Category Archives: 11.02

Malfeasance 11.2

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I couldn’t influence the outside world, but I could influence this one.

I looked over the cards.  They were nice, a little old fashioned, the white of the card paper stained with age, but beyond that, they were ordinary playing cards.

My presence had made it so they weren’t reflected, establishing my presence in this mirror world.  But a lack of activity, a shift of focus, a bit of release, like the smallest kind of surrender, and I’d let them through.  The reflection of the cards.

I didn’t have all of them.  Ty had taken some with him, or kicked them out of the scope of the mirror, or something.

Not playing with a full deck, I thought.

Twenty large, fat coins.  I couldn’t make head or tails of the language on the coin’s faces.  I was careful as I moved them aside, wary of the guard I couldn’t see or hear.

Two books.  One on alchemy, more like a dictionary than any kind of spellbook, filled with tables and measurements and Latin words.  Aqua Regia, Aurum Regia, Aqua Justatium, Lapis Philosophorum, and so on.  Each chapter was prefaced with the sort of stuff that started with ‘Evidenced herein’ and spent more time referring to other parts of the text than it did actually saying anything.

The second book was a catalogue of bogeymen.  Rose’s research for summoning the ‘help’.  A quick perusal suggested there was very little in the way of vital information.  A practitioner who focused on things that had fallen between the cracks was known to the practitioner community as a ‘scourge’, and it seemed like Rose was leaning that way.  Just by the language of the text, the assumption seemed to be that the people who were reading the book were very angry types with revenge or hostility in mind.

I could only assume that those did like Green Eyes had suggested and went down to the places between the cracks to collect fallen things for use were to scourges what grandmother Rose was to the diabolist community.  The scary ones you didn’t want to tick off, who knew their stuff and were very good at doing what they did without getting killed.

The book had no explanations about what types of bogeymen there were or how they could sustain themselves.  It was a text for people looking for quick answers, types who wanted to hurt a rival or answer an insult, often in the bloodiest, most horrible ways.

The last chapter, however, did have some information I could use.

Binding a bogeyman typically involved using some form of the natural elements, and things with permanence.  In the former case, it depended based on the type of bogeyman and the place beyond the cracks in reality that they had come from.  Some were particularly vulnerable to running water, others struggled to move solid objects and could easily be trapped or stopped by a simple closed door.  Yet others didn’t like fire.

Moat, box, or burning circle could serve, depending on the type.

The other option was old items that had a history and durability to them, antiques.

I touched the mirror.  I felt the surface vibrate.  I couldn’t actually examine it, though.  The mirror couldn’t reflect itself, so I only saw the portal into the other world and a trace of the frame where it stood out enough to be caught in the reflection.

Pretty old, if I remembered right.  It had probably predated my grandmother.

Thing was, though, I wasn’t quite trapped inside the mirror.  Not any more than usual.  It was the circle on the other side of the mirror that was giving me problems.

I turned back to the text.

The final chapter was, as far as I could tell, the ‘I fucked up, how do I run damage control?’ for novice scourges.  Troubleshooting and understanding where things could go wrong.  It said a lot that it was the last chapter, as if the assumption on the part of the guy who put the catalogue together was that the scourges would prioritize summoning first and fixing problems later.

Diabolists, priests, and now scourges, as sorts who were their own worst enemies, setting themselves up for failure.

The book followed a trend I’d noticed, where authors really liked referencing their other texts.  I imagined it was a way of selling more books to what was no doubt a niche market.  Couldn’t fully understand the contents of ‘Lost and Bound: Bogeymen’ without ‘Plumbing Darkest Depths’ first.

Those who’d buy just the catalogue without getting the work that presumably introduced concepts was probably reckless to begin with.  The ideas raised in the last chapter seemed to be intent on answering that sort of recklessness.

Bogeyman came with a container, practitioner broke the container?  Approaches to binding rituals.

Sent bogeyman to go murder someone in the most horrible ways possible, but they were blocked, and came back to me, what does the practitioner do?  Do the same thing, and hope they aren’t equipped to bounce it back for the third total time, because it would be far stronger on the third trip.

I looked at the mirror.  I was going to figure out a way through and out.  There were countless possible solutions.  I just needed to find one.

I heard the door open, interrupting me as I read.

“Oh!  Oh wow, you scared me,” a female voice.  Tiff.

Not directed at me.

My guard, it seemed.

I closed the book, setting it down off to one side.  My eyes scanned my surroundings. No contraband in sight.

Tiff knocked on the desk as she approached.

“I’m here,” I said.

“I didn’t want to intrude,” she said.  “Hi.”

“Hi,” I said.

Tiff wore a beige sweater that seemed designed to be oversized, the sleeves folded back two or three times over so they didn’t slip over her hands, as well as a knee-length skirt over tights.  Where Ty had been in pyjamas, she was up and ready to face the day.

“Rose was saying at breakfast that you were falling apart?”

“In a sense,” I said.  “I’m degrading.  Being in here is wearing on my sanity and my Self, as far as I can tell.  Less human, more… whatever this is.”

“That’s common,” she said.  “For Others to not like being bound.”

“It wasn’t so long ago that I wasn’t an Other, or not so obviously,” I said.  If I sounded bitter, it wasn’t intentional.

“I wanted to ask if there was anything I could do,” she said.

“Talk to me,” I said.  “Keep me company.  Or let me go.”

“I would, but there’s other stuff going on.  Rose asked me not to fill you in, just in case.”

“I see,” I said.  I traced my finger along my arm, following a ridge.  “Who is Rose, to you?”

“A friend.  Someone in need.”

“You were my friend,” I said.  “Look at me.  I’m dying.  I’m in need.”

She frowned.

You were my friend,” I said, a second time, with emphasis.  “You alone, Tiff.  Alexis is… I think you’re among a very small group of people who can imagine what Alexis means to me.  She helped us both in very similar ways.”

“Yeah,” Tiff said.

“But she and Ty, I have memories of them being my friends.  I loved them.  I still love them, like they were my own family.  But as far as I can tell, those relationships aren’t any more genuine than they were with Rose.  They were stolen from something and then Rose got them.”

Tiff shook her head a little.

“You were my friend,” I said.  “For real.  Just like Evan.  Just like some of the individuals I met in the Drains.”

“You said that, a bit ago.  It kind of stuck with me.”

“Yeah.”

“This… isn’t an easy conversation to have,” she said.

“If it feels like I’m turning away from Alexis and Ty by saying that, that’s not it.  I will help them.  However contrived our friendships were, I will die if I have to do it to save them.”

“I’d say that’s a relief, but I don’t want you to die.”

I couldn’t meet her eyes.  I looked down at Lefty.  “Thanks for saying so.”

“When I said this wasn’t easy, I meant that there’s so many things to trip over, and gaps, and conversation landmines.”

Gaps.  I felt compelled to ask, “So you do remember Rose?”

She looked uncomfortable.  “No, or yes.  I… the other two, they didn’t handle it well, when whatever happened at the factory happened.”

“When Rose entered this world and I headed off to the Drains.”

“Yeah.  Ty just couldn’t process, on a mental level, and Alexis took it really hard emotionally.  It came and went, and affected them especially at night.  Alexis said it was worst when you’re in that twilight of near-sleep and your mind’s wandering, she kept tripping over-”

“-A Blake shaped hole,” I said.

“Yeah, a Blake shaped hole.  Ty took a while to find equilibrium.  Different.  He’s really a guy in how he just doesn’t recognize how bad he was, looking back.  Rose was… on a level, we knew Rose.  Or we didn’t know her but we were familiar with her.  She offered help, and where I couldn’t do anything to help Alexis or Ty, Rose could heal that damage and fill the gap, help them through the bad nights.”

I wasn’t sure how to handle that.  Being as angry as I was, yet hearing that she’d helped people I cared about.  It jarred.  I frowned, and I hoped it didn’t look as scary as it could, given what I was.

Tiff seemed to get more intense as she talked, her tone resembling a person pleading for a loan they needed to stay afloat.  “We couldn’t just turn our backs on her after she helped them with that.  Stuff was happening in Toronto, and we thought people might come after us, just because, so we stuck by her.  She stuck by us.”

“She thrust you into this situation,” I said.  “She treated you like sacrificial pawns, rejecting the rules that others were trying to set, knowing they might go after you to get at her.”

“We talked about that,” TIff said, sounding more than a little defensive.  Because she didn’t believe it?  “We planned it, and we talked about all the bases we needed to cover.  Knowing we might be vulnerable or targeted was one base we covered.”

“You talk about a lot of stuff as a group,” I said.  “Me, and Conquest setting up shop in Rose’s head.”

She fidgeted.  “What else are we going to do, cooped up here for days on end?”

“It’s her fault you’re cooped up.  This wasn’t supposed to be how things went with you guys.  You’re not supposed to be pawns at all, you’re not supposed to be sitting there talking at you guys and swaying you.”

“Blake-”

“She’s taking something that was supposed to be good, something that wasn’t hers to take, and she’s fucking twisting it-”

“Stop!” she said.

I did.

Angry as I was, I didn’t pant, I didn’t move.

It was, perhaps, the moment I’d felt the least human yet.

Tiff, however, wasn’t quite as in control.  I could see her clenching her fists, eyes on the ground.

I hadn’t realized how upset she was getting.  That defensiveness I’d noted wasn’t because I was winning.

It had been because I was losing her.

“If you’re going to try to turn me against Rose, then I can’t be here,” she said.  “I can’t support that or give you an opening you can exploit.  I can’t do it emotionally, either.  This is hard enough to deal with.”

I nodded slowly, because I didn’t trust myself to speak.

“I’m genuinely sorry,” I finally said.

“I understand,” she said.  “You’ve obviously been through a lot.”

Her eye moved to my rib.  With my sweatshirt and shirt still off, dropped on the floor to help hide the pile of coin and cards, she could see the hole at my side, as well as the gnarled growth around the opening and pelvic bone.

I ran my hands through hair that was now perpetually dirty.  “You too.  I’m sorry for getting you into this.”

“Did you?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m… damn it.  Joel told me to be selfish.  He wanted me to be genuinely selfish for maybe for the first time in my life, and I may actually be accurate there, with how short my life has been.  And I asked for help from people I cared about, because I couldn’t do it alone.  If this goes bad, and something happens to you guys, I’ll never forgive myself.”

“That’s not up to you,” she said

“You’re right, though  I don’t want to just make this conversation about attacking Rose.  I’m also sorry for saying all that and making you have to defend her.”

She pulled the chair around, and sat opposite me.  She fidgeted before she was able to get her hands to sit still long enough to hold them in her lap.

I wasn’t much better, however well I could hide it.  I wasn’t any less angry than I’d been, but right this minute, shame took the top place, and shame kept me quiet.

“I don’t know how much you know about me,” Tiff said.

“That you came from a bad family situation, and Alexis helped you out.  That I really like your art, and I’m jealous that you’re capable of doing it.  That you were horrified at the notion that because we had our first date of sorts at a coffee place, that I might nickname you ‘donut girl’.”

When I met her eyes, she was looking at the branches that sprawled across my chest.  She’d relaxed a bit.

“Date?” she asked.

“I don’t know for sure,” I said.  “Alexis introduced us.  She wanted you, me, and her to have an… event.”

“Oh god,” Tiff said, hands flying up to her face.  “I think I know what you’re talking about.  She hinted.  Stop right there, or I won’t be able to look you in the eyes.”

“You haven’t been looking me in the eyes for a little bit now,” I said.

Her eyes flashed up, peering at me from between her fingers, they met mine, then dropped down to my torso, a fleeting glance.

Even with her hands covering her face, I could see her ears going red.

Oh.  She hadn’t been paying attention to the monstrous bits.

I’d meant my comment to be more melancholy, recognizing what I’d become, not teasing.

A part of me wanted to imagine a world where none of this had happened.  Where Alexis and Tiff and Ty and me and Joel and Goosh could all be friends.  Where I always had the opportunity to just pick up and go ride my bike halfway across Canada if Toronto felt too confining.  Work odd jobs to pay for gas.

But then I remembered that if none of this had happened, I wouldn’t exist.

My goal was different, now.  To protect these guys, and make that world possible.

Only without the ‘Blake’ part.  Without the motorcycle.

I wasn’t sure how to feel as I walked over to grab my sweatshirt.  I very carefully transferred the coins to the pocket, then pulled my shirts on.  I’d taken them off to investigate the changes of my body.  I stuck my hands in my pockets and pressed the coins down to keep them from jingling.

Tiff sighed through her hands, which still covered her face, then drew in a deep breath, straightening her spine, dropping the hands.

Still a little pink.

“What I was saying before,” she said.  “My home situation.  I’ve been backed into a corner before.  My mom made bad decisions and my dad made bad decisions, and I could usually weather the worst of it.  But sometimes it was too much.  A chain of things or stuff coming together, and I hated the person I was becoming at times like that.  I tried to get away from it all, and I wound up in freefall.”

“No connections to keep you from tumbling down,” I commented.

She gave me a curious look. “Yeah.  I was windmilling my arms, looking for something to hold on to.  I did stupid stuff.  Stuff that, if I had different luck or a little more time, might’ve made me into my parents, despite my best efforts.  Drinking, drugs, just leaping into relationships with guys that weren’t… good.  It was all easy, and if I’d spent another week or month doing it, maybe I would’ve gotten trapped.  Then Alexis was the next thing that turned up that I could hold onto.  Only she wasn’t so bad for me.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “She does that.”

“She’s a genuinely good person,” Tiff said.  “Who isn’t always good to herself, and who can still mess up, even if she means the best.  She needs help to watch out for that sometimes, and that’s hard.”

“It is hard,” I agreed.

“I think, sometimes, she could look at the worst person ever and see something right here,” Tiff said, tapping her chest, just over her heart. “But maybe I’m biased.  She saw some talent and good in me around a time I couldn’t see anything redeeming about myself.”

“I think she made a good call,” I said.  “But that’s one of the things to watch out for.  Sometimes it’s not worth what it costs you, right?”

I managed to resist the urge to say something about Rose, and the cost there.  Tiff didn’t pick up on the hint, which was probably a good thing, because she was still listening, and maybe it would reach past the walls she’d erected.

Her hand was still on her heart.

“I never paid attention to my heart before.  But lately, I feel like all it’s ever doing is pounding.  Just racing and racing so hard I can’t keep my hands still.  Can’t sleep.”

I looked at where her hand touched.

I touched my own heart.  I had to will it to beat to feel the eerie fluttery sensation within.

She wasn’t aware.  “If there’s one thing in all this that terrifies me, it’s the idea of going into freefall again.  Being forced into freefall.  Backed into a corner until I have no choice but to do something stupid, and then keep doing stupid things, and I don’t want that.”

Feeling the fluttering in my chest, I had a bit of an idea.  It related to Evan on a level, and it related to this.

I shifted position, dropping my hand and moving my shoulder, and a bit of wood popped.  Tiff startled a bit at it, as if I’d stirred her from a daze.

“Sorry,” she said.  “I barely slept last night, and then Evan woke me first thing, doing his bird thing”

“It’s okay,” I said.  “Thank you for sharing.  I want you to know that I don’t want that negative stuff for you either.  I don’t want you to be miserable, or backed into a corner.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“In the interest of achieving that,” I told her, “I’m not going to press you right now.  That’s just more pressure, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Then I’ll try not to,” I said.  I won’t tell you that if you just released me, I could protect all of you, and I’d do everything I could to keep your fear from coming to pass.  “We should chat again soon.”

“We could,” she said.  “Is that you saying goodbye?”

I hated to turn down more conversation, when it was the only thing keeping my head on straight and my body intact, but all the same, I said, “Yes.  I don’t want to say anything I might regret, breaking my word, and I’m still… backed into a corner, on a level.  Being kept in jail by whatever it was that Rose summoned.”

With a sweep of my arm, I indicated my little domain.

“I’ll see if the others need help with anything,” she said.  “I didn’t mean to talk this long.”

“Be safe,” I said.

“You too.  I’ll talk to you later,” she said.

She dragged the chair out of my field of view.  I heard a murmur that might have been an apology, as she disappeared.

A minute later, the door closed.

I paced, thinking.  My eye moved down to the two books more than once.

I thought of the playing cards I’d stashed in my back pocket.

I thought of Evan.

I’d been able to transfer power to him, in a very crude way.  I could imagine that this kind of practice was second nature for more experienced Others.  Recognizing what they were made of and how they could use that.

Tiff had talked about finding the buried strength within.

Here we were.

My fingers touched the rib that bridged the space to the hollow within me.  No organs in my chest cavity.  Only emptiness, and birds.

As blunt objects went, I had a book.

It took some doing, getting the right angle, but I managed to get my left arm around to my right rib and hold it firm.

With my right hand, I held the book.

I slammed it into my ribcage, as hard as I could.

I didn’t feel pain in the usual sense.

I also didn’t feel it break.

I swung a second time.

A third.

I swapped hands, holding it with my right hand and swinging with my left, tightly controlling the swing to hit it in the right place.

As far as altered, vaguely disconnected perceptions of pain went, that was still pretty damned painful.

All the more reason to do it again.

Rib smashed.  Despite my best efforts, I lost my grip with my right hand.  Had it broken in two places, I might have dropped it somewhere inside the cavity of my body.

As it stood, it only broke away from my sternum, the bridge of bone running down the center of my chest.  I wrenched it to push it away, widening the gap between ribs, and after a bit of readjustment of positioning, I slid my hand into the central space.

Within, I found a morass of branches, angular and rough, largely devoid of leaves.

The sound of snapping and popping made me pause.

I pulled my hand out quickly.  The rib was healing, little branches winding around it as if to reinforce it.

Bogeymen were notoriously tough.  I supposed I benefited from that at the worst possible moment.

After a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed the Hyena from its makeshift sheath at my side, and I began to stab and chip away at the branches and the broken section of bone.

The Hyena stalled healing. That applied even to its wielder.

The plants and bone stopped knitting back together.

I returned my hand to the dark cavity within me.  I held it open, cupped slightly, palm up.

“Come on, Lefty,” I murmured.  “Show me you trust me, at least.”

I felt a bird hop down into my palm.

I gripped it like I might grab a softball, and removed it from my chest.

It felt very much like having the wind taken out of me.  Which might have been exactly what had happened.

It wasn’t Lefty.  One of the sketchier ones.  Vaguely luminescent outside of my body, it had eyes that looked like they’d been drawn on in black pen with a shaky hand and too many rings.  Free of the interior of my body, it was shedding feathers at a rapid rate.

What I’d taken in, I could take out.

“Fly,” I said, letting go.

It flew around me twice.  By the end of the second loop, it was struggling to stay airborne.

The spirit returned to my waiting hand.  I returned it to the hole in my side.

There.

Another tool at my disposal.

I wanted to be careful about my next move.  I sat and I thought.

Spirits were the arbiters of this world.  They drove things, negotiated things.  They were everything simple and simultaneously very complex in what they could do.

I had a store of spirit-stuff inside me.  It was a question of how I could make effective use of it.

I’d given some energy to Evan, transferring power to him to give him an edge to escape the little box of books.

Did that mean the mirror wasn’t a barrier to spirits?

I reached in for another bird.

Some tried to escape my waiting hand.

But again, a form settled into my palm.

Lefty this time.

“Please don’t break the mirror,” I told him, my voice straining slightly due to the lack of something within myself.  “If this works, don’t make a big display of yourself.  Wait for instructions.”

I touched him to the mirror, passing him through.

He made the faintest of sounds as he landed on the ground.

My jailer didn’t react.

I had to get down on my hands and knees to get close to the little bird spirit that was losing feathers with every passing second.  “Can you move out of the circle?”

He bounced a little, hopping short distances until he reached the circle’s perimeter.

He stopped, bumping against it.

No luck.

“Come back,” I whispered.

He came back the same way he’d gone, hopping little hops.

“Push the mirror,” I said.  “Stay out of sight, but nudge it, see if you can turn it around.”

Something of a mistake.

What I wanted and what the spirit did were two completely different things.

I’d meant for the spirit to nudge the foot of the mirror’s stand, to change the angle of the mirror’s facing by increments, until I could maybe see books.  With books, I could have had an escape route  If it had failed, I would have brought it back, then called out a group, trying the same thing.

Failing that, I could have torn up paper from the books and tried to create a proper physical body for the birds to inhabit.  I wasn’t sure how or where I’d take it, but it was a thought, and I didn’t have many options.

Instead, it nudged the bottom of the mirror itself.

Joined to the stand at the left and right side, the mirror’s angle easily changed to tilt up or down.

Nudged, it swung, the top coming toward me and the bottom going out.

I was shunted, but there was only one reflection to occupy.  I was dumped onto my side, and scrambled to get to my feet.

As got my bearings, I looked to the mirror, I found myself looking through the mirror at the bogeyman.  A tall, shirtless, long-haired, long-bearded man with thick eyebrows that gave him a perpetual glare, and a giant hook in the place of one hand.  Scars criss-crossed his chest, some from blades, some from burns, and one or two strips that looked like they might have been from octopus suckers.  Salt crusted his skin and hair.

He was tense, muscles straining even when he was standing still, as if it were all he could do to keep from lunging at me.

He lost that fight.  He seemed to make a decision, striding toward me.

“Wasn’t me!” I called out.  “The bird nudged the mirror!”

He slowed.

Sorry Lefty, selling you out.

“I’m not doing anything,” I said, raising my hands.  “Look.”

He didn’t look like he could relax at all, but he stopped, holding his hook back like he’d use it to strike the mirror any second.

How had he found his way back to this world?  How had he been cast out?

“I’m pretty sure I’d lose if we fought,” I said.  “You look like the type that fought his way back.”

He didn’t move a muscle, but I could almost imagine he’d relaxed a fraction.

“I’ve been there,” I said.  “Down there.”

And the tension increased, returning me to square one.

Familiarity wasn’t a good thing.  Stupid of me.  If he’d fought his way up, he’d probably carved through more than his share of weaker people who’d been in his way, to get stronger.

At my feet, Lefty hopped back through the mirror.  I slowly bent down to pick him up.

“Alright,” I said.  “I’m-”

He screamed.  Rage, anger, the sort of roar that summoned up all the fear and prey instinct of one’s target and made them freeze, certain they were going to die.  The sort of horror that made a guy standing a quarter-mile away pause in momentary terror.

But I wasn’t so caught up in those feelings.  I’d discarded the worst parts of my fear instinct.

He wasn’t attacking, and that was indicative of something.

All the same, I scrambled back to get away from him, stepping deeper into the reflection, ironically moving myself closer to the spot he occupied in the real room.

When we’d moved into the house, Rose and I had catalogued the bookshelves, figuring out what was on each.

I knew where I was going.

Problem was, it was up on the second floor.

“Lefty,” I whispered, turning my body to hide what I was doing before reaching into my chest to grab the bird, “Nudge the mirror, tilt it up, just a bit toward the ceiling.”

I could already hear running footsteps and shouts.

I didn’t wait or watch to see if Lefty would obey.

I continued to back up, continuing to pretend to be afraid.

My back touched the ladder that led up to the second floor.  I scrambled to climb it.

There.  The book I needed.  Rose hadn’t moved it, or she’d kept the same filing system as Grandmother.

I head the door open as I grabbed the book.  I hurried to tuck it into the space between my rear end and the waist of my pants, then pulled my sweatshirt down over it.

“Shut up!” Rose ordered her minion.

“Can’t cross the circle,” the bogeyman said.  “Wanted to warn you.”

“Fine, good.  But next time?  Anything he does with the mirror?  Anything suspicious?  Fling something at it.”

“Hmm.”

“Sounding a little more Conquesty there, Rose,” I commented.

Not the time, Blake!” Rose shouted.  “What the hell are you doing?”

“He just started screaming!” I said.

“You moved the mirror?” she asked.

“Trust me,” I said, improvising, “I did not want to move the mirror like that!  I definitely didn’t want to offend Fish-hook there.”

“If I move it, will I destroy you?” she asked.

“No, but-”

She spun the mirror around, flipping the facing so it was back in the original direction.

I was jerked back into the light, mirror still in the circle.

Coins very nearly spilled from my sweatshirt pockets as I collapsed on the ground.  I used my hands to stop them.

I didn’t move, afraid any further action would reveal the book or cause noise with the spare change.

Rose was doing something at the mirror.  “You want to protect your friends?”

“Of course,” I said.

“This isn’t the way to do it.  Do you have any clue what’s going on out there?”

“A small clue.”

“Very small, Blake.  We’ve had two creatures try to get into the house in the last twelve hours.  We can’t raise enough protections to block everything out, so we’ve resorted to novice-level alarm runes, sleeping in shifts, and being very worried.  My dead man’s switch is one measure, but they can still take it away from me if I’m not careful.”

“Release me, I’ll help,” I said, my voice strained.

Which made me wonder – where was Lefty?

“Help by not distracting me from keeping those four alive, all right?  You’re a big problem, more than you understand, but you’re not even in the top three issues we’ve got right now.”

I remained silent.

She was looking at me and the mirror.

“Fuck,” she said.  “I really want to know how you did that.  But the house is under siege, and given the pattern- why am I even talking about this with you?  Stay put for one minute.  I’ll put you in a different damn mirror and bring you with me.”

I glared at her as she strode from the room.

My focus shifted as my gaze fell on the twine that encircled the mirror, binding it upright, so it couldn’t flip around any further.

The book was one I’d glanced over before leaving the house, in my efforts to get a sense of the way this world worked.  One of the first books I’d noticed on setting foot in the library.

Sympathetic Magics.

I found the chapter I needed.

Sympathy is a branch of the practice that deals with commonalities, heavily tied to enchantment.  Expert sympaths can form a connection between a doll and a person, and inflict harm on the individual by harming the doll.

I sorted through the cards, laying them out in as complete an order as I could manage.  Spades, diamonds, clubs, hearts.  Ace, two through ten, jack, queen, king.

This would cost me, as escape routes went.

Lefty flew up to my hand.  I deposited him on my left shoulder.

“Right shoulder is and will always be Evan’s spot,” I commented.  “You’re sitting this one out.”

I reached into my chest, through thickets of branches and twigs, and gripped one bird that wasn’t fast enough in escaping my hand.  Twigs broke as I pulled it free.

I pressed it into the deck.

It wasn’t a rune drawn on each card, but I didn’t have anything to write with.

It took me a minute to find the next bird.  I was acutely aware of Rose’s promise to return shortly.

As an Other, I didn’t have the ability to practice.  I held no sway over the spirit realm.  There was no pact or compact between me and them, not anymore.

I had my own spirits though.  It was worse than giving up my own blood, because I was pretty sure that power lost by giving up blood would be replenished in time.

I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t pay for this somehow.

But I was damned if I’d sit still, and let yet another person dictate how I should live my life.

I’d be damned thrice over if cool people like Ty, Tiff, Alexis and Evan would pay for the mistakes of others.

I fished out another bird, and pressed it into the deck.

I felt tight inside, a little less like I could fake being alive.

This wouldn’t be a trick I could repeat without regaining power somehow.  I’d need to eat, or feed my bogeyman nature.

I draw connections through like, three times over,” I said, reading from the book.  Then the part I had to improvise.

“Like in appearance,” I whispered, fanning out the cards.

“Like in surroundings,” I said, touching the cards to the floor.

“Like in number,” I said.  I tapped the cards on the floor again, until they were flush, and then shuffled them.

I slammed the pack down on the ground.

The cards that were still laying on the floor from my game with Ty assumed a similar position.

I heard the bogeyman scream again.

Fucker.

With both hands, I spread out the cards, fanning them out over the ground in an arc.

I turned around, facing the mirror.

Something collided with the back of the mirror.

My world splintered, a ravine opening across one end of it.

I was pretty sure I knew where I’d wind up if I fell through.

But the cards on the floor in the real world were in a similar position.  A half circle, covering the circle that the priest had drawn out.

I acted with confidence, even as my legs felt weak.  I strode toward the edge of my little mirror realm in the library.

I skipped over and through, moving to the bathroom one floor downstairs.

I took another step, putting me in the living room, to one side of the shattered window.

The others were there, along with two bogeymen.

“Who’s attacking you?” I asked.

They practically jumped out of their skin.

“No,” Rose said.  Her voice was tight.  “You… motherfucker.”

“Who’s attacking?”

“Blake,” Alexis said, “I’m sorry I didn’t come talk, but-”

“It’s fine,” I said. “I said I’d help if you let me, and I guess I’ll help if you don’t.  Who’s attacking?”

“The Behaims,” Evan said, sounding just a little too happy to see me, for a guy who was supposed to be on the down-low.

“Want to come stop them with me?” I asked.

He looked at the others.

I shouldn’t have even asked.

He took off, flying through the hole in the window.  I was right behind him.

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