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The Blackwing Index

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Amanda Brotzman wanted to scream. Amanda Brotzman screamed. Five pairs of eyes swiveled in her direction as the hallucinations and searing pain of a pararibulitis attack set in.

The van soaring down the deserted backwoods highway had swerved and braked too suddenly as a deer had darted into the road, sending Amanda’s head bumping into the door frame, her soda spilling across her lap. That soda, her nerves told her, was really acid, and now ate away at her clothes and burned into her flesh. Martin could taste her pain in the air, and quickly pulled over.

“Drummer?” the raspy voice from the driver’s seat broke through the haze of pain. Amanda nodded, answering the question that went unsaid, and suddenly four of the van’s five other occupants huddled around her. They breathed in, deeply. A glow of blue light, then a series of images flashed before her eyes as the Rowdy 3 consumed the pain from her body. What felt simultaneously like hours and seconds passed, and then everything went black.

When Amanda came to, she was stretched out in the back of the van, sunlight and a light breeze filtering in through one of the back doors, cracked open just a few inches. She could hear the others beyond, talking and laughing. Cross was cawing at the crows fussing nearby, and Vogel was excitedly passing on messages for him to interpret into Crow-ese. Beast’s gravelly sing-song voice carried as she pointed out everything she saw, still excited by the new world she inhabited. Gripps and Martin sounded closest, talking in low, serious voices near the van door.

She lay still, closing her eyes against the brightness of the day, letting the sounds of her Rowdy family wash over her. Opening her eyes after what she thought was mere moments, Amanda was startled at the fallen darkness. Rubbing the grogginess of the impromptu nap from her eyes, she sat up and crawled out of the van. The others were spread out around a campfire, lounging, dancing, drinking, laughing, shrieking along with the music crackling from the old boombox between Cross’s feet.

“Boss! You’re alive!” Vogel, the first to catch sight of her as he spun like a top around the fire, whirled toward her, arms flailing until they settled around Amanda. She rolled her eyes, but couldn’t restrain a crooked smile.

“Dude, I’m fine,” she assured him, briefly pressing her forehead to his. Extricating herself, she joined the group around the fire, catching a can of beer fired her way by Gripps, while Vogel resumed his unintentional impression of the Tasmanian Devil. Amanda threw herself onto the bench seat so heavily, the whole thing tipped dangerously backwards, Martin’s feet flying in the air for a brief moment before he leaned forward and set the seat right.

“Hell, Drummer, little warnin’ next time!” He still clutched his beer in one hand, not a drop spilled, and the other clutched his chest, fingers digging into the grey denim vest.

“Sorry,” she muttered, sullenly. Martin was used to Amanda’s general air of sulk upon waking, but this felt...more.

“Somethin’ on your mind?”

Amanda screwed up her face in a look of studied concentration. Martin knew that look. She was trying to piece together the scattershot images of the visions she’d had when the boys fed off her pararibulitis attack. He gestured at Beast, and she loped over, depositing a grease-stained paper bag in his lap. Martin took the bag, stretched an arm across the bench seat, and set it at Amanda’s side. Without taking her eyes from the fire, she picked up the bag and curled around it protectively, sighing at the smell of the tacos within.

She knew Martin was watching her every twitch. Moreover, she also knew that everyone else was trying very hard not to watch her. They knew Amanda’s visions were usually vague at best, and that she needed time to piece together what she could. But knowing there was a new puzzle to solve, maybe a new mission to undertake, or a new danger to face left the Rowdy 3--all 6 of them--feeling antsy and excited.

Rustling into the bag, Amanda unwrapped a taco and bit into it, chewing thoughtfully. Intensely.

“It’s bad.” At her tone, Martin sat up straighter, alert. Amanda took bite after bite, more aggressively each time, brow furrowing. “It’s really bad.”

When her eyes finally snapped up from the fire, the Rowdies had abandoned all pretense of not watching her, waiting for her. They all leaned in, eyes alight with anticipation.

“We have to go see my brother.”