When her family's home was attacked on Friday evening, Raven Wishmore was in the dining room doing her homework.
The dining room was not the most strategic place to be located in times of assault with all the windows and bright lights. Normally Raven would have preferred to be in her older brother's armory closet (his stun gun would have been dead useful) or a few steps away from her parents.
However, Raven wasn't granted the luxury of choosing where to fight, mostly because the attack caught all the Wishmores off guard.
The family had been attacked before; Raven's father was employed as a black dog, an agent of intelligence. He made a new enemy every morning before Raven buttered her bagel. But never before were they assaulted while using their actual identities in their own home.
It was only this bit of information that comforted Raven when she had misfortune to be caught by the attackers.
"Come on Raven, please?" Shina said, her voice hitching like a puppy's yelp. "Please read to me?"
Raven turned a page in her English textbook. "For the third time Shina, no," she said.
"Raven," Shina said, shifting next to Raven's chair.
Raven ignored her and reached for a notebook.
Spying her opening, Shina nonchalantly tossed her book—Black Beauty—on top of Raven's open textbook.
Raven leaned back in her chair. "Shina, I have homework to do," she said, turning to face her little sister.
"You can do it later. I have to go to bed in half an hour, do it then. Come on, please," she said, reaching out to clutch the sleeve of Raven's shirt.
Raven rubbed her eyes. "Shina, I said no."
"Just one chapter," Shina said, reaching past Raven to flip the book open. "Just a page," she said, switching her bargain when Raven narrowed her eyes. "Like you used to when I was little."
"I haven't read to you in ages."
"So start now. Pretty please? Come on, read to me."
"Shina for the last time: no," Raven said, her voice filling the dining room.
Shina flinched but held her ground, her eyes meeting Raven's.
Raven tossed her pen aside in frustration, half admiring her sister and half wanting to strangle her. This conversation was a weekly event, one that started years ago when Raven was sorted as a page turner and received her page turner ring—the symbol of her alliance with books and libraries. It was then she discovered she was a freak of magic.
No matter how angry Raven got, Shina never went crying to their parents. Raven doubted their parents even knew about the twisted tradition.
Raven picked up Black Beauty and held it out to Shina.
Shina stared at Raven for several moments before she took the book in an admission of defeat, for this week anyway.
As Shina padded away, Raven returned her attention to her textbook. She saw something black move out of the corner of her eye, and glanced up just as the picture window of the dining room shattered.
Glass flew everywhere, crashing against the dining room table like a razor edged wave of water. "Excellent," Raven sighed as her little sister was back at her side, pressing against her arm. "Shina, go—," Raven cut herself off when a black item the size and shape of a large egg was tossed into the house, landing with a crunch on the dining room table.
Raven blinked at the flashing object, a magically charged flash bomb, absent mindedly recalling seeing such an object in her brother's rather enviable weapons. "Go tell Mom and Dad we're under attack," Raven said as she slid out of her chair and picked up the flash bomb.
Shina booked it out of the room, her little face twisted in grim seriousness.
Raven stared at the bomb cradled in her hand, watching the white light located on the top of the hand sized weapon. She waited for the light to speed up its blinking rate before chucking it back out the broken window.
Seconds later a brilliant light flashed, blazing against the side of the house like a misfired firework.
Raven could see the dazzling light through her shut eyelids before it receded. She opened her eyes and turned around to reach into her backpack, listening to the groans of the now blinded prowlers huddled outside the dining room. (They would be unable to aid their companions who most likely had the house surrounded—the blinding effects of a magic based flash bomb generally took at least twenty minutes to subside.)
Raven's fingers shook as she unzipped another section of her backpack. She tore through her school supplies until she found what she was looking for, a book. "The Hound of Baskervilles," she said, reading the title. "Hopefully I won't need it, but just in case."
Floor boards creaked, and Raven flinched. She casually strolled out of the room, heading for her bedroom. She carefully walked through the house, keeping her eyes directly in front of her, flipping on lights as she went. Raven licked her lips when she entered her bedroom hallway. This was just like the routine practices. All she had to do was follow the guidelines: alert the family, get out, meet on the street, and use force if necessary.
"Don't move," a voice hissed in her ear. A hand clamped down on her mouth as the lights were cut. Raven twitched as something icy scraped against her throat. So much for routine.
Raven shivered as shapes crept past her. Squinting, she made out human-like forms slinking down the hallway. Her mouth went dry when a weapon rested against her throat.
She screamed as the door to her parents' room was kicked in and the intruders slithered inside. After a few moments garbled hissing slid out of the room.
Raven was abruptly whipped around. Gulping, she felt a dagger press into her cheek. "Where is he, girl?" her captor growled. His face was shadowed by a hood but his red eyes pierced the darkness like a sword.
"Who?" Raven stammered, cursing her father a million times in her head. (To borrow his words, he just had to enter an "exploratative field that allows me to embrace my inner dare devil!")
"Your father," the intruder said as the other attackers rumamged around her parents' room. "Where is he hiding, where is the cauldron?"
Swallowing, Raven thickly replied, "Like I'd tell you!" before stomping on the prowler's foot. She simultaneously cracked her fingers, creating a large slab of ice that she clenched in her hand.
Raven's captor yelped when she slammed the ice into his gut, pushing his weight onto his stinging foot. He let go of her, stumbling backwards as Raven burst away. Free, Raven sprinted down the dark hallway and dove into the dining room, face planting in the carpet when she tripped on her older brother's backpack.
"This is not the time to be lying down on the job, sis."
"Nate," Raven breathed as her older brother shut the sliding dining room door, flipping the lock latch.
Nate reached down and pulled Raven to her feet. "Come on. Mom and Dad—,"
Footsteps pounded down the hallway and skid to a stop outside the shut dining room.
Nate swore under his breath and unsheathed the broad sword that was buckled to his belt. "Get out of here, Raven," he ordered.
"I'm not leaving you," Raven stubbornly said as someone banged on the door.
"You can't do anything to help. You'd only be a burden. Go," Nate ordered.
Raven hesitated a moment too long and the door was knocked flat.
In stormed the black shadows and the intruder with red eyes. "Capture them!" he ordered.
Nate crouched and fended off the first two opponents. He handled his sword with care, disarming one of the shadows before knocking out the other.
That was all he had time to do before six of them descended upon him.
"Nate!" Raven cried, barely able to see her brother's flashing sword through the darkness. She gripped her book, making the binding stretch. She could help him, she could save him, but it would mean blowing her secret wide open. She hadn't read out loud in years.
Raven glanced over her shoulder and backed up a few steps, throwing open a door that led into the main hallway of the house. The front porch was mere steps away.
There was a cry, Nate had been hurt.
Raven took a deep breath to steel herself. She would fight.
Nate stumbled backwards out of the cloud of foes. Raven skittered to the side, and Nate tripped and fell out of the dining room, landing in the hallway with a splat.
Raven impassively shut the door in his face, ignoring his wide eyes and gaping mouth. As she turned to face the prowlers, Raven started paging through her Sherlock Holmes book. She set her back to a window to use the streetlight as a light source.
"Are you kidding?" the leader laughed. "You turn to a book for help?"
Raven ignored him and smiled when she found the page she was looking for.
"A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smoldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog," she read, her voice rising in strength until she was shouting. When finished she chucked the book across the room, smacking an intruder square in the face.
Raven took a deep breath as her silver ring started to glow. Moments later the book exploded open like a bomb. Light streaked out of the pages, stirring up a cold wind and bathing the room in red.
Sweat broke across Raven's face while an animal clawed its way out of the book, snapping and snarling as it pulled its hind legs free from the pages. True to the description, it was a growling, glowing dog the size of a small pony. It snarled an eerie marriage of a howl and a roar that shook the foundation of the house.
"Page turner, page turner, page turner. Your little illusion tricks will not work on us," the flame eyed man laughed, taking a step towards her and the dog.
Raven slowly inched towards the hall door, trying to avoid drawing the beast's attention. "Who said I'm a normal page turner?"
The hellish hound lunged forward and latched onto a man's arm, dragging him down.
The room broke out in panic and Raven opened the door, zipped out, and slammed the door shut behind her. She breathed heavily as she leaned against the wood frame. The intruders screamed and howled in terror in the room behind her.
"What did you do?" Nate asked. He was standing, pressing a hand to his wounded shoulder.
"Nothing. Let's go."
Brother and sister tore down the hallway, smashing the front door open just as the dining room door clicked ajar.
Raven tripped down the front steps, cursing her white flip flops when she skid out at the bottom. Her injured brother was already halfway across the yard.
Raven jolted into a run when she heard her mother scream, but the red eyed leader was already giving chase.
Raven sprinted towards her family. She tore down the familiar concrete sidewalk as her family shouted for her.
"Hurry Raven!" Nate yelled, having already reached the road.
Raven panted. The leader closed in on her as she made a beeline for the illuminated circle her mother had drawn on the street with sidewalk chalk.
Raven's stomach heaved when she slipped on the slick cement. Before she could right herself she was shoved against the family minivan by invisible hands. Raven winced but froze, pressing herself against the car. Sure enough, as her pursuer slid to a stop his eyes widened, and he fell to the ground in a crumpled heap when an unseen force hit his throat.
Raven peeled herself off the van and ran towards the circle again. "Thanks, Dad," she said while peeking over her shoulder at the blank space behind her. "But next time do you think you could avoid flattening me?"
Her father's image flickered like an old TV screen as he shook off his magic and ran after her. "I save your life and that's the thanks I get?" Raven's father asked as they slid into the street.
"Raven you're safe!" Raven's mother tearfully said as they skid to a stop inside the circle. She sniffed and made a motion to hug her daughter when her husband interrupted.
"Go! Let's go!" Raven's father urged.
"Right," Raven's mother agreed, and the circle blinked to life.
As beads of light floated in the air, Raven turned around to face the house. She could see the phosphorescent glow of the hellish hound as it raced past windows. "You may go," Raven whispered. Her breath hitched when the eerie light slowly faded, and a side ache stung her muscles.
When Raven's mother finished the magical activation of the circle Raven and her family disappeared as the ground twisted up around them like a giant tear drop. The tear drop exploded, and the earth shook before returning to its normal position, leaving no trace of Raven or her family.