The car pulled up along the long gravel driveway into Kinder’s house. It was tucked away from the highway, hidden behind rows of carefully manicured gardens and fruit trees. Our headlights illuminated the building, casting shadows across the front. Amber looked nervous, but I’d long ago learned not to fear the shadows.
“Guess we’re the first ones here,” Amber said as she got out.
I pursed my lips, looking around and up at the home. “Who was driving the other car?”
“Jeff,” Mark said, his voice echoing the worry I felt.
“They probably just took another route,” Amber said, sounding unconcerned.
“Maybe,” I said. I’d asked Jeff to carpool with me last year, when we’d shared a shift in the morning. By the end of the first ride, I felt like I had aged ten years. I was certain his driving was partly to blame for the white streak that was forming on my hairline. But I suppose it was always possible he’d fixed his lead foot in the past year.
The squealing of tires and the crunch of gravel a moment later proved that Jeff had not cured his need for speed just yet. I hurried out of the driveway as the lights rushed over me, far too fast to be safe.
Nate spilled out of the backseat almost before the car had stopped moving, rolling into a crouch. I was about to yell at him, but when he came up I noticed one fist glowing and flickering with a red flame, his eyes tracing the black sky.
“Shit,” I said, staring up as well. I couldn’t see anything. But then, I hadn’t noticed anything on the way over either. “What am I looking for?”
“Harpies,” he replied without looking at me.
I frowned, squinting at the sky. “Are you sure?”
“Pretty damn sure,” Kelcie said, running out of the parked car towards the door, her half on coat flapping uselessly against her cast. “They started chasing us as soon as you guys left the parking lot.”
“Did we lose them?” Jeff asked as he got out of the car. As if responding to his question, I heard a roar of caws approaching. The sound got louder as they flew over the trees, and now I could see their dark wings, the moon shining off bare breasts and long hair. Harpies were one of the nastier types of wind spirits, prone to snatching and ripping at whatever they could get in their talons. They were what a pack of coyotes would be if the could fly and curse.
I dropped into a crouch myself, reaching for a small swiss army knife I kept in my pocket, but Mark grabbed the back of my coat.
“Go, Rachael,” he said, pushing me towards the door. “Get Kelcie and Amber inside.”
“So now I’m on guard duty?” I scowled at him. Behind us, Nate launched a fireball into the flock, scattering and illuminating the birds.
Mark cursed, whipping around on the birds. He imitated Nate’s spell, summoning fire around his fist. “Kelcie can’t fight with a broken arm,” he hissed.
“Excuse me?” Kelcie said, her hair slowly rising in a torrent around her. The dark birds were regrouping, forming back into a dark swarm.
Mark launched a small spark of fire into the harpies. It flew into their midst like a bullet, exploding with a bang on impact. “Then both of you guard her!” he growled. “But we can’t lose more time or to trip over summons.”
Kelcie looked ready to argue but I caught sight of Amber where she was cowering behind one of the cars. I grabbed Kelcie, pushing her to the door.
“Go wake up Kinder,” I said as I ran over to Amber. Amber was peeking out around the car, one hand at her side. Even in the dim light I could see she was attempting to gather the winds around her, but her soft breeze was unlikely to scare any harpies.
“How you doing?” I whispered as I knelt beside her. I was trying not to startle her but I felt the wind slash across my cheek all the same, and the warm sensation as blood trickled down my cheek.
“Oh my god, no,” Amber spluttered, turning away from the fight to see her damage. “I thought you were a-”
“Don’t worry about them.” I plastered a fake smile on my face, trying to look as reassuring as possible as I wiped my hand against my cheek. The dark shapes were flying overhead now. I hissed, “We’re getting out of here.”
“But the harpies-” she whispered.
“We got this,” I said. Glancing over the car, I could see that was nearly true. Aside from Nate and Mark tossing fireballs, Jeff had ripped the water out of one of the garden beds, transforming it into ice needles he was picking off the harpies with. I couldn’t see Karen, but in my experience, that was when she was scariest. Amber still looked like a scared sparrow though, and I could see why Mark had directed me to her. “Those guys don’t need our help.”
Amber nodded at me, lips sealed like she didn’t trust herself to speak. A bead of blood was trickling down my chin, I caught it on my clean hand before it could fall.
“Do you see Kelcie over there?” I said, pointing out where she stood pounding on the door. Amber nodded again so I continued. “On one, we’re going to run to her. You ready?”
I didn’t wait for her response, watching the nasty bird approach. “Three.”
I shifted Amber to be between me and Kelcie. “Two.”
“One.” I pushed at her, leaving a bloody handprint on her back. The girl took off running, with me a step behind. One lone harpy dove down alongside the house, aiming at her back. I flicked the blood droplet at it, and the shadows seemed to reach off the building, enveloping the harpy and dragging it back into the darkness. Amber didn’t notice a thing as Kelcie ushered her into the building. Kelcie, on the other hand, scowled at the bloody mark.
I gave her a toothy grin as I slipped over the threshold.