Ethan lazed at the edge of the street, just past the shop's awning, and closed his eyes to better ignore any potential customers. The produce was right there, displayed in bins just outside the shop. If anyone wanted to buy, they could let him know. Sinking further into the chair, he basked in the sun and cursed out Roo. They could have been lounging at the beach with fruity little drinks but no, Roo refused to close the shop for even one day. "My customers are counting on us," he'd said. "I can't let them down."
Ethan sighed inwardly at the hiss but did not open his eyes. If he ignored her, perhaps she'd go away.
"Where is Mr. Roo?"
Plastering on a smile, Ethan rose to his feet. "Bom dia, Senhora Sousa."
The woman's look of disdain was hardly a surprise. She'd taken an unwarranted dislike to Ethan decades ago, shortly after they'd opened the shop. "You're Portuguese is terrible," she said in heavily accented English. "Do not bother even trying."
His Portuguese was not terrible. He'd pulled the language out of some unsuspecting sod's mind shortly after they'd arrived in Brazil. The little witch girl had done the same but her magic was stronger. She'd gotten more of the language and culture then Ethan had, so much so that with her darkened hair and tanned skin she could pass for a local. Ethan had to claim he'd moved here as a teen. They hadn't let Roo try that little mind-stealing trick. He'd been too fragile after his death but fortunately he had a knack for languages and was so affable that no one minded if he didn't have a perfect command of the tongue.
"I'm afraid Roo is unavailable," Ethan replied. "Perhaps I can be of assistance?"
Declining, she reminded him for the billionth time of the day he'd tried to sell her week old vegetables. That was a gross exaggeration. The peppers had been three or perhaps four days old at most. "I do not see why Mr. Roo would leave a scoundrel like you alone to watch his shop. Where is Cassia?"
Even after more than twenty years, Ethan tried to avoid thinking the name Willow. After all, one couldn't be too careful. The woman, who as a girl had chosen the name Cassia, was lounging in bed with her lover du jour, a man this time or more of a lad actually, no fewer than fifteen years her junior. Unfortunately that wasn't something he could tell Senhora Sousa. Roo wouldn't like it if he upset a customer. "Let me see if I can find Roo."
Ethan shivered as he stepped into the shop. It wasn't exactly cold but after soaking up the sun, it felt chillier than he'd expected. He popped his head into the back room. "Roo? I'm afraid it's Senhora Sousa."
Both Roo and the accountant looked up. Roo rolled his eyes but didn't actually chide Ethan for that time he'd gotten caught cheating a customer and so Ethan counted it as a win. "We're almost done here," Roo replied. "Just give me a few more minutes."
Roo obviously wanted him to head back out to the waiting customer. Foolish of him. Obviously Ethan wasn't about to put himself at that dragon's mercy. He merely crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe, listening in on the conversation which was a bit of a mistake really. Accounting. Ugh. Roo finished up quickly, probably more quickly than he'd intended, and led the accountant out of the shop, stopping to shake the man's hand before turning his attention to the waiting woman. "Bom dia, Senhor Sousa."
"Bom dia," she replied with not even a hint that Roo's accent wasn't perfect. She shot Ethan a triumphant grin, obviously feeling she'd won something by "forcing" him to fetch Roo. Smiling sweetly in response, he closed his eyes just enough so he could admire Roo while appearing to have taken a nap. The sun and heat had been good for Roo as had running his own business. When Roo had first mentioned the idea, Ethan had boggled at the notion of Roo as a mere grocer but Roo, at the core, was a man of simple pleasures. Ethan wasn't about to complain. He'd had enough excitement in his life. With a yawn, Ethan leaned his head back and closed his eyes completely to better bask in the sun.
Ethan most definitely did not doze off but at a shot of panic he bolted to his feet and then stood there stupidly as he blinked the sleep out of his eyes. He glanced around the shop, noting that Senhora Sousa was gone, but didn't see anything that might upset Roo. His husband was talking to a man, a tourist by the look of his idiotic shirt, and something was wrong. Roo's mouth was set in a tense line.
The man's voice, overly loud and overly quick, revealed his own distress. "Isla, my wife that is, and I are here on vacation. Make our home in London, don't you know." As he spoke, he was slowly inching away from Roo and, oh dear, Roo's face had gone completely white. This couldn't be good. "We're here on a second honeymoon now that our youngest is off to university. She's an artist. My wife, I mean, not our daughter. I own a gallery and showcase her works, I mean, not just her works but other artists as well. And I've produced a few movies, well, two actually. The entertainment business, that's my line of work. I used to be part of an organization, a larger organization, but that was ages ago. Broke off all ties with them Oh, and I just remembered, I have to meet her, my wife that is. She's expecting me."
While the man had been blathering on, Ethan had quietly risen to his feet. He could be quite unobtrusive when he wanted. When the man turned to leave, Ethan was ready. Bumping into the man, he pretended to lose his balance and grabbed on as if to stop himself from falling. While the man was distracted, Ethan slipped a hand into his pocket and retrieved his cellphone. For spell work, something from his body, such as hair or fingernails, would have been more effective but the man certainly would have noticed if Ethan had used scissors to snip off a bit of his hair. "Oopsie, please forgive me," Ethan said. "I'm so clumsy." The man darted around a corner without bothering to reply. Turning to face Roo, Ethan nodded in the direction the man had vanished. "Bad news I take it?"
When he replied, Roo's voice sounded flat, almost dead. "Cecil Ashworth."
Ashworth. That was a Council name. And Roo was obviously in shock. This was getting worse and worse. Ethan grabbed Roo's arm and yanked him into the street. "Oi," Roo shouted. "We can't just leave the shop."
"Fuck the shop," Ethan said. "We have to stop him before he turns you in to the Council."
Ethan expected Roo to stutter that Ashworth had stumbled across them accidentally and might not report him, but instead he pulled ahead, shouting, "Don't drag your ass. We need to helter-skelter or we'll cop a flower pot." Oh, good, Ripper had taken charge.
It didn't take long to get home. They lived close to the shop, not by luck but by design. If they ever did need to run, they all knew they'd have to leave fast. Just outside the door, a young man, Cassia's lover, almost tripped them up. He puffed his chest out as if to start something, but Ripper didn't even slow down as he shoved the young man into the street. "Tell that puta it's over," the lad shouted from the cobblestones.
They darted into the house and slammed the door shut. "Cassia," Ethan shouted.
"I'm in the workroom, idiot," she called back. When they joined her, Ethan noticed she'd already cast a circle. Well, of course she had. She would have also felt Roo's panic. "What happened?"
"Ran into a bloke," Roo explained. "Should've knifed him."
"Definitely not," Ethan interjected, wishing fervently that Giles, and not Ripper, had taken control of Roo's body. Ripper acted without thinking through the consequences, and if the Council learned they were here, the consequences could be so very, very bad. Raising a hand against Ripper's impending objection, he added, "Yes, he recognized you, but we don't want to raise suspicions if he's actually here on holiday. We need to be subtle."
"You think this was an accident?" Cassia asked.
"If not," Ethan replied, "he's the most incompetent spy on the planet."
"Well, knowing Cecil Ashworth, that's not entirely unlikely. Incompetent is his middle name." Oh, good, Ethan thought. Giles had taken over.
"How do we track him?" Cassia asked.
Ethan pulled out Cecil's cellphone and waved a hand over both it and the scrying bowl. They all three peered into the water to see Cecil scurrying quickly down a crowded street. The man never paused but did look over his shoulder again and again. Ethan could almost smell his fear. "Your turn," Ethan said as he handed the cellphone to Cassia.
When the three of them had first settled in this beach town, they'd agreed that none of them could show any interest in the occult. The Council would be looking for magicians. Ethan and Roo had taught Cassia at home. Her training, while unorthodox, had been thorough. Her style was eclectic, borrowing from a wide variety of cultures. To Ethan's thinking, that was all to the good. What the Council didn't understand, they could neither predict nor defend against.
Cassia pulled out a poppet, a blank image of a person sewn in cotton. Taking a marker to its head, she drew a rough but fairly accurate sketch of Cecil's face. After she'd put the cellphone into the poppet, she bound it there with string, creating a connection between the poppet and Cecil Ashworth.
Of the three of them, only Cassia had a permanent altar in this room. Janus, as a deity of Chaos, didn't require one, and Roo didn't use one because he no longer worked high-magic. Stepping up to her altar, Cassia bowed to her Goddess. With each line of her chant, she stabbed a pin into the heart of the poppet.
Lady of the Burning Sands,
Sekmet, Mistress of Terror,
Our enemy has found us.
Burn him with the scorching Eye of Ra.
Lion-headed Lady of the Flame,
Sekmet, Great Defender,
Bloody shall be the body
of thy defeated enemy.
Lady of Slaughter, show thy splendor.
Lady, rip him with thy claws.
Lady, tear him with thy bloody jaw.
Lady, I beseech you, protect us.
The poppet burst into flame. Ethan, staring into the scrying bowl, saw Cecil Ashworth fall to the ground. Roo, standing beside Ethan, gave a grunt of approval. "Looks like that's done it."
"Time to be moving on," Ethan said. A spell from a language that'd been ancient when the pyramids had been built opened up a pocket dimension. Ethan pulled out passports and other identifying papers. "Right, we've a number of identities and hideaways ready to go. There's a little place in the middle of nowhere, Alaska; a condo in Hong Kong; a lovely Greek island we could retire to …"
Roo pouted at the word retire.
"Dearheart, you know you can't be a shopkeeper again. There can be nothing that ties back to our previous or current lives."
"Hong Kong?" Cassia asked. "I'd like to live someplace urban."
Roo shook his head. "No, if we're about to retire, let's do it properly."
"Greek island it is," Ethan agreed. As he sorted out the papers, Roo touched a couple of decorative elements in the moulding, revealing a hidden compartment. The crystals he drew out had been charged so often they were practically pulsing with magical power.
"Are you certain you can handle the cleanup on your own?" Roo asked Cassia.
Ethan half expected her to roll her eyes or say something sarcastic, but she didn't. Well, this was serious business.
"Remove fingerprints and identifying DNA. Spread the story that Ethan's father has fallen ill and that you're both moving home to care for him. Sell this house and the store. Let people think I'm moving to Rio. We've gone over this hundreds of times. I can handle it."
Roo held one of the charged crystals towards her. "Take this."
She didn't take the crystal. "You should keep it."
"We have two more, enough for six or seven jumps. No one can follow us if we jump from this room, and even if someone did, we have more than enough power to escape."
"You know he's right," Ethan said. "While you're here, you'll be in greater danger than we will. You might need the extra power."
Cassia frowned but accepted the crystal. "You two should get going," she said before pulling Roo into a long hug. The hug she shared with Ethan was briefer and seemed sincere although it felt a bit awkward. "If all goes well, I'll see you in a few weeks." Roo nodded and used one of the crystals to activate a jump spell.
They came out on a beach. Waves rolling in from the turquoise sea splashed against the pale sand, but even the beauty of the scene couldn't stand against Ethan's anxiety. He wouldn't feel completely secure until Cassia … no, that was no longer her name. She was Vasiliki now, nickname Vivi. He had to remember.
"Aithan, what's wrong?"
He breathed a sigh of relief. Roo, no, he was Nikos now … Nikos remembered his new name. When they'd first moved to Brazil, Roo's mind had been overwhelmed by the shock of dying. He hadn't learned to call Ethan by a different name and hadn't answered to anything other than a variant of his own name. At least that wouldn't be a problem for this move. Aithan leaned into his lover's arms. "Oh, Nikos, what if something goes wrong?"
Nikos kissed him gently. "It will be fine. Everything will be fine."
Aithan looked into familiar blue eyes and knew Nikos was right. Everything would be fine.