Category Archives: Arc 1 (Bonds)

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February 6th, 1931

These words are my own for me alone and nothing I write here is meant to be binding.

Dear Diary

I am supposed to start with dear diary but daddy is very strict about what I say and how.  Daddy said writing this diary would teach me to write better and that is very important but I have to write that at the top of every new part.  Daddy said he would never read my diary but if I did not write that part at the top for every new part then he would whup me.  I asked how he would know if he never read it and he said he would just know. I believe him.

I was very very very careful when I asked daddy if it would be a bad whupping or a regular whupping and he asked me if I remembered when I got whupped and peed pink.  I said yes I did and daddy got a really mean and angry look on his face and said the whupping I got this time would be worse if I did not remember to write that every time.  Then he said he was not sure if it would work and I should tell no lies even when I write things down.

I should explain what happened the other time because you are my diary and you do not know anything except what I wrote here.  It was when I was playing with Pearl even though I was ixplicitly told I mustnt.  She kept telling me she knew a fun game and she gave me one of her toys to hold, then she took my hand and pulled me along.  Part of the game she said was that we had to go into her familys shed.  Her sisters and older cousins were there and they all had sticks and things.  They started hitting me over and over and kept knocking me down and would not let me leave.

I was lucky that everyone in Pearls family that isn’t a daddy is a girl and they were not very strong.  I bunched up into a ball and I shouted what daddy told me to shout if anyone every hurts me and I do not think I can get away.  WITH THIS BLOOD SHED I PAY YOU FURFUR.  EXACT MY REVENGE.  Daddy said it sounded convincing and if it came to that and Furfur listend I would not be much worse off.  I rememberd it because Furfur always sounded like an awfuly silly name.

Pearl and her sisters and her cousin ran when I said that and I went home.  I cryed and cryed the entire way and I fell down a lot because my leg hurt where I got hit.  I even scuffed my bottom lip and chin on the road when I fell on the path up to the house because its a hill and its steep in places.

When I got home I told daddy what happened and he got really really really angry.  I was scared he would whup me but he cleaned me up and wiped up the blood instead.  He asked me lots of questions about what happened like had I played with Pearl before and how did I get away.  Then he asked me about Pearl and where we would play and if I ever saw Pearl playing after sunday school.  Then he put me to bed and told me I did not have to go to Sunday school the next day.

I forgot I wasn’t going to sunday school and I woke up and daddy was sitting in the living room with a drink looking out the window.  He looked scary because he had that mean and angry look he has sometimes when he whups me and he was wearing the clothes from yesterday and he hadn’t shaved his face.  He left without saying anything except to tell me I had to stay home.

Then he came back and he changed and shaved and we ate and daddy told me that whatever came next I was forbidden to cry.

There was a knock on the door and then Pearl’s Mama came inside dressed in her sunday best.  Daddy made tea and gave Pearl’s mama a cup and gave me a cup and made a cup for himself and they talked about everything except me and Pearl.  He looked and sounded danjerous and so did she but in a diferent way.  Then Pearl’s mama asked about hair and he reached into his pocket and he pulled out all this blond hair tied into a knot in the middle and he put it over his knee.

She asked for it and he asked for her to promise he wouldn’t get in trouble and that I would be safe from her daughter.  They shook hands and then he gave her the hair.  She asked if it was all there and he said yes.  Then she asked if she could trust him and he smiled and said no but she had no choice.

I didn’t know where the hair came from until I went to school the next day and I saw Pearl with her hair cut shorter than most of the boys.  Mrs. Packman said it was because of bugs and we shouldn’t laugh but I knew the truth.  Even though Pearl and her family hit me with sticks I felt really bad because Pearl always loved her long hair.  Even when braided it was long enough to touch her bottom.  She won’t even look at me now and she acts scared.

It was only after that was over that daddy whupped me.  It was almost as bad as being hit with the sticks because I was already sore.  I peed pink after.  The peeing hurt and I would stamp and drum my feet on the stepstool in front of the loo to distract myself until daddy belowed for me to stop.

He asked me if I learned the lesson and I said yes.  He asked me what the lesson was and I said it was I needed to listen.  He asked me why I needed to listen and I said if I was disobedient and did not listen then everyone would hurt me.  He said that was close enough.

If I have to be truthful then I need to say my feelings hurt almost as bad as any of it.  I wish someone would explain this better.  Daddy said it was a trick but I said I did not think it made sense that someone my age could plan a trick like that and plan ahead to have people waiting in the shed like Pearl did.

Daddy said the members of the Duchamp family could and they would do worse because they were scared of me so I could never ever never ever be friends with them.  I asked him not even when I was an adult and he said when I am an adult I will know better or I deserve what I get.

I think I started having the bad dreams around then.  Every night for a long time.  Then one night daddy came and picked me up and he carried me to his bed.  He told me the deal was I was allowed to cry but only so long as it was night and my head was on the pillow.  In daylight I cannot cry or show weakness.  He held me and he stroked my hair until I started to fall asleep and I felt safer.  I cryed myself to sleep and I felt better.

After the bad dreams went away, I went back to sleeping in my own bed.  Daddy had me pick a special object to me and sit naked in a circle while I read from a book.  He said it would be better if mommy was here but I need to learn to defend myself sooner than later.

I don’t know how to defend myself yet.  I do know that I was really worried about being lonly forever.  My mommy is away buying a book and she has been gone since winter and she should have come back by now.  I am not allowed to make friends if they belong to certain families and I am not allowed to make friends if they are already friends with someone from one of those families.  Because most people here are like that I cannot make any friends my age.

But there are things that aren’t my age or my daddy’s age or even the age of the house that want to be my friend now.  Tricky things and scary things and things that offer me gifts like Pearl offered me the toy before she took me to the shed.  I have to be very very careful but I do not feel as lonly anymore.

This took me a real long time to write.  I am still learning and I have to stop and think before each thing I write to make sure I am not lying.  It made me feel better and I think it was a good idea.

I am going to go give my dad a hug now for letting me write this diary and then I am going to go talk to tricky things.

Yours,

Rose Thorburn

March 9th, 1932

These words are my own for me alone and nothing I write here is meant to be binding.

Dear Diary

Arsepint lives up to his name.  The dirty rotten bastard.

I played a game with Arsepint and his followers today and he cheated!  He wanted a lot of things and the only thing I was willing to give him was a kiss.  I am still tasting bad eggs and garbage from the peck I gave him on the cheek.  He said a lot of very rude things to me after.

I asked daddy for advice and he told me I had to earn a victory or none of the goblins around here would respect me.  I asked him how to win a victory and he took me to the library and helped me pick out books.

Some of these books are so thick I can put my hand down flat on the spine and have room on either side.  I asked and daddy said that being good at books is not always about reading a lot but its sometimes about knowing where to start looking.

He also said I needed to stop asking so many questions.  He said I have answers and I need to look for them on my own.

Wish me luck Mr. Diary.  I will let you know how I am doing.

Rose Thorburn

June 18th, 1932

These words are my own for me alone and nothing I write here is meant to be binding.

Dear Diary,

I did it!

Winning was easy.  Now I have a Arsepint in a cage.  I have to bring him food and water once every day or he is allowed to let himself free.

The hard part is punishing him.  How do you punish a Arsepint?

How long would I have to lock him up before he agreed to do a song and dance about how mangy and pathetic he is in compirison to me?  I could make him do it every time he met another person for a whole year!

He wont like it but I didnt like having to read all those books.  I was so bored I nearly cried.

I told daddy, but he didn’t seem to understand.  He gave me a pat on the head and told me to go read some more, so I would know good ways to use Arsepint.

Victoriasly yours,

Rose Thorburn

September 15th, 1939

These words are my own, for my eyes alone, and nothing I write here is binding.  You know the routine.

Dear Diary,

I am in a bind.  I am so sorry I ignored you these past two weeks, dear diary, but much has been going on.

I am in Montreal now, in a different school.  They put me in a private school so I could learn more useful languages.  It is a very religious school.  There’s something witty I’m supposed to say about that but I’m too upset.

Daddy let me bring some books, giving me a special suitcase that could hide them.  It has been so dull, and the school is so strict, I don’t have much to occupy myself with.  I would explore the school and meet the goblins and ghosts in the darkest corners, but they watch us like hawks watch mice.

I’ve only been here a week and something happened. I could see the other girls spending time together, girls who have known each other from kindergarten.  I couldn’t thrust myself into the middle of them, so I took a book outdoors.  I told myself I would enjoy the crisp weather before the cold shuts us inside for months on end, walking away from the school to make sure I could read in peace.  I was approached and told a teacher wanted me, and I had to stow the book away inside a hollow tree, because I certainly wasn’t about to take it into the school proper.  I made sure there wasn’t anyone around to see, but someone figured it out.

Of course it was a ruse.  I’ve been so on guard against trickster spirits and goblins, I’ve forgotten to keep my guard up around other humans.  The book was taken, then turned over to the head office in quick order when the taker found out what it was.

I thought I had it settled when I threatened and spelled the girls who took and handed over the book, ensured that nobody knew it was them or me.  Things are only getting worse, now, with the faculty on a warpath, hunting for the real owner of the book. They are threatening to take away privileges, to punish the entire school, and it’s only a matter of time before one of them bends to the pressure and points her finger at me.  I’ve hidden my books with one working, and I can play innocent, but I fret.

I need the book back, but I have only a few tricks at my disposal, and no creatures of any worth that I might bargain with.  Ancient ghosts with little power left, and lesser spirits.

We have been given time for self study.  I’m using the chance to write and collect my thoughts.  I need a strategy but I’m not sure what doors are open to me.  Some religious grounds are benign but others are dangerous.  What if someone asks along specific channels and an inquisitor is alerted?

The school, as well.  There is so much talk of the war, and so much emphasis placed on making the school proud.  The faculty keeps saying they want goodness and success to come out of this dark time, and they will see the subject of this book as a dark thing.

If they trace this back to me and come to see me as the source of this great disappointment and a stain on their pride, the hate might be even greater than what the inquisitors might direct at me.

Above all else, I fret about my mother.  She spends so much time and effort collecting her books, I worry about what might happen if I lose one.

I must find a way in.  If the ghosts are almost useless, I will simply have to use a great many of them.  There are other lesser spirits, as well.  They will have to do, as allies go.

I must say I thought being at a new school with no reputation would help.  Its worse.  Now, just a week in, I feel more pressure than I ever have, but I have nobody to turn to, not even to argue with or vent on.  I wonder if being hated may well be better than being a nobody.

Rose D. Thorburn

September 20th, 1939

These words are my own, for my eyes alone, and nothing I write here is binding.

Dear Diary,

Disaster, but not disaster of the kind I expected.

In their quizzing of the students and their gentle and not so gentle probing, the interest of the faculty spurred the interest of the students.  Word got around about the book, and I ended up being one of no less than three groups aiming to get into the headmaster’s office and get a better look at the book.

I bid the ghosts to scare the others, but a braver group pressed on.  Minnie from the year above me, her friends, and her cousin Herb.  I think they were almost thrilled by what I sent their way.  Herb might be the one who kept talking about joining the fight and being a hero.  Maybe that drove him to fight past fear.  Maybe he’s a moron.

With a measure of help, I slipped into a cat’s body to spy on the new owners of the book.  With learned tricks, I joined the shadows in slipping beneath the door.  I thought I could snatch up the book and run.

I did not expect what I saw.  They were doing things that proper boys and girls shouldn’t do until marriage.  Herb with one of Minnie’s friends and Minnie with one of Herb’s friends, and another two friends pairing up nearby.

Dear diary, I don’t know how to name or explain the feelings that found me then. There was a kind of anxiety, warm, low in my belly, very real disgust.  Surprising, when I’ve dealt with the most vulgar of goblins.

My father has an eye for justice, or an eye for a lack of it.  In a way, I might have viewed the world through his eyes when I saw that scene.  I saw something unjust that outraged me and wounded my pride, compelling me to act.

I feel wretched when I think that the action I was compelled to was fleeing.

The Lord of Montreal reached out to me last night, communicating through my dreams.  He has heard whisperings, as Lords do, and now I have a greater merchant spirit turned mortal turned god breathing down my neck.  He would like for the book to be found, and will forgive me my error if I retrieve the book and ensure the ones who took it don’t pursue such things in the future.

I have to confront the mundane humans, and I must do it while feeling as if they are somehow more distorted and unfamiliar than many of the beings I read about in my books.

I have been born into a world that one in a thousand people have the slightest idea on.  I know of goblins and boggarts, ghosts and elementals, demons and draiodhe.  Yet I feel as though I’m the ignorant one, here.  They are the ones who have been inducted into alluring, forbidden wrongs.

This writing was meant to help me clarify my thoughts, but I don’t feel clarified.

Rose D. Thorburn.

September 25th, 1939

These words are my own for me alone and nothing I write here is meant to be binding.

Dear Diary,

I don’t know what to do.

I had no chance to write, for I was watched closely, and I had no privacy until now.  I tried, but I couldn’t secure the book before they had a chance to use it.  They called a goblin to them, and the ritual gave it power to attack.  Minnie suffered the brunt of it, and the rest of us were caught.

The police seem to think Herb and his friends as responsible.  I was confused at first, but now I think it makes a kind of sense.  Boys, a fraction too young to go to war.  They intruded on a girl’s school, and they make for ready suspects when Minnie is hollowed out, left with only a vacant stare, unresponsive and unmoving but for the monotonous rocking of her body.  Her body was untouched, but that doesn’t count for enough.

When the books do tell of evil things being loosed, they often make it exciting.  The mission is a rescue, a race against time.  Here, three or four lives were utterly ruined, and they may never find out why.   They were given no chance, except to leave dangerous things be.  A practitioner could have done more to help, but I am more a novice than a full fledged wielder of power.  I caught the goblin, I kept the scene clear.  I was there when police arrived to answer the screams, and now I am a witness.

I still I don’t understand it, and I don’t know what my place in this is supposed to be.

The books say the ignorant may rewrite their own memories.  Perhaps they will blame themselves.  Perhaps Herb and his friends will convince themselves they were responsible. That strikes me as being nearly as horrifying as anything that happened to Minnie.

They may instead choose to let their recollection of what happened to Minnie fade from their minds, a curious incident they don’t let themselves dwell on.

I just sat with my pen poised over paper for long enough I needed to dip my pen again.  It’s more horrifying still, but it’s horror I feel on Minnie’s behalf.  I think it’s the scariest thing I can imagine.  Dying and having your existence erased from the world.  To be painted over and forgotten.

It’s my first time facing the aftermath of a situation like this.  Removed from the books.  It gnawed at me every day the girls and I were confined to the rooms on the top floor of the dormitory, while I waited to talk to police, and the entire way home.  It eats at me still.

A small blessing that it was a goblin of no particular status or power.  It could have been far worse.

I expected the usual sort of punishment from my father.

I did not expect my mother, returned from a year-long trip, to meet me in front of the house.

Her first question was after my welfare.  I told her I was well, but that the police might reach out to ask more questions, and that I might be asked to Montreal to attend court.

Her second question was about the Lord of Montreal.  I assured her I left things on good terms.

Her third question, of course, was about her books.

I assured her the books were well, showing her each of the texts I’d taken with me.

With that, she left to return to her study, leaving me with her detestable snake and with Father.  Even now, as I write this, the house has a smell, very like the aroma in that scene I stumbled on with Minnie and the rest, that had unsettled me so much.

Ampelos was staring at me, and even though that snake face doesn’t show a damned hint of an expression, I could tell he knew, as though he read my mind.  His every movement mocked me.

It feels like there’s always the group, and then there’s me, standing apart.

Ampelos is my mother’s familiar, so he is her ally.  My father is, of course, my mother’s partner.

And then there is me.

I think, writing this, I have settled on how I feel.  Mortified.  It’s a good word.

I cannot make another mistake like I did, but I can’t cover every avenue by myself.  I’m too young to take a familiar for life, and I have no friends here.

I was home, and I felt more homesick than ever.  I still do, writing this.

Ampelos knew all this, and he silently mocked me.  My father was in a good mood, but I didn’t hear his words and I think my silence annoyed him.

He was upset over the girl that the goblin attacked, that I’d let the book out of my sight.  He said it was my responsibility.

I was angry, and I think both of us were a little surprised at how much emotion came out.  I said a lot of things, and I was careful to keep my word, but I don’t remember much of it.

I blamed him, because making friends was hard before, but impossible once I became a practitioner.

I told him the truth.  That I was given the responsibility too soon.  Other families don’t let children have powers.  I’m sixteen, but I’ve had powers for almost half of my life.

And then I swore.  I swore I wouldn’t ever make my children go through this.  I would let them lead lives untouched by all of this.

Never have I seen him react like he did.  As if he’d heard me and he actually listened.

Ampelos was still there, smug.

I don’t know why I did it, but I took hold of Ampelos’ tail, seized a letter opener from the nearest shelf, and I stabbed him, fixing the tail to the arm of the loveseat.  I ran, before my father or mother could catch me.

As I said, mortified.  I know I have responsibilities.  I’ve done irreperable damage by swearing an emotional oath.  One I’ll have to keep or be forsworn.

I know I’ll have to go back and bow my head, accept my due punishment.  It’s well after dark, and writing is getting harder as even moonlight is harder to come by.  I’m sitting out of sight, using my bookpack as a seat, but trouble is sure to find me.  I almost hope it will.

I don’t know what to do,

Rose D. Thorburn.

September 25th, 1939

Dear Diary,

I’m not going to write the bit at the beginning.  I know there is no use in it.  It doesn’t protect me or do anything.  I’ve known for a good while, and right now feels like a good time to make a change.  I’m fairly certain I never made a promise, more because my father wouldn’t have exacted one from me than because I remember anything that well.

I’m not sure if I should write this down, but when I sit here, muddy and bleeding in spots, scuffed and bruised, I think of Minnie, and I think I want to preserve as much of myself as I can.  Even the gory bits.

I found trouble.  Aimon Behaim.  Years older than me, visiting home while an injury heals.  An enemy.

He mocked me, following me, and it took me minutes to realize why he wasn’t doing more.  My mother was back, and he was scared.

I called him on it, and I offended his pride.  He teased me, a working of spirits to bring raindrops down from leaves overhead, and I retaliated by throwing down the clay doll I keep Arsepint inside, giving an order to attack.  Something of an overreaction.

I didn’t think that a soldier might be carrying a firearm.

I had to order Arsepint away before he could kill my oldest servant, and Aimon closed the distance, and pressed the gun to my head.  I spat in his face, he grabbed me by the hair, and we fought.  I dug my fingernails into his bandages, he tried to throw me over the edge of grass so I might fall in the lake, and I pulled him after me.

Like my argument with my father, I can’t say everything that happened.  It was stupid, ignoble, and animal.

I look at him now, lying still beside me, and I think maybe Aimon was just as scared and frustrated as I was.  A different kind of fear and frustration, but it was there.

Somewhere along the line, he decided to let me win.  I ended up above him, pinning him.

He didn’t expect me to call Arsepint back, and have the lesser goblin bring me the dropped firearm.

With a gun to his head, he refused to say uncle.  To relent in the simplest, smallest way.  I think that was when I realized we were the same.  There was only us.

And Arsepint.  But allowances must be made.

He kissed me, and I kissed him back.

Things went to natural places from there.

I’m enjoying sitting here, watching Aimon’s bare chest rising and falling.  He has a bloody nose and it’s making him snore, and I like that.

When I’m writing, dear Diary, I sometimes like to think that you’re communicating with me, when my thoughts clarify and I can jump to new ideas.  It’s sad, that I give you an identity, when you’re only one of a long series of notebooks, but I’ll hold to the idea because it makes it easier to put pen to paper.

If you were communicating with me, I’d think you just pointed out how Aimon and I were connected in the heat of the moment.  You might be telling me I could have an ally in this.  A way to make up for the damage I’ve done to my family with a careless oath.

But Minnie is still fresh in my mind.  Trusting the wrong person is a telling mistake, with consequences and damage.

And I think of my first diary, your predecessor.  Of Pearl, who offered me an enticement before dragging me off to where I could be beaten.

I don’t know what to do, but it’s a more comfortable sort of doubt.  At worst, I have an enemy I know and that’s better than having and knowing nothing at all.  My predecessors will have to bear with me.

R.D.T.

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Bonds 1.7

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Damn it.

Very slowly, with exaggerated care, I closed the door.  My eyes were fixed on the outermost edge of the circle, my peripheral vision covering the shears and the interior, up until the closing door blocked my field of view.

I couldn’t say why the closed door made me feel more secure.  Whatever was supposed to be in that circle probably wouldn’t be stopped by a door.  But the fear I’d felt before opening the door had broken up into a general sense of disquiet.  My heart wasn’t racing, but was pounding, with very slow, heavy beats.  Absently, I grabbed my sweatshirt on the way down the stairs.

Rose was waiting for me on the third floor.  “Blake!  You idiot!”

I didn’t want to hear it.  “I can barely hear you.  Meet you in the study.”

I passed into the secret room, circled around to the far end and climbed down the ladder to reach the area with the mirror.

“What the hell were you doing?”

“I take it you read the letter,” I said.  I was almost relieved to have the distraction of a conversation with Rose.  I wanted to think on the circle, the possibilities there, but what the hell was I even supposed to do?  I couldn’t even think straight, let alone read.

“Upside-down, but yes.  You don’t go talking to demons or whatever elses without preparation.”

“It was prepared,” I said.  I turned the letter around, then tapped it.  “This was an emergency measure.  A ‘you’re-fucked-and-you-need-the-big-guns-now’ measure.  Grandmother outlined the key instructions.”

“You don’t go running off to check if you haven’t read about it in depth.  There’s material on this guy.”  Her voice was rising as she talked.

“I had to check,” I said, feeling more grounded.  Feeling a little more sure of myself, I said, “I was thinking it might have killed Molly.”

“What?”

“What Laird said… I had the impression this thing might have killed Molly, and that Laird was misleading us when he said he knew what killed her.  By saying that, he leads us to think the threat is from out there, and that way we have our backs turned when the threat from within comes after us.”

“So?  You read up on it, so you know what to say to it-”

“I wasn’t going to say a thing, if it was there.  No need to track the conversation if we don’t interact.  I only needed a glance, and that glance showed me that there wasn’t anything in the circle.”

“I- huh?  What do you mean?”

“A pair of scissors apparently penetrated a circle drawn on the floor.”

“It’s free?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “The door was locked, Molly didn’t use that key, unless the lawyer resealed it in wax when they reshelved the books.  It doesn’t fit.  Maybe grandmother betrayed her own rules and brought something reflective into that room and then positioned it to where it might interfere with the circle, before locking everything up, but it’d be crazy to do that.  If the thing can jump into our eyes, it can jump into the metal on scissors.”

“You’re right.  That doesn’t make sense.”

“It doesn’t,” I said.  “Which puts me in the funny spot of feeling more sure that it’s in that room, than I was before.”

“I don’t know how you can jump to that conclusion,” Rose said.  “It’s better, now that it looks like it’s gone?”

“I don’t know.  Which is why we’re going to do a little bit of reading, now,” I said.  I felt more centered.  Somewhere between ‘explaining is the best way to learn’ and ‘misery loves company’, explaining to Rose had helped me to find my mental and emotional footing, clarifying my thoughts so I could argue them.  “Let’s meet Barba-whatsit.”

I found and picked up Dark Names.

“This is the sort of thing we need to read before you go to places like that.”

“Rose,” I said.  So much for that bit on emotional and mental footing.

“I don’t want to let this opportunity go by, because it needs saying.  First you go off with Laird, and I have to pull your ass out of the fire, and now you go-”

“Rose!”  I said, louder.

She shut up.

“We can’t do this,” I said.  “You second guessing me at every turn.  This arguing.  I’ve been through some shit-”

“So have I, in case you haven’t noticed,” she said, bitter.

“Nearly getting killed?”  I asked.

“I was there!  We’re connected, Blake.  You die, I probably die.”

“Before,” I said.  “Before any of this.  I’m talking about when I was seventeen and newly homeless and picking the wrong spot to settle down for the night, only to find out that a local gang thinks you’re staking out their stash or drop point or something, and you get beat down by a group of six or seven people?  Or having a group of teenagers with BB guns come after you because they want a live target and you’re pretty much subhuman to them?  The pellets don’t go very far beneath the skin, but one of them hit something, because my arm bruised purple from the bicep to my hand.”

“You never said anything about that,” Rose said.

“There were worse days.  Days I’m probably never going to talk to you about.  Or tell anyone about, even if some people close to me maybe put some of the puzzle pieces together.  I’m not aiming for pity here, I don’t want it.  I don’t want to use this for leverage to win an argument.  What I was going to say was that I’ve been through stuff, before any of this, and I made it this far with my instincts.  I can’t and won’t abandon them.”

“I’m going to be a bit of a bitch here,” Rose said.  “I don’t think your instincts are that good.”

“They weren’t good when I was first on the streets, either.  But I honed them, I stayed alive and mostly whole, I refined those instincts, found people I could trust, and with their help I got to a point where I was surviving on my own.  Which is something I’m proud of.  I can do the same here, but I need time to get a handle on it all.”

“We don’t have time,” she said.  “At this rate, you’re going to make a mistake, and we can’t afford mistakes.”

“Then helpContinue helping, please.  We’re the same, the only difference being that I walked a different path.”

“And you’re still walking it,” Rose said.  “It’s a lot to ask, for me to trust you as an extension of me, when I’m not sure I trust myself.”

“I’m going to ask it anyways,” I said.  “That you trust me, and that you trust yourself.  I’ll talk to you about this stuff more, but I need it to be a talk.  Don’t second guess everything I do, or it’s just going to become noise, and the doubts are going to fuck me up as much as anything.  I need cooperation, collaboration.”

“You want me to cater to your unique needs, but is there any consideration to mine?  I’ve been dealing… I’ve got the memories of dealing with our family for years.  It doesn’t exactly build up a team player mentality.”

“My experiences didn’t either,” I said.  Barring the last year or two.  “But I’ll try if you do.  Please.”

She was glaring at me, practically bristling with frustration.  I probably didn’t look happy either, now that I thought on it.

Without saying anything more, I turned my attention to the book, until I found the page.

No image.  Only text.

I looked up at Rose, and she was gone from the frame.  She reappeared, holding her own copy.  I could hear the thud as it hit the desk on her side.

“Page thirty-eight,” I said.

“Thank you,” she responded.

The being I have named Barbatorem is an entity falling under the classification Insolitus Nex.  This author does not believe in stricter classifications, and leaves it to others to label him a devil or goblin as they see fit.  It is difficult to impossible to guess as to his origins, but one can speculate that it came about after the dawn of human civilization, given the common elements and the trend in appearances.

The entity was first bound by this author on April 23rd, 1953.  The binding was a difficult one to tackle, with a little more than a share of guesswork going into the execution.  In the end, this author used an Ut Vires approach pointing to Contrarium methodology.  An abstract entity bound in a rule-defining diagram of geometric lines and Byzantine notation.  Twenty years after the fact, this author stands by her reasoning at the time.

Should another practitioner need to bait him again, know that this author used: a pile of festering boar carcasses, six feet high, each carved with his name when well into their state of decay, the decay timed using refrigeration to be roughly parallel; seven jars of burning hair, resupplied keep the flames perpetually alight; and the crest of this offering was an innocent and a virgin in the form of a one year old innocent, placed at the height of the pile.  For more on the reasoning behind this methodology, please see my other work, Dark Contracts, chapter four.

This author cannot say whether he was attracted to the virgin aspect or the innocent, but this author was nonetheless happy to have an option at hand to serve both purposes.  The child was unharmed and largely unaware of what occurred.

Given Barbatorem’s nature, this author would recommend another means of baiting him in the future, as he will remember, anticipate and adapt with each means used.  He agreed to be bound by the seal of Suleiman bin Daoud four months after the initial capture.  See the Others volumes, book one, chapter one, if unfamiliar with the seal.  The diagram this author used for entrapment, necessitating only one line to open or close, can be found on page five of this entry, followed by the means of summoning and the recommended diagram for imprisonment.

Signing Barbatorem to the Standard remains the proudest accomplishment for this author, at that particular date and time, marking her first feat in this particular field.

Those looking to interact with Barbatorem at any length should see about precautions against abstract entities in Classifying Others: Fiends and Darker Beings, chapter four, and the texts on means of attack and defense against Others, in Infernal Wrath, chapter two.

Rose was already looking up at me when I finished.  A bit faster than me when it came to reading.

“A baby?” she asked.

“Option at hand,” I said, as I turned the page to get a look at what came next, “I guess Uncle Charles or Aunt Irene get offhand mentions in the books.”

“I still hate them, but I’m maybe getting a sense of why they’re a little fucked up,” Rose said.

“This is the second mention of the Suleiman dude I’ve seen.”

“Suleiman bin Daoud,” she said.

“Want to do some side research while I get caught up on Barbatorem, here?  Look up the chapters in those other books, and maybe get some info on the seal?”

“Okay,” Rose said.  “Working together?”

I nodded, then I looked up at the second floor, where the bookshelves line the walls.  I tried to remember, voicing my thoughts aloud as I pointed to each in turn.  “Types of magic, shelf one, shelf two.  I think it then focuses on Others, two or three shelves.  Can I turn the mirror?”

“Sure.”

I turned the mirror, so Rose had access to the ladder and the bookshelves in question.

I resumed reading.

Barbers were once surgeons, in addition to their other roles.  The red on a barber’s pole is a reference to bloodletting.  Barbatorem is both, a warrior of sorts, acting with surgical precision on whatever target he is directed at.  A recurring theme in earlier stories suggests that he was sent against the summoner’s enemies, almost always powerful figures, and he brought them to ruin in the worst ways.  He does not seek out mischief with those who summon him, but he takes advantage if one is offered.  For this reason, he is a reasonably safe entity to summon if one takes care to follow instructions.  He serves as a better deleterious sending against an enemy than he does as a boon-giver.  This author and three acquaintances have summoned and used him without issue.

Barbatorem, before being sealed, tended to visit small settlements and sites of war, either during or after the altercation.  Given his nature, it is hard to get eyewitness reports that corroborate his involvement in events.  The unawakened tend to note a stench of rot, blood or burning hair, or a crude but exceptionally sharp and sturdy cutting instrument found in the aftermath of a grisly event, invariably lost a day or two later.

Physically, he rends his victims, and the surgeon aspect becomes evident in how he inflicts the maximum damage possible without ever killing them, though the methods change as his form does.  He will mend the damage with an expert level of care that exceeds typical modern standards, if it means keeping the victim alive.  Despite the blood shed in this process, his victims typically die by other means like starvation or dehydration, unable to move under their own power or communicate a request for aid, due to a lack of limbs, missing tongue and teeth or a lack of working sensory organs, and the isolation that follows an attack.

On a more abstract level, Barbatorem deals a deeper form of damage that is hard to encapsulate in this text.  Rather than state the myriad ways he might harm his victims, this author would suggest a few key points to note, suggesting the wider variety of feats he can accomplish: It is believed that he can sever his target’s ability to access any higher plane, forever and irrevocably denying them whatever good things might await them after death, and he can remove any ability a practitioner has.  He can pass into a demesne without needing permission, though he cannot enter an ordinary home owned by a non-practitioner (see Classifying Others, chapter four).  He can evade barriers and typical practitioner’s defenses.  This in mind, he obviously serves as a suitable weapon if directed at a practitioner.

Barbatorem takes no one shape, but tends to favor a particular form for several years at a time before unknown events prompt a change.  Previous forms include: a bipedal sheep, largely bald but for sparse patches; a bloated man disfigured to a monstrous point by lash-wounds; a pair of children hand-in-hand; and a legless man on a horse.  In every form, however, he carries a bladed instrument of some kind.  He has been known to carry scissors, clippers or shears in more than half of the recorded cases.  Death, mutilation and a lack of hair figure into each form in one way or another (see descriptions in individual entries for notes on these fronts).  Ergo, the barber reference.

“The shears are a part of him,” I said, more to myself.  A glance in the mirror showed me that Rose was on the floor above, a book resting on the railing as she turned a page.  Did he leave them behind?  Would he?

Barbatorem is mute, making dealings hard.  He will see a contract up to seven times before refusing all further contracts.  In this event, one can dismiss him and summon him again, but it must be to offer something else.  In a dealing, he will offer expert skill in medicine, in exchange for enough blood to make the practitioner pass out – take care to avoid spilling any on the circle.  He will offer to extend a practitioner’s natural lifespan by half-again or by twenty-five years, whichever is less, at the cost of the practitioner forever smelling blood, rot, and/or burning hair.  He can offer to ensure that one’s blades never dull, in exchange for enough of the practitioner’s flayed skin to fill two cupped hands.

There were two diagrams drawn out in black, with measurements along each face, and a ritual for summoning him.  The rest of the pages had stories.  Mutilated men driven to madness, without a thing left.  Limbless, suckling fruitlessly on the teats of livestock.  Blind men frantically scratching out endless letters to loved ones lost to this ‘barber’, using stones on cobblestone, using their fingernails when no tool was at reach, then their blood, and then the uncovered bones of their fingers.  That last one was a practitioner that tried to bind him and failed.

I reached the last page.  Lines were drawn out, with words, followed by a shorthand cipher.  ‘I have changed the contract.’  ctuvag  ‘I have changed the contract.’ cvtuaa.

“So?” Rose asked, behind me.

“He has to be in the circle, still,” I said.  “Or I wouldn’t still be here.  Apparently we can’t sense him until we’re awakened, which might explain why I couldn’t see him.  This guy’s spooky.”

Rose nodded, solemn.  “The bit on abstract entities is basically elaboration on what’s in the note.  The bit on attack and defense only matters if he’s loose.  There are a lot of charts.  Describing what aspects to pay attention to, what elements and objects are most effective.”

“Blood, burning hair, rot,” I said.

“Not like that.  Like in Essentials, malignant Others are going to react to purifying substances and patterns, like salt and running water.  Fresh wood against dead things.”

“Iron against things that are born from nature,” I said.

“Right.  But he’s not entirely physical, so you need something prepared in advance, meeting a few prerequisites at once.  Like, this isn’t the right answer, but drawing out a pattern on a baseball bat and hitting him with it.”

“So you’re working past the abstract bit,” I said.  “No, I get it.”

She lifted another book, turning it around so I could see a painting of a brown-skinned man with a funny little golden hat and a magnificent beard.

Rose explained, “Suleiman.  Sorcerer king.  He was the first practitioner who really worked for the betterment of mankind and actually made headway.  He established rules and contracts, and he systematically worked to challenge the biggest, baddest Others out there that he could, then used them to help get others.  It brought about an age where humans could stop being the playthings of Others and start developing as a civilization.”

“Okay,” I said.  “And the seal?”

“A formal acknowledgement on the part of an Other, that they won’t interfere with mankind without excuse, they’ll obey certain rules, and the practitioners will leave them be.  Typically an Other bears some symbol or token of this bargain.  Over time it’s gained a power of its own.  Being sealed physically alters the Other, but it also affords them certain protections against us.”

Essentials alluded to that same deal,” I said.  “It was pretty vague.”

“It was because it is,” Rose said.

I glanced at her, waiting for elaboration, but she only shrugged.

“We know what Grandma was dealing with now,” I said.  I didn’t add ‘which I wanted to do in the first place, before you stopped me from reading that book.’

Instead, I said, “We can’t know if he’s inside that circle or not without awakening.  Which we need to do anyways.”

“On to the next part of the game plan?”

I nodded.

“My circle is drawn out,” she said.  “Want help?”

I didn’t, but I was happier if she was on my side. “Please.”

Together, we walked through the steps of drawing out the chalk circle.  Circle first, then measuring it out so that there were five circles at set distances around that circle, the line running through the middle of each before I carefully erased each with a damp cloth.  One symbol in each little circle.

Another circle, larger than the last, around the entire thing, with six circles at set intervals.  I carefully set out each one.

And then a third, bounding the others.  Seven circles.

“You’re a lot quicker at this than I was,” Rose said.

I shrugged.  “You’re faster at reading.  Next?”

“Cabinet,” Rose said.  “Bottom shelf, far left.”

I opened the cabinet.  Bottom shelf, far left… the space as empty.

I looked back at the mirror, shaking my head.

“They were on my end.”  Rose lifted a bowl with crystals in it.

Once she showed me, I was able to find it.  Bowl, crystals… ah, and a bag with other components, middle shelf, off to one side.  It was all clustered together.

Each circle on the innermost and outermost ring got a little gold-rimmed bowl.  I spoke aloud as I got each set up.  “Crystal… myrrh… oil… spice…”

“Holly and holly berries,” Rose said, at the same time I said, “raw iron.”

We exchanged glances.  I stood up and checked my book.

“Why?” Rose asked.  “Mine says holly.”

I approached the mirror, book held out.  We each held our books out so her book was almost a reflection of mine.  Sure enough, the text, the symbol for the inside of the little circle in question and the art for the token were all different.

“Grandmother?” Rose asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I get that Molly would have moved the components, but… I don’t think Molly altered the book.”

“The question is, what do we do about it?” Rose asked.  “Do we each do a different ritual?  Do I do your ritual, assuming it’s right?  Or vice versa?”

“If it’s sabotage,” I said, thinking aloud, “Which of us was sabotaged?”

We sat there for a good minute, thinking.  Rose flipped through her book as I flipped through mine, as we searched for more discrepancies.

It was the only one we could find.

I hated doing nothing, being stalled like this.  It was in the quiet moments that I felt like trouble would start breathing down my neck.

I turned to the bags, searching them.  Not the contents, but the bags themselves.  Holly… Iron…

The Holly bag had a different knot.  Tied tighter, more neatly.  Full.

“Let me see your ingredients?” I asked.  “Show me the ones you haven’t touched?”

Rose did.

Her iron ore nuggets were tied the same way my holly was.

“Molly used the iron,” I said.  “I think I will too.”

“Blind faith?” Rose asked me.

“Grandmother…” I said, trailing off as I struggled to find a way of putting it, “I didn’t get the feeling she’s actively trying to fuck us over.  It’s more… collateral fuckery.”

“Collateral fuckery,” Rose echoed me.

“She’s not going to sabotage us, and I can’t think of anyone else who could or would.”

“You want to trust the woman who summoned a demon that’ll jump into our eyes, and left it in the attic for us to use if we needed?”

“I don’t want to.  I think I have to.  I won’t force you to do anything,” I said.  I got the lamps around the edges of the room and brought them closer to the circle, before using them to light tall candles.

“I’ll do the holly, then,” Rose said.

I could hear the faint sounds as she dropped individual berries in her bowl.  My nuggets made a clatter.

“More abstract things for the middle ring,” I said.  Rose gave me directions to find each object she’d already set up on her side.

A dagger.  An hourglass.  A dreamcatcher.  A small silver skull.  A coin.

“Which catches you up to where I was,”  Rose said.  “I got stumped.  A rose, and something personal.”

“Kitchen for the former,” I said.  “I can’t help with the latter.”

“We need the token offerings for the Others.  I’ll need a mirror in the kitchen to get that stuff, with the rose.”

It wasn’t a fast process.  Molasses, milk, vegetable matter burned into a clean ash, honey, meat, and alcohol.  I plucked a rose from where it sat in water.  A touch limp, but it didn’t matter too much.

“My food is looking pretty sad,” she said.  “Am I going to offend them if this milk isn’t any good?”

“Did it go bad?” I asked.

“No, but I’m not even sure it’s milk.  It could be an illusion.”

“It’s the thought that counts, right?” I asked.

“I’m not so sure,” she said.  “Not here, with something like this.”

I put the wine aside for later before going upstairs, my arms full.  Everything went into a bowl, except the rose.

The basic stuff in the inner ring.  The dagger, hourglass and all the rest in the middle ring… leaving me with one empty circle.  The personal touch.

I hadn’t brought much with me.  I could probably dig a paintbrush or something out of a cabinet, but… it didn’t feel like that was exactly it.

I checked my pockets, and I retrieved my keys.  Joel’s keys were still on them.

I felt the weight of them in my hand.  They weren’t my motorcycle keys, which would have been my first choice, but… they sort of fit.  Keys opened doors.  There was a freedom.  They represented ownership, protecting things, and the fact that my friend’s keys were on there…

I didn’t like to owe people things.  It was why I tended to insist on some reciprocation, paying back the woman who’d given me a drive here.  Giving Joel my bike keys for his.  I felt it was important to acknowledge those debts.

It would do.  The keys found their place in the empty circle.

I set out the food as well.  One offering to each bowl, for the outer ring.

“Oh, this next part is fun,” Rose said.

I checked the book to see.

Clothes off.

“One at a time, or both of us at once?”  Rose asked.

I didn’t know.  But when I opened my mouth to say so, I felt myself leaning one way, and pushed myself the rest of the way.  “Both.”

We stripped down, then sat in the center of the circles, backs turned to each other, with the mirror between us.  I had to get up again a moment later, to get the book and lay it across my crossed legs.

Then the ritual itself.  Looking around, I was aware of how dark the room was, with the oil lamps closer.  I’d heated the wax on the bottom of each candle before fixing it to the floor around the circle, and reached for one now, along with a pair of tongs.

Incense, lit.  Metal ore, heated.

Metal ore, heated some more.

Okay, it took a while to get to the point where I could see the heat in it.  I quickly set it down, quiet, and moved the candle out of the circle.

This was it.  I glanced over my shoulder, and I saw Rose, the edges of her shoulder, hair and face lit by the candles and lamps.  Our positioning made it hard to see anything else, which was sort of the point.

I nodded a little.

We began in unison, reading the text.  There were three translations for each line, one in a foreign language I couldn’t place, one spelled out phonetically, and another with the English translation.

Our voices faltered some as we stumbled here and there.  For the first four or five lines, one of us would reach the end before the other, pausing a fraction to let the other catch up.

We finished one line, almost chanting now as we sounded out the syllables with a kind of rhythm.

The circle moved, the bowls sliding across the floor, the diagram moving beneath them.  Putting another bowl in front of me.

Another line.

Again, the circle moved before me.  I didn’t even dare look back at Rose.  We’d found a stride, now, and the words were flowing more easily.  The space outside the circle seemed to darken, as my focus on the inside of the circle deepened.

I was in the ‘zone’, so to speak.  My eyes passed over the phonetic guide, but my peripheral vision caught the English words transcribed below, and the meaning became clearer.  Not the entire meaning, but the big words, the emphasis.

These were the little things, the fundamental things.

The bowl of incense slid from its position in front of me, but it slid down and to the right, as if it were sinking into the floor.  I didn’t look, convinced that I’d lose my stride and break the illusion if I did.

The dagger slid into place.

There were no words in the book to recite.  I could have sworn they’d been there before.  The silence rang, heavy.

“War,” I said, if only to keep the momentum going.

I could hear Rose behind me, taking my cue.  “War.”

The circle moved, giving me a sense of relief, and a view of the hourglass.

“Time,” I said, in unison with Rose.  Something we didn’t have enough of, something dangerous, foremost in our thoughts, with its association to Laird.

The dreamcatcher, a hoop with a network of threads within.

“Dream,” I said.

But Rose was speaking at the same time, and she said, “Fate.”

The circle moved.  The little silver skull.  Deceptively small, no doubt valuable.  It glittered in the light.

“Doom,” I said.

“Death,” Rose said.

The coin, an old one, from an era before coins had been pressed with exact images.

“Fortune,” I said.

“Ruin,” Rose said.

The lifeless rose.

“Family,” I said.

“Myself,” Rose said.

Then the personal token.

Somehow, this seemed more meaningful.  Weightier.

I wasn’t being presented with a surprise, something to associate an idea to.  This was something else entirely.

“To everyone and everything that’s listening,” I said.  I heard Rose start speaking behind me, but my words drowned hers out.  “To me, and to nobody in particular, I’ve gotta say, I didn’t choose this.  I’m doing this for family, to respect them as they were in the past, when my cousins were also my friends, so the others don’t face what Molly did.  I’m doing it to respect stuff in the present, because even if I dislike my cousins, I don’t want them to have to face this situation and get killed off.  I’m doing this for the family that comes in the future, so my kids and all our descendants don’t have this debt hanging over our heads.  Above all, I think I’m doing this for my real family.  For the friends I made who gave me support when I needed it most, so I can demonstrate what they taught me.  Past, present, future, and… more abstract.”

I thought for a second, and then I said, “And I’m doing it for me and Rose.  Because I won’t be trapped like this, and she shouldn’t be either.”

The circle passed on, carrying the keys forward, more like it was going down a spiral staircase I sat in the middle of, than around in a loop.  I couldn’t even see the floorboards, now.  Only the lines and bowls.

I could hear Rose behind me, still talking, as if she were very distant.  “-than a vestige.”

The circle stood before me.  Honey.

I looked down at the book, and I started into the phonetic pronunciations again.

Each of the dishes passed by me as I recited the lines.  More than ritual, I was getting the sense that this was a means of breaking bread.  Leaving gift baskets for the neighbors to let them know you were in town.

The circle carried the dish onward.  There was only the line.

I kept reading.  More words.  I could pick up the English more easily, now.

My word is bound and binding.  I ask you respect it as such.

My actions are my own, but have an equal amount of weight.

So I pledge.

The line shifted, until the white line was no longer encircling me, but crept towards me, like the divider in the middle of the highway, with my bike veering off course.

The ‘divider’ hit me, passing under my knee, then my legs.  It was a matter of seconds before it was passing directly beneath me.  A quick glance behind me showed me that it wasn’t carrying on.

Darkness, one straight white line, and me.

More lines appeared.  From the other circles that had disappeared, from other directions.

My legs shaky, I stood.

I nearly fell as a line coursed forth from high above and caught me in the shoulder.

I was glad I hadn’t fallen.  I wasn’t sure if there was a ground beneath me to catch me.  My feet weren’t on solid earth.

The lines were larger, more meaningful, and I could see further.  I could see the circles attached to each line, like planets in orbit around things I couldn’t make out.  A system all around me, that I was now a part of.

I felt like Rose must feel all the time.  Being there, but not quite alive.  My body was only there because my sense of self required it.

I opened my eyes, and I came back into my body.

Chalk lines crossed the floor, the circles still evenly spaced around them, but they had expanded, decentralized from around me.  The lines now intersected at points, and the spaces between bowls were five to ten times as far as they had been before.

The bowls, as a result, were scattered around the room, each upright.  The incense still smoked, but the bowls that had held food were empty.

I was standing, the book on the floor in front of me.  I reached down to see if there were any other instructions, and stopped.

I could see birds, flapping their wings, against my skin.  They moved, and the branches they were on bobbed lightly.  The watercolor background shifted.

“You okay?” Rose asked.

I started to speak, and then stopped myself.  I had to be careful.

“I… may be seeing things,” I said.  I glanced her way, and saw her sitting in front of the mirror.  Her legs were bent, knees almost up to her chin, arms around them, protecting her modesty.  I turned and stepped around the desk, where the furniture would protect mine.  I grabbed my boxers and jeans and pulled them on.

I heard a page turn.

“The book says you need to learn to manage your extra senses.  If you don’t, they can swallow you up, and you won’t find your way back to reality.”

“I think I remember.”

“It suggests techniques, but you have to find what works for you.  Closing your eyes, but not moving your eyelids.  Or try refocusing them, and find that point you reach to where you’re trying to refocus your eyes but you’re doing something else.  It becomes as natural as anything else about your body.  Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy.”

The bowls were still moving, I noted.  The lines still drifting.  One bowl made a ‘clink’ as it reached the wall, tapping the foot of one cabinet.

“How did you do it?” I asked, as I buttoned my jeans.

But Rose wasn’t in the mirror.

I looked around me.  There were other things that were catching my eye, now.  The lettering on books glittered a bit too much here and there, where the light caught it.  The script on the letter I’d torn stood out in bright blue where I’d torn it, while the other half remained nearly invisible.

I closed my eyes, exhaling, and then opened them.

But for the chalk lines and bowls in strange places, the room was normal.

I reversed the process.  Eyes closed, inhaling, eyes open.

Again, there were the hints of life.  I could see something faint, like dust motes, spraying lightly where the room ended and the hallway began.  As though the space warping effect was creating a kind of friction between spaces.

When I focused on the motes, they stood out in my vision, and I could see more of them in the room.

I cupped my hand to catch one.

It turned, doing a small somersault before darting between the fingers that tried to close around it.

I did what I’d done before, but I didn’t close my eyes.

The effect faded.

I turned it on again, but without doing anything with my breath or eyes.

Natural.

I checked to see if Rose had appeared, verified she hadn’t, and picked up the book.  I finished the chapter, rereading the bit on being awakened and the sight.  Now, as agreed on by men and Others, long ago, I’d see what was normally hidden from people.

Practitioners fell into categories, depending on their focus.  Some carried on this route, learning ways to influence the world that were naturally in tune with their bodies and will.  Some practitioners manipulated spirits, getting them to obey or infusing them into objects.  There were some who dealt with Others.  Many cultures, a long, long history of arts being invented and refined, it made for a wealth of possibilities.

I felt more equipped, now.  I couldn’t do anything but see, but I felt calmer, without as great a weight on my shoulders.

That would inevitably end when I got to the council meeting.

“Rose?” I asked.  “Are you getting changed?”

I approached the mirror.

Her diagram was still on the floor.  It hadn’t scattered like mine had.  It was still in place.

I realized I hadn’t checked what her personal object was.

I searched the outer rim.  Coin, skull, dreamcatcher…

“I don’t think it worked right,” Rose said, stepping into my field of view before I could spot it.  She was dressed, now.

“What?” I asked.  “You didn’t?  Why not?”

“It did something.  I…”

“What?” I asked.

She looked upset, met my eyes briefly, and then looked down.  “I… felt something, when I pledged my word.  I can see things.  But I don’t think it worked for me like it worked for you.  I may have fucked up.  Pledging something in exchange for nothing.  Losing the ability to lie, and getting nothing in exchange.”

“How can you be sure?” I asked.

“I’m not.  But… nothing ate my offerings like they did yours.  Nothing moved, as far as I can tell.  I… don’t think I can see anything on this side, because there’s nothing really to see.”

“Let’s check,” I said.  I walked over to the desk to put the book down, stepping over the dagger.  I flipped through it.  One page with an image dominating half of it.  A symbol was outlined, with arrows suggesting directions for drawing it.  A spiral, drawn from the outside in, then a triangle, with one point at the center, all as one motion.

“First workings?”

I heard her flipping through pages as well.  “Yeah.”

“Shamanism, movement,” I said.

“You have to spill blood,” she said.

I bent down to get the dagger, hesitated, and then cut the tip of my middle finger.

“Jesus,  Blake.”

I drew out the sign on a cup that was being used to hold pens and pencils.

When I looked, I could see the motes floating around and through it.

I gestured, a flick of my hand, and they reacted.  The cup jerked about two inches and crashed to the floor.

When I walked back to the mirror, I saw Rose there.

She gestured, and the book she’d chosen didn’t budge.

“Try something smaller?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, quiet, “because it’s not blood.  I’m not offering anything worth taking, and there aren’t any spirits here to listen and obey, are there?”

“There are other options, maybe?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, again.  “I don’t care anymore.”

“Careful what you say,” I said.  “Our word is binding.”

Her voice sounded like it was on the brink of breaking with emotion.  “Good night if I don’t run into you before you go to bed.  I’m going to take a bit to myself.”

I wanted to say something to console her, but I wasn’t sure what.

“Rose,” I said, but she was already gone.  I turned the mirror, following her, and she startled a little, almost stumbling as she nearly walked into a wall.

“What?”  She asked, clearly annoyed.

“I’m going to check on the barber again, if that’s okay?  I won’t say or do anything.  I just think it’s good to check.”

She nodded, mute.

“Sorry,” I said.

“I know you are,” she responded.  She smiled back, a tight, joyless expression.  “You can’t exactly lie now, can you?”

With that, she stepped out of my field of view.

I shucked off everything, as I’d done before, and opened the door to the tower.  This time, I looked, using the sight, keeping my eyes trained on the floor, using only peripheral vision to take in the circle.

It was still empty.

I felt a quavering in my stomach, a kind of fear.  He’d seemed so vague, in the books, but now that vague thing, capable of inflicting unspecified horrors on me, it was free?

I stood there, eyes on the floor, thinking.

When he appeared, it was so sudden I very nearly looked out of instinct.

He was crawling out of the shears.  Out of the reflective surface, and into the middle of the circle.

A brown-skinned man, his pale hair scraggly and long, inconsistent here and there, more baldness than hair.  He was old, wizened, with a potbelly, and spots all over his skin.

I couldn’t get more specific details without looking at him, and I wasn’t about to look.

An old Middle-Eastern or Indian man, malnourished to the point that his stomach was swelling.

He bent down, hauling the shears out of the ground.  I could see the painted circle the shears had penetrated disappear, as if it were only a coincidental light effect the shears had cast.

He sat down, his back to me, bony rear end on the hard floor, and then plunged the shears into his leg, like a gardener might stick a shovel in the dirt so it would stay upright for when he needed it.

Barbatorem leaned over, resting one narrow arm in the space between the two arms of the shears, forcing them open and gouging his leg open wider.  A foul stench filled the room.

He wasn’t acknowledging me.

Which I was fine with.  I eased the door shut, eyes still fixed on the floor.

There was a council meeting to prepare for.

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Bonds 1.6

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I paced.  The Demesnes text in hand, I walked from one end of the living room to the other, then walked back.

Another trip back and forth, and I stopped by the window, using the edge of the book to push the curtain back.  It was dusk outside, just past sunset, day two, and some of the locals had emerged.

If I didn’t know better, I might have thought the locals were trying to put pressure on me.  Men and women, some children, simply staking out the perimeter of the fence.  Some of them paced like I was doing, like tigers in their cell, while others were patient, smoking or holding phones to their ears.  A number of the ‘children’ were standing on the short stone wall, hands wrapped around the metal curls and spikes of the railing, eyes on the house.  Some talked, others were silent.

Most were normal enough I wouldn’t have looked twice.  A handful weren’t.  One little boy, separate from the others, kept scratching at his head, face, neck and arms, his fingers coming away black with his own blood, or so it appeared in the gloom.  I could see the gouge marks, dark lines cut into his skin, he would turn away, and they would be gone the next time I got a chance to see.  There was a woman with hair, hat and coat covering much of her face, but when I did get a glimpse, I saw only vague, black smudges where her eyes and mouth should be.  She held a cigarette up near her face, but never inhaled from it.  The others seemed rather intent on avoiding her, giving her a wide berth as she paced.

A car passed down the length of the road.  I tried to use the headlights to get a better look at the things, but the headlights revealed a mostly empty sidewalk, no Others but a small group of the ‘children’ that had hopped down from the fence and were simply walking as a group, heads covered by hats and hoods, hardly worthy of a glance.

My eyes had to adjust from focusing on the headlights.  The Others appeared from dark spots, and stepped out from behind the pillars that framed the gate.

I let the curtain drop, then resumed the pacing.  I’d read the same page five or six times.

“You’re making me nervous,” Rose said, startling me.  “You’ve been pacing the entire time I’ve been gone?”

Her hair was wet.  She’d left to go shower, but she still wore the same clothes as before.  Apparently she had running water, on her side.  That was interesting, considering there wasn’t necessarily anything for the pipes to connect to.

I’m nervous,” I said.  “I ordered pizza, but I didn’t think they’d come crawling out of the woodwork like this.  There’s a good ten or so out there.”

“Why did you order pizza?” she asked.

“Because I’m hungry?”  I responded.  “There’s nothing more than the most basic stuff in the kitchen, I’m going to go crazy or get sick living off flour tortillas, canned beans and tuna, and since I’ve got to figure out a way to keep myself supplied, I might as well start sooner than later.”

“Pizza isn’t supplies.”

“Pizza is a way of testing the waters,” I said.  “Will anyone in this town do business with me?  If I can’t order a pizza, I might have trouble getting groceries delivered.  If I can’t get groceries delivered, then I need to find a reliable, safe way of going outside.”

“So you put a pizza guy in the line of fire?”

“There wasn’t a line of fire when I called,” I said.  I looked outside again.  “It’s hard to keep track of time.  My sleep schedule’s all over the place, my eating schedule’s off track, and the days are short.  It’s dangerous, and it’s going to fuck me up.  Need to get back in the habit of sleeping at night and eating on time.  As is, I didn’t figure it would get dark so soon, and I didn’t figure they’d appear like this.”

“I know,” she said.  “Except I don’t even have the physical needs to gauge by, and it’s awfully dark in here.”

I peeked outside.

Two Others had joined the group.  One was very talkative, engaging with the eyeless, mouthless woman who had the cigarette, even venturing into the four or five foot bubble of personal space around her that the rest seemed to be respecting.

I reached for the phone.  Mind changed.

Bell Pizza.  What can I do you for?”

“I’d like to cancel my order,” I said.

You’ve already paid for your order.  The food is made and is on its way.  We can’t provide a refund.

“It’s fine.  Keep the money.  Just call back the delivery guy so he doesn’t waste his time.”

There was a pause.

I’m sorry.  We can’t refund your pizza, because we already prepared it.  It should be there in ten minutes or less.

He was feigning ignorance, with a touch of a bad accent, but he couldn’t hide the smugness.

“You’re being intentionally dense,” I said.

The guy on the other end hung up.

Fuck,” I said.

“So… now what?” Rose asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I doubt he’ll give me a fair hearing if I call back.  I don’t really know what to expect, here.  Even reading up on the basics, it doesn’t get into much depth about this.”

Rose nodded, “Essentials and Famulus were more focused on Other-practitioner relationships than general Other-human relationships.”

I could see her fidgeting.  I leaned forward.  “Earlier, you said you were nervous.  How does that work?  You don’t breathe any harder, since you don’t breathe.  Does your heartbeat pick up?  Does your body flood with the stress hormones, making you fidget?”

“That’s a no on every count,” she said.  I turned away from the window to look at her.  She elaborated, “My body’s always the same.  Stable, steady, there, but not doing anything except… I dunno.  Maintaining appearances?”

“But you get nervous.”

“My brain gets nervous,” she said.

“I’m not sure that makes sense, but okay,” I replied.  I looked down at the page I’d been rereading for the past twenty minutes, then tossed the book down onto the coffee table.

“You’re onto Demesnes,” she observed, craning her head to peer down.  “Me too.”

“It’s a fitting thing to read up on, here,” I said.  “Making your own sanctuary, while we have enemies gathering at the gates.  It seems like a pretty simple ritual.”

“Deceptively simple,” Rose said.

“Yeah, deceptively simple,” I agreed.  “You stake out the area, the magical equivalent of drawing out your borders and planting a flag, you say a few words, and you invite anyone, everyone and everything that objects to come and challenge you.  Trial by combat, riddles, placating them with deals, whatever you agree on.  The bigger the area you try to claim, the bigger the invitation you broadcast.  They each get to confront you the once, and the ritual ends when there are no challengers left, or when a set amount of time passes.  Claim a space the size of a closet, maybe get five to ten objections.  Claim a house, get fifty.”

“I’m thinking that’s one of the last things we want to do,” Rose said.  “When we have a familiar, and when we have an implement, so we have some ability to fight.”

“Except,” I said, “It’s a bit of a catch-22, isn’t it?  The demesne gives us a steady supply of power, with bigger spaces giving us more power.  It’s a sanctuary, and a place where we can bend the rules in our favor.  Right?  So we need a tool or a familiar to lay claim to as big a space as we can pull off.”

“Yes.”

“But we can’t infuse our tool until we have some power to infuse it with,” I said.  “Except…”

“That power would ideally come from the demesne,” Rose said.

I nodded, “Or the familiar, in terms of strength and shaping how the tool functions.  And we can’t start talking with Others about bringing them on board as a familiar until we have some established power already.”

“Necessitating a tool and a claim to some land,” Rose finished for me.  “Each of the three things requires the two others.”

I nodded.  “Or it necessitates a compromise.  We pick one front, we make it easy, like you suggested, go with the bare minimum.  Do one thing badly, use the leverage we gain to do the next thing in a mediocre way, and then use the two things to do really well with the last ritual.”

My pacing resumed, though I had my hands free, and I could stick them in the pockets of my wool hoodie.

“How do the others do it?” Rose asked.  “The Behaims and the Duchamps?”

“They have backup, I imagine,” I said.  “A mom and dad who are willing to sit in on a meeting with a familiar and vouch for them, or maybe even have a familiar arranged from early on or before the kid is born, things ready-made, a space set aside.”

“Magical trust fund kids,” Rose said.

“Basically,” I said.

“What about the North End Sorcerer?”

“What about him?”

“I take it you didn’t read the little black book from cover to cover?  Look him up.”

I shuffled through the tomes to find where I’d put the book. “I was going to read it later, after the major four were done, before the council meeting.”

“You don’t need to make excuses to me,” Rose said.  She had her own copy.  “Um.  Page thirty-two.”

I opened the tiny book.

Johannes Lillegard, believed to be an adopted name.  Practitioner.  The newest arrival in Jacob’s Bell as of August thirteenth, ‘ought-nine, he arrived at the council meeting of said date.  Johannes appears no older than twenty-five, but all facts suggest he claimed his demesne six or more years ago, a region spanning all of Jacob’s Bell, west and north of the hospital as well as the entire expansion north of the bridge.

I paused in my reading there, to ask, “The bridge?”

“The highway,” Rose said.  “It becomes a bridge where it passes over the marshland here.”

I pictured it, then stopped short.  “Wait, the commercial area north of the highway?  With the train station, the shops-”

“-The condos, the mall, the prefab houses, yes.”

“As his demesne?  The book talks about it in the context of rooms, of houses at the most.”

Rose didn’t reply.  When I glanced her way, she was nodding, a serious look joining the general exhaustion on her face.

“There’s a catch there,” I said.  “A drawback.”

“Oh, right, you’re only partway through,” Rose said.  “Demesnes are like trademarks.  Periodically, people are going to test them.  You need to respond, but you have the home court advantage.  The law’s on your side.  But if you claim something that broad, and if you can’t or don’t defend it when someone else puts one foot over the line, that weakens your stance.  But he’s defending it.”

“How?”

She pointed back at the little black book.

I read.

In conversation with Aimon Behaim and Sandra Duchamp, we mutually agreed that Johannes must have claimed the territory prior to the expansion appearing, though we’re unsure of when this might have been, for none of us to hear the claim or be able to respond to it, nor how he was able to do this at what might have been the age of thirteen or fourteen.  Mara has declined to answer any questions, being more taciturn than her usual,

Johannes seems to bear harsh wounds, no doubt tying back to his ambitious claim, with no use of one eye, one hand and one leg, though the tissues appear undamaged.  He bears a set of antique pipes as his implement, and has a Gatekeeper of the Seventh Ring (ref Astral Bodies: vol 3, and Prime Movers) as his familiar, named Faysal Anwar, which takes the form of a rather large Afghan Hound.

Note:
Johannes has made his second appearance at council meetings, February sixth, year two thousand and ten.  Occasion to expand my notes.  Arrogant, and justified in it.  Enigmatic.  He spends almost all of his time within his demesne, stepping outside only to defend his claim and attend occasional meetings.  This makes gathering information hard.  Favors manipulation of space.

Note:
Touching up all of my notes, for my soon-to-be heiress.  He is a manipulator, content to bait people and lure them to their doom.  Fitting, given the implement of choice.  He safeguards his demesne by making it a fiefdom, with neighborhoods held by Others and a handful of lesser practitioners.  Stay clear, this is a threat you do not need to face down.

I looked up at Rose.  “He’s powerful, then.”

She said, “He doesn’t have a family.  He had nothing given to him in advance, as far as we know.  But he managed something.”

“Okay,” I said.  “So there are obviously other options.  Approached directly, the situation is filled with contradictions and obstacles, but maybe there’s an oblique answer, like Johannes found?”

“Like what I was talking about with the witch hunters,” Rose said.

That again.  I shook my head.

“You’re refusing my ideas too fast,” she said, and the emotion in her voice caught me off guard.  She was irritated, upset.  “Have you even read up on witch hunting, Blake?”

“No,” I said.  “Have you?”

“I can’t.  I need you to rotate the mirror in the study.  Damn it, listen, there are things we can learn to do that don’t rely on familiar, implement or demesne.  Like Laird’s shamanism.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’m very on board with that.”

“But you aren’t on board with getting the protections witch hunters have?  If anything’s going to get us killed, it’s a knee-jerk reactions and making stupid assumptions.”

“It’s not that I don’t like the idea of protection,” I said.  “But when someone says ‘witch hunter’, it makes me think of hunting things.  Fighting, instead of defense.  And I think that any of those protections we might use as practitioners are going to be found in books for practitioners.  It’s hard enough without overcomplicating it, sifting through all the stuff we can’t use for some tidbits we could find elsewhere.  Can we compromise?  Maybe focus on getting this wizardry crap down, and we’ll look at the witch huntery stuff later, as the side project it is?”

When I looked at Rose, she was frowning, eyebrows knit.  tapping her hand on some surface in front of her.

We were similar in other ways.  Prone to anger.  But something told me that Rose wasn’t one to actually show or exercise that anger.

Something to watch for, if she was bottling up her stress.  What outlets did she have to vent it, and how would she react if she couldn’t?

Fine,” she said, in that way that girls were so very good at.  She took a deep breath, then sighed.  Purely for effect, I imagined.  Calmer, she said, “We shelve that idea.  We can use trickery, deception, manipulation, to get our foot in the door, get one of the three major things we need.”

“Agreed,” I said.  “Harder than it sounds, because Others are naturally deceptive and are probably looking out for those tricks.”

“What else?  We could try marshaling forces, like he is.  We need a good rapport with Others to figure out who we might pick for a familiar, right?”

“There’s a problem with that,” I said.  I reached for the mirror, then stopped.  “May I?”

“Yes.”

I lifted the mirror from where I’d hooked it onto the bookcase, then carried it to the window, pushing the curtains apart.  I set the bottom end of the mirror on the windowsill.

There were five more Others than before.  All clustered around the fence.  The rest were still there.  Waiting.

Rose was turned away from me, so I couldn’t see her, and she was silent, leaving me to stand there, presenting our situation.

“That’s the issue, right now.  That’s the biggest complication we’re facing with the rituals, with life in general.  Someone’s done the equivalent of putting a price out on our head, or they said that the usual rules for going after someone in an inhabited area are on hold, for me, or for us,” I said, my voice low.  “We can’t conduct any rituals, because those guys are waiting to fuck us up.”

“That-” Rose started.

She stopped short as a car appeared, parking at the far end of the street, a sign perched on top.

This time, seeing the vehicle approach, I could see how the Others moved out of the way of the headlights.  Stepping literally into shadows, or stepping to a position where they were out of sight.  In the latter case, it looked like they were stepping out of my field of view, to where the fence or columns on either side of the gate were blocking my view, but I felt like they were doing it for everyone that might be looking.  Finding a universal blind spot.

A guy stepped out of the car, holding the insulated bag with the pizza inside.  He crossed the street, and approached the gate.

“Stop him, Blake,” Rose said.

“I want to, but how?”

“I don’t know.  Shout?”

I strode to the front door, hauled it open, and bellowed, “Hey!”

Others appeared from the shadows by the gate, a ‘child’ with his back to the stone column, glancing my way.  Further down the street, I could see the faceless woman with the cigarette appear behind the delivery guy.

He didn’t stop walking.  When he shouted back, I couldn’t make out the words.

“Stop!  I don’t want it!  Go back to the car!”  I hollered.

Again, I couldn’t make out his reply.

I watched as the Others closed in.

The ‘little boy’ who’d been scratching himself walked down the street, so short I could barely make him out over the stone wall which bordered the property.

He approached the delivery man head on, not moving out of the way.  When it looked like they might collide, the ‘boy’ hopped up onto the short stone wall.  His hand around the man’s wrist.

A moment later, so fast I couldn’t see it, the boy slammed the delivery guy’s hand down on the railing.  The man screamed, dropping the pizza, hand impaled on the spiked railing that ran along the top of the short wall.  He tried to pull it free, but the ‘boy’ still had a grip on his wrist.

“Hey!”  I shouted.  I stepped out onto the porch.

A girl hopped up, using the man’s knee as a foothold, grabbing the delivery man by the jaw.  She was more monkey than child as she swung up onto the wall.  The momentum of the swing brought his head down and forward, driving it into the top of the railing.

I could hear the sound it made on impact, which said a lot, considering how I hadn’t been able to hear his words.  There was no saying how much was the upper row of teeth breaking on impact with the railing, or the sound of the jaw breaking as it was wrenched down with a sudden weight of the not-little-girl.

The girl let go, walking along the top of the railing, her arms extended to either side, pigtails swinging, the grin the only part of her I could make out beneath the winter clothes, too wide, filled with very white teeth that didn’t match each other.

I could hear his continued screams, now more strangled than they’d been.

I felt cold, paralyzed.  Had I just killed a man, simply by inviting him here?

The faceless woman caught up to him.  Her free hand reached into the back of his head, and I could make out the fingers reaching out the front, moving just beneath the skin, closing together into a fist over one of his eyes.  She moved her hand, leaving the skin bound shut in a knot of flesh, and she closed the other eye in the same manner.

Another movement, nearer the mouth and throat, and the screams were cut off.

Knitting, molding his flesh, almost casually.

My concern was no longer that I’d killed the man.  My concern was that he might live.

“Blake!”  Rose’s voice, from the living room.  “You have to help him!”

I took a step forward, then stopped as the faceless woman continued her work.  Her fingers wriggled and crawled across the man’s scalp, just beneath his skin, burying his hair, reaching down to cover his ears.  Trapping him in his own skin, so his own flesh was a hood over his face.

“Blake!”

I thought back to one idle thought I’d had in the past hours.

The house was a sanctuary against Other and practitioner both.

I glanced around me, then very carefully took a step back through the door, past the threshold and into the house.

Laird had come to the front door.

“He’s dying!”

There were rules.  I couldn’t know which ones still held, here, which ones the locals had called off, while I was a problem.  But there were rules.

I remained where I was, watching.

She held the cigarette aloft, poised as if she might take a puff at any moment, while her other hand pulled free, then plunged into his chest cavity.

The muffled grunts and violent jerks he made in response were worse than the screams.

The talkative one kept chattering, nonstop, the ‘children’ making little sounds of amusement, laughing and cooing.  The others who’d joined in seemed content to watch, standing silently on the fringes.

I watched a car appear, traveling down the street from the opposite direction the delivery guy had come.  The talkative one practically leaped, taking hold of the faceless woman.  His momentum turned her around, and he leaned forward, simultaneously leaning her back, so they were pressed together, their bodies covering their victim.  I could see the talkative one’s face stop an inch from the smudged blur of hers.

The car passed, the headlights illuminating what the people in the car would see as two embraced lovers, kissing at the side of the street.  The remainder were hidden.  I watched as the car reached the end of the road, stopping at a stop sign.

“Blake, salt is a purifying material, cleansing.  It can work against certain Others,” Rose said.  “There’s a ton in the study, if you can’t find any in the kitchen.  Go and throw it at them!”

I didn’t move.

“Blake!  Please!”  She sounded desperate, now.

The car turned and disappeared out of sight.  The two Others broke apart, and the faceless woman clawed at the talkative one.  Vicious, angry, almost feral.  He gave her only laughs in response, as he ducked out of the way.

The faceless woman gave up and turned back to her victim.  I could see where she’d reached through his chest to grip the railing, fixing him to the metal.

Rose was screaming, now.  “Damn you, Blake!  Damn you!  God!  Fuck!”

She hit the mirror.

The noise Rose was making seemed to get attention.  The talkative one looked up at me.

I slowly shook my head.  I felt physically ill, all expression and utterances choked from me by the feeling of my heart in my throat.

But there was no fucking way I was going out there.

The talkative one said something to the others.

I saw the delivery guy lurch, tearing free in a mess of blood and ripped skin.  His dislocated jaw hung down his teeth a bloody ruin.

He laughed, and it wasn’t a human sound.

When he joined the ‘children’ in cavorting about, I allowed myself to believe it.  He wasn’t human.  He had never been.

An Other, joining the faceless woman in some psychological warfare.

I could hear them laughing, in the two or so seconds it took me to slam the door.

“It was a trick?” Rose asked, as I crossed the room to where I’d left the mirror in the window.  “They-”

I saw a movement immediately before Rose shrieked.  I grabbed the mirror, pulling it away from the window.

The little ‘girl’ with the toothy mouth and the pigtails peeking out from a hat that hid her eyes, hair and ears had appeared just outside the window.  She now scratched at the glass with long fingernails.

“They wanted me outside,” I said.  “The house is a sanctuary, the property isn’t.  Staying behind the railing like they were, it was meant to mislead us.  I might have fallen for it, if Laird hadn’t come all the way to the front door.”

“They’re clever.”

“The book warned us they were.”

“How sure were you?” she asked.  “That he wasn’t human?”

I didn’t answer.  Rose was staring at me, and I avoided her gaze.

Others were scratching and tapping on windows, now.  I heard a scrabbling, as if something was on the porch overhang.

“God,” Rose said.

“This is what Molly was dealing with,” I said, quiet.  My heart was still pounding, my mouth so dry I needed to try three times before I could speak again, but the fear and helplessness were disappearing.  I clenched my fist.  “All on her lonesome.  Hearing things just outside the house, all night.  Nowhere good to go for help.”

“We’re not in a great place either,” Rose said.

“No.  But we have each other,” I said.  “You had my back last night, with Padraic.  I might not have made it home in one piece without that.  Thank you, by the way, if I haven’t already said.”

“You have, twice, but it’s okay.  We’re figuring this out.”

I nodded.  My thoughts were going a mile a minute, but I had trouble saying just what the destinations were.

“What are you thinking?” Rose asked.

“I’m thinking…” I said, trying to sum it up.  “I think we’re almost ready.”

“Ready?”

“We’ve seen what kind of games the practitioners will play.  We’ve seen how the Others function, in part.  We have a sense of what we need to accomplish, and an abstract sense of how.  And maybe it helps a little that I’m a bit scared and a lot angry.”

“You want to awaken,” she said.

I nodded.  “Before the council meeting tomorrow.  Getting a familiar, the tool, and the demesne is something that can wait.”

“Yeah,” she agreed.  “I think we should.  You want to do it now, or do you need to eat first?”

“Two things, first,” I said.  “Eating isn’t one of them.”

I dialed the pizza place again.

Bell Pizza, what can I do you for?

“Hi-”

No,” he said.  “Not doing business with you.

“It’s about the pizza guy.”

We never sent anyone.  I asked a driver if he wanted to go, he said he wasn’t delivering to a haunted house.” 

The irony being this house was maybe the least haunted locale in Jacob’s Bell.

“I say it isn’t haunted, but it’s owned by you fucks, isn’t it?

“One of us,” I replied.

You’re Assholes, all of you, holding all the rest of us back.  You know my brother bought a place here, because this place was supposed to grow?  Except you’re not selling, and it’s losing value every year, needing more repairs.  You-

“I just wanted to check the pizza guy wasn’t going to show,” I said, but he was talking over me.

-off on the power, I think, bullies.  Knowing you’re driving the rest of us into ruin.  You want a fucking pizza?

“I changed my mind a while ago, remember?”

Fuck you.  Fuck yourself!  I already talked to the other pizza place.  Don’t expect a thing, until you’ve sold that place.  Fuck you.”

“Fine,” I said.  “It’s just pizza.”

But he’d already hung up.

It’s just pizza, I told myself.

“Fuck,” I said, as my annoyance bubbled to the surface.

“You can’t be surprised.  I mean, you knew people hated you here.”

“The woman at the coffee place was surprisingly respectful of the idea that I might be in mourning,” I said.

“Being a decent person and hating our guts isn’t mutually exclusive,” Rose said.

“Fuck,” I said again, still annoyed.

“It can’t be that big a deal, compared to what just happened outside.”

“You took a shower just a bit ago,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Sorry to ask, but do you even get dirty, on that side?”

“No,” she said.  “Pretty sure I don’t.  Some dust, but I don’t sweat.”

“I’m guessing you needed to shower to enjoy a mundane comfort,” I said.  “Feel a bit more human.”

“Alright,” Rose said.  “Point taken.  Sorry about your pizza.”

I shrugged.

“I could do with more human comforts myself,” she said.

I nodded, “Something to figure out.  I’ll help any way I can.  But first-”

“Awakening,” Rose said.

I nodded.  “Meet you in the study.”

I took the stairs two at a time.

I’d opened the second secret door on the second floor, which made for a quicker arrival at the lower floor.  The room was far darker without the sunlight from above.

I twisted the knobs of the two lamps that sat on and beside the desk, respectively.  When the room was still too dark around the edges, I lit the oil lamps at the edges.  Each lamp illuminated a slice of the bookcases, cabinets or shelves to either side of them.  Where the lettering on books had been done in foil or a reflective material, the lamplight caught it, highlighting the scripts in a soft orange-yellow, while the books themselves remained dark.

By the time I’d finished, Rose had lit up the room on her side.  The light from behind her made the edges of her clothes and hair glow.

She held a wrought-iron compass, with a spike in one end and chalk embedded in the other.  I watched as she stabbed the floor, then walked in a circle, using the other arm to draw the wide circle in chalk.

She had the curved ruler that she used to measure the distance, then erased a spot.  She was reaching for the compass again when she looked at me.

“Blake?”

“You’re doing the ritual too?”

“If I can,” she said.  “Aren’t you starting?”

“I said there were two things I needed to do first,” I said.

“Phoning the pizza place and…”

I crossed the room, lifting a book free of a shelf, then walked back into Rose’s field of view.

No, Blake.”

I hefted the book.  Diabolatry, R.D.T.  The black cover was surprisingly flexible and soft, the lettering on the spine and cover were done in gold, catching the lamplight.

No,” she said again, as if saying it over and over again with increasing intensity might drive it into my head.

“What was it you said?” I asked.  “Stupid knee-jerk assumptions are going to get us killed?”

“I’m all for stupid knee-jerk assumptions when we’re dealing with that.  Laird said they were the mystical equivalent of nuclear missiles.”

“I’m not proposing we use them.  But I want to know what we’re dealing with.”

“Blake.  You know that moment in the horror movies, where you’re screaming at the actors?  ‘Don’t go up the stairs’, ‘don’t touch the glowing skull’?  Don’t read the book.

I frowned.

“What are you even thinking?”

“That the things outside were horrifying, the faceless woman, the pseudo-faerie we ran into.  So… why are these things so much worse?  What makes them ‘nuclear’?  We’re walking into that meeting, and I can’t help but think that everyone there is going to know exactly what’s going on here, and we’re going to be in the dark.  We can’t afford to look weak or stupid.”

“We are weak and stupid,” Rose said.  “We’re untrained, ignorant, out of the loop, and we don’t have any of the good stuff that practitioners bring to the table.  No tools, no familiars, no demesnes, no tricks or any of that.

“We can’t afford to let on how badly off we are.  Having one tidbit of info we can allude to, to scare the pants off them if we need it-”

“-Is liable to get us killed,” Rose finished for me.  “I get it, wanting to know just what we’re sitting on, but handling the dangerous goods is not the way to find out.”

I hefted the book, feeling its weight.

“Come on,” she said, lowering her voice to be gentler, “I compromised earlier.  Can you do the same?”

“Damn it,” I said.

“Is that a ‘yes’ damn it or a ‘no’ damn it?”

“Yes,” I said.

I moved to put the book on the bookshelf.  A flap of paper caught on the shelf, keeping me from sliding it into place.

When I pulled the book back, the paper dropped.  Fragments of dry wax and a small key danced across the floor.

Folded into thirds, it had been sealed into an envelope of sorts by wax.  The key had apparently been melted into the wax, only to be freed by the impact.

“Leave it,” Rose said.  “Nothing good comes of that.  Sweep it under the desk, ignore it.  Please?”

“I would,” I said, “But wax makes a seal, and that seal just broke.”

“That’s reaching,” Rose said.

“Okay, maybe,” I said.  “But tell me you can’t imagine a drawing of something coming to life and crawling free of that page.”

“Now you’re being manipulative,” Rose said, “Playing to my paranoia.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

Yes, I can imagine it.  Yes, are you happy?”

I wasn’t.  I picked up the page.  On the backside, there were only two words.

My heiress.

I turned it around.

My heiress,

If you’ve come this far, there must be a pressing need.  You’ve been driven into a corner, or the situation is otherwise dire.  I imagine time may well be paramount.  Remember that haste makes waste, and you must step with utmost care from this point on.

I’ve left you something, or perhaps it is more correct to say I’ve left you someone.  I refer to him as Barbatorem, making a small joke, as I tend to do, but he is an older one, bearing some status and a few stories from years past, with no name of any meaning that has survived the passage of time.  You should be able to find those stories and notes on that status in Dark Names, p. 38.

You’ll find him waiting in the tower room, which you will need the key to enter.  Staying outside the circle is first in your list of things to keep in mind, which I list here because there are no better places to put the warning.  I should hope such obvious things don’t need to be stated.

Cast aside all notion of manners.  Do not greet him, do not ever say please or thank him.  Do not ask him if he would or could do something.  Give him no food or succor.  There are older meanings in these things and they will either free him or give him power over you.  Sometimes it is very little power, and sometimes it is all the power he needs to achieve his ends.

Put aside all metal and reflective things before entering the tower room, and ensure the space remains dark.  He exists in a more abstract capacity, whatever physical forms he takes, and if his image is cast in a surface, he will exist in that surface, allowing him to step free of that surface and the confines of the circle.  For these same reasons, do not ever look directly at him, even for a moment, lest he be reflected in your eyes.  Rest assured, he will not ever step free once he dwells there.

He perceives the passage of time differently than we do.  He’ll be content to sit in the circle I drew out until the sun grows cold.  For him, the conversation is ongoing, and you’ll need to see the notes on his page in Dark Names so you can continue from where I, and each member of our line, left off.  Failure to do so may confuse or irritate him.  In any case, you can come and go, and he’ll see no difference in it.  He does not speak, which led me to use the shorthand for gestures you’ll find on the final page of his entry.  Please maintain those notes consistently, for those who come after you.

If you intend to deal with him, use one of the templates outlined in Dark Contracts, which I left to the right of the desk.  Page 15, 17, 29 and 77 are good places to look, if you find yourself in a hurry.  Do not improvise, for words must be chosen with utmost care.  The final third of the book has recommended terminology with examples, which you can insert into the templates as needed.  Do not trust Mr. Beasley or his firm for assistance.  They are, quite naturally, unreliable on this front.

Failing all else, keep your eyes on the painted circle, stay silent, and keep to the contracts found in my books.  You can consult my texts if you have any further questions.  I regret that I am unable to assist you here,

R.D.T.

“What is it?” Rose asked.  “The look on your face scares me.”

The look on my face?  I touched my face.

“You look like someone just died.”

“No,” I said.  “No.”

I moved to put the letter down on the desk, and it slid off.  I picked it up again, tried to put it on the desk, and the corner of the paper caught, bouncing it out of my hand and back onto the floor.

On the third attempt, I turned it over, examining it under the light.  Sky blue ink on white, barely visible, outlining a script that was reminiscent of the rune that Laird had drawn in sugar.

Holding it firmly in both hands, I set it down on the table, pressing it down in place.  It stayed.

A moment later, as I turned to make sure I’d put the book away properly, I generated a brush of air that sent the letter to the floor again.

Once disturbed, apparently, it was insistent on staying disturbed.

Experimentally, I tore it, a little tear to cross the sky blue symbols.  When I put it down this time, it stayed down.

“You’re scaring me, Blake.”

“She left something behind,” I said.

Something?”

“Something Other.  Fitting to her particular specialty.  It’s upstairs.”

No.”  Seeing Rose, I had a sense of how I probably looked.

“I need to check,” I said.

There was no argument this time.  Chances were good she was too stunned to say anything.

The black-painted key in hand, I made my way up the ladder, out the door to the top floor, and then up the staircase to the tower room.

I checked everything, then pulled off my sweatshirt, in case the tab on the zipper counted as reflective.  I swept my hands over my entire body to double-check.

The key clicked in the lock.  I let the door swing open.  When I moved my eyes, I did so with care, keeping to the periphery of the room, then inching closer.

The round window jutted out to my right, with a cushioned bench beneath for sitting on.  Once upon a time, it would have been a good spot for reading.  Now, it was shuttered and locked, with old books stacked on the bench like bricks.  A table sat to my left, stacked with papers that were securely weighed down.

The floor… I saw the circle, painted in white.  ‘Circle’ was perhaps an understatement, given the concentric circles and lines that sprawled across the floor, burdened with embellishment, scripts and geometric shapes, as well as other smaller circles hosting more of the same.

It didn’t take long for my eyes to see it.

A pair of shears, no doubt fallen from the table, impaled a line in the innermost circle of the diagram on the floor.

Nothing stood within.

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