Once in a Blue Moon(4)

By: Simon R. Green

“Yes,” said Hawk. “People are starting to get too used to us.”

“A new Hawk and Fisher will shake things up,” said Fisher.

“All these years we’ve worked together,” the Administrator said slowly, “and I can’t say I know either of you any better than the day you arrived here to take over from the previous Hawk and Fisher. Of course, I can’t say I really knew any of your predecessors any better. You always keep yourselves to yourselves.”

“All part of being Hawk and Fisher,” Hawk said easily. “We’re here to be role models, not friends or family. It would undermine the legend and authority of the names if people could see just how ordinary we really are.”

“And we did come here, after all, to leave our pasts behind,” said Fisher.

“Except . . . you never really do escape your past,” said Hawk. “It has a nasty habit of sneaking up on you from behind, when you least expect it.”

Fisher looked at him. “You feeling your age?”

Hawk was looking out over the plain, his gaze far away. “It’s cold early, this autumn.”

Fisher moved in close beside him. “Are you . . . feeling something?”

“I don’t know,” said Hawk. “Maybe.”

Fisher waited until she was sure he had nothing more to say, and then turned back to the Administrator, her face artificially cheery. “So, are you going to miss us?”

“Not if I aim properly,” growled the Administrator. “I’ve seen Hawks and Fishers come, and I’ve seen them go. And all that matters is that they leave me alone, to get on with the work that really matters. Running the Academy efficiently. I will say . . . you have been less of a nuisance than most.”

Fisher surprised him then, with a sudden bark of genuine laughter. “You soppy sentimental old thing, you. We know you do all the real work. And don’t think we’re not grateful. We’ll authorise another raise for you before we go. Throw you a party, with a barrel of ale and a whole bunch of loose women. What do you say?”

The Administrator shuddered. “No. Thank you. Really. And if I want a raise, I’ll just fix the books again.”

“We’ve already arranged for our replacements,” said Hawk. “They’re on their way. Fisher and I will be leaving at the end of the week. We wanted to break the news to you first, so you can set the necessary procedures and protections in place, before the news spreads all over the Tree.”

“Once the Auditions are over, we can start setting our affairs in order,” said Fisher. “And then we’ll be off. No point in hanging around. I hate long, drawn-out goodbyes.”

“We’ve been here too long,” said Hawk. “People are . . . getting used to us.”

“I trust you’ll make our replacements welcome?” said Fisher.

“Of course,” said the Administrator, back on his dignity. “I always do. Got a special speech prepared, and everything. Mostly about staying out of my way, and what forms they have to fill in whenever they find it necessary to kill someone. I pride myself on having a good working relationship with every Hawk and Fisher. Do you . . . know where you’re going?”

“We’re still working on that,” said Fisher. “But it’s time for a change. You’re right, Hawk. It is cold, for this early in the autumn. I can feel it in my bones.”

Hawk and Fisher looked at each other, for a long moment. The Administrator could sense something moving between them that he wasn’t a part of.

“I have this feeling,” said Hawk, “that something bad is coming.”

“Yes,” said Fisher. “Something really bad.”

“Well, yes,” said the Administrator. “New students.”

He didn’t normally do jokes, but he felt a sudden need to change the mood.

They all managed a quiet laugh. Only to break off abruptly as a whole flock of dead birds fell out of the sky, plummeting to the ground all around them. The soft, flat sounds of small dead bodies hitting the ground was like a round of heartless applause. The Administrator almost jumped out of his skin as he realised what was happening, and then his heart lurched again as Hawk and Fisher drew their weapons with almost inhuman speed and moved to stand back-to-back, weapons held out before them, at the ready. But there was no attack, no obvious enemy. Just dead birds, dropping out of a calm and empty sky for no obvious reason. And then that stopped and all was still and quiet.

The Administrator realised he was wringing his hands. He could feel his heart beating painfully fast. Hawk and Fisher looked carefully around them, and only when they were sure there wasn’t an enemy anywhere in sight did they relax, just a little, and put away their weapons. The Administrator got down on one knee, painfully slowly, ignoring the harsh creaking sounds from his joints. He was careful not to look at Hawk and Fisher. He tended to forget, until it became necessary for them to demonstrate, just how fast and dangerous they could be. That they were, in fact, highly experienced trained killers. He made himself concentrate on the bodies of the dead birds before him. He sniffed the air carefully but couldn’t detect any scents out of the ordinary. He leaned forward and looked the small bodies over as thoroughly as he could, while being very careful not to touch anything. Their eyes were open, dark and unseeing, not a breath of movement anywhere, not a mark of violence on any of them.

“Not predators,” said Hawk.

“Not natural predators, anyway,” said Fisher.

“It’s almost like someone’s gone out of their way to give us a sign,” said Hawk.

“They didn’t have to shout,” said Fisher.

“I’ll send some of the witches out here to take a look,” said the Administrator, straightening up again with a minimum of fuss. Exaggerating his various infirmities seemed small-minded in the face of so much casual death. As though some force or power had reached out and slapped the birds out of the air. Just because it could. He looked out across the plain, at the city of tents grouped around the Tree. “It could be one of the students, I suppose, showing off, but . . .”

“Yes,” said Hawk. “But.”

“Let some of the more advanced magic students investigate,” said Fisher. “Be good practice for them. If nothing else.”

The Administrator looked around him, at all the dead bodies scattered across the stony ridge. Dozens of the things. And then he looked sharply at Hawk and Fisher.

“Is there any chance this could be connected with your decision to leave so suddenly?”

“I don’t see how,” said Hawk. Which wasn’t really an answer, and they all knew it.

“Some old enemy, caught up with you at last?” said the Administrator.

“Unlikely,” said Fisher.

The Administrator glared at both of them. “There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

Hawk grinned broadly, a sudden but very real moment of affection. “More than you ever dreamed of, old friend.”

“I think we should get back to the Millennium Oak,” Fisher said briskly. “We have to prepare for the Auditions. Get ready to sort out the potential heroes and warriors from the deluded and the wannabes. One last time.”

They turned away from the dead birds and made their way back down the stone ridge and onto the dry and dusty plain. The mystery of the dead birds would have to wait until after the Auditions. Because some things just couldn’t wait. But it was silently understood among the three of them that this . . . matter wasn’t over yet. The Administrator never let go of a problem once he’d sunk his teeth into it. Particularly if it posed any kind of threat to his beloved Academy.