Overview: Being an adult is the dumbest thing I have ever done.

Our Heroine: still me. A sleep-deprived me, which, considering I’m a murder and ten cups of coffee away from showing my displeasure to the world, and there’re clans to save, is not a good combination.

Fixing the ancient Hub transportation system is becoming more and more of a priority in order to help with situations like, oh, THE AMAZON BURNING DOWN. Only problem? We don’t know where the Hub is. Or how it was built. Or why it was shut down to begin with.

Houston, we have all the problems.

Is it too much to ask for an alien abduction?

 

Excantation by Honor Raconteur Chapter One

 

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Six meals a day, ten hours of sleep, a pair of yoga pants, complete solitude, no social obligations whatsoever, and bam! Happiness. Needless to say, being yanked out of sleep after getting a whole thirty minutes in, while jet lagged, in a foreign country, in order to save Nixes from accidental magical portation? Opposite of happiness.

Being an adult was the dumbest thing I have ever done.

I mean, really. Who accidentally activated a magical portal and then was stupid enough to just waltz through? Who did that? And of course my own father was one of the people stupid enough to try it. The platform at his dig connected to the one here, which meant it had to have been a good ten-minute walk before he arrived on the other side. Hadn’t any second guesses gone through his mind? Doubts? Or had he been so caught up in this magic tunnel appearing out of thin air that he rode the high? Sort of a moot point now, since he was here.

Not twenty minutes ago, Zoya had woken me up from a sound sleep with the wonderful, exciting news that more archaeologists from my father’s worksite had stumbled in. I said that with full sarcasm. The last thing we needed was more non-magical humans wandering around in here. I had no issue about my dad knowing—was kind of excited about it, honestly, as it gave me a chance to really interact with him. All the other Nixes? Not so much.

I stumbled out of my guest bed, still wearing sleepwear of baggy shorts and a baggier shirt, black hair a rambunctious tangle around my head, and my eyes more or less glued shut. Someone had an arm—maybe not an arm?—wrapped around my waist and towed me in what I assumed to be the right direction. Cheerio.

My phone rang, the Skype ringtone cheerful enough to crank my murderous irritation up a few notches. I stabbed accept and pried an eyelid up to glare at the screen.

“Reagan, you look rough,” Jackson said by way of greeting, open concern on his mobile face. He was folded up, legs tucked off to the side—not that I could see much of his body. He was far too tall to fit in a laptop’s frame. “Have you not gotten any sleep?”

“No, because stupid archaeologists keep opening the thrice-cursed platform and walking through,” I snarked, trying to push a stray lock of hair out of my eyes and failing. I huffed at it instead.

What had started out as a simple trip down to Brazil to study the platform and hopefully get it back online and operational had…not gone according to plan, to put it mildly. In fact, the situation had rather rapidly snowballed on me. I’d gotten a call from the Jaadoo ka Ghar clan here in India that my father, while on an archaeological dig in Khopadi, had stumbled across a platform. Not only that, but he had figured out how to turn it on and had come through it to New Delhi. Alarming, to say the least.

No one had panicked (much), and I’d been called in to weigh judgement on the situation. I’d explained things to my dad with the hopes that maybe he’d come around a bit. It’d be nice to be able to talk frankly to at least one parent. But the jet lag had also gotten to me and I’d called Nana over Skype for reinforcements.

My father was still talking to Nana, getting caught up on the rabbit hole he’d fallen down. I’d explained quite a few things to him before my brain couldn’t take it anymore, and I was happy to let my grandmother handle the rest. Right now, emotionally speaking, I wasn’t sure how to feel about letting my dad into the magical world. On the one hand, this presented a chance to connect with my father over something we had in common. On the other hand, there was a very real possibility magic would just become another research obsession. I’d seen this pattern too many times in my life to get my hopes up just yet. Odds were, he’d go into a zone of looking into all of this and forget I existed again.

I guess it was a sign of growth on my part that instead of just leaping in whole-heartedly, I was willing to wait and see how he took this. But then, I wasn’t the same person I’d been a year before. Not so desperate for attention now. Or maybe my family of choice had filled in the gap? I didn’t know and, frankly, wasn’t awake enough to psychoanalyze myself anyway.

Zoya and I now got the joy and privilege of figuring out how to shut the platform down before something else went wrong.

The act of walking (un)fortunately woke me up further, and I belatedly realized the thing around my waist was not an arm. My guide, who was a yali named Reyansh—the one with the elephant head and lion body from before—very kindly directed my stumbling feet toward the platform in the back of the Jaadoo ka Ghar clan’s complex. He guided me with a trunk wrapped around my waist to keep me upright and from falling into a planter. It was very nice of him. I didn’t like stumbling into planters. I let him blindly lead me through all the manicured gardens and around the flowing fountains as I kept Jackson up on Skype.

“Wait, more archaeologists?” Jackson demanded incredulously. His dark brown eyes were wide in his angular face, threatening to fall out. He pushed too-thick brunette hair back, a low whistle escaping him.  “I thought it was an accident your dad came through!”

“So did we. But the platform over there in Khopadi is either powered and active, or they’re stupidly lucky. Unlucky? I don’t know at this point.”

“I’d go more with unlucky. Well, this sucks. You can’t just shut the portal down from your side and expect that to solve all problems. If their portal is working so well, it can connect to anywhere else in India. Ouch—actually, it might have and we don’t know otherwise, right?”

I would have stumbled to a stop if Reyansh’s hold on me hadn’t kept me moving. Irritably, I demanded, “What in the mint chocolate chip did you just say?”

Jackson grimaced, holding up both hands in a pleading gesture. “Let’s focus on one problem at a time. Maybe shut yours down first, then figure out if anyone else is missing. We can hunt them down and restore them to the dig sight later.”

“You do not get to borrow more trouble for me,” I groused.

I saw the flat platform ahead, the symbols still glowing to show the portal was still active. Manicured lawns and decorative benches hedged it in, like it was designed to be part of the garden.

My fellow Imagineer gave me a sympathetic look that grated along my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. “I know you’re a little sleepy and jet lagged—”

“Sleepy means cute and fuzzy-eyed,” I corrected. My head was literally pounding from the lack of sleep. I could feel the exhaustion eating away at my bones, and I would have quite cheerfully murdered someone if it meant twelve hours of alone time with a pillow. “Sleepy doesn’t cut it. I’m tired. I’m a murder and ten cups of coffee away from showing my displeasure to the world.”

Reyansh snorted a laugh, which let me tell you, since that sound came from the nose wrapped around my waist? Felt more than a little weird.

“This is a quick fix,” Jackson promised in a soothing tone. “I think. Pretty sure.”

“Your confidence is overwhelming.”

“I have a theory, but the platform over here is currently not connecting to the other platforms, for some reason, so I can’t test it. We’ll figure it out on yours, and then you may sleep.”

Zoya came out from a different door of the building, waving to me as she quickly caught up. She looked unfairly awake, wearing her usual jeans and oversized shirt that made her look even more petite than she already was, every strand of her grey hair pulled back in a neat bun. “They’re wiping the memories of the archaeologists now. Your father assured me these were the only people on the dig with him, so once we send them back, we’ll be fine. And shut the platform off over there, of course.”

I breathed out in exaggerated relief. “All good things. Are we carting them through unconscious?”

“At least for now. Otherwise, they’d have to wipe their memory again.”

“Figured.” I was happy to sink onto the edge of the platform to wait. I asked Jackson questions because if I didn’t stay talking, I’d fall asleep right here. “What’s your theory, Oh Great One?”

“I’ve got two, actually. But let me catch you up to speed first. We figured out after you guys left that the glass vials really do collect aether. It’s what powers the platform.”

I blinked. Blinked again. Right, we’d been looking at the three glass vials in the base of the platform’s columns before I left. They’d been surrounded by sigils on all sides, so the theory had been that the vials were what gathered power for the platform, somehow. “So, the theory was correct, huh? Okay, how does that power get routed?”

“The sigils. The sigils are what determine energy flow and usage. That’s part assumption, by the way. I can’t actually prove that yet. We just can’t find any other reason for it. The glass tubes don’t connect to anything else. But the sigil designs lend credence to the idea. I think.”

“You’re just oozing confidence over there.” Zoya looked more than a little doubtful. Her slate grey eyes practically spelled doubt in capital letters.  “So?”

“In theory, we can either remove the sigils so they can’t dial out, or I think we might be able to remove the glass tubes that collect the aether. Without those to charge the platform, it won’t work.”

Zoya nodded approval. “Which would be easier to test?”

“Sigils?” I glanced down at the box at the bottom of the column that housed the glass tubes. The sigils were inside the box, surrounding the glass tubes, and ostensibly like a circuit board, dictating how the platform worked. Or so was our working theory. “Because the vials are likely charged and might be tricky to remove.”

“Hmm, da.” Zoya stared down at the sigils, obviously thinking of the best way to remove them. They weren’t incredibly complicated, their designs straightforward enough, but they were carved into the stone casing itself. Removing them might be tricky. Without banishing them, hopefully, because that sounded like it would cause further complications.

At any rate, I didn’t get to ask. Several clan members came to us, carting the unconscious archaeologists. Zoya started up the platform so they could be transferred safely back. The platform lit up as it usually did, creating that tunnel effect with the baseboard running lights. The clan members carefully carried the archaeologists through to the other side. Yawning, I idly watched them go. The archaeologists would likely wake up in their tents, wondering just how they’d managed to lose three days.

Then again, maybe not. Workaholics like them lost track of the days all the time.

Zoya poked at the sigils inserted into the stone column, squatting down in order to look at them from all angles. She gestured for my phone, which I handed over so she could speak with Jackson. “How do you propose taking these sigils out? I don’t see a way of doing it without damaging the interior.”

“Oh. Uhhh…our version here has a front panel so the sigils can be accessed. They’re on their own stone slab that’s inserted inside. Yours isn’t?”

“No, they’re inset into the stone. I’d have to break something to get them out.”

“Sounds like a design change to me.” I wasn’t surprised. The platform in Brazil was much newer than the one I currently sat on. By several hundred years. Of course the design would have changed and improved over the years.

“We’ll have to wait until everyone is back before we try the glass tubes.” Zoya came around to sit next to me so she wouldn’t block the path. “You really think just taking out the glass tubes will take the platform offline?”

“Think of it like the remote to the telly,” Jackson offered. “If you only have one battery instead of the three it calls for, does the remote work?”

“No, of course it doesn’t,” Zoya said thoughtfully.

This possibly sounded too good to be true. “So, I’m literally yanking one of the batteries out?”

“More or less.”

“I do love a simple solution.” I felt vaguely like that thought should connect logically to another thought. But it flitted away like a mosquito in the dark. I said mosquito because it would likely come back to bite me later.

The conquering heroes returned, and someone who could be Reyansh’s twin stopped to assure us, “We placed them all safely in their beds.”

“Thank you,” Zoya responded sincerely. “We’ll shut the platform down here for a while.”

“We are grateful, Imagineer.”

Zoya went up the ramp to tap the symbols off, turning the platform inert again. I hopped off the platform, feeling the gritty stone scrape against my shorts and the skin of my thighs as I dropped heavily back to the ground so I could pop the casing off the bottom of the column. At least the design on this hadn’t changed. The base of the column still housed three glass tubes, the sigils written into the bottom and sides of the box, giving direction on how to harness and use the energy. The glass tubes looked all spiffy and glowy. I put a hand near them but didn’t feel any heat. Safe to touch, cool.

“Wait, devushka!” Zoya’s sharp warning brought my head up.

“Huh?” Too late. I put fingers to glass and got the shock of my life. My hand snapped backwards and my teeth clenched together as I spasmed unpleasantly for an agonizing second.

“Did she just touch them bare-handed?” Jackson sounded alarmed.

“No one told me not to,” I whined, breathing heavily as I waited to see if anything else unpleasant would happen. Like my skin turning green. Fortunately, it did not.

“She’s sleep-deprived and not thinking clearly.” Zoya hopped down and checked my hand, blowing on it to soothe the ache still throbbing under the skin of my fingers. “Otherwise, she’d have realized it herself not to do that.”

I glared at the glass vials in question. “I want warning labels. I demand warning labels. Where are they?”

“We’ll put some up later,” my master soothed. She may have been laughing at me internally. It was hard to tell under that stoic face she wore. “Until then, how about I take them out. With rubber gloves?”

“Is this operating like electricity, then?” I glared at the vials suspiciously.

“I’d say, considering the reaction you just had.”

“Oh, so I’m the lab rat? Thanks a lot. I demand a revenge match.” I created my own rubber-insulated glove for my left hand, as right hand was still ouchie. Then I maneuvered past Zoya on my knees, reached in, and yanked a tube free. I held up the glass vial like one would a trophy from a hunt. “I am the champion.”

“She’s definitely sleep-deprived. And loopy.”

I stuck my tongue out at him. Because I’m mature that way.

“That worked,” Zoya noted, ignoring our immature byplay. “The platform is now silent and not humming.”

“Good. Well, we now have an easy way to turn things off.”

“I vote to have an off switch in the future.” I still rubbed my fingers, trying to restore full feeling.

Zoya gave me a nod. “It’s a good thought. In the meantime, how do we get to the other platform and shut it off quickly?”

Reyansh cleared his throat deferentially as he stopped us both at the ramp going up. “Imagineers, if I may be so bold? We have one here who is good with such constructs. If we show her how it is to be done, she can fly down to the other platform and do the same. It will curtail further problems.”

That was it! That was the mosquito-thought. “Reyansh, bless your brain. Yes, please go fetch her.”

He gave me a bow of the head before trotting off, his lion tail swishing idly as he moved silently away.

Zoya settled in to wait, sitting cross-legged on the ground. She asked Jackson with a sort of hopeful tone, “So how goes it over there?”

“Mixed, as usual. We still haven’t heard from our lost clans in Brazil and Finland. We’ve lost all communication for almost a year at this point, and we’re not sure if something dire has happened. The druid we asked to check up on them hasn’t turned up either. It’s worrisome. On a positive note, I think we’ve managed—thanks to our magical community as a whole—to find some of the locations of the other platforms in the world. We’ll hunt them down systematically and see if we can’t get them to work. If we can, then we’ll jump to the other countries and start working on the rest of the platforms.”

“Brazil is our test ground?”

“More or less. We’re trying to hurry, as we are worried about the missing clans. If we can at least get the platforms operational on a national level, we’d be able to contact them. Theoretically.”

“Yeah, theoretically. You gotta love the difference between theory and reality.”

“Are you coming back soon?”

“Within a few days, maybe?” I really wasn’t sure what the plan was. Did we even have a plan? Was I able to remember things like that after being awake for twenty-six hours?

“You sound really unsure of that.”

“Things are pretty much up in the air over here.” I heard a whooshing sound and looked up to find a very interesting bird flying overhead. It looked like a cross between a crow and a pheasant. An interesting mix, and rather striking. It landed next to me on the ground, ruffling its black wings as it settled, the pheasant head canting so it could look at me from one eye.

Reyansh loped up to us and made the introductions. “Imagineer, this is Yahvi. She is a chakora and very wise with constructs. Yahvi, our honored guests, Imagineer Zoya Mikahilov and her apprentice, Reagan Hunt.”

“A pleasure, Yahvi,” Zoya said with a duck of the head.

I gave Yahvi a shallow, seated bow and resisted the urge to hold onto my head. It felt like it would fall off, it was that heavy. “Yahvi, nice to meet you.”

Yahvi lifted her head and trilled back in a sing-song way that sounded musical and soothing. “And you, Imagineers.”

I lifted the phone so Jackson could see her and vice versa. “This is another Imagineer, Jackson Warren. Jackson, Yahvi.”

“Pleasure, Yahvi,” Jackson greeted pleasantly. “We’re grateful for your help.”

“It is a small price to pay for your aid,” Yahvi denied with a duck of the head. “Please tell me what must be done and I will be happy to assist.”

“It’s actually rather simple,” I assured her, returning to the column on the far right. Crouching in front of the column base, I indicated the notched panel and shifted so Yahvi could see what I was doing. “You pull here, and it falls off easily enough. Here, try it. I want to make sure you can get in.”

She hopped lightly forward, got her beak inside the notched section on the right, and gave the panel a good yank. It shifted half-out, and she switched to the other notch on the upper lip and gave that another yank. The panel fell obediently out.

“Okay, once that’s out…” I put the phone down and reached for the glass vial.

“Reagan!” Jackson yelped in warning.

I jumped in place, putting a hand over my heart. “OMG! Jackson, don’t scream at me. My soul almost left my body.”

“Sorry, sorry, but remember to put the rubber glove on.”

Oh yeah. “How did I forget that already?”

“Because you need sleep. And create a glove for Yahvi too. She’ll need one.”

Crap on a stick, didn’t think of that either.

Zoya, bless her, actually created the glove for Yahvi. I yanked mine back on and sank down again, reaching forward more gingerly this time.

Yahvi didn’t ask before she ducked under my arm and tried her hand—claw—at it. After some interesting body contortions—she didn’t have the reach, so it required some bird yoga on her part—she got one of the tubes free. With that one on the ground, she rustled her feathers, looking proud of herself. “I can manage this.”

I was relieved to see it. “We need to store these somewhere safe—”

“Don’t put them in a safe place,” Jackson protested, alarmed all over again. “We’ll never find them again.”

The man had a good point. I’d played that game with myself many times before and lost. Every time. “Jackson, you think we can leave them in here? Just put them down on the bottom?”

“Sure. As long as they’re not connected in the right spots, nothing happens.”

Then that was what we’d do. I pulled the last one and gathered them all in, refitting the panel afterward. “Yahvi, if you could do the same…or not. We don’t want someone figuring this out down there.”

“I will carry the vials back here and store them in the same place,” she decided for me. “That way we can restore the platform later, when it’s safe to do so.”

See? People who’d had sleep make smarter decisions than I did. “Okay. Awesomesauce. I’m going back to bed now.”

Jackson laughed at me with a perfectly straight face. “You do that.”

I stuck my tongue out at him (because maturity, meh), disconnected the call, and stuck my phone in my pocket. Then I looked up and realized Yahvi had already left. As well as Zoya. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea how to get back to my room.

Reyansh must have seen the confusion and despair on my face as he gave me his trunk again. “Come, Imagineer. I will guide you back.”

I beamed at him, accepting the trunk. “I like you.”

He laughed at me. Can’t imagine why.



After a solid eight hours of sleep, I felt much more alert and ready to tackle the world. I woke up at my leisure, took a hot shower, braided my hair so it didn’t go crazy on me—the humidity in India was no joke—and then decided I needed a follow-up with my father.

Which. Yeah. Still wasn’t sure how to feel about all this. I wasn’t sure how he felt about it all, either. The last time I’d seen him, he was still trying to wrap his head around magic being real, but he seemed more interested in facts than anything else. I couldn’t exactly blame him there. But I wished he’d done more than just check his facts.

Mentally girding my loins—for battle? An argument? I had no idea—I peeked into my father’s room. He was still there, only now he frantically typed notes into a laptop. I could guess what kind. Scientist still firmly in the driver’s seat, eh? “Hi, Dad.”

He glanced up, dark brown eyes blinking owlishly at me from behind his coke-bottle glasses. “You’re up. Good, I have questions.”

“Yeah, I bet.” I was still talking to the scientist. It was easy to see at a glance, as this was the man I’ve faced for seventeen years. I couldn’t even claim I was surprised. It was ingrained habit that made me ask, “Have you eaten already?”

“No, but they’re bringing something in for me.”

He’d at least thought about food, then. That was unusual. He forgot to eat regularly when he dove into something new. I might have to request a tray for me as well. I was rather hungry after sleeping the day away. But it could wait. A chance to have an open conversation with my father was rare. I’d be wise to take advantage of it.

I resumed the chair I’d sat in the first time I was in the room, sitting directly across from him. Then I settled in, as this might take a while. “So, what questions do you have?”

“Mom—your grandmother—explained most of the basics, I think. I want to know how much this magical world affects my dig.”

Of course he did. I felt a twinge of disappointment. But not surprise. “From what I hear? You’re basically excavating a magical community.”

That excited him. He nearly started vibrating in place. “Truly? What do you know about it?”

“Not a lot. People have dropped lines and hints, is all. I gathered that much from them. But Dad, even if I told you, you’re not going to be able to publish this. And won’t asking questions just color your perceptions and make it impossible to work the dig objectively?”

He made a face. “Likely, yes, but I’d still rather know the truth.”

I did appreciate that attitude. “Yeah? We’ll ask our hosts, then. They’ll be able to shed light on all this. You still good with leaving Mom in the dark?”

“I really don’t see a good reason to tell her. It’s not like it’ll impact her in any way.”

Even though that had been my reasoning too, I couldn’t help but feel a stab of disappointment. It was sharper and deeper than the usual disappointment I felt with my parents. But what did I expect, really? Since when had he ever felt it necessary to share any part of himself with me?

Maybe the childish part of me wanted to share my life with my parents. As soon as that impulse crossed my mind, I found it fading just as quickly. Was it habit to think so? Because the emotion didn’t linger. I could feel myself becoming more emotionally withdrawn from this conversation as we spoke, and I frowned a little at him. Why did this feel more and more like I spoke with an acquaintance instead of my father? Like we were meeting up casually for breakfast and to swap information?

Shrugging, I let it go. “Okay. You won’t have much longer here. We need to sort out a cover story for you and get you back to the dig site before things get really complicated. Your two co-workers who accidentally stumbled through the portal are already back. So whatever questions you have, make it quick.”

For the first time, the obvious question seemed to occur to him. “The platform…that’s how they got in?”

“Right.”

“Is it still active?”

“No. I told them how to shut it down. We won’t restore it until you’ve left the village.”

“You know how it functions?”

“I’m one of the people studying the platforms.”

“Why you? Does this have something to do with you being a—what did you call it?”

He’d been surprised before about my importance in the magical community, but I hadn’t really gone in-depth about what I did. “I’m an apprentice Imagineer. We can create things magically—whatever we can hold in our minds. There’s not many of us with that ability, and because of my master, I’ve been drawn into the puzzle with everyone else. It’s part specialty, part learning experience, and mostly availability, I think. Zoya is one of the few Imagineers who isn’t up to her eyebrows with work in her own clan. She’s available to work the problem. And she’s taken me along with her to learn at her side.”

“Is this something that’s a career, then?”

I almost, for a split second, thought he asked as a father. But, no, he was already taking notes again. This was a cultural question from the professor. I couldn’t help but compare his behavior to Klaus’s. My kobold, in this man’s shoes, would have first asked me how I was. How I felt about everything. What I’d gone through to discover my ability. He would have first invested in me, and then asked about the nuts and bolts of this career I’d embarked on. It was a sharp juxtaposition. And the comparison didn’t do my father any favors because honestly, I’d prefer to talk to Klaus right now. At least then I’d know I was engaged with someone who was emotionally invested in my well-being.

Was this just Dad’s default? Was he more comfortable responding to me on an intellectual level rather than emotional?

Shaking my head, I went back to answering his question. “Yes. An Imagineer functions as one from the time they are apprenticed to death, I think. We don’t really get to retire. The clan supports us on a salary since we take care of the odd problems in that region. If we do a job outside of the clan, like now, then whatever clans we help pay us for our work. It can get quite lucrative, depending on how insane the job is.”

“And this job? The one with the platforms? Who’s involved in restoring these to full functionality?”

“All of the clans. They’re pooling resources to sort things out. As you’ve no doubt guessed, the platforms are ancient technology. They were out of use for about a hundred years. We’re trying to get them back up and running. It’s safer for the magical community to use them as opposed to conventional travel.” Annnnd I’d just exchanged one set of questions for another. I could see it all over his face. “The mythology and history here, I can’t tell you. But the platforms I can tell you a lot about. Do you want to start there?”

“Yes,” he said eagerly, poised to take notes.

Well. This should be a switch. Me, having a lively conversation with my father and commanding his full attention. I fell into it, covering the basic history first, then elaborating on how the platforms worked. As I talked, he listened. A soft pang went through my chest as we conversed, a bittersweet feeling. Finally, I had enough common ground with this man to have something to talk about. We could never really be father and daughter. He clearly didn’t have the emotional attachment necessary to function that way. But maybe we could be friends. Friends who occasionally chatted and swapped info.

It wasn’t really what I’d hoped for. I’d put the stakes a bit higher than this. But at least it was something, which was more than I had before. And if that was all he could be, then that would have to be alright.