It had been over a week since Jake had a good night's sleep and he crept along the alley streets, thinking of nothing of his bed in Magic Town. If he ever got there, if something else didn't happen. The sun was well-up but Jake took comfort in that. Days continued almost normally. For the full humans, at least. They were the ones that the Huntsclan prized. Regular humans, pursuing science and innovation. Ever since the Huntsclan had launched their global takeover and won the fight, things had been hard on everyone, though, even the regular humans. The Huntsclan were as rigid with the people as they were with their own members. They hunted magical creatures by night and by day, they made raids on workplaces to ensure everyone was of human birth, kept people on strict schedules, and caused general mayhem to remind people who was in charge.
Jake slipped into the entrance of Magic Town and transformed into a dragon before heading into the heart of town. It was more crowded than ever before. Although there were many magical pockets about the country, more had fled toward New York and had made it clear that they were there because of him and Gramps, because they believed that they were safer in the company of the American and Chinese dragons.
Jake didn't know if it was true. He knew that he was trying to keep people safe but he also knew that he had been living in this hellscape of Huntsclan rule since he was seventeen and all that he had felt for years was failure. In his youth, Jake had tussled with the Huntsclan and he had felt that, although they were stronger, they were not impenetrable. He won as many fights against the Huntsgirl as he lost and he had even gotten into their fortress a time or two.
And then they had been blindsided.
"Morning, American dragon!"
Jake raised his hand to a group of creatures. If he was their hope, he had to let them hope. He waded through the magical creatures who were hanging out on every available surface outside now that they sun was out. He would say this for the magic community: there was no refugee left out on the street at night and everyone was found a bed to sleep in. During the day, so that spaces could be cleaned, the streets became more crowded.
Tired as he was, Jake dropped by Veronica's stall in the magic market and dropped off the bags of stolen goods. He was the American Dragon and his moral compass was always supposed to point straight. But he knew enough of Robin Hood – even though he had never finished high school – to know that robbing from the Huntsclan to take care of his own was more moral than letting the Huntsclan reap the benefits of what they were putting humans through.
Veronica peeked in the bag. "Fresh fruit! Jake, you're a saint."
Jake held a finger to his lips. "No names, Veronica. You know that."
"Saint Dragon," she drawled sarcastically but went back to gushing. "I just wish there was –"
Jake reached into his pocket. "Oranges? I got one for you. Fu says the fruit orchard is starting to actually grow properly again, though, now that he's got the park faeries on the job."
Veronica held the orange close to her chest, cradling it for herself. "Thanks, dragon."
"No problem." Despite himself, Jake yawned. "I gotta try and sleep. See you later."
She waved until he was out of sight. Jake was tempted to take flight and wing his way over the short distance to the little apartment that he and Gramps and Fu all shared now that their shop in New York had to be vacated. He knew that not a lot of people had as much space as the three of them were given and he tried to be grateful for it. But, he had lost Gramps' home and shop and he could no longer visit his home with his parents. He had made his choice when had owned up to his dragon side and decided to fight and he hadn't seen his parents in eight years.
Or his sister.
Haley had only been eleven when the Huntsclan had taken over. She had decided to stay with their parents, claim their entirely human heritage, and stay on the inside. She and Jake texted, e-mailed, and corresponded through any way that they could, but Jake knew it wasn't the same. He tried not to think of it too often. He tried not to think of what she was doing now that she was nineteen and living out in the world – living in the Huntsclan's world.
He opened the front door dragged his body into his house and then immediately turned into the little room that was his and collapsed on the bed. He could feel bumps and bruises beginning to emerge and he was pretty sure that he was bleeding in three separate spots but none of that mattered to him now. Fu would fix him up and make sure that he drank some of the disgusting healing elixir he had taken to making by the massive cauldron-full, trying to keep the troops going. It worked and had an effect more potent than a thousand energy drinks and Jake was sure that it was the only reason he hadn't collapsed completely yet. Even so, the taste was vile and Jake hated taking it.
He reached down to pull the blankets up around him when his cell phone began to ring. Jake almost didn't look at it, knowing that whoever it was would almost certainly contact Gramps through Fu after it. But his conscience wouldn't let him. If it was someone who he loved who was in trouble, he had to be there.
"Jake!" Haley exclaimed. "Oh, Jake, you won't believe it – you have to come!"
"Are you hurt? Are you okay? What's going on?" Jake forced himself to sit up and make his brain work.
"I'm shadowing one of my professors in a psychiatric hospital," Haley said in a low voice, "and there's a patient here … Jake, it's the Huntsgirl."
"What!? Haley, text me the address. I'm on my way."
Jake strode into the hospital like he belonged there. He had put on nice pants, a good shirt, and his shoes weren't covered in dirt. No one glanced twice at him as he made his way across the lobby and into the elevator, jamming the button for the top floor. It was the secure floor, for the worst patients. Jake knew that Haley wouldn't ever misidentify the mark of the Huntsclan – who could, now that it was on every flag across the word – but he didn't want to believe it was the Huntsgirl that was in this hospital.
The Huntsgirl had been dead for over a year. Supposedly. Jake had watched it happen – the horrific explosion that had taken her and two others, leaving nothing of their bodies to be found, though the Huntsclan and magic folk alike had searched. Jake found it hard to believe that she was still alive and wasn't in the custody of the Huntsclan. The Huntsmaster wasn't a careless man. Careless men did not achieve world domination.
Haley met him outside the elevator and, for a moment, they just stared at one another. She had cut her hair shorter, she was wearing make-up now, and she was much taller. But, to Jake's surprise, she didn't feel like a stranger. She felt like the same girl who had grown up down the hall from him, too smart for her own good, the one who he had constantly been annoyed by but had always loved. Despite the fact that they had more important things to attend to and that Jake had to get in and out as quickly as possible, Jake still had to hug her.
"I miss you."
"I miss you too."
"And you look like crap," Haley said. "Do you ever sleep?"
"No. Come on, let's go see this woman."
"This way," Haley said. "She's got the mark in the same spot. She's medicated right now but she's utterly mad when she's awake, in a bad way."
"What do you mean?"
"She was awake when I was following Professor Carroway. She looked right at me and said 'where are your wings, little bird?' Like she knew."
"There's no way she knows. She's never displayed any precognition."
They slipped into the room. On the bed was a slight blonde woman, restraints on both wrists, evidence of burns along the exposed parts of her body. Jake crept closer and inspected her wrist. That was the mark of the Clan, all right, in the same spot that the Huntsgirl's had been. She had the same blonde hair, Jake opened one of her eyes and they were the blue of the Huntsgirl's, and she looked about the right age. The burns could have come from the explosion thought to have taken her life. Jake stood at the end of the bed and stared down at her. He had never seen the Huntsgirl's face but he had to admit that Haley was probably right. Of course, Haley had never been wrong in her life and there was more than enough evidence to prove her identity. At least as far as Jake was concerned.
The question was: what was she doing, undiscovered in a civilian hospital?
Unless she wasn't undiscovered at all. Unless it was a trap and she was placed here as a lure, expecting that someone magical would discover her and kidnap her and then she would be inside of Magic Town.
"Why is she still here? Why hasn't the hospital reported her to the Clan? Why haven't they taken her back?"
"They can't see it," Haley said. "I asked Professor about why she was so scarred and pointed at the one on her wrist and she said they were all just burn marks."
"Are you sure?"
"As sure as I can be."
Jake stared down at her. "Okay, well, I have to go talk to Gramps and then we'll have to get her out of here. Send me as much information on her as you can steal, Haley."
Jake hugged her again and then he quickly made his way back out. He wished that he could have spent more time with her but it wouldn't do if the Huntsclan saw him and became suspicious. Officially, Jake Long didn't exist anymore and had died in the early days of the takeover. The same with Gramps. It was too dangerous to have them regularly living in the thick of the Huntsclan's regime because they were bound to be noticed. And even though Jake agreed, he missed his friends and he missed his family and, most days, he still couldn't believe that this had happened at all. He thumbed the amulet around his neck for a moment, lost in thought, and they told himself to get moving.
He snuck back into Magic Town – which was harder to achieve in the middle of the day – and went to wake his grandfather. If Jake was suffering, the old man was tortured. Fu, it seemed, never actually slept anymore. He gathered them in the kitchen and while Fu scared up food and potions, Jake read them the messages that had come in from Haley.
The patient called herself Rose and was on a long list of medications. She was violent and delusional. The doctors suspected a psychotic break due to trauma, since her body was badly scarred.
"I'm sure it's her," Jake said. "We need to go and get her."
"It's a trap," Gramps argued immediately and Jake had known that he would.
"What if it's not? We need to act fast – Haley won't be allowed to shadow her professor there forever."
"And we have the …" Fu said and he pointed downward.
There was a jail, built below where the dragons and Fu were living. It was a new addition to Magic Town and a somber one but one of the necessary spoils of war. They had only needed to use it twice in eight years and each time had ended in a brutal suicide. It was necessary, Jake knew, in times of war, but he hated to think of it. He hated to use it. But the thought of having the Huntsgirl, and all of her knowledge, in their grasp was something that he could not ignore. The things that she knew could help the magical community end the tyranny for themselves and for humans.
"And all of those prescriptions," Lao Shi said scornfully. "We have no hope to replace those."
"Fu?" Jake asked.
"I'd have to go see the apothecary and go to my books but we could do it. We know the magic infused cells would keep anyone contained – even her," Fu said. "Gramps, this is the biggest chance that we've had in a while. I think the kid is right and that we need to take it."
Jake really didn't think that Gramps would agree. They were throwing caution to the wind and inviting someone who was just as cruel, cunning, and ruthless as the Huntsmaster himself into their town. It could go very, very wrong but if it didn't … Oh! If it didn't. Jake didn't want to get wrapped up in daydreams of what it would be like to be normal again. To actually hang out with Trixie and Spud, to skateboard and not constantly be looking over his shoulder, to have a good night's sleep, to go on a date! It was the world that he had been denied – that many had been denied – and he tried not to think of it often, knowing that it might just come about that he would be very old when he got his life back, if he ever did at all. In the moment, though, at the table with Gramps, Jake couldn't get rid of the vision.
"Jake," Gramps said, "are you still in contact with your friends?"
"Yes," Jake said. "Why?"
"We will need Spud. And we will strike this afternoon."
I have been super excited about this project and I've wanted to share it with you guys for a while but I made myself wait until I had some chapters pre-written. It's a little bit different from Love Of The Magic Kind (the last ADJL story I published, if you missed it!) but that's why I've become so wrapped up in it so let me know what you think!
Read and review or catch up with me on tumblr, where I can be found at we – are – all – of – legend – now!