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§4 Running

    Outside it was overcast, and cold, even for Spring in the City.
     Without looking up from her phone, Anisette said, “We’ll need an open space for the first line, Oct. Some place with a lot of running room.” 
     “Driver arriving in two minutes,” I told her. 
     No, it was just Lyft, Jean. Even I am not extravagant enough to have a chauffeur on call 24/7 in a place like San Francisco.
     She nodded, then went back to texting.
     We stood there for awhile, waiting, the silence punctuated only by the occasional chimes of An’s phone and her barely audible swearing. Finally, she put it back in her pocket and looked up at me.
     “They weren’t happy about it. The attack, the Jinn, the delay. Any of it,” she said, the stress audible in her voice.
     “What are they going to do, An? Demote us? Take away our secret decoder rings?” I asked.
     “It’s different for you, Oct,” she replied.
      I bit back a quip. She was right. She was also wrong, in a way.  But mostly, she was right. Two generations of being Guardians, versus, oh who knows? Twenty? More? My ancestors had been sucking silver since before there was Enigma anything. On top of that, the differences in wealth, in gender, in skin color, or anything else. As you yourself once complained about them, my friend. The subtle, and not so subtle, look down one’s nose from that whole Oxbridge clique. I am sure they are still stewing, now that you are in charge.
     “Even so, An. Even so, you shouldn’t let those old farts intimidate you. They need you an awful lot more than you need them,” I said.
     Her phone chimed, and swearing, she pulled it out of her pocket. At about the same time, my own phone chimed. Our ride was here.
     We piled in the back of a white Kia Sorento. The driver, who was almost painfully thin, maybe North African, asked us where to.
     “The Great Meadow, in the Park,” I said.
     “Picnic?” he asked, looking up dubiously at the darkening sky.
     I laughed, perhaps a bit forced.  He laughed too, and ride sharing social niceties accomplished, we headed off down Mission Street.
     The ride, which took about twenty minutes or so, was otherwise mostly silent. About halfway through, An started to shake a bit, sick from all the adrenaline earlier. I took her hand and held it for the remainder of the trip. 
     It was drizzling thinly when we got out in the park, and thankfully not too many people were about. We walked deep into the meadow, well out of sight of the road. Finally An stopped.
     “Here seems as good a place as any,” she said.
     Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a yellow squeeze bottle of powdered marking chalk. Rapidly she outlined a four foot white circle on the grass. Inside of this she drew four overlapped triangles, their corners breaking the circle in the eight cardinal directions. Then, crouching down, she then sketched out a number of Greek letters around the inside circumference.
     “I hope you still have that picture from the last time I found him, Oct,” she said, standing up.
     No, she doesn’t strictly need it, I think, if she has a clear enough image in her head. But she had only seen Lueur once.
     I pulled him up on my phone, and handed it to her. She glanced at it briefly then handed it back.
     “Right, then, here we go,” she said.
     She crouched in the center of the circle,  chanting in the sing song that is Ancient Greek as the rain fell on her downturned head. She did this for a couple of minutes, then reached slowly down to her right leg, her hand inside the cuff. Just as slowly, she removed it from its sheath there, the Messenger Rod. 
     Have you seen it, Jean? Not the prettiest thing, really, although few artifacts ever are.  Basically it’s a wooden caduceus, the symbol of Hermes, but the snakes are only crude carvings, and one of the wings at the top is chipped. It looked terribly worn and old, and was less than a foot long all told. Probably as nearly indestructible as the rest of the damn things for all of that though.
     She touched the tip in a complex rapid pattern on the inside of the circle, her voice rising. Then, in a sudden motion, she stood, the Rod raised up high in front of her, something like heat coming out of it in waves. She nearly shouted the last word, and then she began spinning rapidly in place, her legs churning up and down. Her face was now fully entranced, her eyes rolled back deep in their sockets.
     Then, just as suddenly, she took off like a gazelle, the rod still high and raised in front of her.  At first she ran every which way, the Rod seeming to jerk her too and fro, but finally, the direction settled down, and she ran for awhile in a straight line. She came to a stop maybe two hundred yards away from me, and waved.
     South. Lueur was somewhere to the south.
     When I caught up to her, she was walking the same line, her phone out, running the small Android tracking ap that Adam had coded for her some years back.
     “Okay, Oct, I got the first line. We need to get about fifty miles or so east from here to triangulate. Unless you think he is holed up in Argentina or something,” she said.
     “Okay, let’s head back. We can take the BART to Pleasanton, fastest way there,” I replied.
     “With any luck he is in LA or San Diego, and we can be there by dinner,” she said, as we were walking back.
     I nodded, my mind drifting to some of the restaurants I wanted to try down there. It was a Tuesday, so reservations would not be too tough. I could probably convince Laurent to go to Taco Maria, especially if it was my treat. Yeah, he is painfully cheap, especially for an immortal.
     I was awoken from this gastric reverie by a voice in my head.
     “Oct.” It was Jesse, who surprisingly was still there, watching. Yes, I can lock them out if I want to, Jean. But if I leave it at a single turn of the coin, they can more or less come or go as they please.
     “Oct! Above you--” he said.
     I looked up. Over our heads there were three large black birds, circling slowly in the rain. Ravens. He must have seen them when I was lost in thought.
     An followed my gaze, looking up as well.
     At first I was uncertain. After all, there were a lot more ravens in the City in recent years. And we were in a park that probably had plenty of nice things, living or dead, to snack on.
     But as we continued walking to the road, it became more and more clear that both An and I formed the center of the circle around which they were slowly soaring. Unconsciously I picked up the pace, and removed my phone. 
     Even after a lifetime of magic, Jean, it was eerie. The rain picked up, becoming thick and misty, accompanied by brief sudden gusts of wind. Not exactly ideal flying conditions, one would think. But still they quietly circled. Never coming any closer. But never going any farther away either.
     I doubt it was more than ten minutes, all told, hurrying across the wet grass and mud with our corvid stalkers in tow. But it was a very long ten minutes, Jean. I could feel Jesse’s thoughts, although he said nothing. Could feel him weighing the risks of us shooting them down, right in the middle of Golden Gate Park, which even now was far from deserted. I’ll confess I was tempted myself, although it may just have been his feelings bleeding onto mine.
     At last we found the road, and I punched up a ride. If they had a Lyft driver on the network, waiting to swoop in, well, at least we were still armed. I looked over at An, who was no doubt a bit tired from using the Rod. She gave me a quick smile,  but it didn’t reach her eyes.
     When the driver got there, this time in a silver Camry, one of the birds made a strange sound, almost like a child’s shriek. Then turning in unison, they winged off, heading west.
     I’ll spare you the BART trip to Pleasanton. As it turns out, I should have just paid that Lyft driver to go the whole distance, even if it was slower. Not only did we both have to stand most of the way, it became a complete exercise in paranoia.  I had Andrews call up four more tenants to help me scan the crowd, watching for anyone who might be watching us. It was something that we had practiced, actually. I panned my head very slowly from side to side, the entire trip, but no one saw a thing. 
     When we finally got there, we ended up running the ritual in a field in one of the community parks, Val Vista I think was the name. The rain (or was it the stench? -- it bordered a water reclamation plant) had thankfully emptied it all other life forms, outside of a few huddled and disinterested pigeons. The wind was stronger than it had been in the City too, and we slowly got drenched as An had to painstakingly redraw the circle over and over again before she finally got a successful run.
     At last she succeeded. When I caught up to her, my shoes heavy with mud, my hair plastered limply all over my face, she was already she zooming in on the map on her phone with her thumb and forefinger. This was it, I remember thinking. Please, let it be LA.  Someplace with a decent airport. Some place civilized, where we could get a nice bottle of wine, or a couple, some place to erase the wet and cold and fear and tension that we had had to fight through the entire day.
     “Where the hell is 29 Palms?” said An.
     Yes, Jean, go ahead and laugh. It’s funny now, I agree. But after a day like that I was devastated.
     “Small town outside a very big Marine base.  We can probably fly into Palm Springs, I guess,” I said, trying to conceal my disappointment.
     “Oh, Tiki Bars!” said An with a grin. 
     I winced, and she just patted my hand.
     The lines intersected at a specific street address. We typed it into Google Maps.
     “Illumination Tattoo and Smoking Supplies,” said An, then snorted.
     No doubt about it. We had found him.

Part 5. Lueur