Category Archives: 11.10

Malfeasance 11.10

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This goes against every instinct I have, I thought.

But what good was my argument, if I told the members of other families to take a different path, to step away from the status quo, if I didn’t do the same?

Roxanne, Callan, and Kathryn were pretty beaten up.  One of Kathryn’s eyes was so swollen she couldn’t open it.  Callan wasn’t moving at all, even in response to the voice.

Roxanne looked like she’d taken it hardest, which she had.  I could hear her hoarse breathing from a few feet away, and her right hand and wrist were black and purple with bruises, her upper lip was crusted with blood, and her ear was swollen enough to look like it belonged in a cartoon, puffy and overlarge.  She was more lively than Callan, though.

Ellie, Peter, and Christoff, by contrast, looked mostly okay.  Peter was slow to move, and had dark circles under his eyes that hadn’t been there an hour ago.  Christoff looked spooked.

Evan continued to pick the locks, one after the other.  I wished I could see more.  The footsteps I’d heard earlier suggested the witch hunters were upstairs, but there were no guarantees.

I strained my ears, to hear if there was trouble incoming.

“…I have a concussion,” Kathryn said, setting her head down on the hard ground.  “I’m hearing things.”

“You’re not imagining this,” I said.  “Which of you can move?”

“Who are you?” Ellie asked.

“If I had to come up with something serviceable,” I said, “I’d say I’m your cousin that was never born.”

“My head,” Kathryn groaned.

“Fuck this shit,” Ellie muttered.  I saw her move toward the hallway.

Careful!” I spoke.  In trying to convey intensity without actually screaming at her, I found my voice in a weird middle ground that I probably wouldn’t have reached if I were human.  Hollow, broken.

It served to stop Ellie in her tracks, though.

“What?” she asked.

“They rigged traps at the doors,” I said.  “Probably in other places.”

“I know,” she replied, her voice a whisper.  “I heard them, I saw the stuff.  I was looking to see if they’re around.  Which they aren’t.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Do not go running off.  Things are volatile, and not just in the bomb sense.  They have other tricks.”

“Like the flashbang,” Kathryn said, not lifting her head off the ground.  “Why am I talking to the voice in the bike mirror?”

“Bike mirror?” Ellie asked.  “I figured it was a small camera and microphone with a bit of video.  Shitty resolution.”

The sound of voices from upstairs made everyone stiffen.  Eva and Andy.

“Focus,” I said.  “Who’s capable of moving?”

“I am,” Ellie said.

Christoff nodded, “Me.”

“I can,” Roxanne mumbled.  She sounded like her mouth was full.  Her jaw was probably swelling.

Peter nodded, too, but he didn’t speak.  He was staring intently at me.

That made me nervous.

“Kathryn?”

“I feel dizzy.”

“Short distance?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Evan, hiding places?”

“Um.”

Ellie raised a hand.  “Sh.”

Footsteps.

“Cuffs back on,” I said, “Resume position.”

Peter was quick to obey.  Kathryn, however, resisted, starting to rise, then tilted and stopped.  The two kids were frozen.

“Shit,” Ellie whispered, but she hurried to the radiator, following her brother’s lead.

The kids obeyed, leaving only Kathryn.

She glanced down at me, then collapsed heavily onto her side.  She reached for the handcuff that was still partially attached to the radiator and missed it by a foot.

Ellie helped cuff her.

“The mirror,” I said.

Evan flew down, grabbed the mirror, then flew to the kitchen.  As the space between kitchen and the living room was fairly open, we had a good view.  Evan squeezed back into the space between the spray painted toaster and the row of tattered cookbooks, holding the mirror in one foot.

Ten seconds passed, and Eva passed by the cuffed Thorburns, heading to the front door.

“Hey,” Ellie called out.

Don’t be stupid, I thought.

“Please let me go?” Ellie asked, her voice a little rough, “Please?  My throat hurts.”

Eva stepped into the room.

“Please,” my cousin pleaded.  “I don’t care about these assholes.  Just please let me go?”

The witch hunter kicked her, hard, in the side.

“Please!” Ellie said, louder.

Eva kicked her again.

“I’m not a part of this!”

Another kick, sharp.  Roxanne shied back from Ellie and the kicking foot, wincing even though she wasn’t the one hit.

Eva spoke, “There’s a pattern here.  I’ll explain: you speak, you get kicked.”

Ellie shut her mouth.  She didn’t speak again.

The witch hunter used her toe to nudge each individual set of hand cuffs, shoving hands and feet around until the chains went taut.  Roxanne made a small noise when her badly bruised hand was moved.

“Be quiet,” Eva said.  “You don’t know when I’m coming back.  You’re not my concern here, you’re just in the way.  Stay put, be quiet, and you’ll never have to see or hear from us again.  Make yourself a concern, and we’ll remove you as a concern.”

She waited a moment, then strode out of the room.

“Fuck you,” Ellie said, and her voice was a complete change of tone from before.

She’d baited the kicks.  For some reason.

I didn’t presume to know how her warped mind operated.

Evan relocated us to our old position, against the wall, right of the radiator.  He nudged the mirror until he was sure it wouldn’t fall over.

“Good job, Evan,” I whispered.

“Of course,” he said, feigning arrogance.

“Who’s Evan?” Ellie asked.  She couldn’t hear him.  “Who names a fucking bird Evan?  So lame.”

“You’re lame!”

I ignored her, speaking calmly, my voice almost but not quite a whisper, “We need a good hiding spot for the others, or the witch hunters might take someone as a hostage.”

“Let them,” she said.  “I don’t give a shit about Kathy or Callan.”

“Fuck you,” Kathryn said

I refused to get caught up in the debate.  I hated this.  The stupidity.  I remembered it being a large part of my frustration, part of the reason I’d fled.

Rather than make ourselves collectively better, the family had a way of dragging the successful down.

I could remember thinking how I’d never be the person I wanted to be, so long as I stuck around.

“Check the bench underneath the front window,” I said.  “There’s a sort of hidden lid.”

Kathryn gave Roxanne a light push, and Roxanne moved to obey.

“Oh yeah!”  Evan said, taking flight.  He startled Roxanne, who froze in place.

“Carefully!” I told Evan, now that Roxanne had stopped.

Evan landed on the lid.  Where the front window jutted out a little, two windows set at diagonals, the middle window facing straight out, the window was built in a way that someone could sit inside it.  The resulting bench, also a lid, had cushions sitting on it.  Broken glass, too.

“Um, there’s something on the two windows,” Evan said, extending one wing, then the other.  Pointing.

“Get back,” I told him.  “Those would be explosives.  Unlock the cuffs again.”

Evan flew back to the others and began freeing them.

“That’s one smart bird,” Roxanne mumbled, peering over with one eye open, the other shut.  “It won’t peck us?”

“Not if you’re good,” Evan said.

“No,” I said, “he won’t bite.  If you’re good.”

“This doesn’t make sense,” Ellie said.  “Birds aren’t like that, and if you’re not using a camera-”

“Ellie,” Kathryn whispered, checking Callan’s pulse.  “Shut up.  You’re smarter than that.  Look at what Peter’s doing.  Copy him.”

“Peter?  He’s not doing anything.  He’s just sitting there.”

Emulate him,” Kathryn hissed, with an intensity that made me suspect she’d practiced it on a daily or weekly basis for a long time.  “Shut the fuck up and sit still.  Figure it out without asking stupid questions.  Our concern is those two kids who just thrashed us and started talking about bombs.”

Ellie glanced at Peter, who shrugged.

She scowled, but she didn’t say anything further.

“Getting you guys out of the house would be a start,” I said, “But it won’t fix anything.  They know who you are, you’re their mission.  If you leave the house and somehow avoid the traps they rigged at each door, they’ll probably come after you to remove the witnesses.  If you leave town, they’ll come after you, or they’ll reach out to someone else who’ll come after you.”

I watched their expressions, saw Ellie’s furtive glances to the hallway, and then to the kitchen, the direction of the back door.

“You don’t know me, but I know you,” I said.  “More than you might suspect.  I know, Ellie, that you’re wanting to slip away.  That you test limits, try to claim what you think you deserve, until it all goes wrong, and then you run.  I know, Peter, that your automatic assumption is that you’ll get away with it, whatever it is, and so far you’ve been damn lucky, and part of that is that you’re way smarter than most people think.”

Ellie glanced at Peter, who remained impassive.

How was he processing this?  I’d once likened Ty’s art to the sort of musician that picked up every instrument for a while, gaining a general knowledge, rather than specializing in any one thing.  Peter could be said to be the same, but with an emphasis on people.  He got how people worked, he found weaknesses, he preyed on them, and he coasted through life.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if I learned one day that he’d conned an old woman out of her retirement savings, or started a shady company, collected the money and disappeared.

But how did someone who understood people process a situation where he was missing a huge chunk of the puzzle?

He spooked me most of all, because I wasn’t sure how he’d act or react in the midst of whatever happened next.

“Kathryn,” I said.  “You’re a tyrant.  I wasn’t there, but I suspect you got to where you are by relentlessly applying pressure to everyone who got in your way or threatened to get in your way, crushing them under your heel.  Roxanne, I don’t think a lot of people outside the family truly get what you’re capable of.”

“Do you?” Roxanne asked.  Her one open eye was bloodshot.

“More than most,” I said.  “Listen, I’m not going to appeal to teamwork, or to your inner goodness, and I’m not going to try to be your friend.  I’m just going to say this.  If they win, if they get what they want?  You’ll never get your chance to sell the house and get the money you’ve been expecting for most of your lives.  You’ll probably die.”

None of them responded.

“I’ll get trouble for introducing myself to you,” I said.  “I know you aren’t the types to thank me for any of this.  But you were raised to be horrible people, and I was too, in a small way.  Right here, right now, you need to be your own particular sort of horrible to them.  If you’re willing to work together to do it, all the better.”

Still no responses.

Kathryn was woozy, and Ellie had been told to shut up, and was complying.  Roxanne, it seemed, wasn’t going to speak before anyone else did.  The brat, much as I’d suggested, was the sort to stay quiet and hang back until she saw an opportunity.  Taking the lead ran contrary to that.

Damn it.  They couldn’t even shut up and listen without being problematic.

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall,” Peter murmured.  “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

“He has mild hypothermia,” Kathryn said.  She reached for his hand.

He pulled it back.

“…A fever, probably, I’d know if he let me check his temperature,” she added.  “He’s not making any sense.”

“You’re a wizard, Pete,” he said.  “How does the line go?”

“Great,” Ellie said.  “It’s up to me and the kids.”

“Blue pill, red pill?  Tumbling, tumbling, down the rabbit hole, except instead of a grinning cat, it’s kids from film Tarantino,” Peter spoke, drawing out the ‘o’ of ‘hole’ and ‘Tarantino’.

His vision didn’t waver in the slightest, his eyes fixed on me.  His voice wasn’t slurred.

He knew.  He knew about the diagrams on the floor, he’d connected dots and pieced things together enough to know in generalities.

I spoke, ignoring him, “If you’re wanting-”

More voices from upstairs.  A sharp crack.

We fell silent, ears peeled.

I resumed speaking, a little faster, “-to do your own thing, go with Evan.  Let the bird point you to possible traps.  Downstairs should be safe, though I wouldn’t trust the window.  There’s a cellar, and tools.  Breaker box should be down there too.  Upstairs, it’s a gamble.  You might run into them.”

“And they’re armed,” Ellie said.  “Yeah, no.  Hiding in the cellar sounds good.”

“If you hide, they’ll probably find you,” I said.

“If I hide, I have a chance to find them first, while they’re looking for me,” Ellie said.  “Safest, smartest plan, far as I’m concerned.”

“Safest, smartest plan,” Peter said, looking up at his sister, sounding eerily lucid compared to his momentary wackiness a bit ago, “Would be to repurpose a bomb.  It’s not the movies, you can probably pull out wires until it stops working.”

“You want to fuck with a bomb?” Kathryn asked.  “Fuck me, and fuck you.”

“Ellie,” he said, extending a hand up to his sister, who was standing.

She didn’t take his hand.

“Help?” he asked, hand still extended.

“Not if you’re tampering with bombs,” she said.

“I’m looking,” he said, struggling to his feet without any help, using the arm of the couch.  He looked a little weak.

“Careful,” I said.

He wobbled, then looked down at me, before offering me a wan smile.  His eyes were sharp, pupils dilated to points.  He was focused.

Reminded me of me, a little, back when I’d been human and bled out.

He was suitably cautious as he found and peered at the bombs Evan had pointed out, his hands in his pockets as he very carefully maneuvered his head around.

“Damn,” he said.  “Nevermind.  Shit.”

“What?” Ellie asked.

“Not touching this shit.  There’s a fucking level on the top, with wires in both sides.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how this works.  Too big a bump or tilt it, and boom.  Shit.  Would’ve been nice to move something to the staircase, bait them down…”

“Whatever,” Ellie said.  I’m sticking with my plan.”

She sprung to her feet, peeling off her shoes, and kicked then under the sofa.  She glanced up and down the hallway, at the staircase leading upstairs.  “Where’s the basement?”

“Cellar,” I said.  “Door beside the hall closet.”

She disappeared around the corner, nearly silent.

She reappeared.  “Tripwire, top of the stairs.  Just so you know.  Almost got me.”

Then she disappeared again.

There was a moment’s pause.

“Who are those kids?” Kathryn asked.  “Bombs?  Tripwires?  They’re good.”

“Hit men,” Roxanne mumbled, her head hanging as she shuffled around to a sitting position, one eye on the hallway.  “I think I want to be them.  Then I want to find them, and pay them back.”

“Focus,” I said.  “We don’t have time.”

“I’m not hiding beneath those bombs,” Kathryn said.  “Can’t leave through the door, right?”

“Claymore or something at the back door.  I suspect there’s something at the front,” I explained.

“Can we detonate it on purpose, from a distance?” Peter asked.  “It’d bring the locals running.”

“I’m not so sure,” I said.

He smiled a little, a knowing smile.

“You’re the boss,” he said.

I looked around.

Callan, Kathryn, Peter, Roxanne, and mute Christoff.

“Move Callan, help Kathryn to a hiding spot.  If you or the kids can figure out places to lay traps while you’re at it, great.”

“And you?” Peter asked, arching an eybrow.

There wasn’t anything I could say without cluing him in further.

A part of me felt like Kathryn, Ellie and the kids were at the point where they could maybe explain away what had happened to date.  Kathryn was sharper, but maybe less willing to let go of her grip on the real world.  Ellie wasn’t as sharp, not in this respect.  The kids were kids.

But Peter…

Fuck.

“There’s a reason they spray painted and broke the mirrors and pictures in the house,” I said.  “If you can find anything that’s been put on the ground or covered, prop it up, that helps.”

“Uh huh.  Just like the movies?  The eyes in the pictures move to follow you.  The house is rigged,” he said, smiling.

“You’re on the right track, ish,” I said.

“I don’t follow,” Kathryn said, quiet, “But moving sounds like a great idea.”

They decided on the simplest plan, in the end.  Callan and Kathryn were the biggest liabilities.  Peter and the two kids helped support Kathryn to the front hallway, helping her to the stairs.  Peter backed off, presumably letting Kathryn use the railing while the two younger children helped.

Just an unconscious Callan and Peter, now.

“So?” Peter asked me.

“So what?” I asked, in response.

He moved the couch cushions, then moved the coffee table back.  “So… how does this work?  What are the rules?”

“The less you know, the better,” I said.

“For who?” he asked.  “Way I see it, the more I know, the more I can help.  It’s not just the windows and mirrors here.  At the cafe, when that girl with the scarf picked a fight with Ellie?  That was odd, and I didn’t get the feeling it had anything to do with the people who goaded us to come here.  You wanted a look at the contract, somehow.  It’s how Rose knew we’d be coming for her.”

“Not quite right,” I said.

“But I’m close?” he whispered.

He leaned over Callan, and slapped Callan, hard.  He flicked one finger at Callan’s closed eyelid.

Callan moaned, but didn’t wake up.

“You’re close,” I said.  “What are you doing?”

“Hiding Callan,” he said.  He reached into the couch and unfolded a cot that was built into the bottom portion.  “I’m a little too weak to pull it off myself.”

He picked up the poker Callan had dropped and sat down on the edge of the bed.  “That bird isn’t an ordinary bird.  It’s not a trained bird.  And I have a really hard time believing a guy who would somehow get his hands on a lockpicking, bomb-detecting bird would call it something as dumb as Evan.

“Evan is the best name.”

“That’s not important,” I said.

“Which brings me…” he trailed off, half-rising to his feet, tense.  Footsteps.

Roxanne and Christoff.

“Lift him,” Peter said, grabbing one of Callan’s arms.

Roxanne had only one hand available, leaving Christoff to deal with the bulk of the weight.  They raised Callan up until he was half-sitting, half-lying on the bad.  Springs as old as I was creaked and popped with the sudden weight.

We all went still.

Whatever the witch hunters were doing upstairs, they didn’t hear.  Chances were good they were on the third floor.

Peter dragged Callan’s feet around until Callan was lying down, head by one of the arms of the couch, feet by the other.  Arranging Callan’s arms and legs so he fit on the mattress without anything dangling, he folded the couch back up, with Callan inside.  Metal and springs protested loudly.

“Cal won’t be able to breathe,” Christoff spoke.

“As fun as rolling him down the stairs to the cellar would be,” Peter said, “It would be loud.  And leaving him in the open gets him cut or shot.”

Christoff didn’t look happy.

Peter looked my way.  “The bird isn’t important.  What is?  I asked you what the rules were, here.  What can you share?”

Peter was a people person.  I thought about that.

“Andy is the trap and bomb guy.”

“Noticed.”

“Eva the fighter.  They’re working for the people who run things behind the scenes.  Eva’s a little bit crazy, a loose cannon.  Andy reels her in.”

“The bitch,” Roxanne muttered.  “I need a better knife.”

She held up the letter opener.  It looked old fashioned.  Pretty clearly one of grandmother’s things.  Probably snatched from a nearby surface.

I thought of Ellie’s bag.

No, too awkward to get, especially when I didn’t have access to upstairs.

“If-” I started.  I paused, frowning, thinking in more depth.

“Think fast,” Peter said.

“I need access to the rest of the house.  The others are in, kind of a makeshift panic room.  If Andy and Eva are still up there, that means they probably don’t have access.  They’re upping the pressure, or guarding things.  In maybe about an hour, things get really ugly.”

Peter nodded slowly.  Roxanne, still keeping one eye closed, frowned, but she looked at Peter and decided to take his lead.

“Ugly in the sense of…” Peter started.

“If I don’t have access to my friends upstairs, it’s probably over,” I said.  “That’s all those two are doing up there.  Just before the clock hits five or so, they’ll probably pack up and leave.  Because those two pale in comparison to what’s coming.”

“The machete wielder who stomps on a twelve year old and the kid with the bombs are pale?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’ll take your word for it.  We have a time limit then?”

“Yes.”

Peter approached me.  Evan ruffled his feathers and opened his beak, but Peter ignored him, picking up the mirror.

“Careful,” I said.

“You’re not heavy.  I’m not going to drop it.”

“I’m not that worried about you breaking it.  Point it at the ground more than the ceiling, and hold it steady.”

He did.

“Roxanne, Christoff, go look for picture frames and mirrors.  Stay on the ground floor, be ready to run or hide.  Move slowly and carefully.”

“Evan,” I said, “go with.”

The other three left, nearly silent.  I could see how Roxanne held her one arm off to one side, trying not to swing it around.

“You’re really not going to share the real dirt?” Peter asked.  “Because you, right here, not technology.  If you could somehow bestow some of that on me?  It’d help.”

He smiled wide.  It was more genuine emotion than I’d seen from him… ever.

“It’s not technology,” I said.  “I can’t give you it.  Those guys up there?  They’re witch hunters.  You’re almost stronger against them like you are, than with anything I could bestow.”

He nodded slowly.  “Right now, I’m thinking I could run.  I could probably defuse the bomb on the plywood, even if I couldn’t re-arm it.  I’ve got this poker.  If there was a commotion, I could probably get the nails out, slip outside.”

“They’d be able to find you,” I said.

“Maybe.”

“They have ways,” I said.

Maybe,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter.  All I need from you is a promise.  Because I feel like this is what I’ve been waiting for for half my life.”

I bit my lip, looking away.

Further away, I saw a patch of light open up.

“Lie to me,” he said.  “Tell me you’ll do it, break the promise later.”

“Why would it matter if I was lying?” I asked.

He remained silent.

Time was too short.

“I’ll tell you more later, but it takes time, on a lot of levels.”

“Uh huh,” he said.  “That works.”

“What works?” I asked.

“The way you phrased it, and I’m pretty good at reading people.  That sounded genuine.  Which tells me a lot.  I don’t know if you’re telling the truth or not, but I believe you when you say it takes time.  And that tells me a lot more.  Time… is really important, in a lot of ways.”

“Sure,” I said, impatient.  The way he was acting, he’d ask questions until Eva decided to make another trip to check on the prisoners.

“The fastest route to victory,” he said.  “Taking out those two?”

“They’ll beat you in a fight, and whatever you’re thinking about, they’ve probably run into it before, and they handled it before.  They’ve been doing this for a while, against people far more hardcore than you.”

“What, then?  Time is of the essence, how do we win?”

“Get the bird and the mirror into the hallway, with the witch hunters elsewhere.”

“Hm.  Hard to do without-”

Heavy footsteps upstairs, getting louder as they approached the staircase.  They stopped, then resumed again, getting quieter.

Another patch of light appeared.  The bathroom in the hallway.  Fuzzy, oddly distant, like any patch that wasn’t continguous to a patch I was in could be.

With a number of fits and starts, the light reoriented, and extended.  The angle had changed to have more coverage, the little picture frame pointing out into the hallway.

Maybe it was Evan doing his part.

“Hard to do without a distraction, and if they find any of us, they have a hostage.”

“Just need more windows or mirrors,” I said.  “Reflective surfaces.”

“Uh huh.  Which does what?”

Roxanne appeared, Christoff following, Evan perched on Christoff’s head.

“Need knives,” she said.

“Not objecting,” Peter replied.

When Roxanne was gone, he commented, “Man, dad wasted Roxy, using her like he did.  Jessica’s fault, probably.  All that time spent doing stupid shit?  Horseback riding and dance classes and music?”

“I don’t follow,” I said.

Roxanne passed beneath me, carrying a cleaver and a dusty bottle of olive oil.

“Oil?” Peter murmured.

“Basement stairs,” she said.  She disappeared from view.

Such a waste,” Peter commented, more to himself than me.

Christoff, delayed, headed in Roxanne’s direction, holding one knife in both hands, pointed at the ground as if it were ten times as heavy as it really was.

“Her!” he said, too loud.

Eva.

Peter moved immediately, back pressed against the wall by the door, poker in one hand.

“Andy!” Eva called up.  “They escaped!”

I didn’t catch his response.

I could hear her footsteps.  I relocated myself to the bathroom.

I had the Hyena.  I just didn’t have the opportunity to use it.  If I could get her close to a reflection…

She stalked forward.

She easily sidestepped the thrown bottle of olive oil.  Glass crashed against the floor at the base of the steps that led upstairs.

A patch of light opened up.  The glossy olive oil reflected.

A door slammed.

There was a pause, and then she headed back the direction she’d come.  Where her footsteps had been audible earlier, they were virtually silent now, heel-toe.

She’d accepted that the kids had disappeared downstairs, or that they were cowering at the end of the hall.  Her focus was on the living room and kitchen.

I heard flapping wings.

“Ahhh,” she said.  “The bird?  Oh, that’s messy.  That raises questions, Thorburn!”

Talking to me.

I moved to Peter’s mirror.  Evan was working his way into the spot between the bookshelves and the ceiling.  From Eva’s lack of reaction or response, she hadn’t seen it.

“Andy!” she called out.

“I’m standing watch!” he responded.  “How bad?”

“They’re hiding!”

“Let them hide!  Forty minutes!  Keep the plan simple!”

“Fuck that,” she said, no longer shouting.

I relocated, switching between mirrors.  I saw her head for the living room.  Peter was in the corner, hallway to his left, kitchen to his right.

“She’s coming from the left,” I whispered.

Peter moved, hugging the wall as he moved to the kitchen.

“Andy!” Eva called out, not three feet from us, going by volume.  “Throw me one of the fanny packs!”

“Which one?”

“Obviously not the one that’s going to set the house on fire!”

Peter started to edge left.

“Watch your step,” Eva said.

“Catch,” Andy offered.

I heard a slight clink as she caught what he’d thrown.

“Cover your ears,” he said.  “Even with the closed door and all, it can do permanent damage.”

“I’m not using the flashbang.  They’re in the basement.  All of them, I think, holed up like rats.  The bird guided them.”

“If not the flashbang… the tear gas?” he asked.  “Come on, Eva.”

“It’ll be hilarious.  We need them out of our hair, anyway.”

“Keep it simple, Eva,” he said, sounding more tolerant than anything.

“If you’d let me break their arms, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“I’ll be upstairs.  Come up soon, I don’t like being unable to watch both doors at once.”

“Sitting and waiting is boring.”

“It’s smart.  Don’t take too long.”

“Whatever.  Watch for the bird.  It’s around.  The mirror dweller too, probably.”

“Right.”

I moved to the bathroom, and had a glimpe of Eva holding a bulky fanny pack in one hand, a canister of some sort in the other.  She was heading to the basement door.

“Get ready,” I whispered.  “When she’s focused on the basement, you can head upstairs.”

“Hold on, I don’t move that fast,” Peter told me.  “I need a better distraction.  If I leave you here, you can-”

He was already reaching to put the mirror down.

Don’t,” I whispered, annoyed.  “There’s a mirror in the other room.  I can use that.  Keep this mirror with you.”

The door slammed, and Peter moved straight back to his prior spot, back to the wall, partially sheltered by the open kitchen door.  Eva moved something that scraped against the floor, somewhere in the living room.

The coffee table.  Trapping the door shut, no doubt.

Our window of opportunity was gone.

What was Peter doing?

Clever as he was, he wasn’t moving that fast, and he wasn’t, it seemed, used to a conflict, where timing might matter a great deal.

He didn’t trust me.

Which put us back at square one.  Eva on the ground floor, Andy upstairs, Evan too far away to reach out to.

I moved between the three available reflections, trying to find the right vector or angle to mount an attack.  Back door, useless.  Bathroom, only showed me the bathroom and a bit of the hallway.  The mirror Peter held showed me the kitchen.

I could hear Eva walking, humming merrily.

The pool of olive oil…

I relocated myself to that part of the hallway.  My surroundings were vague, dark, my footing uneven in a way that wasn’t just a floor slick with oil.  My side of things was dry, in fact.

When I looked down, I could see the real hallway.

Much like the ice had been.

“When she goes back upstairs,” I whispered.  “I’ll stop her.  I’ll shout to you, you attack.”

“Sure,” he said.

A full minute passed, and Eva didn’t head upstairs.  Twice, I had to whisper to Peter to tell him to relocate back to the living room, then back to the kitchen.  Eva was pacing, hanging around the door she’d blockaded.

I could distantly hear the Thorburns’ reactions.

Then Eva approached.

I moved to the pool of olive oil and broken glass, kneeling.

She passed above me, my hand reached out of the pool, Hyena extended, slashing at the bottom of her foot.

A weird angle to attack from, and she was fast, adroit.  She hopped from one side of the pool to the second stair.  Too high for me to even reach.

Peter, not waiting for my signal, had stepped into the doorway.  He saw the extended arm and sword.

Eva, in turn, saw him, alongside both the arm and the sword.

“Bastard!” she shouted.  She threw the fanny pack at my hand.

My footing was already disappearing.  The solid mass of the fanny pack disrupted the pool, breaking up the olive oil and making it less of a cohesive reflection.

I found myself in the bathroom.  Eva hopped over the pool, landing right in front of me.  Living room to our left, kitchen with Peter inside to our right.

She started moving right.

“Go left!” I shouted.

She stopped.

“Stop!”

“You motherfucker,” she said, turning my way.

“Run!  Back hall!”

She kicked the picture, almost an absent gesture, as she spun on her heels.

Peter hadn’t run.  I found myself in the mirror he held.

I’d known he was tired.  More than that, I’d known that he wouldn’t listen.

He stepped from the living room to the kitchen.

Run,” I whispered.  He had only seconds.

He turned on the taps at the sink, full blast.  Then leaned back, and kicked the tap.

“Fucker,” I heard Eva.

Ducking under the sink, he grabbed the fire extinguisher.  He pulled the pin, and then sprayed it in the direction of the hallway.

When he was done there, he directed it at the sink.

The mirror was covered, I was shunted somewhere behind Eva.

A minute passed.  I heard her cursing, holding her shirt to her mouth.

Slowly, patches of light began to appear on the stairs.

Pools of some liquid or another.

The sink, too, started to overflow.  Clogged.  Another reflection appeared and slowly expanded, creeping along the floor.

I smiled, feeling a kind of relief.  That brilliant asshole.

He was flooding the house.

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