Category Archives: 11.04

Malfeasance 11.4

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“Game?  Evan asked.  “This is a game to you?”

Alister held up the deck again.  The card facing us was Temperance.  “Balance, union, opposites, agreements, and compromise.  An earlier reading suggests you’ve killed before, but you don’t want to murder me.  If I suggest a deal, a gentleman’s agreement…”

“You think I’ll accept?”

He smiled.  As smug as he was, a thin-lipped snake’s grin would have fit him, but he had very full lips, as characteristic of many Behaims.  When he spoke, it was with confidence.  “Yes.  I well and truly believe you won’t deny the agreement, if it’s fair.  No killing, no permanent harm, nothing that would alarm the locals, beyond our small battleground here.  I’ve got a ready-made spell in play.  No interference.”

The bell continued to echo in the background, as if punctuating everything that happened.  A sound that altered the tone of things as sure as a red tint or darkness would on a visual level.

If I’d felt top-notch, at full strength, I might have gone after Alister before he could get his footing, and the sound of the phantom bell might have played a role in that decision.

As it stood, I felt just a little shaky.  A little less like Blake and more like a broken reflection, sticks and spirits all glued together with Drainstuff.

What did it cost me if I said no?  If I refused to play fair and acted the hypocrite?  Caused the chaos Rose was worried I’d cause?  I’d lose a bit more Blakeness, I was sure.  I needed to feed the inner bogeyman and replenish the spirits before I risked it.  I didn’t want to crumble or fall back to the Drains.  Not like this.

“Fine,” I said.  “Consider this my declaration of war.  We’ll make this an even contest.”

“What about me, huh?” Evan asked.  “I bit out a chunk of your uncle’s eyeball.”

“I’ll try to remember to be careful with my eyes, then,” Alister said.  “When I speak of you, I speak of you as a pair, a situation unified.  Which, I imagine, isn’t too far off the mark?”

He showed us the card at the bottom of the deck.  The two of cups.

“That’s getting irritating fast,” I said.  “Just agree, Evan.  It makes the most sense.”

“Ugh,” he said.  “Fine.  Deal.”

Even as I’d mentioned the irritation the deck was causing me, I was thinking about it.  The deck was important.  Was it his implement?

I paced, moving from surface to surface.  Hearing the bell toll, I felt like I had in the Drains.  Sitting still was almost like giving up.  I had to keep moving, stay active.

Alister turned, keeping me in his sights, using one hand to cut the deck in half, then rotated the top half around one finger until it was on the bottom.

I could see how he kept the deck in his peripheral vision.  Cut, combine halves, bottom of the deck visible, showing different cards.  Answering questions he wasn’t asking aloud.

“That deck,” I commented.

“It could be a scam,” Evan said, loud enough for Alister to hear.  “Feels like it’s all fakery.”

Good bird.  Challenge what you thought could be challenged.  Break the glamours and other illusions.

Alister smirked, but didn’t look at the bird.

“You’re smiling, but you’re not saying he’s wrong,” I said.

“He’s wrong,” Alister said.

He said it so confidently.  I almost lost my stride.

“Evan could be onto something,” I said.  “Bravado, showmanship, appearances.  You show off well, but is there anything beneath the surface?  It’s not a scam, but only because people buy into it.  Like glamour?  Or even certain magics that desperate practitioners try to pass off as chronomancy?

He didn’t flinch in the slightest.

“Prophecies are something that have cropped up in any number of cultures and times,” Alister said.  “Any number of stories, myths, epics and legends.”

“They have a common theme, though,” I replied.  “Very frequently, the actions of the people involved in the prophecy help bring the prophecy to come to pass.”

“True.  Does it matter?”

“Maybe Evan’s right.  Maybe we should just ignore the cards, ignore the prophecy.  Put it all aside and take you out of the picture, so to speak.”

Alister cut the deck and raised it, bottom card facing me.

A naked man lay on the ground with a red cloth draped over his buttocks and legs, a number of long blades stuck into his back.  I saw the ‘x’ in the corner.

The tolling felt like it was fractionally louder.

Going by Roman numerals… Ten of swords?

“I don’t know what that means,” I said.

“Bad end,” he told me.  “The plan leads to catastrophic failure.”

“For you or me?”

“For you.”

“Why not Death?” I asked.

“Death as a card isn’t quite what it sounds like.  The ten of swords, by contrast, is a loss so complete you don’t need to worry about further losses.  There’s a kind of peace you have to make in the face of absolute failure.”

“I’ve been there more than once,” I said.  “Your card has it wrong.  Things can always get worse.”

The knell was louder still.  I tried not to let it inform my actions.

“Can they?” he asked.  He had to keep turning around to keep me in his field of view.  Good.  He shrugged a little, cut the deck, then showed me the two of wands, not even looking at the cards.  “Rose is currently debating what to do.  She’s on the brink of a decision.  Does she send you help?  She’ll decide to, very soon.  Act recklessly, and you’ll lose what little faith she’s placed in you.  The fallout… well, things can get worse, but it’s the sort of loss you never recover from.”

If I’d had a proper heartbeat, my heart would’ve been pounding at that.

Well played, Alister.

That was scary.  Scarier in a way than the Drains.

I could handle the Drains, on a level.  I’d done it once.  I’d been miserable, but I’d done it.

Handling Rose, though?  The best I’d done to date was form short lived partnerships, only to see them fall apart.  I could totally believe that I’d lose my shot if I fucked up.

Not that I was willing to fuck up.  By breaking myself out, I’d promised myself that I’d make things better as a result.  Besides, I was willing to admit I had an ulterior motive.  I didn’t want to fuck up and screw Rose over because that would prove Rose right, and I was way too pissed off at her to do that.

“It’s easy to blame those poor souls that got involved with prophecies in the epics and the myths, say they walked right into it, but when you’re actually facing the prospect,” Alister said, “it isn’t such an easy thing to handle, is it?”

“You’re making a lot of very definite statements,” I said.  I tried to fake him out, changing the direction I was walking when he didn’t have a clear view of me.  He didn’t miss a trick.  “Dangerous for a practitioner.”

“Useful too,” he said.  “The spirits like it.  Keeps things simple, with everything being less effort for them to arbitrate.  It puts me on better terms with them, because I make it all easier.”

That deck.  It was his implement, I was almost positive.  It was at least part of how he professed to know everything that was about to happen, or at least narrow things down enough to make a good guess.  So long as he could, he could make confident statements, the spirits would be happier with him, and they’d help the statements come true out of goodwill, just like bad karma had been dragging me down and introducing problem after problem for the entire time I’d been human.

That deck was at the center of his ability to perpetuate an upward spiral.

It dawned on me that I’d been walking into trouble this whole time.

Not walking into his prophecy, but something else entirely.

By giving him chances to show off the cards and make predictions, I was letting him score points.  Every spirit that was nearby, maybe excepting the spirits inhabiting me, was getting to be very pleased with this young man who made it all simple for them.

His hand didn’t stop moving, cutting the deck, reordering it.

“She’s decided, with the counsel of her acquaintances.  The cavalry is on the way,” Alister said.

The card he showed me was the Chariot.  The white-crowned man, ostensibly Conquest or Conquest’s man, standing before a starry backdrop, a ruined city in the background, sphinxes pulling the namesake vehicle.

A little ominous, all things considered.

“You were the one attacking Hillsglade House,” Evan piped up.

“Yes.  One of them, but very recently, I did send a few zeitgeists to test the metaphorical waters, ravage the windows and shutters with the vagaries of time.”

“I don’t know what a lot of that means,” Evan declared, “But I know that when someone attacks you, the rules say you can hit them back.”

“You’re not wrong.  That’s-”

Evan flew past Alister.  He only barely moved out of the way as the sparrow practically bounced off his face.  Ricocheted like a flung stone.

Evan passed me, doing a wide loop to get his bearings and look for a spot to land.  He was apparently not that keen on the post box where the snow was a foot deep and powder soft.

“The deck,” I said, my voice low.  “If you can.”

“Got it,” he said.

Alister touched his face.  There was a scratch at his eye socket, and a dot of blood on his nose.

“I thought you said you’d watch your eyes,” Evan said.

“I said I’d try to remember to,” Alister said.  He used the side of his thumb to remove one drop of blood from the side of his face, but it was replaced a second later, fresh blood welling out.

He used his free hand to reach into his jacket.

Golden light appeared around him, realigning until it formed ribbons punctuated by Roman numerals, the edges serrated with zipper-like teeth.  They interlocked, ran crosswise with one another, and parted, rotating around him, forming a faint, rapid tickticktick that blended in with the knell of Molly’s bell.

I heard a faint sound, like a great piece of machinery grinding to a sudden halt, the noise of the sudden stop playing back in reverse, followed by the tickticktick reversing.

A dot of crimson flew from Evan’s foot, darting to Alister’s face.  No sooner had it made contact than the injury was gone.

The golden ribbons disappeared, becoming diffuse golden light, then regular light, then nothing at all, indistinguishable from reality.

“Don’t worry,” Evan told me.  “When we took down the circle around the house, Rose was able to do it because chronomancy is mostly fake.”

“I know,” I said.

“I don’t think he can really reverse time to fix a tiny scratch,” Evan said.

But my eyes were fixed on Alister’s green eyes.  I could read his expression, and I could see the slight smile.

“I can,” Alister said.  “I did.”

“Generations upon generations of conservation of power, and you spend it to heal a scratch that could heal naturally?” I asked.

“It could leave a scar,” Alister answered.  “Easier to turn back the clock six seconds than do it by a whole hour, when all of this is said and done.”

The bell continued to ring in the background.  It was an odd sound, with a cadence that made it sound like it was constantly getting louder, but it wasn’t.

“Well,” I said.  “I’m… almost lost for words.”

“That’s sort of the point,” he said.  You’re-” Cutting the deck.  Pause.  Cutting the deck. Pause. “-Something of a container for spirits.  You’re impressed on a level, the other spirits in the area here are impressed.”

“I’m more appalled than impressed,” I said.  “I’m kind of glad I told the people I did that they should be wary of nominating you.  If I hadn’t, they might have let the others nominate you without issue.”

“You put a roadblock in my way?” Alister asked.  “And here you are, being appalled that I mismanaged my time.”

He was following me a little too easily, but he could be surprised.

How could I use that?  The cavalry coming to aid me wasn’t necessarily a good thing.  I needed to do something decisive fast, or his prediction could come true.  But I couldn’t ignore the prophecies, either, or I’d walk right into that ‘ten of swords’.  Bad ending.

This was a game, so to speak.  It was all about framing things, positioning.  Being in the right place.  Evan had caught him off guard.

That he was willing to expend power to show off to the spirits said something.  We might never burn through the entire Behaim stockpile, but if he did keep doing that sort of thing, I would very much like to be a little fly on the wall when he had to explain it all to the Behaim elders.

Assuming they had a form of accounting.

Positioning.

He’d outlined the rules of this little ‘game’.  He’d spelled out what was going to happen.

If it did happen, he won.  Somehow.

I needed to postpone.

I still had the book.  It was still tied to its brother by sympathy.

I scrawled out a quick message to Rose.

‘Hold ‘help’ back’.

I cut off the cover and threw it.

“Didn’t change anything,” Alister called out.  “It’s all slated to unfold.”

He was using his words to garner an advantage.  Could I use mine?

“Alister,” I said.  “What do the cards tell you about my sword?”

He didn’t look away, per se, his eyes still fixed on me, but he did lose focus.  I’d seen him cut that deck a few too many times.  I could tell when he hesitated a fraction.

The Five of Coins.  A woman in a tattered shawl and a child, walking under a window of stained glass that displayed the namesake coins in the working of the window.

I used the hesitation the card provoked.

I didn’t move left or right.  I moved  through him.

If he was going to turn around to keep me in focus at all times, I’d make him turn all the way around.

He did a partial turn, and I moved again.

Just one tiny hesitation, and I had the slightest of edges.  If we were making individual moves, I now had the benefit of the first move.

“What does it say, Alister?” I asked.

“Adversity.  Loss.”

“What does it mean, Alister?” I asked, staying out of his sight.

He didn’t answer.

“You don’t know?  That has to cost you points with the spirits,” I said.  “Maybe Evan’s right, maybe what you do is a sham, and you’re just conning the spirits.”

“I know what it means,” he said.

Prove it.”

“That’s alright,” he said.

He managed to find me, locking his eyes with mine.  I raised my arm, and Evan took note of the signal, flying.

Evan went straight for the deck.  Problem was, Alister was expecting it, and held the cards firm.  He punched the bird out of the air with the same hand.

Evan hit snow.

I winced.  Evan didn’t necessarily heal through any connection to me.  Any damage he sustained…

Alister didn’t waste a breath.  He backed away from me, and reached into his coat.  He threw down a piece of paper, then stepped on it.

“Tick,” Alister said.

The paper broke away into a swirl of sand.  I heard that same tickticktick whir I’d heard earlier, only it had a cadence to it like a chitter.

A clockwork arachnid, with a bulbous behind.  An hourglass was built into the behind, suspended in a globe.

“Guard me,” Alister ordered.  “Focus on the bird.”

Noting that he’d gleaned an advantage, I somehow felt fractionally better than I had.  Stronger.

Had I scared Alister, just a bit?   Or had the Hyena scared him just a bit?  Enough that he’d wanted to summon something?

Busying himself with Evan and the summoning had let me slip away again.  I walked on the edges of reflections, so I could step to the next window or mirror with a single stride.

I got to the car closest to him, and I smashed the window.

The crash was violent, and in the moment the side window broke, I could hear the bell pealing loud, unfiltered by the glass but more muted at the same time.  It was something that was absorbed and blunted by the blowing wind and the atmosphere of Jacob’s Bell.

I realigned myself just in time to see that Alister had barely flinched.

“A feint,” he said, holding his deck up.  The tick had interposed itself between himself and Evan.

“You apparently didn’t like what the card said about the sword,” I told him. “You don’t feel like sharing.  Why?”

“The deck is mine to use, not yours.”

“Weapons can cut both ways,” I said.  “Don’t want me making declarations to the spirits, Alister?”

Evan flew at him, then veered off as the tick raised its forelimbs, lunging at him.

It still got Alister’s attention.  Whatever foresight he had, he’d wanted to see what unfolded.  A casualty of wanting to use his deck to keep track of what I was plotting.

Pressure.

I decided to use the moment.  Crossing the street to the nearby car, reaching the side window.

The tick was still focused on Evan.  It was a dumb thing.  Probably a minor spirit.

I stuck my arm through the window, and speared it in the head.

I was shunted, cast off to one side.

The tick, by contrast, was dead.

The faint ring of the bell seemed to mark its slow, mechanical death.

I smiled a little.

“You want to know what the sword does?” I asked.  “It leaves wounds that don’t heal.”

“Ah,” Alister said.  “Too bad.  That was a favorite little summoning of mine.  I can’t ever repair it?”

“Evan here managed to dodge that fate, being left with an injury that wounded his very soul, leaving his ghost insane with agony.  I could theoretically do the same thing to you.”

“I can undo it,” Alister said, moving himself to a position in the middle of the street.  Evan was perched on a car, and I was in the largest window nearby, at the front of a house.

“That’s what the cards are telling you?” I called out the question.

Common sense is telling me.  The cards are telling me something else.”

“Beggar woman and the church window?” I asked.  I couldn’t remember the cards.  “Loss?”

He wasn’t about to give me an answer.  I only needed his attention.

If something was getting to him, then I’d use that.

I shattered another window.

“Another-” he started.

I carried through with the same motion, drawing the broken blade against the back of a car.

He didn’t finish the sentence, caught off guard by the vicious metal on metal screech.

He might be able to see my next move, but if I was quick, he couldn’t see the one after.

“Enough of that,” he said.  He still managed to sound confident.

But a part of me fed off of whatever he was feeling.  It was less like a rush or a high, and more like waking up after being half asleep.  Stepping from the bleary fog of having just woken up into a cold shower.

I felt clarified.

The bell continued to toll in the background.

“Want to see if you can undo the damage I can do with this sword?” I asked, and my voice carried.  “The agreement you proposed was that I wouldn’t cause any permanent damage.  If you can undo it, then it’s not permanent.”

“It doesn’t matter.  Your ‘help’ is arriving.  Delayed, but arriving all the same.  She might give you the benefit of a doubt, but she can’t relinquish control.”

“Evan,” I said.

“On it,” he replied.

He took flight, heading in the general direction of Hillsglade.

Stopping help from coming.

“Offer still stands,” I said.  “One slice.  I can reach through glass, mirrors, even some ice.  If you’d rather I stay away from the face…”

“A bluff,” he said.

“Which part?” I asked.  “Me avoiding the face?”

He set his jaw.

“You’re good,” I said.  I continued to pace, zig-zagging, so I was always in his peripheral vision, or behind him.  “Clever, talented, born to the right family at the right time, in the right circumstances.  All the things a person needs to be great, in this modern day.  I’m not just talking about practitioners either.”

“Envious?” he asked.  “How sad.”

“No,” I said.  “Somehow, I always took it in stride.”

A thought crossed my mind.

A gamble, but all the same.  “Do you know how I remember spending my eighteenth birthday?  Can your cards tell you that?  Or are you going to show the spirits how incapable you are a second time?”

He didn’t hesitate.  Deck cut, card displayed.

A woman in a tattered shawl and a child, making their way through the snow beneath a stained glass window.  The five of coins.

I chuckled a little, pleased that I’d managed to rope him into showing the same card.  “Adversity and loss.”

You just drew the trap card.

If he’d refused, I’d still have gleaned an advantage.  It had been a win-win, with a very good chance that I’d been wrong, and my background would have turned up a different card.

Such was the nature of the game he had posed.  Positioning.  Getting the other guy into a position where he was cornered.

“You have all those advantages, Alister, but you’ve got one thing that’s always going to hold you back,” I called out.

“What’s that?”

“You’re a fucking Behaim,” I shouted.

I slammed the Hyena into a window.  The glass broke.

It took a second for the glass to stop tinkling, clattering onto ice and the floor inside the house.

“Your Evan can only stall them for so long,” he said.  He wasn’t smiling with his mouth, but those bottle-glass eyes were sparkling.  He was enjoying this, fear aside.  “The Others arrive in a moment.”

That was the problem, in the end.  I was blind.  I didn’t know why he was pleased about that.  I didn’t get his aversion to the Five of Coins.

He, on the other hand, could see everything coming.

That was, as I’d just revealed, a double-edged sword.

Rule of three in effect.  One minute to get him to draw that card a third time.

Hell, if I did that, I’d have beaten three Behaims, and achieved my third victory by rule of three against the family.

I even had an idea on how.

I’d just been talking to the two cats about taking the direct approach.

“Surrender,” I told him.

He barked out a laugh, “What?”

“I’m not just an Other, Alister.  I have all the memories of being a practitioner.  I’ve got victory in my grasp.  Surrender, and agree to turn down the position to lead the Behaim family.”

“Why would I do that?”

“I beat Laird.  I beat Duncan.  I won using the rule of three twice.  With this, right here, I can have victories against three of you, three of which use the rule of three.  That has to count for something.”

“It does, assuming you’re not bluffing.”

Straightforward approach?  I could do it.

“I’ll tell you how I can win,” I said.  “I’m going to attack you.  If you use your deck to predict and avoid the attack, you’ll probably draw that card, because it’s associated with this blade.  Somehow, I don’t think you want me to force you to draw it three times.  That’s what my instincts as an ex-practitioner are telling me.”

“Why do I need to draw anything if you just told me?” he asked.

He wasn’t smiling anymore.

I was.

“Why indeed?” I asked.

I broke the window, changed locations.

Broke another window.  I arrived at the next spot and saw him covering his face and head with his arms.

I shifted position, battered him further.

I knew I was scaring him.  I could feel it.

He didn’t have his ability to view the deck.  To know what was coming.

Anything I did could be the attack I’d mentioned.

He backed away a step, so I moved directly behind him.

“Surrender!” I shouted in his ear.

He spun, deck in hand, but didn’t look.

He didn’t open his mouth.

Fine.

I reeled back, and I flung the Hyena through the window.

If I could reach through, so could the Hyena, in a way.

It passed through, flying blade over pommel.

He dodged it.  No looking at the cards.  Only human ability.

The Hyena clattered to the ground.

I could hear the echo of the bell, louder than ever.

“Well,” he said, “The bird failed.  That’s it.”

I watched the Hyena spin in place on the ground.  No ice nearby, but the bulge in the crossguard and the shortness of the broken blade let it spin briefly.

I could make out the Others.  Rose’s bogeymen, a small contingent, coming for help.  Alister turned, backing away as rapidly as he could.

I closed my eyes.

I willfully relinquished my presence on this mirror realm.

I let the real world be reflected as it was.

The Hyena spun lazily on the ground a few feet to my left.

“Sympathetic magic,” I murmured.  I said a few words in latin, and I fed one spirit to the reflected sword.  “Shape, borne of the same goblin, delivers the same blows.”

He heard me.  He snapped his head around.

The real Hyena was still on the ground.

I put my foot on the top of the reflected one, then kicked it.  It and the real Hyena skidded across the road, catching on a ruff of snow and skipping a foot and a half into the air, spiraling.

Alister threw himself to one side.

I was already using the gap between reflected spaces to cross the distance, getting ahead of the reflected Hyena.

I stopped it with the bottom of my sneaker.

Alister wouldn’t move fast enough to dodge it.

I didn’t have to offer surrender.  He knew he could end this with a word.

He didn’t.

I kicked the broken sword in his direction again, sending it skidding his way, every part of it bladed, spiked or otherwise hazardous.

I watched as it veered off to one side, as if a magnet were pushing it off course.

“Enough,” a woman’s voice called out.

Sandra.

“About time,” Alister said.

Sandra was joined by an Other.  A tall Middle-Eastern man with a long black coat trimmed with gold.  He wore sunglasses, but I wasn’t sure the glimmers of light I saw on the lenses weren’t his eyes shining through from beneath, rather than reflections.

“What a mess,” she commented.

“Timely arrival,” I said.

“What we’re doing here isn’t just fighting each other for Lordship.  We have to prove we deserve the position.  Knowing what’s going on is critical, if we’re going to earn the trust of the neutral parties,” she said.  She walked amid the broken glass.  “I have something of a web spun across Jacob’s Bell.  I can feel the weights of certain events and entities.”

Oh.  So this was it.  When Rose’s Others arrived, so would Sandra.  The fight would be over.  She seemed perfectly at ease, picking her way through the glass.

“I’ve arranged it so I can arrive promptly on any scene I feel requires intervention, if unchallenged.  I can tell you this, Blake.  Everyone is prepared to challenge the Thorburns.  Any action on your part will provoke a response from others.”

She was heading for the Hyena.

I beat her to the reflection, grabbing it, and sliding it.

Two more steps took me to the nearest window.  I punched my hand through, retrieving the blade before I was cast aside.

“More mess,” she said.

“The rules don’t disallow mess, Sandra,” Alister said.

“Expectations of the council discourage it,” she said.  “Let’s clean this up so we don’t have to explain yet another gas explosion.  Everything in its rightful place, please.”

She drew her chalice from her bag and tapped it against the nearest mailbox.  It sang, a ring of metal on metal, every bit as pleasant as the gouging of the mailbox hadn’t been.  She touched it to one shard of glass.

The bits of glass vibrated.

“Back you go,” she said, authoritarian.  “Where you’re meant to be.”

The glass danced, slid, hopped and jumped until it reached the window panes, fitting together like a dozen individual jigsaw puzzles.

“Eblis?” she asked.  “It’s easier for your kind than it is for anyone else.”

The tall man snapped his fingers.

Like lightning, the seams disappeared.  I saw reflected areas appear around every window I’d broken, like a flash of lightning.

“Hm,” she said, sounding a little satisfied with herself.  “Thank you.”

I wondered how the spirits took that.  If Alister got credit for a show like the removal of the small scratches, what kind of cachet did Sandra have?

“This concludes my duty to Johannes for this day,” Eblis said, his voice as deep as the rumble of thunder.

“That’s between you and him,” she said.  She turned her attention to Alister and me.  “You two are done.  I would like you two to agree this is a draw.  We leave it at this.”

Was it a draw?

If the Behaims disapproved of this display here, they might refuse to give Alister the lordship.

I’d had him on his heels.  Without intervention, I’d have beat him.

“I agree if he does,” Alister said.  He was still on the ground where he’d fallen.  Where he’d be bleeding if I’d hit him with the Hyena.  He might be able to undo it, but he hadn’t wanted to.

All the same, he looked just a little smug, lying there.

But this won’t go the way you want it to, I remembered his words.

I had to weigh what this meant.  The consequences.

The bell tolled in the background, and I tried to shut it out, to think clearly.

If I refused, claiming the victory, I’d have denied him what he wanted.  I’d remove the Behaims from the playing field.

But would I be risking what he’d suggested?  The ten of swords, the loss I couldn’t recover from?

It went both ways, didn’t it?  If I’d refused to play fair, I’d have lost Rose’s trust.

If I played fair here, would I gain it?

What was that worth?

This wasn’t what I’d wanted at all.  I wasn’t reducing the risk to my friends.  If anything, I was condoning it, allowing him to get whatever weapon I’d heard about.  He’d still be free to send zeitgeists and test or wear down the house’s defenses.

“This was a fair competition, with rules established in advance.  We played by the rules, we kept the civilians out of it,” I said.  “Interrupted as it was, there was no clear winner.”

“Wuh?” I heard Evan, a short distance away.

“I agree,” Alister said.

What?” I heard Evan, again.

“I’d offer you help in standing, but there’s only so much I can do from this position,” I said.

“I’m fine,” he said.  He found his feet.

“Take your bogeymen back before we have an incident,” Sandra said.  “If you want to wreak havoc, do it after dark.  Alister, I believe you’re late.”

“I am,” Alister said.

Wasn’t he eighteen?

I didn’t ask.

“Fine,” I said.

“Turn around!” Evan called out.  “Back to the house!  Hup two three four!”

One of the Others near him swatted in his general direction, annoyed.  Evan avoided it, taking wing.

“I’ll see you later, Al,” I said.  “We can pick up where we left off, maybe.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” He answered.  “I learned so much about you.”

I took the faster route back to the house, beating Evan there by leaps and bounds.

They’d put a board up to cover the broken front window.  It made my navigation a little harder.

I saw Tiff, reading.

“Tiff-”

She dropped her book, uttering something inarticulate that was made up entirely of vowels.

“Can you get Rose?”  I asked.

“I’m here,” Rose said.

“It’s done.  It was resolved… amicably,” I said.  “I wasn’t able to slow him down.”

“Okay,” she said. “Thank you for keeping me in the loop.  Though I’m not happy you delayed my minions from arriving.”

“We’re okay?” I asked.

“No,” she said.  “But we’re better than we were.”

“Just don’t fucking try to bind me again,” I said.

“We’ll see,” she said.  “I won’t unless you give me a reason to.  Which you probably will.”

“You gotta answer some questions, Rose,” I said.

She folded her arms.  “I don’t have to do anything.”

I was pretty ready to break some more windows at that point.

“But I can invite you in,” she said.  “No mischief, no harm intended.  Just… get inside.”

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