THE MARSH HOUSE
By Joel Tagert
Published Issue 065, May 2019
The marsh house was heavily ensorcelled. Invisible to airplanes and satellites, it likewise defeated the occasional hunter or fisherman who ventured so far, who might admire the reflection of the trees in the still ponds below, but never notice the quirky red-sided home floating forty feet in the air. The witch who lived there, Moriko, claimed she had levitated it (via gods knew what kind of hellish mechanism) due to a near-incursion by a black bear, but her husband, Paul, said it was merely to lessen the mosquitoes when they chose to take their tea outside in the evenings.
To get there, Naoko Furoshi rented an Outback in Seattle and drove north and then east. When the road finally ran out, deep in the forest, she flew.
Flying was costly, the spell requiring a quart of mercury and half a pound of dragonflies’ wings. It would have been cheaper to enchant some object (a broom, classically, though something with an actual seat was more comfortable), but it looked ridiculous, and what if you lost the thing?
So she spake the spell and traced the runes, trying to ignore the frequent mosquito bites, until Urko-kito, the dragonfly demon, acquiesced to her summons and greedily accepted her offering of a live rat born with three tails. The rat was frankly kind of gross (and had cost her more even than the wings), but she still felt bad for it as it was crunched between Urko-kito’s mandibles. The dog-sized demon then squeezed a single drop of milk from a black nipple, which she caught on the end of her car key, being in no way willing to touch the disgusting creature.
Now hovering above the pine needles, she paused long enough to unwrap a stick of Trident, desperate to get rid of the taste, and tightened the straps of her backpack. Then she was off, skimming just above the trees in the twilight, trying to keep low. It wouldn’t do to have the house’s owners see her, if they were indeed outside with their tea this May evening.
She was in her night-work outfit, black tights, black denim jacket with lots of pockets, a hoodie underneath, low-profile canvas sneakers, also black. And her little daypack, of course. She’d left her sword in the car, but her runewhip was wrapped around her waist, being far less cumbrous.
Where the trees ended, she landed and settled into a crouch, looking out on the marsh as the twilight deepened into darkness. A couple of runes provided her the magical sight to see the house. She didn’t see anyone outside, but they could be looking out the windows.
She was early, but the flying spell would last until daybreak. She settled in and played on her phone, amazed that she still had two bars out here. With night, lights came on inside, until they were turned off around ten. She waited another hour yet before emerging from the tree line, pulling a black scarf around her face and her hood down low on her forehead to minimize skin exposure. Then she flew like a damn superhero up to the back door.
There were defenses. As soon as she’d landed a howler demon should have woken, quickly followed by a mess of poison-spitting bats housed in the attic. But she put a sleep spell on the howler as she was rushing through the air, so the bats never woke either. Then there was the glueblood field, the basilisk plate, and the muscle disintegrators. It was all very tedious, but one by one she disabled them.
At last she was inside. With assurance she slipped through the rooms, a shadow among shadows, utterly silent, needing no light to guide her. The kitchen smelled of spaghetti sauce.
The weapon she sought was in the study, naturally, in a wall safe guarded by both magical and technological means. It should have been impregnable; but Naoko knew the combination-charm, so that was that.
Reverently, she reached in, withdrew the dagger and unsheathed it. Its blade was made of a single claw, long as her hand and dark and mottled with age. Its hilt was a masterpiece of ancient and altogether alien spellcraft, its iron ridged and clotted with sigils, and freezing cold. The blade was named Gurgurrat, and they said –
“Who are you?” said the house’s owner behind her, flipping on the light.
Naoko was genuinely startled, having heard no step, and reflexively leapt toward the window, the only other way out. She wasn’t sure about the plan after that – crash through it? Open the latch, with her apologies? – but it didn’t matter, because fast as lightning Moriko leapt forward herself, landing a grip on the intruder’s heel and swinging her around to crash into the bookshelf by the door.
She may have been in her fifties, but damn, that old broad could move. Some pretty explosive violence followed, with Naoko crashing about the room spectacularly, not being confined by gravity; but she could not get past this old woman in her terry-cloth bathrobe. At last Moriko struck her with a solid one-two to the crotch and stomach, which left Naoko pretty well out of breath and Moriko poised to smash her face in, one hand gripping the strap of her daypack. “Uncle,” she gasped, raising a hand and tugging down her scarf. “Jesus, Mom, enough.”
If anything Moriko Furoshi looked even more pissed when she realized who it was. “God damn it, Naoko! Unbelievable!” She looked her daughter up and down, eyes blazing. “Are you stealing from us? What in the world for? Do you need money? Are you using again?”
“No!” Incensed, Naoko shook loose from the older woman’s fierce grip. “That was years ago. I don’t do that shit anymore, I told you.”
“Then why, daughter mine, are you stealing magical artifacts from your parents’ house in the middle of the night?”
Naoko rolled her eyes. “I needed to kill an unkillable demon. I mean, that’s what this dagger is for, right? Pretty much all it’s good for, actually?”
“Did you consider asking if you could borrow it?”
“Would you have said yes?”
“Maybe! But I never had the chance, did I?” Arms crossed and lips pressed tight with anger, Moriko’s eyes bored into her daughter. “Also you’re slower than you should be. You’ve been drinking, haven’t you? You know regular drinking impedes your –”
“God, Mom. And you wonder why I don’t want to ask you for any favors. Here, take your stupid dagger.” She slammed it on the desk and stepped forward, meaning to storm out properly.
So naturally Mom took it as a chance to hug her, and after a moment of stiffness Naoko let her. She supposed she did owe her something, after breaking in. “Are you staying the night?” asked Moriko.
Naoko sighed. What else was she going to do, fly back through the woods and drive to a motel somewhere? “Sure.”
“It’s good to see you.”
“You too, Mom.”