Kai wandered around her small apartment, fluffing a pillow, straightening a stack of books, too twitchy to settle. It was barely nine o'clock. She didn't want to sleep, dammit, but with that storm... maybe she should listen to the weather forecast. She clicked on the radio.
"The president announced the expansion of the task force initially formed to study the effects of the power winds that shifted the balance of magic five weeks ago. Speaking to a crowded town-hall type meeting in Boston, she said..."
Kai snorted. She doubted a task force was going to help. They couldn't remake the world back into its old shape - though a few dozen more dragons to soak up excess magic leaking from nodes all over the world would help. Maybe they'd find a way to conjure or contact some.
Here in Midland, the Turning hadn't caused as many problems as elsewhere. With only one small node in the city, the ambient magic level hadn't risen enough to interfere badly with computers. They hadn't been troubled with things blown in by the power winds, either, like the goblins that hit a little town near Austin, or the hell-rain in Houston.
That had blazed for days in spite of the efforts of firefighters from all over the nation. It might be burning still if the FBI's Magical Crimes Division hadn't sent three covens to extinguish it.
Of course, the hates-magic crowd thought the covens had started the fire in the first place. Never mind that experts said the Turning was caused by a shift in the realms - they blamed witches.
Now that most of the big, showy problems caused by the Turning had been dealt with, people were noticing another change. The population of Gifted had pretty much doubled. Turned out that a lot of people possessed a potential for magic, but so slight it had gone unnoticed until the power winds blew through in December. Existing Gifts had been strengthened. Nascent Gifts had bloomed into the real thing - delighting some, traumatizing some, and feeding the antimagic hysteria that spread like a fungus in others.
People always wanted someone to blame, didn't they? Fear tied knots in reason and shut down compassion, even in basically decent people.
Not everyone was basically decent. Politicians pandering to fear and prejudice had introduced a bill in the Texas House to require all Gifted to register their Gift. They wanted it put on driver's licenses and employment applications, loans, and several types of professional licenses. It made Kai think of the way the Nazis made Jews wear Stars of David on their clothing.
She bent to pick up a crumpled napkin Ginger had missed in her frenzy of cleaning. The truth was, she was afraid, too - not of magic, but of people. Which wasn't like her.
Kai gave a lot of parties, though she wasn't an extrovert in the usual sense. She just liked people. She especially liked bringing together those who'd never ordinarily have a chance to get acquainted, and her job took her into homes all over the city, so she knew people from all walks of life.
She threw good parties, too. Like a chef, she took a little of this, a little of that, and stirred up a delicious gathering. But tonight's party hadn't been her usual get-together. Tonight she'd asked her Gifted friends and a few concerned spouses or partners over to talk about the prejudice that had blown into Texas along with the power winds... and to pass on Nathan's warning.
Two people had been killed in the past month, their bodies drained of blood. Reverend Barclay and his ilk blamed some demonic cult, but Nathan said both victims had been Gifted.
"In other news," the NPR announcer was saying, "Republican House Leader Brent Trott renewed his opposition to the Dragon Accords, referring to them as 'deals with the devil.' The Accords, sometimes referred to as Dragon Treaties, were passed last week by strong majorities in both the House and the Senate, and the president is expected to sign them into law tomorrow. In China..."
Kai turned the radio off. She didn't need a weather report to know the storm was close. She'd better get her tea brewing.
In the kitchen she got down her teapot, filled it with water purified by more than reverse osmosis, and set it on the burner. Her stomach churned with guilt.
What she'd said outright was true: the tea helped protect her from the effects of the storm. The rest had been half-truth, misdirection, and lies.
The tea hadn't come from Nathan, as she'd allowed Ginger to assume, but from a shaman of her mother's tribe. That misdirection was for Nathan's sake. It was best if even tolerant people like Ginger continued to think him human. Nor did the brew knock her out. It enhanced her focus so she could put herself in sleep - a trance state that shut down her Gift along with her conscious mind. That half-truth had been for her own sake, to spare herself explanations she couldn't afford because of her one big lie.
Kai wasn't an empath.
While she waited for the water to boil, she wandered over to the sliding glass doors that opened onto a tiny balcony. Impulsively she yanked open the blinds, but the lighting tricked her out of a view. Instead she saw her own face, ghostly in its reflected state, looking back.
The face she saw was... bony, she thought, and chuckled. Trust Jackie! It was as good a description as any. Better than plain, which is what she usually thought when she looked in the mirror. Her features didn't rise to the extravagance of real ugliness, but they didn't add up to anything as smooth as prettiness, either. That sharp blade of a nose would have done any Dine warrior proud.
Like her grandfather. She smiled and her ghost smiled back. That beak looked great on that fierce old man. She did have good skin, and she thought her neck was rather elegant. Her hair was okay. It was thick, at least, though straight as poured water, and the color hit a bland halfway point between her mother's shiny black and her father's dusty blond.
The woman in the glass lost her smile. The root-ripping torrent of grief had long since subsided, and memory ran smoothly in its beds, a quietly welcoming stream. Yet she'd never stopped missing them. She'd give almost anything to hear her father's belly laugh one more time, or be back in her mother's kitchen making fry bread.
Her mother had been a pretty, feminine woman. Maybe if she'd taken after her mother more, Nathan would...
Oh, stop. She yanked the blinds closed. There were plenty of pretty women in Midland. She'd never known him to bring one of them home. Nor any pretty boys, for that matter. For awhile she'd wondered if his moral code precluded sex outside of marriage, or if he'd taken some kind of vow. A couple months ago she'd been nervy enough to ask.