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.
“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 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.
“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.
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.”
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?”
“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.
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.
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.
“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!”
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.
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 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.
“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.