Thanks to @inventrix and @dahob for the names.
Late October, 2011
Jaelie was in the garden when the gods attacked. The garden, such as it was, was her territory, her sanctum and responsibility. She’d been the first to be hired, such as it was, by Baram (“bought” might have been more accurate, but the pay was good and the work not onerous, and she had little to complain of), the first to come looking for him after graduation, intrigued by the legend he’d left behind, and she’d thus been the first to carve out her own place in his haven.
She’d taken to spending her mornings there, getting it ready for winter, mulching the beds and wrapping the trees. Baram didn’t mind what they did in the areas of the house and yard they’d claimed, so she coaxed hawthorn and rowan trees into a hedge along the back and grew tomatoes, peppers, potatoes (their employer was quite the meat-and-potatoes sort of guy), herbs and poisons along the fences, strawberries for the kids and squash for Viatrix. It gave her something to do with her free time, and a way to practice her Working and keep the magical muscles, as her former Mentor liked to call them, in shape.
Pruning the hawthorn – doing anything with the hawthorn, but on this day, she was pruning it – took thick gloves and a patient hand, Workings mumbled under the breath and a quick eye for trouble, so it wasn’t until the kids came yelling into the back yard that Jaelie realized their city had been invaded.
She counted noses with the force of habit – two, three, five, six, nine? Nine? Like every graduate of Addergoole, she had her two, and Baram’s other two “house elves” had theirs with them as well, (at least in Alkyone’s case, not out of any maternal sense, but because Addergoole taught you to never give up any advantage, and never give away anything for free). There should be six children, and – she counted again – yes, the six that were theirs were there, as well as, no, not three, another six kids from the neighborhood. Seven; they were trailing slowly in past her gates, looking around nervously.
“What’s going on?” she asked sharply, looking to the children that belonged here for an answer.
Gerulf spoke up first – the oldest and one of Jaelie’s by blood. “School got let out and nobody’s parents are home, but I knew you’d be here, so I figured this was safer.”
Safe was an acceptable reason to break protocol by bringing friends home. “Safer?” she repeated anyway. “What’s going on?”
“There’s monsters in the streets,” one of the kids’ friends offered. “And some sort of dragon in the air.”
“Shit.” She ignored the giggles from the kids not her own. “Ger, get them inside. You know the drill. Stop and let Vi and Aly know what you told me, then get behind the heavy doors.”
“Aw, come on, Mom.” He’d just turned ten and, with Baram as his male example, thought he was old enough to fight the world. “Can’t I stay and help?”
“No.” She pulled the trump card. “You need to protect Lilja.” Vi’s youngest was barely three years old, the pampered baby sister of their tribe. “Go.” She shooed them on, not wanting the mundane children to see what she was about to do.
Jaelie never knew if the creatures followed some sort of scent-of-Ellehemaei, or if it was sheer dumb luck that they stumbled into her hedge. By the time they arrived, her Workings had taken hold, and the sleepy hawthorns had transformed into an angry hedge. She wasn’t Named Briar Rose for nothing, after all, and the first creature through was nearly dead by the time he reached her.
To her flanks, Viatrix and Alkyone had finished the pit traps and were waiting with to burn and shock any intruders. They’d hoped they’d be lucky enough to be missed – even with the hedge, from the outside they still looked much like any other house on the block – but they weren’t taking chances. They hadn’t survived four years of Addergoole by taking stupid chances.
When the first creature broke through – fell through, really; her hedges were hungry and she’d taken lessons from Valentina as well as Valerian – Jaelie speared him to the ground. “Submit,” she demanded.
He coughed blood on her shoes, blood that slowly began eating at the leather of her boots. “Bitch,” he choked, “I’d rather die.”
Viatrix obliged him, her backhanded stroke casual enough to make Jaelie wince, while Alkyone turned to knock down the next intruder. Then a third came through, and a fourth, and the battle was on in earnest.
The combat was bloody and hard. Training her magical muscles or not, Jaelie had been out of school for six and a half years, and PTA meetings were an entirely different sort of battle. Her sisters in arms, younger, fresher, and cy’Fridmar, both of them, fared somewhat better, but the damn things kept coming. In all, Jaelie counted nine of the returned-gods monsters, although at least three of them could have been the same guy with an obnoxious power.
With every thrust and stroke and Working, with every cut she took and every stab she dealt out, Jaelie focused on keeping the intruders from the house, wondering, even as she fought and bled, where the hell their monster was. Where was the man who had bought their service with his protection and cash? Where was the monster she’d sought out because, of all of Addergoole’s legends, he seemed as if he’d be possible to work with? As the battle pressed on, the thoughts took two directions at once – damnit, where’s Baram when we need him? and shit, where’s Baram? If there’s this many here…
And then they had the last asshole pinned to the ground, three rowan spears holding him on place, and Viatrix was spitting out the line they’d already used five times. “Submit.”
“I yield,” this one choked out, through a mouthful of blood – thankfully not the burning sort. “Shit, you women are fierce. I didn’t think a halfbreed could…”
“Not the throat, Alkyone!” At the last minute, the former cy’Fridmar’s second spear went into the asshole’s chest instead.
“Yield better,” Jaelie told the returned-and-debased god, amused despite herself. “We’re not big on senses of humor around here.”
The god – probably a Grigori, or whatever they called themselves when they stepped through from the other side – coughed ruefully. “I place myself in your hands, because I don’t really want to die to-” he fell into a hacking fit for a moment “-day. What’s your Name?”
They shared a look, and, in the end, it was Jaelie who offered “Briar Rose.” She’d had lots of practice getting the tone right – laugh and I’ll kill you. He didn’t laugh this time.
“Then I am yours, Briar Rose, until you choose to release me.”
Her answer was cut short by a crashing from the front lawn.
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