“Do you want me to come to the shop tomorrow morning and do the same thing we did here?” Justin asked.
“I think you’d better,” Athena said. “Of the two of us, I’m the one who’s the most accessible.”
“Do you want to meet an hour before the shop opens?” Justin asked. Athena nodded. “I’ll see you then.” He turned and left.
“It’s odd seeing the two of you working together,” Socrates said.
“We do it from time to time,” Athena said. “We don’t hate each other. We just have differing opinions on how things should be done.”
Athena went to bed, her night broken by nightmares. The next day she got up and dressed, this time for war. Her rune stones went into a pouch around her neck. All of her protective jewelry came out of its box and was fastened in place. She cast extra protections around herself.
“You’re going all out,” Socrates said.
“Do you expect me not to?” Athena said. “I’m not going to let that thing catch me off guard again.”
“Good plan,” Socrates said. He yawned and curled up on her pillow. He closed his eyes and pretended to go to sleep.
Athena caught the early bus. “This is weird,” Carl said.
“I’ve got some business in town so I thought I’d take care of it before I open up the shop,” Athena said.
“Same stop?” Carl asked.
“Yes,” Athena said.
“All right then,” Carl said. He eased out into the early morning traffic.
He stopped in the normal place and Athena hopped down. Justin was waiting for her. “I didn’t sleep well and I’m guessing you were having nightmares too,” he said.
Athena nodded. “Shall we get this done then?”
“Yes,” Justin said. “I don’t want to stay too long in case us being together draws it out.”
“I’d rather not deal with it this morning,” Athena said.
They walked into the shop. Back to back, they repeated the same thing done the night before. This time they poured even more of their power into the wards. When they finished, both of them leaned against the counter.
“It’s a good thing your shop is so welcoming to people,” Justin said. “Otherwise what we just did would drive the sensitive away.”
“It’ll still happen,” Athena said. “Good thing I’ve got a few months’ rent saved up for emergencies.”
“Are you going to get your coffee this morning?” Justin asked.
“If I deviate from my normal pattern it will know something is up,” Athena said.
“I’ll walk with you,” Justin said.
Athena shook her head. “You said it. If we’re together the creature may come after us before we’re ready.”
“If you’re sure,” Justin said. Athena nodded. “Then I’m heading to the cafe. Call if you need me.”
“I will,” Athena said. She walked down the street, hair prickling up on the back of her neck. She kept a constant watch around herself, expending more energy. She walked in. “Large mocha with a triple shot of espresso. Do you have any strawberry muffins today?”
The barista was the same one from the previous day. Her attentiveness was greatly improved. “Yes we do,” she said. “Is that all?”
“Yes please,” Athena said. She got her breakfast and paid the young woman. She returned to the shop. She opened it and put on the incense and the music.
The whole Circle drifted in that day, telling her of the feeling of being watched. Two of them even saw it, though they gave no indication they noticed its presence. “It took all I had not to run away,” Blake said. “I also kept my powers sealed up. It seemed like a good idea. If I show what I have, it might come after me before Friday.”
“Good idea,” Athena said. “I’d say stay home but we all have lives outside of the Circle and none of us can afford to take four days off.”
“Except for Justin,” Blake said.
“Even Justin doesn’t get time off,” Athena said. “He’s a freelance writer, remember? He’s always working even if he doesn’t have an office to go to.”