The game of cat and mouse was one of the oldest, and had changed little over time. Technically, the cat was a fox, and the mouse was a little bird, but the game stayed the same. She ran and he gave chase, though she couldn't know it until it was too late. She walked in human form, thought her heart stayed sparrow fast and her eyes darted to every sound and shadow as she crossed the darkened parking lot. It did her little good. Ancient instincts had dulled with the passage of generations, diluted to mere uneasiness as the eyes of her predator tracked her from the edge of the woods. Tybee smiled, eyes twinkling with mischief and starlight.
The girl flicked a glance over her shoulder, but the fox was nowhere to be seen. His shadow-dark pelt was made for the night, and his passage was a hushed echo against the greater murmuring of the night. She sang for him, Lady Night, lusty crickets and whispering grass, covering the rustling passage of her favorite son. Nighttime was for hunters. Sunset, a benediction for the hunted.
The jingling of keys was a harsh discord against the night song. Tybee's senses stretched out, tasting the girl's aura, testing her Luck. When a particularly loud frog croaked nearby she jumped, but did not drop her keys. Not especially ill luck, then. Didn't necessarily mean good, but it was a start.
Slipping back into his human form, Tybee snuggled into the shadow of a large tree as the girl got into her car. He blew her a kiss, and though he couldn't see it, he imagined her skin shivered with the magic of it, as his brush of power marked her. He'd let Fate decide, whether that kiss brought his little bird to him or not. Tonight, he would hunt for fun. Tomorrow, the real game began.
Lia sat in her car a moment too long before turning it on. Her fingers had locked the doors automatically when she'd gotten in, a habit long engrained by her mother.
"You can never be too careful," she'd always said. Lia was slowly learning that wasn't entirely true.
It had taken years for her to figure out that all the careful watching, all the what-ifs, all the opportunities lost to fear took away what made life worth living. That her mother really was too careful. Now Lia was trying to strike the right balance, to temper caution with reason. Her avian soul had seen that life as the cage that it was. Now she was ready to fly.
She started the car, telling herself it had only been the wind, or night animals. No one had been following her, she was just anxious being out by herself after dark. It was smart to be anxious, silly to be paranoid. Right. Now if only her too rapid heart would get that memo.
As she drove she forced herself to relax, unlocked the doors, rolled down the window. The night breeze carried the smells of damp earth, growing things, and the unnamable smell of magic. Lia had chosen this school specifically because of its location: far enough from home for Lia's liking, close enough for her mother's worrying, and most importantly, rumored to be near a small Rift.
The holes in reality had always been there, but in recent years they'd grown in number and frequency. And unreliability. A new Rift could appear overnight, and just as quickly fade away into nothing. The one in the next town over was small, but apparently had been there for years and years, even before the shift that had started them cropping up all over the place.
Of course, it wasn't a widely advertised fact, because they were unspeakably dangerous to live near.
The less stable rifts, the ones the had started appearing more recently, were said to take out entire towns with them when they collapsed. But an old, small one like this, Lia had reasoned, wasn't likely to collapse any time soon. And the size of it meant the magic flowing through from Otherside shouldn't do much more than …well, Lia didn't know what. But she wanted to find out. So she'd chosen this school, ran it by her best friend Kyle, who had both agreed and helped convince her mother to let her go. Kyle who was out late tonight, who was never afraid to go anywhere alone. Who never shied away from adventure.
Lia could only hope to be as brave.
It seemed Kyle wasn't the only one out tonight when she pulled into the parking lot of the Honor's House. The co-ed dorm was surprisingly one of her mother's selling points. She'd been pleased to know that Kyle would be staying only a few doors down, and doubtless he made calls home to her mother just as often as Lia herself. Bless him. She couldn't ask for a better best friend. Kyle always had her back.
She wished he was here now as climbed out of the car. Even parked this close to the doors, walking alone in empty parking lots made her nervous.
Which was her only excuse for screaming when someone tapped her on the shoulder.
"Oh! I'm so sorry!"
The woman had jumped back when Lia screamed, a bundle of brightly colored flyers clutched to her chest. Her eyes were wide and luminous, seeming to catch the light that streamed out through the house windows. Something about her posture screamed readiness over wariness, like she'd had to hold herself back from a violent response.
"I'm sorry," the woman said again. Her voice was smooth and cultured, carrying the traces of an unfamiliar accent. Something that stretched the vowels and lingered on the R's, making them roll sensually.
"I only wanted to ask if you were going inside, if you wouldn't mind taking in some of these flyers."
The woman held out a small stack, the print on them almost lost in elegant lines of rolling scroll work. It seemed to be an advertisement for a traveling show and market fair.
"The doors were locked," the woman said. Lia suddenly realized she hadn't said a word herself.
"Oh, yeah! Sorry, so sorry. It's late and, um, visiting hours-"
"I understand." The woman smiled, with all the warmth and brightness of stage lights. "Would you mind, taking them in for me?"
"No, not at all-sorry if I scared you." Lia took the offered papers. The woman chuckled, a dark, rolling laugh.
"Thank you so much for doing my work for me."
The words seemed odd, like they carried more weight than they should. Lia frowned, eyes falling to the papers in her hand.
"The Best Show here or Otherside," it read. Lia's breath caught. The Rift.
She went to ask the woman, but she was already gone. The parking lot was as dark and empty as before. Shaking herself, Lia hurried inside, feeling stupid for standing around outside gawking at flyers that could have been read just as easily in the saftey of the lobby. Angry with herself, she tossed the flyers carelessly on the front desk and went upstairs.
She kept one for herself.
The style was interesting, she told herself. They'd make good inspiration for her sketchbook. She ignored the racing in her heart at the idea of tumblers, acrobats, fire eaters, fortune tellers. The best show here or Otherside. Magic.