Category Archives: 11.01

Malfeasance 11.1

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My existence was reduced to a pizza slice of reality.  A triangular section of a room with light shed from a window high above that I couldn’t see.

Nothing to read, nothing to do, and nobody to talk to.  I couldn’t even punch the wall to vent my anger, because I didn’t want to risk hurting myself.

Screaming, though.  I could get away with screaming.  Even if I knew it wasn’t necessarily making me any friends.  Without the need for breathing, my scream could be a howl, continuing well past my usual lung capacity.

My throat started hurting, though, and I had to make myself stop.  The last thing I needed was for the Drains to get a grip on that.  I’d wind up sounding like some movie monster.

I couldn’t do anything.  My thoughts were chaos and every single damn bad emotion it could summon up, all mixed into a pot of something with no outlet.

I didn’t need to pant for breath as I stopped.  I saw the birds on my arms with their beaks parted, midway through their own screaming.

Pausing to look around at my surroundings for any possible clue, I found little except for the edge of the desk, no books perched on or under it, the side with the drawers beyond the scope of the reflection, floor and wall.  No chair to sit in.  Nothing I could pound or throw to vent my frustration.

I looked at the circle on the other side of the mirror.

Could I reach through the mirror and break it?

Maybe.  It would be hard, with no guarantees.

I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of what might happen if I was trapped in a circle with no mirror to go to.

I’d leave the option open for a last-ditch effort.

I’d brought the chair around, and did what I could with the section of desk.  I tried to move the desk, but my fingers slipped on the wood.  If I got low enough to grab the one stout, half-foot of leg at the base, I couldn’t get leverage or traction on the ground or surrounding area.

Easily an hour passed as I used the Hyena to chip at the desk in an effort to create a handhold.  Two oblong, splinter-ridden holes that I could fit three fingers inside.

When I tried, I couldn’t get it to move.

I tried to use my sweatshirt, slinging it through the two holes and then around the leg, and didn’t get it to budge.  Only the beginnings of a tearing sound.

I drew a finger in the dust on top of the corner of desk, marking the progress as shadow moved and the light moved to one end of my little slice of reality, only to disappear.

Afternoon became night, as the line in the dust was joined by brother lines, punctuating hours.

Once the light was largely gone, I didn’t have any way to track the passage of time except my own thoughts.  Where my own heartbeat or breathing might have helped me punctuate the minutes, it was different now.  It was based on my thinking, my remembering to do it.  When I forgot, it could feel like a minute had taken an hour, or I’d let time slip away, realizing only moments later how far my thoughts had traveled and how long that might have taken.

I thought about Alexis, and picked apart my time at the commune, searching it for discrepancies.  If it still hurt or stung, recalling that, I told myself that at least that made me a little more me.

I mulled over memories of time spent with my friends, and their current relationship to Rose.

I didn’t like the gaps, the incongruities.

Why had they been my friends to begin with?

I’d had an apartment.

As far as I could tell, the universe took the path of least resistance.

I now had time to think, and I didn’t like where my thoughts were going.  Had my life been based on someone else’s?  An outside source that could fill in the gaps, a life that I could step into?

That wasn’t me.  Not how I wanted to operate, to be.

Revenants were, I knew, something between a zombie and a bogeyman.  They came back from the dead, usually with a mission in mind, and a specific timeframe or pattern they needed to follow.  Most didn’t know enough to keep themselves going after they achieved their success or failure.

The revenant, I knew, could sometimes get away with being a hero, insofar as a vigilante was a hero.  They weren’t the types to turn a criminal in for the cops to prosecute, after all, but when a gang killed enough people in horrible ways, the revenant could rise and eliminate them.  Another example I’d read had been a soldier that had surrendered, along with his comrades, only to watch each be tortured to near-death and then brutally executed, with him last.  He’d returned a year to the day to hunt down the enemy soldiers and deliver punishments that were worse.  In certain circles, he’d been seen as a hero.  A benevolent spirit.

Not so common for bogeymen.  If I even was a bogeyman.

Rose had alluded to the idea that she knew what I was.  That there was something I hadn’t caught onto, dangerous knowledge that made me too dangerous to be allowed to walk free.

I spent some time dwelling on that too.  It gnawed at me.

Where it gnawed at me, I changed.  The branches finding just a little bit more ground.

I looked at the pale sparrows that hid in the branches that had climbed over my entire body.  Minor damage became tattoo, and became more physical branch where there was already tattoo.  Serious damage allowed for larger spirits to find their way inside, and they took the form of the birds.

I traced lines of branches and felt the raised portions.

“Don’t suppose you guys could poke your heads out and help me?” I asked.

I blinked.  The birds had moved closer to my hands, peering at the mirror.  Some looked more like sketches than real birds, their eyes just circles with shaky lines circling them a few times.

I extended my hands closer, touching the surface, looking away, waiting.

When I looked again, they’d moved closer, clustering at my arms.  Where I’d had branches around my hands, a feather or two stuck out.

When I looked again, they’d retreated to their hiding spots.

“Thanks for trying,” I said.

I dropped my hands to my sides.

“I’m going to go crazy if I only have my thoughts to occupy myself with,” I said.  “I hope you don’t mind if I voice my thoughts aloud.  Bit of a one-sided conversation.”

None of them moved, except for one on my forearm.  It might have been one of the originals, taking the spot of one of the birds that had been tattooed on.  He was one of the most realistic, and he was the only one who was looking at my face.

“Well, you listened,” I said.  “I like you.  I’ll call you Lefty.”

Was talking to yourself a sign of impending madness if you were a frankenstein hodgepodge of reflection, drainstuff and spirits?

I shut my eyes, resting my head on the wall, facing the nonexistent ceiling above me.  “Well, Lefty, I’ve got to talk to someone, to distract myself from the fact that I’ve been stuck in solitary by the people I tried to save.  It isn’t helping any.  It’s sort of killing me, even.”

Lefty had his head cocked when I next looked down.

“Maybe that’s a bit of a fib,” I said.  “It’s not destroying… all this.  But it is killing the Blake in me.  I’m not sure what happens, if this takes over.  If you take over.  I haven’t changed quite enough to see if my emotions or mindset change.”

I looked at my hands, turning them over, left hand first, then right.  When I looked back at my left hand, Lefty had moved around the circumference of my arm.

I clenched my fists.  “Which isn’t to say I’m not really upset.  If Rose is telling the truth, and she doesn’t have Conquest as an excuse to be doing what she’s doing, then that makes me ten times as pissed off… and it also means that doing anything to her is off the table.”

I placed my arms over my knees, thumbs tracing the lines of tattoos, the raised lines of branches that reached under the tattoos, as though I’d stuck something just beneath the surface of the tattoos, and I felt the actual branches, which were standalone.

I was glad I hadn’t picked anything else.

“What’s the worst thing I could have picked for tattoos?” I asked Lefty.  “I liked some pretty dumb cartoons as a kid.  If I was the sort of person who held onto nostalgia, instead of loathing my past, maybe you’d be a pastel-colored bug with a symbol on its back.  What do you think?”

Lefty remained silent.

I took my time, doing an inventory of my physical condition.

My right ribs and the bone of my pelvis at my waistline were the worst spots, branch mingling with bone,  I’d fallen hard when fighting the temple guardians, Tweedle Dee, Dum and whatever the third one was called.

There was a gap in the branches and bones.  I put my finger in there.

I felt one of the bird spirits brush past it, and the hand came out as fast as if I’d touched a hot stove.

I stood, because sitting wasn’t any more or less comfortable than standing, and sitting prompted a little too much thinking.  I paced, and parts of me snapped and popped with the movement, suggesting I’d been sitting for at least an hour in total.

It hadn’t felt like an hour.

Still, it was better than the alternative, the time yawning on for what felt like hours, when only minutes had passed.

If sitting made me think, then moving made my emotions stir up.

Something had happened to Mags.  My friends weren’t in a better position than before.  Rose was…

I didn’t want to think about Rose.

“What’s the solution, Lefty?” I asked.  “How do we fix all this?  If it’s a monster that needs killing, that’s a whole lot easier.  But this is a flawed dynamic.  I can’t set it on fire or trap it in a binding circle.”

Lefty only looked up at me with beady black eyes, no expression on its face.

“Do I take a cue from the vigilante revenant, and carry out the sort of task that a bogeyman is supposed to, only with an acceptable target?  Or do I take the Blake route?”

I continued pacing.

“I could have handled that last bit better.  I was a little inebriated.”

I heard the door open, and turned, though I couldn’t hope to see it.

“Hello?” I asked.

“Hey,” I heard Ty’s voice.

He stepped into view in the long mirror, visible from head to shin.  He wore a sleeveless t-shirt and pyjama pants, and had Evan perched on his shoulder.

“You look a bit like a swashbuckling pirate,” I commented.

“Yarr,” Evan said.

“I meant Ty.”

“Yarr,” Ty said, smiling a little.  He plucked at his pyjama pants.  “Reaching a bit, but I think we’re all tired enough to buy into it.

“I’d say ‘Evan want a cracker’, but I don’t, so I won’t,” Evan said.

“Good call,” I said.

More seriously, Ty said, “Sorry we didn’t stop in earlier.”

“Would’ve been nice,” I said.

“If I thought you needed water or food or something else, I would’ve found the excuse to come to you, but as it was…”

“I was musing on the subject earlier, but I think I’m still degrading, like this,” I said.

“Wearing away?”

“Starving, falling apart, something like that.  I don’t know the proper term for it.  But a part of me is dying, and I think the ugly parts might gain ground.”

I could see a note of concern on his face.  Not quite to the point where I thought he was feeling concern for me.  I was still a stranger.

“You do need something then?” he asked.

“Peace,” I said.  “I need peace.  The turmoil is, as far as I can tell, literally eating me up, inside and out.”

I saw his expression change, just a little bit more concern.

“I don’t think I can give you that,” he said.

I wanted to fidget, to bounce my leg in nervousness, in some representation of how I was feeling, or for the outlet.  But it wasn’t something that came naturally.  I was still, and in being very still I was very inhuman.

“I feel pretty horrible about it,” he said.  “Dunno if that matters.”

“Matters some, but it doesn’t help,” I said.  “I don’t want you to feel horrible.”

“We were suffering from the worst hangovers to date-”

“First hangover!  And probably my last!”

“-and doing our best to shore up the defenses.  Four walls protecting us, and not a lot else.  More than a handful of things slipped in and needed to be dealt with.”

“I could have helped,” I said.

“Probably,” he said.  “It’s like, four thirty in the morning, and I’m pretty out of it.  I heard you talking, and Evan was flying around, which isn’t quite silent.”

“Not bumping into walls anymore,” Evan said.

“…I thought I’d just stop in, before one of you disturbed the others.  It was pretty clear you weren’t asleep.”

“I don’t think I sleep anymore.”

“I can,” Evan said.  “But it’s not like it was before, when I was alive and all.  Back then, I could wait til I was tired, lie down, and sleep would come.  Now I have to look for it.  It’s more like a nap.  Maybe that helps?  You can try doing it like I do?”

“Maybe,” I said, though I wasn’t sure it did.  “Thanks.”

Ty stepped out of sight.

I wasn’t sure if I was in the clear to ask Evan about the wink and salute earlier.

“You know, when you said thanks, I totally thought you’d give Ty a dad look.  Or a mom look, like Rose sometimes gives, or even Ty sometimes.”

“A dad look?” I asked.

“I can’t do it.  I don’t have the right face muscles.  You know what I mean?  That look like you’re just pretending to take me seriously, and you’re pretending so badly you just gotta look at someone like, ‘ha ha, we’re not really taking the kid seriously, am I right?'”

“It’s different if the dad does it or the mom does it?”

“It’s two totally different looks, though I can totally see the man having the mom look while the mom has the dad look, depending on what kind of parents they have.  And Mags obviously had a dad to give her the mom look.”

In the midst of trying to keep up and wrap my head around the dads and moms, I caught that last bit.  My attention snagged on the had.

I felt like I was missing so much, spending time in the Drains, and now spending time here.

“I’m not about to be condescending with you, Evan,” I said.  “As far as my memories go, I didn’t really have parents to model my behavior off of.”

“But Rose did?”

I made a so-so gesture with my hand.  “Enough.  Maybe the opposite.  Rose got too much attention.”

“Tiff too, in a bad way,” Ty said, returning.  He held up a pack of cards, still in the box.  “Same general type, in that respect.”

“Sure,” I said.  “Is everyone okay?”

“They’re managing.  Mags isn’t in anyone’s good books after the wraith thing.  They’re using her to try and hunt Molly down.”

“And the state of things?”

“Ugly.  The fights so far are small, contained.  Nothing that’d scare the innocents, but aggressive.  Can’t speak for the others, but I was glad to get back here, even with the lousy defenses.  Once it got late enough in the day that there weren’t people on the streets, other stuff came out.”

“Yeah,” Evan said.

Ty took a seat, cross-legged, on the floor.  He paused, then leaned to one side.  “What the hell did you do to that desk?”

“Made holes,” I said.  I didn’t lose anything by admitting, “I wanted handholds, to see if I could move it, drag the reflection-version into view.”

“That’d be difficult.”

“It was,” I said.  “Didn’t work.”

“Probably for the best,” he said.

He paused, shuffling.

“Hold ’em,” Evan said.  “C’mon.”

Ty gave Evan a look.

“Deal me in,” Evan said.

Ty reached around, grabbing a book, and placed it so it sat open, standing up, blocking his view of Evan’s cards.  He did the same for me, dealing the two cards face up, behind the books.  It looked like he’d done it before.

Nothing interesting in the book.  A glossary of alchemical symbols, it looked like.

He doled out what looked like copper coins from another nationality.

“Real money?” I asked.

“Found them in the cupboard about a week after we all moved in,” Ty said.  He issued the stacks of coins.

We played ten quick hands in relative silence, only speaking in single words as our turns went around, and, in Evan’s case, when he tried to move coins with his head and knocked over the stack.  In such cases, it was usually a muttered cuss word and summary pleading on Evan’s part for Ty to pile up the coins again.

The bids were small, one coin per, but all the same, Evan had a few more coins than Ty or me.

“Maybe Go Fish,” Ty said.

“But I like winning,” Evan said.

“This is a regular thing?” I asked.

Ty raised his eyebrows, “Poker?  No.  Because Alexis-”

“Usually wins,” I said, simultaneously with him.  When he gave me a funny look, I said, “When it comes to poker, anyway.  I know that much.”

“And Evan wins whenever Alexis isn’t playing, despite the fact that we had to teach him to play a couple weeks ago, and here I am, with something like three hundred hours clocked on online poker.”

“I thought you quit,” I said.

“I did.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve clocked those hours,” Ty said.  “I’d think the little guy is cheating, except there’s no way for him to keep any cards tucked up his sleeves.”

Evan spread his wings, looking.  “Nope.”

“It’s like being a fencer, and you think the other guy’s going to play by the rules, and he just comes at you with a foil in one hand and his other hand swinging.  Except he’s following the rules.  Evan doesn’t fold when he should, which throws me off, but when I try to play it smart and efficient, by the odds, he still pulls ahead wins because he has the devil’s own luck, as the idiom goes.”

“That seems to be how it’s going,” I observed.

“And he doesn’t have tells,” Ty said.  “Tiny bird face.  You’d think he’d have the decency to puff up his feathers when he had a nice hand.”

“Why would I do something like that?  That’s dumb.”

“Kind of loses its shine when playing smart doesn’t win.  I blame magic,” Ty said.

“Sounds like a plan,” I said.

“Or,” Evan said, “Or, or, or, I’m a genius.”

Ty gave me a look.

That’s the dad look,” Evan said, hopping up, pointing a wing at Ty.  “Did you see?  That, right there.”

I leaned back, well past the point where I could see the cards or coins, and rested against the corner of the desk.

“I’ve missed you guys,” I said.

Ty’s expression was hard to read.

Sympathy, maybe.

I hadn’t been on the butt end of his sympathy, not in my memories.

“You fell through the cracks,” Ty said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“What was it like?”

“Dark,” I said.  “Like all of the ugliness of this world we’ve been introduced to, compounding all the worst parts of being homeless.”

“Worst parts?”  Evan asked.  “There are good parts?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Just like there are things that aren’t so bad about prison.  There’s a reason some people keep sliding back to that life, being on the streets or in a cell.  There’s aspects where you have peace of mind, or the ability to just stop worrying about whole aspects of your life because it either can’t get worse or there’s something in place for you.  So you face real life, and maybe a part of you knows that if you give up, stop trying, then you would at least have that.”

“Are you about to backslide?” Ty asked me.  “Slip back through the cracks?”

I thought about how I’d considered breaking the mirror, and the consequences when I didn’t have any place to go.

Any place but down?

“No,” I said.  “I have too much to do.”

Again, a sympathetic look.  The guy stuck in a binding circle, with too much to do.

I thought of my memories.  I thought about how I’d known Ty before I was supposedly created, and I could call on memories to a time after I’d met Ty, but before I’d really gotten back into the swing of everyday life.

Living on a fucked up commune, that was another kind of place I might’ve backslid to… one I’d wanted to, even if it was for one moment of weakness.

But after I’d met Ty, had he had that same look of sympathy for the antisocial guy Alexis had brought in, a guy who spent more time looking out the window or at the ground than at people’s faces?

The memories segued too smoothly into reality.

That made me uncomfortable, somehow.

As if deep down in the Drains, I’d lost sight of something, and now I might never get it back.

I had a thought on the tip of my tongue.  The sort of thing where I wasn’t sure if I should say it, because it might be awkward or stupid once it left my mouth, or I wasn’t entirely sure how to form the thought.

I said it anyway.

“You know what?” I added.  “I did sort of make friends, down in the Drains.”

“Friends?” Ty asked.  “In Bogeymantown?”

“Who?” Evan asked.

“That’s… hard to explain,” I said.  “It was easier to make friends.  I think… well, without the burden of bad karma, it’s easier.  I imagine Rose is having a hard time of it.”

“I imagine you’re right,” Ty said.

“But this, I can’t agree with it, obvious bias aside,” I said.  “This dead man’s switch feels like an even worse idea.”

“We were talking about it when you first showed up, and Rose kicked you out,” Ty said.

“What are the details?” I asked.

“I shouldn’t tell you the details,” Ty said.

“She redrew the circle around the barber,” Evan chimed in.

“Evan, cut that out,” Ty said.

“Pshh.  I’m a part of the team, and I have as much say as you.  If the circle isn’t taken care of, in a way that only she knows how to do, both for how the circle’s supposed to be and how it needs to be taken care of,” Evan said, “The Barber can get out.  If it does, then she’s the only one who knows how to bind it again.”

“I have an idea of how to,” I said.  “And here I am, stuck.  I feel compelled to comment on how convenient that is.”

“It’s not like that,” Ty said.

“Just saying,” I said.

“Can we play more?” Evan asked.  “While we talk?”

I scooted forward.  Ty reached around the books to collect our cards, and shuffled.

Our cards were dealt.

I won with a three of a kind.

I gave that a moment’s consideration.

If I was going to win over Ty… could I win him over?

Under the pretense of needing to move and stretch a bit, I shifted position.  I bent limbs in odd ways to intentionally make parts of me pop and snap.  In the midst of it all, I changed my perspective relative to the mirror, and got into a position where I could gesture to Evan with one hand.

I raised two fingers, pointed at myself, and pumped my hands in the air, a mock victory celebration.  I pointed at him, and drew a finger across my throat, pointing at the cards, and made a mock sad face.

Ty was right.  Evan’s body language was impossible to read.

I fixed my position, resuming a normal sitting posture.

Another hand.

I folded.  Evan won.

“I helped one of my Drains friends get up here,” I said.

“You brought a bogeyman into the world?” Ty asked, just a bit incredulous.

“Two, if you include myself,” I said.  “And it’s a she, so bogeywoman?”

“I’ve wondered how you did it, but explain this part first.  Who is she?”

“Doesn’t have a name,” I said.  “I might not have made it if she hadn’t given me advice and pointed me in the right general direction.  Faysal owed me favors, I called them in.”

“You keep answering questions with stuff that makes me want to ask more questions,” Ty said.  “Okay, putting aside how you got out of the drains, or the form this advice took, or how you were in a position to call in favors from Faysal, do we need to worry about her?  Raise.”

“Not any more than you need to worry about your next Other,” I said.  “Call.”

“I’m out,” Evan said.  “Fold.”

Ty moved my book.  “Damn it.”

My win.

“In fact,” I said, “Evan, if it’s no trouble, could you run an errand for me?”

“Maybe,” he said.  “Going outside is dangerous.  Too many things want to eat me.”

“I named her Green Eyes.  If you could get an escort at a time of day when it was fairly safe, could you stop by the lake?  Just check on her, tell her I said hi, and I’d visit if I could?”

“Is she good looking?” Evan asked.  He wiggled his body one way and his head the other, “Do you liiike her?”

“I don’t know her well enough to know.  But she seems like a good sort, all things considered.  I’m not in a position to be picky, so I won’t rule anything out in the grand scheme of it all,” I said.  I extended my arms, showing off the tattoos.

“I think you do like her,” Evan said.  “I think you might be in loooooove.”

I peered at my cards.  “Raise.”

“Fold,” Evan said.

Don’t be so obvious about it, I thought.

“She’s a mermaid, though, so it’d be awkward,” I said, to distract Ty.

I got two very surprised looks.

And Ty said Evan wasn’t capable of facial expressions.

“Awesome,” Evan said.

“Gotta admit, I’m curious now,” Ty said.

“You liked Isadora,” I said.

“I like new, whatever it is, if it’s entertainment or food or girls.” Ty said.  “Mermaid is new, as girls go.”

“She’s a bogeyman mermaid,” I said.  “It’s not what you’re imagining, I’m almost positive.”

He shrugged.

“Evan folded, I raised, by the way,” I said.

“Call.  Annnd… damn it.”

“I’m worried about how she’s managing, as part of all this.”

“In the lake, in winter, you mean?” Ty asked.

“The Drains are harsher than that,” I said.  “And types like she and I are tougher than you’d think.  Not that I want to push that toughness.  Seems like it’s Blake that takes all the grief, and the stuff from the Drains that gets stronger.”

“I can ask Rose if there’s any problem with you getting a book on bogeymen,” Ty said.  “I’d like to stop you being in here from being bad for you, if nothing else.”

He dealt out the next set of cards.

Come on, I thought.

Evan folded.

Ty and I put our money in.

The cards were flipped over, one by one.

“Raise,” Ty said.


“Fold,” I said.

I remained absolutely still to hide my agitation.

Three wins.

That was all I needed.  Three wins.  A toehold, some leverage with the spirits that managed everything, so I could maybe convince Ty to give me something I needed.

Freedom was one option, but felt a little forced.

A better option would be to get information.  To glean a little something about who I was and why they had me in here.

Except, Ty was better than I was.

I lost the next hand.

We broke even in the next.

I lost the one after.

He was paying attention now.

“Fold,” Evan said, sounding a little bored.

“Again,” Ty commented.

He won the hand.

Leaving me out of money.

“Can I give him my money?” Evan asked.  “I’m gonna fly around the house and see if there’s any trouble.”

“Wards we put up should alert us if there is.”

“Unless it’s a witch hunter,” Evan said.

“I’m thinking you two are in collusion,” Ty said.  “And something tells me it’s a bad idea to let that happen.  Go fly, Ev.  But I think we’re done with poker for now.”

Evan gave me a look, then flew away.

“He was really yours,” Ty said.


“He’s loyal, and I can see the connection between you two, even now.”

“Maybe, yeah,” I said.

He paused, then said.  “There’s… I don’t remember you.  I’m not even like Alexis, feeling like there’s some Blake-shaped hole in her memories.  I’m sorry if it sounds harsh when I say it, but things make sense, with you gone.”

“I wasn’t real, as far as I can tell,” I said.  “But I’m suspicious someone was.  Maybe someone the lawyers acquired, or another family member, or… I don’t know.  I feel like it was based on something.  That, or it was a really clever piece of work, putting together a lot of reality wholesale, and I don’t even want to go within ten miles of whatever’s capable of doing something like that.”

“It isn’t how demons or diabolists operate,” Ty commented.  “Creating anything.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Which goes back to sacrifice.  Welcome to the thoughts that have plagued me for the last eight or so hours.”

“But whatever the case was,” Ty said, “We had mutual memories before.  And those memories were altered.  Like I said, Alexis feels the absence.”

“We were friends,” I said.  “But we weren’t as close as Alexis and I were.  If you’re looking for a Blake-shaped hole in your memories, you might want to look at your work.  I remember helping you set up.  I gave you feedback.  I was one of the first people you went to when you’d started a new kind of thing and wanted to just share everything you were doing.”

“I’ve been feeling an itch, like I really want to talk to someone about the magic stuff,” he said.  “Maybe that’s the Blake-shaped hole.”

I heard a knock at the door.

Ty turned his head.  “Rose.”

“I can think of five ways what you’re doing right now is a bad idea,” she said.

“Are you going to order me not to?” he asked.

“I don’t do the orders thing.  Slippery slope with big C in my head.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “Did we wake you?  Sorry.”

“The bird did.  Everyone’s up now.  Just checking, so I know, are you still a bit hung over?”

“Yeah,” Ty said.

“Everyone else is too, Evan excepted.  How are you, Blake?” she asked.

“No hang over, and I’m better, after having some company.  You’ve got to at least leave me with a book, the next time you leave me in solitary.  I’ll lose my mind.”

“We’ll see,” she said.  “A novel or two, maybe, nothing magic.”

“How does that even work?” Ty asked.  “I don’t see the cards or the book reflected, and they’re right in front of the mirror.”

I had a glimmer of an idea as to how, and I’d practiced a bit, but I was evasive all the same.

“I could say you’ve just answered your own question,” I said.

“You could, but will you?” he asked, smiling a bit.

“No,” I said.  “I’ll just ask why, if you profess to know what I am, and you know how to contrive to bind me, you don’t know anything about this part of how the mirror realm works.”

“I think I know,” Rose said.  “Don’t worry about it, Blake.  Solitude aside, how are you?”

“He’s falling apart, he says,” Ty commented.

“Stress,” I commented, “Being isolated from those things that make me me.”

“You’ll have to deal,” she said.  “Crepes for breakfast, Ty?”

“We have fruit?”

“I bought stuff on the way back from the late meeting yesterday.”

“Cool,” he said.  He stood and stretched.

“Can I get a recap on the conversation thus far with Blake?”

“You’re doing that paranoid overlord thing again,” he said.

“For my peace of mind,” she said.  “Please.”

“Yeah,” he said.

I closed my eyes.

I’d trained for it, in the course of interacting with Lefty.  Shifting the focus of my awareness.  Letting other things wash over and around me.

The trick, however, was to avoid interfering with the circle.  That would be a nightmare.

I did what I could to make it so I didn’t have any influence or impact on this mirror world, except to devote my focus to the circle, pushing against it.

My presence pushed other influences out of the mirror world.  I imagined, as the effect went, it avoided realities like Ty carrying a book across the room, and dragging it through my midsection.  For a vestige, if I was a vestige, simple interference like that was dangerous.

There was something of a melancholy feeling in my chest as I opened my eyes.  The knowledge that Rose hadn’t been able to pick this up, it pointed to the simple fact that she was real and I wasn’t.

This was my realm, not hers.

The cards, the two books, and the stacks of coins sat around me on the floor.

As quickly and quietly as I was able, I moved them all behind me.

“Breakfast,” Rose said.  “Blake, I’d offer you something in the way of spiritual sustenance, but I think it’s too dangerous.  Try keeping your activity level low.”

I clenched my fists.  “Gee, I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Give this a week or two to blow over, and we’ll see what we can do with you.”

“You sound like them, you know,” I said.


“Sandra, and Laird,” I said.

“Which reminds me of Laird,” she commented.  “I’m putting a bogeyman in the room to watch over you.  It worked with him.”

“Don’t be stupid about all this,” I said.  “Come back, talk to me.  Get info from me.  If you’re going to risk them, risk the city with this damn dead man’s switch, do it smart, do it informed.”

“Yeah,” she said.

I heard a violent rustling, followed by heavy footsteps.  Not in my field of view.

“Break the mirror if he does anything untoward,” she said.  “Don’t communicate with him.”

She shut the door behind her.

I found a seat, and carefully moved all my coins to the side, at the edge of the mirror’s field of view, so only someone standing at a strange angle could see them.  The books and cards joined them.

I felt confident now.  I’d find my way out.

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