Nearly three feet long, the creatures looked like giant roaches. When they first attacked, David had tried to disappear into the crowds on the street. However, they had ignored everyone else, and no one seemed to see them. On the other hand, people did see David throw a couple of fire spells and started to point and take pictures. So David headed down an alley to give himself more room. The bugs were still following.
At the end of the alley was a woman waving at him. Even if she hadn’t been trying to get his attention, it would have been impossible not to notice her. Her clothing consisted of many different layers of bright color, and in the light, her hair seemed to shift hues.
“David?” she shouted.
Conserving his breath, he just nodded.
“Thomas sent me to collect you.”
David nodded again and stopped. Turning around, he lobbed a large ball of fire back at the bugs that had just rounded the corner.
“What the. . .? Don’t use fire!”
The woman grabbed his wrist and dragged him behind a building.
“Astral beetles,” she said, as though it was an explanation. “They feed on heat. Do you have any ice spells?”
“Good. Wait until they go past you. Their backs are more vulnerable.”
Before he could ask her any questions, she stepped back into the alley, surrounded herself in flame, and started running away. The beetles followed her with renewed vigor. Horrified by the risk she had taken, it took him a moment to collect himself and begin casting.
Ice spells were not his specialty, but he was competent enough to create several projectiles and send them hurtling towards the creatures. One fell immediately under the barrage, but the other leapt at its prey and avoided most of the attack. It landed on the woman, knocking her to the ground, and began trying to bite her as she attempted to ward it off.
As quickly as he could manage, he summoned another set of ice darts and sent them into the beetle, piercing it numerous times and causing it to stop moving. David rushed over to check on his would-be rescuer, but she was nowhere to be seen.
He turned around to find her still crouched behind the building. She must have noticed the confusion on his face.
“Illusion. My particular expertise. You did quite well; they didn’t even have a chance to realize they’d been fooled.” She paused long enough to let him process the information. “I’m Sarah, by the way.”
She held out her hand; he took it and gave it a quick shake. “David.”
“Yeah. Got that already.” Her smile was friendly enough.
“Right.” He felt self-conscious. “So what were those things?”
“Astral beetles. You haven’t dealt with them before?”
“Huh. Well, they’re not really beetles, and they don’t come from the astral plane. Useless name. But they do like magic. Especially fire magic.”
“Are they common?”
“Not that common, but not unique, either. I’m a little surprised that an elementalist like yourself doesn’t know about them.”
“I suppose my knowledge has some holes in it.”
Sarah gave him a long look. Now that the threat was gone, he realized her hair and clothes really were changing colors. She wore her hair short, and she nearly matched his own six-foot height. Her gaze made him increasingly uncomfortable, and he looked away.
“Well, Thomas invited you,” she said eventually, “so let’s get you back to the house.”
She turned and led him away from the alley. After several minutes they stood in front of a brownstone. It looked pleasant enough, but it was hard to imagine that more than three or four people could live inside comfortably.
“How many members do you have?”
Sarah smiled. “Come on. You’ll see.”
Through the front door was a spacious living room that appeared wider than the whole front of the house.
“Some spatial trickery, thanks to one of our other members, Julia. We don’t have unlimited room, but we have enough. Your room is on the second floor. There is space for a lab, if you require one. I am afraid you’ll be next to Jason.”
“Yes, one of the oldest members of the house. He’s basically harmless, but he can sometimes . . . roam. Your room is yours. No one but Thomas can enter without your permission. Except for Jason, because no one has determined a way to keep him out. But again, he won’t mess with your things. I’m in the room next to yours on the other side. The rest of the members you’ll meet when they choose. Any questions?”
“Jason studies raw power, the patterns under everything. It makes him a bit absent-minded. He does provide energy for the whole house. It’s why he’s here. That and he and Thomas go back… well, further than any of us. Jason’s strange, but he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
“Oh. I almost forgot. Here’s your badge.” She handed him a small cloth patch with a blue infinity symbol on it.
“Marks you as a member of the house. Keep it with you. Only those who have one, or who are with someone else who has one, can enter the brownstone.”
He took it and studied it. There didn’t appear to be anything remarkable about it.
“He’s busy in his room on the fourth floor. He told me he would talk to you later. For now, settle in. You’ve had quite a day.”
Without waiting for a response she showed him upstairs and down a hall, stopping outside a plain wooden door.
Sarah nodded and walked away. David turned the door knob and entered his new home.