Category Archives: 10.06

Mala Fide 10.6

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

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.

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

Advertisements