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Great Paint Catastrophe

by CL Huth 7 months ago in Series
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Ch 8: Nightfall

Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7

Night had come full cycle, and no matter how much they had wanted to continue to find Magick, Mischief and Mayhem had agreed that they were no good to their little brother if they broke a leg traipsing through the unknown forest. They walked, following the glowing Shih Tzu, until they came to a small copse of trees.

They didn't talk much, as they set up camp. Not that they needed much collaboration to figure it out. Over five years of camping adventures with Father had turned the experience into a well-oiled machine.

Mayhem conjured a tent from his wand. It wasn't the biggest tent, but he wanted something he could control, protect. The inside was warm enough. He had even managed to produce simple beds and baubles of light, so they could see.

He heard barking outside, and as he stepped out from beneath the tent flap, he saw a proud Mop standing over a couple of dead rabbits. Mayhem didn't look forward to cleaning them—something that could not be done properly with magic and wands—but dinner was dinner, and they needed to eat. At least the fire was done and burned high into the night sky.

He could have done that with magic, but that little voice in his head told him that he needed to reserve it for things that wouldn't so easily be accomplished with a little manual labor. And it had felt good, collecting the wood, building the teepee of parts, getting that kindling started, and Mayhem realized what he had really needed was something normal to do in the middle of all the craziness they had gone through today.

He looked around to see his sister doing something else she did well: building wards. It was a beautiful dance, watching her work, the intricate light lines pouring from her wand, manipulated by her fingers. Wards were special. Not just because they would protect them, even give them advanced warning, but because they would cause some great aggressive damage.

Father had told him once that Mischief’s wards weren’t greater because of some extra talent or skill, but her inner creativity. And that wasn't even from her wanting to actually hurt someone. But when she was hurt, when she was angry, she poured all of that energy into her wards, and it returned as thorns and daggers to anyone unfortunately enough to decide to fight their way in.

And that was the nice stuff.

The last time she had employed the not-so-nice stuff, they had awoken on one of Father’s camping trips to a stray horde of gremlins impaled in a row of shrunken heads along the edges of their preset perimeter. It had killed any desire to eat breakfast. Or lunch, for that matter. But it had ensured that she was the master ward builder.

Tonight’s mix, the spells he could see, was milder than that madness. More concealment and protection. Less anger and sharp edges. It was meant to ensure nothing came in, that nothing saw that they were even there in that copse, and should anything find them anyway, it would stun them enough to give them a reason to change their minds.

She caught him watching him and managed the first real smile she had given since they had made the decision to go forward. “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” She gestured toward the wards. “I think they should hold up pretty well, enough that we could both get some sleep. Mop will let us know if anything gets through.”

Mayhem nodded. “Yeah, he will. Let me get dinner, er, started, and then we can get some rest, okay?”

She smiled and turned back to her work. “I’m just about done.”

It required no reply, so he walked toward the dog and his catch. He took the rabbits from under the Shih Tzu’s feet and set about preparing them. It was messy work, but like the fire, it made him feel like he had some modicum of control. He hoped he didn't forget that lesson too quickly when they were home again.

Mop watched him, almost like he had watched Mischief, but his head was cocked to the side in the typical dog curiosity way. He tossed him bits of rabbit, which the dog mouthed and piled just to the right of his body, before returning to his stance.

“I’m okay,” Mayhem promised.

Mop pawed at the ground three times, looking out past their place of safety, and whined. A low sound that was meant to be kept between the two of them.

“Yeah, I wonder how he’s doing, too.” He wiped the sweat off his upper lip with the back of one hand. “I wish there was a way to see, but I need water, real water.” Mop murmured, a strange combination of bark and guttural noises, but the boy shook his head. “That river was not water. And I have tried to conjure some, but without real water to add to it, it’s acting like magic, not a looking glass. It’s not showing me anything worth, well, anything.”

It hadn't shown him anything actually. The conjured water had lain there in the goblet he had poured it into and shone like a perfect mirrored surface. He must have cast the spell a half-dozen times, the last half in frustration, before he had decided to give up. He needed real water, just like he had told Mop, and there was no real water to be had here.

Mop looked away and whined again.

Mayhem paused between tossing gobbets of rabbit onto the slab of rock he had found and leaned against the fire. “Can you find him? Do you know where he is?”

The Shih Tzu pawed at the ground again, two short strokes and one long, but this time his tail was wagging. The boy had asked the right question.

Sometimes that’s all it took, they had found, as frustrating as that process could be. No one liked a game of twenty questions in the middle of a crisis, but no matter how magical Mop might be, he didn't have much in the way of brain power. And given how easily he could be distracted from the subject at hand, yeah, sometimes it really did take figuring out the best questions to ask.

Mayhem leaned forward after stealing a glance at Mischief. He did not want to get her hopes up, until he could figure this all out. “Can you bring him back?”

Mop harrumphed and shook his head.

“Is he close enough for us to go get him?”

The dog snorted at that offering and hid his face behind his front paws.

Mayhem raised his hands up in mock surrender. “Okay, okay, I should have known better. If we were that close, you wouldn’t have let us stop here.” He tapped his wand against his chin. “Is he a day’s walk away?”

Mop barked, tail a mad whirlwind.

“Shhhh!” The boy patted his head. “Can you get to him tonight? Protect him?”

Mop spared a look at Mischief before looking out in the direction their baby brother was and whined. He was conflicted, torn between staying here and protecting them, and leaving them to protect Magick.

“We’ll be okay,” Mayhem promised. “She’s built good, strong wards. The tent is protected, too, and this fire will burn all night, keeping away the big bad things out there. But Magick can’t do this. He would have to be able to comprehend these things, and he’s just a baby.”

He grimaced. “He needs you more than we do. I understand that. She will understand that. If you can get to him, if you can protect him, then go. And tomorrow, when you have made him safe, you can come back and get us, lead us there.”

The dog bumped his head against the boy’s hand. Then he swallowed up the rabbit he had been given and disappeared into the forest without another sound.

“Where’s he going?” Mischief asked, as she approached the fire.

“To Magick.”

“He knows where he is?”

Mayhem nodded.

“But it’s not close enough for us to get there.”

He shook his head. “Are you okay with that? You going to be okay with us staying here by ourselves?”

She shrugged. “I guess. I mean, I would rather Mop was with our baby brother. Who knows where he is, but Mop will get him what he needs, keep him safe. You and I can do this. I’ll just pretend it’s a camping trip with Father, when he’s left us in camp to get food. Or to find a cell signal.” She smiled, but unlike the earlier one, this was clearly forced for his benefit.

He gave her a mirror image before peeling meat up off the rock. “Rabbit?”

To be continued


About the author

CL Huth

Writer | Mom | Wife | Nerd | Mental Health Advocate | Democratic Socialist | Atheist

Alphabet Mafia: Bi/Demi She/Her

Published award-winning paranormal author of the Zoe Delante Series (

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