top of page
Everett's good at what he does. He, which is being one of the Occult’s most effective agents, and one day he wants to be the boss. Only his sister – ranked above him and always smug about it – stands in his way.
When they are targeted by the infamous Illusionist, they must decide where their loyalties lie. To each other, to their overbearing father, or to the new member, who seems to know more than he’s letting on.
Warnings: Mentions of crime, non-graphic violence, spoilers for The Occult
Everett could see them watching him out the corner of his eye.
His crew yapped at his heels at even a hint of weakness. He was used to it, and he was careful about keeping his face impassive, but he could feel his hackles rising. The hair on his arms stood on end. His leather jacket felt tight.
The air was heavy with tension. His father often had that effect on him.
“Your father is trusting you with this,” said Damian, over the phone.
The underground was quiet and Everett knew his brothers could hear every word as they echoed off the walls. It was dark and damp, and his boot splashed the murky water as it tapped. He hoped they could see his unease.
“If you would let me speak to him,” he began, the words catching in his throat – almost pleading. He hated it. He was used to giving orders, not receiving them.
“Your father is very busy right now,” said Damian, in an even tone, as though he was dealing with a difficult child. Everett had been a difficult child, but not now. Not in this case.
“He is trusting you with this important task,” he continued, “The Illusionist keeps evading us.”
“Damian, please,” said Everett, imploringly.
He was not one to beg, but it was close.
“That is consigliere to you,” replied Damian and then he hung up.
There was sniggering as his brothers tried to contain their amusement.
They were not his real brothers – he was the only true son of the Head of the Occult, but they were part of his faction. They were tattooed with the Occult’s symbol to demonstrate their loyalty.
Everett shot them a glare, full of venom and warning, and their smirks faded.
Everett pocketed his phone with a steadying breath and tried not to unleash his frustration by flinging it against the underground wall. He was tired of replacing his phone screens. It was one of the hazards of the job.
He would not allow his emotions to rule his mind. His father had taught him that. That’s why he was boss.
And Everett was trying.
“Is your father still not answering your calls?” asked Sam from beside him, innocently. His fair skin was distinct, even in the dim light, and Everett imagined he could see his freckles dancing across his vision, mocking him.
They had been friends for years and Sam had always teased him. But this was not the time – nor the place – for jokes.
“Are you challenging me?” asked Everett, sharply.
He stepped forwards instinctively, and shoved Sam up against the underground wall. The air left his lungs in a whoosh and Everett tightened his grip. It was a reminder, a warning.
Sam quickly bowed his red head, but the quirk of his lips was still there.
“Of course not, sir,” he replied.
Everett released his fingers and let him go.
Any hesitation, any compassion, would be perceived as weakness, and Everett would never get to take his father’s place.
He would never be boss.
“What’s the plan then?” said one of his more sensible brothers.
Everett was glad for the change of subject. He jerked his head and his half a dozen brothers followed him deeper into the tunnels, where the air was damp and cool. He pulled gloves out of his leather jacket and slipped them on.
It was their own territory, so quite safe. There was no need for weapons. Not yet anyway.
“We’re supposed to be overseeing a shipment in the port,” said Everett, going swiftly back to business. “Protection.”
The other’s nodded dutifully. They knew never to ask too many questions.
Except Sam, who seemed to thrive on questioning him.
“A simple shipment?” he asked, “It seems overkill to send us.”
They were the strongest faction within the Occult. Under Everett’s leadership they were used on specialist tasks – when extra muscle was needed. Like Everett, they were all well trained. Skilled in hand-to-hand combat and with weaponry.
Everett had handpicked his team and was proud of their skill, if not their loyalty.
“The Illusionist has intervened with our latest shipments,” Everett admitted, because they needed to understand the importance of their mission. They could not take it lightly. His father would not accept failure.
“I thought that family was decimated?” asked Sam.
The Illusionist had been a secret weapon to a rival city family that had been eliminated by skirmishes and infighting. The Illusionist had never been seen, but there had been whispers underground for years. A ghost. Someone to fear.
Everett had never really believed it before, but he believed it now.
“Not all of them,” replied Everett.
The Illusionist seemed to have survived the cull and was targeting the Occult’s assets. For revenge perhaps? Or as a challenge?
Everett liked challenges.
They marched through the arched tunnels and came out at the city port just after midnight.
The moon was high in the sky and after the stifling air of the underground, the strong breeze felt cool and refreshing.
Everett swept his hair out of his face. He’d shaved it off once at his father’s request, but never again. It was longer now and past his ears. His father claimed it was unsightly, which is why Everett persisted. It was a small defiance.
At the far side of the port a man was waiting for them. He was hooded and still. He did not move when they approached, even when Everett’s brothers drew their guns. Up close, Everett could see the shadows of his face. It was mottled. Twisted. Burned?
Everett knew who he was. One of his father’s men. They called him the Hunter.
Everett flashed his wrist and showed his Occult tattoo. It was his number in his father’s script. The fourth.
His father was one. The boss. Damian was second, the consigliere. His elder sister was third, as she was born first. She was happy about that. Then, there was Everett.
The Hunter flashed his number back. Eleven. A high-ranking specialist. His father must have been concerned indeed to send the Hunter to receive a simple shipment.
His brothers lowered their guns.
“It isn’t here yet?” asked Everett.
“It’s late,” said the Hunter.
“They’re never late,” Everett replied.
They looked out over the water. It was rippling, pushing and pulling under the moon.
There was no sign of compromise. No cause for alarm. There was quiet.
Everett had a feeling of incoming dread. He had grown up in such situations, under his father’s command, and he trusted his instincts. Something was wrong.
“Everett,” said Sam. “I mean – sir. Something is coming.”
“Guns out,” hissed Everett.
They crouched behind container boxes stacked along the dock and looked out over the water. Eventually, a cargo boat appeared but, because of the darkness, Everett did not identify it until it was close. It was piled with boxes.
Everett was unsure of the contents.
The Occult often dealt with stolen goods. Most recently, his father had started the distribution of a new unapproved drug. A suppressant. He said they were distributing to those who needed it.
“Where’s the protection?” Everett called, once he could see it clearly.
Such shipments usually came with hired hands. The family soldiers who would ensure a successful transfer. What had happened to them?
“It’s not slowing down!” called Sam.
He was right. The boat was still barreling toward the port. It had not slowed or turned. The tide was carrying it straight toward them.
“Out of the way!” cried Everett, and his team scattered as the boat crashed into the dock.
The Hunter was ahead of them. He had ducked into the stacks of empty boxes and disappeared into the night. He was a clever one and he knew when to cut his losses. It was a skill Everett had not mastered.
“Quick, get to the boat,” ordered Everett because he could not help himself. “See if there are any survivors.”
Luckily the boat and cargo were still largely intact. The crash had not been severe enough to damage the infrastructure; the force of the impact had only damaged the hull.
Everett turned his cell light on and tried to assess what had transpired.
“Nobody is here,” said Sam. “They must have been thrown overboard.”
“By whom?” asked Everett.
Aside from the cargo, the boat was empty. They looked at each other in incomprehension.
The moon’s reflection was bobbing innocently on the water. It did not answer him.
“Is the shipment intact?” he asked instead.
With a quick flick of his wrist, he spurred his brothers into action. They found crowbars and forced the boxes apart.
It was not full of goods as Everett had anticipated. When they pried the boxes open, and the pressure uncorked, they exploded.
Not with fire and debris, but with bright viscous liquids, swirling with colors. His brothers jumped away in alarm, but Everett didn’t move. His clothes, leather jacket, boots, and pocketed pants were splattered. His eyelashes were dripping.
“What is it?” cried Sam.
Everett darted out his tongue, because if it was dangerous, he was surely already doomed. It tasted ashy but familiar. He felt relieved.
“It’s paint,” he said.
“Who is responsible for this?” asked a brother.
Everett knew. He felt it in his bones.
“The Illusionist,” he replied.
He rubbed his head but trying to brush it off was only spreading the damage. It was a lost cause. It was not exactly the covert appearance he always aimed for.
He tilted his light upwards, and it caught the crane of the boat.
Attached to the crane was a sail – like from an old ship. It was decorated with the paints. A cloudy swirl of yellows and oranges. At its center was a number painted in an angry red.
Everett swallowed, gripping his wrist where the four was imprinted.
“It’s the Illusionist alright,” whispered Sam, as though she could hear them.
“What is she trying to say?” asked another.
“It’s a warning,” replied Everett.
The sail rippled in the wind.
Everett was no stranger to threats, but it felt like she was mocking him. He was about to turn away, to report the bad news to his father, feeling almost sick with disappointment and frustration, when something squeaked from behind the tower of boxes. He jerked his head to his brothers, and they jumped to attention.
Everett held his breath and crept to where he had heard the noise. He flung out a hand and dragged a young man out from behind the boxes. He was unarmed and shook in Everett’s grasp. He made no attempt to struggle and slumped heavily onto the deck.
Everett saw black hair and strangely light eyes. He might even have been a little older than Everett.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Hello – I’m N-Noah,” stammered the man. “I would like to join you.”
Everett decided to take Noah back to headquarters, with his hands bound and eyes covered, where he could question him further. It was not often strangers stumbled into their territory, particularly not during a delivery, but the night had been full of surprises.
He was still covered in paint, for a start.
He had eyed his reflection in a shop window and sighed. It was beginning to dry and at least that meant he could start to peel it off. His hair was a ruin, but he had managed to pluck the droplets out of his eyes. He could see their blue glow in his reflection.
He wanted to be taken seriously as a leader, and such events were not helping.
The Occult headquarters were deep underground – at the bottom of a cavern that had once been a reservoir. The ceilings were high and arched, and the base was hundreds of years old. Everett’s father, the Head, had spent years reconstructing it yet, despite the work, the air was still cool and damp.
A blindfolded Noah stumbled down the steps, as Everett led them all through the headquarters. At the cells he shoved Noah through an iron door.
“Everett,” called a voice, and shivers rushed down Everett’s spine.
Exactly the person he did not want to see. At least until he’d had a shower – and maybe not even then. There was a familiar clacking of heels, and Everett turned to greet her, his smile rigid.
Prue stood before him in pointed boots and a green dress. Her black hair was brushed back in waves and jewelry gleamed on her wrists and ears. His elder sister. His real one. Number Three.
She looked immaculate. Damn it.
At her side was Nate – tall and broad, towering over everybody. He was Prue’s boyfriend and loyal bodyguard – the strongest soldier in the family. He spoke little, but when he did, everyone listened. Everett despised him a little for his strength, but he also admired him.
“What happened to you?” Prue choked, taking a moment to take in the view. “Is that blood?”
“It’s a long story,” said Everett, with as much dignity he could muster. “It’s paint.”
“It was the Illusionist?” she asked, her smile knowing. She reached forwards and her red nails flicked off a patch of dried pink paint. “It seems you were thwarted again.”
“Yes, thank you,” said Everett rigidly. “I am aware of that.”
“She knew we were coming,” explained Sam, from behind him. “Or at least Everett. She painted a number four.”
He dragged Noah onto his knees.
“Can I see now?” the prisoner croaked.
Everett removed the bandanna so he wouldn’t have to listen to him complaining anymore.
Noah blinked in the dim light, until his gaze fell upon Prue and Nate. He stared at them, agog.
“How did the Illusionist know you were coming? Perhaps we have a leak?” said Nate.
They all turned to look at Noah simultaneously.
“Who is this?” asked Prue, with a raised brow.
“Noah,” he replied, eyes bright and earnest. He did not know what he was getting into. “I would like to join you.”
“What do you know about the Illusionist?” pressed Nate.
“Who?” croaked Noah. “The artist on the boat?”
“He doesn’t know anything,” intervened Everett.
“How do you know?” asked Prue.
“Look at him,” said Everett, with a gesture of distaste.
Noah was offended but thought better of saying anything. Perhaps his survival instinct was better than Everett had initially thought.
“Why do you want to join us?” asked Prue.
Her questioning was not harsh, but to the point.
“My mother is very sick, and I need money,” Noah replied. “I was told I could get a job – that I could find the Hunter at the docks. I was hoping I could be a soldier?”
Everett looked at his thin arms and pale complexion.
“Do you have any special skills?” he asked, feeling as though he already knew the answer. “Fighting, weaponry, concealment?”
“I’m clever,” said Noah breathlessly.
Everett sighed into the silence. Nate’s eyebrow twitched.
“Oh, and I also recognize the mural,” said Noah when nobody answered. “The one the Illusionist painted?”
Now that got Everett’s attention. He bore down on him. He was less intimidating than usual, with paint stuck in his hair. Still, he would make it work.
“Tell me more,” ordered Everett.
The others left him to his interrogation.
Everett stared at the captive for a long time.
Noah still knelt on the floor. He kept shifting, as though unable to hold himself upright. The floors were cold stone, and painful on the knees. He did not look like much. He was tall, but very slim. He did not look like an athlete – a fighter.
He was also sweating. His pale face was damp with it, curling the hair around his temples. Interesting. It was a sign of unease – a sign of deceit.
“You still don’t trust me?” asked Noah, as Everett continued his assessment. “I’ve told you everything I know about the Illusionist.”
“Of course not,” replied Everett. “We trust nobody.”
“Not even your own sister?” Noah asked.
“Especially not her,” smiled Everett.
Prue was feared for a reason. She was Three of the Occult in name and action. Sharp and perceptive, with their father’s talent for strategy, she was formidable. Everett both envied and commended her. His chest would burn with jealousy when their father praised her, when she aced her missions. Yet he also longed for her approval.
“Vying for top spot, are you?” guessed Noah.
He was clever, after all. Either that or especially stupid.
Everett reached for his knife strap above his boots. He was skilled in all types of weaponry. The strongest fighter in the Occult. Except perhaps Nate, Prue’s loyal bodyguard.
He was also good at intimidation. He was not especially tall like Nate, only a touch over six foot, but he was broad. Tattoos curled up his right arm, above his Occult mark.
“Do you want to lose your tongue?” he asked lightly. “You’ve already told us everything you know about the Illusionist. Do you know what that makes you? Surplus to requirements.”
Noah was still sweating, but his eyes were bright and defiant. “You just said you didn’t trust me. How do you know I’m telling the truth?”
“You should know better than to lie to me,” said Everett. He was not very forgiving of liars – of traitors. The Occult demanded loyalty and compliance. His father demanded excellence.
“You need me right now,” Noah insisted. “I know more about the Illusionist than you. Let me help.”
“My team consists of only the best,” Everett countered. “Those I know.”
“But don’t trust,” Noah replied.
Everett paused. That was true. He trusted nobody in his team – not really. Not even Sam, his oldest friend. Their loyalty was not to him after all. It was to the Occult. To his father. Before he could counter, they were interrupted by the clacking of familiar heels. Everett sheathed his knife as Prue swept in.
Noah let out a visible breath of relief.
Everett rolled his eyes.
“Everett…” called Prue. “Are you ready?”
“I’m coming,” he replied.
Prue turned to Noah. Like a predator hunting its prey she homed in on him, “Hello Noah.”
Noah stared, then started to blink rapidly.
“Hello Prue,” he gasped.
Everett was rigid. “Don’t fall for her smiles,” he hissed. “She is the most dangerous and calculating of us all.”
If he was the brawn, then Prue was undoubtedly the brain. She would do whatever was required to achieve her goals – their father’s goals. She was not a friend, an ally. Appearances could be deceptive. Her smiles were almost as effective as his weapons.
“Thank you,” said Prue, sincerely, as though it were a compliment. “Are you bringing him on the mission? The briefing is now?”
“Of course not,” replied Everett. What was she playing at? A near-stranger joining a briefing was unheard of.
Prue looked at Noah from under her eyelashes and Everett had a jolt of realization. She wanted him there. Why?
“If Everett won’t take you on the mission,” she said. “Then I will.”
Noah blinked in surprise, as though he couldn’t believe his luck.
Everett glared. If she wanted it, then he would take pleasure in taking it from her.
Everett and Prue closed the door behind them and marched in the direction of the meeting room. They were already late, but Everett felt as though he’d finally been making progress with Noah, before Prue’s interruption.
“What exactly are you playing at?” he hissed, as they ascended from the cells.
“Nothing,” replied Prue, innocently. He could see the side of her mouth quirking – he knew her well, and he knew when she could not quite contain her amusement. She liked keeping him on his toes. Reminding him of his place.
“Bringing a stranger in on missions?” he continued, not easily deterred.
“He knows about the Illusionist,” Prue replied, as justification.
Which is exactly why Noah shouldn’t be there.
“How? How does he know?” Everett cried. “If he’s just some random guy.”
Prue conceded that point with an incline of her head. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Until then, he can join Nate and me.”
“No way am I letting you have him,” Everett snapped.
Because if Noah was the important piece of the puzzle needed to track the Illusionist, then Everett did not want to give him to his sister. For once, he would like to get full credit for an Occult victory.
“You’re paranoid, Everett,” said Prue, rolling her eyes as though she had anticipated Everett’s reaction. “Believe it or not, I have better things to do than mess with you.”
Everett huffed and elongated his stride to storm past her. Perhaps it was not the mature approach that Damian and his father were always requesting of him, but he hadn’t push her down the stairs.
He entered the meeting room, flustered and still covered in paint, and bowed.
Damian and Nate were already waiting: Two, Three, Four and Five. Only the Head, One, was missing. He had delegated, as always, to his consigliere. He was a hard man to get hold of – even for his own family.
“Everett, Prue,” said Damian, as Prue followed him in. “You’re late.”
Damian looked sharp in a dark suit and tie. There can’t have been much difference between them in height, but he always found a way to look down on him.
He was a man all about business and did not care for dramas. He did not mention that Everett was covered in paint.
“Apologies, consigliere,” said Prue.
“Prue delayed me,” said Everett.
Prue glared at him.
“Let’s press on, shall we?” said Damian, and the argument died. He turned his sharp eyes on Everett. “I was told that you had been contacted by the Illusionist.”
Everett nodded, thinking back to the port. “She painted a warning to me,” he said.
Damian did not look surprised. There was not much to read in his expressions.
“A civilian recognized it?” he asked.
“Yes, he said he would like to join us.”
“Where did he recognize it from?” Damian pressed.
“From an art gallery,” replied Everett.
“I’m getting the location.”
“I trust you will investigate,” said Damian, in a tone that brokered no room for argument. “Accompany him there, scout the site.”
Prue interrupted. “Everett doesn’t trust the civilian – but I’ll be happy to keep an eye on him myself,” she offered, with a glint in her eye.
To Everett’s mounting annoyance, Damian agreed.
“Alright, Prue – go undercover with him and investigate,” he ordered.
“Wait!” cried Everett, in alarm. Noah was his hostage. Noah had come to him.
“Everett and Nate, monitor as backup,” Damian said, and that was the end of it.
“Yes, sir,” said Everett, barely restraining his frustration.
Nate nodded, arms folded and muscles bulging.
“I don’t think I need to remind you all how important finding the Illusionist is,” Damian told them, as he swept to the door. “She mocks us. She mocks your father. And she deserves to be punished.”
“We understand,” said Prue.
“We will not fail,” said Everett.
To be continued...
bottom of page