Sleep came fast for Jane after a full day on her feet in Fukushima Prefecture, cajoling her translator to ask impolite questions and paying fishermen to show them the scarred coast from the ocean’s perspective. Jane could still hear the sound of the tide in her ears; she smelled the brine in the air, far stronger than earlier in the day. Then she was under the cold green water and the Greenwitch was before her, fronds of kelp wafting to and fro, to and fro. Its framework seemed woven of willow and reeds and it wasn’t anything like as tall as Jane remembered from Trewissick.
“You gave me my secret,” it said. A glimmering band of gold shone through the limbs where one would imagine a Greenwitch’s heart would be, if it had one.
“I did,” Jane answered.
“We have a secret,” said a deep voice to Jane’s left, and she saw another Greenwitch, this one monstrously tall, its frame woven through with birch and brambles. It too had a gleaming strip of gold woven fast within its torso.
“We have a secret,” a third agreed, of rowan and hawthorn, and a fourth, of blackthorn and dog-rose. Behind them, in the murky green light, there were ranks and ranks of Greenwitches gathering round them. They came in every height and shape, with untold variety of branches and leaves. The smallest were only doll-sized; the largest had surely needed scaffolds to construct. They each had their own gold engraving: Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea.
“And so do you!” they boomed in their wet rumbling voices.
Jane woke with a start. She sat up, gasping for air, and flipped on the lamp. Around her, the hotel room seemed generic and normal. Nothing was wrong. Too much ocean today, she told herself. Too many interviews about fish with too many fins and not enough gill slits, about the algae appearing in thick furry carpets where none had ever grown before.
Greenwitch dreams had been part of her life ever since that first strange holiday to Trewissick. The one in which Mrs Penhallow took her out to Kemare Head for The Making, for Jane to experience a bit of authentic Cornish folklore. Afterwards, the Greenwitch had haunted Jane’s dreams, and had done for years, but always before there was only the one Greenwitch. Not a whole army of them.
In time, she slept again, arrived at her morning meetings guzzling coffee like an American, and at last said goodbye to her Fukushima translator and boarded the bullet train back to Tokyo. Her portable drive was full of footage of the former Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the surrounding countryside, and interviews with Tepco staff talking up the success of their radiation containment efforts and the grudging acknowledgement of anti-nuclear activists that the damage was less than feared, even whilst cancer and genomic mutation rates were exactly as dire as forecast. It was good footage, and she was able to begin a rough cut on the train whilst her raw source uploaded to the cloud.
How much time the docu would devote to nuclear waste depended on access. Fukushima and Chernobyl were in the public record, though getting into Ukraine with press credentials in the current political climate was a risk she wasn’t quite ready to take. The question of salt dome nuclear waste storage had been addressed repeatedly with the inevitable conclusion, “We just don’t know, and we won’t know until there’s a large enough disaster that we all feel its effects.” Which left her back at the starting point of her film: renewables vs. nonrenewables.
The rail journey lasted eighty-five minutes exactly, and Jane soon found herself descending to the Tokyo underground and finding the line she needed. There was almost no wait and the early afternoon crowds were light. Jane spoke enough Japanese to apologise for not speaking Japanese, which was generally enough for her purposes: to arrive, confer with local western news staff, produce the story, occasionally crank out a global correspondent piece for The Guardian, and take off again for wherever she could get access for the documentary. It was why she wasn’t doing features production at the Beeb full-time anymore. The film was what mattered.
She grabbed a quick lunch at a noodle shop and wandered around Hibiya Park, shooting video of it and the exterior of the Tepco building towering above. When her appointment time came, she let herself be ushered into a glass conference room on an upper floor. Chiyoda, with the Imperial Palace surrounded by autumn trees was behind them. Ahead lay a spectacular view of Tokyo Harbor and the city sprawling like a concrete octopus below. Jane set up her camera and went through her script of questions with the PR rep, a Western-educated woman named Ikumi, focusing on the dearth of solar and wind energy in Tepco’s immediate plans. Ikumi responded with data on their rate of diversification amid the current age of new power like the pro she clearly was. She was just building up a head of steam when Jane saw something strange out in the water. She turned the camera and zoomed in before remembering to say, “Excuse me,” because there was something making waves in the harbour, something pushing a lot of water out of the way like a submarine. Something big, and barely slowing, and— “Oh my god,” she said.
Ikumi had already turned and was staring, hand to her mouth. There was a tremor like an earthquake and in the distance, the sight of a bridge collapsing. A head came up, amphibian and dripping.
“But kaiju aren’t real!” Ikumi cried in alarm. “How is this happening?”
Jane wished she could zoom in closer, but the camera was at its limit. The creature was rising higher in the water, raising what were certainly arms and those were three-fingered hands with what looked like a flexible dew claw, maybe. And then it reached out and grasped one of the passenger ships moored in the harbour, lifted it into the air, and—and ate it.
Then it slipped back into the water, hurtled out of the harbour into open ocean, and was gone.
Ikumi seemed to be caught in dazed disbelief, talking to herself in Japanese far beyond Jane’s understanding, and Jane didn’t stop to ask questions or commiserate. She had a story in her teeth and it had to go live immediately. She clipped the monster appearance off the interview tape, flashed an urgent text to the World Service breaking news director, and uploaded the footage via her sat phone. In ninety seconds, it would be on the air. In a minute, they’d want her on the phone describing it live, but—
“Sorry,” Jane said, when she looked up and saw Ikumi on her feet, making frustrated gestures toward the windows whilst looking nervously to the glass door of the conference room.
“No, not at all. I must apologise.” Ikumi went on to very politely conclude the interview and herd Jane toward the exit.
An automated voice was blaring from a speaker out in the corridor. Jane thanked Ikumi for the meeting and jogged to the lift. Her phone was already ringing.
Bran woke to the incessant beep of his alarm, which was next to his bed, and he—was not. He’d fallen asleep on the couch whilst rereading the latest report on how rising sea levels would remap the Welsh coast. His iPad lay on the rug below his fingertips; at least it hadn’t fallen far. He wandered into the bedroom to stop the bloody alarm, still partway in his dream. It was another in which he clung to Will in terror whilst some monstrosity tried to get close enough to, to—he didn’t know what. Take them, eat them, destroy them, whatever. It never got that far, as Will had been holding it at bay somehow, whilst Bran was as frozen in fear as he’d been as a small boy faced with the Mari Lwyd.
Ridiculous. Bran was a far cry from a damsel in distress and Will had been anything but a knight in shining armour. Will was a mistake. An inevitable mistake, probably, but that was years ago and now Bran had work to do. Bran turned the kettle on and went to dress. He had a conference call scheduled with about half of the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee that would likely take all day. He should never have agreed to make himself available for follow-up questions, but at least he was back in Cardiff now instead of London. Fewer lobbyists. Better air. Eight and a half million fewer people. The sound of his own language in the air, southern accents aside. Home.
The MPs or their aides started at nine and kept going on and off throughout the day. Bran escaped for half an hour in the early afternoon to wolf down a curry and then again at three, when his assistant Noelle broke in with a call from Richard Branson. “You still aren’t my boss,” Bran told him.
Branson laughed. “Wouldn’t dream of it. I wanted to tell you we’ve run the numbers on the jet fuel and confirmed your findings. They’re pretty dire.”
“They are, yes. They’re part of why I spent half of last week yelling at the UK Parliament. Again.”
“And none of them listen because corporate lobbyists have them all by the short hairs. I know, Virgin has several MPs in our pocket, as well.”
“I noticed,” Bran answered dryly.
“Well, we’re going to change some things. Virgin Atlantic has already been purchasing green aircraft, but we’re launching another venture to develop hybrid jet engines, like an Airbus 380 that runs like a Prius. Maybe solar-powered battery cells, too; we’ll see what the engineers say.”
“That’s excellent news,” Bran said. “Thanks for letting me know.” He didn’t say, why are you telling me this personally instead of having one of your staff do it?
“Of course. Now, why don’t you come down to the wharf and we’ll announce it to the press together.”
“Oh, I’m on the yacht today; we just nosed into Cardigan Bay. You’re not far. Just pop round and do the charitable ambassador thing, and then we can brainstorm ways to save the world over tea.”
And turn you a tidy profit, Bran said to himself. “I have a teleconference of MPs on hold, actually. Sorry.”
“Arguing themselves blue, no doubt,” Branson said affably. “I still want you for the press, though. You have an excellent face for it, and this is going to be such a significant change that we want to hit them hard with the right PR.”
“Meaning me,” Bran sighed. “Fine. Let me wrap this up. With any luck I’ll be down the docks in an hour.”
Naturally, being the new Virgin Charitable Ambassador meant media attention kept creeping back to Bran’s appearance, no matter how hard he kept pushing the Environment Wales platform for change. He’d learned long ago to use the albinism for his own benefit rather than let it be a mark of shame, but, well, it did get old. Especially as in the last couple of years, Bran had begun to photograph rather well. That was really all Branson wanted him for—any and every chance to make Virgin look good. He wasn’t even an arse about it, only relentless in controlling the public perception of his work.
After a while, Bran left Noelle to deal with the politicians, as she had all the same facts he did and was nicer, besides. It was a sunny, blustery afternoon, apt for the end of October. Cardigan Bay was calm, enclosed as it was, but it would have been a bumpy ride out in Bristol Channel. At last Bran wandered past a pair of Cymru news vans and down the pier to the enormous white yacht that awaited him. He was wearing grey trousers and his navy coat emblazoned with an Environment Wales patch. Dark sunglasses protected his eyes. The photography seemed to go on forever. The press conference did not go on long enough, especially when a reporter asked him what he would be doing next. “Same as I’ve been doing these last fifteen years: working to eliminate the use of fossil fuels throughout the planet.” No one ever asked How exactly are you going about that, Mr Davies? But this time one did ask whether Bran would consider posing for a holiday fundraising calendar.
“Why don’t they ever ask me that?” Branson quipped as Bran made his escape into the cabin, where at least tea was waiting.
That night, once Bran had pleaded exhaustion and gone home, he dreamt again of Will. This time Will was dressed in jeans and a heavy jumper and doing some kind of violent underwater tango with a giant squid. The ocean floor was a mess of fresh wreckage and broken, barnacle-encrusted pylons. A number of corpses appeared trapped between. Will waved his hands and shouted into the darkness. A great white shark swum by, fast, leaving an eddy in its wake. Will’s do-not-fuck-with-me expression was priceless.
But then the dream melted and reformed at the shore, where a man a bit older than Bran stood in the stern of a long wooden boat. After a moment, he descended the pier to Bran. He was a few inches shorter than Bran and had greying brown hair, a neat grey beard, kind grey eyes. Bran recognised his own cheekbones and chin, and his inmost heart cried, Da! even though this wasn’t his father. There was nothing of Owen Davies in this man. But as Bran breathed in, he was suddenly a boy again and this man was hugging him close, close enough for Bran to smell linen and sweat and the sea.
Half an hour before, Will had been flying above the sea in the shape of an albatross, searching. He had felt a strange sense of menace; not of the Dark, of course, only some vague danger. It turned out to be an enormous sea monster pulling down a small freighter. Kraken, his brain supplied. More than a mere giant squid; rather, a prehistoric beast of colossal proportion. It hadn’t wanted to talk, so Will was forced to banish it from this part of the North Atlantic, at least in as much as any spell of command could work in moving water. He was all too aware that he was in Tethys’ realm, though, swimming and surviving the pressure through the Light’s own spells of protection.
As such, there was nothing a great white shark’s harassment could do to harm him directly. He trod water at the bottom of the ocean, the deep, steady rumble of the sea floor a constant presence in his ears and against his skin. He swam through the crushed metal planks of the deck and hull: there was nothing to be done for the dead, not at this depth. So often of late there was nothing to be done. He tried to banish the oil leaking from the ship’s tanks. It partly succeeded, where the tanks were intact. Perhaps Tethys would understand his intention…if she were even paying attention.
He didn’t suspect so. In her place, he would be consumed with trying to stop humanity from destroying the planet. Will had long lost count of the species he knew from the Book of Grammarye which were now extinct or now so mutated by pollution as to be unrecognisable. Perhaps it hadn’t been a real kraken, only a mutant squid? Will didn’t know. Times like this, he longed for the comfort of the Circle of the Light, of knowing he had teachers and allies, mentors. All he had in his own present time were his memories of the Book of Grammarye, and all the lessons that grimoire had brought him. Countless times, Will had opened the Doors through time to ask Merriman’s advice, even to beg him to come with him to help. The Dark was vanquished, but humans were destroying everything.
Merriman had been firm. “No, Will, your time is closed to us by the power of the High Magic. You must trust in your own abilities. All you can do is your best.”
It was only, if anyone had warned twelve-year-old Will Stanton how terribly lonely it would be to be the last Old One left on the Earth, he might have begged the Lady to allow another to stay, too, if only to give him someone—anyone—to share their secret with. Perhaps it was selfish, but he couldn’t help believing that when the Lady made Bran and the Drews forget the most formative experience of their lives, it hadn’t been a kindness to any of them.
Will transformed himself into a sailfish to race through the deeps, then later a dolphin to leap over the surface of the waves, and finally an osprey to fly his way east. He considered opening the Doors in a cliff face and coming out on Bran’s doorstep, as no matter how many years had passed, he couldn’t help checking in, looking in occasionally: hoping Bran was well, hoping he was happy. Hoping he’d finally met someone at least as important to him as his work. But it was a selfish yearning and it didn’t help anything. Will didn’t stop.
That night, back in his flat, Will dreamt yet again of the Book of Grammarye, of the lives he had lived through it, of living in that timeless space in the shape of everything from owl to elephant, python to great blue whale, in every stage of life. He woke with a start when he reached the most ancient unroiled deeps of the Earth, expelled from his dream, abruptly ousted from the sea.
“What the bloody hell is going on?” he said aloud.
After she left Tepco, Jane spent the next several hours being interviewed by other journalists, some interviewing her over the phone, others via Skype, and, most unpleasantly, the BBC World Service’s Tokyo affiliate dragging her on camera. Jane hated being in front of the camera instead of behind it, hated having her face spackled with paint for a five minute conversation with an under-prepped anchor. But she was able to redirect this interview time and again from B-movie clickbait to the legitimate question of what all the trash in the ocean—radioactive and merely chemical—was doing to the creatures who live there. At the end, she gave the senior news producer the name of a leading environmental geneticist and suggested they track her down. Jane, of course, had already emailed her an all caps note: WHAT ON EARTH IS THIS THING?? but probably so had everyone else who knew her, so Jane wasn’t anticipating an immediate reply.
As the evening passed, Jane logged an on the spot print piece with The Guardian, and then spent a couple of hours shoehorning an actual kaiju into her docu. At first, she wasn’t convinced it would fit the narrative framework, only then she realised the appearance of a literal “strange monster” from the sea would cap the Consequences segment nicely…if only she could find proof that it was indeed a consequence of anything humans had done. That wasn’t something she could do that night, so she finally went to bed, feeling both professionally triumphant and weirdly on edge.
She woke five times with screaming nightmares. She was swimming with Greenwitches, and they wouldn’t let her up for air. She was trapped under a building, suffocating heat roasting her lungs. She was falling, falling from Kemare Head. She was on a night flight, high above the clouds with a huge white moon pouring in, and a horrifying pack of white dogs with red eyes and ears flew baying all around them in the sky for as far as she could see. She stood frozen on the bank of a small reedy lake, a horrifying stench closing her throat, and an enormous serpentine monster with snail antennae on its head hovering over her, weaving closer and closer in preparation to strike.
She woke calling for Will Stanton, just as she so often did when she had bad dreams. She didn’t know why her subconscious thought he could help her; heaven knew Will was as ephemeral in real life as her great uncle Merry had been, coming and going as the wind blew. But the thought of him always set her mind at ease. Meanwhile, one of the times she awoke, she heard whimpering pleas coming through the wall. She heard pacing in the corridor, murmured voices, someone saying in English, “I can’t explain it. I never remember my dreams, but it was just awful. I’m scared to go back to sleep.”
The so-called “Day of the Kaiju” was followed by “The Three Nights of Fear,” as it became known in Tokyo. Not a single person had slept well, though that didn’t become a story in its own right until the morning after the third night, when sleep deprivation and human error began taking their toll. There were six different incidents of mentally unstable people attacking family, classmates, or other public transport passengers. Planes collided at the airport, injuring dozens and damaging the runways and terminals badly enough to require airlines to reroute all commercial carriers. Car accidents were everywhere. Meanwhile, Jane had all the footage she could possibly need of Tokyo’s remarkable waste disposal system and resulting artificial island parks. It was time to move on.
Bran looked out on the flooded streets of Cardiff, where the River Taff was so far out of its banks that the city seemed consumed by the bay. Swansea, Port Talbot, and Newport were likewise flooded. Untold ships had been lost, and perhaps more importantly, the Port Talbot Steelworks had suffered catastrophic damage. It was, of course, the most polluted place in all of Wales. Bran couldn’t help but hope this rang the death knell for the toxic hellhole it was. However, it did employ ten percent of Port Talbot’s population, and Wales was already in dire straits economically.
“I have a coastline under water. Don’t give me your political doublespeak, people are out of their homes,” he told the head of the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit committee. “I want to know who is going to fix this.”
“Why, haven’t you got Branson in your pocket, then?” MP Finlay said, sneering.
“I wasn’t aware he was in government,” Bran snapped back. “It isn’t the United Virgin Kingdom now, is it?” Neither of them spoke for a long moment. Bran smothered a yawn into his forearm; he was exhausted. So was Finlay, probably. “Look, I’m not an emergency relief manager or a Welsh Assembly Member. My job is to deal with the big picture and show all of you how this storm fits into the country's future. The UK’s too, not just Wales. We all have a stake in this.”
There was a gruff noise over the phone and the clicking of a keyboard. “The number of drowned has gone up to nine, fifteen missing.”
“There will be more,” Bran said. “That figure is only homes. The marina here is in splinters and we don’t know yet how many ships were out of port. The bottom line is the ocean’s supposed to be too cold for storms of this type to hit us, and now it isn’t. Now no one can say it isn’t our problem.”
“All right. I know you’re aware of the strength of the fossil fuel lobby, but I’ll see what I can do,” Finlay said.
Bran thanked him and rang off. Then he scrubbed his face with his hands and drank off the last of his tea. His gaze kept being drawn to the window, though. Water everywhere and half of it salt. It seemed so familiar. He had a recurring dream a bit like this. A different city, but water rushing in from the sea and flooding everything. A man in an antique wooden boat had come to rescue him, then. Him and Will, of course, because it was all part of the same thing. Everywhere in his dream-life was bloody Will Stanton, appearing and disappearing and never actually staying.
With a sigh Bran got up and stretched, took his mug to the tea room for a refill, and planted himself in the doorway to Noelle’s office. “Any luck?” she asked.
“He’s at least aware of the current death toll,” Bran answered grimly. “Doesn’t think he can fight the oil lobby, though.”
“No one does. Not when they’re handing out future executive staff positions in exchange for friendly policy.”
“Do you think it’s too soon to send a collection team over to Port Talbot to see how toxic the floodwater is?”
Noelle frowned and tapped her fingers on her desk. “Let’s see. There’s the water people are actually slogging through. That should be tested. And the drinking water. And the water that’s left behind after the main flood recedes. There’s the soil that may be affected. And what about the air? Do we know if the refinery’s chimneys were damaged? They weren’t doing so well at filtering out toxic air pollution in the first place, but it isn’t as if they can simply turn off the smelters.”
“The rain may have washed it back into the water, but, again, the flood breaking in. Duw, the slag could have washed anywhere.”
“I think we should send them as soon as it’s reasonably safe.”
Bran nodded. “Let’s do it.”
“Assuming they aren’t all underwater themselves. Let's find out.” Noelle lifted her phone. “Hallo, Tom. It’s Noelle at Environment Wales. Are you and yours all right?”
Walking home that night, Bran stopped on a bridge overlooking the flood zone. The street lights closest to the bay were out. Intermittent clouds whipped past the early moon. It felt…spooky, somehow. It reminded him of all the old stories he had heard in the north, the old tales he’d heard first from John Rowlands and later from teachers at school when they were doing folklore units. He couldn’t see anything much in the murky night, but there was a rank smell on the wind and a sound like a whale slapping the water with its fluke. And again. And waves splashing buildings from the wake of something improbably large.
That night he dreamt of Tywyn, of mountains sloping down to the sea, of Clwyd Farm, of his childhood home…at least until it turned into a nightmare of his father, who never ever raised his voice, shouting at him in an old shepherd’s hut, John Rowland’s old dog Pen frozen on the floor beside them. His father describing his mysterious mother who came out of the hills in the night, babe in arms, out of Time itself and himself calling, “Gwennie, Gwennie!” after her in the dark, after she’d gone.
When Bran awoke, he was certain it had been a memory. As he brewed his morning cuppa, he stood at the worktop and considered all the other dreams that referenced that time when he was eleven and twelve, when he first met Will. The notion of calling Will crossed his mind briefly, but he dismissed the thought and turned on the news instead. And almost dropped his tea.
In the wee hours of the morning, a CCTV camera with a night vision array had caught fifteen minutes of a creature as large as a dinosaur splashing about in the flooded Plass. The words “Loch Ness Monster” had already been spoken. In other news, the anchorwoman said, relief workers aiding flood victims without electricity to the shelter at Fitzalan High School saw something else quite uncanny. More than a dozen people claim to have witnessed the spectral forms of Roman soldiers being harried by native Welshmen. It cut to an interview with a man in a beige coat. “I teach history at the uni. I tell you, these were Silurian warriors fighting off the Romans. You have the dark curly hair, the swarthy skin, the clothing of leather and wool, and the early Iron Age weaponry. They were here, on this very spot, nearly two thousand years ago.”
Bran clicked off the remote before the sceptics piled on. Instead, he looked again at his phone, thought of Will’s grey-blue eyes that had always been too old for his years. Remembered the last time Will had left and Bran’s own snarl of, “Don’t come back,” chasing him down the stairs. It was more than he could think about, not with everything else going on. He put his phone in his pocket and finished getting dressed for work.
Will awoke late in the evening in his book-lined garret flat. He’d fallen into a deep, exhausted sleep in the late afternoon after returning from the sea. Prior to that, he had been in Ukraine, having a fruitless conversation with Baba Yaga. Before that, Peru, with Mamapacha, who insisted the humans didn't need to built roads on mountains too muddy to hold them. Now he ate, checked the news, and replied to some emails from his brothers and sisters. They believed him be to an expert in antiquities preservation, which he was, sometimes. He had done the degree and could give an absurdly dry ten minute talk on lab conditions necessary to clean and store relics of, say, ancient Scythia. It did stop them asking.
A few minutes before midnight, Will dressed against the autumn chill and opened the Doors. He didn’t need to travel through time, only space, and he exited in Windsor Great Park on the edge of Berkshire, under the trees and out of sight. The music of the Light faded behind him as he picked his way through the wood to Herne’s Oak. He spoke a few words in the Old Speech at the foot of the tree, a request, not a command, and waited.
In a little while, Herne came out of the sky bearing the Hunt with him. There were hundreds of thousands of fearsome white hellhounds, red tongues lolling, red eyes and ears glowing in the night. “Greetings, Old One,” Herne said. “You wanted to speak with me?”
Will stared up at the figure on the ageless white mare who had once served the Light. The same antlers, the same tawny owl-eyes like Bran’s, the same close cropped beard as ever, even though Will had not seen this being since he joined the Six Sleepers of the Light to harry the Dark beyond Time. When he dove into the same silvery stream of cloud from which Arthur’s great ship emerged. Herne’s face was timeless, hypnotic, implacable.
Then Will blinked and shook off the overwhelming, mesmeric force of the Wild Magic. “Yes, thanks. I wondered if you could tell me what the bloody hell is going on?”
Herne laughed. “Pity the last Old One, youngest and least, left all alone.” His tone wasn’t unkind, but there was a certain cruelty in his eyebrows. “This isn’t what you expected, is it?”
Will hummed a spell to set the wind under him and float him up to Herne's eye level. He wasn’t entirely helpless, even if he was all that was left of the Circle of the Light.
“The Dark is vanquished,” Herne said, “and the High Magic left the world to them. The humans.”
“Yes, thanks, I was there.” Will said, struggling for patience.
Herne's ancient owl-like eyes held steady. “And the Light has gone, all but you.”
“Yes,” Will repeated.
“They’re destroying life on Earth,” Herne said bluntly, and his hounds rose around him growling. "Thousands of species. Creatures and flora they don't even know exist."
“The Wild is running rampant—” Will started.
“ 'Rampant,' yes. That is an excellent term for it. Before the conquest of the Dark, the Wild always matched its strength with that of the Dark and the Light. The two of you ran rampant whilst we minded the business of Nature and stayed out of it as much as we were permitted. Meanwhile, the High Magic has no care for humanity, or even for the Earth itself, now that your long war has ended. As long as the Earth orbits the Sun and gravity holds the spheres together, the High Magic is unconcerned. And because that is the case, the Wild must now protect the planet however we may.”
Will clenched his teeth. “And what of the innocents murdered by your sea monsters?”
Herne's great, golden white mare shifted impatiently. “The Wild is the power of Nature itself, Old One. The accumulated essence of all earthly life since the beginning of Time. You may not limit what we are. You may not expect Nature to care more for a single human life than a hatchling lost in a gale.”
Will drew in a deep breath. “The Light's first duty—"
Herne said in a low voice, “The Wild Magic will not tolerate the thoughtless obliteration of our world. If they will not stop the destruction, we will.”
“But what do you hope to accomplish by bringing old legends back to life?” Will demanded.
Herne gazed out at the sky full of hounds, then inclined his head to Will, a cold light in his eyes. “They respected us then. They’ll respect us again.” And at once he was airborne, the white mare leaping into the sky with the Wild Hunt roiling after them.
Getting out of Japan was an adventure in its own right, and her colleagues back in London thought she was crazy to be leaving the heart of a story…at least until she reminded them that she spoke almost no Japanese, read even less, and was only there to work on her film. That’s what leaves of absence tended to mean, in fact. Of course, if a sea monster had surfaced in front of her in a country that spoke English or French or even Italian, she would be Janey on the spot, so to speak. As it was, the kaiju had not returned after its initial appearance, and filming grieving families was not a profitable use of her time.
She said as much again when she arrived at the Beeb World Service Singapore bureau, exhausted and in need of a place to stay. They pulled her into a staff meeting again, as she was apparently still news, and she had to relate the entire thing over again, pressing the radiation, plastic, and Great Pacific Garbage Patch angles. Then, whilst someone was arranging lunch, she collapsed into a waiting room couch, hoping to snag fifteen minutes of sleep, only to find herself gazing at the face of Bran Davies on the wall-mounted telly. His shock of white hair was flattened by rain. He had a beard now. His face had sharpened with age, with a strong jaw and sceptical eyebrows. “Environment Wales” was blazoned across his chest, and he was waist-deep in Cardiff floodwater. Jane had missed the story. The clip cut away to Bran in a navy blue jacket, standing next to Richard Branson on a sunny day, wind ruffling his hair, dark sunglasses hiding his eyes; Branson was doing his usual shtick. Then it cut to Welsh politicians appealing to Parliament to cut the blasted red tape. Jane was too shattered to follow what had happened, but it was lovely to see Bran’s face as she slipped off to sleep.
They let her kip for an hour, a dog’s age in the news business, and then between food and strong coffee, she began to catch up with things. Yesterday an impossibly small hurricane had hit the southwestern British coast, flooding the whole of the Bristol Channel. “Came right out of nowhere,” said the news director, a south Londoner named Walid. “And this epidemic of nightmares you saw in Tokyo—it’s gone global. People are seeing things. Ghosts, creatures. My English gran swears she saw the ghosts of Roman soldiers burning London.”
Jane blinked. She’d had a dream like that once. It was Danes sacking Trewissick, not Romans, but still. “That’s uncanny,” she said weakly.
“The very definition of it,” agreed Walid. “I know it sounds daft, but there’s a hundred other people who saw the same thing, although, weirdly, my Pakistani gran didn’t. There’s other things, too,” he continued. ”Old world things like your kaiju, maybe, only smaller?”
“What?” she said, startled.
“Oh my god, it’s unbelievable. Come and look at this.” He opened the YouTube app on his tablet, tapped a video, and leant in so Jane could see. A group of slime-covered horses came out of Loch Lomond, shape-shifted into a group of naked, hairy men with strange blurry feet.
“Kelpies?” she said incredulously.
“Each-uisge,” he said, carefully pronouncing it 'augh ushk-ya'. “There are a dozen vids all from the same golf club on the shore. There was some sort of minor tournament going.”
“Was anyone hurt?” Jane asked, racking her mind for the old folklore tales she’d absorbed as an adolescent.
“Only the golf course. They fairly destroyed the turf. There are other vids that at first only look like several horses loose on the green, but then they transform and say something to some people watching. Didn’t speak English, so only the one bloke with a bit of Gaelic knew to get the others away and quick. Then the each-uisge dove back into the loch and vanished. There was some billionaire at the golf club when it happened—a day and a half ago by now, their time—and he hired a sonar team. Found nothing at all in the loch but a lot of fish. Not a trace.”
“This is insane,” Jane said.
Walid spread his hands. “No, even better, it seems to be worldwide. I have an unverified feed full of dragon sightings in China or Russia, but I have verified sightings of things in Peru, Mexico, Sweden, Ghana, and all over the US...though there’s no telling how many of those are hoaxes.”
“This wasn’t, though.” Jane pointed at his iPad.
“No,” he agreed. “No one can call this a mass hallucination.”
I’m on the wrong side of the world, Jane thought. “I need to get back to the UK,” she said aloud. “The docu can wait. God knows the pollution will still be here.”
With gratitude for her frequent flyer miles, she bid goodbye to Singapore and landed in Delhi before dawn. When her flight to London took off at 8 o’clock, it was as if the sun had forgotten to rise. It was by far the worst smog she had seen in her life. Jane filmed every moment of the view from the aeroplane leaving the city, swirling up through the noxious brown grit, the world gaining light only as they gained altitude. Once they broke through the clouds, the sky below was a dark stain amid a wide sea of white, revolting and unforgettable.
After making her way out of Heathrow, Jane took the Tube and then a taxi to Barney’s. She was exhausted and filthy and really only wanted her own bed to fall down in, but her flat was sublet, as she was meant to be out of the country for months yet. But what were little brothers for if not for imposing on their hospitality?
An hour later, Jane was dressed in clothes that had spent the last months boxed up in Barney’s attic and inhaling an early supper at her sister-in-law’s table. “This is fantastic,” she said. “I haven’t eaten anything that didn’t come from a shop in weeks.”
“Tell us about the monster!” her niece and nephew shouted.
“Only if you eat your vegetables,” Ashley warned over the toddler’s head, and Jane waited obediently for the kids to race through their dinners before describing what had happened in Tokyo.
“Weren’t you scared?” demanded Elly.
Jane nodded. “Yes. I was far enough away that I was safe, but I didn’t know if it would come closer. I was also frightened for the people it hurt.”
“At school they make us do safety drills in case something bad happens,” she said soberly.
“That’s wise of them,” Jane said, sharing a brief, heartsick glance with Ashley.
“It would be scary to see a monster,” Elly pressed on, her brother agreeing loudly around a spoonful of roasted carrots. “But you were brave to see it and not run away.”
Jane stifled a laugh. “Thanks. When I was small, I was afraid of a great many things. I’ve had to work hard to learn to be brave.”
“Like Merida!” Leo yelled at top volume, which set off wee Marla, whose screams Leo blithely ignored. “Let’s watch Brave! Mummy, can we watch Brave?”
Jane smiled apologetically at Ashley—the fatal flaw of not having children herself was mucking it all up for her brothers’ families—but then Barney came down from his studio and Jane was saved from further domestic chaos.
“Posh or casual?” Barney asked her later.
“What?” Jane said. They were up in the studio. Jane had flopped on the cheerful bright red couch she would be sleeping on that night.
“Wine or beer?” he explained, gesturing to the kitchenette in the corner.
“Oh! Um, either? Neither? I’ll probably fall asleep if I have anything stronger than tea.”
“That I can manage as well,” he said. “Long trip?”
“Long trips. So many airports in so few days. How are things?”
Barney laughed. “You are tired.” He fiddled with tea things for a few minutes, and when he came back, he took her through his latest finished works. He was doing large square canvases now, working in bright, deeply saturated colour.
“They’re riveting,” she said, staring. “I mean, literally, the colours draw you in. And the people…” she trailed off, flapping a hand.
“Good,” Barney said, apparently not needing her to be coherent. “That’s part of the message.”
She nodded. “When did the UN campaign start?”
“Unicef,” he corrected. “Three weeks ago for the first stage. Next month there will be bus wraps—”
“Is that what those are called?” she interrupted.
“Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Accurate, though.”
She hummed in agreement and let her gaze drift back to the art. “I love your ‘Teach Kindness’ logo.”
“Thanks. I like it as an opener. It’s a good place to start.” Barney grabbed the rolling stool from its spot by the easel and had a seat across from her. “I want to do ‘responsibility’ and ‘respect’ next, but there’s a committee.”
“Of course there is,” Jane said with a laugh. “Have you talked to Simon lately? I keep missing him, and of course he doesn't call back.”
“Oh, yes, actually. Did you hear about Oxfam?”
“No, what?” she said, sitting up. “I thought he was in Uganda.”
“No, that was yonks ago. He’s been at the Hague the last couple of months. It’s some kind of clean eating initiative in countries where there’s stuff like arsenic and lead in the food supply. It mostly went over my head, but Oxfam called him about a regional director position or something. Oh, and Omolara is pregnant with their third. That’s part of why they’re most of the way home now.”
“Wait, wait, what? How did I miss that!” Jane cried. “I’m going to be an aunt again and no one told me?!”
“You should call him and yell,” Barney said sincerely, and then he snorted a laugh. “No, they’re as busy as we all are. If not for Ashley’s mum taking the brats—”
“—during the day, and hush, I love them to bits but we know how loud they are at this age. Anyway.”
“Anyway,” Jane agreed. Barney opened his mouth, then shut it, stared at his shoes, and frowned. “What?” Jane asked.
He sighed. “I just wondered. I mean, you’ve noticed all the weird stuff happening.”
“The bloody kaiju that put my face on international news? Yes, I noticed.”
"Nothing wrong with your face," he said. Then he sobered. “Right, so. First, this is going to sound mad, but it's not. I just want that out of the way."
"Not judging," she said, getting nervous.
"I'm holding you to that," he said, and took a deep breath. "You know when I was small, I had that whole fixation on King Arthur. But maybe you don't know that it didn't really go away. Mum and Dad said I would outgrow it in time, except I had an immense fantasy world built up in my head, all involved with King Arthur and his lost son, who just happened to look just like Will's friend Bran. The five of us were on a great quest with Gumerry to—”
“To vanquish the Dark.” Jane stared.
Barney stared back. “You too?”
“Me too. You remember the first holiday we went to Trewissick and Mrs Penhallow took me out in the middle of the night for the making of the Greenwitch?”
“Yes. They wouldn’t let us go. Only girls.”
“Except that I’ve dreamt about it ever since. It’s talked to me at least once a week for all these years.”
“Do you get the one with the magic train with the Riders of the Dark outside?"
"And it turned out Blodwyn Rowlands was the White Rider," Jane whispered, "and it broke John Rowlands' heart wide open."
"Do you remember the Lady freezing Bran in time?”
“And Great-Uncle Merry being there all along." She swallowed. "Barney.” She was staring, wide-eyed. "All of it. And it isn't possible. People don't share dreams like this."
“I know, that’s what I’m saying. They can’t be dreams. They're memories, Jane. They have to be.”
Jane didn’t say anything for a long moment. “That would mean Great-Uncle Merry left us…at the end when he walked away.”
“He wanted to rest, remember? It also means Will Stanton is like him. An Old One.”
“You haven't seen Will lately, have you?” Jane asked.
“Yeah, a few weeks ago. I had meetings about the new gallery show.” Barney waved at a stack of packed canvases in the corner. “He and I met for a pint after. You haven’t seen him? I thought you said he randomly found you in Marseilles.”
Jane made a face. “Months ago. That’s what he does. He won’t keep a date, but every blue moon he’ll interrupt me when I’m working.”
“Keep a date?” Barney said, lasering in. “Like, date-date?” He waggled his eyebrows. “You want I should yell at him for you? I mean, that would be weird, since he’s practically family, but, well, better than Alex.”
“Anyone would be,” Jane muttered at the mention of her ex-husband. “Thanks, but no. Will and I are mates; it’s not romantic. I do wonder, though, about the dreams. I mean, whether they could be memories? Whether we experienced something as children that we’ve all blocked out somehow…or if it’s more like the kaiju and all these bizarre things going on. I wouldn’t bring this up, but, well. In a dream once you asked me, ‘What if I was being got at?’ and I can’t help but ask the same thing.”
“You mean something’s doing this to us? Messing with our minds?”
“Maybe?” Jane said. “I don’t know how we would even know if it’s affecting us all.”
“Blimey, I don’t know.” Barney shrugged helplessly. “That’s a chicken and egg question, isn’t it? Maybe ask Will?”
“Right.” Jane snorted. “Ask him, ‘Will Stanton, are you secretly Harry Potter?’ Or ask him, ‘Have you brainwashed me and my brothers, and if so why? What could you possibly have to gain by it?’ ”
“Hmm...you could go with something like, ‘Hey, do you remember that time in Wales when a beautiful golden city appeared in the Aberdyfy estuary and you and Bran stepped onto a road made of light and traveled through the air, off the mountain, and into the Lost Land?’ “
“Or was that just me?” Jane finished.
Barney laughed. “You do remember.”
“I remember the dream. I’ve dreamt it dozens of times. But if you have, too…?” she sighed. “You are absolutely right, though; I need to call Will.”
In the morning, Jane shared a surprisingly sedate breakfast with Barney’s family. Doreen, Ashley’s mum, arrived and took charge of the children and Ashley left for work. She was a psychologist specializing in child refugees, and today she was in clinic all day. Barney took the older two to their respective nursery and primary schools. Jane caught a train into King’s Cross and arrived a good half hour early to the morning editorial meeting at the Guardian. She wasn’t staff and she didn’t have to be here, but it was her best opportunity to put her head together with the other journalists and get a sense of everything that was happening.
There was a lot happening.
Everyone was getting the same news alerts on uncanny or impossible sightings or events. YouTube was a trove of independent confirmation. But no one knew what the deeper source was, only that the casualty figures were far more concerning than anyone had begun to talk about. Meanwhile, there was nothing from Downing Street on the phantoms people were seeing, only the humanitarian and economic plight of the storm victims.
After, Jane headed over to the Beeb, where, sitting in a waiting room watching the news on the telly, there was Bran again, bright and handsome, speaking before Parliament. It was file footage; the anchor’s voice-over read: “…says Bran Davies of Environment Wales, who has lately been thrust into the spotlight as Richard Branson’s Virgin Voices for Change charitable ambassador.” Then it cut to a distant shot of Bran and a score of others pulling people from the churning waters of—no, it wasn’t Cardigan Bay. It was Cardiff city streets. Then the chyron stopped running footie scores and read “brutal micro-hurricane hits Wales & Ireland, unknown casualties.” Jane blinked and tried to feel anything, but numb horror was all she had, emphasis on the numb. It had been like this in disaster zones she’d been in. Mudslides were particularly awful.
Last night on Barney’s couch, she’d dreamt again of Greenwitches, all clutching their secrets, wearing each their own replica of Will’s gold engraving woven through their branches where their hearts should be. Power from the Green Witch, lost beneath the sea. That Will had made. She remembered the cold night on Kemare Head with Mrs Penhallow, with the weaving of rowan and hawthorn and endless flasks of tea. But now she also remembered older dreams of the Greenwitch, of it giving Jane the small leaden tube containing the improbable goal of their quest.
It occurred to her that none of her other dreams were this vivid. These really were like memories, and if anyone would be able to tell the difference, it was Barney. At the end of the day, she did trust his intuition. His and Will's.
After touching base with the other news staff, she escaped into the warm enclave of the BBC Earth department. She had footage and then some, far more than her docu would be using. Also, the narrative arc of her global pollution film had just gone to shit, what with the world going insane and turning into a real life fairytale sci-fi monster movie.
“It’s definitely changed direction on me.” She sat in the production office sipping coffee against her jet-lag, and gazing up at muted scenes from Blue Earth 2.
“How much do you have left to add?” asked Heather, her producer.
Jane shrugged tiredly. “It’s almost done, actually. I’ve been editing as I go. It’s only that the environmental disaster angle makes Godzilla look prescient.”
“Life imitates art?” suggested Omar, another colleague.
“I hope not,” said Heather. “Out the window of my flat last night I swear I saw the ghost of the Great Fire of London…if a fire can have a ghost? Everything was burning, but it was as if the 1600s buildings were layered on top of the modern ones.”
“Seriously?” Omar exclaimed. “You didn’t tell us this earlier.”
“Because it sounds utterly mad!” Heather retorted.
“And yet,” Jane said, remembering a spring night in Trewissick and its hundreds of ghostly shrieks of ‘Roger Toms! Roger Toms!’. It was mad. And yet. Maybe it was all real.
“Exactly,” Heather agreed.
That evening was cold and dark, and it was, of course, raining. Bran stumbled to a halt in front of his building, wet plastic takeaway sack swinging from his arm, as Will jogged up out of nowhere.
“Bran, hi. Good. Let’s go up. We need to talk,” Will said, taking a step toward Bran’s building.
“It’s important. I promise I wouldn’t bother you if it weren’t.”
Bran felt a surge of instant fury like a fire in his chest. “No. Just no. Sod off, Will."
"Bran—" Will said.
"Go away. Get out of my street. Get the hell out of Wales, for that matter. I’ve been going non-stop for days. I can’t deal with you on top of it all.” Bran tried to move past him, but Will put a hand out, implacable.
“It’s more important than anything, Bran.” Will gazed into his eyes with that damnable old sincere urgency, and before Bran knew it they were in his kitchen.
“I hate it when you do this.” Bran scooped curry and rice onto a plate and didn’t offer to share. He was famished, having skipped lunch to focus on the disaster's preliminary environmental impact report. Nothing like hot Indian on a cold night.
“I’m sorry.” Will leant against the worktop, looking exhausted and weirdly helpless. Will had never been one to seem anything less than one hundred percent competent. This was odd.
Glaring, Bran said between mouthfuls, “You were always sorry. Leaving in the night. Popping in without notice. Skipping out on plans. All mysterious Will, all the time...” Bran trailed off as something new occurred to him. In his head, it was like puzzle pieces were fitting together.
“I never meant to hurt you,” Will said quietly. "I know you won't believe me, but honest. I've loved you practically my whole—"
Bran held up a hand, thinking frantically. “Mysterious Will. Inexplicable Will. Will of the weird absences. And you look like you’ve slept even less this week than I have.”
“Disasters everywhere,” Will agreed. "That's what I need to—"
"Hush, damn it." Bran felt a chill go through him as the word dewin slotted home. “Holy shite. You. You are an actual bloody Old One. That's what you've been keeping from me all this time."
Will leant hard against the worktop, eyes wide. He didn't deny it.
Bran felt as if a fog had rolled back inside his own brain, the sun bursting forth for the first time since he was twelve years old. "Every bit of it was real," he said, accusing. "All those dreams—decades of dreams—they really happened. Didn’t they?” he demanded. "The magic was real."
Will said slowly, “Bran, you shouldn’t know this. How can you possibly know this?”
Bran met Will when they were eleven years old. Sickly and frail Will had been at first, but the good Welsh air had cured him right up and in no time they’d been like peas in a pod. When Will had left in December to go back to Buckinghamshire, they had both sworn to write. Upstairs in Will’s room in the Evans’ house, surrounded by Will's piles of things to be packed, Bran had nervously hugged him goodbye. Will, surprised at first, had pushed warmly into the embrace, and it had been everything Bran could do to let him go. He’d been overjoyed to see Will again the next summer and desperately disappointed when he didn’t come back the following year.
But then when they were fourteen Will appeared again, eager to help on the farm, and he and Bran slipped back into one another’s pockets as if they’d never been apart.
Their first kiss had been up on Craig yr Aderyn, quick to accelerate to fumbling through clothing and, for Bran, a desperate hunger for the deep, incomparable friendship they shared. “Have you got—do you have—I mean. You haven’t got a, um, a boyfriend at home, do you?” Bran asked him one day while they kept half an eye on a flock in an upper pasture.
“Boyfriend?” Will said in surprise. Then his expression went thoughtful. “Sorry, I hadn’t thought of that word. Is that what we are?”
Bran shrugged, thinking, Yes, yes, let me be your boyfriend. “Da says I’m too young to be going out with anyone. He got in a terrible row with your aunt over my going to the school dance last term. She thinks Da’s over-protectiveness has gone too far.”
“I think Aunt Jen is right,” Will said. “You should be able to go to the cinema without him throwing a fit.”
“Like we did yesterday.”
Will blushed and Bran grinned. They’d held hands in the dark during the film, sitting high in the back where no one could spy down on them from above.
“I’m going to miss you,” Bran said.
“Me too,” Will said, and kissed him hard.
By the following summer, Bran had determined that he liked smart girls and kind boys and accidentally outed himself to his father. The subsequent row could be heard all over Clwyd Farm, and it took the physical intervention of Mrs Evans, her son Rhys, and John Rowlands to prevent Owen Davies from driving Bran to church for some kind of intervention, if not an actual exorcism.
Mrs Evans had laughed in his father’s face. “There’s not a scrap of evil in your lad, Owen. So what if he fancies what he fancies? He’s as good a soul today as he was yesterday, and no mistake.”
Bran had skipped the subsequent theological shouting match after David Evans gestured him away. Later, Rhys found Bran high on the hillside and handed him a brown bag full of sandwiches and tea. “First, you’ve lived here your whole life and you’ve got a place here as long as you want it. Mum says to tell you that you’re family, and you are." He settled beside Bran and thumped his shoulder like the not-quite big brother he'd always been. "Second, we’ve all got your back, because you’re family. And third, well, you already know it’s going to be rough, but you’ve always had it rough with the albinism and how the other kids have treated you.”
“Being a freak, you mean,” Bran said dejectedly.
“Being strong enough to handle them," Rhys corrected. "What does John Rowlands always say? 'Don’t judge yourself by their standards, bachgen.' He's right."
Bran hummed non-committally. "It's hard, though, being the only one."
Rhys leant back against a stone outcrop as Bran tucked in. "I guarantee you there are more queer people in Gwynedd than albinos.”
Bran laughed. “That isn’t difficult.”
“But think how many there may be in London…if meeting others is important to you. Just remember that having one thing in common with someone doesn’t make them worth your time.”
"What do you mean?" Bran asked
"I mean, if you go to a great convention of all the albino people in the world, you'll find some will be lovely people and some will be arseholes, because that's the way people are, no matter the group." Rhys looked down at him, brown eyes serious. "Having a thing in common with you doesn't give them a pass to treat you poorly."
"Oh," Bran had said, slowly understanding. Rhys meant albinos, yes, and also boys and girls. He might even have meant his father.
It was harder to get Will alone when he came for the summer, and that made it all the more intense when they did go into Tywyn or down to Aberdyfi by themselves. "I daresay he thinks your Will hung the moon," Bran once overheard Mrs Evans saying on the phone to Will's mum. It had embarrassed him to feel so caught out, but she hadn't been wrong.
I wish I could go with you,” Bran admitted as he watched Will pack his things to go home.
“Maybe we could go to the same uni?” Will said to his suitcase. “If you wanted, I mean? And we both pass the exams?”
“Yes,” Bran said emphatically. “Yes, I want. That would be fantastic. I have to get out of here.” He stepped in close and kissed Will. “Let’s see if we can do that.”
“It’s still two years off,” Will warned.
“I know, but you know I won’t be staying here. It doesn’t have to be London, but something larger than this village.”
“Anything’s larger than Tywyn,” Will agreed, nipping at Bran’s ear. Then he pulled back enough to meet Bran's eyes. “If it gets bad, call. I’ll ask Mum to accept reverse charges. Promise me.”
“Yeah.” Bran swallowed hard. “Yeah, okay.”
Bran stared at Will. “The Lost Land? Eirias? You being a bloody dewin, after all?!”
“And you’ve remembered all along!” Bran yelled, incredulous. “I should punch you!”
“It wasn’t my doing!” Will yelled back. “I never had a say in it. Do you remember that part? When Merriman said I was to be the Watchman, forced to remember it all because I'm the last Old One left? I didn’t ask for it, Bran. Do you think I ever wanted to spend all these years unable to sodding confide in anyone?”
“When we were together," Bran said. "Duw, when we were fourteen and fifteen and I was half-mad in love with you. You knew. You were my first kiss, and you knew all this about me and kept it from me. And uni and after—”
“Do you know how desperately I’ve missed you?” Will’s voice cracked.
Bran scrubbed his face. All these years. It was several minutes before he spoke again. “Have you done this to the Drews, as well? Peeking in on them, knowing all about it and keeping the truth from them, too? Jane?”
Will spread his hands. “It was never my choice or mine to reverse. Also, we’re friends. I see Jane and Barney more than Simon, as I don’t have many reasons to be where he's setting up field hospitals, but I do try to keep in touch.”
“I notice you didn’t answer the actual question.”
“Bran!” Will covered his face and visibly counted to ten. "I'm here because I need your help. I didn't do this to you, I didn't cause this flood or the ghosts in the streets or the sea monsters eating people. I didn't—"
"Then how do I remember all of this all of a sudden?"
“I don't know!" Will yelled. "As I understood it, none of you were ever to know, but now you do. The magic that separated those memories into dreams has dissolved, and it wasn’t meant to. It was meant to last the rest of your lives, and I don’t know what’s caused it to fail.”
Bran’s head jerked up. “What?”
“I’ve been going all out, stopping bloody krakens from eating cruise ships, or trying to. I can’t do it all. There's only the one of me.”
“But—" Bran broke off helplessly. "I don't understand."
“I’m the last Old One in the world, Bran. When they left, they left the future of the Earth in humanity’s hands, not mine or yours.”
“And they fucked it all up.” Bran sighed. Suddenly his environmental impact report was fresh in his mind. “No, we’ve fucked it all up, as a species, despite the best efforts of those of us who are trying to prevent it." Bran let out a breath and looked up at Will. "And you’re here in my living room why, exactly? Am I suddenly the Pendragon again or something?”
“Oh, God, I wish,” Will said, then stopped and chewed his lip. “Okay, wait. You were in your full power as the Pendragon when you claimed the sword Eirias. And then you relinquished it to Arthur when you chose to stay. I don’t think remembering alone makes you Pendragon again, but on the other hand, none of this was supposed to happen...so, yeah. I don't know.”
“You mean it.”
“Sorry, it’s a bit much having my ridiculous boyhood fantasy of being the child of King Arthur and Guinevere confirmed as fact by my ex-boyfriend, who turns out to have been a bloody wizard all along.”
“I’m sorry, really,” Will said. “I wanted to tell you. I hated lying, but I needed you to—”
“Stop it,” Bran snapped. He was getting nauseous. So many years of lies and Will thought he could waltz back into his life—yet again—as if nothing had happened. “We’re not doing this,” he told Will flatly.
He looked down at himself and noticed he was still in his mud- and muck-stained shirt and trousers from gathering samples earlier. He shut his eyes and took a breath. “I need some time, Will. If you’re hungry, help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge. If you’re still here when I come back—" he broke off with a bitter laugh.. "I need some time." With that, Bran escaped to his bedroom and took a long shower, as hot as he could stand.
Will made himself a plate of eggs on toast, sat down on Bran’s sofa, and waited. It was a long, guilty wait, full of the temptation to leave, to give Bran the space to deal with his feelings on his own. Except that was the test, wasn’t it? Bran wanted to see if Will would be there when he opened the door again.
With his other awareness, Will could sense the places on Earth where he was needed, or at least where he might be able to make a difference. At the moment, there were what the media were calling "mass hallucinations" throughout London, and Will's fingers itched to go and do something, anything, even as he was gambling that the best thing he could do for them all was to stay here and focus on Bran.
The Six of the Light had had a certain power during their quest together, as well as a certain protection. Maybe—just maybe—some of that magic remained. He didn't dare hope Bran could be the Pendragon again. Not aloud, at least.
Over the years, Will had quelled riots, stopped terrorist attacks, interrupted murders, erased obsessions, prevented a train collision, stopped overloaded buses falling off mountain roads, created air pockets within mudslides and avalanches, and any number of other things…because he could. Because he was still new on the Earth and lacked Merriman’s millennia of experience in working on more complex levels whilst humans committed genocide against one another.
Will understood both tribalism and animal competition over resources, but he didn’t want to take Merriman's disinterested academic view. He wanted people to learn to be kind to one another, and to hell with what tribe anyone thought they were in.
Will’s phone chimed then with a text from Jane: MUST SEE YOU ASAP. WHERE ARE YOU?
He replied: CARDIFF. AT BRAN’S. ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?
Jane: IS THAT A JOKE?
Jane: UNHARMED. CALL IT A SUDDEN & COMPLETE UNFURLING OF MEMORY. BARNEY, TOO. HAVEN’T SPOKEN TO SIMON YET.
Will: BRAN AS WELL.
Jane: ARE YOU MAGICKING YOURSELF HERE OR AM I COMING TO YOU?
Jane: DON'T DENY IT.
Will: WAIT. JUST--
Will: IT'S A FRAGILE MOMENT WITH BRAN. HE'S A TOUCH FURIOUS.
Jane: NOT ALONE IN THAT.
Will: WE NEED SOME TIME.
Jane: WORLD HAS GONE INSANE. GROVEL FAST.
Jane: ALL RIGHT, HERE'S THE PLAN.
Jane: ON MY WAY TO PADDINGTON. WILL ARRIVE CARDIFF CENTRAL IN 2.5~ HRS IF NO DISASTERS. THEY SAY STATION NOT FLOODED BUT RIVER TAFF VERY HIGH.
Jane: YOU HAVE SO MUCH EXPLAINING TO DO.
Will: FINE. WE’LL MEET YOU.
Will looked up at the sound of Bran’s bedroom door opening. Bran's hair was damp, his beard newly trimmed. He wore a grey jumper and black trousers, and he was so beautiful in Will’s eyes that it took his breath away; he smiled at him hopefully. Bran only stared back in silence.
“Jane’s on her way here from London,” Will said softly. “She says she and Barney have their memories back, too. Hasn’t spoken to Simon yet. I told her we would pick her up at the station. I hope that's all right.”
“Huh,” Bran said, and then, “You couldn’t magic her here? Or us there?” His tone was more curious than bitter, but the anger was still running high.
Will sat where he was on the couch, holding Bran’s gaze where he stood in the corridor. “They’re seeing ghosts of the Blitz in the centre of the city. I thought the floods we know would be better than potential riots.”
“So that's a yes,” Bran said.
“I could, yes.” Will said. “I didn’t think we were done talking.”
“Right,” Bran said and sat down in the armchair across from him. “I think we should start over. You arrived. We didn’t have a row. I took a shower and decompressed from work. Now we’re here.” Bran took a deep breath. “Let’s start with the dreams that are actually memories."
"Okay." The memories were the easy part. The hard part would be getting Bran to understand why he hadn't been able to stay, even as he couldn't stand to be parted from him.
Bran began slowly, disbelievingly, "When we were eleven, you and I met on a hillside in Clwyd, where I was dragged into a battle between the Dark and the Light, and the next summer we helped vanquish the Dark from the Earth.”
Will tilted his head. “The Six of us together, yes. But you're shorting yourself full marks at the end. You yourself, as the Pendragon, cut the mistletoe that day in the Lost Land and gave the Light the power to command the Wild and High Magic to drive out the Dark.”
“Duw, Will. All these years, I thought it was some fucked up power fantasy, like children playing King of the Castle, only I never outgrew it.” Bran choked on a laugh. “I thought it meant I was some kind of psychopath.”
“Really not,” Will said, swallowing back everything else he wanted to say.
“And you knew. When we were fourteen and fifteen and I was half mad in love with you, and you—you remembered when I couldn’t. And didn’t tell me.”
“Couldn’t tell you. That’s why I didn’t come the first summer after. I couldn’t bear it. But not seeing you at all was worse. It was a terrible year.”
“It was all real.”
“All the feelings have always been real.”
“But you always kept leaving. Restless Will.”
“You say ‘restless’ when you mean ‘arsehole’.” Will said with a wry laugh. “You aren’t wrong, but Bran, not to make myself more than I am, but the position I’m in is like Clark Kent ducking out on Lois Lane at all hours.”
“You aren't Superman.”
“Old One, dewin, wizard," Will said. "I'm impossible to kill and I can make things better. Do you have any idea what that's done to me? How selfish it was for me to lie in bed with you, as happy as I've ever been, even while people were being massacred by the thousand somewhere else."
"The Dark—" Bran started.
"The Dark preyed on mortals who consciously embraced evil. Those sorts of people are still in the world, and I'm still of the Light. Protecting people from harm is part of what I am."
"And you couldn't have just told me that."
Will shook his head. "In the end, leaving was easier than lying to you all the time, and I wanted you to have someone…you deserve someone who will be here with you.”
Bran laughed bitterly. “Did you tell Jane that too?”
Will stared back at him. “I haven’t needed to. We’re friends.”
With a flat look, Bran said, “She told me it was a bit more than that.”
Will sighed. Of course they would have talked. It was foolish for him to have imagined otherwise. “Not really," he said truthfully. "I mean, we've never dated, we aren't romantic, and we've never seen each other regularly. After her divorce, she wanted someone who respected her career and didn’t demand any commitments.” Bran didn’t answer. “What? It wasn’t pity.”
“I should hope not,” Bran said. “She’s amazing. She and I had dinner last time I was in London…” He trailed off. “She’s a crusader as much as the rest of us.”
“Yes. We’re all trying to save the world in our own way,” Will agreed.
“She was telling me about Simon’s work in Uganda. Now Barney’s saving the world through art...and none of us ever knew why we were so driven.”
“Do you still feel like saving the world?” Will asked.
Bran rolled his eyes. “I always feel like saving the world. They call it a saviour complex. It’s why I’m an activist, not a bloody corrupt politician.”
“Well, that’s good. We don't need any more of those. I don’t suppose you feel like taking over the world?”
“Why, because I was the Pendragon for a day, once upon a time when we were kids?” Bran scoffed. “Nope, sorry. Not any more than usual. I don’t want to rule the world, only to stop the corporations from doing so, either.”
Will nodded. That was about what he'd expected, and it was probably good that Bran wasn't harbouring kingly ambitions in the modern age.
A long silence stretched between them. Bran kept flitting glances at Will, and Will kept pretending not to catch him at it. No words came forth, though.
Finally, Will said, "Look. Just let me say this, and if you never want to talk about it, we don't have to, and if you do, then I'm more than willing. I'm sorry I hurt you. I'm sorry Merriman's spell hurt you. I'm sorry I couldn't find a way to be the boyfriend you deserved. You deserve all the love in the world, as well as attention and time, and I hate that I could only give you the first without the second two."
"Will," Bran said helplessly.
Will spread his hands. "Still love you and I always, always will. And it's okay if you don't. You probably shouldn't, in fact, because you really ought to have someone less prone to running out on you in the middle of the night. But it's what I feel and I needed to say it."
"How long till Jane arrives?" Bran asked.
Will checked his phone. "An hour and change."
Bran stood and gestured Will to his feet. "Up you get."
"What?" Will asked.
"This," Bran said, and put his arms around him. "I have to check something."
Will shut his eyes and pulled Bran close, his face tucking in neatly against Bran's ear, the pale bristles of his beard scraping Will's cheek. The shampoo was different, but otherwise Bran smelled the same. It was all he could do not to slide his hands down and pull their hips together.
"I can't stand this," Bran murmured against his ear. "I want you like I need air, Will." He leant back, eyes fixed at first on Will's mouth, then his eyes. He swallowed hard and shook his head. "I can't let you tear my heart out again."
"I won't," Will promised, gripping Bran's shoulders.
Bran shuddered and stepped back. "Not yet."
"No," he said, tawny eyes gone bright in the lamplight. "Pretty apologies don't give you a pass. I can't let you. This is the part where you get to prove to me you can be trusted. That's the chance I'm giving you. We're not falling into bed and pretending all the times you walked out never happened."
Will nodded, heart aching in his chest. "Okay."
"This isn't a commitment, either," Bran said, eyes narrowing.
Will smiled weakly. "No," he agreed. "I'm glad for any chance you'll give me."
A short time later, they were urging Bran’s sturdy Vauxhall around detours, through the flooded streets and still-pouring rain to Cardiff Central Station. Will’s senses were almost overwhelmed by the deluge of Wild Magic in the air. It was in every breath, every heartbeat. It was the Light overpowered by the Wild.
“I dreamt on the train, Will,” Jane said from the back seat. Her time-sense was still about eleven hours ahead, but she’d managed a solid hour’s nap with the lull of the rails. Now, however, she was wide awake and worried. “Do you remember my Greenwitch dreams, and the morning I awoke with the manuscript in my hand? It happened, didn’t it? All of it happened. The whole battle against the Dark.”
“Yes," Will replied.
"Will!" She hadn't expected him to simply admit it.
Will sighed. "And before you start yelling, please remember that making you all forget was Merriman’s doing. Merriman’s and the Lady’s both. I was only twelve.”
Jane made a rude noise. “You were never only twelve.”
Will made a feeble noise of protest, and then sighed tiredly. "That's probably fair."
“You dreamt?” Bran prompted. He was driving slowly, using the sat nav to confirm which streets were closed with high water.
“Yes. And hallo, Bran. You’re looking well. Saw you on the news the other day.” He was looking more than well, she thought, better even than the last time she'd seen him, and she didn’t mind it slipping into her voice.
Bran blushed and mumbled something inarticulate. He seemed somehow more at home in his own skin now than even when they’d had dinner back in May.
“Yes. The dreams, when I was eleven, were of the Greenwitch talking to me. It explained the Wild Magic to me, and its rage at the painter from the Dark. And now, it’s talking to me again, only there isn’t just one Greenwitch. There’s an army of them, Will: well over a thousand. Some bigger, some smaller, some with different sorts of branches and leaves woven in, but they're all dedicated to the ocean goddess and they all have your gold engraving that I gave it to replace its lost secret.”
"All of them," Bran said in wonder.
“Has it said what it wants?" Will asked with concern.
“For me—or us—to stop humans poisoning the world, especially the sea. It’s worse now than ever. Do you know that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish? It sounds bonkers but it’s really happening. I never imagined it would get this bad.”
"Could that be why our memories have returned?" Bran asked.
Will was gazing into the middle distance...or possibly into the wet blackness ahead. All the lamp posts were out, and there was no telling what lurked in the Cardiff night. "I'm beginning to believe that's the case, yes. The Dark is vanquished. All of the Light has gone, except for myself and whatever residual power remains of the Six from our old quest. The Old Magic passed out of the world long ago. That leaves the Wild."
"What can we do?" Bran asked. "That is so much bigger than any of us, even if you are a dewin."
"Oh, you're why I know that word," Jane said in surprised delight. Bran smiled at her in the mirror, and Jane noticed Will quietly noticing the flirtation. Not getting his hackles up; rather the opposite, really. Maybe he thought they were entertaining? Jane didn't know. "What can you do, really?" she asked him. "Gumerry tended to appear out of nowhere, but he told us we weren't paying attention."
"I would like to know that, as well," Bran said, turning into a narrow alley and from there into a car park behind a row of flats. "Here we are."
Jane hoisted her carry-all and jogged with them through the rain to Bran's building. "Will," she prompted in the stairwell.
He made a face. "I think there’s no one but people to stop it."
"Old One, that’s not the case." Bran glared at him. "It can't be."
"You do know there’s only one of me? Which is not to say I haven’t been trying."
"How?" Jane asked. "Sorry, I have no idea what you've been doing, Will. Or what you can do."
Will waited until they were out of the stairs and into Bran's top floor flat and Bran had put the kettle to boil. Then he told them what he had been doing for the past days, months, and years, as they pressed him for more and more detail.
"You can move through time," Bran said hopefully. "We can get species that have been wiped out. You can magic the world clean again."
"The Dark was banished beyond time. Why not the same with plastics?" Jane agreed. But then she stopped. "Wait, no. That won't work. Look at all the plastic around us that we need. Artificial hearts, joints. Things like syringes, medical equipment. The insides of vehicles. Prams. Clothes. At least half of everything we're wearing is synthetic."
"That all ends up in landfills, never to decompose." Bran said.
"You are both seriously overestimating what I can do on my own," Will said bleakly.
"God, how much of the Sixth Great Extinction will be us, do you think?" Jane wondered aloud.
"And how many people will the Wild Magic kill whilst trying to prevent it?" Will said, shaking his head. "If only Merriman were here."
Jane paced to and fro across the living room, listing on her fingers: "We have the flooding of coastal cities, the continuing natural disasters, the people committing mass murder because of their night terrors or believing their neighbour's clan cursed theirs, the millenarian cults saying the world is ending...."
Bran added, "All the employees on the offshore drilling platforms, the freighters that have been lost at sea, the communities who can’t get supplies because they’re now cut off. Bridges and airports destroyed. Corruption of water and sewerage networks."
Will said, "Do you know the Americans are making zombie apocalypse jokes?"
"We shall see who’s laughing a month from now," Bran said.
"We have to change the economy," Jane said. "The Wild is enraged because everything is poisoned and living things that ought to be fine are going extinct. This is Nature itself fighting back."
Will nodded. "And it's happened so fast. It wasn't ever a problem when our grandparents were young."
"Climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction are the big three," Bran said, and then, "I do like the time travel idea. Will, you can take us through with you, right?"
"What?" Will said, eyes wide. "Why?"
"To get extinct species and bring them back with us," Bran explained.
Will gaped for a moment. "You want dinosaurs?! Are you mad?"
Bran sighed deeply. "Shrubs, grasses, ferns, algae, lichens, trees even. You can move through time, I remember."
"I can create a sort of time bubble where things are in stasis, but only for a small area. Going back and collecting samples of things…" Will trailed off. "It isn't impossible, but it would take us doing the work by hand, even if I brought us back in the exact moment we left. It would take months or years, and we have no guarantee they would survive once we planted them."
"It won't work, though," Jane said. "It's only a small-scale solution to a large-scale problem. The Wild want every fossil fuel-based industry stopped and the leavings removed—like the petcoke from American refineries they sell as fuel in India and China. Where they all now have COPD because of the air."
"We can't just change the way the entire world works, can we?" asked Bran, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "Is that even possible?"
"Just listen a moment," said Will. "Our global economy is an extraordinarily recent invention. The forces of the Wild Magic have been here since Time began. They are the oldest beings left on the Earth, after the ancient lords of the Dark like the Brenin Llwyd were driven out. Lady Tethys rules the ocean itself. Herne the Hunter leads the Wild Hunt. Creatures like kelpies and thunderbirds and dragons are of the Wild, but they aren't particularly organized, not as we'd recognise it, anyway. It's as if they're tasting the temper in the air and joining in."
"Sorry, yes. That's a far larger scale than I was thinking of," Jane said. Then she had a thought. "Do you remember Pentreath Farm, though? How the Wild took it after driving the painter out. How overgrown it became in no time at all, from what Simon and Barney told me."
Will nodded. "Yes."
"Could that be a bargaining chip," Bran asked. "Asking the Wild to be constructive instead of chaotic? I mean, none of us want things to go extinct. We ought to have quite a lot to bring to the table if we can make them understand the system we're striving against."
Will blinked and nodded. "It could be. I know there’s that bacteria oil companies use to clean up spills because it loves the taste of petrol. If we can get them to coordinate with us, maybe."
Bran said, "We need the Wild’s help, not their antagonism."
"And we need humanity’s help, not their antagonism, either," Will said.
"And we're racing the clock. There's no telling how bad it will get if the Wild keeps going like this," Bran said. "How do we make sudden change happen? How do we turn this into an overnight movement?"
There was a silence, and then Jane raised her hand. "Hallo, media expert here."
"Ideas?" Will asked, openly hopeful.
Jane nodded. "Yes. I don't suppose you have a large monitor and a spare room?"
"I could take you back to London if you need the news studio," Will said hesitantly. He hadn't ever offered to use magic like this before. It felt terribly alien.
Jane smiled at him gently. "Thank you, Will. I actually have everything else I need with me."
Bran said, "Feel free to take my spare room, but the good computer equipment is down at the office."
"Any chance we can get in?" she said, smiling.
Bran grinned at her. "I have the keys."
"Let's go, then."
Jane ensconced herself at Bran's desk and vanished into her own virtual world. Bran didn't want to leave her there alone, as there really was no telling what unspeakable things could be in the floodwater or whether they could slither up the steps into the office. Also, if he were at work, even gone eleven, then he wasn't in his flat with Will making eyes at him.
He settled at Noelle's desk and began making lists: things that broke down petrochemicals in solid, liquid, and gaseous form; things known to pull carbon out of the air; ecosystems in peril from most to least dire; locations on earth with unsafe pollution ratios, and so forth. He began a new report, this one entitled "Actionable Solutions" and started a corresponding press release in a linked document. The cost-benefit table was what would need the hard-sell; maybe he could put his pet billionaire to use, after all.
At one thirty in the morning, he was knackered. "Aren't you tired?" he asked Jane from his office doorway.
She looked up, smiling at him, and something in his chest turned over. "Coffee on the train after the nap. I'll be up until four, minimum."
"Four," he said blankly.
She laughed. "Bran, I'm so jet-lagged, I hardly know what continent I'm on. Don't worry about me."
"Right," he said. "I'm going home. Text if you spot any terrifying sea creatures—wait, don't. I'll be asleep. Call 999."
"Got it," she said, smirking at him.
"There's a sofa in the tearoom if you want a kip," he added. "I'll be back in before nine."
"Grand," Jane said, and then as he turned away, added, "don't kill Will."
He stopped, almost went on down the corridor, but turned back instead. "Jenny," he started, not wanting to pry but also entirely unable to stop imagining the two of them embracing, all long limbs and dark hair, entirely at ease together. "You and he…"
She smiled wryly back at him and shook her head. "What mates sometimes do together when himself bothers to show up isn't really worth mentioning, especially not in the middle of the night with monsters roaming the Earth."
"Right, sorry," he said.
"But," she went on, "I'm fairly sure your claim outweighs mine." She winked at him then and flapped a hand toward the door. "Now go on. I've got work to do."
Bran left a note on Noelle's desk explaining Jane, should she still be there when Noelle got in. Then he drove blearily home through streets where the water was still high but not much worse than before.
Will wasn't there. Bran's heart clenched hard in his chest until he found the note on the coffee table: Bran, have gone back to mine. Text if there's news. —W
The journey to the cold dark of the deep was treacherous this time: eddies, sharks, giant squid, tiny deadly octopuses, mountainous whales with their demesnes of symbiotes, countless creatures Will didn't know a name for. "Please, I’m trying to help Tethys, Queen of the Deep," Will told them. "Tell her I come as a friend."
It was some time before the ranks of sea life transformed from barrier to escort, but the important part was that they had done it at all. Then, he was swimming, down and down, into a region he vaguely recognised from the one time in his life he had come here before. Eventually he reached the great crack in the bed of the sea, deeper than any other on Earth and unknown to any human ocean cartography.
When he had come here as a boy, at Merriman's side, Tethys had been a thunderous voice from a cavern, nothing visible. Only power emanating from darkness, ruling all the waters of the Earth.
Now, Will was greeted by not a thousand Greenwitches, but tens of thousands of them: human-made effigies given to the Sea in celebration of her daughters. And they each had a shining strip of engraved gold woven through their chests.
"Welcome, Old One," she said when he came finally to her court. Her voice was as thunderous and widely permeating as ever, but not warm and curious, as it had been last time.
Will bowed deeply and said reverently in the Old Speech, "Lady Tethys, I bring you greetings."
"Do you, Will Stanton?" No, there was none of the pleasant rapport she had held with Merriman, and Will was lost for a moment for how to proceed.
"Madam, I am the only Old One left on the Earth. When the Dark was vanquished, the High Magic left the care of the world in the hands of humanity, and the rest of my kind went elsewhere."
"I know this," she said. "You have made a long and dangerous journey to tell me things I already know."
"Madam, please." Will grasped for words. "You know that the Light has always put the protection of humanity above all other concerns, and so I cannot stand by as they destroy themselves or as the Wild incites mayhem among them. There is a better way. We can work together to heal the world without all this…chaos."
"How do you propose to help 'heal the world,' as you put it?" Tethys asked.
"The remaining Five who defeated the Dark have rejoined. We are dedicated to redeeming humanity and the future of the Earth."
There was only silence for a long moment. "Entropy is the greatest natural law. Things will fall apart. There is no constant but change. Human aphorisms, Old One. They know there are consequences."
"But," Will argued, "of seven billion souls, only a small group possesses the resources to change the way their socio-economics work."
"That is madness," she said dismissively. "That must be why their recent way of living has failed."
"Its failure doesn’t have to be catastrophic," Will said. "The Wild wants the destruction to stop; so do we. We need time to change things." Then, remembering something Tethys had said to Merriman before, he added, "Bran Davies, who would have been the Pendragon had he not chosen to stay in the time of his childhood and lose his position in the High Magic, is working with me in this."
"The Pendragon?" she asked, sounding more interested in Bran than in anything else Will had said.
"Arthur and Guinevere’s son, yes. He is fighting to stop pollution and change the reliance on fossil fuels to clean renewable energy."
Tethys was silent, and Will could imagine her parsing the jargon. "Forgive me, Madam. The terminology is…" A current of water jetted her indifference to the language.
"Is the Pendragon much like his father?" she demanded.
"In many ways. The world is very different now, but he has the same love of the land, the same dedication to making the world a better place and to stopping the powers that are poisoning the Earth."
She hummed. "You admire him."
"Of course. We’re allies in the same fight. All five of us are."
"And you propose an alliance with the Wild Magic."
"I propose a meeting the others may safely attend, where we may discuss ways for humanity and the Wild to live in harmony. Balance is important. The plastics in the ocean, for example. Plastic requires sustained sunlight to decompose, and plastics put into landfills simply sit there forever. But humans use plastics for medical and childcare purposes, among other things. Outright destruction of it all would be a needless cruelty."
An indifferent scoff.
"Yes, I know you care little for the plights of humans, but this would cause the greatest harm to the sick and young, those who have done Nature no harm."
This time Tethys' hum was considering. For several long moments, Will heard nothing but the low idling roar of the ocean floor, then she spoke again. "Very well. I agree to your parley and to meet your one-time Pendragon." Will proposed a time and a lonely stretch of the Welsh coast, far from any city, and Tethys agreed. It was more than he had hoped for.
Jane spent the best part of forty-eight hours editing her docu into a new animal. Thankfully, she could use the framework she had, and she’d been collecting stock music and establishing footage for literally years. She had a system for good reason: doing features production, you had to be able to crank out complex stories fast. Jane inserted all the footage she could scrape from news outlets and twitter accounts, crediting inline, and built on her initial This Will Be Catastrophic If We Don’t Change The Industry storyline.
She included the kaiju, the insane mob of flying white dogs caught through an aeroplane window, the Anansi sightings in Ghana, the each-uisge in Scotland, the monstrous bears and four-legged chickens in Ukraine, the quetzalcoatl in the Yucatan, the talking ravens in Sweden and British Columbia, the micro-hurricane, the volcanoes popped up in people's suburban backyards in Vermont, everything she could find with unassailable source video.
Nature is fighting back, she said in her voice-over. Nature has said No More, and this is our last chance to stop, adjust, and relearn to live in harmony with our world.
"Why can’t we just move to Mars?" she asked Neil deGrasse Tyson.
"Three things," he said, leaning forward. "First, that technology is at least twenty-five years in the future. Second, if and when a Mars mission happens, the odds of you being chosen for it—because you're the right age, education level, health condition, and so forth—are going to be almost a billion to one. This isn't a subway trip where anyone can pay their token and take a ride. There won't be colonies of any size for at least a century—if ever. And third, the space radiation issue cannot be overstated. Leaving Earth's atmosphere is, simply, fatal to human beings. It’s excellent science fiction, but it just isn’t viable as long as we’re the wet, squishy, organic living beings that we are. Sorry to disappoint, but for virtually all of us, Earth is all we’ve got."
She screened it for Bran when it was done, watching his reactions the entire time. He was luminous, and seeing her work put feelings on his face did a number on her own emotions.
"So about Will," Jane said. Bran stood at his refrigerator, sliding in the last of their Chinese takeaway. Jane was leaning against the worktop, watching him.
"Yes?" he said, admiring the teal blue jumper that brought out her eyes. Bran could hardly help but stare.
She shrugged. "Just wondering about the state of things between you."
Bran gestured vaguely. "Exes."
"Do you not want him back?" she said, sounding surprised. "Bran, I've seen how you look at one another, and over the years Will has told me plenty. You do know he's never loved anyone like he loves you."
Bran shut his eyes, sighed deeply. He couldn't blame her for asking, but Will wasn't the person he wanted to be talking about. "You know what he's like."
"Of course I do. He's mad about you, even while suffering an endless need to go out and save the world. Now it all makes sense."
"Does it?" He nodded towards the living room and Jane followed him through.
"It does. The Old One part makes it all fit together," she said, curling up on the couch. "He was never being thoughtless; if anything it was the opposite. Him trying to take care of us all at the same time and none of us understanding what was going on."
"Because he's shite at explaining."
"He really is, yes."
Bran sat heavily onto the seat next to her. "Duw, I wish—damn Merriman, anyway."
"I'd like to have words with him, myself."
"Sorry," Bran said. "I know he's your family."
"It doesn't excuse a terrible decision on his part." She shrugged. "Point is, I've stopped being angry at Will over it."
"That fast?" Bran said in disbelief.
"Staying angry doesn't serve anything, does it? It was a terrible situation we were all stuck in," she said. "Besides, he needs our help and we need his. It seems to me that the best way out of this business with the Wild is all of us joining together."
"He isn't going to stick around, though," Bran said. No matter how much he wanted to hope Will would prove him wrong this time, Bran had too much history saying otherwise.
"I know," Jane said. "We're going to have to be relentless about demanding the truth from him."
"We?" asked Bran in surprise.
"Power in numbers."
"You incredible optimist," he said with a laugh.
"You like it," she said with a smile.
Bran felt a blush rise into his cheeks. "What if I do?"
Jane took his hand. "Kiss me?"
Bran didn't have words for a moment. He had been hoping, wanting, feeling dreadful guilt over how much he also wanted Will, and yet—"Jenny," he said, reaching for her. She felt electric in his arms, different to Will but so fiercely present.
After the first kiss became the fifth, she told him, "I want to do a lot more of that, but first, cards on the table, all right?"
"Okay," Bran agreed.
"First thing, I travel a lot. It's part of my job and I love my job. If you're imagining I'm going to give that up, you can stop right now. If this is a one-off, then it doesn't matter, but I want you clear on how much time I spend flitting between time zones. Second, I know you and Will are going to make up. It may take some time, but there's no point in thinking otherwise."
"We know his secret now. That changes everything." She ploughed on, "Third, there's me and Will, and if you want him and I want him—which I do—and you and I want one another, then I think this could work. But if any of those pieces don't fit, then it's a problem."
Bran nodded. It was a little overwhelming. She was a little overwhelming, really, but not in a bad way. It was a bit like looking in a mirror, even: Jane with the same kind of focus on her work as he had, as Will had, too, really.
"So my question is," she said, "is it going to ruin everything if we sleep together tonight?"
"What?" he said, startled by her directness.
"That is on offer, isn’t it?" she asked.
"Well, yes, but I meant—"
Jane cut him off. "Sorry, it's only that my ex-husband was my colleague first and it ended badly, both for our relationship and our work. That's why I don't just rush in, even when I want to. I have to think things through."
Bran smiled. "You did back then, too. You were the one who asked 'Is this a good idea?' before we rushed in. At least if I’m remembering it right."
"Sounds like me. Do you mind?"
"No. I think you and I are an excellent idea."
She leant forward and kissed him again, soft and sweet. "The part about Will, though?" she said.
Bran swallowed hard. It took some time, but he finally got his mouth around the words. "Right, cards on the table. I’ve always been in love with Will, even when I've dated other people. I thought it would fade."
"No such luck?" she said with a wry smile.
"If only. When I was sixteen, I very nearly ran away, planning to show up on his doorstep and to hell with my father, school, everything. Ass over tit I was, and more lonely than any boy should ever be. When we were together during uni, Will was my world...right up until the first ghastly breakup. I kept taking him back, over and over—before he fucked off to go do Old One things, I realise now, but at the time all I knew was he was leaving me for no reason."
"That's awful," she said, and pulled him into a hug. "He was like that with me, too. Not the romance; only the random appearances and disappearances. Just like Gumerry." She made a face, thinking about it. "I never really thought twice about it, I guess. They’d always seemed like two of a kind to me, those holidays we were all together."
"You said the other night you didn't have a claim on him. But do you have feelings for him?"
She tilted her head in thought. Eventually she said, "Fondness, familiarity, friendship. He nearly never confides in me, and I can’t rely on him to show up to dinner plans, but he’s like an old jumper. Comfortable. Easy. I don’t have the spark for him that you do."
"He and I have more of a spark than I quite want."
Jane squeezed his hand. "He and I fit together and I don't want to let him go. We should probably ask him what he thinks...after he's grovelled enough for you, I mean. He certainly owes you."
Bran leant in and kissed her again. Her skin was like silk against his fingertips and, by a miracle, she got it. She knew what he longed for in Will and didn't resent him for it. "You are lovely."
She pulled back. "You haven’t known me long enough to have feelings for me, Bran."
He held her head loosely in his hands and thought, but I want to and you fit in my arms just as well as Will does. Aloud he said, "I think I can claim fondness, familiarity, and hopefully friendship. Spark, too."
Her sudden intake of breath was gratifying. The next kiss was longer, hotter. "Definite possibility," Jane said.
Bran said, "Bedroom?" and Jane hauled him to his feet.
Will opened the great Doors onto the beach of a deserted cove south of Aberdyfi. Barney, Jane, and Bran were already there, and Will had taken them each out of time so that they wouldn't miss anything when he took them back.
"What did you do?" Simon stepped out onto the shingle after Will, incredulous.
"It was Gumerry," said Jane. "I told you on the phone."
"I meant just now," Simon said, turning in a circle. "You didn't explain anything!"
"The Doors let Old Ones travel in time and space. When I take you and Barney back, you'll arrive in the same moment you left," Will said. "Omolara won't know you were gone."
"And what if I want her to know I was gone?" Simon snapped.
An uncomfortable silence fell. Will could feel all their eyes on him, and he was selfishly glad that he had thought to leave Simon for last. He'd always been the one with the most stringent ideas about how the world ought to work, the most upset when shown supposedly impossible things.
"Then we'll do it that way," Will said at last. He looked from one to the next in apology. "Merriman taught me to keep magic a secret from the world, so that's how I've always done it. The Wild has blotted out that need entirely, I realise." He paused. "I'm going to have to learn a different way."
"So we can tell?" Barney said. "I told Ashley about the dreams, but not that they've turned out to be real. I really want her to know about all this, if it won't hurt anything."
Will scrubbed a hand through his hair in frustration. "Look, I'm not a party trick. I don't want to be used to fix things with your boss or get your kids a place in better schools. I won't have dozens of people come clamouring to me to magic the minutiae of their lives all better," he said. "But I also don't want to be a source of strife for any of you. Can you see where I'm coming from?"
Simon let out a breath. "That's a point. I can only imagine what Gumerry would have done if we'd gone begging special favours from him. Will, maybe we can talk about it later, after we've had a chance to think it through?"
"Good plan," Jane said, and Will smiled at them both in gratitude.
"Speaking of plans," Bran added, "I think I see our guest."
A broad rippling current was moving into the cove from out in the open water. Wavelets splashed on the shingle and—
"Oh my god," said Jane.
The thing that rose from the water was enormous and eel-like, if eels could be the size of mobile towers. It was six shades of blue with a crested head and more razor-sharp teeth than Will could count. Its fins looked equally deadly.
"Leviathan," Bran breathed.
"And the Voice of Queen Tethys, ruler of the seas," it said. Its voice spoke directly into their minds, a ringing tenor bell. "She, who has called the old deities of the Earth, of the Wild, of creation before Time began. She called again for beings of the Wild Magic and Old Magic if any remained in the world. She called to wake those who slept their age away. She told them of the last Old One and his circle of mortals and their wish to restore harmony and stop the Extinction."
"We welcome this news," Will said formally.
"Where is the Pendragon?" it asked.
"Here, though I surrendered that name when I chose to stay in this time," said Bran.
The Leviathan dipped its head much closer and seemed to taste the air above Bran.
"The Old One said you fight to save the land. What is the manner of your struggle?"
"What I do, you mean?," Bran asked. "I publicise the truth about what's happened and do my best to sway lawmakers and public opinion. The objective is to make the protection of the environment so fundamental to human life that there's no room for pollution to exist."
"Profound idealism," it said after a long moment.
"I like having goals," Bran replied, unruffled.
"And you, the Greenwitches' friend," it said, turning to Jane. "They speak to you often."
"Yes," Jane agreed.
"They have told us about the innocent humans, as you were when they first met you."
"The vast majority of people don't mean to hurt Nature at all," Jane said. "It's only that the better options are too expensive for most people to access."
"Because your society is founded upon foolish conceits."
Will nodded, hearing Tethys speaking through the Leviathan's mouth.
"You will change your people's mind and hearts. We shall change the essential nature of discarded plastic. We shall make it vulnerable to air and salt, as well as sun. It shall decompose into dust…and when people see the nature of plastic has changed, they will stop producing it and stop using it. Over several generations, there will be no plastics left and people will turn to wood and glass and metal and stone, as they did before."
"You'll help!" Jane exclaimed.
The Leviathan agreed, "The Wild will help. We will grow more forests and reward areas that live in harmony with the land with more wood, stone, ores, and water. Use the boundless provision of the sun and wind. Areas that do not will become desolate."
"This sounds feasible," Will said. "We're grateful."
"You must change them," it said coldly. "The humans must not continue like this."
"That is exactly what we are doing," Bran said. "We're going to change everything for the better."
Will said, "And as far as the Wild Hunt, the creatures of the deep come to shore, the storms—"
The Leviathan gave a great wriggle of its upper body that Will eventually took for indifference.
"Innocents have died by the thousand," he shouted. "We must have a truce."
"You are not in a position to demand anything, Old One. Hold up your end of the bargain and the Wild will relent."
"But the people," he said.
"Prove you can do what you claim," said the Leviathan with finality. Then it coiled in place and swam out of the inlet, diving for deep ocean.
Nature's Revenge premiered on the Beeb that night, and from the next morning, Jane was in constant demand for all the news programmes and talk shows. She dragged Bran along because he wasn't camera shy, after which he grew an international following practically overnight. The tabs called him Britain’s sexiest environmentalist; he didn't know about Tumblr and Jane wasn't going to be the one to show him. It was hilarious. She also figured it would be over in about fifteen minutes or so, so there was no sense in stressing over it.
Meanwhile, now and then she caught Will muttering about the residual power of the Pendragon. Jane hoped it was true. Bran did have a certain charisma, or at least an eye-catching steadiness that made you want to find out what he had to say. Combined with the uncanny tawny eyes, white hair and beard, and deadly cheekbones, Jane wanted to put Bran's face on every news cycle.
Of course, most of the attention was of the tabloid variety. There was already an article with a pictorial and short vid shoot being contracted to take place on one of Branson’s yachts off Cornwall. A production assistant had already delivered Bran a navy fisherman’s jumper and trousers.
“Dashing,” the PA said when he tried them on. She understated her reaction, but Jane couldn't blame her for staring. “True GQMF. He’s perfect,” is what Jane saw the PA text someone at the production office. It would be more celebrity than any of them really wanted, but hell. Their lives as private citizens were basically over. At least for a while.
Bran was literally going from meeting to meeting to media appearance to meeting and had to allocate funds for Noelle to hire an entire department and annex a new office, because suddenly they were up to their ears in providing data on alternatives to plastics at every level of industry, from supply-side to end-consumer and post-consumer. He was keenly aware that at least half of the laptop he was typing on was plastic. The travel and freight industries were conducting a smear campaign against him personally. Planes, trains, cars, shipping, everything that used fuel and contained any of ten thousand different polymers inside and out—every manufacturer saw their livelihood going down the drain and were understandably panic-stricken. The alternatives weren’t good; what alternatives were even adaptable to modern life had been out of production for nearly a century.
Elon Musk and his battery project was an option, however; and surely there was a secret group at NASA or NOAA that had a climate intervention plan given unlimited global support and resources. It would cost billions, but so what? Having Tethys and her friends shake the billionaires until their money fell out was legitimately on the table. Baba Yaga was real, it turned out, and she had a list of Russian oligarchs that she was checking twice. Billionaires were too powerful for mere ordinary people to shake down, but the beings of the Wild Magic were on it.
That left the human side. Bran's widest reaching quote—or 'most memed,' as Jane put it, was, "Either we live in a society where everyone has the same opportunities, or else we live in a social Darwinism experiment, where survival of the fittest is the only rule and the rich steal opportunities from the poor to keep their own families on the top of the heap. The second one's shite, in case that wasn’t clear. Look it up."
Bran was finally speechlessly grateful to Richard Branson the following week. The ridiculous video shoot on the yacht turned out only to be the "PR candy floss" atop a nuts and bolts meeting with execs from a host of "post-pollution" enterprises. The list of goals included installing reusable carbon filters in every incinerator in the world, and the harvested carbon put into new products. Glass and metalworks also had a seat at the table, as did a paper mill working on natural collagen-based laminates.
It was a trove of possibility—real possibility, not pie in the sky ideas failing to get funded on Kickstarter. He had a list of "actionable solutions" for the Environmental Audit Committee that they could force into policy at the stroke of a pen. Next, the EU. Eventually, the Americans. China was outside his wheelhouse, but he had seen the viral video of dragons attacking smoke-belching factories outside Beijing. They'd left the factories using even middling quality scrubbers alone, a fact lost on no one.
Jane was gone when he got back to Cardiff the next day. She had texted—quite a lot, really, and apologized for the caffeine high behind it—as she had caught a plane to the States for what seemed to be a kind of coordinated wildlife attack on the DAPL pipeline, only the bears were the size of elephants.
"Is this our lives now?" he asked Will, who had knocked on his door a minute after Bran answered his text asking to see him.
Will shrugged. "Better than slogging it out with broadswords."
"Or shouting futilely at the UK Parliament." Bran gazed wistfully at the empty spot on the couch next to Will, and felt it when Will caught him. "She did say she'd be off on the trail of the next story."
"I'm glad you and she…" Will trailed off.
"Are you?" Bran asked. They hadn't talked about anything since that first night.
Will smiled at him wryly. "I can want more than one thing at once, you know. I can want your happiness, and Jane's, and my own. I can want to kiss you and kiss her and to know you and she are shagging each other senseless while I'm coaxing whales out of shipping lanes."
Bran laughed. "You mean it."
"I do." Will stood up, pressed a knee against Bran's and braced his hands on the armchair. "Please say yes." The kiss that followed was electric, a fierce zing up and down his spine that wasn't fair at all.
Bran reached up and held onto Will for dear life. "So sex magic is real?" he said against Will's cheek a long moment later.
Will shook his head. "I didn't do anything. I never have."
Bran blinked. "You've never…"
Will sank to his knees between Bran's legs and held his gaze. "I've never used magic to seduce anyone or make them feel things they wouldn't otherwise. I promise. I have used it to warm you up when it was icy out and to cure a cold you were just catching. I was always afraid, after seeing what the White Rider did to John Rowlands, of using magic against you."
"You did, though." Bran said, heart twisting.
"When I had to, in order to keep the secret," Will said, squeezing Bran's hands. "I'm sorry for it."
Bran still felt Will's touch like a live current in his skin. He didn't want to let go. "This isn't you doing this?" he said again. "It was never this strong before."
"Not me," Will said, squeezing again experimentally. "Maybe it's you, as the Pendragon returned. Maybe it's the Five. Maybe it's the Wild messing with us."
"What, like hormones?" Bran said dubiously.
Will shrugged. "I could try to find out, but it would mean leaving and I'd rather kiss you some more." Will licked his lips, and Bran knew it was a dare, but it didn't matter.
"Bedroom," he said, pushing Will to his feet.
"We don't have to rush into it," Will said.
Bran nudged him onward. "Don't lie to me again, don't run out without notice, don't run off with Jane and leave me."
"Anything else?" Will asked, easing back on the bed.
Bran followed, kneeling over him. He wanted to say, I want our happy ever after. I want every forever you promised me. I want you to stay, damn it. He said aloud, "Be here tomorrow and find out."
Will was exhausted, frankly. He spent his days opening the Doors all around the world, finding human beings that the Wild Magic had turned into chimeras or given an irresistible yearning to go live in treetops, undoing what was done, and leaving no trace of his presence behind. Then there was the endless conferring with beings of the Wild about things like undersea internet cables, and no, they did not do any more damage than naturally occurring undersea tectonic rifts, and in fact quite a lot less.
Where would it end? Will tried to see the possibilities, but he wished every day with all of his heart for Merriman to come and tell him what to do.
Especially the day the billionaires declared war—or tried to. They hired militias to protect their oil fields and refineries, but a tidal wave knocked out the refinery, earthquakes shook the drilling platforms off their pylons. It happened all over the world: floods, river spirits changing their waterways' paths, the natural world, in effect, going on strike. In a way it was brilliant. It was plain to everyone what the disasters were targeting and what they weren't.
But it was also an overwhelming pressure Will could feel all the time. Barney, too, and millions of other people around the world. Within a month, social media had launched a global movement for the propitiation of the Earth/Mother Nature. "Humans are creatures of the Earth only, privileged to share space with every other living being in the world," they said, and sang, and chanted. Shinto and Taoist leaders became instant internet sensations in the “How to Propitiate Your Local Elemental Spirits” department. The former cottage industry of New Age knick-knacks revived and boomed. People learned quickly that synthetics were not appreciated, leading people to learn to whittle, weave baskets, shape basic clay figures, grow gardens.
The trouble was, they were still driving to work…and would be until all vehicles became electric, which transition was going to take another decade or more to complete. Developing power cells for freight trains and transoceanic shipping would take the longest. Branson, Musk, Bezos, and Gates had a dream-team working on a plan, supposedly. If they didn't come through, Will knew where to find Baba Yaga.
The best thing, though, was Bran. Bran and Jane together, Bran and Jane separately. Bran taking his calls. Bran slowly, slowly beginning to believe that Will would be there when he woke up. The exceptions were for times Will woke in the night, alerted by spells of protection screaming their alarm that he was needed. Also, the look on Jane's face when she walked in on them kissing. The talk. The next talk. The incredible night after. Bran's face. Jane's.
He'd never known happiness like this. Or exhaustion. Some days he stepped outside of Time simply to sleep. Some days that was all he could do to keep up...not that he was keeping up. The part of his mind that kept track of the death toll caused by the rising of the Wild could never be satisfied with the best he could do. It was impossible.
Which was what Merriman had told him so long before.
There was a point, he was discovering, where he had to simply stop and enjoy his life.
"So, all three of you, then?" Barney said.
It was Will's birthday, the night of the Solstice, and they were gathered at Barney's, the children tucked up in their beds. Simon and Omolara were there, sitting cosily on the settee. Her family had moved from Nigeria to Peckham years ago, but she and Simon hadn't met until they were both assigned by Médecins Sans Frontières to the same aid station.
"Barney!" Jane protested.
"I’m not judging, just want to be clear on…whatever I need to be clear on."
"Well, I’m judging! Jane, you can’t—" Simon began.
"Of course I can," Jane said, outraged.
"Of course she can if she wants," Barney said.
"And of course we can if we want," Bran said calmly. "It’s nothing sordid, Simon. Only love, and as busy as we all are, a way to be certain we’re all fed and rested and generally taken care of before the next time each runs off to the next crisis."
Omolara elbowed Simon in the ribs. “I noticed that men having two wives in Africa doesn’t bother you.”
"But that's a different culture!" he said.
"You mean it’s okay with you when men do it," Jane said flatly. "What if it were Barney and Ashley and Will?"
"Oh, well then," said Ashley, giving Will an outrageous leer.
Everyone laughed, except Simon, who covered his face with his hands. When he looked up, he said, "Yes, I do know saying, 'But you’re my sister,' is the wrong answer, but I can’t help how we grew up." He looked at them helplessly. "I do want you to be happy, though. All of you. Only, give me some time?"
"Absolutely," Jane said. "You can have until New Year's."
Simon stared across the living room at her. "Ten days?"
"Mm-hm," she said contentedly and snuggled back against Bran. "Resolutions and all. Start as you mean to go on."
"Which of us gets the New Year's kiss?" Bran asked.
"You mean if we're all in one place?" Will said, and kissed Bran's cheek.
"We can but hope. But it's a good question," Jane said.
"All of us, I think," said Will, weaving his fingers through Jane's across Bran's lap. "It should be all three of us."
SIX MONTHS LATER
Will awoke just past four in the morning on the Summer Solstice, the sky already going lavender. He slipped out of bed, where Bran was curled around Jane like a comma. Something, somewhere was different. He texted them "Back soon" before leaving his phone on the dresser and opening the Doors right there in the bedroom. He stepped out on a cliff-side in the Aleutian Archipelago, overlooking the north Pacific and transformed. Now he was an albatross sweeping high over the water, basking in the hot afternoon sun as he flew, drawn inexorably south. The air tasted cleaner than the last time he'd come this way, and he felt a surge of hope in his chest as he zeroed in on his destination: the waste was vanishing. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was already beginning to shrink.
He came back through the Doors in the living room, a courtesy he'd remembered since the first time he'd returned whilst they were having sex and rather ruined the mood. The sun was well up now though it was still quite early, and Bran was at the stove stirring something in a fry-pan.
"Morning," Will said. "That smells good. Jane about?"
Bran looked up, surprised. "Still asleep. She didn't come in until two." He swallowed hard and mumbled, "I thought you'd gone."
"I texted you." Will reached out, kissed him over his shoulder.
"I haven't looked at my phone yet," Bran said, turning into his arms.
Will kissed him again. "Love, I'll always come back."