Category Archives:  Arc 10 (Mala Fide)

Gathered Pages (Arc 10)

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Notebook 27:
Note:
  Archiving paper letter, sent.

Mr. Samaniego,

Thank you for your latest shipment.  It was just what I needed.  My sister was thrilled with the katana, and intends to use it regularly.  I did pass on your warning about katanas being far less effective than they appear to be in movies and video games, but she didn’t seem to care.  I’m caught between worrying she’ll get killed when it breaks at a critical moment or fall into a funk and be impossible to deal with for a week.

All the same, the gift bought me a week of her listening to me.  That matters a lot.  Thanks again.

To answer your question, things are heating up here, but are still under control.  A storm is brewing, and things that would stay away have been gravitating closer.  It isn’t the other practitioners at work.  I can’t help but imagine savvy crows lurking near a place that will soon be a battlefield.  Your offer for help is appreciated, but wouldn’t go over well.  I don’t know about the other locals, but Sandra has made it clear she knows who you are and would rather you stay away.

When you next collect from the black stipend, can you put some of it toward a bid for plastic explosive, low priority.  While you’re in that neighborhood, can you double check the rocket fund?  I could use the extra firepower if things go south.

I’ve finished the wiring on the radio.  It’s a week earlier than you asked for.  Recording and live feed options.  The live feed will kill batteries, so I included some with a good lifespan to them just in case, in a second routing.  To activate the hidden camera, use a pen or something else to depress the space between the AM and FM buttons.  I’m interested in hearing if you can see the camera lens without turning it on.  Reminder: your average practitioner will be able to look and see if something’s watching them, even if it’s a camera.  It’s a little heavy too, thanks to the extra batteries, you might want to watch out for that.

My best to the kids.

– Andy

Notebook 27:
Note:
  Archiving paper letter, received.

Andy boy,

Good go with the camera.  Not so bad.

I opened it to dig out the extra battery and live feed.  Too much of a giveaway.  The detail work and hidden lens were good as they were, much better than anything my hands can do.  I can put just about any gun or an engine back together, but I can’t put tiny holes in the front of a plastic radio without making a hash of it.

Don’t worry about the camera being seen.  It’s not for any wizards or whatchits.  One of my crew has been acting funny.  Whole reason you’re supposed to operate in larger groups.  More eyes.  He’s still got his senses, but he’s dodging the cameras he knows about.  Might be drugs, might be witchery.  Might be he’s a clever something else who took his memories along with his face.

I’d leave it like it is and keep an eye on him, but my ex dropped the kids off (here of all places!) and I saw the man talking with them.  It’s enough to concern, if he’s unsafe.  We’ve got a new recruit, about your age, and you know I like to be careful with the trainees.  Too easy for bad influence to take hold as they mature.  I’m not specifically naming your sister here.  Not specifically.

The kids are fine.  Thanks for asking.  Long winter’s getting to them.  They only get a few hours of daylight that isn’t seeing them stuck inside a classroom.  I do what I have to, and they do their thing.  Keep me motivated, pop into my mind when it’s down to the wire and I need to dig up a bit more something to push through.

The quartet in ‘Magog picked up all the C4 we had to dole out before I could get your bid in.  Supplies are running low, with the last source we had getting arrested.  I know you said Eva was messing around with your grenades, and I know Mac taught you how to rig a daisy chain pin pull.  I stuck a belt of pineapples in your shipment.  I can’t imagine it’s unwanted.

Rocket?  I have serious reservations about giving you that RPG launcher, boy.  Either you’re using it, and I don’t think you’re equipped for it, or your sister is using it, and we’re talking a slew of other problems.

Consider asking for help instead.  Offer still stands.  I trust your sensibility, Andy boy.  If you think you need seven (now eight) good witch hunters to cut down the riff raff, you know we’re good for it.  We’re all in this together, Andy boy.  You two, me and my guys, the Magog nuts, the Montreal organization.

If you say no, then I’ll accept that.  I’ll trust your sensibility a little less, but I’ll accept that.

You know those files that Mac always had us fill out?  Wouldn’t mind seeing your best attempt at one.  I’m particularly interested in just how much danger you think you’re in.  A big part of the reason we interact is to share knowledge.  If you or Eva get yourselves into trouble, the rest of us need the details to walk into that situation with our eyes open.

-Samaniego.

Notebook 27:
Note:
  Andy’s personal notes

The diary section.  Having sat here trying to figure out what I should do, I can’t help but see the open book and know I really should.  If anyone picks up the top book off the stack of volumes, I’ll say here what I said before.  I was never good at this.  Eva’s better at it than I am, which is weird, since I’m the book guy.  She tape records it, but she still does the personal diary bits pretty consistently.

I’m writing stream of consciousness because if I stop, I won’t get going again.  That’s the big problem with me.

When we got our training and they gave us all the tools we need to do this, they kept going on about how important the diaries are.  They made us read some too.

I think my problem is that I think too much.  Most of us who start this when we’re kids, we don’t live long enough to leave anyone behind.  Humans have an instinctive desire to leave a legacy.  I don’t like myself enough to want to leave anything of myself behind.

The tone of things is changing.  Everyone’s excited, Eva included, and all I can think about is what comes next.

Notebook 27:
Note:
  After Action Report (Andy & Eva)

Job commissioned by council.

Incident was raised by Joanna Duchamp, the younger, corroborated by other members of the younger council – informal group of practitioners consisting of Behaims, Duchamps, Maggie Holt and possibly padraic.

Grade schoolers in Joanna’s classroom reported a shallow puddle in the woods east of school.  Stones and branches that were dropped into the puddle disappeared, leaving no trace, only muddy clouds.  Children were joking about pushing each other in, or threatening to throw the boots or hats of others into the muddle.

Joanna was unable to show us the way.  My suspicion is that the puddle noted her approach.  Contacted young neighbor and got directions.  Eva and I went to look.

The puddle was a manifestation of a frog spirit.  We rigged a treated wire snare for a countermeasure, and Eva stood by with a weapon.  We disrupted the manifestation to raise the frog spirit, and killed it with a treated wire snare.

Frogs should be hibernating for the winter.  It concerns me that a frog spirit would be active at this time of year.

Our resources aren’t fleshed out enough to identify it in more detail or look up why.  I received mail from Samaniego two days ago, and I’ve been meaning to respond.  Tomorrow.  Am tired after two long hikes past the school in one day.

Notebook 27:
Note:
  Archiving paper letter, sent.

Mr. Samaniego,

I’ve attached backups of all my files.  See .crypt 1 through 26 and ’27incomplete’.  You’ll need a program to open them.  I included a notepad document with some directions on how to get that program.  I wanted to protect all exchanges – to access pages where you and I exchanged correspondence, you or I would have to supply the password.  The same goes for my conversations with Creevey.

Your offer for help is appreciated and accepted.  I would still ask you to please steer clear of Jacob’s Bell.  My need for help takes another form.  If your trainee is still there, I would very much appreciate if you could have her set up something online for sharing information.  A slow but steady stream of guests have been arriving over the past week, and I can’t keep up, going at the rate I have been.  Eva’s fine, Eva runs on instinct, but I need to research what we’re up against, so I at least know what to steer her away from.

Please see pages 120, 122 and 150 in volume twenty six and pages 45 and 60 in volume twenty-seven.  Also, I described a series of creatures on page 71 of volume twenty-seven.

Help with identification would go a long way.

Eva and I would very much like to have our rocket launcher.  I talked about it with her, in the sense of the general situation, and she agreed.  No jokes, no apparent manipulation.  I think she realizes that things are getting more dangerous, and recognizes the need for more firepower.

If Eva and I are on the same page about something, that’s indication enough.

-Andy

Notebook 27:
Note:
  Archiving paper letter, received.

Andy boy,

You had to ask about the computers, huh?  I’ve put the new recruit on it.

If the two of you are on the same page, yeah, I’ll go with it.  I’ve asked around about your weapon, and passed on the files.  The others will get back to you.

Good luck.

-Samaniego

Notebook 27:
Note:
  Andy’s personal notes, after action reports.

Met with the unnamed practitioner, placed tape with conversation transcript in the Holt file.  We left on amiable terms, despite Eva’s initially hostile response (threatening to shoot the practitioner).  I’m concerned about Eva, and it’s not something I can address with Mac, Creevey or the Magog group.

We walked different paths from the beginning.  Different forms of training, different amounts of time spent with Mac’s group, Creevey, in Halifax, and with the talons in Rhode Island.  They trained us in all the basics, but they emphasized our strengths too.  While I was learning to use a hunting rifle, Eva was hunting goblins with a sword in hand.  While I was learning about the basic principles of the practice in Halifax, Eva was in London, Ontario, doing god knows what.

I’m increasingly worried that something went wrong.  That she ran into something and it got to her.

I’m not sure it was one of the monsters.  Not in the fang and claw sense.

We had two jobs on behalf of the council, keeping things tidy while they get their ducks in a row.  Non-allied threats are still lingering.  Goblins are supposed to sleep for sixteen to twenty-two hours a day, but I’ve noticed goblins have been more awake and active than that.  Ghosts are cropping up, and they should be quieter than they are.  Old echoes are stirring.

Things move so slowly that we don’t see the gradual changes, but the monsters who live for centuries do.  I’ve wondered for a long time why the monsters gather in the same places the practitioners do.  The obvious answer is that the practitioners follow where the monsters are, drawing on the power the monsters can give them.  But I don’t think that’s it.  The monsters should want to avoid the practitioners, who are the best equipped to bind them.

The second answer is that monsters are practitioners.  We know about some cases.  See Mara in the files for Jacob’s Bell.  It’s a common theory with Faerie, and obviously the likes of vampires and werewolves, which are much rarer and more monstrous than conventional media would have us believe.  Again, it’s an answer, but it doesn’t feel like ~the~ answer.

This is a thought I’m putting together as I put pen to paper, something I’ve thought about in the shower, but what if the monsters are following practitioners because there’s some fallout we’re not fully aware of?  What if we’re gouging reality?  I sit in on the council meetings, because I don’t trust Eva to go alone, and I won’t stop her from seeing what she views as ‘the drama’.  I watch Sandra and Johannes interact, and I see them practicing.  A part of me wonders, are each of those displays generating some attention?  Are some or all of the monsters detecting magic in the air like sharks in the water detecting magical signals or sniff out blood?

They become a little less human over time.  They make compromises, and they might unwittingly be inviting the monsters into Jacob’s Bell.  Sandra does it because it’s the way it has always been done in her family.  Johannes does it with the future in mind.  Both do it to be on top.

I think about that.  The selfish actions, and the unwitting damage they may be causing.  I don’t like it, but I have to keep doing what I do.

Promises.  Responsibilities.

Eva is all about action.  She doesn’t like to sit still, and when she does, she turns on the television and tunes into something that lets her turn her brain off.  Or blares music so loud that thinking is impossible.

For a long time, she was better than me.  Maybe she still is, standalone.  If Sandra needed to die, I think Eva could do it.  I could do it too, but not without drawing on expensive tools, planning for days or a week.

It felt subversive, giving the girl with the scarf weapons.  It wasn’t something I should have done, standing where I do.

There are promises to keep.

In the interest of keeping those promises, we went after two of the monsters.  Trying to keep things under control.

In the middle of the day, we had to deal with a gnome or brownie or fairy-cousin of some sort.  A little person disguised as one of us, going door to door with a clipboard.  There was something questionable in the fine print.

The rules are strict when it comes to going after the regular people.  Our hunt wasn’t successful.  It was fast, it was tricky, and we weren’t coordinated enough.  It was one of the monsters that’s been around so long it knows most of the conventional tricks.

Eva blamed me for letting it slip away.  She was probably right.

I was inspired to write this entry by the meeting with the girl with the scarf, because I definitely want better records if memories are being altered, and by the night that followed, because a thought crossed my mind, and it felt like more of an epiphany.

Eva and I both had guns.  Shotguns with rock salt for a ghost.  Not perfect, but it slowed it down.  The echo went as quickly as it’d resurfaced.

The police came, hearing the gunshots.  We couldn’t afford to get caught without the practitioner police chief in town to get us off the hook.

The close call made me think.  I was tired, I don’t have a lot of stamina on a good day, and for a moment, I nearly considered giving up.

I nearly gave up on my promise to Mac.

Hearing Eva yell at me, I felt like it was a role reversal.

What if I’m as bad as she is?  I’ve yelled at her so many times for getting into hairy situations, for taking risks, or making blind leaps, picking a fight without knowing exactly what she’s fighting.

But she’s a genius, in terms of talent.  She can go toe to toe with a faerie that’s glamoured itself up as a vampire, harboring some of the best traits of both, and still cut the thing’s head from its shoulders.

The thought hit me that I’m just as bad as she is.  To want to get arrested.  To have it end.  Knowing that she’s behind bars, and so am I, and the responsibility is over.  No caring for the sister who trained in how to fight monsters and became one.  Just me, a prison cell, and a book.

To end my existence.

Realizing that was a wake up call, hearing it from Eva’s lips doubly so.

I don’t want to go down that road.

That means being more regular with my diary entries.  Polish my skills.

The promise to Mac still holds.  He was my teacher.  More of a dad than anyone was to me.  I owe him too much.  As infuriating as Eva can be, Mac saved her for me.  Mac saved me from me.  He saved my parents, even if it was with an ice pick through the temple.

It’s my duty to see the promise through.

Andrew,

I know we haven’t been in contact, but three people have been in touch with me in the past week, asking my advice in identifying the creatures you’ve described this past week.  Rather than let the irritations continue, I’m going to the source.  You’ll have ten deliveries in the next two weeks.  Boxes of books.  My secondhand tomes.  I’ve already marked some pages where you raised questions or named details, my best guesses, off the top of my head.  Please tell your teenaged witch hunter peers to stop pestering me about the computer nonsense.

-Creevey

Notebook 27:
Note:  Andy’s personal notes.

The girl with the scarf is now ‘Mags’, a local ambassador.

Rose, too, has returned.

They always pushed paper in training.  The idea that paper is more permanent than the digital.

My papers are getting awfully messy, with big gaps in the files.  For any poor soul that has to dig through my teenage ramblings, any gaps in the files are because Eva opened a window and some of the pages blew out the window.

I think there’s more to it than coincidence.  Too specific, as events go.

The files that went missing seem to have something to do with the younger Rose.  They cover the point in time when Rose Thorburn the younger replaced Molly Walker.  Trickery, or did the universe want to erase traces?  Even my memories of Rose are fuzzy and nonspecific.  It feels somehow like it’s the first time I’m seeing her face.

She did offer me support, at a time when I was feeling pretty grim.

She brought a cabal with her, and they look fairly new to all this.  It reminds me of me, back when I started the training with Mac.  Every monster was a whole different kind of frightening.  Molly Walker was like that up until the end.

Rose feels different than when she left, somehow.  Now, as I think about how her predecessor handled everything… I think about how Rose coped, and I wonder ‘how did she handle it?’ and I can’t come up with much.

When I asked Eva, Eva reminded me of the techniques we learned.  Right off the bat, she found the discrepancy.

When we ask, “How did Rose manage?”, we struggle to answer.

When we ask, “How did the second Thorburn heir manage?” we can mutually agree that the heir was almost eerily in step with this world.

As witch hunters, free of any vows or ties to the world the monsters and practitioners inhabit, we’re protected against the trickery.  A measure of innocence can challenge that reality, and clearly see the emperor without his clothes.

It’s the youths that are going to make a difference.  Good or bad.

Notebook 27:
Note:
  After action reports.

Eva’s commented on the change in my outlook.  We’re working more effectively as a team now.

Eight threats targeted and chased down in the past week.  Eight victories.  I even allowed myself to get excited about it, as we found our stride.  Eva in close, drawing attention, me at a distance.

She’s listening to me more, even.  It’s always been her propensity to ignore people she doesn’t agree with.  I think she agrees with how we’re doing things now.  Block escape routes with traps, wait until they’re in the right position, then attack.  Things aren’t fixed.  She’s still more reckless than she once was.
It helps that we have less administrative work, with Mags taking on the messenger duties, standing by at meetings.  She doesn’t have a lot of firepower, but there’s a symbolic element to it.We remain ninety percent positive that one bogeyman we dealt with was attached to Rose.  Testing the water, seeing how responsive we were.  We crossed paths a few days later, and it felt like she was showing me just a bit more respect.It’s now impossible to keep track of the local guests.  No less than twelve practitioners under Sandra, twenty monsters working for or doing favors for Johannes.  I’m getting four hours of sleep a night, staying up reading, and sleeping in thirty minute bursts during the day to keep going, but I have more drive than I had when I was sleeping twice the amount.

The remainder of the action reports are as follows:

  • Eva baited a skinchanger into an old boathouse past the marina.  I crushed it with a deadfall trap.
  • Went with Mags to help with goblin hunting, helping to herd them to a place where she could bind them.  I believe they’re still bound, and she’s waiting them out.
  • One Nightmare-type monster was invading dreams.  Targeting normals.  Not affiliated with Johannes or Sandra.  Found wandering the streets in a human guise, spotted through the trickery with innocence, cut down with katana.
  • Junior council pointed us at a new child at school.  We followed.  No parents or furniture in house, never slept – only stood in the house.  Executed quietly, no blood was drawn by cuts.  Plant matter at core.
  •  Investigation by Sandra led us to second wooden person.  Adult, fought back.  Immolated by molotov.
  •  Arrogant practitioner among first outsiders to make open bid for leadership.  Small bomb under seat of car.  Sandra and Duncan, the new police liason, diverted attention of authorities.
  • Backwards Man required special means of tracking, as the human-like monster functioned by operating backwards in time.  Wounds occurred in his future, our past, making it impossible to make anything stick.  Came after us with knives.  I distracted while Eva slipped by to invade his apartment.  Destroyed the object at the crux of his nature.  Investigation into ties to local Chronomancers was initiated and dismissed.
  • Practitioner was posing as a tertiary member of the Duchamp family.  Sandra’s records showed no such evidence of marriage.  Simply trying to hide in the background.  I took him down with the second shot from 150m range with a hunting rifle.

I don’t enjoy the killing, but I was proud of that last one.

Things are accelerating.

Notebook 27:
Note:
  Council Notes

Samaniego told me to keep logs, in case something happened to me.

If something happens to me in the near future, this is going to be at the root of it.

I’m writing it as I remember it:

Mags entered the church.  Molly ‘walked’ a half-step behind her.  Not quite floating, not quite walking, not walking like someone would walk on the moon either.  She didn’t really have feet, either.

Andy studied the ghost, pen ticking on his notebook as he leaned against the stage.

He’d visited it before, to study the thing, even considered getting rid of it.

Now it was active, alive, and it looked meaner.

“We’ve got a problem,” Eva said.

“Yep,” he said.

“We were just talking about you,” Johannes commented.

“I don’t suppose you want to start over from the beginning?”

“We were talking in generalities,” Sandra said.  “Unlike the demesnes claim, it isn’t always obvious if someone has carried out one ritual or another, like the familiar ritual.”

“That’s an invitation to share,” Johannes said.

“Oh,” Mags said, looking between them, “I thought you’d say more.  You had to have discussed more than that.

“We’re not your enemies,” Sandra said.

“Yet somehow I don’t think you’re baking me a cake in here,” Mags said.

“When you wanted to claim the title of ambassador, I’d like to think we were gracious.”

“It wasn’t entirely selfless,” Mags said.  “You stood to gain too, removing a problem from the board by making it a non-entity.”

“If we’d stood by and let you continue down that road,” Sandra said, “You would have become a non-entity all the same.”

“But not without making a mess,” Mags said.

Sandra sighed.

“Is a three week span enough time for you to lose your sense of appreciation?” Duncan asked, from the sidelines.

Andy looked at Duncan.  As factions went, Duncan was a non-player.  Or he wanted everyone else to think so.  The real risks were the two people who were in Duncan’s company right now.  A young and talented chronomancer, and an older member of the family.

He would be very surprised if the young chronomancer wasn’t the one to ascend to the head of the house.

Mags spoke with a terse tone, “I don’t think I’m showing a lack of appreciation.  I’m just a little miffed that you’re questioning me, instead of giving me the benefit of a doubt.”

“You’ve upset your neutral position.”

“I’ve done exactly what you guys did for me.  I took a wild, unpredictable element and I made an effort to normalize her, to keep things quiet.”

“With no ulterior motives?” Sandra asked.

“With no mind to consequences?” Johannes added.

“I paid lots of mind to consequences.  I just pushed them aside,” Mags said.

“I really did want to support you,” Sandra said.  “But you’re making it hard.  You’ve upset your neutral position.  If we don’t challenge you for a flagrant violation, picking one side in the conflict, then our word is worth less.”

A self-imposed bondage of rules and law, Andy mused.

“A flagrant violation on the surface only.”

“Tell me how it isn’t a violation,” Sandra said.  In a serious, quiet voice, she added, “Please.”

“Molly,” Mags said, not looking at the ghost.  “Do you harbor any love for the Thorburn family?”

“My immediate family yes.”

“For Rose?”

“Definitely not Rose.”

Mags spread her arms.

“Thin as arguments go,” Duncan said.  “It’s fine because she’s not particularly fond of her family?”

“That’s all you’re going to get, and that should be all you need,” Mags said.

“Is it now?”

“I asked, she said no,” Mags added.

There were a few exchanged glances.

Andy made a note in his book.  Not an entry, but something to inform his entry when he wrote it.  Besides, it gave him something to do with his hands.

He hated these meetings.

“You still asked,” Duncan said.

“Thin, as arguments go,” Mags retorted.

“Enough,” Sandra said.  “No bickering, please.”

Mags shrugged, sticking her hands into her pockets.

Duncan took a second to compose himself, before speaking in very deliberate, authoritarian tones, “You were the one to resurrect her.”

“Accidentally,” Mags said.  “I think.”

“Regardless of what happens, you’ve upset the situation in Jacob’s Bell.”

“I got the situation under control.  No real harm done.”

“That’s for us to decide,” Duncan said.

“Can we not let Dudley Donut here keep talking?” Mags asked.

“Wherever blame lies,” Sandra said, “We need to deal with Molly Walker’s spirit.”

“No,” Molly said.  “I don’t need ‘dealing with’.”

“You’re quite sentient, as ghosts go,” Johannes commented.

Andy saw Mags look at Faysal, then Johannes.

Something up there.

“That was a whole other issue,” Mags said.

“What I require,” Molly said, “Is an apology.  Amends.”

“Very sentient,” Johannes commented.

“Not helping,” Sandra told him.  “What sort of amends?”

“A child from each group,” Molly said, staring.  “A meaningful sacrifice from Johannes, who doesn’t have a child to spare, but who stood by and let me be killed.”

Andy saw Eva’s hand go toward her weapon.

He put his hand on her wrist, shaking his head a little.

“That’s, uh, not going to work,” Mags said.

“I think everyone present agrees with the ambassador,” Johannes said.

“I don’t,” Sandra said.  “Can I take the ‘sleeping beauty’ loophole?”

Molly gave Sandra a curious look.

“Not death.  But removed from the family all the same.  A loss, a sacrifice all the same, a child sent away, never to return?”

“Do you swear this?” Molly asked.

“No,” Sandra said.  “I don’t swear.  I don’t have a child of my own to give up, and I suspect I’d struggle to find a mother who’s willing.  It’s only a thought.”

“I’m not willing to do even that,” Duncan said.

“And I would still be in a position of making a meaningful sacrifice,” Johannes added.

“This is the way it always happens,” Molly said.  “My grandmother, my parents, my aunts and uncles.  They’re greedy, selfish, they refuse to face the consequences.  Those consequences get passed on to the young.”

And the young are tasked with changing the status quo, before they become the problem, Andy thought.

“Don’t,” Mags said.  “Whatever you’re thinking of doing-”

“They killed me.  You killed me.  I believe you, that you’re willing to make amends.  What comes next-”

Andy didn’t stop Eva from raising her weapon.  A pistol loaded with salt shot.

She fired.

The wraith was fast to move out of the way.  Unexpectedly so.  Mags yelped, throwing herself to the side.

The wraith’s voice echoed through the church, “I can’t promise you’ll walk away unscathed, but I won’t come for you, murderer.  The others, the old ones… they have to face what they did.  The city does.”

There was a long pause.

“Angry ghost,” Johannes commented.

“Wraith,” Andy corrected, thinking of the books.  “Eva and I have dealt with a number of ghosts lately.  She wasn’t one.”

“The difference being?” one of the younger Behaims asked.

“A little more unpredictable,” Andy said.

The bell at the top of the church tolled.

Eva glanced at Andy.

“Go,” he said.

“Which way?” she asked.

But Sandra was already pointing, pulling out her chalice.  Eva was faster, crossing the floor in two steps.

The bell tolled a second time.

“Faysal?” Johannes asked.

Both sorcerer and dog disappeared in a flare of light.

Third toll.

Andy crossed the floor, offering Mags a hand.

Balls.” Mags said, accepting.  “I tried.  I could’ve contained her, kept her calm.  But she’s too angry.  I would have left her behind, but she’s tied to me by blood.  I didn’t think she’d be this angry, after I’d calmed her down a little…”

“What’s she doing?”

Fourth.

“Starting something,” Mags said.  “Don’t you feel it?”

“No.”

“Each toll, it’s filled with negativity.  Each one is worse than the last.”

Fifth toll.

“Everything in the city is going to feel it,” Mags said.  “They’re going to think it’s a signal, and that’s enough.”

Andy felt a peculiar calm settle over him as the bell continued to toll.

He thought of the promise he’d made.

To serve loyally, in Jacob’s Bell.  To keep the people safe.  He could do that.

But the promise to Mac had had contingencies.  If things got bad enough, and things were bad, he had another responsibility.

Mags looked up.  “Thirteen tolls.”

He offered her a light smile.  A witch hunter could lie.  Oaths weren’t binding.

One of these days, after years of loyal service, when it didn’t put too many people in danger, he’d skip the council meeting, and act while they were all in one place.

He had a rocket launcher at home for just that purpose.

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Mala Fide 10.7

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My mind was a haze, my emotions caught in some horrible, undefinable place.

I liked humanity, I hated people, but certain individuals were immensely important to me.

Four or five of those individuals were now at the mercy of our enemy.  Jeremy Meath walked into the library, accompanied by his satyrs and maenads.

I tensed as a satyr reached for Rose, fingers brushing the side of her face, her lips, and her throat.

“Don’t,” I said, from my vantage point in the hallway.

The satyr ignored me.  “She’s breathing.”

“Be careful,” Jeremy said.  “They were in Fell’s company for a time.”

“I am being careful.  I see her, hear her breathing, smell her, feel her,” the satyr said.  He smiled wickedly, “I could taste her.”

“No.  That’ll do.  Bring her here,” Jeremy said.  He walked around the writing desk, pulling the chair back.

The Satyr scooped up Rose, showing an easy sort of strength.  Rose’s head lolled, arms dangling at her sides.  Her fingers moved unconsciously, as if she were dreaming.

When I saw her eyes, only for a moment as the Satyr rounded the desk, I could see only whites.  They’d rolled into the back of her head.

She was placed in the chair.

“We’ll need restraints,” Jeremy said.

A satyr produced a pair of handcuffs from a back pocket.  One of the maenads was wearing a chain for a belt, held in place with a combination lock, and began unwinding it.

“Thank you,” the priest said.  “We’ve got several captives here.  Anyone else?”

“Not here,” another satyr said.

“I’ve got restraints on me,” a third chimed in, grinning, “but they’re for men only.”

Jeremy looked down at Ty.  “Let’s not subject the young man to that.  Search the cabinets.  Be wary of traps, sniff first, check the surroundings, communicate with those near you so they know what you’re doing.”

He paused, glancing at me.  “Keep your distance from reflective surfaces while you’re at it.”

The satyrs and maenads fanned out.  Jeremy worked with the satyr to chain Rose to the swivel chair, leaning her forward to wind the chain in and out of the bars in the back, under and over the arms, and around her body.

“Jeremy,” I said.

“Are you surrendering?” he asked, without looking my way.

“No.”

“Are you picking a fight?”

“No,” I said.  “I want to negotiate.  Talk this out.”

And I want to distract you in the hopes that you make a mistake here.

“We can talk when I’m done.  If you want to leave, I won’t try and stop you.  Arcas, do me a favor and lay that mirror flat on the ground, very carefully.  Don’t let it face anyone, and leave the cloth in place.  Maybe use a cord or your own shirt to tie the sheet in place, to be sure.”

He was talking about the full-length mirror that had a sheet thrown over it.  Back when Rose and I had occupied the house together, it had been her window into the library, giving her access to the books.

“We could break it,” a maenads said.

“I would if I was sure there wasn’t anything inside it,” Jeremy said.  “We’re doing this carefully.

“You’re just ignoring me?” I asked.

“I don’t think I can catch you just yet, and I’d rather do this right.”

He opened the drawers of the desk he’d just chained Rose to.  He pulled them out of the desk altogether, checking the bottoms, and then stacked them on the desk’s edge, one by one.  “Aurope, take these through to the nearest empty room, stack them out of sight.”

One of the maenads hurried to obey, carrying drawers that were stacked one on top of the other, three high.  I had a glimpse of the contents as she approached me.  Old pens, including fountain pens with stylized tips, letter openers, a syringe, and bottles of ink, with tidy little scrolls of paper.

“Cuff her ankle to the desk,” Jeremy said.  “No, not the leg of the desk – she could free herself easily by lifting the desk up.”

“It’s solid wood.  I couldn’t lift it, and I’m strong.”

“Strong like bull,” a voice said, from the sidelines.

The satyr grinned.  “If she’s strong enough to lift that, she’s strong enough to break the cuffs,” a satyr said.

“I won’t rule anything out, and I know people are capable of amazing acts when they’re scared enough.  Here, this bit, where the drawers were.

I heard the click of the cuffs.

“The bird?” a maenad asked.

Evan.

Evan was key here.

“Evan!” I shouted.

“Buh?” I heard his voice, faint.

“Fly!  Fly away!”

“No go, mirror dweller,” the maenad said.  “Bird in the hand.”

“Literally,” said the satyr that was busy unspooling a roll of twine.

“Thank you for adding to the dialogue,” the maenad said, sarcastically.

“Oh,” I heard Evan, though I couldn’t see him through the bodies that were in the way.

“Now would be a great time to escape,” I told the bird, ignoring the various Others.

“Can’t,” he said.  He was talking like he had his mouth full.  Drunker than I was.  I wasn’t sure how that really worked, since he had a beak, not lips, and his ‘speech’ was something else entirely, but whatever.  He added, “Not good.”

“No,” I said, clenching my hands.  As fuzzy as some of my senses were around the edges, my voice was still clear, at least.  “It really isn’t.”

“Bring the bird here, Metrodora” Jeremy said.  “I’ll be with you in a moment, mirror man. If you’re willing to stay there and cooperate, we can negotiate.  If you want to leave, that’s fine as well.  Right this moment, though, I need to secure things here.”

I stared, my expression grave.

He turned to his maenad companion.  “Right.  I’ll need him right here.  Down on the floor.”

The maenad knelt beside Jeremy as he set down books on the ground at the base of the desk , stacking them atop one another to form a box of sorts, utilizing the space between the stacked texts.

I was tense, watching.

If they were going to contain him, they had to let go.  He had a window of opportunity.

If I had any sort of bond with Evan…

Suddenly in action, I turned to search my surroundings.  I didn’t have anything to cut myself with that wasn’t the Hyena, and I didn’t want to use that.

“A little bit of wine,” Jeremy was saying, in the other room.  “Like so.”

“Aww, you’re wasting it,” a male voice.  A satyr.

“Don’t know what he is, exactly, I’m relying on my tried and true approach.  Stand ready, you two.  Metrodora-”

“Bird goes in between the books?” she asked.

“Yes.  Arcas, when I anoint the circle, I want you to drop the book on top, carefully.  It’s like a lid.  A container within a container.  I’ll say a prayer over it to seal it for a third layer of protection.”

I couldn’t find anything sharp in my little patch of world.  The drawers were in darkness, leaving me unable to retrieve the mirror equivalents of tools Aurope had carried away.  Why did the furniture in this house have to be so solid?

Rhetorical question.  I suspected I knew why: the occupants had long been anticipating something like a siege or something within the house wanting to get out.  Every little bit mattered.

My eye fell on the swivel chair.  The mirror to Rose’s own.  Not entirely in the darkness.

We were reflections of one another?  Maybe her paralysis was my path to action.

I grabbed the back of the chair with both hands, lifting the chair over the desk.

On my way to the window, I twisted my entire body to swing it at the door frame.  Wood splintered, the chair back largely detaching from the base, four prongs of sharp wood sticking out.

“Here we go, blood to seal the deal,” the priest said, “and a prayer, hm.”

I slashed my palm with the wood.  The tattooed flesh didn’t cut.

I grabbed my sweatshirt, lifting it, and slashed at my hip instead.

Dropping my sweatshirt and wiping my hand in the same motion, I slammed my blood-wet hand against the glass.

Come, Evan!”  I shouted.

The timing was as ideal as it could get.  The maenad Metrodora was in the process of putting him in the ‘box’ of books.

“My power for you!” I said.  But Evan was already free, flying through the gap in between the box and the approaching lid.  He plunged past the border of the circle, stray feathers scattering as if he were scraping against something that wasn’t even there.  The ensuing flight was ungainly, devoid of coordination and straight lines, like a sloppy paper airplane that just happened to be flapping its wings.

He made it through the doorway from the library to the hallway, though.

Connection, I thought.  Our connection had been cut, but that didn’t mean new and different ones couldn’t be formed.

I was a hollow Blake-shaped thing, all the gaps filled with Drains-stuff and spirits.

Evan was a dead little boy’s soul, molded into a bird body by the familiar ritual, the gap from our missing connection stuffed with more spirits.

If I was, as Faysal said, instinctively devouring spirits to shore up the gaps, then Evan was probably doing the same.

I knew he’d be receptive to taking anything I had to offer.  I just had to give.

And now he was free, flying under the influence.

The connection I’d just forged, giving him a bit of myself, apparently drew him toward me.  A moth to a candle.

“Stop,” I said.  “Don’t-”

He turned, flapping wildly in some attempt to stop or stall his forward movement.  He succeeded in only making a sharp right, sharp left, and then hit the mirror.  He dropped out of my field of view.

“Fuck,” I said.

Jeremy was striding our way, flanked by maenad and satyrs.

With one hand, he swept the frame off the wall.

I moved before it could shatter.  Other pieces of glass were falling, leaving me no place to go but down.

The second floor had only a few pictures and windows.  Less than there had been the last time I’d been there.  I headed straight for the first floor, instead.

When I looked, craning my head to see, I could make out the patches of light, distorted because I was viewing them from the wrong side, winking out, one by one.

I’d apparently made myself enough of a nuisance that he wasn’t interested in talking.

My hand was still bloody, though the gash at my waist was closing, knitting together like knotty wood, an instant scar of sorts.

Evan was an escape artist, so to speak, he’d evaded the Hyena, and spirits of freedom and survival and whatever else had been attracted to him, shoring up his soul in a kind of anti-wraith way.

If someone was going to help here, it would be him.  But he couldn’t even fly straight.

I heard Evan’s voice, growing louder on the approach

“Crap, crap, crapcrap, crahp, craahhhhppppp…”

Evan turned, bumping the wall as he rounded the bend in the staircase.  He managed to fold his wing in before he collided, keeping it from snapping or breaking.  He didn’t start flapping until he was far enough away from the wall, and his reactions were slow.  He nearly hit the ground before he managed to fly again.

A satyr and maenad jumped down to the landing behind him, not wasting a second in continuing down the staircase, chasing him.

“Oh crap!”

“Over here!” I shouted.

He clipped the couch as he turned, spiraling violently before he managed to get his bearings.  Having learned from his mistake upstairs, he didn’t try to perch or stop abruptly.  He set himself down, legs pulled up against his body, and coasted on the hardwood, spinning in a half-circle as he slid.  He came to a stop with his back to me.

He was darker around some of the edges, as though feathers were stained.  He really had taken in a bit of me.  A bit of the Drains.

“Stay put,” I said.

He pulled his wings and feet tight against his body, shortening his neck.

I held the Hyena in plain sight.

The satyr cleared the couch with an easy jump, one hand on the back of the piece of furniture.  The maenad slowed, pacing with a kind of menace in her eyes.

“Crap,” Evan said.

Both the satyr and the maenad had stopped where they were.

“Here, birdy, birdy, birdy,” the satyr said, singsong.

“Nuh uh.”

Whatever else was going on, they were spooked by me.  That counted for something.

Evan was flying poorly and wasn’t successfully putting together any words longer than a syllable.  Even those lone syllables weren’t that well put together.

We had to make do.

A book flew through the air.  I dodged to the front window, where a single pane was intact enough for me to stand in.

It had been thrown by the maenad.  The satyr was free to lunge for Evan.

“Crap!”  Evan dodged out of the way.

I pressed my hand against the window.  I closed my eyes.  “Spirits, I know I’m not a practitioner, but I could use help.  As you managed the giving, please take.  Give me the poisons that course through Evan Matthieu’s-”

Another thrown book.  It hooked on the curtain, losing much of its momentum, and glanced harmlessly against the window.

“-body.  Let me be the one who is drunk on the priest’s illusions.  I offer power, and I offer it knowing I might permanently change as a consequence.”

Nothing.

Fuck you, spirits, I thought.

Too complex.  I couldn’t manage the complex stuff.  Simpler stuff only.

Options.  There would be no convincing these Others.  I couldn’t reach them to hurt them.  Something in the environment?

“Evan,” I said.

“Gah!” he shouted, turning less than sharply in an attempt to avoid the satyr’s reaching hand.

“Did Rose set up anything?  Countermeasures?  Ready summons?”

“Ahhhhh!”

“Evan!”

“Yes!  Crap!  Help!”

Great.  There was possibly an option, but Evan wasn’t in a state or a position to spell it out.

We needed breathing room, but these creatures wouldn’t stop anytime soon, if my brief skirmish with the maenad earlier was any clue.

He veered toward the maenad.  She didn’t glance his way as she picked up another book.

But I saw muscles tense in her legs.

“Back!” I shouted.

Evan steered himself back and away.  His reactions were slow.

The maenad twisted on the spot, reaching for him.

He managed to stay out of the reach of her arms, dodging the satyr.  The maenad had to move around the satyr to chase, which gave Evan a chance.

He managed to wedge himself into the one-and-a-half inch gap between the tops of the bookshelves and the ceiling.

The satyr leaped onto the bookshelf, hands and feet on the individual shelves.  The maenad wasn’t far behind.  One hand groped in the gap for Evan.  I saw only the paleness of his feathered belly as he squirmed his way to the side, moving to the far end of the long row of bookshelves.

He couldn’t make a daring escape like this, I couldn’t necessarily help him, and if we waited, things wouldn’t get much better for us.

Damn it.

I didn’t have the abilities of a proper practitioner.  I didn’t have options.

I’d do what the maenad had done to me, attacking from a distance, but I was pretty sure that anything I threw through the window would be fake, breaking with the window.  I didn’t have anything suitably solid I could grab and throw.

Well, no, that wasn’t true.  I had the Hyena.  I didn’t trust my ability to throw it effectively.

Something else…

If I was going to turn the tables by doing what the maenad had done to me, why not take it a step further?

If I had no power or options… the natural conclusion was to bluff, and hope this pair wasn’t too brilliant.

“I now invoke all the powers and knowledge personally taught to me by my grandmother,” I said, speaking low and grave.  “I call on the instructions she gave me in this very room, the words she gently imparted to me in the antechamber upstairs.  I call on the tutorings of demons she summoned on my behalf, everything that was given to me so I might know the words to speak to kill a god.”

Not technically a lie, as I saw it.  When I invoked all of those things, I was invoking nothing.

But both the satyr and maenad looked at me, eyes wide.

Evan flew free, slipping out of the cranny behind their turned heads.

“Deus nihilis,” I started.  “Nex-

That was enough to get them to act.  If not because they bought it, I imagined the idea was still pretty insulting.

They weren’t keen on closing the distance and getting stabbed like the greater maenad had.  Killia or whatever her name had been.  The maenad grabbed a book instead.  An old leather-bound dictionary with gold at the edges of the pages.  The sort that predated the internet, a one-stop place to find any given word.

She hurled it at me.

I shoved my hands through the window.  Glass shattered.  The local section of the mirrorverse went dark.

I caught the book.

I leaped over to the dark reflective screen of the television set before I could get shunted, because moving faster was key here.

Still holding the book, I threw it, two handed.

Glass shattered as the dictionary punched through.

I was already moving to the side.  I stood in the hallway, with only a sliver of a view of the living room.

The satyr was sitting down, hand to his nose, blood flowing from the cracks between pages.

As far as they’d seen, they’d thrown the dictionary at the window, only for it to disappear as the window broke, reappearing a second later from the nearest reflective surface, apparently slamming into the satyr’s head.

I was glad it had worked.  If I’d merely dropped the book instead of bringing it with me, I would’ve had to catch the next one, throwing it back blind in the same motion, before the window finished breaking.  Less effective.

Damn, all the same.  I’d been aiming at the maenad.  More dangerous, as far as I could tell.

I saw Evan flying in short bursts.  Still not a straight line, taking evasive maneuvers with nobody chasing him, or just trying to get away with no idea how.

“Evan,” I said.  The satyr and maenad snapped their heads around to look at me.

Evan stopped again, doing his skid-landing in the hallway, coming to a stop a short distance to the left of me.

The satyr started to stand, wobbled, and fell.

The maenad grabbed him by one horn, hauling him to his feet.  He leaned heavily on her.

What now?  Reach for me and I’ll cut you.  Throw something at me and I might throw it back.

They didn’t want to walk by me, either, and that meant they couldn’t go back upstairs.

“What now?” Evan asked.

“Trying to think,” I said.  I didn’t feel as unfocused as before.

Were the effects wearing off?

“Are you feeling better?” I asked.

“Some,” he said.

I nodded slowly.

Not necessarily a good thing.

That meant Rose might be waking up.

“The stuff you mentioned.  Countermeasures and traps?” I asked.

“There’s some stuff with the deeb- diabluh- the evil books.  Pack of dust stuff, uh, powder.  Some more in the shelves.  cards.  She didn’t even tell the others, but I sleep in there and I preted’d to sleep and watched.  She doesn’t want ’em to tamper with any of it.”

“Good to know,” I said.

“My head hurts.”

“It’ll get better,” I said.

“There was this big bang, and then bluh,” Evan said.  “Couldn’t see, couldn’t stand.  Rose said to go in the library and then tried to close the door with Tiff.  The crow man said somethin’…”

“Corvidae?” I asked.

“Yeah.  Corb- Crow man said somethin’ and Rose was scared.  She banshid’ him instead of fin’shin’ the door.  Tiv and Ty didn’t get the door closed, and then it all went fuzzy.”

I watched as the maenad paced, dragging the satyr with her, as if she thought she could find an angle to attack from.

“What did Corvidae say?” I asked.

“That he’d look after her while she was sleep’n.”

“I get it,” I said.

“Really?  I can’t even talk right.””

“You’re drunk,” I commented.

This is been’ drunk?  Bluh,” he said.  “What’s wrong with people?  Why would you want this?  Can’t even fly proper.”

“People don’t fly,” I said.

“You know what I mean,” he said, sounding amazingly affronted.  It went beyond the indignance of the young and the surliest inebriated and combined the two.

You fly, though,” I said.

“I’m not people,” he somehow manged to pronounce the word like he was saying ‘peephole’.  He sounded even more belligerent as he raised his voice, “I’m a god-dammed bird of fire and awesome who just isn’t on fire yet.”

“Damn straight,” I said.

The maenad was watching us.  Her eyes moved from me to Evan as we talked.  She was following the conversation.  The satyr looked like it had a little more control of its faculties than it had.  A fast healer?

I couldn’t move to hold the conversation elsewhere without giving up the spot that kept her from reporting to her priest.  Evan wasn’t coordinated enough to fly up to me, and I couldn’t bend down, either.

That made detailing a strategy difficult.

“I need a mirror,” I said.  “Something that can be carried.  I need you to think.  Have you seen any kind of compact or hand mirror with Rose, Tiff or Alexis’ stuff, in the bathroom?  Grandmother’s stuff, even?”

“Dunno,” he said.

Damn.

“I can look,” he said.

“Wait,” I said.

But he was already taking flight.

In a way, my short skirmish with the elder maenad had been helpful.  While it had broken a dozen pieces of glass, it had scattered that glass over the floor upstairs.  It had also given me a very practical way of assessing just how my particular relationship to the mirror world worked.  The speed I could move, the way the worlds came apart.

The maenad here gave chase, pushing the satyr so he’d land on the armchair before bolting forward, after Evan.  She was almost on all fours as she crossed the couch, dropping close to the ground.

I lunged, stabbing through, but she was out of my reach.

I moved, switching to the nearest window.

Evan would be on the second floor, checking the bathroom.  The problem with the second floor was that my short skirmish had destroyed just about every reflective surface.  Only a couple of small picture frames remained, as well as the mirror in the bathroom.

I didn’t want it to come that close to the wire.  If she confronted Evan and I there, I wasn’t positive I could protect Evan and the mirror at the same time.

“Jeremy!” she shrieked, as she reached the second floor.

She was staying low, moving on all fours with about the same ease and speed that I might move on two.  Muscles stood tense in her arms and legs, her eyes bloodshot.  At this height, I couldn’t quite reach her.  I’d miss like I had before.  I wasn’t sure I could get ahead of her to hit her the next time either.

The closest thing, apparently, that Jeremy had to soldiers.

But even if she was flexible, there were limitations.  Her body bent more easily, but it still moved like a human did.

Crawling, she couldn’t look up.

I got ahead of her, gripped the hyena, and plunged it through the glass.

My arm bent.  I shoved, pushing the frame away from the wall.

Letting it fall.

I held the blade out, and felt it make contact with something.

I wasn’t able to retract my arm before I was shunted off to the nearest location.

The maenad lay on her side, both hands on her ankle.  I’d raked the back of her calf and her ankle, slicing them.

Meaning I’d very nearly missed.

Evan left the bathroom.  A small hand-compact shed light.

“They’re coming!” the wounded maenad screamed.

“Higher,” I said.

Evan flew higher.  The area in the compact’s reflection grew wider.

I skipped over, running to keep up, fighting to stay within the compact’s area as Evan swerved.

“Free Rose, free the others, or uncover the mirror in there,” I said.  “Hold off on the traps until I say, unless you don’t see any other option.  If you can, get close to Jeremy, give me the word, I’ll stab.”

“‘Kay,” Evan told me.  “Stabby mirror.”

I would have felt more confident if he didn’t nearly clip a wall as he said it.

They’d cleared all the reflective surfaces on the third floor.  Even the windows on either side of the hallway were broken or covered, as far as I could tell.

All I had was the mirror Evan held.

My way was clear, but Evan wasn’t so lucky.  When he flew to one side, I had to adjust.

When he flew lower, passing through the doorway, the amount of floor space I had shrank to maybe four feet across.

Then, just as quick, he soared higher.  The image reflected in the compact mirror was a bird’s eye view of the library.  I saw tracts of detail, and areas of nothingness where surfaces weren’t captured in the mirror.

“You can’t expect to win,” Jeremy called out.

“I can’t stand by while you go after my friends!”

“The same friends who locked you out?” he asked.  “Who left you to rot?”

“Extenuating circumstances!” I called out.  I positioned myself more or less where I thought he was.

“One word, and I can end this,” he said.  “What can you do?”

“One word, and I can end this,” I retorted.

“Gone,” I heard Evan’s voice from far away.

“What?” I asked.

“Gone,” he said.  “Crap, crap, crap!”

“What’s gone?”

“The stuff!”

My view was only of the empty library.  My window into the real world was a good twenty feet overhead, a circle about as wide as my palm.

Sounds and estimation were my only insights.

“Plan C!” Evan shouted.

Plan C?

Then he swooped, swaying a little as he fought to maintain his balance, and I knew.

Regardless of what happened, when I broke the mirror, I’d get shunted elsewhere.  My ability to act here would cease.

I held the Hyena in both hands, eyes trained on the little circle that was shedding light.

It swept toward me.

“Now!” Evan called out.  The voice sounded weird.

Not Evan.  It was Jeremy’s voice.

The little compact broke, and my footing disappeared with it.

At the same time, light flared, another reflection opening up.

I was shunted, dumped onto another patch of light.

I picked myself up.

I could see a pizza slice of the library, one quarter of it, bookshelves.

When I turned around, I could see the source of the reflection.  The full-length mirror.

Reflected, I could make out Rose, still in the chair by the desk, Jeremy, and my friends, with a satyr and maenad standing nearby.  The satyr was holding a leather thong.  A sling.

I had an idea of what had happened.

A rather bleary-looking Ty picked Evan up gingerly.

“Is he okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Ty said.

“Good,” I said.  “Guess you got me, priest.”

“Yes,” Jeremy said.  “You got my attention.”

I had a bad feeling I couldn’t place.

Stepping closer to the mirror, I could make out the mark on the floor.

They’d moved the full-length mirror, placing it in the circle he’d started to make for Evan.

He’d then broken the one mirror that held me while they removed the cloth, moving me to the nearest available surface, the one inside the circle.  Maybe he’d closed it after.  Maybe he hadn’t needed to.

I’d been bound the same way Conquest had.

“How did you know how the mirror thing worked?” I asked.  “You shouldn’t-”

“I told him,” Rose said.

I stared.

“I had a plan, Blake,” she said.  “Those three know it.  Evan knows it, even if he doesn’t always get it.”

“He doesn’t like the idea of using monsters,” Ty said.

“Monsters?” I asked.

“I set up a dead man’s switch,” Rose said.  “Me and Barbatorem.  If I die, he’s going to get out.  While you were breaking windows downstairs, I was talking with Jeremy.  It’s not a victory on either side, but it’s-”

“Grounds for negotiation,” Jeremy said.  He looked displeased.  “I’ll leave you be while I look after the two I sent downstairs.”

He left the room.

Rose waited for him to go.

“If he had to walk away, it would be a loss,” Rose said.  “As it stands, I’m giving up some things, and he’s leaving me and the others alone.  The house doesn’t have barriers, so it’ll be tough at first, but… we’re okay.  We were going to be okay from the start.”

“What was the deal?” I asked.

“You,” she said.  “I gave him what he needed to bind you, told them how to disarm the traps Evan knew about.  At the end of the day, they only want things to be manageable.  I made them pay me for it, in a roundabout way.  Deflected their first move.  They also wanted me to agree to certain terms of war.  I’ve accepted this time.”

“But you’re using a demon?  You’re tainted by Conquest, Rose,” I said.

“I know,” she said.  “They know.  Do you think we’ve been sitting on our hands, while I slowly went crazy?  We discussed it, we talked it over.  We have all these books, you don’t think we have a way to break Conquest’s hold?  We decided to keep it.  It’s a power source.  So long as I’m sure to spend it regularly, he doesn’t get too much of a grip on me.”

“But the demon.”

“It’s managed, Blake,” she said.  “Frankly, it’s none of your business.”

I tensed at that.

“Because I’m just the monster,” I said.

“You’re a monster, but that’s not all you are,” she said.  “If it helps you feel better, I did some research, we discussed some, and I’ve got a pretty good working theory on what you are, now.”

I remained silent, waiting for her to elaborate.

She didn’t.

“Dammit, Rose,” I said.

“If it helps,” she said, “We believe you now.”

“But you’re leaving me trapped?”

“Yes.  Had to happen, now that we know.”

I looked at my friends.

Of all of them, Alexis looked the most unhappy.  An unlit cigarette dangled from her lips.

“Alexis,” I said.

“I’m really sorry,” she said.

“About what?  What’s going on?”

“We can’t move you easily,” Rose said.  She turned the mirror until it faced the wall, not the bookshelves.  “This will have to do.”

“Hey,” I said.  “Wait, woah, fuck no.  That’s not giving me an answer.”

“It’s best if we don’t tell you,” Rose said.  “As I was saying, we can’t move you easily.  If you’re willing to be quiet and not kick up too much of a fuss, we can leave this like it is.  If you make a problem of it, then I’ll have to put down a rune of silence, or maybe even erect a temporary wall.  I don’t want to do that.”

I was silent, but it wasn’t out of any kind of obedience or cooperation.

My hands clenched at my side, I stared at her.

“Did Conquest get to you, or are you ten times the bitch that Grandmother was?” I asked.

“More likely the latter,” she said.  She turned her head.  “What?”

Jeremy spoke, offscreen.  “We’ll be taking our leave.  Something’s come up.  As agreed, we’ll vacate the premises.”

“What came up?”

“Things went… poorly, with our local ambassador.  The wraith is free, not bound as a familiar, and may have started off a chain of events.”

“I’ll come,” Rose said.  “Assuming you won’t try to harm me?”

“No.  This might need all available hands.  I’ll explain on the way.”

I watched as they filed out, one by one.

“Sorry,” Alexis said.

Outrage seized my throat.

Ty was among the last to leave.  I saw Evan in his hands, moving to stand rather than lie on his side.

He saw me, and offered me a wing-salute and a wink.

Maybe my only ally in this, and it was against his will, but he was still leaving.

The doors slammed shut.

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Mala Fide 10.6

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Mags and Molly on the one hand, my friends on the other.

My first instinct was to break a window, get their attention while they were together.

The old me would have, as far as I was ‘old’ at all.  The ‘me’ that I’d been around the time that I’d approached Evan, up until Ur had inadvertently cast me into the Drains.  I’d been getting more confident, and my ‘trust my gut’ approach to this whole thing had given me momentum, while leading me headlong into disaster.

The Blake that had fought Conquest would have broken the window.

But that wasn’t a long-term solution.  I’d have their attention.  But what would I do after that?  I couldn’t fight.  I could maybe break glass, maybe reach through like Rose had.  I had limited means of attack, and I was more vulnerable than they were, to boot.

Worse, I knew that doing what she’d done had taken a lot out of Rose.  She’d recovered.  I didn’t recover so much as I changed.  Those changes led down a road.  If I lost something, there was no guarantee I could replenish it.

I was tense as I watched Sandra and Jeremy go their separate ways.  It wasn’t worth it.

The problem wasn’t limited to my general inability to fight or defend myself if I go their attention here.  If I went to one place or another, what could I do to help?

Communicate.  Warn.

I moved past Sandra, skipping across patches of light, barely paying her any mind.  Had people been able to see, they might have been able to make me out in the mirrors.  Stepping into view, glancing around the surroundings, then disappearing, moving on.

I saw people, a few gathered Others, ghosts, and then Johannes, in the company of Faysal Anwar.

Sandra and Johannes, converging on the same spot.

An impromptu meeting at the church.

I knew where Mags had been, and if she was invited to the meeting, then I knew the route she’d take.  If she wasn’t invited, then she needed to know so she could mount a defense.

Mags was near Hillsglade, and Hillsglade was one stop.

I reached the front of the house.

Nobody in the living room, nobody visible outside.

Damn it.

I drew the Hyena.

I struck the window with the pommel of the weapon, all of my strength behind it.

It didn’t bounce off so much as it slid.  If the spikes weren’t already embedded in the near-permanent holes in my fingers and palm, I might have lost my grip entirely.

The barrier against my interference apparently included stopping me from breaking in, literally speaking.

Screw Rose.  Damn her.  If my friends got hurt because of this, I’d…

I wasn’t sure what I’d do.  I couldn’t think straight.

I heard a laugh, from some place beyond my ability to see.  They weren’t here, but they were getting close.

No time.

Would I be made to watch, unable to act or change the outcome?

I estimated the distance.  I had time for a quick conversation, and that had to be better than standing here being useless.

Mags.

I pushed myself away, breaking into a run.  I headed in the direction I’d last seen Mags walking: directly south of Hillsglade House, toward the lake.  The idea had been that they’d have some space to chat, and heading that way meant they were downplaying the risk of running into locals.   I’d headed west from that point, to the other end of the narrow beach, where the skating rink had been put together.

There were a lot of crummy little shops and businesses here, punctuated by clusters of nicer looking businesses, where people had moved in and just gotten things off the ground.  Amid convenience stores and dry cleaners that looked like they’d been around since the thirties, there was a fancy upscale place selling women’s yoga clothes or something, and a place selling mountaineering, kayaking and canoeing equipment that looked like it didn’t have anything that cost less than a hundred bucks.

Odd places, for the economically depressed town.  Were the business owners banking on the city’s expansion, or were these businesses some kind of abstract indication of Johannes’ influence creeping into the city proper?

Past the shops.  Dinky, dingy houses.

Past the houses, the park.  One little patch of light in what should have been a vast tract of green, punctuated by little gardens and statues, riddled with concrete paths.

I found Mags in Molly’s company, at the lakeside.  Mags still had the mirror, tucked into the back of her jeans.  They hadn’t killed each other, and didn’t look prepared to.

Molly had settled in form.  The flickers persisted at the edges, but her body remained stable, with only tearing at the edges.  Her features had distorted, not leaving her unrecognizable, but still a little hollowed out, twisted.

Mags looked like she’d been affected too, but in a different way.  I couldn’t see her face from this angle, but her posture was bent, as if she had a weight on her shoulders.

A pity.  I might have hoped she’d recover a bit, facing down her demons.

Had I?  Facing down Carl?

Still, Mags’ hands were in her pockets.  Not something someone did if they thought they’d have to defend themselves.

Molly noticed me before I could clear my throat to announce my presence.  Mags noticed Molly noticing, half-turned, then pulled the mirror out so I didn’t have to scramble to stay within the reflection.

“What’s up?” Mags asked me.

“Sandra,” I said.  “She knows about Molly.”

Balls.

“She’s convening a truncated council meeting or something, at the church,” I said.

Mags didn’t respond.  Her head was bent.

“What?” I asked.

“She was a… She wasn’t an enemy,” Mags said.

“She is now,” I said.  “I’m pretty sure she’s going after Molly, and you’re included in that, if you finished the ritual.”

Mags nodded.  “I sort of saw that coming.”

“I’d help if I could, but I don’t know what I can do,” I said. “You should get over there, so you can speak in your own defense.  Or run, or whichever.”

She ran her hand over her hair, then patted a bit down at the back where it was sticking up.

“Or… something,” I said.  “Fuck.  This is a joint attack, they don’t want Rose helping you, so they’re attacking Hillsglade.”

“Go,” Mags said.  “Help your friends.”

“I can’t,” I said.  “I’m locked out.”

“You can’t do anything here either,” she said.  “You’re doing less than nothing.  You’re feeding Molly.  She calmed down after you left.”

I looked at Molly.  Though she hung her head, as though she were facing the ground, her eyes were on me.  Her shoulders were too slouched.  Her hands a bit too long, her clothes tattered and dark at the edges.

My influence was a part of that?

I twitched, ready to run.  “You’re positive?”

She nodded, a tight gesture.

“You’re going to handle this?”

“I guess we’ll find out,” she said.  “Go.  Handle that first.  If I’m due some payback for what I did, I’ll face it and I’ll fight every frigging step of the way.”

I started to go, then stopped.  I looked at Molly.  “I remember telling you that if you needed help, you should call me.  I know that didn’t happen for real, but…”

I stopped speaking a full second before we felt it, as though some sort of premonition had hit, or I was like the animals that freaked out before a natural disaster.

It rippled through the city, and it set the windows and mirrors to shuddering.  It rolled through me, a shockwave without any physical force at all.  It didn’t push me or knock me off my feet, and it didn’t stir my hair, but I still felt as though I might have been collapsing or bleeding from every orifice if I’d happened to be flesh and blood.

My body, head to toe, changed, recuperating from countless infinitesimally small injuries.  A one-percent change in every single damn cell, or spirit, or whatever.

Molly, too, was reeling, trying to find her balance, flickering madly.  Mags only looked concerned.

“What the moose dick was that?” she asked.

I could smell it on the air, stronger with every passing second.  Like smoke and dust after a bomb had hit.  The smell was sharp, like overripe fruit and a room where there had been a little too much sex and sweat, without sufficient washing of sheets.  It smelled warm.

It made me think of Carl.  Of a time when I’d been very human, with human comforts close at hand.

The predominant odor was wine, late in its arrival, so sharp I might have wanted to sneeze if I’d been able to.  I could taste it, as the smell reached and touched the back of my tongue on its way down to my lungs.

I felt just a little lightheaded.

What had Faysal said?  I consumed whatever was at hand.

Even this ambient power, apparently.

I was going to get drunk on it.

“Something like this, he couldn’t get away with it if he hadn’t cleared it with every other local power,” I said.

“They didn’t clear it with me,” Mags said.

“That would have been warning you,” I said.  “And if you’re colluding with Thorburns, as your relationship with Molly suggests, that means they might see telling you as a risk that they’d tip Rose off.  I’ve got to go.”

“I don’t get it,” Mags called out.  I was already leaving.

“Someone’s throwing a party at Hillsglade House,” I called out.  “Molly, what I said before – if you need help, call for me and stall.”

“What if you need help?” Mags asked.

But I was already gone, too far away to answer the question.

It wasn’t a long trip.  Three paces, leaping across darkness.  Another five paces, this time taking a route that took me away from the house, but positioned me for another step across the reflective surfaces, jumping a considerable distance in the process.

I arrived at the front window of the house.

The interior of the house was no longer dark, but had a peculiar hue, like the light was shining off wine red and gold surfaces.  The smell was thick, The barriers had been breached.  The tail end of Jeremy Meath’s group was still making its way into the house.  They moved as a group, fanning out through the rooms.

I stepped inside, in a manner of speaking.

Whatever Jeremy had done here, calling his god in to ram down the metaphorical gate, it had changed the atmosphere fairly dramatically.  The air was heavy, even on my side of the mirrors, thick as though the place had filled with smoke, the smell of incense and faint perfumes joining the smells that had wafted out as far as the lakeside.  The lighting was skewed, and the impact of the divine act had knocked books from their shelves, unsettling and moving furniture.  I saw two women climbing over and under a tipped-over bookshelf in the hallway.

In this light of red and gold tints, I could see their real features.  Their facial and bone structure was different, though not unpleasant.  Their movements were languid, as they easily crawled across the spaces, as if they were simultaneously very flexible and very strong.

They might have reminded me of lions, with that grace, predatory slant to their features, and general strength, but they were panting hard, bronzed skin flushed red, and when the one in the rear looked over her shoulder to see if anyone was following, her pupils were pinpoints.

I moved up to the window overlooking the turn in the staircase.

The lead Maenad wore a snake, coiled up and along the one arm, around the back of her neck, and down the other arm.  It was the color of red wine, with a diamond pattern of white along its back.

I felt like, given general fairness, that snakes should only be big or poisonous, not both.  That snake looked like it was both.

“Search,” I heard Jeremy speak.  He was on the second floor.  “Turn it upside down.  We know they’re in here.”

“I can smell them,” a satyr spoke.  He had full-size ram’s horns on his head, hair spilling down thick and coarse over his shoulders and back, but the horns were heavy, and his legs those of a goat, his body perpetually leaning forward.  One hand rested on his knee, while his horned head swung ponderously from left to right.  “They smell scared.”

“Scared is good,” Jeremy said.

I had a better look of him as he turned my way.  The satyr’s nose was flat and wide, his eyes narrow.  He was muscular, but he had a barrel chest.  If satyrs were supposed to be expressions of male fertility, this guy must have been created when unibrows were considered sexy.

A little different from the other Satyrs, who blended the qualities of beast and man in a kinder, more artistic way.  They stood straight, they didn’t slouch.  They looked more boyish.  Not quite modern-day male models, but all were guys I imagined could hit on women at bars with some success.

“They’re here somewhere,” he said.  “A treat to whoever finds them first.  I don’t want to ask for help if he thinks we can manage it ourselves with the resources we have at hand.”

I knew where they were.  The question was, did he have the resources to, or did I have time?

I crossed the length of the hallway, passing within two feet of the priest.

I can,” the Maenad leader said, as she reached the top of the stairs.  She had the fluid strength of the lion, the snake around her shoulders, the features of both on her face, her eyes bloodshot.  She panted, nostrils flaring.  “I want that reward.”

She extended her hand, and the snake began to slither forth, unwinding from her right arm to raise itself up from her left.  It extended its tongue, and turned its head, pausing for a fraction of a second to hiss, tongue out.

I followed its line of sight.

The bookshelf, where the lower entrance to Grandmother’s hidden library was.

That was all I needed.

I could be patient, sure, but there were times for action.

Quickly, quietly, I crossed picture frames and mirrors, until I was right next to her.

I wasn’t sure how this worked, or how far I could go.  This wasn’t the sort of thing I could practice.

Still holding the Hyena, I hit the glass of the picture frame as hard as I could, stabbing through.

Glass flew.  I didn’t see if it did any damage – that same glass was my window into seeing that world.

I felt my footing break apart as the glass scattered, darkness opening up.  What little footing managed to exist rose and fall and shrunk in area as the glass turned over in the air, taking in less light, less connected to the glass that had neighbored it with every split second that passed.

But I wasn’t gone.  I hadn’t been relocated.

The window was still there, broken as it was.

Remembering Rose’s actions in the police station, I reached through with my open hand, blind, remembering only the position of things.  I aimed for her wrist.

I got a handful of snake instead.

Strong as the maenad was, and as quick as the snake might be, she was using the one  arm to support half of the weight of a snake that could have weighed a hundred or more pounds.  Her strength didn’t break the laws of physics.  When I moved her arm, it swung, as the snake adjusted for the movement.

She wasn’t able to just tear her hand free.

I, on the other hand, was able to move the Hyena.

My hope had been to grab and slash her wrist.  In reality, I grabbed and slashed the snake.

My footing disappeared, and it was all I could do to pull my arms away from the jagged edges of the aperture before I got slashed.

I fell and was shunted, relocated to the window at the end of the hall.  I was dropped unceremoniously on the ground, and felt my body react to the impact.

‘Ground’, in my case, was limited to the floor that others could see reflected when they looked at the glass.

See being an operative word here.  They were looking at me now.

When I raised my head, gathering my bearings, I saw the Maenad passing off her snake to her nearest neighbor – the animal had been sliced to the spine, muscles and guts severed.  It bent in an angular, forced sort of way where it had been cut.

Cords stood out on her neck, veins visible here and there across her body, but her face was eerily blank, all of the emotion in her eyes, lower lids raised.

When she moved, she moved fast.  A lunge, crossing half of the hallway.

I ran.  She shattered the window behind me.

My travel from one pane of glass to another was nearly instantaneous.  She matched me in speed.  By the time I arrived in the next picture, her clawed hand was already slashing toward me, skin marred by a dozen light scratches.

I moved, then moved again, without looking.  I heard the two pictures break in short succession.

She didn’t give me a chance to think, much less act to stop her.  She came after me, moving to hit the surfaces I occupied.  Every wall was littered with pictures of nature and sublime landscapes, and she seemed to increase in speed as she found me in each one, hitting a picture before the glass had finished falling to the floor from the last.

I could have slipped away, moving halfway across Jacob’s Bell, but my gut said I shouldn’t.

Didn’t want to rely on my gut or my heart alone.  I’d made that mistake before.

Couldn’t duck into the mirror in the library.  There was no patch of light, either because the door was closed, or Rose had covered it.

Without the time to form a complete thought, I had to form a half-thought instead.

I moved, I ran, and I crossed the hallway, zig-zagging.

Her companions were fast enough to move out of the way as she came through the group, chasing.

The hollers were faint, but I could hear them cheering her on.

With the vapors of wine and smoke heavy in the air of my mirror-realm, I felt my awareness slip.  I moved too slowly.

She shattered a picture I occupied.

I was shunted to the next.

She shattered that one too.

I wasn’t able to ground myself.  Something felt wrong with my body.  I was in an unfamiliar hostile environment, and it took me a second too long to reach the next place.

That one second was enough time for her to get impatient, using one hand to sweep three pictures from the walls.  One hooked on the peg, and flew through the air across the hall, punching through the window at the far end.

I found my feet.  She was coming right for me, hands outstretched as claws.

I didn’t have time to run.  I thrust out with the Hyena instead, stabbing at one of the reaching hands.  The blade penetrated the glass, and I felt it make contact.

I dodged out of the way before the footing was completely gone, crossing the hall.

She grabbed the now-empty frame off the wall, hurling it at me, then turned on her toes, following after.

I crossed the hall again.

She followed, reaching-

And stopped.

Her claws were an inch from Jeremy’s face.  She panted hard, painted nails twitching.

Damn.  That half-plan had been to try and bait her to hit the one person who wasn’t fast enough to duck out of her way.

It seemed her loyalty to him overrode her anger.

“Stop, Kakia,” he said.

“Serpent… was… gift…” she said, panting out one word between each quick inhalation.  She still dropped her hand, her face close to Jeremy’s, eyes not leaving him.

“I know.  I was there when he gave it to you,” Jeremy said.  “I’m not pleased either.”

I didn’t need to catch my breath, but I did need my bearings.  I took stock of my surroundings.

Three reflective surfaces here.  Once they were gone, I could only go upstairs or down.

“You’re the mirror dweller Sandra mentioned,” Jeremy spoke.

“Yeah,” I said.

“That snake was a gift from my god to a favored servant,” he said.

“That’s unfortunate,” I answered.

He turned until we were facing one another.  His maenad lowered her head until her forehead rested on Jeremy’s shoulder, still panting, fingers held in a claw-like position to the point that the straining of her fingers made them each move independently, as if she couldn’t hold them completely still.  The wounded hand bled, blood dripping down her fingers.

“Unfortunate,” he said, as if he were trying on the word, “You have little idea how right you are.”

“That sounds ominous,” I said.

“You’re crossing a god,” he said.  “It should.”

“I’ve seen a god,” I said, “I think, anyway.  I haven’t seen your god, though.”

“No?  I thought we’d crossed paths.”

“You came after me in Toronto,” I said.  I thought back to the conversation and intimacy I’d seen just a short while ago.  “I believe it was on Sandra’s behalf?”

“If I did, it was for her, yes,” he said.  “I don’t remember you or what I did to you.”

“You sicced Conquest on me,” I said.

“Was that what I did?  Hm.  Set it all in motion.”

I could see the restlessness on the part of his people.  They formed a protective circle around their priest, but they couldn’t sit still.

“Hey, Jeremy,” I said, conversationally,  “Would you happen to know what protocols are for dealing with very abstract demons?”

With the word ‘demon’, many of the Satyrs and Maenads tensed.

“You’d have to be more specific,” Jeremy said.

“Any protocols at all,” I said.

“I know of the most important one,” he said.  “You don’t deal with demons of any type.  Common sense.”

“Which is why you left the Etobicoke imp alone?  Pauz?” I asked.  “And the demon in the oil factory?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll give you a little lesson then, no reciprocation asked for,” I said.  “When a demon is abstract, it’s not necessarily bound to all the normal rules we are, in terms of shape, state, time or place.  With me so far?”

“I wasn’t the most exceptional student, when I attended school,” Jeremy said.  “I struggle with lectures.”

Try,” I said.  “Commit this to memory.  Of the two abstract demons I’ve met, both followed the same minor rule.  If you see it in a reflective surface, that’s because it occupies that surface.  Your eye is reflective, Jeremy.  The eyes of your minions serve too.  Look directly at it, and it has you, and it isn’t ever letting go.”

“How inconvenient,” he said.

Very,” I said.  “As far as I’m aware, there’s one in this house.”

Give Jeremy a cookie.  He didn’t look half as scared as even his murderous maenad did.  She didn’t move her head, but her eyes widened.  The others reacted, looking at one another.

“You could be lying.  There are no guarantees you’re bound to tell the truth.”

I shook my head.  My vision wavered.  I was feeling the influence of this heavy perfume, smoke, blood, and wine that all sat so thick in the air.  “Not lying.  If I am telling a deliberate falsehood, I give your god permission to strike me down.”

I saw one or two Satyrs step back.

“It doesn’t work quite that way, but close,” Jeremy said.  “Where is this supposed demon?”

“Last I saw, it was in the house,” I said.  I decided to bend the truth.  “It can’t leave.  I would like to keep you from leaving with it, accidentally or otherwise.  That’s in my top five concerns right now.”

He didn’t take my bait and ask what the other four were.  “If the demon was a concern, the occupants of the house would be a lot more afraid than they are.”

“It’s scarier than the demon in the factory,” I said.  “As rankings for demons go, it’s  few steps up.  I don’t like Rose, but I trust her not to fuck that up.  You… I’m much less inclined to trust your lot to keep from accidentally fucking up.  When I killed the snake, I was protecting all of us.”

“The responsibilities of being a diabolist’s favored pet,” Jeremy said.

“Eh,” I said.  “You got one of those three labels right.”

“I have my own responsibilities,” he said.  “When I wield power, it isn’t with lines on the floor and carefully worded contracts.  I only ask.  I can change the wording, pick the phrasing, decide the poetry of it, and read old texts, from my god’s days of glory.  But when I want to practice, I only speak.  A single word will suffice.”

He wasn’t murdering me or getting us all killed while he talked, so there was that.

He continued, “My challenge is to show I’m worthy.  In the heat of the moment, I don’t need to do anything special.  Outside of those moments, I have to curry favor.  There aren’t any gauges, no measurements I can take.  I have to watch for signs and trust him to show me his pleasure or displeasure.  If I overstep, asking too much for how little favor I have, he may punish me.  If I hold his favor but do not spend it, he might revoke it.”

“Easy to get wrong,” I said.

“I don’t shape how it manifests.  He does.  But when he works…”

“He can knock down all the barriers in a house that’s supposed to hold up against a pair of angry chronomancers and enchantresses.”

The atmosphere here… I didn’t even have pumping blood, but my head pounded.

“Yes,” Jeremy Meath told me.  “That snake was his.  You killed it.  You maimed his servant’s hand.  For all intents and purposes, there is a gun pressed to your head as we speak.  There has been since you hurt that snake.”

I shook my head a little.  “Can’t be that simple.  You would have said it already.”

“I need answers before I have my god smite you.  Where is the Thorburn Cabal?”

You should be asking where the demon is,” I said.

“Eryalus?” he asked.  “You smelled something foul when you entered the house.”

The ugly satyr spoke, “Above us.”

“Has it moved?”

“No,” the satyr said.

Jeremy looked at me, spreading his hands.

“If you upset Rose,” I warned, “there’s no guarantee she won’t give the demon a command.”

“I’m not concerned with upsetting Rose,” he said.  “I want to find her and her cabal.  Now, second try.  Where is the Thorburn Cabal?”

“Ask your god to point you in the right direction,” I said.

“Asking him for trivial things I could earn and achieve on my own is a fast way to lose favor.  For the third time, where is the cabal?”

Three times.  The answer I gave here mattered.

I’d spooked his minions by mentioning the demon.  Maybe I could take advantage of that.

“She’s in an area that, as I understand it, involves warped space,” I said.  “One step to the side, and, how did you put it?  Above us?”

Which was technically true.  It was a two-floor affair.

I could see his jaw set, eyes narrowing.  There was no softness in his face, however worn and rumpled he might otherwise look.  How could a priest of drunken merriment and debauchery look so joyless and cold?

“If that’s the case,” he said, “We could all be dead.  You’ll definitely have to tell me where she is, so I can stop her.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“What do you think I did, mirror man?” he asked.  “I needed to disarm the diabolist and her cabalists of their greatest weapon, which we just talked about, and I needed access.  My god granted me both with one fell stroke.”

Jägerbomb,” a younger satyr said, snickering as if it were far funnier than it was.

Which wasn’t hard.  I didn’t think it was funny in the least.

“You’re telling me you went after the one person in Jacob’s Bell who has the most dangerous knowledge around, the one person who can tap into world ending forces, who’s maybe a little hard to anticipate to begin with, and you got her drunk?”

“I’ve been led to believe my god impaired her faculties,” Jeremy Meath said.  “As I said, doing what I do is far from an exact science.”

“If she calls on the wrong name,” I said, warning.

“She won’t, not anytime soon,” the priest answered me.  “My god is a god of madness and drink.  She’ll be insensate, for now.”

“For now?”

“I imagine there’ll be a window of time when she’s lucid enough to act, and still far enough out of her gourd to do something stupid,” the priest told me.  “If circumstances were better, and she didn’t already have something summoned, this would have been perfect.”

His expression didn’t change from that stony stare, as he made that admission.

His minions looked more than a little freaked out, though.

“You leave, I find her, we mutually prevent anything stupid from happening, and Sandra gets to do whatever she’s planning to do to Mags and Molly,” I said.  “You and your god win.”

“It’s not that simple.  When my god created this situation, he posed a challenge to me.  If he simply gave me what I needed, what would that be worth?  I have to work for it a little.  His era of gods are especially fond of making the little mortals dance,” Jeremy said.  “If I walk away from that challenge and fail to dance, I disappoint him.”

“Seems to me,” I said, picking my words with care, not breaking eye contact with him, “Following a god like you do is very nearly as tragic an existence as being a diabolist.”

His expression changed for the first time in a good while.  A light smile.

“I think you might be right, mirror man.  There’s a reason I’m here.  When someone like Sandra, the departed Laird Behaim, or even Conquest do battle with a diabolist, they’re busy trying to win, while the diabolist knows they can win.  It’s merely a question of how little that diabolist can get away with losing in the process.”

“Rose and I have surmounted plenty of obstacles without summoning or dealing with demons,” I said.

Jeremy stroked the hair of the Maenad who hadn’t moved her head from his shoulder.  She’d stopped clenching her claws, and now held her injured hand against her chest.

He continued, “But the mindset is still there.  If you two truly needed to, you could call in a favor, call a name, find a book, or remember an author’s name from one of your books and chase it down.  With your diabolist, you can theoretically pick up the raw firepower you need to remove every single one of your enemies from the table.  But you don’t.  We have to hold back, because the price is often too high to pay.”

“I think I want to be more optimistic than that.”

“Okay,” he said.  He shifted his weight, and his injured maenad backed off a bit, giving him space.  “Right now, we’re playing a game of chicken.  Rather than an onrushing car or train, there’s a diabolist of impaired faculties in the building.  It would not be surprising if she woke up and then acted with her faculties thus impaired.”

“That’s the gist of it,” I said.

“As an optimist, you would have the advantage.  Maybe she’ll simply sleep it off.  Maybe she’ll act benevolently.  As her ally, too, the odds are with you.  She’s more likely to come after me than she is to hurt you, am I right?”

I was silent, and utterly still.

“On the other hand, she’s in close proximity to your other allies, who are very likely to be collateral damage.  I don’t know if you know this, but she’s been tainted by Conquest.”

“I know,” I said.

“Then you know we have every reason to expect that taint would have more sway over her when she’s not fully herself.”

If he didn’t look quite so grim, I would have thought he was enjoying this.

“If you crack first, you might well show me the way to her.  I would try to be fair.  Killing her would only transfer ownership to the next heir.  We don’t want that.  I don’t want to hurt or kill her cabalists either.  We can keep her and you contained and organize your release from captivity when the Lordship is settled and full attention can be devoted to the dangerous diabolist and her mirror-dwelling pet.”

“Or you crack,” I said.

“Or I crack.  I call on my god to show the way, and in the doing, I disarm myself of my primary source of power.  You hurt the snake, and that counts a great deal against you.  I could probably assume that’s enough that he’d grant me the favor, despite the disappointment in me.  But probably isn’t certainty, and   I’d normally be unwilling to call on my god for three great acts in a single week, let alone a day.”

“Our game of chicken,” I said.

“A good game for an optimist to play.  It’s not about who wins,” he said, “It’s about who loses the least.”

“Or,” one of the Maenads said, “you could send us after him.”

He turned his head to answer her.

I ran, not even listening to the words that escaped

However much I wanted to be an optimist, I couldn’t, not when this much was at stake.

“Demon upstairs,” I breathed the words, “Don’t follow.”

Technically true, but misleading.  I just needed them to hesitate.

I stepped from the edge of the mirror space, and I leaped.

Moving up, more than anything else.

Up to the next floor.  To the meager, short-reaching light that the picture frames shed into the hallway.

They were already moving.  They were fast.

I found the bookshelf, which was supposed to open into the real world.

I just had to reach the handle before they got close enough to see me and what I was doing.  The benefits of being inside a reflected surface.  If I couldn’t, I could run.  I could get help.

I wasn’t sure what form that help would take, but I needed to check.

It was unlocked.  The way into the library was clear.

The reason it was unlocked, however, was something else.  It was open.

The house had been Jägerbombed, as the satyr had put it.  Pictures had been knocked from walls, books from shelves, and the entire building had been rocked, with barriers suffering for it.

And, perhaps, a divine hand had nudged things to this particular result.

The lock had jostled open.  The bookcase was partially ajar.

I looked from my reflected bookshelf to the one opposite.

I ran.  No regard for safety.

I lunged through the mirror.  Reaching for the bookshelf, blind.

If I could push it closed-

The darkness claimed me.  My hand didn’t touch it.

I was shunted.

By the time I found my feet, I could hear the noise of the bookshelf sliding open.

It opened wide.  Rose, Evan, Alexis, Tiff and Ty lay collapsed on the ground.

Jeremy strode in, as I pressed my hands against the glass, unable to stop him.

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