Category Archives: 11.09

Malfeasance 11.9

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I’d expected a crowd, I didn’t get a crowd.

I’d expected kids of various ages, and found myself surprised.

The reality, it seemed, was that the youngest kids were running for cover.  School wrapped up at half past three, and it apparently got dark at five.  An hour and a half of freedom, or time to handle the minor things, then nightfall.  Enchantments and spells would kick in, the civilians would find themselves suffering through an abruptly early curfew, and there would be chaos in the streets.

The bell tolled in the background, low and ominous, as if the bell itself were present for this very scene.  The gathered practitioners looked over their shoulders, to the bell’s source.

“That’s one angry ghost,” a Duchamp said

“I can barely hear it,” Craig Behaim commented.

“More experienced practitioners hear it more,” the Duchamp said.  “She’s after my aunt, Johannes, and the other leaders.  Alister, I guess?”

“I’m not going to fall for something like that, Lola.  You find out what we’re doing when everyone else does,” Craig said.  He looked for the bell’s source again.  “She isn’t running out of power?  Where’d she get that kind of energy?”

“Some of it,” Lola Duchamp said, “Is from him.”

The Behaim boy startled a little as he saw me.

Five people in total had joined the Briar Girl and me.  Alister was not one of them.  I recognized Penelope Duchamp, who had been quiet thus far, and I recognized the bird on her shoulder, even if I didn’t know its name. She was joined by the girl who was apparently called ‘Lola’, a bit older than her, with bright red makeup around her eyes, pink tips on one strand of her blond hair, and a silver nose-ring.  War paint, almost.

Craig, Ainsley, and Gavin Behaim were here as well.  Laird’s son, niece, and nephew, respectively.  I’d killed Craig’s dad, the Bloody Mary had cut Ainsley’s wrists, and I’d left Gavin behind with his wounded uncle, who I’d just hacked with an axe, then gone on to kill Laird.

They didn’t necessarily remember the details, though.

Two Duchamps, three Behaims.

I stood within a window looking out on a narrow street.  The store behind me was an ice cream place that was closed for the winter season.  Less of a successful business, more of a hole-in-the-wall place that people could find if they ventured off the beaten track.  From what I’d glimpsed, it wasn’t the nicest looking place.  All the same, we were afforded a certain degree of privacy to chat.

“You,” Craig said.

So he’d heard about who I was.

“Hi Craig,” I said.  “Ainsley, Gavin.  Penelope, hi again.  I’ve met each of you, even if you don’t remember.  This is Evan.”

“Hiya,” Evan piped up.

“I don’t remember,” Penelope said.  “Craig said it was you who killed his dad and maimed his uncle?”

“And I tried to unseat Alister,” I said.  “I don’t deny it.”

“Doesn’t make me feel very trusting, when I imagine what you might have done to me,” Penelope said.

“Your sister’s in a dance class, right?”

The question only made Penelope look more paranoid.

“You were dropping her off at dance class one morning, when you decided to come after me and Rose.  Your sister’s Faerie familiar was injured.”

“I remember that, vaguely,” Lola chimed in.  “Letita being injured, and the call to arms at way-too-early-o’clock when it was way too cold in the morning.”

“I remember too,” Penelope said.

“I showed mercy, and returned the familiar to your sister instead of trying to kill it.  You called off the attack on me.”

“Ahhh,” Penelope said.  “That explains why I was grounded until halfway through January.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “We… I don’t feel we left on bad terms.”

“Maybe not,” she said, “But things are different now than they were.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Definitely different.  Which is part of why I asked you to come.”

“I’m thinking we should wait for Mags before we get down to business,” Gavin said.

I nodded, though I felt antsy.  I wasn’t sure what my friends were dealing with at this given moment.  Were they at the witch hunters’ mercy?

“So,” Lola said, sitting on a metal post that doubled as a bike rack, “Bogeyman.”

“Blake.”

“Blake.  What are you, in all of this?  You’ve defended Rose, apparently.”

“Something like that,” I said.

“Where do you stand?”

“Right here.”

Lola folded her arms.  “No jokes.  Where do you stand in terms of allegiance?  You’re in Rose’s camp?”

“No,” I said.  “If I have to admit it, I’m really not.  I don’t agree with her decisions, I don’t like how she’s playing this, and right now, I’m pretty damn anxious because of a plan she’s putting into motion.”

“Which is?” Craig asked.

“Something that, if I do share it, will be shared with the ambassador here, and your tacit cooperation.”

Craig nodded, though he didn’t look happy.

“Once, I wasn’t trapped in this mirror.  The Thorburns have fought over Hillsglade House for years, and I remember being right there among them,” I confessed.  “I had my opportunity to fight alongside the others for my share of the property.  I could have walked away with millions.  I never fought for it.  I remember walking away from it all, and I remember paying dearly for that decision.”

“Cryptic,” Gavin said.

“It’s not intended to be cryptic,” I said.  “It’s just who I am and where I come from.  I didn’t want to be a part of this world.  I was dragged into it.  So far, the deck seems pretty damn stacked against me.  I’ve had to give up an awful lot of the stuff I care a whole lot about.”

I searched their faces for changes in expression, for clues, signs.  Did they think less of me for admitting that?  Were they figuring me out?  Deciphering weaknesses?

“I didn’t want to kill Laird,” I told Craig.  “Your dad.  I don’t know why he was doing what he was doing, but… I didn’t want that.”

“We have only your word for that,” he answered.

“Yeah,” I admitted.  “Just like you have only my word when I say that I can’t lie.  I’ve been down this road.”

“Ah,” Gavin said.  “That’s a bit of a problem.”

“It’s a fixable problem,” Lola chimed in.

I suppressed a sigh.  “You’re talking about the seal of Solomon.”

Lola nodded.  “You know your stuff.

Agreeing to the deal that Suleiman Bin Daoud had set up between humanity and Others.  Binding myself, with certain terms contingent in the binding.  One of the first things I’d read up on, way back when.

“That opens me up to a lot of forms of attack,” I said.  “Being properly bound, being targeted by certain vectors…”

“It protects you too,” Lola said.  “Gives you a power source.  You become a part of the greater scheme of things.”

“Damn it,” I said.  “No.  That’s exactly what I’m talking about.  That’s why I’m trying to talk to you guys here.  It’s… damn it.  Would you accept the deal, as-”

“If it’s the reason for the meeting,” Gavin said, “We should wait for Mags.  She’s close.”

I sighed.

I did the seal thing, I think,” Evan said.

“I can explain later,” I said.

“Right!”

A moment of silence passed.  The Behaims, understandably, weren’t very happy with me.  The two Duchamp girls were murmuring to one another, while shooting periodic looks my way.

“Hey, chickadee!  Fellow bird!” Evan called out to Penelope’s familiar.  “Come perch with me while we wait.  We can trade stories about all of the places to avoid when you’re out for a flight.  Like Sandra’s weasel thing, except you’re a Duchamp so you’re safe, but stuff like that!  Bird tips!  Wait, wing tips!”

The chickadee looked at him.  It spoke with a voice that was so high it might have sounded artificial, if the articulation wasn’t so perfect.  “Do not presume that we’re equal, child.”

Evan was suddenly as mute as he’d been vocal.  He pulled his head back closer to his body, until it looked like he had no neck at all, his feathers fluffing out in general.

Penelope looked at me and cupped her hand so Evan couldn’t see.  It hurt my ability to see too, but I was pretty sure she mouthed the word ‘sorry’.

Mags arrived, a goblin in a snowsuit waddling behind her.  It looked fat, and its eyes didn’t match, where they peered beneath the hood.

“Hi Blake.”

“Hi Mags,” I said.

“I hear you almost killed Alister.”

“I only wanted to cut him a little.  He told me he could undo the damage.”

“Then why cut him?”

“Because he said he didn’t want me to, and I needed to do something.”

“You’re aware that Sandra, Alister, and Johannes know where you are, right?  They know this meeting is happening?”

“Sure,” I said.  “But right now, they’re also trying to stay out of my way.  While we’ve been making small talk here- and not-so-small talk, I guess, my friends have been under attack.  They know I’m looking for them.  So the question is, do they come here to stop me from talking to you, exposing themselves, or do they stand back, and let me say what I have to say?”

“I suppose it depends on what you have to say,” Gavin told me.

“You want to know why I’m not so keen on the seal of Solomon business?”

“Because you don’t want to lose the ability to lie,” Craig said.  He looked the most unfriendly out of all of the Behaims, and none of the Behaims seemed friendly at all.  “Or you’re afraid of being bound.”

“Not quite,” I said.  “My big concern is that we all share a common enemy, and somehow, a lot of us are missing it.  It’s getting us one by one, and I can’t just give it more power.”

Lola Duchamp tilted her head a little.  “Now you’re being intentionally cryptic.”

“History,” I said.  “Your families, the Duchamps especially, are bound to it.  Everyone’s doing things the way they’ve been done for ages, because they’ve been done that way for ages.  It’s… it’s this corrupt, stupid force in all of our lives.”

“You’re gathering up a bunch of us Behaims and telling us that the big bad enemy is time?”  Craig asked.

“History, not time.  The past.  I don’t think I can really convince Sandra or Alister or Johannes or any of the others to turn from their paths.  They’re too secure in their power, comfortable in what tradition and history and expectations have given each of them.  I’m really, honestly hoping I can convince you guys.  Convince all of you guys, who are less in History’s grip.  I’m banking on that, while the knowledge that my friends might be hurt or dying is slowly tearing me apart.”

“What makes you think we can be convinced?” Gavin asked.

“The knowledge that the Behaim family power is all being funneled into one point, one person.  The first person was your dad, and… whatever my issues with him, he at least used it properly.  Duncan used it too, less properly.  Everything I’ve seen of Alister suggests he intends to squander it.”

“Assuming Alister is going to wind up in charge.”

“I spied on your family’s discussion while you were in school,” I said.  “All signs suggest it’s in the works.  A lot of voices in Alister’s support.  Talk of a weapon being put in his hands.”

I saw the Behaims exchange glances.

“I shouldn’t comment either way,” Gavin told me.  “Shouldn’t validate what you’re saying or fill in the blanks around your best guesses.”

“As far as I’ve been able to tell, you were misled,” I told him.  “Just like your fathers and your fathers’ fathers were.  You’re the equivalent of cows producing the milk, and it’s the Lairds and Alisters that get to decide what they do with that milk.  The best you can do is hope they make good use of the power they milk from you.”

“You’re calling me a cow?” Ainsley asked, glaring at me.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I guess I am.  If you insist on sticking with the herd, instead of thinking for yourself.”

“Cute,” Gavin said.  “Do you really think it’s smart to antagonize us, when you’re asking for our help?”

“I’m not trying to be your friend.  I don’t think that’s about to happen  given our history,” I answered.

“What, then?”

“I’m hoping that we can at least stand here, and agree that the status quo sucks, and it’s going to suck more for all of us if things continue down this course.”

“Speak for yourself,” Lola said.  Her breath fogged in the air.  She jammed gloved hands in her pockets.  “You were going to say that the Duchamp tradition has hurt us too, right?”

“Something like that,” I said.

“Arranged marriages, being used as a currency of sorts, to buy more power for the family?”

“That was the impression I had,” I said.  “Is it wrong?”

“It’s right.  Right now,” Lola said.  “I did everything I could to make myself unpresentable.  Fought it every step of the way.  Put metal in my face and ears, not just because I thought it was cool, but because I wanted to scare off the stodgy old mages and whatnots that paid visits and leered at us.  It didn’t work.  They found me someone who wanted someone distinctive.  Guy ten years older than me I’ve met once, for an interview.  Like I was applying for a job.  Wedding’s set for a year from now.  If it weren’t for the chaos here, the wedding day would’ve been the second day I saw him.”

“No kidding?” Mags piped up.  “Ten years older?”

I think that’s illegal,” Evan whispered.

“Not illegal.  Lola’d be eighteen,” Penelope said.

“Oh.”

“Whoop dee doo dah,” Lola said.

“He seemed nice, though,” Penelope added, with an excess of cheer.  “Interesting, too.  Passionate about what he does.  Could be thirty eight or forty eight.”

“Sure,” Lola said.  “Nice, interesting, into his work.  Not that old.  But he could want different things than I want, and because he’s buying me, he gets the final say.  I don’t want kids?  Too bad.  I want to go to school or have a career?  Too bad.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Lola shot me a smile, but there was an anger in her eyes, surrounded by the startling crimson eyeshadow.  It was as if I’d angered her just by inviting her to talk about the subject.  “Things change, Blake.  If the Duchamps come out on top, and we’re most definitely a contender, then the marriage thing can stop.  Or they can at least slow down, make it volunteer-only.  My fiancé is coming into town with his brothers.  He’s helping.  And so long as I play along, we’ve got that tiny bit of extra psychopomp firepower.  We can help Sandra take over, and help the status quo change.”

“For the next generation?” I asked.

“Or the rest of this generation,” Lola said, glancing at Penelope.  When she looked back my way, Lola’s body language was stubborn, her jaw set.

“You don’t have to do that,” Penelope said.

“No I don’t,” Lola said.  “But I can look at our options, weigh things in one hand versus the other.  Doing this, playing along, it’s a safer, stronger bet than the other options I’ve debated so far.”

“I wonder,” I said, “If your mom thought the same thing.  Or if Sandra convinced herself she could change it all.”

“They could’ve.  They’re could be working on it as we speak, attacking your friends at the house and working to put Sandra in her seat as Lord of Jacob’s Bell,” Lola said.

“Or maybe,” I replied, “Things will keep going the way they’ve gone for generations.  You might end up making peace with the fact that Penelope gets married off, because there wasn’t enough time.  Then Penelope’s younger sister could end up getting married off.  You can still convince yourself that it’s fine, that it takes time.  What happens after?  You end up having a kid with the psycho, and one day you could wind up using the same tricks on your daughter that your mother and aunts used to manipulate you?”

I could see Lola’s expression harden, the muscles at the corners of her jaw standing out, any softness disappearing.

I waited, inviting her to speak, but there was only hardness.  “…Maybe you wind up convincing her that if she just plays along, she won’t have to do the same for her daughter?”

“You really aren’t interested in making friends,” Mags commented.

“I want people to look!” I said, and I raised my voice a little too much.  I was anxious, in my odd, inhuman new way of being anxious, and having them fight me on this very preliminary front was only making it worse.  “I want you to god-damn think!  Why the hell would the Duchamps stop doing what they’re doing, just because they were a little more powerful?  Power has to be secured.  They’re not going to abandon the methods that got them status and power in the first place.  They’re going to keep doing it, only they’ll escalate.  Reach out to practitioners who are further away.  Use their new position to build something.”

“No,” Lola said.  “I know Sandra.  I know… some general stuff about her.  I’m sure she wouldn’t escalate.”

“The priest?” I asked.

Lola raised one eyebrow, but she didn’t reply.

“You heard something when Hillsglade House was smote?” Penelope asked.

“I don’t have much of a fricking clue what happened with Sandra and him,” I said.  “All I know is that right now, it’s looking like a pretty raw deal for Lola here, for the Behaims, and even for Penelope.  It’s a raw deal for me.”

“Me too,” Evan chimed in.  “Not me, exactly, but an awful lot of people I like are part of this.  I want this to go okay for them.”

“Things change,” Lola said, with a note of certainty in her voice.

Stubborn.  I was a little surprised that a Duchamp would be like that, that someone from the subtle and creative enchantresses would be so blunt in attitude.  I supposed it had to do with where she’d come from.  She’d carved out a bit of individuality among a sea of cousins and sisters who all looked and acted very similar to one another.

That stubbornness, though, was something of a wall for me.  I couldn’t push forward so long as she kept giving me the same answer.

“We’re the only ones who can change the course of all this,” I said.  “You guys, as representatives or whatever you are to your families, you’re in a position to spread the word, make arguments.  If you don’t like the current status quo, fight it.”

“At the worst possible moment?” Craig asked.  “We’d weaken our families just in time for Johannes to swoop in and seize the lordship.”

Lola commented, “The Behaims aren’t in a position to get the lordship anyway.”

“No comment,” Craig said.  “Whether we were or weren’t, we’d be betraying our family.”

“Oh, I’m not saying Blake is right,” Lola said.  “I’m saying you’re weak.”

This wasn’t what I’d hoped for.  Maybe if I’d had a larger group to work with, I could have convinced the younger ones.  Joanna, Penelope’s younger sister, might have been more inclined to listen.

I’d wanted them to realize just how much they were slaves to their bloodline’s traditions.  But they were on the cusp of adulthood, already settling into their individual responsibilities.  Craig, Ainsley and Gavin had been trusted to go to Toronto to help Laird and Duncan fight.  Lola was getting married.  Penelope had at least had enough leverage to call off the Duchamps when I’d returned Letita to her and her sister.  She’d gotten in trouble, but she’d had a voice.

Maybe, if I’d been able to reach the ones without a voice, I could have done something.

Fuck.

The Briar Girl spoke.  “You told me I might be interested in this.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“What do I have to gain?”

It dawned on me that she’d forgotten our prior conversation.

“When the Thorburns fall,” I said, “The glades that give Hillsglade House its name will probably be cut down, the marshes will be drained.  You’re… very similar to me, in a way.”

“Similar?”

“Swept up in the tide.  More at the mercy of the individual families than any of the others, who have cabals or covens or circles to protect them.  If and when the Thorburns lose, you lose, very probably.”

“If the Thorburns win, I lose.  After the priest left the house, we all heard about what Rose did.  There’s a working with a demon, protecting her.  We can’t touch her.  Nobody wins when there are demons involved.”

“Not how I would have phrased what she did,” I said.

“A demon is involved?” she asked.

“Can I ‘no comment’ that?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.  There was no humor on her face.  “I think that’s enough of an answer.”

Not just to the question I’d just asked, but everything I’d been suggesting.  Her way of refusing me.

I stared down at the ground between all of us.

“I think,” I said, “That if things continue down this road, it’s not going to be one side winning, the rest of us losing.  It might not even be one person winning, and everyone else losing.  I think it’s going to turn out worse than that.  Everyone in Jacob’s Bell loses.”

There was a short pause that followed that said a great deal more than any statement.

Mags summed it up.  “Coming from a diabolist, that’s a fucking scary thing to hear.”

I shrugged.  “Not what I meant.”

“Still scary,” she said.  As if an afterthought, she said, “Man, that bell.  It’s getting worse.”

“We’ve been talking for a bit,” Gavin said, the eldest Behaim present.  “I’m thinking we need to head home.  I’m expecting there to be a lot said.  Especially if Alister wound up being promoted to head of the house while we’ve been talking.”

That’s it?

“Unless you want to be bound by the seal,” Gavin told me, “I don’t really see any other reason to keep talking.”

I shook my head.  It was against everything I was and everything I was striving for, right here.

“Yeah, didn’t think so.”

This had been a hail Mary, a plea for sanity amid madness, from people who’d generally been a lot more sane than their elders.

But they were caught up in the tide.  Now I faced the idea of having to figure out what to do next, knowing that with every passing moment, things might be getting worse at Hillsglade.

Damn me, damn them, damn it all.

Such a familiar feeling.  Being angry, being unable to think straight.  Wanting to do something that I knew was a bad idea.

“We’re adjourned, then?” Mags asked.

“Guess so,” Craig answered.

“Right,” Mags said.  “I’ll chat with you in a minute, Blake, if you want to wait?  Maybe you could stick around, Briar Girl, so you can vouch that I’m not siding with him?  I’ll buy you something from the store after.”

“Sure,” the Briar Girl said.

So, Mags had gotten in trouble, at least on a level, even if she’d held onto her position.  The threats had been grave enough that she was now forcing herself to be impartial.  Giving herself a witness and alibi.

I remained mute, frustrated and angry.  My body wanted to act, to do something reckless.  I stayed where I was.

Lola met my gaze with her own.  She looked monstrous in her own way, with the red around her eyes, her skin pale.  “I hear what you’re trying to say.  Maybe if the timing were different, it would be different.  Maybe if you weren’t who and what you are…”

Penelope nodded.

“Penelope,” I said, speaking the moment the thought crossed my mind.  “Lola said her piece.  Are you going to say anything, or are you going to stick to the pattern of letting your elders decide things for you?”

Lola glared at me, hearing that.

“I make my own decisions,” Penelope said.

“The excuse Lola gave, that she has to do this to maintain the marriage and keep her husband-to-be in the fight, you don’t have that excuse.”

“No,” Penelope said, “But the bigger argument, it’s… I can’t go against my family, not if I’m risking making them weaker.”

“You drove Joanna to her dance lessons at the crack of dawn for a long time,” I said, recalling.  “You… I feel confident in saying you obviously care about your family.”

“Yeah,” Penelope said.

“Lola’s willing to marry a stranger because she thinks she can change things for your sake, and for all your sisters and cousins.  Why doesn’t it go the other way?  Why won’t you take a risk to save her from that marriage?”

“That’s not fair,” Penelope said, suddenly angry.

I wasn’t making many friends, doing this.

Was that a mistake?  I couldn’t imagine any way I might have phrased things that would have gotten them all on my side.

“If you feel the least bit conflicted about this,” I said, “Think about all of your cousins, about Joanna.  By coming in such small numbers, you decided to speak for them.  Are you that confident that you’re saying what they’d want you to say?”

Yes,” she replied.

It caught me off guard.  The sudden, certain answer.

It made me despair, just a little.  Because it cost me ground and leverage I might have used to ask Ainsley a similar question, to keep that conversation going.  To find an opening.

“It sucks, but yes,” she said.  “I’m not saying that our moms and aunts and grandmothers are always right, but whatever Aunt Sandra’s done, I feel like she cares, whatever she winds up doing.  You’re a stranger, and all you’re offering are words.”

“Blake,” Mags cut in.  “I’ve got to step in.  It’s not that late, but it’s getting later.  I wouldn’t be doing my job if I made these guys stay longer than was safe.  I’m sorry to say it, but… I don’t think this is going anywhere.”

I nodded.

The Behaims and Duchamps started to leave.

“Just tell me…” I spoke to their backs.  I didn’t restrain my voice and even I was a little surprised at how different it sounded.  There was a hollow quality to it.

They stopped.  Three of them turned around or partially turned to look at me.

“…Do you care?” I asked.  “About being used as cows, giving up your time to fuel the Behaim battery?  Being married off?  Seeing people you respect and care about being married off?”

“Of course we care,” Lola said.

“So,” I said, before anyone could add anything.  “If my words aren’t enough, you’re saying you want to see me act?”

I saw Craig’s hand move toward one pocket.  Penelope’s bird moved to one side, further from Penelope’s neck, more to the outside of the shoulder.

“I’m not threatening you,” I said.  “I’m genuinely asking.  You want proof I’m willing to take the risk, abandon the status quo?”

“What are you doing?” Gavin asked.

“Proving that I mean what I say.  The Thorburn status quo has most of you guys beat, I’m thinking.  It’s a death sentence, a karmic burden like you wouldn’t believe. In the more immediate present, the Thorburns are on the verge of being utterly destroyed, if they haven’t been already.  I’m obviously not fighting against much, by fighting that reality.  I have to test myself, right?  Bite the bullet, face an ugly reality?”

“What, exactly, are you doing?” Gavin asked.

“I couldn’t tell you, or someone might try to stop me,” I answered.  “I’m taking action.  Remember what I said.  I don’t give a damn about money.  I don’t care about the power, really.  I’d give it all up and go with my friends back to normalcy if I could.  When the subject comes up, and people start talking, I want you to remember that.  Spread it around.”

Apparently unnerved enough that he’d decided to act, Craig pulled a bit of thin chain out of his pocket.  I recognized it.  Blessed silver chain or something.  A one-stop measure for most kinds of Other or something of the sort.  They’d had it in the parking lot outside the police station.

“Evan!” I ordered.  “Go!  Back the way we came!”

I stepped out of the window’s reflection.  Escaping before they could get in our way.

One quick conversation and a bit of scavenging later, and we were set.

Actually taking action proved a little more difficult.  The house was barred to me, which I’d expected, but it was barred to Evan as well.  Plywood had been set up against the windows, the same boards that Ty had used to cover the front window, but on the back window and back door this time.

Many surfaces had been spray painted.

Evan flew in a wide circle around the house, carrying the small bike side-view mirror he’d ‘liberated’ from a downtown shop.  When he paused, here and there, I was able to peer through the mirror.  I couldn’t fly, meaning there was no surface to stand on when he was at a certain height and angle.

No subtle way to get in.  no way, even, to peer inside.  Either the curtains had been shut, or the window had been spray painted black.

On the plus side, there was still a car a little ways down the street, shabby and nondescriptive, and according to Evan, it smelled like gunpowder.  I’d peeked inside, and there were heavy cases throughout.  I was pretty sure it belonged to the witch hunters.

They were still here, which meant that maybe, just maybe, the others were alive.

Evan did another loop, perching on a tree that looked out on the back of the house.

“Well,” I said, “We might have to get in the house another way.”

“Another way?”

“It’s a little unusual, and not my first choice, but we might have to use the door.”

“Hah,” Evan said.  “Crazy.”

But he took off, flying to the back door.

He hopped up and down on the thumb-press handle of the back door.  It didn’t move.

“Locked,” he said.  “Lemme see…”

He relocated himself to the bulky lock above, a secure, albeit somewhat old-fashioned fixture that could have withstood a hit from a sledgehammer.  It had a slot for a key.

He used the fiddly plastic bit at the end of the mirror, sticking it at the lock, mashing it in over and over until it stuck in the lock.  Wings flapping, over about four tries, dropping the mirror twice, he rotated the mirror around, and the lock with it.

The door swung open.

Yes,” he said.

“Careful, careful,” I warned.  “Don’t move.”

Peering through the mirror, crouched on the ground in a narrow and small patch of light, I said, “Turn the mirror back around?”

He did, but in the doing, he moved it too fast.  I was shunted to the street outside.  I skipped back to my former  location.

My eyes scanned the surroundings.

The witch hunters wouldn’t want to leave anything up to chance.

I’d expected a shotgun to fire the second the door opened, in some contrived setup, or something.

What I saw was a metal box with two wires sticking out of it, resting flat against the ground.  A symbol was painted on top of it, a rune.  Probably written by a third party.

Fuck me, that was scary.  I wasn’t sure entirely what it was, but it was scary.

“Stay high,” I said.  “I think there are more wires.  Short bursts of flight.  There’s a lot of places for traps, and if they catch you-“

“I got it, I got it.”

Together, we reached the kitchen.  The toaster, I noted, had been spray painted black.

Evan ducked into the sink.

I heard footsteps, followed by hushed voices.

Evan flew out of the sink, and into the living room.

Fuck, that scared me,” Ellie said.  Her voice was a little hoarse.  “It’s just the dumb bird.”

None of the others replied.

“It’s not just the bird,” I said, as Evan set the mirror down.

I saw their heads turn, but they dismissed the idea.

“Listen to me,” I said, pushing a little harder.  “I’m here to help.”

Evan hopped down, beginning to open the handcuff locks with his talons.

“Who are you?”  Ellie asked, looking around.

“Look at the mirror,” I said.  “And listen.  We only get one shot at this.”

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