“Why exactly are we stopping at the Santa Monica Pier when we should be getting the hell out of dodge?” I asked as Tina, the mercenary working with my brother, paid the parking attendant and pulled through. She’d conveniently shown up following Gordon’s disappearance to help Justin and I escape the destruction of Dave & Busters on Hollywood and Highland, but I still wasn’t quite sure I trusted her. She was a mercenary, after all, and I didn’t know her.
Instead of replying to me and explaining why we were here, Tina turned the radio up to max overdrive and Dorothy’s Whiskey Fever drowned out all my thoughts.
It wasn’t the best response since I was already fifty shades of pissed. I mean, my “should have been dead” brother had just beaten the snot out of me with a lightsaber. Yeah, that’s right, I said lightsaber.
See, like me, my brother is an animator which means, like me, he can bring toys to life. It sounds cool until you’re in a lightsaber battle to the death, then it’s decidedly less cool.
It also means werewolves will go out of their way to try to kill you, and by out of their way, I mean are consumed with the need to cut off our heads and put them on pikes like we’re in medieval England.
Why? Because even though silver doesn’t hurt werewolves in real life, we can kill them with silver bullets.
Which is why my kind has been hunted to near extinction and also why my brother used a genocidal ritual to blow away every last werewolf in the noble houses save for Justin Bailey who was currently unconscious in the backseat of Tina’s lime green Firebird. Gordon spared Justin because the werewolf prince meant something to me, which was good because while we weren’t exactly a couple, we were close enough for me to think we might be one soon after he woke up.
Unfortunately, that ritual had gone down less than an hour ago, and instead of hightailing it away before collateral damage came down on our shiny little heads like a metric ton of shit, Tina had driven us straight to the Santa Monica pier of all places. It didn’t make any fucking sense.
“Tina, I’m serious. Why are we going to the pier? There’s a ton of people here, and I thought you were taking him to a healer?” I yelled, trying to raise my voice loud enough to be heard over Dorothy. It was hard because that girl’s got some pipes on her. “What if someone comes after us here?”
Tina glanced at me as she pulled into a space and shoved the Firebird into park. “Are you purposefully being dense?”
“No?” I cried, which was all sorts of fucked up because as I did it, she’d shut off the car, and I’d basically yelled into silence.
“Do you really not know about the ancient city of Atlantis?” Her eyebrow quirked up on her forehead as she spoke. “Because this is one of the entrances.” She gestured toward the pier.
“Atlantis?” I scoffed, shaking my head. “Do you think I was born yesterday? What’s next? A city buried inside an active volcano?”
“I’m surprised you know about Vulcan when you don’t know about Atlantis. Vulcan’s been a ghost town for at least a decade while over eighty percent of the mages alive today live in Atlantis,” Tina replied casually, ignoring my disdain as she unbuckled her seatbelt and opened her door. A freezing blast of chilly air hit me, and I instinctively scrunched myself into my Werewolf Ninja sweatshirt. Justin had given it to me after my last one had been covered with bits of werewolf goo, and because of that, it was one of my prized possessions.
“You’re messing with me, right?” I asked, but the look she gave me made me think there might actually be a ghost town in an active volcano. There was no way that was possible. The amount of power it’d take to keep the lava from eating into the city would be insane.
“I’m not having this conversation with you, Annie. Let’s go,” Tina said, opening the back door and glancing at the werewolf prince splayed across the backseat.
Justin was still unconscious after lending me his power so I could activate an ancient Star Trek style teleporter in the basement of Dave & Buster’s and get us to safety. He had done it even though my brother had literally just wiped out untold numbers of his kind. He’d still saved us, and it wasn’t something I think I could have done in his situation. Then again, at the end of the day, that sort of innate goodness was why I liked him so much. Not that I’d ever tell him that.
Why? Because I was sure if I gave voice to my feelings it could ruin things between us, and with everything my brother had just done to his people, I was pretty sure we were going to need all the help we could get. Taking extra chances at this point was just asking for trouble.
Still, it was thanks to Justin that Gordon and I had escaped the ritual chamber below Dave & Busters before the place got sucked into a giant black hole of doom. Why? Because unlike mages like me who could use magic, werewolves were intrinsically made of magic, and I’d sucked him dry. Wow, that sounded better in my head.
Anyway, I’d never heard of it happening before, but then again, most encounters between my kind and the tall, dark, and furry tended to be of a decidedly violent nature. While I wasn’t trying to excuse what my brother had done by a longshot because it was fucking horrible to kill untold numbers of people, part of me could see it from his point of view.
In his mind, Gordon was the hero, and because of that, he truly believed he was righting countless wrongs by killing so many werewolves at once. And maybe if this was his story that would be true. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it that way. He’d murdered good people along with the bad, and that was never okay.
“We can’t just leave Justin here,” I said, getting out of the car. Another shiver racked my body as I glanced around the nearly empty parking lot. The place had only opened a few minutes ago, so we’d been able to find a spot fairly close to the pier, but I knew from experience this wouldn’t last. People would be here soon. I don’t mean to be mean, but I’m not exactly a fan of crowds. Or people. Or babies. Mostly babies. Look, I’m sure your kid is cute and all, but come on. No one wants to deal with a screaming toddler.
“We’re not. We’re taking him to Atlantis.” Tina glared at me from over the top of the car. “I swear to God if you’re always this dense I will leave your dumb ass here for the wolves to eat.” She drummed her fingers angrily on the roof. “Now help me carry him to the entrance.”
“Okay,” I said, fighting back the desire to question her more about Atlantis. Even though Tina was a total bitch, I couldn’t help but feel a flush of embarrassment rise up my cheeks because I felt like I had no handle on what was going on. “You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to be nice to me.”
“You don’t know that,” Tina said, eyeing me coldly. “It just might hurt me if I was nice to you and that’s a chance I’m not willing to take.”
I fought down the urge to call her a bitch because I was a mature, centered adult and instead ignored her jab. It was time to get on with this.
“So what’s the plan, exactly?” I asked as Tina and I each threw one of Justin’s arms over our shoulders and dragged him forward. It was hard because he was taller than both of us and all dead weight. It made me glad I’d gone to that one Zumba class with Blair six weeks ago. Who knows what I’d have done if I hadn’t.
As we moved, I decided that once we got to Atlantis, assuming it was real and Tina wasn’t pulling a “Mean Girls” on me, I’d get a message to Blair and Badger back in Magic Alley. If the werewolves did come after me, it would take exactly three seconds for them to track Justin and me back to Blair, and then, well, let’s just say werewolves tended to murderize things long before they asked questions. It was ruthless, which was probably why they’d been in power for so long.
Still, I couldn’t focus on them now. Blair had been around the block a few times. She’d be fine, at least for a little while. I, on the other hand, had bigger problems. For one, my brother was a genocidal maniac, but that was too big for me to deal with right now. No, I had to start small, let myself process some other things before I broke down into a wreck.
Besides, Justin needed me right now, and that was easy. I just had to put one step in front of the other to help him. That was firmly within my wheelhouse. Still as Justin’s Air Jordans dragged on the asphalt in a way I knew would ruin the white and red shoes, part of me felt bad about it.
On one hand his family could probably buy their own factory full of sweatshop workers to make him more Nikes if he wanted, but I knew he had wanted to make his way on his own, separate from his family. He’d probably paid for those shoes out of his own earnings as an actor, and at the end of the day, these were Air Jordans. There’d been a time when I knew people who would literally kill over shoes like that.
“We get up there, you shut your eyes, and run blindly at the railing. Don’t worry, if you have any kind of magical ability at all, you’ll get transported to Atlantis,” Tina said as we moved. Her words were a touch strained, but she had a smile on her face.
“I think you’re a goddamned liar,” I said, glaring at her.
“Oh, come on, Annie. If you can’t joke about the little things, how else do you expect to survive?” she asked, and this time when she smiled, I got a sense of hollow emptiness from her. It made me think she’d seen some bad shit in her day. It also made me trust her even less.
“I plan on surviving by taking a page out of Ender Wiggin’s playbook,” I replied as we mounted the steps beside Bubba Gump’s restaurant and started the arduous task of carrying a two-hundred-pound werewolf up a flight of stairs. Definitely gonna need to catch more Zumba classes.
“And what’s that, pray tell?” she asked, eyeing me carefully.
“I’m going to hit my enemies so fraking hard everyone else will be too scared to come within a city block of me,” I said, taking a deep breath.
“Makes sense,” Tina said with a shrug. “That was exactly your brother’s plan.” She smiled wryly. “Let’s hope it worked.”
I sighed. I hadn’t thought about that, but it sort of made sense. I had been raised by the same person my brother had. We both learned that when you fought, you ended your opponent. It made me shudder to think about the fact that my brother had taken it to such an extreme. It also made me very scared for not just the families of the werewolves, but for everyone. Gordon had just nuked the werewolves from orbit, and there was no way they weren’t going to retaliate.
Gordon probably thought the werewolves would fight each other for power, but it really wouldn’t be hard to rally them against us in their moment of pain. All it would take were a few choice speeches to a few particularly hurt werewolves and we could have a full scale war going on. Worse still, what if the werewolves didn’t see it as Gordon or animators doing this? What if they saw it as mages in general and came after everyone?
In the moment, even Justin had wanted to kill my brother for conducting a ritual that had killed off all the major werewolf bloodlines, and he was intelligent and relatively centered for a werewolf. With friends and family murdered, the others were hardly going to be calm and level headed. Worse still, Justin’s father the King of Wolves was in a coma thanks to a little backstabbing from his bodyguard, so even if he wanted to step in and provide leadership, he couldn’t.
The only small justice was that I’d thrown The King of Wolves’ attacker out of a helicopter, but the damage had been done. Now, there was likely anarchy amongst the wolves, and unless we could get Justin and his father up and at ‘em, there wouldn’t be a lot we could do to stop all hell from breaking loose. Unfortunately, I was betting that would be more of a long-term plan. Short term was where things got sticky.
“I hope we’re not all dead by sundown,” I said as we got to the pier and began moving forward. A guy dressed like Jesus playing Smells like Teen Spirit smirked at us before crooning like Kurt Cobain. Yep, definitely in Santa Monica.
“They won’t be able to rally that quickly. We’ve got a while, I bet.” Tina shrugged. “In the end, it doesn’t much matter. If it’s not the wolves with their foot on our neck, it’ll be someone else. I’m not trying to say I’m for the devil we know or anything because fuck those wolves in the wolfass, but yeah. I’m fairly certain things are about to get really bad.”
She was probably right, and as much as I wanted to argue, I didn’t see the point. My brother had just thrown a Molotov cocktail into the center of the ruling class, and it didn’t take a genius to see stuff was going to break while everything got sorted. Hopefully, that bought enough time for Justin to recover because I wasn’t sure I could face the coming reality without him.
That wasn’t just me being a weak female fawning over a hot guy either. Justin was a Prince, and even if his father never woke up, that title carried heft. Maybe it would be enough to keep everyone from dying.
“So where’s the mystical entrance to the lost city of Atlantis?” I asked in an effort to put my mind off how power vacuums never end well. And while they tend to be filled by the worst of the worst, maybe, just maybe, Justin could fill this one.
Still, an admittedly naïve part of me hoped mages in general would jump at the opportunity to step in and help the werewolves in their time of need. If they did, maybe our two cultures wouldn’t immediately be thrust into a war. If that happened, even more would people would die.
“The entrance to Atlantis really is at the end of the pier.” She smiled at me, and it almost reached her eyes. Her sudden glee made me worried, but I had no choice. “We’re going to climb the railing and leap off. If you hit the right spot, you’ll wind up in Atlantis. If you miss, well, I hope you can swim.”
“You’re not serious…” I said, swallowing hard. I could swim fairly well, but that didn’t mean I liked the idea of jumping into the Pacific Ocean fully clothed. I cringed at the thought because I wasn’t a huge fan of cold water. Nope. I’d take a Caribbean beach with a nice cabana boy over righteous waves any day of the week.
“I’m dead serious,” Tina said before letting the silence hang between us as we trudged across the pier.
So far, all we’d gotten were a couple weird glances from random patrons, but given time, someone would ask why we were dragging an unconscious movie star to the end of the pier. Almost no answer comes off innocently in that scenario.
“What if someone tries to stop us from leaping off the pier?” I asked, raising an eyebrow in her general direction.
“Then we ignore them and jump, anyway. We’ll be long gone before they can so much as post the video on YouTube.” She ran a hand through her hair and smiled at me. “Still, you may want to fix your hair.” She mimed taking a picture of me. “You’ll be a star!”
“I actually put a lot of effort into my hair,” I said, unconsciously running my hand through my pink and black hair. It was a bit snarly, but nothing a good shower wouldn’t fix.
“I’m sure you do,” Tina rolled her eyes as we skirted past a group of children covered from head to toe in ice cream while their parents presumably chatted about why they’d bothered to have kids when there were so many nice beaches in the world.
“You’re just a bitch,” I said, glaring at her as we headed down some stairs onto the lower level of the pier where people fished and cut bait. “I don’t like you even slightly.”
“Good to know.” Tina dropped Justin against the railing and pulled an amulet out from beneath her shirt. The gleaming, golden trident glimmered in the sunlight, and as she raised it to her lips and blew across the surface, the air off the end of the pier shimmered.
I was sure no one else could see it because most normal people can’t see magic, but for me, it was like watching the horizon tear itself asunder. Soon, a portal that spilled neon magenta light had opened up off the edge of the pier. I could see the shadowy outline of buildings within it but not much else.
“Let’s go, Princess. Hand me Justin, and I’ll hold him up until you can join me up here. I can’t jump while holding him by myself, so we’ll have to do it together,” Tina said, leaping up onto the railing and holding her hand out to me like I could somehow get two hundred pounds of Justin up on the railing by myself. “It’s easier if you don’t look before you leap.”