Category Archives: 11.05

Malfeasance 11.5

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I stepped back into the house, though there weren’t many surfaces to work with.  Too many windows, glass panes and mirrors had broken in the course of the priest’s raid.

My eyes scanned the surroundings.  Here and there, things had been written down in chalk.  Runes, symbols, and diagrams.  It looked like the metaphysical equivalent of boarding up the windows.

“Thank you, by the way,” I said.  I didn’t want to sound ungrateful, but it was hard enough to get the words out that it might have affected my tone.  I shouldn’t have had to ask to come back inside.

“We’re not friends,” Rose said.  She didn’t turn around as she knelt to pick up a piece of glass she’d spotted at the foot of a bookshelf.  “This isn’t us cooperating.  This is me admitting that I’d rather have your cooperation and Evan than not have either.”

“Okay,” I said, biting my tongue to keep it at that.

“Where is Evan?”

“On his way with your creations.”

“Right.”

Tiff, Ty, and Alexis appeared in the doorway, standing by the kitchen.

“You’re back,” Ty commented.

“Mission was a failure,” I answered.  “But things aren’t any worse off, and I do have information.”

“Share,” Rose said.

I bristled at the order.  “Alister, like Laird, isn’t held back by the Behaim rules.”

“We know this,” Rose said.

“All signs point to Alister being made head of the Behaim family.  Very soon.  With the appointment, presumably, comes a gift.  Some kind of weapon.  Evan and I met him, he forced our hands with his cards.”

“The implement,” Rose said.  “There are weak points, but they’re hard to target.  He tends to take the initiative and hold it.  You don’t surprise a guy who’s as good at reading events as he is.”

“I surprised him a little.  Would probably have had him, if Sandra hadn’t intervened,” I said.  “What’s the deal with the five of coins?”

“That’s not really what I’ve been reading up on,” Rose said.

“I have.  Five of coins is poverty,” Alexis said.  “Loss.  In practitioner circles, one’s ‘wealth’ is usually measured in terms of power, so a loss of powers.  Might be being forsworn, might be a loss of something else that’s vital.”

Rose frowned.  “Who was going bankrupt?”

“Alister, and the Behaims as a consequence, while I’m thinking it through,” I said.  “He predicted he could heal the damage I could do with the Hyena here, but I guess it would have been costly?”

“Something like that, Rose said.

“I was close,” I said.  “I was going to cut him.  Because it seemed to be the thing that scared him most, after that card showed up.  I wanted to do something that would take Alister out of the running, whether it was leaving a scar so maybe people wouldn’t have confidence in him, or forcing him to spend far more than he should.”

“That would have been convenient,” Rose said.

“Right?” I asked.  “Sandra stepped in.  She’s got this, I dunno, web, or net, connecting everything in Jacob’s Bell.  If any big guns are deployed, she knows about it, and can respond accordingly.”

“Something like that would need anchor points,” Rose said.  “You can’t suspend a web without attaching it to something.  Odds are good that she had her people draw symbols at key points or landmarks around the city.  Okay.”

“She was there with one of Johannes’ people.  The other three players all in one place, and they weren’t killing each other,” I said.  “After dark, apparently, is when it all gets nasty.”

“I know that last part too.  Which of Johannes’ people?”

“Tall, brown-skinned man with glowing eyes, called Eblis?”

“Djinn.  That’s telling,” Rose mused.

“I thought he was keeping the Djinn close to home?” Ty asked.

“He was, at least,” Rose said.  “If he’s willing to send them out on errands, it says something about how confident he feels.  His area is probably fortified, and he’s making displays of strength.”

“Or his area isn’t as fortified as that implies, and he’s trying to mislead us,” I said.

“Yes,” Rose said, “Or something else altogether.”

I paced, moving across the various surfaces.  I couldn’t hear the bell inside the house, but the effects still lingered, making me feel restless.

“T-minus thirteen hours to midnight,” Ty said.  “The full set of barriers aren’t up, we’re probably not going to get a lot of visitors.  Since only a few of us can work in the same room at the same time before we’re bumping into each other, we should nap in shifts, so we’re well rested when the time comes.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’m available to help if you want.”

“Wouldn’t hurt,” Rose admitted, sounding more than a little reluctant.  “Maybe we can station you elsewhere in the house, or we could set up mirrors in places the rest of us can’t easily cover.”

“I prefer the second idea to the first,” I told her.  “Feels less like something you’re doing to me to keep me out of the way and more like I’m genuinely helping.  ”

“Good,” she said.  “Second idea it is.  Since you still seem to maintain a degree of connection, I’ll put Evan on the same duty.  If there’s a problem you can’t handle, send him, we’ll figure it out.”

“If I was better equipped to act, I’d be able to handle more problems, which would help,” I said.

“I won’t let you read the books,” Rose said, with finality.

“That’s-” I started.  I grit my teeth and stopped at that.

In the pause that followed, none of my friends spoke up in my defense, urging her to let me have access or give our side more firepower.

I had to twist my own arm on a mental level to force my thoughts in the right directions: they were my friends, however they were acting now.  It was outside interference that was making them so much more loyal to Rose.

I had to protect them.

“Alright,” I said, though I had to force the word out of my mouth.

She gave me a curt nod. “Now, it does matter if they were all together like that and not actively hostile.”

“They were,” I said.  “If there was hostility, it wasn’t while I was around.”

“That means we’re in a precarious position.  They know our defenses are down.  They’re united in their desire to remove us.”

“How?” I asked.  “How would they do it?  You set up the dead man’s switch.  If you don’t actively keep the Barber contained, and I’m really trying to keep from going into detail about why this is a bad idea, then they’ll have a demon to deal with.  A demon that’s apparently one significant tier up from what we fought in the factory.”

“I can’t tell you the details about the switch,” Rose said.

I hit the nearest shelf before I realized what I was doing.  A book toppled on the far side, falling to the floor.

I was aware of the eyes on me.

“Blake,” Alexis said.  “Don’t get upset.”

“We’re on the same side,” I told her.

“Yeah.  We are,” Alexis said.

“Then why are you hiding things from me?” I asked.  “Do you think I’ll go out of control?  Am I supposed to turn evil?”

“No,” Rose said.  “Nothing’s confirmed in that department.  It’s possible, if the human in you loses out to the Other, but nothing’s confirmed.  That’s not the concern.”

“Then what is the concern?” I asked, barely controlling the tone of my voice.

“We can’t-”

“You can!”  I felt the television screen vibrate from the volume.

I regretted it immediately.

I could feel notes of fear from the others.  Even Rose.

I liked the clarity it gave me, even as I hated the idea of it on a cognitive level.

“You can,” I said.  “Because I really want to work with you, but I’ll go crazy if this keeps up, and I’m not sure I trust myself to hold it all together.  I can’t think of anything you’d say that would be more harmful or troublesome than leaving me to guess and assume the worst.”

Rose had her arms folded.  She wasn’t looking at me, though her brow was knit.

“I was talking with Alistar in the midst of the fight earlier.  I had one pointed comment for him, I’m trying to remember how it went.  Something about bringing prophecies to pass, in the course of trying to avert them.  Now, maybe what you’re dealing with here isn’t a prophecy, but more like a-”

Rose was shaking her head.

“No?” I asked.

“No.  Stop right there.  I’m not discussing this.  I’m not giving you hints.”

I turned, and I stalked away before I could say anything I regretted.  I paced around the room.

Being here like this was going to make me lose my mind.

“Okay,” I said.  “Keep me in the dark.  Fine.  Your choice.  But remember, grandmother had me put together for a reason.  I’d like to think she picked traits that would complement me as a vestige, and traits that would keep me fighting.  Tenacity, strength.  What did Isadora call me?  ‘Little warrior’?”

“Yeah,” Rose said.  “You do have a streak of tenacity in you.  That‘s obvious.”

“Let me be your warrior,” I said.  I pointed at my friends.  “I won’t be able to help them without helping you, because you’re all connected, and I’d only hurt myself if I tried to convince them to leave.”

I’d hurt you if you tried to convince them to leave,” Rose said.  “It wouldn’t help anything, them least of all.”

I didn’t move or say anything.  She’d dodged the first part of what I said.  I waited for her to pick it back up.

“And yeah,” she said.  “You’re more right than you know.  I’m almost positive you’re right, as a matter of fact.  You were set up to be a scrapper.  If I’ve put the missing pieces of memory back right, you made a good show of it.  But you’re not complete, Blake.  You’re a hammer in search of a nail.  What happens when everything is nailed down?  When things were quiet after Toronto settled down, what happened?  You went after the demon in the factory.”

“There were reasons I did it,” I said.

“I believe that,” she said.  “There will always be reasons.  But you’re made to follow a certain trajectory.  Everything was arranged so you would naturally self destruct.  The ‘little warrior’ in you would move from one conflict to the next, removing my enemies so my way was clear, until there were no enemies left or you perished while fighting a critical enemy.  If you died in a fight, I’d have the chance to take advantage of the confusion.  Except the enemy who did get you didn’t get confused.  I didn’t get to take advantage of any confusion.  I was the confused one.  But we managed.”

I didn’t move a hair.  She was telling me stuff.  I wasn’t going to break the spell.

“Now you’re back, and you’re not supposed to be.  Just like you weren’t supposed to kill Laird.  You’re following a different course, but you’re still a hammer looking for nails.  You’re still itching for a fight.  You’re not something I can manage.

“Except I just proved I can be managed, that I can be sort of respectful.  Even in this damn conversation, the fact that I haven’t completely flipped out should be telling.”

“It is,” she said.  “Part of that was intentional.  I had to push, to see how much you pushed back.”

Joints in my hand snapped and cracked as I clenched my fists.

I spoke with a deliberate kind of slowness, picking my words and tone carefully.  “I thought you weren’t going to give me hints.”

“I didn’t, not the kind I meant,” she said.

“Okay,” Tiff said, stepping forward, between me and her.  “Okay.  Let’s… let’s stop talking about this, before we’re back to square one.  Please?”

“Alright Tiffany,” Rose said.  She put a hand on Tiff’s shoulder, walking past Tiff to the kitchen.  “We need to talk about how we’re going to move, before dark.  Blake isn’t wrong.  The major players are organizing, they’re more secure in the free for all at night than we are.  If we’re going to move, we should-”

The front door opened.

It took me a second to get my bearings.

“Hey,” Evan told me, as I appeared in the front window.  He was perched on the wood that had been placed over the hole.  “You were inside?”

“Yeah.”

Awesome,” he said.  “I hitched a ride with these slowpokes, going back, ’cause I didn’t want to be all on my lonesome, and I was just starting to feel bummed out that I might not get to hang with Ty.”

I looked out over the city, using the section of window to the left of the broken part, and I could detect the faint toll of the bell.  Something felt off, ominous, and it wasn’t the bell alone.

“I’d really like everyone to be together,” I said, “without hostility.”

“Me too!  Yes.  Er, aren’t we?  If you’re inside-”

“Rose and I aren’t getting along,” I said.  “But she’s not imprisoning me or locking me out, so that’s something.”

“Rose,” Evan said.  “Right, wait, or go inside.  Gotta talk to Rose.”

He was gone, flying in through the open door over one of the Bogeymen’s heads.

I shifted position on the window, facing the house’s interior.

“Company,” Evan said.

“Company?” Rose asked.

“It’s your family.”

“Oh,” she said.  “It’s about that time, isn’t it?”

Tiff spoke up, “When I tried to figure out what they were doing last night, all signs pointed to them splitting up.”

“I did that,” I said.  “Or helped it along.  Mags got them kicked out of the cafe they were gathering at.  That would’ve been yesterday.  I stalled as best as I could.  If you hadn’t bound me, I would’ve tried to keep up the disruptions.”

“They would have had to get up first thing and meet to get this far this early,” Rose said, ignoring the last part of what I’d said.  She ran her hands over her clothes.  “I’m wrinkled and dusty.  Damn it.  I wanted to portray a better image.  The house is in a pretty sad state, too.”

“We could do a quick clean,” Tiff said.

Alexis added, “If you need us to back you up when they arrive, we could hang here, or-”

“Please clean,” Rose said.  “And then stay out of the way.  You being here would be ammunition.”

“Can do,” Alexis said.

“Watch the diagrams,” I commented.  “They’ll raise eyebrows.”

“Eugh,” Ty said, looking around.  “Right.  That’s a thing.  They’ve been here so long I look right past them.”

“Move the piles of books and boxes,” Rose said.  “Hide them without covering them up.  It looks like things will be messy after all.”

They worked as a group.  Even Evan chipped in, gathering the odd piece of paper and flying it elsewhere.

I could have used sympathy to help, but it was a gross and disgusting overuse of my power.  Besides, I still wasn’t a hundred percent sure I trusted Rose.  She’d promised no mischief or attacks on me while I was in the house, but I wasn’t sure she wouldn’t try something the second we were both outside of the house.

“Rose,” Alexis said, “Stop.  Go wash up and change.  We can handle this.”

I could see indecision cross Rose’s face.  “You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.  You’re going to need to tap Conquest for this, aren’t you?  Better to be a proper Lady of status than Lady Macbeth.”

“I’d really rather not tap him.”

“We knew you’d probably have to,” Ty said, moving a box.  “It was a conscious decision we made when we decided we didn’t have the time to focus on the issue of your family.  It wasn’t said aloud, but I think we all agreed.  I’m suspicious you knew it too.”

Rose hesitated.  “Right.  Back in a minute.  If they come before I’m down, make them wait.”

“Right-o,” Ty said.

Rose got as far as the stairs before pausing.  “Blake?  Don’t make me regret letting you inside.  Please.”

I wasn’t able to formulate a response, so I only bobbed my head in a curt nod.

She was gone so soon after that I wasn’t sure she’d even seen my response.

I watched the others work.  They were pretty efficient, saving breath for work, only speaking to call across the room and ask if a box or stack of books was in a good spot.

I stood watch by the front window.

“That’s going to have to do,” Ty said.  There was a sheen of sweat on his face.  “Dishes, papers…”

He hurried from the room with what he could carry.

Tiff and Alexis left with the spellbooks that had been strewn on the table in front of the couch.

Alexis was faster in returning, an unlit cigarette in her mouth.  I’d known her to do that when stressed.

“This arrival feels too convenient,” I said.

“A push from Sandra?” Alexis asked.

“It would fit.”

“Yep,” she said.

I wasn’t sure what else to say.  I continued watching the streets outside via. the window.  Alexis hadn’t visited me while I’d been bound.  She’d been the person closest to me before all this, and now she was the furthest.

When I glanced back her way to see if she was cleaning, I found her less than a foot from me.  I didn’t startle, but my heart did something funny in my chest.

“I don’t know how to feel, seeing you like that,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“My work, becoming something warped.  It’s all how I’d ink the branches, the spatter pattern, the watercolor in the space beyond is maybe a little pale, but if I was dealing with someone who didn’t give a damn about the fading…”

“The colors were more vivid when you first did them,” I said.  “In my head, anyway.”

“That’s… were the lines that good?”

“Yeah.  I think so.  My eye isn’t bad, but I was so happy with what I got I didn’t exactly study it to find flaws.”

“That would be some of my best work, either way.  Except now the darkness is using it on a symbolic level or something.  It’s being used to turn you into something else.  That…” a pause.  “Sucks.”

Sucks.  Such a simple word for an utterance she had so many subtle emotions into.

“I think I was something else to begin with,” I said.  “Rose’s attitudes seem to point that direction.”

“Blake, I can’t- if you start talking like that, fishing for tells…”

“You’re good at hiding your tells,” I said.  “But okay.  We won’t go there.”

“I’m thinking a year and a half ago, if I had to put it somewhere chronologically?”

“Yeah.  About.”

“Yeah,” she said.  “Huh.  I can even picture the week it was.  I thought it was a slow week.”

I rotated my arms, studying the tattoos that now clustered on them.  More tattoo than bare skin.

“Well,” I said.  “If I’ve got to have something changing, as I lose my humanity, this is…”

I searched for how to phrase it.  I had to be careful not to lie, and I felt like the choice of words was exceedingly important.  Alexis, standing behind me, didn’t say anything.

“It’s good,” I decided.

A light thud.

Alexis’ head forehead rested on the glass of the window.  I couldn’t make out her face, with the angle of her head, but I could see the cigarette sticking out.

I checked the street.  No sign of the family.

Reaching up, I touched the glass from my side.  The side of my thumb traced the line of Alexis’ hair.

“I know you don’t remember it.  I know it might not have even happened, but to me, you saved me, Alexis.”

She didn’t move.

“I was cursed with an inability to create,” I said.  “Maybe that’s part of being built as a warrior, with only the necessary parts.  But I could never draw.  Tried a bunch of things, but I never found that talent.  I don’t… I’m trying to sum up this one thought, but I feel like I’ll keep getting off track if I try to explain it.  I don’t really know, but if there’s any ability for an artist to be able to tell this sort of thing through their work, I really want you to be able to look at this and see it as it was supposed to be, and know that you saved me.  That-”

Again, I couldn’t find the words.

“That-  Um-  Shit.”

I wasn’t choked up, but I wasn’t sure I could be choked up in the normal way anymore.

Words simply failed me.  I tried taking in a deep breath, even though I didn’t need it. The back of my hand stroked the glass that separated me from touching her hair, then dropped to my side.

“If- If I’m stubborn, if I have any well of strength to draw from at all, I owe that to you.  That means I have a responsibility.  I can’t use that strength and stubbornness the wrong way.  I- you never let me in enough for me to really know why you were so set on helping people like Tiff and me.  I’ve guessed.  I’ve speculated…

“…But I want you to know that you did help me.  You helped me to my feet, helped me be a real live boy again.  And maybe the demon took that away when he took away the connection, and maybe that’s why you took it harder when I left.  Maybe it’s not real, maybe it didn’t really happen, I don’t really know.  But if you were trying to prove to yourself that you were capable of something… I think you proved it.”

The silence that followed scared me.

I’d conquered my demons, so to speak, in the midst of the realization that I wasn’t entirely real.  But I was a little scared, standing there.

Looking past Alexis, I could see Tiff and Ty standing in the hallway, only a sliver of their bodies visible beyond the living room door.  No doubt they’d seen or heard some of it and then stepped back  out to leave the two of us alone.

The pressure of the silence grew with every second.  I glanced back.  Nobody approached, though one car had stopped by the side of the street.

“Sorry,” I said, “If that was presumptuous or if I was adding to your burdens, saying you’re somehow responsible for me.”

“No,” she said.  She stepped away.  “That was…”

More silence.

“It was?”

She smiled a small smile, lips pressed together a little in that unconscious way she had of hiding her teeth, the cigarette in her mouth bent, maybe from when she’d rested her head against the window.  “Good.”

Was there less tension in her face and neck than there had been?

“I really need a damn smoke,” she said, with no rancor in her tone.  “Excuse me.  I’ll be outside.”

“Is that a good idea?” Ty called out.

“We’ve got some wards.  I’ll be okay,” she replied.

I was left alone, with only the faint murmur of Ty and Tiff’s conversation in the hallway.

Two minutes passed, me agonizing over ever last word I’d said, wishing I’d picked some better ones, while paradoxically not at all displeased with what I’d said in general.

I’d needed to say it.

“We need a theme song,” Evan chimed in, behind me.

“Hm?”

“Bird boy and scary tree,” he said.

“I’m not a tree yet,” I told him.

“You’re covered in branches.”

“And birds.  Can’t I be, I dunno… there’s got to be something better than tree.”

“Bird boy and tree, you and me…” Evan said.  It took me a second to realize he was even trying to sing.  “Um.  Were you good at music?”

“I was good at building,” I said.  “None of the creative stuff.  Those other guys were the artists.”

“Any of them good at singing?”

“Ty’s pretty good at everything,” I said.

“Okay,” Evan said.  “I’ll ask him later.”

“Ask him to come up with something better than tree, while you’re at it?”

“Eh,” Evan said, noncommitally.

I shot him a look.  He broke apart, becoming a ghost, just to stick out his tongue at me.  A moment later, he condensed back into bird form, flapping his way around in a circle before he could find his perch again on the lampshade by the window.

Smiling, I watched what was going on outside.

“Rose is really scared,” Evan said.

“I believe it,” I told him.  “Scared is good.  The problem is when scared leads to her acting like Molly.  We need to do something.  Act.”

“We will,” he said.  “But we gotta survive first.  And, uh, with me being dead and all and you being, um, uh, sorta you?  The surviving part is something we should work on.”

“Point,” I said.

It took another minute before the first confirmed Thorburn sighting.  Not long after that, they arrived en-masse.

Dad, Mom, Uncle, Aunt Jessica, Aunt Steph, and Aunt Irene, with just about all the kids in tow, minus Paige and Molly.

I wished I’d asked more about Molly’s status.

“Rose!”  Evan called out.

The group made their way up the long driveway.  Rose answered Evan’s call, coming downstairs.  Still wearing grandmother’s clothes, but a different outfit.  A blouse with lace around the folded collar, a brooch, and a knee- length skirt, black.

“You smell like mothballs,” Evan chimed in.

“I’ve worn and washed these clothes before,” Rose said.  “How can I still smell like mothballs?”

“Here,” Tiff said, walking up behind Rose.  “Post it, and a rune, and… a bit of blood.”

“Better already,” Evan said.

Tiff removed the post-it.

This was what I’d missed, being in the drains.

The anger nestled deep inside of me had gone quieter though.  Where I might have been inarticulate in anger before, unable to express just how and why that bothered me, even to the point of not fully realizing I was angry, I was able to get a hold on it now.

“Alexis is out back,” Ty said.

“Okay, that’s just not a good idea,” Rose said.  “You don’t split up when there’s a horror movie monster after you, and we’ve got at least thirty equivalents in town right now.”

“We’ve had a surplus of horror monsters after us for a while,” Ty said.

“She’s supposed to be smoking in the bathroom with the fan.”

“I think she needed space?” Tiff asked.

“Rule still holds, space is irrelevant.  Go get her,” Rose said.

“On it,” Ty answered.

I met Rose’s eyes.  Pale, with faint dark circles under her eyes, blond hair tied back until there wasn’t a hair out of place, a white blouse and ivory brooch, her shirt crisp.

I was rumpled, tattered, my skin riddled with dark lines and faint splashes of color.  My hair, once blond, was dark with the grime that now impregnated it.

She didn’t say anything.  She headed to the door, and as per her earlier request, the others vacated the area.  Alexis hurried past, taking the stairs two at a time to get upstairs.  Evan roosted on the back of the chair beside Rose.

Rose opened the door.

“Rose.  I’d apologize for not calling ahead,” Uncle Paul said, “But-”

“I knew,” Rose interrupted.  “We even had time to tidy up.”

That seemed to put him slightly off balance.

Rose was different.  Poised.

He seemed a little caught off guard.

“If this is the place after cleaning up, I’m very concerned about what it was like before,” Aunt Steph snarked.

“We had, how should I put it, unwelcome visitors?  Something of a break in,” Rose said.

That shut Aunt Steph up.

“A break in?” Uncle Paul asked, skeptical. “I’m more inclined to think you had a party.”

“No,” Rose said.  Confident, clearly in control of herself.  “It was a break in.  I’m guessing you found something in the contract.”

Several somethings,” our father said.

“Of course.  Come in,” she said.

She didn’t wait to see if they’d listen, or wait for a response.

They followed her into the living room.

“You’re wearing grandmother’s clothes?” Callan asked.

“Funny thing,” Rose said.  “All the clothes that I had over at mom and dad’s place were, what was it exactly?  They just happened to go up in flames?”

“They were packed into the back of the garage for storage, and, unfortunately, the garage flooded earlier this fall.”

Rose spread her hands.

One by one, everyone found seats.  Adults took the sofa and chairs first, the younger individuals – Callan, Kathryn, Ellie, Peter, James, Christoff, and Roxanne, all stood, framing their parents.

A show of force.

Evan had apparently gone completely unnoticed as Aunt Jessica sat down.  He flapped his wings, fluttering, and she startled, flying out of her chair.

Rose whistled, and Evan flew to her.

I was supposed to feel bothered by that, but I was glad she had that.

“What’s with the bird?  And the getup?  Why not buy clothes.  And act sane?  You look weird,” Roxane said.

Roxanne was twelve, her blonde hair normally straight but presently curled, spoiled rotten by Uncle Paul and Aunt Jessica, aware that she was pretty and cute, and fully capable of leveraging that to get what she wanted.  She managed to put a lot of bite into very simple criticisms.  I imagined she was an unholy terror in whatever grade she was in.

“I’m a little weird these days,” Rose answered.

“I said that badly,” Roxanne said.  “You look fucked up.  It’s like you’re a crazy bird lady only it’s more fucked because you’re too young to pull it off.  Can’t we get the house if she’s crazy?”

“The term is mentally unsound,” Uncle said.  “And yes, we could.  But we don’t need to.”

“I know false bravado when I see it,” Rose said.  “You’re confident, you’re not that confident.”

“And you’re a twenty year old girl with a high school education,” Uncle Paul said.  “The house is visibly falling apart.  You know the contract terms name you custodian and heir only if you keep things to a certain standard.”

“That’s your plan of attack?” Rose asked.  “I thought you’d surprise me.”

“This is preliminary,” Uncle said.  “We’re not going to discuss everything we found with you.  We would like to give you an idea of what we’d be saying and doing if lawyers were to get involved.”

He dropped the pad of papers on the coffee table.  It was thick enough to thud as it landed.

“You’re trying to intimidate me?  Uncle P, you have no idea what I’ve been dealing with these past few weeks.”

“Believe me,” he said, “I actually think I have an idea.”

I walked through my version of the room, and changed my focus.  Letting go.

It was harder than it had been.

My first attempt failed.

“Why don’t you illuminate us?”

“No.”

My second attempt managed to produce a reflection of the pile of papers on the coffee table.

I picked them up, and began to leaf through them, looking at the highlighted points.

“You claimed the place was broken into just yesterday?  Did you file a police report?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“That’s none of your business.  I’m not volunteering any more information, if you’re just here to fish and make one of the obvious and most easily dismissed legal stabs at me.”

She was right.  There was more to it than that.

I flipped straight to the end, and found notes.

I snapped my fingers.

Peter turned his head.  Then scrambled to get out of the way as Evan flew over.

I bent down low.

“Tell her,” I murmured, “They are going to declare her mentally unsound.  Duncan is helping.  Sandra is helping.  People are on their way now.  They are going to get her put in a mental hospital.  It will not last for any longer than they need it to, but it will free someone else to come after the rest of them, without risking hurting her.  She needs to stop it from happening.  Go.”

Evan flew back to Rose.

Looking visibly distressed, Aunt Steph asked, “Can you cage that thing?”

Thing?” Evan asked.

Nobody reacted.  His voice was only for us to hear.

“I’ll get him a bit of food,” Rose said.

She stepped into the kitchen.  I followed her.

“Mental aslyum,” Evan said.  “Just to keep you out of the way.”

Rose nodded, but couldn’t reply without being heard talking to herself.  Which wouldn’t help matters.

“Right now, they’re coming.  We need to deal with it somehow,” I said.

Rose shook her head.  “Against Sandra?  And Duncan?  They’re too strong.”

“What, then?”  I asked.

“We’re going to give them me,” she said.  She sounded a little too much like Conquest, and not quite enough like Rose.  “And we’ll let them face the consequences.”

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