It's usually ill-advised for a twenty-something year old to approach the broken, lone house alone, in the middle of a dead dusty cornfield, armed with nothing but her cheery disposition and a good screaming voice.

But I walked toward the front door of the old blue two-story house with my hands in my pockets anyways humming a few bars of Rihanna I heard on the radio because that what you do when you literally nowhere else to go and have no means to go anywhere else. The long stretch of dirt road between the main road and the front door, which I guess could be called a drive way if you ignore the lack any kind pavement or maintenance for ten miles in any direction, took a few minutes to walk.

My pace matched the level of paranoia I felt about walking in an open field completely alone or, maybe, it was the Rihanna. I found it hard to tell as I kept walking.

I stopped when I reached the top of the small stairs that lead up to the porch and turned to look down at the crooked steps. They looked like they had been to hell and back with the rain, wind, and dirt attacking them on a regular basis. Anything resembling paint had been stripped by time and anything that resembled the original nails had eroded away eons ago, leaving just the holes behind as some kind of symbol that they were once there.

They didn't sound right as I trotted up them. There wasn't a strange whistling noise on the fourth step or a slight give to them as my weight came down on them for a moment. There wasn't even the typical creak that comes with what amounts to hundred year old plywood haphazardly glued together that has been stepped on a daily basis by a man that I'm fairly certain had been drinking since his infancy. I walked down them again and back up, listening as my feet made contact with them.

They didn't make a sound at all.

Someone had fixed them.

I walked lightly over the porch, noticing that each foot step that I took made creaking sound as I walked as though the house had suddenly remembered that it was suppose to make that noise. I paused and listened for any movement from inside when I reached the door. There was brief chatter and then silence on both ends as I stared down the door like it owed me money.

I knocked. Quickly.

There was a sound of someone shuffling around inside. The curtains opened and shut quickly enough that I couldn't figure out which of the two large windows on either side of the door they were looking out of. A lot of somethings fell over and someone cursed at it before another person went running.

I winced.

People, any kind of people really, rarely come to the old two-story blue house at on 335th Street. Mail and packages were dropped in the box in front of the house unless it was registered, which rarely ever happened, and I doubt it was ever anything good when it did. There may or may not be a PO Box in town for this blue little shack, so I wouldn't even know if mailmen knew about this place. I also doubt church goers ever tried to spread the Lord's message to a house that, quite frankly, looked condemned.

There was just as much wood of the house showing as there was faded light blue paint that was slowly chipping off. The windows were clouded over with such a thick layer of dust that I couldn't make out the shadows of anything that was going on in here. The door itself was chipped and splintered in a way that I'm sure it was a fire hazard to just look at and certainly was the last thing I ever wanted to touch. The formerly golden numbers on the side of the house had long since been eaten away with dirt-brown rust, I think, because everything the light touched was all covered in a thin layer of dirt from the cornfield. I looked back and saw the slight shadow of where my steps had been walking to the door.

There was a sound of chain being pulled taut as I snapped my head forward.

Someone opened the door slightly, saw me standing there, sighed, and closed the door.

I guess I have that effect on people.

There was a rattling of undoing locks and chains on the door before opening it fully.

The raggedy man that opened the door was far older and by far taller than anyone should be at about six and a half feet, approximately fifty years old, and built like a bean pole should be. He was beginning the stages of balding in his salt and pepper hair, his dark eyes were worn down with age and time, bloodshot and annoyed at me standing in the bright sunlight. He dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans that have seen better, cleaner days. His skin had too, as it was a bit tanner then I remembered it from being a somewhat pale complexion that I remembered seeing four years ago.

Oh, and he needed a shave too.

"Hello, have you heard the message of the Lord today?" I asked my new mentor, Tony, cheerfully.

"Shud up, Piper." He glanced around behind me as I smiled. "Is today movin' day?"

My name is Piper Margaret Williams. I'm moving from Portland, Oregon to Sioux Falls, South Dakota because you go to where the training takes you. Or, say, the court order as it may be. See, I'm a convicted felon, which is a strong term for a girl who was just trying to defend herself from a vampire.

"Yes it is." I nodded looking around inside behind him. "Did you have a little too much fun with Jim, Jack, and Jose last night?"

"That's none of yer concern." His bloodshot eyes blinked and quietly cursed the light. "Where's yer luggage?"

"On the other side of the portal to my room." I leaned forward and sniffed. "You smell like Jack Daniels."

I'm a wizard by trade, I suppose, as my life as a college student came to a sudden halt when I graduated and bill came. It's always been a questionable family business at best, and now I'm an Exorcist in training. I haven't been around these parts for several years; in fact, for a little bit as I sat in my tiny apartment with my blissfully unaware roommate, I pretended like I didn't even know that this place existed. I sat around and read Harry Potter and pretended wizards were products of wishful thinking on people's part of a life where everything could be done for there. Why? Because it was hard enough to explain why I slept with a knife under my pillow. Hence the reason I'm starting off magical career in a place where buses full of cheerleaders go to die by people in hockey masks with rusty old tools.

I haven't told many people I'm a wizard, but those who do know tend to be either paranormal themselves or think I'm completely bonkers.

In this case, Tony's both.

"Would ya quit it?!"He grunted as he tried not to look at me anything outside the door really.

"Depends, you going to let me in?" I asked as I looked over my shoulder at the sunlight beating down on me.

He opened his eyes just to glare at me as light footsteps came around the corner and got steadily louder. A woman picked up a pair of shoes off the ground, and politely pushed past us. I just sort of stared at her and moved out of her way as ignored everything around her.

She apologized that she had work and needed to get home, putting on her Nike's as she broke into a run down the road. Where she was going, I have no idea, it's not like Tony had many neighbors.

She looked about late thirties, short blonde hair and pleasant blue eyes. She wasn't particularly tall or short, but she was on the lean side. Her jeans and the white dress shirt she was wearing reeked of everything a bar could sell of and lingered in the air as I turned to the man standing in the doorway.

The sound of a motorbike rushing away played as background noise as Tony and I stood in silence.

"Or Misses Daniels." He glared at me and then yanked me inside as I tried to hard not to laugh. "That works too. I don't judge."

He closed the door behind me and locked it as I got a good look around.

Substituting as wallpaper really, books lying around on every available surface, piled high and against the walls as far as I could see. Shotguns and handguns hanging without cases on blank parts of the walls that were void of books, a cracked staff carved with intricate runes from top to bottom leaned against the wall around the corner, and cauldrons and other various things in jars hidden just out of sight on the lowest shelves. There was a coat rack behind me with trench coats and leather jackets, and an extra-large storage container full of medieval weapons and armor. A pile of books was scattered across the floor that originated from the living room and splashed across the wooden floors of the entrance and the linoleum of the kitchen in an avalanche of paper, leather, and bindings. I kicked a small hand gun as I took a few steps forward, picked it up, and put it on the nearest stack of books in arm's reach.

I smiled.

The place hadn't changed a bit.

"Room's upstairs, the spare rooms, girls sleep on the right." He scratched his head. "Or the left. Whatever. It's the one with only two beds init."

"Cool." I turned and heading toward the one set of stairs off to my left that lead to the second floor. "Need help putting the books back, Romeo?" He glared at me as I looked back from the stairs. "I hear men your age start to have problems-"

"Get outta here!" Tony stomped his foot as I laughed up the stairs. The books around him rattled and a stack behind him fell over. "The shit I put up with..."

"I really can help." I said walking down the stairs. He looked like I had told him to eat his vegetables as he stopped his hobbling to the kitchen. "You'll end up mixing Vicodin up with aspirin again and blowing a hole in your stomach."

He ramped up his look to I had said something awful about his mother. "When'd ya become a doctor?"

"Somewhere between becoming an airplane pilot, an FBI agent, and the lead singer in a rock band." I said walking past him the kitchen and saw the pile of dirty dishes. "I'll do the dishes, you just take it easy."

He followed right behind me to the kitchen. "I'm not an invalid. I can do it myself."

"Yeah, well, you drinking and cleaning guns don't really mix." I said walking into the kitchen and sniffing the glasses left on the counter. Scotch, not bad. "Mortals everywhere will tell you, it's really bad for your health."

"I'm hungover, not drunk." He said taking a seat at the table as I rinsed out a glass. "Not yet anyways. Shouldn't ya be usin' your magic?"

"Shouldn't you be ready for your new students?" I asked as I grabbed a sponge and started scrubbing.

"Don't get smart asswoggle." Tony cursed in my general direction. "I had one last night with my lady before ya bastards moved in and I used it."

I rinsed out the glass and filled it with water. I opened the first cabinet, saw a hand gun taped to the inner lining of the walls, and not much else. I closed the door, and picked another to find wrapped white bricks labeled C4 stacked neatly inside with another gun taped to the walls. I closed that one too and sighed before saying a silent prayer.

Please, God, don't let my life be a Monty Python skit.

After opening and closing several cabinets filled with either booze, guns, or high grade plastic explosives, I found a generic pill bottle labeled ibuprofen. I cracked it open and the small red pills on the inside jerked around.

I put both the bottle and the glass in front of him. He looked at me and I stared back. We looked at each other expectantly while looking at the sink and the bottle repeatedly.

"What about the rest?"

"Eh, it can wait." I shrugged as he watched me sit across from him without touching the bottle or the glass of water. I gestured to the bottle and he didn't move.

"How do I know this ain't vicoden?" He asked studying the bottle and taking a sip of water before looking at the glass like it was full of soap.

"I spent a few years dealing vicoden on the black market for textbooks." I glared as he put the glass down. "Like to think I can tell the difference."

"Why don't I doubt that?" Tony asked holding up the glass for my benefit. "Whatcha tryin' to do? Poison me?"

"It's just water." I said flatly.

"Eugh." He stuck out his tongue as he put it back down. "Disgusting." He wrinkled his nose as he pushed the glass away. He grabbed the bottle and opened it. "Get up stairs. Need ya unpacked."

"You gonna-"

"NOT an invalid." Tony emphasized as I moved quickly to the stairs.

When I reached the top of the stairs, stacks of books were still covering anything resembling wallpaper as I followed the old hall. There wasn't much else to see other then one dusty window that filtered in the light before it made a turn to the right. I turned and followed the hallway some more with dusty windows on the other end of the stretch, past the bathroom and Tony's room and turned again to a secluded open living room with two doors on either side of me. There was a simple wooden table and a couple of chairs around it, books piled high on the surfaces, and some chairs with sheets on them, hosting more assemblies of books.

In all my years of knowing Tony, I had never really been up here. There was really no reason to, other then to use the bathroom when the one downstairs was occupied. All the cool stuff, like the television and working outlets, were downstairs. I picked up one of the books and flipped through it, noticing that it was in fae, and it had pictures of either the human body or the fairy bodies with increasingly gross diseases on them.

I closed it, put it down, turned, went to the door on the right, and opened that instead.

The room had two simple single beds, three windows, and completely devoid of books. I looked outside and then looked back into the room to make sure that I was still in the same house. My brain took a moment to process it as I looked around.

There were old wooden dressers with iron handles pressed against the wall for each of us on opposite sides of the room, a large open space between the beds big enough for a third bed, two desks with chairs were pressed against the wall with the door, and a single closet tucked away off to the left.

Something reflected the light in the closet, and as a rule, there cannot be hidden things in the closet. One too many close calls in high school and college. I walked over and touched around in the dark space.

The offender was a handle and I pulled on it, because it only takes something shiny for me to forget that Tony's house is full of loaded weapons and pickled dead animals in jars.

Dust, however, was the only thing to ambush me, and when it finally cleared I found out not only was the closet intended to be twice as deep, there were racks where loaded weapons should be. Extra large storage bins filled with what I can assume to be armor on the floor, empty mason jars with lids, shelves for cauldrons and whatever else I suppose we could find, a full red 1-gallon gas can, and a bag of disposable lighters.

"Well alright then." I nodded leaving the door open. I didn't want to think of how much dust I would kick up if tried to close it again.

There were steps behind me as the raggedy man with a cup of coffee leaned against the door frame. He leaned over and looked at the second closet I had opened up.

"Found your cache. Good job." He took a drink and sat down at the farther of the two desks.

"Thanks. What did you tell your lady friend?" I asked as I patted my jacket for my wand. "She had to have noticed the whole wizard thing."

"Turns out Jim, Jack, and Jose have this nifty tunnel vision trick they can pull in exchange for taking a sledgehammer to yer head in the mornin'." He took another drink and relaxed a bit. "Also she's been 'ere before."

"Oh." I leaned against the dresser with my wand in hand. It was thirteen inches of redwood carved with runes and decorated with blue and green dragon scales. It also made a handy stake in case of emergency. "A keeper. She must not have taken the whole wizard thing seriously at first."

"She didn't." He twitched as his memory kicked around. "Thought I was a nut. Or I did parties, shows, crystal balls, and rabbits out of hats."

"You do parties, shows, crystal balls and rabbit out of hats." I nodded thinking it over. "The Conclave pays well enough to survive, not to fight, and you can't make a living as a professional wizard."

The Conclave is the government to wizards. Nine of the most powerful wizards walking the earth, plus their underlings, keep us hidden, deal with mortal governments, and send us a paycheck occasionally when we do their dirty work. Like all governments, they're not so bad until you either ask them to do something or piss them off. I did the latter.

"Yeah, the parties did help." He groaned and rubbed his eyes. "Haven't been any good bounties recently either. I'm goin' to actually have to teach ya guys somethin'."

"Oh noooo...learning?" I covered my mouth and gasped as he angrily looked up at me. I dropped the subject with a smile. "So she bought the hey-I'm-actually-a-wizard thing." I bounced the idea around in my head for a moment. "Spells, potions, demons, ghosts, subtle and quick to anger, the whole thing?"

I admit that people are pretty open to the idea of a wizard, given that ghosts are becoming more of an acceptable idea every day, with fortune tellers on every corner, but given that Harry Potter burned while Twilight was put back on the shelves, I'm inclined to think human kind still has ways to go before I can start selling my particular skill set for money. After all, what am I going to do? Put an ad in the paper? Have me filed under Wizards in the Yellow Pages? I'd spend more time fending off people who think I'm crazy than earning any actual money.

"Took a while, and a lot of explainin' that I'm anythin' but subtle, but yes." He nodded and turning his nose up at me. "Now get unpackin'. The others will get here 'ventually and you need to help 'em."

"Yes sir." I nodded and pointed my wand at a blank space besides the empty desk to my right. "Aperio!"

Bottom line: I do what the drunk wizard says and I get money. Which is one of the things I'm rather desperate for at the moment. Jobs aren't exactly plentiful right now, so I might as well take the one job Tony was offering to train me in. I made my way through college on scholarships, grants, and loans, but that still left half a bill that needed paying, plus interest. Also, it was partially punishment for taking out ten square acres of pine, so I owed people money to cover up and pretend that a wizard and a vampire didn't cause a spontaneous forest fire.

You see, you always have to assume that 'Burn the witch!' is still the contingency plan for normal people, because instead of fire and pitchforks, they have nukes and extensive exploratory surgical procedures. And, without a doubt, there will always be more mortals than there are supernatural monsters in the world. We're talking a one thousand to one ratio, which are numbers no one is prepared to take to war. Also, have you seen what they do to each other? We're not getting tangled in that while explaining why we're not all bullet proof. So when someone like me messes up and starts doing public magic, our government makes it go away in the most palatable way they can think of on the fly.

On the other hand, a flash forest fire in the middle of August in a city that rains nine months of the year and snows the other three isn't exactly easy to explain to the general public either. Tony hadn't been happy about having to stop the two of us from making it worse, and had been even less ecstatic about having to clean up the mess and was then assigned the guardian of the two people responsible. Mostly, from what I understand, because killing us in cold blood was off the table and no one else would take us. We get the free pass on the condition we never do this ever again and do what Tony says from now on, and I got to walk away feeling relieved that no one was really hurt.

Rumor has it that the fire was passed off as a freak incident involving a transformer and some down power lines.

Anyways, back in reality, the usual brilliant, silver light burst from my wand, hit the wall like silly putty, and spread itself into a rectangle. It then dissolved the wall and left a silver doorframe with an entrance to my room on the upper level of my father's house in Portland, Oregon.

I put my wand back in my jacket pocket and walked through. That's one of the pros of being a wizard; you never lose your luggage to travel companies or pay for moving vans.

"How'd you get here?" Tony called out from his seat. "And don't tell me ya took a plane!"

I rolled my eyes. Wizards don't have much use for conventional transport, either. We teleport to just about anywhere in the world, assuming that we have a highly specific location that we need to get to and we have enough practice to throw ourselves from point A to point B without landing on our heads.

I can Jump anywhere from a few feet to the end of a city block before I start straining something. My dad and Tony can Jump the world as far as I can tell. Or at the very least, half the country.

The first time going anywhere, including the first time Dad took me to Tony's, we had to take modern transportation. Dad was able to Jump to City Hall from our house, but we had to rent a car from there. For the simple reason that we had no idea where we were going. Well, I had no idea where I was going. I fairly certain Dad knew.

I guess Tony didn't want to feel forgotten once I had gone off to college and the weekly visits for misbehaving in high school had ended. It had been four years that I thought he'd be happy about.

"Dad dropped me off." I said picking up a box I had set on my bed that morning. "First day of school thing, I guess. I still can't Jump more than three hundred feet in one direction, if that's what you're wondering. "

Little paws with lots of mass rushed up the stairs in Portland and greeted me with broad sweeps of her curly tail. I smiled and greeted the fifty pounds of tan, fluffy fur and teeth as I walked back to Sioux Falls. She followed me effortlessly as I picked the bed further away from the door by dropping the box on it.

"Hi, Riot." I scratched behind her ears. She accepted her pets and rubbed up against me like a cat. "Some days I wonder if you know you're a dog." I scratched her back, which she enjoyed a great deal before I patted her in the same place to signify it was over.

She then trotted over to Tony and sat down politely, waving her tail as I went to grab another box.

"Hi, dog." He scratched her head. "How's it goin'? All ready for the move? I ain't got nothin' here for ya'."

I came back and dropped the box on the bed. Riot had seated herself leaning against Tony's leg, watching me go back and forth from the doorway.

"What, you're not going to help either?" I asked as Riot smiled a happy doggy grin. "Fine. Make me do all the work."

"Just use yer magic." I didn't have to look over to know Tony was shooting me looks. "You could Jump it, levitate, force it. C'mon, slow poke."

I came back and dropped a third box on the bed. "I thought you'd appreciate me trying not to use my magic for everything."

"I'd appreciate this hangover to go away and Jo not havn' to work today." He grumbled. "This is ridiculous. Just cast somethin'."

"Her name's Jo?" I inquired as went for another box. I looked around my room as I left and did a quick mental calculation of how long it was going to take me.

Two more boxes combined with a rolling suitcase multiplied by the trunk and my bed sheets to the power of Riot's things, all over how much I cared came to about an hour or two.

Mental math is tough.

"Yeah...She's uhh..." He shook his head as I dropped the box on the bed. "She's none of yer concern."

"Well if you say so." I scratched Riot behind the ears. "It's amazing how he found such a pretty girl, isn't it Riot?"

"That's it." He pushed me out of the way as he rose out of the chair. "Give me yer wand."

"What? No." I stared at him straight in the face as my hands wrapped around the wand. "My wand. Mine. Get your own magic stick."

"I'm not goin' all the way downstairs." He glared at me and I could swear he was trying to stop my heart from beating using his frustration alone. "Give me your wand."

"But..." I shrink back a little. "What are you going to do with it?"

He growled, honest to God made the sounds of an angry dog, and I turned over my wand. I wasn't scared or anything, it was just part of my master plan to find out what he wanted.

Tony looked it over in his hand. Turning it over and inspecting the dragon scales, he made the same face I used to make when I was small and Dad told me to eat my peas. A face twisted in disliked confusion.

"It's a toy." He stepped away from me and swished it around a bit. The runes lit up as he tossed it from one hand to the other. "Look at this thing. All sparkly and girly...Can you even make anything levitate or Jump with this prop?"

"It gets the job done, okay?" I crossed my arms. I liked my wand. It made me feel like a proper wizard when I pointed it at things. Just because it was nice to look at doesn't give people the right to make fun of me for it.

"Staff." He commanded as he shook my wand like it was snow globe. His staff, the same one I had seen earlier downstairs, suddenly appeared right next to him with a 'thump', and he grabbed it before it fell over. He then tossed me my wand, still radiating with his magic that felt old, warm, and frustrated with this thing. I slipped it back into my jacket pocket.

"Move." He lightly tapped his staff with one hand. I could feel his magic briefly make a chill in the air, rip under my feet, up my spine and into my memory. It found what it needed before I had a chance to blink, ripped back out from under me, and around the corner to my room in Portland. There was pop, a thunk, a creak, and briefly the sound of static feedback.

I slowly turned around and the rest of my luggage appeared on my bed in a neat pile. The mattress had been completely swapped out for the one in my old room, with the sheets and pillows neatly on it. Riot's bowls and bed were neatly laid out; her red leash hung from the window, ready for use in the open gap between beds was the bag of dry dog food and twelve pack of wet dog food peeking out from under the bed. My black, battered, and heavy trunk sat at the foot of the bed, right where I thought I'd want it.

"...Thanks." I turned back as he tapped his staff again, closing the door between rooms. I felt a tinge of sadness as he brushed past me and inspected his work.

My dad would be coming home to an empty house later that night. No dog or children to greet him, my siblings having long since moved out to take on the world. My mother had hopped a cruise when I was ten and never came back. I wondered if he'd come visit, or force the door back open. He was always the type to worry about me.

"Wasn't so hard." Tony sat himself down at my desk and gripped his staff with both hands while it was firmly planted in the ground. "Can ya do me a favor?"

I turned to him and waited for the command.

"Summon me a Gatorade, some aspirin, and a bacon sandwich." He looked up at me with bloodshot eyes and desperation. "Or a loaded gun. Either or."

I nodded, pulled out my wand, and asked if all those things were still where I remembered them being.

"Yes ma'am." He nodded, looked down, and rubbed his eyes.

I took a deep breath, summoned my magic, and thought back to the places where I used to grab them. The fridge. The bathroom medicine cabinet. Kitchen cupboards. "Doen wat hij zegt."

My wand glowed for a second and let out a pop of light. The command bounced off Tony and dispersed throughout the house. There was a brief rattling all around as things got themselves sorted, and then the sandwich, Gatorade, and aspirin appeared on the table without a sound.

"Glad to see you can still do that." I scowled, his .44 fell with a clunk on the desk, and he put up a hand as an apology. "Thank you."

"No problem." I said picking up the gun, putting down my wand, and popping open the chamber as he washed down the aspirin with Gatorade. He took a loud bite of his sandwich as all six shots stared back at me.

"'ou 'ill 'no owta oz un a o's?" He asked with his mouth full. I took a moment to process what he said and attempt translating Bacon-ese.

"Yeah, why?" I shut the chamber and ran my hand over the 8⅜" barrel. "Compensating much, aren't you?"

"I ain't got nothn' to compensate for." He said when he swallowed. "And you livin' civilian college-sorority life for four years, I figured ya forgot damn near everything."

"I set a forest on fire and knocked out a power grid." I reminded him, putting the gun back down on the table. "I'm fine."

"Fire and energy are easy to summon in a pinch." He drank more Gatorade as though it was his lifeblood. "'specially if yer pissed off at the person yer throwing it at."

"I'm fine." I said a little more forcefully as I turned my head to stare at my things. Riot nuzzled my leg and looked up at Tony expectantly.

"No. Mine. Get yer own greasy heart attack." He said to Riot as she put her ears down. She looked over at me with her classic puppy eyes.

"Check your bowl." I muttered something as I tapped my wand. It sparked and Riot tilted her head to one side. "Go on, check."

She sniffed the air before carefully approaching her bowl as I leaned against the desk. She found her bowl, sniffed the grey, gelatinous mush, then turned, and I swear, glared at me.

"I'm not giving you bacon, are you kidding me?" She laid down in front of her bowl and pouted. "Eat your dog food."

"How often did ya use your magic while at school?" He readied himself for another bite. Bacon tends to fall out between the layers of complementary bread. "If ya don't mind me askin'."

I shrugged and thought about it briefly. "Not often. You can't get away with much of anything when all your friends are mortals and you're surround with expensive tech."

"Figures." He said as I looked over at him. I waited for a response as he stared back at me. "Yer magic's rusty." He grimaced as he took another bite. " 'Fraid of that. Had my suspicions when ya clean the glass. Gunna have to work ya a little harder to get ya back in the game."

"I'm not rusty." I glared as he raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah? When's the last time ya knocked out a power grid?" He put down the sandwich and faced me. "Besides a month ago."

I paused and thought back. There had to be a time and a place that I did this. I could feel it in my bones that it had happened but the memory didn't immediately surface. "Gah... Uh... High school?" I hazard a guess. There was the sinking feeling that I knew I had done it, but I couldn't remember when.

"You were fourteen, Piper." He said overly confident and leaned forward to emphasis his point. "Shaun cornered ya and called ya a cold-hearted bitch in the home ec room. Ya broke the oven."

"If by broke, you mean I set it on fire with extreme prejudiced, then yes." I nodded. I vaguely remember making pancakes that day. "I remember that."

"Yeah. You were a hormonal kid and ya overreacted. That I expected." I cast my eyes down. I knew where this was going. "But to have the same reaction when yer twenty-one? Jesus, Piper, ya had to have forgotten a lot to be that reckless."

"Maybe I just wanted him dead." I tried to say just as confidently. Not even I believed it as it left my mouth, which sent a slight wave of panic up my spine.

Maybe I was getting rusty. A response shiver went down my spine.

"We both know that ain't true. Ain't never been true." He turned back to his sandwich and resumed eating. "Ya can Jump. That's good. Ya should practice Jumping things. Use that toy of yers."

"It's not a toy." I huffed as he rolled his eyes at me.

"Fine. Use yer...wand, Ms. Granger." He took another drink of crazy-colored liquid people call a sports drink and sat back in the chair. "We got work to do."

"Work?" I tilted my head. He hated that word like conservatives hated people.

He lifted up his staff to bang it onto the floor again, but stopped when his hangover seemed to have other plans. I rolled my eyes and he tried glaring at me with a somewhat irritable look. There was something about a hung over, aggravated, unshaven Tony that screamed 'pirate' and made me want to make Pirates of the Caribbean jokes.

"What do you need?" I picked up my wand.

"Cellphone. Kitchen table." He grabbed his head and looked rather surly at the bedroom windows.

Wizards. What can I say? We're dark, surly, and angsty creatures. And man, are we good at it.

"Doen wat hij zegt." I held out my hand, waited for the magic to bounce off of him and come back, and a red cellphone appeared in it. "You can keep one of these? Don't you fry it every time you use it?"

"Disposable." He shrugged as I handed it to him. "Ninety percent plastic. Used up all my landlines for cover IDs. Damn things are cheaper than dirt and has a warranty that lasts forever."

I put my wand away and took a step back as he fiddled with trying to get the voicemail to work. I guess that's one of the few things that I can count on to entertain me in a pinch. Old people and technology.

Also, considering wizards are live wires next to technology, unless we are completely dead inside, wizards and other beings that go thump in the night have a tendency to short out modern technology if we're not careful.

After about three minutes of watching him curse at the plastic device, he dropped it on the table and, after the static fizzled out, a young man's voice projected through the phone as loud as the thing could. I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms, quietly judging the phone.

"Hey, Tony, it's Shaun." His tone was foreign to my ears, as it was calm, polite, and somewhat casual. I didn't know what to make of it.

Shaun Raith was a- is a vampire that, given the option, I would banish to the Second Sphere (Monster Land) with extreme prejudice. I fought that scumbag before I was able to tell time, and as far as I can remember, he's never even had that tone. The one I was use to was arrogant mockery laced with cold hatred that gave me a knee jerk response of wanting to rip off his skin, bash in his genitals with a garden rock, and watch him bleed slowly to death over hot coals.

This was just weird.

"You still live in that blue house, right? I'll be there in a couple hours; my flight got delayed and stopped in Wyoming."

No, I thought. It's the one on the hill with the mist and fog and cackling wart faced witch you can hear at midnight. The blue house is down the street.

"Sorry, think you can come give me a hand and just Jump all this stuff from FSD?" His politeness was killing me. "You wizards are always a kind and generous folk. And a little impatient."

"What the-" Tony held up his hand and silenced me.

"Also, ah, I'm guessing you want to deal whoever's doing the Freddy Krueger impression judging by how you made me take the plane with a guy who nearly died from a nightmare. Thanks for that."

That brought me back to reality in a heartbeat. Dealing with Raith was one thing, but when other people are put in the crosshairs, I'm not stupid enough to continue arguing with his sorry ass. Luckily, he isn't either. And now there is someone dying from a nightmare? This wasn't a joke; his voice was businesslike, concise, and curt. I knew of things that could kill via nightmare; they were mostly just whispers, but it actually happening was a whole new ballpark for me.

"Oh, and if you see Piper," I went back to judging the phone upon hearing my name, his voice flipping back to what I knew. "Tell her time has done her good. She should wear fire and brimstone more often; it shows off those claw marks and bruises I left."

I growled at the phone and the static started buzzing. Tony held up his hand again, shot me another glare and I redirected my frustration on a wall. There was a loud thump, and the whole house creaked. The phone stopped making noise for a moment before resuming the message.

"Also tell her to read up on things that can reduce a healthy, adolescent Thai man to a screaming corpse so that only a defibrillator and banishment can bring him back and if this has happened before. Oh, flight time. See you in a few hours."

He hung up.

"Freddy Krueger. The answer is Freddy Krueger." I said while Tony stared at me. He smacked his lips we took a moment of silence. I left the room. "On it, sir."

It could never be so simple.

I marched into the forest of books in the hallway and took a deep breath. There was a method to Tony's book madness, but this is the part where I was far more used to university libraries; I had mostly forgotten how to attack the Congo of books.

I started with the unorganized books on the table and tried to deduce what they had in common. I frowned at the titles, noticing a distinct lack of English letters. Some of them contained letters I doubted were native to earth. I wasn't sure how long this was going to take me, and I couldn't afford to read and translate all these books, Tony liked prompt answers when people were dying.

I turned back to rummage through my things, only for Tony to stop me at the door frame as he got up to leave, sandwich in his mouth, Gatorade in one hand, and holding up a pair of prescription frameless glasses in the other.

"Thank you." I said putting them on and going back to work. These glasses, besides giving me the ability to make sense of blurs of text at more than twenty feet, also allowed me to have the cliff-notes of any book I flipped through, speed read a book under twenty minutes, and gave me subtitles of any language that isn't English. I may or may not have used them obsessively in college.

"I'm gunna go get Shaun." He said finishing his sandwich. "Use every spell you still can. I wanna know how to kick this thing's ass by the time I get back."

"Yes sir." I responded as Tony limped away on his staff to his room, cursing out his hangover.

"I have a spell for that." I said flipping through a book apparently about electrical storms and demons. He looked back at me quizzically and I nodded. "What? I did more than study and I wasn't completely cut off from my magic."

"Well c'mon then!" He gripped his head as the frustration added to his problems. "On with it!"

I laughed a bit as he pulled his pirate act again, put my glasses over my forehead, pulled out my wand, and channeled my magic. "Tony's nog nooit drinken als dat weer."

My wand pulsed with light that shimmered over Tony, which immediately let him stand up straight and smile with relief. He then held up his wrist, noticing that he was wearing a bracelet with a large black bead the size of a quarter.

"Spell's broken if that breaks before the hangover's supposed to be over." I put my glasses back on. "It'll vanish if the spell outlasts the hangover. I'm covering it up, not getting rid of it."

He nodded with approval and Jumped into his room to change. His room rustled and he cursed as he landed on something that fell over, changed, and walked over to clean himself up in the bathroom as I finished my first stack of books.

With that done, he jingled his keys, went to the stairs, and headed down. I grinned when I realized that he was going to the airport in a car. I told you, wizards have no use for conventional transport, especially airplanes. It's usually far cheaper just to magic our way to places, because there was a significantly smaller chance of us breaking some equipment that could save someone's life. But sometimes you have to make an exception to the things around you for the sake of paranoia.

See, Tony was a man stuck in the 1970's some days that needed to cart around a trunk full of weapons. He had, somewhere, a load of classic cars that he kept around to drive that had a big enough arsenal in each truck for him to perform a last stand if need be. And the whole point of keeping the cars around is to drive with your pride swollen to the size of Jupiter and to attract girls like Jo, but also in case he had to put a monster in its grave.

I shrugged and glanced over another random book that my hand grabbed as the sound of a car pulled away. I tossed it aside in an instant and looked around at the books against the walls and over the chairs. Each one of those books held expertise on some shadow of hell that wanted to eat our face.

Monsters are real and this one wanted to eat our dreams. I jumped as Riot groaned and resettled on her bed.

Paranoia came with the job when you're being hunted as often as being the hunter. It's inevitable, and it's the first line of defense against invisible demons determined to make you into Sunday night dinner. And trust me; there are plenty of monsters in the dark that would love to serve you with a side of slaw. I had just read books about four of them and one was on a plane.