“How did you see this?” Tara asked.
Maven sighed, looked at the group, and tried to remember that yelling would probably be a bad idea, as would telling them what he thought of them at that moment. “I already told you, I saw it in my cup of power.”
“Well, that’s convenient!” Sandoz said. “You’re always looking into that thing. How are we supposed to see what you’ve seen?”
“Why are you questioning me?” Maven asked, his temper rising. The staff of light flared like a flash so bright it made the rest of the room dark.
“Calm down, Maven.” Tara said. “And knock it off Sandoz. Now is not the time for your sense of humour.”
“Or lack thereof,” Carley said.
“He’s just so fucking touchy lately.” Sandoz said, trailing a finger down his cheek like as if it were following a path of tears.
“Can it, would you?” Finley said. She put a hand on Maven’s arm, and he felt warmth run through him. The warmth brought him comfort, and the fact that Finley would share some of her power with him brought him a little bit of joy.
Maven knew that he was really upset because of what had happened with Gregory, but he wasn’t going to tell any of them that, even if Carley knew already and he suspected that Finley knew as well. She was always so good at reading him.
“What I’d like to know,” Tara said. “Was if you saw this spectre as the shadow, or was he more than shadow? I know you saw him within your cup of power, but when I asked you how you saw this, did you see from the viewpoint of the spectre? Or did you look at him?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Dez asked. “He saw the shadow man, so we can go and fucking kick his ass.”
“It’s not as simple as that,” Tara said. “It makes a difference if Maven saw him through the shadow’s eyes because that would mean that the shadow is already within him. The fact that he could look upon him means that we don’t have to look within. Not yet anyways.”
Maven finally understood. Tara could see into peoples’ minds while they slept. Sometimes, she couldn’t help but travel to other peoples’ dreams while she slept. it was the curse of being a psychic and empath as powerful as she was. She had seen something within him, and was watching him now as if he held the final piece of the puzzle. “What did you see, Tara?” Maven asked.
She stood and went to the one of the windows. The snow was really coming down now, the white flakes were even brighter against the blackness of the sky. She put a hand up to the glass, as if to catch the snow. She is still, with her back to the others so only Maven can see her face. He can see its reflection. It’s filled with sadness mixed with a fear so poignant that Maven can almost smell it in the air around them.
When she turns to face them, that look is gone, and she has composed herself. “When I look deep into the night, I can see him moving, but I can’t see him. He is made of shadows and darkness. I have no idea what he looks like or how we will fight him, but you’re the key Maven.”
“He came to you.” Carley said. “He showed himself and let himself be seen without the shadows. That’s got to say something. Maybe because you exude so much light, it’s impossible for him to stay hidden around you.”
“Then wouldn’t this shadow guy do whatever he could to avoid Maven?” Tianado asked.
“Well, it’s like any bug, isn’t it?” Carley asked. “They’re always attracted to light.
“We need to find out what Cracklepuss is up to,” Maven said. “We know that he’s working with the shadow. We trail him, we’re bound to come across the shadow man, aren’t we?”
“We have tails on him twenty-four-seven.” Sandoz said. “We haven’t spotted him doing anything unusual.”
“Well, he does spend an awful amount of time looking at porn,” Carley shivered. “Really gross stuff, too. It’s all I can see when I try to look inside his mind,” She made a face. “Aside from that, I got nothing.”
“We’re not going about this the right way,” Maven said. “Tara, is there another way we could find out what Cracklepuss is up to? I can look him up in my cup of power, but all I see is static. It’s like he’s jammed the signal. I can hear him talking softly but I can’t make out the words.”
“So, your all-mighty cup of power isn’t all that powerful, is it?” Sandoz said wickedly.
“You know as well as any of us that magical instruments can be fucked with,” Tara said. “Cracklepuss knows all about the cup of power. The fact that he’s spending time and energy blocking it means he’s up to something.”
“Well, isn’t the answer obvious?” Dez said kindly. “He’s blocked our path, but the shadow man hasn’t. Can’t you try and get in touch with him again, Maven?”
“No, absolutely not.” Finley said, giving Dez a look. “It’s a good idea, but we have other options. There’s no telling what the shadow could do to Maven during that connection.”
“I have an idea,” Tianado said, standing. “I think I know how to find out what Cracklepuss is up to.”
“How are you going to do that?” Carley said. “I can’t even get a read on him.” She tapped her head. “I can never hear him clearly. It’s like he’s keeping me out, too.”
“I have my ways,” Tianado said. He held up a hand and snapped his fingers. The control room went dark for a moment and when the lights came up again, Tianado was gone.
“I fucking hate it when he does that,” Dez said.
“You and me both,” Sandoz agreed.
“Whatever, he’s doing what needs to be done.” Finley said. “We need to work on finding those kids, or at least trying to find out where they disappeared from. We should talk to their families, see if they saw anything.”
“That’s a really good idea,” Tara said. “They might know more than they think they do.
“Excellent.” Finley said. “Dez and Sandoz, let’s split up and see if we can track down the parents, see if they know anything that they didn’t tell the police.”
“Do we have to?” Sandoz sulked. “I’d much rather stay inside, thank you. Winter doesn’t agree with me, and I find Christmas carols so aggravating.”
“You’re such a buzzkill,” Finley said. “Fine, if you come, I’ll get each of you a hot chocolate. Deal?”
“Deal,” Dez said. Pointing to Maven and Carley, “Hey, why aren’t they coming?”
“We have other ways of looking,” Tara said. “I can see if I can find any of the children who are sleeping, Maven has his cup of power and Carley is psychic and drop into people’s minds. We don’t need to leave here to be of use.”
Dez looked affronted. “Are you saying that I’m not useful?”
“You’re useful, you do things that none of us can. Your abilities with water are amazing. See if you can use the snow to your advantage, make it easier on all three of you.”
Dez shrugged. “I’m good with that. Finley, are you ready to melt some snow?”
“I can’t wait!” She gave Maven a look of concern. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Aren’t I always?” He answered.
“No, that’s what worries me.” Finley said. She walked by him and ran a hand along his shoulder. “Don’t look too deeply into he shadows, okay? I’ll be back soon.”
“We’ll make sure he’s okay,” Tara said. All three women shared a look. They all knew what had happened last time Gregory and Maven had broken up.
Finley gave his shoulder one last squeeze before she left with Dez and Sandoz, her high-heeled red leather boots clicking along the floor. Maven had one last look of her, one last flash of her red hair, before she stepped onto the elevator with the others.
While he appreciated that everyone was concerned, he couldn’t help but feel somewhat relieved that she had left him be, at least for now. Having all three of them so concerned about him was becoming a little tiring.
“Yeah, and you’ve been such a joy to be around lately,” Carley said.
“Get out of my head.” Maven told her, giving his head a shake.
“It’s what I do, I read minds and change pain into pleasure. Speaking of which,” Carley said. She opened her eyes wider, and they glowed green for a moment, as if they were made of jade. Snapping her fingers, Carley smiled at him. “There you go and you’re welcome.”
“You didn’t do anything,” Maven said.
“Didn’t I though?” She gave him a roguish grin. “Stop and think for a moment, take stock of how you feel.”
Maven did so, waiting to tell her that she was wrong and that she hadn’t done anything…only to find that he felt lighter. The sea of emotions that he had been carrying within him for weeks now was suddenly gone. Maven had felt as though his heart was just a deep gash that was left open and bleeding inside of him, and had become so used to the despair and sadness. He had assumed that he would feel that way for some time to come, if not forever. It had been such a bad breakup this time. To find the emotions and pain gone from him so suddenly was like an unexpected gift.
“Thank you?” Maven said softly.
“You’re welcome, honey. We’re all worried about you.” Carley said.
“Sandoz isn’t worried about me,” he said.
“Well, Sandoz can be…difficult.” Tara said. “You know how he is. He still hasn’t recovered since his last relationship broke up. I’d say that he’s jealous.”
“Of what?” Maven asked.
“Jealous of the fact that you still love Gregory when he’s not capable of loving you back right now.” Tara said softly.
“I don’t love him,” Maven said weakly, not quite believing the words when they were out of his mouth.
“Honey, you can tell yourself whatever you need to if it’ll get you through this, but we all know that you love Gregory. Don’t worry, things will mend themselves.”
“Agreed,” Tara said. “Now we have work to do. Are you up for this, Maven?”
“I am. I’m always up for this.”
“Good. I need you to open up the portal of your cup of power. If you let Carley and me in, we can project what you can see. We just need to be looking through your eyes. I think if we look again, but this time all three of us, we’ll see something together that you couldn’t see on your own.” She placed one of her hands on his. “Would that be okay?”
He knew what she was doing. Maven could feel the warmth from her sliding up his arm and he welcomed it. Maven knew that it was to keep him calm, he would need to control his emotions if he was going to open the cup of power. He knew what she was going to ask him to do.
“You want me to look for the shadow man again, don’t you?”
Tara nodded. “We have to. Carley will keep trying to see what Cracklepuss is up to, but if we’re going to better understand the shadow man, we must observe him. It seems that the only way is through you, and the power you possess. I can get a sense of his energy, but nothing more. I can only see into minds when they are sleeping, and it looks like the shadow never sleeps or doesn’t need to.”
Maven nodded. “I’m okay.” They had done this only once before and Maven knew why she was asking his permission. The last time had been very draining on him and he had to recuperate over several days. Gregory took care of him then. Maven knew that he would be able to take care of himself if it came to it. Delving into the cup of power like that and allowing others to see through him was incredibly strenuous, but it was worthwhile if it helped to find the children.
Taking out the cup, Maven put it on the table in front of him. Carley and Tara moved closer so that they could put their hands on the edges of the cup. Maven could feel the touch in his mind, too and took a deep breath to relax. He could pull up images in the cup at any time, but it was always easier if he was calm. Otherwise, opening the portal could hurt. He could always handle it as he had a high pain threshold, but still it was easier if he was calm. Taking another breath and finding the balance that he needed, however temporary, Maven looked down within the cup.
Like last time, he focused on shadows and the idea of shadows but now, because he had seen what the shadow man looked like, he could focus on him. Maven felt a surge of heat, and he knew that what he was seeing in the cup was being projected in the air above him. He wanted to look in the cup for a moment before he looked up with Carley and Tara. Even though they were seeing what he could see, Maven felt like it was a private connection, if only for a moment.
He could see by the shadows that surrounded the building that were people moving along buying their Christmas presents and doing their shopping. He caught a note of song, a bit of laughter. His vision was drawn towards the trees that were lit up for the holiday, but he wasn’t looking at the light, more the shadows that the lights cast in the area around them. He tried to see around the shadows or see through them, but found that he couldn’t. What he did see however was a flash of white moving within the shadows, a cloud of white dust that looked even brighter because the shadows were so dark.
Looking up, Maven could see the darkness more clearly. He could see the bricks of the houses, the sheen of glass, the moving black cloud of shadows that seemed to be growing the more he looked at it. Beside him, Tara and Carley watched on. With their hands on the cup, Maven could feel their heartbeats and their emotions, and he knew they were afraid, but so was he. Pushing through the shadows, Maven tried to see deeper. He knew that the shadow man was here, he could feel him.
There was another sound of laughter and the shadows moved towards it. A spotlight came from the right of his vision, it reflected off of the glass that shone so brightly in the dark and for a moment, for a mere second, they saw him. Maven blinked as if to capture the sight of him, and knew that the man’s frame and features would never leave him because the shadow man was looking right at him.
He was tall, well over six feet, and had a cap on his head over messy sandy blond hair. There was scruff on his jaw, and he had deep-set eyes that glowed like blue jewels in the dark. He was looking right at Maven, and he drew a finger across his neck and smiled with teeth that were bared in a smile that lacked humour. The shadows around him increased and he was on the move again. They saw a child, a young girl who was no more than nine or ten. The shadows stretched toward her and when they disappeared she was gone, and so was the shadow man.
Maven let go of the cup, and so did Tara and Carley. They were both staring at him wide-eyed, but not with fear. They both looked elated, almost excited.
“It looks like you’ve made a friend, Maven.” Carley said.
“Well, what about it?” Maven said. “Now we have another crazy person to fight but we can’t find him.”
“We don’t have to.” Tara said. “You’ve seen him twice in one evening. At this rate, if I’m not mistaken, he’ll come to you.”