Alexis, Tiff, and Ty weren’t doing so hot, to put it lightly.
Alexis wasn’t letting me look right at her face. Ty looked pale, in addition to the thin lines of red that criss-crossed his face and hands and the beads of blood here and there. Only Tiff seemed sort of together. Cut up, but she hadn’t broken down. Nervous, mostly. When she hesitated to step out of the sanctuary of the library, I suggested she stay behind and read up on possible spells to protect us. She’d agreed, and we closed the door, sealing her within.
Not ideal, but we had a lot of very resourceful individuals in very bad shape, and when it might only take one dramatic move like the priest’s smiting to bowl us all over like so many pins, spreading out felt like the better plan.
Against all horror-movie logic, but still the better plan.
Evan was guarding Andy and making sure Andy kept breathing. Tiff was gone.
Alexis had decided to wear the hand mirror that Evan had brought into the house, which made it harder for me to see just how she was doing. I could tell how slowly she was moving. Doubly so when I saw just how spry Eva was. Periodically, I moved to nearby puddles of water to try to get a glimpse of Alexis’ face, but couldn’t make much out. She seemed to notice me and look away before I got a really good look.
Bad cuts. Worse than Ty or Tiff had suffered.
Together, we made our way down to the ground floor. The sink had stopped overflowing. Someone had turned off the water under the sink, or something like that.
Entering the living room, the most obvious fact was that the Thorburns weren’t in great shape either. Roxanne, face swollen, hand black and blue, Kathryn with a bruise crawling across the side of her head, and Callan, who looked like he’d been to hell and back, but had been rolled out of the couch, alive and breathing, sitting up with his arms around Christoff, hair plastered to his head with sweat. Ellie looked okay, but was pacing.
I could see them tense as Eva came down the stairs with us.
“Holy shit,” Ellie said, her pacing stopping immediately. “What the fuck? The psycho bitch?”
“Ratface Thorburn,” the witch hunter commented, “We meet again.”
“Fuck you,” Ellie said.
“We’ve got her brother hostage,” Peter volunteered.
“So we call the police now?” Kathryn asked. “Turn her in?”
“No,” Peter said. “This isn’t half over. She’s an asset.”
“It can be over if we leave,” Ellie said.
“You’ll die,” Alexis said, with a rough edge to her voice.
That roughness, the suggestion that she wasn’t doing well at all, was maybe a bit more credibility in the Thorburn’s eyes.
“You’ll die,” Alexis repeated herself.
A long, drawn out scream echoed outside.
I could see everyone react with fear, Eva excepted. She turned so the side of her body and face faced the front door. Presenting a smaller profile.
Nothing came of it. Seconds passed without further incident.
“Bombs aren’t the problem,” Alexis said, even though there was no need.
“I think we’re due some answers,” Kathryn said, stern.
I glanced at Peter. He’d dropped one line, which made me want to ask a hundred questions I didn’t have the time to ask. I wasn’t sure I didn’t share the same sentiment.
Another scream occurred nearby. It was joined by an outcry, almost a cheer. A group. Soldiers on a battlefield, pumping themselves up before the charge. Whatever had started out there hadn’t finished.
A window at the back of the house rattled. Something fell over.
There was an impact that made me think a car had run into the side of the house.
“Gonna go check,” Ty said.
“Sure,” I said.
From direction and the impact, I could only assume it was Midge.
I wasn’t sure what it would be that would occupy Midge for more than a few seconds.
I spoke, “I need each of you in different parts of the house. Thorburns, you’re spreading out. Don’t pick a fight-”
“Ha,” Ellie said, agitated, “No chance of that.”
“Just call for us. Don’t run, don’t mess around, don’t make noise unless you’re spotted and you’re shouting for assistance.. Stay put, arm yourselves, wait.”
“Or we could stick together,” Ellie said.
“Ellie,” Peter said. “Listen to him.”
“Peter,” Ellie said, meeting her little brother’s eyes. “I trust you more than I trust any of the rest of these assholes except for maybe Christoff, who couldn’t lie to save his life. I still don’t trust you nearly enough to listen and obey some random fucking-”
Another crash sounded outside. A dull bellowing.
“They’re at a window, I think I can stall them!” Ty called out.
“-instructions,” Ellie finished, her voice a little smaller than before.
Peter pressed on, “Use your head, Ellie. I know you’ve got a brain, even if you don’t use it. Grandmother was into something big. Bigger than any of us want to realize. What we’re up against, they’re the sort of people who don’t want to be noticed. People who are very good at hurting other people without getting caught.”
“Spies?” Ellie asked, her voice arch. “I’m supposed to believe that James fucking Bond or the S.K. are outside our house right now, trying to break in for some-”
“Ellie,” he cut her off. “These are covert operatives who are nowhere near as polite as the spies you get from movies and books. When it’s all over, we’ll probably be in pieces in garbage bags, if we’re lucky. More likely, they’ll be really inventive in how they torture you, torture me, torture the kids…”
“Peter,” Callan said, speaking in a low voice, both hands on Christoff’s shoulders. “Don’t spook the kids.”
“I’m not spooked,” Roxanne said, with a note of awe.
Ignoring the fact that one eye was so swollen it was a puffy line in her face, she looked fascinated. Not unafraid, but more terrified and interested both. She was as tense as a guitar string, attention rapt.
“I’m spooked,” Christoff said, his voice small.
“Then man up. If your balls are going to drop, let’s have them drop now,” Peter said. “Ellie, these guys are going to fuck us up if we don’t listen very carefully. I’m pretty sure these assholes could and would feed us to hungry livestock or burn us alive.”
“In a small town in Canada,” Ellie said, skeptically.
“Think about it,” he said. “Why the fuck would a major covert organization set up in a big city, with thousands or millions of eyes around?”
“I can think of a lot of reasons,” Ellie said. “Don’t try to mom me, trying to derail me with bullshit. Let me think, spies have jobs? International jobs? This shithole doesn’t have anything resembling an airport.”
“Fuck me,” Peter said, under his breath, “Why are you only smart when it helps you be wrong? Help me out, Blake?”
“I never said it was spies,” I said, being intentionally vague, “Though some of those people out there make pretty effective spies. It is shady and it is a mess of secrets some people are willing to kill to keep.”
“Fine, whatever. When did you get this epiphany, Peter?” she asked. “You figured it all out, you heard or saw something, and now you’re just as much an expert as the asshole with an internet connection and camera-mirror shit that’s talking us all through this?”
“Obviously,” Peter said, “It was while you were sitting in the basement, pissing around.”
“Obviously,” she said, glaring at him.
She was getting scared, but she was exercising that fear as hostility. Probably a survival instinct she’d picked up somewhere along the way.
“Listen to him,” Peter said. “Trust me. I’m still on your side. Our deal stands.”
The plywood at the front window of the living room rattled as someone or something banged on it. I reacted instantly. “Back!”
Kathryn was the only one who hadn’t connected to exactly why I’d given the instruction.
The sound, the light, and the reverberation that knocked Alexis back were all out of sync by fractions of a second. Even my world was disturbed, as the surface of the water from the flooded and flooding house was distorted for a moment, reducing my territory to the few good sources of reflections I had available.
My view of the scene was limited to my ability to peer through the shaky, zig-zagging little circle that moved every time Alexis did.
I was only able to stop and peer through when she found her footing and stood straight. There were more shadowy figures standing outside. A half-dozen ‘people’ and what looked to be four or five children, standing far enough away that the light from the living room ceiling didn’t reach them.
Eva crossed the living room, while everyone else backed away. She stood at the window, looking down. “Got one of them. Hi, guys.”I couldn’t make out the response.
“Scared?” Eva asked, spreading her arms, gun in one hand, knife in the other. “Don’t be. Come on up to the window. I won’t bite.”
“Kathryn,” I said, in the quiet. “Take Roxanne upstairs. Bedroom across from the bathroom. Do not go in the bathroom. There’s a bag with knives in the closet. Stuff Ellie stole.”
“What?” Ellie said. “No.”
“Up high,” I said. “Get the knives out of the bag.”
Kathryn and Roxanne fled upstairs.
Callan and Christoff would have to stay here.
“Ellie,” I said.
“Peter’s pep talk didn’t convince me,” she said. “What makes you think I’m listening?”
“Because I’m telling you go to go up to the third floor. Shutters are closed, all you have to do is holler or scream if someone gets the bright idea to come in through the window.”
“You can’t possibly believe someone’s going to-”
“Ellie,” I cut in. “It’s probably the safest places in the house for you.”
She considered that for a second, “Where were those other three hiding?”
“Hidden room on the second floor,” I said. “You can’t get in there, you’d attract attention by trying, and you’d probably get hurt one way or another, nosing around there. Third floor, bedroom, safe place. Stay put, don’t move around.”
“I like being able to move around,” she said.
Midge made more noise in the backyard. I was pretty sure something very solid had broken.
“Then, fuck it, just stay on the third floor,” I said, exasperated. I wasn’t terribly in tune with my emotions and she was still pissing me off.
“What about the tower room? That one room that sticks up?”
What did one say to a woman who’d always gone against the grain, always rebelled, and fought every damn step of the way, even when not fighting probably would have been easier and more beneficial for her?
How was I supposed to convey to her that it would be the worst idea in the world to break into that room, when telling her would only make it more enticing to her warped brain?
“Well?” she asked.
“I’m kind of interested too,” Peter said.
“Why do you think my brother and I showed up?” Eva asked, turning her head away from the people outside.
“Hm?” Peter asked.
No, I thought, but I didn’t have anything to interject with. This was entirely the wrong thing to be saying to Ellie and Peter Thorburn.
“We brought bombs, we brought guns and tasers and grenades. Those assholes out there, I know some of them. Little lady out there wants to stitch your mouth and eyes shut, stitch your hands to your sides and your legs together, and leave you like that. I’m not even joking. All the sick freaks and monsters are coming this way, and they’re coming because of what’s all the way upstairs.”
“Oh god,” Callan said. “Stitch-”
“What’s upstairs?” Peter interrupted.
“Come on, Pete,” I said, miming his tone from earlier. “What do you think? What’s the worst possible thing it could be?”
“Worst possible-” he started.
“I’ll give you a damn hint,” I said, before he spoke thoughtlessly aloud. “When Rose and I talked about it, we talked about it in terms of contamination.”
“Enough said,” he said. “Upstairs, Ellie.”
“What are you- no,” she said. “That isn’t enough said. That-”
“Bioweapons or radiation or some shit that has all the other organized crime psychos scared shitless,” he said. “I don’t want to know, neither do you. Go. Those guys outside look restless.”
I heard Ellie’s retreating footsteps splashing on the wet floor, even though I couldn’t see her.
There was a sound of breaking windows. The only windows I could think of that weren’t broken already would be the ones in the basement.
“Basement,” I said.
“Right.” Peter rose to his feet, heading back to the hallway. He shut the door and I heard him dragging something.
Blocking the door. It probably wouldn’t help much.
A second and a half later, there was a banging, a rattle of the door repeatedly being slammed against the blockade. Peter began to move other things in the hallway, supporting the position of the table more than he was trying to block the door.
I could remember when I’d assumed the outside walls would hold off the Others for hours. It hadn’t been twenty minutes.
The absence of one person in the living room apparently gave the Others outside a bit more courage.
They advanced a little.
“Hey,” Eva called out. “I recognize you, that means you should damn well recognize me.”
“Yeah,” was the response from outside. A male voice.
“You know you don’t want to get on my bad side.”
“We’re not here for you, Eva.”
“You damn well better not be. As I was saying, you don’t want to get on my bad side. How would you like to do me a favor?”
“No, Eva,” I intoned the words, like an adult might to a wayward child.
“You want in? Go right ahead,” she said.
“I will kill Andy if you fuck with us here!” I said.
She hesitated. But in the moment she turned to reply to me, she saw Peter coming out of the hallway, weapon in hand.
He could see right through her, just like I could. She was betraying us, right here. He’d acted on it.
Said a lot about him that he could be so damn clever, but when the situation called for it, he went straight to ‘blunt object to face’.
He swung the fireplace poker over his head and down. Eva didn’t have time to bring her whole arm up, so she only raised her elbow, moving towards the descending poker. Her elbow caught Peter’s wrist and deflected it. The poker came down a fair distance to the side of her.
Peter had an instant of eye contact with Eva, a deer in the headlights with his face a matter of a foot from hers, before she hit him. Two punches to the head, a kick that seemed primarily aimed at disarming him, stepping on the poker that still touched the ground, then wrapped her arms around his upper arms, pinning his arms to his side while she brought her knee into his side. Staying right up close, not giving him any room at all to act.
I saw a knife flash in her hand.
She hadn’t had a knife a second ago. Concealed?
Eva didn’t stab Peter. The Others were making a move, and she shifted her grip and flung Peter to the side.
“Alexis,” I said, as they approached the window, moving through snow with long, powerful strides.
She hadn’t responded in a while. Fuck. I’d been so focused on external events-
Callan reached over to Alexis, who was half-sitting on the arm of the sofa, and took her wrist. I didn’t get to hear his verdict any more than Eva got to finish dealing with Peter.
The Others were adroit, hopping up the two or three feet to the window itself.
The faceless woman was the first I noticed. She stayed on the bench beneath the window, the curtain blocking the full view of her face. Her cigarette glowed.
Did she have a supernaturally good sense of light and dark, like I had with reflections?
The other Other was a bald man in a suit, thin enough to be skeletal, with a pinched mouth and eyes too large for his head. He clasped a pocketwatch to his chest with one hand, the other straight down at his side.
Fuck me. If the Behaims had bogeymen on call, this would be the type, wouldn’t it?
“Blake,” I heard a voice. The third Other to enter through the window. The unassuming, boring Pizza Man. The Revenant. His eyes glittered dark, his smile was like he was in on some grand joke, wry, as if he was about to burst into excited laughter at any moment. “Didn’t know you were here.”
Not a hint of his fatigue and tiredness from before.
“I told you that it was dangerous to mess around here,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “But that thing your other cousin did. Man. I’m excited. I could barely keep her still. There aren’t many acceptable targets or acceptable times to express my excitement. Then an opportunity like this comes up? Know what I mean? This is going to be something to behold.”
“I don’t know the feeling, but yeah, I think I understand.”
The clock man was paying attention to Peter, who was on his rear end, hands and feet on the ground, staring up. The clock man’s expression was frozen as he advanced on Peter. A light smile that revealed some teeth.
“Shit,” Peter said, crab-walking away. He found his feet, but the clock man bent forward, placing the clockless hand on his collarbone, and shoved him back.
Peter and the clock man disappeared into the hallway, Peter retreating, stumbling for footing, and the clock man swiftly advancing, maintaining his hand in the one position.
I’d have intervened if I’d seen it coming. It was so sudden.
And, on a level, a part of me wanted to be near Alexis. I shook my head, moving to the water that pooled on the living room floor.
I saw the clock man back away a step. Peter was slumped against the closet door in the front hallway.
With shaking hands, Peter pushed his upper body away from the door, as if it took some effort.
The doorknob had shattered on impact with his body. The resulting piece of the doorknob was a prong of metal, now crimson. The blood that dripped off it in strings was thick, as if it wasn’t just blood, but other bits clumped in there too.
I could see the blood at Peter’s shoulder where it had speared him.
“Fuck,” Peter said, slumping to the ground beneath the door with a light splash. “And now my pants are drenched. That’s going to bug me all night.”
The clock man left Peter like that, backing into the living room, dusting himself off, the exact same expression on his face.
He traced one finger along the television set, thoroughly destroyed in the localized explosion at the window, and then picked up a piece of glass.
“Eager, aren’t you?” the revenant commented, smiling a little wider, “Not that I’m objecting.”
Shit. I’d almost liked him, and now he was living true to his nature.
I’d never liked the parable of the scorpion and the frog.
I liked it even less now. It made me think of Green Eyes.
I liked her too.
“Sorry, window-dweller,” he said. “But big things are happening. There’s value in being a part of them. I don’t know what you had planned for this bunch, but you had your chance to do it. Now the rest of us get a shot.”
He headed for Callan, the clock man headed back for Peter, shard of glass in hand.
I could deal with one, but not both.
Eva was just standing there, next to the window. The remaining Others just outside weren’t venturing inside.
“Eva!” I shouted.
The warning tone was enough to stir her into action. A part of me suspected it didn’t take much. She wanted to participate.
She went right for the revenant. He was unarmed, she wasn’t.
I’d seen her fight people. I got a chance to see how she fought monsters.
Eva put herself in the revenant’s way, and the revenant threw a punch. She was ready to block, deflecting a blow from something much stronger than she was, knife flashing out to cut his throat.
Against anyone else, and a hell of a lot of anythings, she might have ended the fight right there.
But the revenant didn’t stop. He threw another punch, and clipped her. She went with it, turning her body to absorb the force of the blow, then struck out with her knife, using the turn to hit that much harder. Going for the side of the neck, this time.
“Yeah,” the revenant said. “Knew I shouldn’t pick a fight with you.”
I was already in the water, trying to find a way to work around the distorted surface. Too many feet splashing.
The clock man walked with care, Peter in his sights.
Peter rose to his feet, then ran upstairs. He fell twice on his way to the stairs, first at the spot of oil that sat surrounded by water, then on the stairs themselves, with a piece of glass caught in the underside of his shoe.
The clock man followed, walking.
Eva kicked the revenant bodily in the chest, shoving him into the hallway and out of Callan and Christoff’s sight.
Then she really went to town.
He moved his arm, and I didn’t even get a chance to see why, because she was ready to stop him with one arm blocking his elbow. One leg was positioned behind his knee. The whole of her body mass served as leverage, her shoulder pushing his upper body, her lower legs planted firmly on the ground.
His free, unblocked hand got a grip on her collar. Her knife severed the fingertips.
I glanced at the clock man. He was just at the bottom of the stairs. Peter was at the top. Once the gap was slightly wider, I could appear between them.
For now- I reached out of the water and gripped the revenant’s hair as he started to rise, hauling him down, his head cracking against the wood.
Eva threw the knife, planting it in the revenant’s throat. As if she was setting her shovel into the ground, she stomped on the handle, forcing it through.
Two hands came up for her legs. She backed away a step.
To stand, he had to pull the point of the blade out of the wood beneath him. I had a glimpse of him, the handle of the knife, not the blade, jutting through his neck. The blade stuck out the back.
“You’re-” he said, but his voice was almost too distorted by the intervening object to make any sense. He grabbed the blade with one hand and pulled it from his neck.
A toss in the air, and he caught the handle.
His wounds closed in a matter of a second or two, except for the throat wound, which was too wide.
Eva made a quick motion, he reacted, ready to catch her or defend himself, but it was only a feint.
She did it again, once or twice. In those seconds, the throat wound finished closing.
“You’re trying to behead me,” he said.
“Yes,” she said.
“That doesn’t work against everything,” he said.
“It’ll work here.”
The basement door rattled, the things in the basement still periodically trying to get out. I could see narrow, long-fingered hands clutching around the open door, trying to get a grip on the table, so they could shift its position.
Eva paused, took a half-step back, then kicked the basement door.
Severed fingers dropped into the pool of water.
I looked upstairs. I could sense the distortions in reflections.
Peter had gone straight for the third floor.
The clock man was just reaching the second.
I saw my window of opportunity and moved.
I appeared, drawing the Hyena, and swept the broken blade through his ankles.
He stumbled, catching the railing, but I reached up to grab his waistband, and found the leverage to pull him down toward the stairs. The gaunt clock man tumbled.
In the process, I could see Ty at the end of the hall.
Three dead things that might have been gargoyles or winged goblins lay beside him. He was unaware of me as he swung his hammer to finish crucifying one, affixing it to a picture frame by slamming a nail through its wrist and wing. He rose, pressing the picture frame against the window, gargoyle sticking out-
I didn’t ask. My focus was on the clock man, who was still falling down the stairs, hamstrings cut.
By the time he finished his ten-foot tumble, I was waiting on the landing where the stairs made a ‘u’ turn and were just a little wider.
The clock man came to rest on the waiting Hyena.
I was shunted to the base of the stairs, and looking down at the reflection, I could see up, where he’d been. A cloud of black ash.
I moved back up, and saw the timepiece sitting on the broader stair. The only thing that remained.
Reaching through, I collected it, drawing it into my realm and opening it.
But it didn’t belong here. The Hyena did, it was mine, claimed and reclaimed. The timepiece disintegrated like my footing did when the reflections shattered.
I found it back in the real world and stabbed it with the Hyena.
Countless Others to go.
“-Bomb!” Eva was shouting.
“You really think I care about a bomb?” the revenant asked.
They were struggling. Eva was winning the fight but losing the war. She was cornered, the bomb behind her and the revenant in front, and no exit on either side. Every time the revenant charged, she was forced to back up. When she pushed back, she hurt him, delivering grievous wounds, but failed to regain the ground she’d lost. None of the wounds lasted. Couldn’t kill a dead man.
“Eva,” I said, “What do you need?”
“I kill unnatural motherfuckers like you with nature. Fire usually works.”
“Blade, then. I’ll do it the old fashioned way.”
“I’ve got a blade,” I said.
“And,” the revenant responded, “that’s my cue to abandon this particular fight.”
He backed away from Eva, and ducked back into the living room.
Eva and I both found our way into the living room as well.
Callan was standing, Christoff behind him, Alexis to his right, slumped back against the couch. I could see how deep some of the wounds on her face were.
Was this the old ‘outrun the bear’ strategy? Leave the nigh-comatose girl as bait while making a break for it?
“How are you doing?” the revenant asked his companion.
Sitting on the window ledge, the faceless woman was kept from intervening by the presence of innocents. She tapped her cigarette a few times, impatient, and let the ash fall into the shallow pool of water that covered the living room floor.
Others were standing behind her, impatient, but not wanting to cross within a certain distance of her.
It said a lot. She was actively helping to keep Others at bay by being as scary as fuck, and I wasn’t any less worried.
Her foot joined the cigarette with the tapping, making a series of light splashes in the water.
“I know, baby,” the revnenant said. “I’m suspicious we’re in the clear, but I don’t want to bet on it.”
Her tapping intensified for a second, then stopped.
She drew herself to her feet, in a grand sweeping motion, head bowed a little, her hair masking much of her face.
“Apparently you want to bet on it, though,” the revenant said.
“Her face,” Christoff whispered.
“You know,” Callan said, coldly, “When you’ve got an ugly scar on your face, spy convention is to drape your hair over that side, and leave the normal side alone.”
She stood up straighter, and used her free hand to fix her hair, combing it back with her fingers revealing her face as it was.
“Or it’s… that doesn’t make sense,” Callan said, suddenly confused. “That mask-”
She slowly shook her head.
“Not a mask,” the revenant shared. “Well, looks like we’re all-in.”
“All in? What’s the bet?” Callan asked, still leaning to one side, one hand on Alexis’ wrist.
“That we can go to town, and we can get away with it,” the revenant said.
I went straight for the faceless woman.
Same plan as the clock man with the broken clock. I sliced her ankles.
I was shunted, moved back to the kitchen.
I had to wait for things to settle down to even see what was going on, but people were moving so damn much. Eva was no doubt at the center of it.
Something told me, though, that of all people, the faceless woman was apparently capable of recovering from cut hamstrings. A fast recovery, no less.
“Callan, take Christoff and Alexis upstairs!” I shouted.
“I can only take Christoff!” he said, his head turning to try and find where I was speaking from.
“You’ll take Alexis, damn it!”
“Blake?” I heard Alexis mumble.
“Alexis,” I said. “Cat’s out of the bag. If there’s anything you can do-”
“Gave too much blood already,” she said, feeble. “Strengthening the library.”
“Okay,” I said. “Alright, you did good, getting us this far.”
“This doesn’t look good,” she said.
Eva was sparring with the two Others in the living room. I could see the agitation on the Others outside.
“If… I’m thinking maybe since I’m not at my best, I’m all hollowed out inside, you can take me for a ride?”
“I don’t think I can wear the Alexis suit,” I said. “I’m too solid. Doesn’t feel like I can.”
“But that’s not a bad idea,” I said.
Books fell to the ground as Eva struck the faceless woman and knocked her into the bookshelf.
A retaliatory swipe of fingernails left gouges in Eva’s upper arm, as if she were made of soft clay.
“Fuck!” Eva shouted.
The revenant tackled her. Not trying to hurt, or to hold. Just something between a hundred and sixty and a hundred and eighty pounds of weight right there, limiting Eva’s movements, while Eva stood a matter of two or three feet from the bogeyman who could knit flesh with a touch.
Eva fought back, but her hand was moving in a palsied way, fingers bending wrong, almost as if they were trying to bend backwards.
Her nerves had probably been fucked up by that one swipe of claws.
She managed to throw the revenant off her, tossing him to the point where the coffee table had once been, and she backed away, panting hard.
That she was putting up a fight at all was amazing unto itself.
Callan crossed my field of vision and nearly stepped on me as Christoff helped him in the direction of the stairs.
“Christoff,” I said. “Help Alexis to the ground.”
“She’ll have to crawl,” Callan said.
“That’s fine. Just… help her down,” I said.
“You’re- not really there, are you?” he asked. Looking toward the stairs.
He was unnerved, confused, not thinking straight. Seeing the faceless woman had broken him into this world. He wasn’t processing much of anything, by the looks of it. Topping it off, he’d been beaten up as badly as anyone.
Except maybe Andy. Andy was, as far as I knew, still out cold.
“Callan,” I said. “This is what Molly was dealing with. This world, this craziness.”
He looked around, as if he was trying to find me.
His expression creased.
He was an asshole, stubborn, absolutely brutal in how he dealt with others. It was like the younger siblings had learned from what the older ones had gone through, and had gotten more clever. The older ones, they were simpler. Kathryn was a bulldog, tenacious. She attacked and she didn’t let up. Callan… he wasn’t equipped with status. He didn’t fight so much as he blindsided. He was half again my age, and he hit people where it hurt, picking and choosing when and where he did it.
He’d cost Paige the recommendations she needed to get the hell away from here and get to a good school in the U.S., going straight to her teachers. He and his friends had probably been responsible for the vandalism of Kathryn’s restaurant, after we’d all heard Aunt Jessica talking about how they were expecting someone prominent to pay a visit and review it.
Callan had, I was pretty damn sure, been the one to knock over my bike in a fit of pique on the day Grandmother had passed verdict on the heirs.
But, at the end of the day, he’d cared about his immediate family. Even though I’d been too young at the time to remember, I suspected he’d had high hopes about being the heir, but he’d given up when grandmother had laid down the law about it being a female heir. Gave up on a lot of levels, maybe. He’d never gone on to great things. Alternated between working jobs in Toronto and working jobs here.
He’d backed Molly all the way.
“You couldn’t help her, but you can help us,” I said.
Eva was doing her best to fight with a revenant behind her and the flesh-stitching Bogeyman in front of her.
I couldn’t wait for Callan to act. I couldn’t give more convincing.
I moved forward, and I lunged for the revenant this time.
He moved his leg as I cut, and I only got the calf.
It was all Eva needed. She saw him falter, and backed away, using him as an obstacle to fight the Bogeywoman with.
That was all the help I could give.
Alexis was being lowered into the pool of water.
“Cold,” she said.
I hadn’t even realized. The window was gone, exploded, and cold air was flowing into the room. With all the water…
I hope this helps. I reached into my chest and retrieved a spirit.
Reaching through the water, I pushed out, and I pushed the spirit into her.
She gasped like I’d thrown cold water on her.
In an instant, she was paler, her eyes black from corner to corner. The edges of the shadows on her face and body darker and rougher.
I was weaker, and it was energy I probably couldn’t afford to give.
My hand brushed her shoulder before I was cast aside by the lack of footing.
“You feel like this all the time, Blake?” she asked. Her voice was almost haunting, as if everything I’d heard for a long time had been muffled by the mirror, but her voice was as clear as a bell, resounding here.
“Feel like what?”
“Empty. Cold. Broken. Distant. Like… the worst night of waking up on the streets, when nothing’s right and you’re shivering and hurt and dirty and hungry, and you know it’s going to be a long time before you can do anything about any of it, and you get this feeling in the pit of your stomach.”
I lowered my head. My feet were almost in line with hers. I looked down at her, and she looked down at me, keeping only a partial eye on the ongoing brawl.
“I do. But it’s my natural state,” I said. I thought of what Peter had mentioned. “Something-”
“Incomplete,” she said.
I could hear the resonation of her voice, so clear. So closely linked to me, thanks to the spirits I’d given. Alexis was using a marker to draw on the arm of the couch.
That word felt important.
“Sorry to spend some of what you just gave me, but- Television!”
Eva’s reaction times were freakish. Alexis hadn’t finished speaking the word before Eva kicked the revenant. He crashed into the shattered television set. Something sparked, and fire erupted.
He staggered, head and shoulder aflame, burning more with every passing moment, then went to the window, throwing himself through.
“Go,” Eva said. “No grudges.”
She wasn’t talking to him.
The faceless woman went after her companion.
“Upstairs!” Alexis said.
With the faceless woman gone, all the Others who’d been clustered outside came in.
The front door detonated. A small blast, not even reaching down the length of the hallway. No fire, which was probably a part of the runes on the thing.
It did damage the blockade at the basement door.
A dozen bogeymen, goblins, and other assorted monsters were in the house.
We had to give ground. Ground floor lost.
Not even forty minutes had passed.
Fourteen hours until the crack of dawn, give or take.