroked his beard. “The pier, eh? I like it. The Old Man and the sea. IT’s poetic. Cliché, but poetic.”
Nascha rolled her eyes. “This is going to be a long walk.”
The Old Man slung his bag over his shoulder and walked to the door. He turned and bowed. “You have no idea.”
“Don’t make me regret this.”
For the first time since she arrived, the smug look vanished from Damien’s face, and it seemed as though a storm cloud had settled on him all of the sudden. “I am afraid this moment will be the least of your worries, little bird. If what I fear comes true, we are in for some dark times.”
Nascha shivered. “Are we talking apocalypse dark?”
Damien smiled, but it did nothing to hide the sadness in his eyes. “No, not quite. But Malchizidek’s next wave will test the strength and endurance of our band of not-so-merry men. And women. But, semantics aside, it would be wise to gather everyone together again and develop a battle strategy. And perhaps say our final goodbyes. There’s no telling how many of us will get out of this alive.”