Intermezzo and Cliffhanger
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Announcement

Uh oh. It's back. There will be some things here that you won't immediatley recognize, but if you liked the first part, you'll like what comes next. If you want to be fully caught up, I recommend reading We Didn't Ask To Be Here, but it's not going to be strictly necessary. Some things will just be a little different. 

But we're back, baby!

The rays of summer sun were relentless, but ultimately futile in their effort to make Daniel feel even remotely uncomfortable. He was on his knees in the garden, carefully and methodically weeding between the rows of vegetables. As his hands caked with fresh soil and the smell of dirt and healthy plants filled his senses, he realized, not for the first time, that his parents would probably be quite happy with where he’d ended up. 

Certainly, once upon a time, lifetimes ago, they had been proud of his rise to hero-dom, but he knew that, in the years before they’d passed away, that pride had long faded and given way to worry. To see him, calmly tending his own vegetable garden, would have made them content. He’d lived a long and arduous life, but in the end, he felt, he’d ended up with something most people could only dream of. Whether or not he deserved it was something he was more than happy to leave up to others. He was just here to enjoy it. 

And enjoy it he did. He looked over his shoulder at the house. It was big, all things considered. That isn’t to say it was opulent or had many bells and whistles. It was the kind of house that most people couldn’t afford in the economic climate, which was why they’d bought it with four people. There was more than enough room for a larger-than-average family, and many hands, some people say, make light work. The kitchen could use a good scrubbing, but right now was time for garden work. Not that there was much more to do, but Daniel enjoyed the simple act of keeping things healthy. 

Again he looked back at the house, and considered how he’d even gotten here and, just as importantly, what it meant. He’d died to get here, and he didn’t even consider the possibility that, in this particular instance, it might not have been worth it. Once upon a time there had been a witch, close to where he’d grown up. She had told him that, after he died, he could go where the woman believed she would go when she died. Home, whatever that means. He tried to get some of the dirt off on his jeans and, finding that inadequate, picked his shirt off the floor and wiped his hands on it as he got up. 

He still worked at a gym, if not the old one in the middle of town. It had been sold, Pat leaving to do some soul-searching and Jenny now running a separate, smaller place nearby. It was remarkable how much easier it was for him to build muscle now, and he tried to stay in shape. Force of habit from a previous life. From before he died. 

The house really was very pretty, he thought, and it really was home. Wisteria climbed up the back wall, blues and purples painting the building’s face in the colours of summer. He smirked as he considered the witches words. He had died. He had come home. A silly thought, but one that made him happy nonetheless. Then something remarkable happened. He felt something tugging at him, something he hadn’t felt in years, and where once it would have passed with little notice, it was now completely unwelcome. Like a hook attached to his very soul, something in his chest was tugged at, something decidedly un-natural. While it would have been almost impossible to describe to someone who hadn’t grown up in a world with magic in it, to Daniel it felt like a sound. And the sound was

Tick

He quickly rushed inside as he put his dirt-covered shirt back on, his eyes taking a moment to adjust from the yellows and golds of the outside sun to the cool interior of the building. The kitchen and living room, one large open space, was a little messy, but he wasn’t exactly in the mood for caring. 

“Lisa,” he called out, not wanting to raise his voice just yet. Maybe he’d gotten it wrong. Maybe it was something else, something medical, but he needed to be sure. They’d been here for years now, and he didn’t want to risk losing any or all of it. Of course he wasn’t in any place to hope it was some kind of heart-defect, but for magic to be used on him now felt even worse, somehow. There was no response. He clenched and relaxed his fists a few times. The house was pretty big, and there was always the possibility she hadn’t heard him. 

“Lisa!” he yelled out again, and then went for the stairs. Maybe she was working. After having signed a contract to work for a game development firm, she’d spent a lot more time writing and he knew how much she got lost in her work. Rounding the corner to the hall, he almost slammed into her, and without wasting a word, wrapped his arms around her. 

“Daniel,” she whispered. “For a second I thought I lost…”

“Me too,” he said quietly, and then pulled away. “You felt it too.” Lisa nodded. The years had been kind to her. She still took the hormones, and even after the literal magic, the changes had still been, well, magical. Her hair now ran down shoulders in waves, framing her face like a lion’s mane, and her new glasses made her intense gaze even more noticeable. 

“I did,” she said. “Magic.” 

“What does that mean?” Daniel asked, stepping back into the living room. “Do you think we’re getting pulled back?” He started to pace. 

“Gods,” Lisa murmured quietly. “I hope not. I couldn’t tell what kind was being done, but I do not want to leave.”

“Leaving where?” a little voice asked. Daniel closed his eyes and sighed, clenching his jaw, reminding him of the many things someone can lose once they start to appreciate what they’ve got. He knelt down and put his hands on the boy’s shoulders. 

“Listen, Samuel,” he said, softly, “Lisa and I think something is going on.” He looked up at her. “We don’t know what yet, but we’re not going anywhere, okay?” The boy nodded. He wasn’t much older than six, and didn’t understand a lot of what grownups did -- it often seemed to involve a lot of numbers, suitcases and something called in-sewer-ants -- but he wasn’t stupid. The little tike wrapped his arms around Daniel, who lifted him up effortlessly. Daniel could already hear the soft sniffling

“I don’t want you to go,” Samuel said, and Daniel nodded. 

“Good, because we’re not going anywhere. Where’s your sister?” Even through forming tears, the boy managed to shrug indifferently. Daniel gave him A Look, which in this case was most easily translated to ‘You probably have an idea and I’m going to need you to translate that idea into words’, in a way that only those with young children can easily do. 

“I think she’s with Jemma,” Samuel said. A small verbal tic had turned a mispronunciation into a nickname. Jenny would be in the adjacent building, either doing paperwork or cleaning up her new gym, and Samuel’s sister would be more than eager to help out, wanting to be as much like her mom as possible. 

“Can you go get them for me? Both of them?” Samuel nodded and Daniel put him down. “Hayden too, if you bump into him, but don’t go looking.” He knelt down again to get eye-level with the boy. “This is important, and I’ll want you there too, okay? Family meeting, can’t miss one of our most important members.”

Samuel nodded resolutely, and then sprinted off with all the enthusiasm and flailing limbs that only the resilience of childhood brings. At his age, Samuel didn’t so much bump into things, rather, he bounced off of them almost without noticing. Daniel and Lisa watched him run off and then looked at each other. 

“Any thoughts?” Daniel asked. Lisa chewed her lip as she thought. 

“It’s… I don’t want to speculate,” she said. “If it’s what I think it is, I’m scared, but I also don’t want to cause unnecessary panic. But even then, there’s so much of it that’s unfamiliar. I didn’t even have the time to get a direction.”

“Hrm,” Daniel said. “Worst case and best case?”

“Worst case,” Lisa said, “something or someone is going to try to force us back.” 

“If they try that,” Daniel said grimly, “they’ve got another thing coming.” 

“Agreed,” Lisa said, her mouth a thin line, her face a mask of determination. “The other possibility, of course,” she said, “is that someone else came here.”

“Just like that?” Daniel asked. “I know it wasn’t going to be that difficult to make us go back, but the other way around, can that even be done?” Lisa nodded. 

“It would require an extraordinary amount of power, but knowing this world was right here, adjacent to our old one?” She leaned against the kitchen counter. “I could’ve done it.”

“Anyone else we know?” Daniel asked. “I can’t imagine knowing any mages who could just--”

“What’s wrong?” Hayden asked as he entered the room with a girl on his arm. Jenny and Samuel were right behind him. The family was all here. Daniel looked at them and realized how he must’ve looked, so he washed his hands as he let Lisa explain things. 

“Magic,” Lisa said. “Big magic, and I don’t think it was too far.”

“Magic?” the little girl asked, her eyes big. She was too young for this talk still. The decision had been made to wait until the kids were at least in high school before they’d tell them about Daniel and Lisa’s origins, but it looked like the cat was out of the bag early. 

“Yes, Tiff,” Hayden said. “Magic.” The girl’s eyes grew even wider. Sure, one parent saying it was strange, but two? Now that there was confirmation, the possibilities were endless. Jenny stepped forward to Lisa, her arms crossed with worry. 

“What does this mean?” she asked. “You’re not…”

“No,” Daniel said resolutely, turning a white towel into a brown one as he dried his hands. “We’re not. Not by choice, not if we can help it, and not without a fight.”

“But we do need to talk about it just in case,” Lisa said and guided everyone to the seating area of the living room. It was a wide open space, one wall lined with bookcases and another with windows. In the middle of it were three sofas facing each other and away from a wall-mounted projector. Hayden and Jenny sat the kids down, Samuel and Tiffany both clearly anxious just because the grown-ups were being so… grown-up. “Listen”, Lisa said. “Daniel and I are not… from here,” she started, when the doorbell rang. Daniel and her made eye contact. 

“I’ll get it,” he said, not believing in coincidences. He made his way to the door as Lisa explained in very basic terms who and what she and Daniel were, leaving out words like “Demon” and “Evil”, a talk to be had when they were older. He heard several childlike gasps of wonder as he steeled himself to open the door. When he turned the handle and faced what was on the other side, he nearly lost his cool. His skin was on fire, telling him to fight or flee, to do something, because what was in front of him was, well… it was wrong. 

“Daniel,” Sally said. “It’s really cool to finally see you in person.” Daniel wanted to respond, say something snarky or witty or slam the door shut, but he couldn’t. Not because Sally being at his front door was a shock -- it was -- but because of what was behind her. 

“What,” Daniel asked, “are you doing here? What’s going on? Is that who I think it is?”

He pointed an accusatory finger. A woman, her skin a deep purple, nine, maybe ten foot tall, stood on the front porch, barely concealed by a giant cloak that couldn’t even obscure the horns sticking out of it. She waved with inappropriate enthusiasm. 

“Hi,” Liz said. “The world’s ending and we need your help. Can we come in?”


Tock

OH SHIT WE'RE BACK

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Regardless, I hope you like this, and I'll see you all soon!

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