"The characters probably don't matter anyway." Ruby folded her arms, though Matthias could read the uncertainty on her face.
"No but look –" Cas leaned down and flipped the book around so people could see the illustration of the characters standing around the melted crown talisman. She flattened Trav's drawing beside it, fingers splayed over the paper. "See how they're standing? I think Ben's right. I think the people do matter, even if the chant doesn't."
"So... what do we do about that?" Trav's sandwich sat untouched on his plate.
Matthias looked down at his own meal. His stomach was hollow and he should have been starving, but the adrenaline that was still shooting through his veins every time Cas's video repeated. He set his plate down on the edge of a table that was mostly taken up by a chess board and shook out his hands. "Do we even fit into the archetypes?"
"Maybe." Ben raised an eyebrow at the page, then heaved a sigh. "This is still bullshit."
As if it detected someone badmouthing it, the building gave a rumbling shudder. Matthias flinched, imagining them trapped inside the grasp of a giant, smokey hand. Bricks fell away as the hand closed tighter and tighter.
Everyone fell silent and for a long moment the only sound was the phone. Even Amber stopped humming as she munched on her sandwich. She raised her little chin, eyes wide and searching like a frightened animal. Cas swept forward and scooped her daughter into her arms without breaking the silence.
Minutes passed and no one moved. Penny broke their trance. "What are the archetypes again? Even if we don't need them, it might be good to figure it out, just in case. I don't want to go down there and face that thing unprepared."
"Face that thing?" Ben's brown creased. "No. You and Amber can stay up here. The rest of us can go chant at a hunk of gold if we think that's going to help. You're staying where it's safe."
Penny wrinkled her nose. "It won't be safe much longer, and every minute we delay is another the creeping blackness you described can spread. It seems like we might all be needed for this ritual, so get used to the idea that I'll be going with you-" She stopped and straightened as though a miniature bolt of lighting had struck her. "And Amber as well."
"Mmm mmm, no way." Ben folded his arms. "No way. Not Amber."
"She might have to," Penny pressed, though she didn't look happy about it.
Matthias found himself speaking without planning to, just to interrupt before things got heated. Memories of his father's raised voice pushed at the corners of his mind. "Putting Amber aside for now, who do we think everyone is? Like, Maybe I'm the scribe because I write books?" Everyone looked at him at once and Matthias felt like the faces of hungry raptors had turned on him. "I... well it's just an idea."
No one said anything for a moment, then Trav's voice rang out, stronger than Matthias expected. "I'm the fool. No doubt. I bought the thing that cursed us. I brought it home."
Ruby made a sympathetic sound and kissed Trav's temple, but she didn't argue. Matthias thought of protesting, but decided he was just glad someone was willing to play along. "Alright, who is everyone else?"
"I bet Penny's the seer." Cas joined in, leaning down to study the characters.
Penny clucked her tongue. "I read tarot over the phone, I'm not a seer."
"It fits though," Cas said. "Better than anything else."
Everyone paused and looked at one another. No one dared suggest who the princess might be, even if Matthias did catch everyone shooting glances at little Amber.
YOU ARE READING
Matthias is a struggling writer finally able to move into his first solo apartment. He's thrilled to have a place free of roommates and siblings, even though the building is decrepit and is inhabited by an odd assortment of people including an intru...