A cold evening of red bells
I never liked dates. This makes a fitting entry for tonight’s diary. I’ll remember it better than a number.
I skirt the truth. I portion it out and hand out thirds to make a whole, and the world lets us be. I like to think I amuse it.
I promise to leave, and I do, but I take a roundabout way to do it. A twisting path that, if I am careful to drag my feet, will not take me out of this place until things are very nearly over. I must only keep moving.
The one with the name Maggie Holt promises to leave, and she does. The guise is discarded.
I was asked to go because we are a threat, another form of interference for the blighted Rose to worry about. I agree to this as well. I do not participate any further.
In word, in name, in intent, I follow the terms of the agreement. I put pen to paper with cold fingers on the frigid streets of this accursed town, and I give these ideas weight.
But I am bound to this place by the orders of my Queen, and I am bound to it by my own perverse interest. It is interesting, is it not? I could hardly stay away. I observe, and I chronicle.
There are so very few here who understand what is really happening. There are many, I think, who would put a value on any record of these happenings, to piece it together after the fact. The Duchamp family works with the Court and the Court may well wonder what happened to its fine allies, to the highborn and noble faerie who were given as pets to the Duchamp families.
Information I can sell, if I am careful in how I position myself. If I let the Court corner me, they may use coercion as their currency.
Sandra tried to convince me to help, to turn my talents toward resolving this situation. She talked of the Dubh Sgaradh at the house on the hill, and when I shrugged it off, she alluded to the Court’s visit. Not telling me that she would perhaps hint at some of the lies I’ve told, for that would make an enemy of me, but letting me find the idea on my own.
An accomplished liar remembers his lies. I cannot, of course, lie, but I do tell half truths, and a half truth could be said to be half a lie. Just as I piece thirds of truths together into a whole, others might piece half-lies together if I am not careful.
Better to have those half-lies bound in a physical form, where they cannot be put together, each marked clearly on a separate page.
Should I need it, it is useful to have my thoughts on a page, in case I need to discard the ones I have. One cannot be too careful, when the Court does their investigations.
It would be unfortunate if the Court found out I had left the bounds of my prison, under a different name. For that, they would most likely kill me.
More unfortunate, if they found out I had interfered in local politics. My punishment is to remain here, my hands tied, tortured with idleness. If they discovered I had amused myself, hah. For that, they would not be so merciful.
Worse still, I suspect, if they discovered that I had befriended miss Essylt and mister Keller.
Easy facts for the Court to discover, and Sandra had an idea of the punishments that awaited me if the Court found out. Our lady Duchamp did not truly know the punishments, but who can, without experiencing them?
She thought to blackmail me, and made three mistakes.
The first was simple. I want the Court to come looking. What fun!
By the time I’ve circled the block, winding ever outward, the blighted Rose is gone, the situation settled. I need only look at Sandra to know that she’s lost. She stands quiet and alone in a crowd, as others talk past her.
A tie of hair in my pocket, wound around my finger. My finger, in turn, winds around a lock of hair at my ear. Winds it in, as a corkscrew penetrates a cork. Let it reach the scalp and take root.
A shake of the head, a toss of golden hair. All done in plain sight. It’s clear the focus of the Duchamp contingent is elsewhere.
My jacket turns inside out while I still wear it. My hands come out the sleeves smaller, with gloves on.
The rest is simply changing how I think.
Adopting a role.
I have to put the pen and booklet away, and transcribe from memory at another time.
A paraphrasing of the events on the Night of Red Bells, I
Essylt and Keller knew how I think. They were waiting by the time I approached the collected group of Duchamps.
I let my eyes widen, taking in a breath at their beauty, but the rest was subtle nuance. As though I had emotions I was bottling up.
Essylt allowed me a small smile of amusement.
“Why,” she told me. “Miss Joanna. You wouldn’t be awed by someone like me, would you?”
A clench of the jaw, as if steeling myself, fleeting eye contact, a look away. I had to keep moving, and beckoned for her to follow, while averting my gaze.
“You flatter,” she said. She made no attempt to hide that she liked it. She and Keller fell in step behind me.
“Who?” Keller asked, his voice a whisper, the word curt.
I glanced at the crowd as we circled them.. I had my suspicions that someone had spoken about the possibility of attack. The actions are guarded, the glances turning outward.
I moved in shadow, ninety-seven strides away, but keen eyes could find me.
I looked at the eyes. I looked to see who studied the distance, as evidenced by the size of their pupils, the movements of their eyes, and their posture.
There. One man, with a gaze like an arrow.
He turned his attention in my general direction, studying the shadows.
He looked left, I quickly slipped right to evade his focus. He looked right, and I slipped left. I was obscured by the patterns that dance in the darkness when one stares at it with the naked eye.
Another spoke up, and the man turned around to listen.
“I’ll need company,” I decided, answering Keller’s question. “One Behaim, one Duchamp. So the numbers are in our favor.”
“What’s our plan?” Essylt asked. “I’d like to see the expression of someone who fell into my clutches because they were looking for an evil from without. Wary of a stranger to this dreary little hole, more than a familiar face.”
“If someone’s familiar with you, Ev, they’re not going to ignore you as a threat,” I said.
She sniffed. “I’ll deign to take that as a compliment. I’ll make it happen, miss Joanna.”
“I’m sure you will!” I said, a little more lively in demeanor now that I was fitting into the role. “It’s almost a challenge!”
Essylt looked down at me, smiling.
I smiled wide. Easier to be someone young. Scarcely a teenager, only a little jaded by the world. Guileless.
Essylt’s gaze lingered a half-second too long. Critical.
But she wouldn’t tell me that I was missing a key part of my disguise. That would be insulting. Much as Sandra had communicated without communicating, Essylt could say a great deal with a fraction of a second’s worth of eye contact.
Joanna was the younger sister of Penelope Duchamp, daughter of Erica Duchamp, and not yet engaged. But she did have other ties.
I reached into a pocket and withdrew a thin metal flute that might have had more engraving to it than actual physical material.
No longer than the span of four fingers on my hand, it had four holes along the top. Had it found its way to the hands of mundane humans, it might have cost tens of thousands. The humans, in turn, might have decided it was cursed. The sounds it made were beyond the realm of human ears, but not beyond human ken.
It wouldn’t find its way to the hands of mundane humans. No antique collector would put it to their lips and use it to attempt a piece, only to hear expert variations on that piece each night they drifted off to sleep. Every night, every rest interrupted as their memory searched for the completed, perfected work.
For two minutes, I played.
“Aristoxenus,” Ev noted. She now wore the shape of a Behaim lad.
“She likes the Greeks,” I said.
“She does,” Ev agreed.
I was halfway through the second song before Letita arrived.
In the form of a chickadee, she settled on my wrist, eyes closed, as she listened.
Disgraced, not quite banished, her placement here in the service to a young girl had been intended to remind her of the fate that awaited if she did worse. The three of us were meant to be a threat, kicked dogs, broken Fae.
The Court had underestimated my winning personality.
I put the flute away. Letita stayed, not speaking.
A few heads turned as we stepped out of the shadows and into the light.
“Hi Auntie Marge,” I replied. I didn’t quite stop, but I shuffled my feet, restless, excited, rubbing my hands together. Walking forward a fraction at a time, on the outward spiral I was traveling away.
“What in the world are you doing out?”
“I was asked to come here,” I said.
“Asked- I’ll need a word with your mother. It’s dangerous.”
“I have Letita.”
“I can protect my charge,” Letita said.
“It’s dangerous in ways that-”
Auntie Marge closed her mouth as an argument between two women rose in pitch.
“-Have nothing to do with the monsters prowling the city,” Marjorie told me. “Why were you asked to come here?”
“I was supposed to help against the Thorburn Bogeyman.”
“Really? Nevermind. That’s done. It’s… resolved. Look, I should get you home. I’ll have a word with your mother another time. A twelve year old should not be here, with everything that’s going on.”
I invited a touch. Subtle cues. I’d already draped my hair over one shoulder. the shoulder closest to her was bare, but for the jacket I wore. The rest was height, distance, and the suggestion of anxiety.
Marjorie reached out to place a hand on my shoulder, partly reassurance, partly to guide.
“Abernathy?” she asked.
Essylt didn’t respond. A frown, a glance toward the larger group.
“This isn’t Behaim business,” Marjorie said.
“It’s junior council rules,” Essylt said, gruff, defensive. “I’m neutral, along with all of the kids and some of the monsters.”
Amusing, Essylt pretending she wasn’t one of the monsters.
“The junior council back each other up. She couldn’t come alone, or with just Chloe.”
“Small mercy, that,” Marjorie said. “We might need to hold onto any ties we have with other families. Even if it’s the loyalty of the youth. Thank you for watching over Joanna and Chloe, Abernathy.”
“Sure,” Essylt said.
Oh, she did like to be less proper, when she had the chance.
There was a sound of steel being drawn from a sheath.
Like the movements of a dance. Turning around, backing away. One hand clutching Auntie Marge’s wrist, to control how she moved, to keep leaving.
As bends in the rule went, it was silly, but it had been established, and a faerie must do as a faerie must do, even if it’s a silly, self-imposed rule.
The Goblin King’s familiar had drawn a blade.
An argument grown too heated.
“I was promised certain connections,” the Goblin King said. “Connections I see dissolving before my eyes.”
“Calm down,” the Architect replied. “You’re making this worse, not better, by bringing violence into it.”
“Violence?” The Goblin King asked. “This is mere emphasis to a goblin.”
“Slitting a throat is emphasis to a goblin,” Teresa Duchamp commented.
“Good point, good point!” The Goblin King declared, obviously agitated. “Yes. Should I start doing that? Or could Sandra Duchamp please break her silence to tell me that I didn’t just waste the last six years of my life supporting a family that’s clearly unable to follow through on promises.”
Sandra looked up to make eye contact with the man.
There was an art to the interplay between Faerie. Cleverness, layers. But sometimes one wanted the equivalent of trash television when they were looking for amusement.
The Goblin King’s emotions ran high, while Sandra stood on a precipice. Someone would walk away wounded, here. Maybe not a physical wound, but something vital would be lost.
“I should get you out of here,” Marge said.
“Is Sandra going to be okay?” I asked. “I want to watch.”
She pursed her lips.
Then, coming to a decision, she used the hand on my shoulder to guide me away. I resisted just a fraction, but I let her make some headway. Continuing my slow travel away. Still moving slow enough to see the show.
Sandra’s troll moved at her side as she squared off against the Goblin King.
“We’ve been reasonable with you,” she said. “Tonight’s events were-”
“Reasonable my ass,” the Goblin King said. “We’ve all been very politely ignoring the so-called elephant in the room. Our children?”
“Ah,” Sandra said.
“Blond haired, blue eyed girls. I’ve seen the photos. Each looks just like their mothers. Nothing of their fathers in them.”
Sandra was mute.
“Nothing to say? No clever words? No more trickery? Why couldn’t you tell the Thorburn monster anything? Show some conviction, bitch!”
A bit of a snap to his words, bite. Given a push, he might have literally started biting. Alas, I’d sworn to avoid interfering.
“Believe me,” Sandra said, her voice level. “I don’t lack conviction.”
“You failed,” the Goblin King said. “Your trap didn’t work. You let several of us die.”
“The ones who died were the worst of you,” Teresa Duchamp said.
“Don’t defend the Thorburn’s actions,” Camille said.
Ah, an exquisite sort of torture, this. A feast for the senses. Thousands of details, body language, eye contact, word choice, the size of the cloud that their mouths produced when they huffed, sighed, or spoke. Everything that was happening had countless implications. My imagination was afire.
I write this and I admit, I didn’t let the Thorburn win. That had more to do with other agencies at play. But if I didn’t try my utmost, knowing that this would happen might have had something to do with it.
There was something special that came to the fore when mortals were involved. Dealing with another faerie, immortal until killed, there were layers on layers involved. Schemes and double crosses over double crosses until one could lose track.
With mortals, it was temporary. Like sculpted ice or a sand castle in the tide’s reach, it wouldn’t last.
Here, in this time and place, it was all the more temporary. Sandra had tried to blackmail me, and had graciously conceded when I didn’t bow to it, offering a chance to deceive Mr. Thorburn instead. Her blackmail had failed for three reasons.
The second reason was that I had no reason to expect any of these individuals to still be here, when the Court came calling. Humans knew my secrets and didn’t even know that the important ones were secrets. Yet I had no reason to expect they would live long enough for it to matter.
I saw the Goblin King’s posturing, the threats. Sandra’s deflections, where she spoke at all.
“You failed, Sandra,” the Goblin King spoke.
“Your own husband turned on you.”
“I don’t deny that, but there’s context that colors it.”
“You need to step down,” the Goblin King said. “I need to never have to see your face again.”
“I can’t step down,” Sandra said. “There’s too much in play. Other deals I’ve made.”
“How very unfortunate,” the Goblin King said. The words were a threat.
Old Hildr stepped forward. Gallowscream the goblin familiar stepped forward as well.
Noble of Sandra to do what she was doing. I doubted the Goblin King was aware, but I suspect many of those present were savvy enough to see.
Falling on her sword.
If she stepped down, the individual to take over would inherit an impossible situation. They would fall as well.
Sandra wasn’t Faerie, but she had picked up some things in her time as the Duchamp ambassador to the Court. She was making the Goblin King do exactly what she wanted him to.
No enchantment at all.
Marjorie nearly slipped on ice as she pulled me away.
The old fool nearly pulled me down, stopping my slow but steady exit.
But Ev, sly as she was, elbowed me back, moving forward to try and ostensibly fail to help.
She would leverage that to gain some advantage over me.
The fight started, very nearly in the same moment. Troll against Goblin. The Goblin a master combatant, the Troll a physical powerhouse.
But there were two others participating in the fight. As the goblin circled around, old Hildr showed her back to the Goblin King.
A silly mistake, for the Goblin King to try and capitalize on that. He moved forward, and Sandra acted. Drawing a line between the King’s head and Hildr’s hand. Hildr’s blind grope found its mark.
Gallowscream froze. His eyes narrowed, the pupils drawing together into snake-like slits.
The Goblin King remained where he was. The Troll’s hand was cupped around the upper half of his head.
“Shit,” he said. It seemed to dawn on him just how bad his situation was. “Shit!”
“I made promises,” Sandra said. She sounded tired. “A great many promises. I could have Hildr kill you, right here and right now, but there are consequences for breaking my word. I’ll say only this. Leave.”
Hildr let go, and the Goblin King stumbled back.
She didn’t even make him swear.
“You didn’t even make me promise?” he asked, echoing my own realization.
Sandra’s demeanor shifted.
In her gaze, I could make out some of the best portrayals of the Lady Macbeth I’d seen. Stark. Cold. Weary. Aged many times over by one short span of time. Regal and a touch broken.
She appeared a touch unhinged. In that, she found a security that an oath from the Goblin King couldn’t have provided.
One without much to lose.
So much invested in this fight for the Lordship, into the family, and now it was all in shambles. The family no longer trusted her.
But it had been the right play, to let the Goblin King go. To put the power in his hand. Had she made him swear, she might have removed him as a problem, but she would have had to deal with the rest.
These next moments would prove the true mettle of her character.
Oh, how I wondered, in those delicious heartbeats. How would you handle this, Sandra Duchamp?
When she spoke, her voice was clear. “The deal is done. Those who came at our request are now free to leave,” Sandra said. “Contact me in one month’s time if you have grievances, but give me that month to resolve this situation. It is salvageable.”
As clear and simple as the message might have been, her eyes didn’t lose the dangerous gleam.
It hinged on the Goblin King.
Was his spite greater than his gratitude at being spared? Was he willing to pay the cost to personal fortune by returning mercy with viciousness?
How goblin was he?
“Gallows,” the Goblin King spat the word. He turned.
Gallowscream sheathed his blade with enough emphasis to be saying something, before following his King. Hildr noticed and grunted a matching non-word.
A point to Sandra.
There wouldn’t be open slaughter here. Not because of this.
A point, I imagined, to the Thorburn Bogeyman as well. Our blighted Rose. The Duchamps would be intact enough to help him accomplish other things, but not so intact to be a threat.
“Disappointing,” Essylt muttered, in her guise as the young, rotund Abernathy Behaim.
The look old Marjorie shot him was one of shock and indignation. Essylt managed to feign chagrin.
“I would slap you,” Marjorie said, “If I didn’t think it could cause trouble for the family.”
“What family?” Essylt asked.
I had no problem keeping the smile off my face. I made eye contact with Keller, who was dressed up as Chloe Behaim, and I could see the mirth in his eyes.
The older woman’s face had colored with a pink that had nothing to do with the cold.
“Let’s go,” she ordered.
We’d lost our chance to keep watching, but this had reached a conclusion.
Keller elbowed me.
I followed his glance.
The Thorburn’s crow man.
Perhaps it is better to write that it was Crone Mara’s crow man?
Ordered to interfere with the enemy. Doing just that.
He met my gaze, then Keller’s.
Bags had been dropped to the roadside so diagrams could be drawn. The crow broke eye contact and climbed up to one open bag.
Displaying an uncanny strength, it emerged with a gun held in its beak.
Moving up onto a spot where a coat had been left folded atop a snowbank. Depositing the gun atop the coat. Moving a cell phone from the coat pocket to the bag the gun had occupied.
As we’d evaded attention, taking advantage of the Duchamp attention being elsewhere, the bird was operating almost in plain sight.
Marjorie continued to drag me away. Both Essylt and Keller started to lag behind, watching.
There was a rare note of admiration in their gazes as they watched.
Things had settled. More in the sense that the individual pieces of a landslide settled in a pile, one piece leaning against the next, ready to continue falling if a key element was disturbed.
This was what I’d come to watch. It exceeded my hopes, even.
Not just the destruction of the Duchamps, but derailing the plan of the Thorburn Bogeyman. They’d loosed something they didn’t entirely understand in the midst of their desperation, and now that something was acting.
Putting a gun in the wrong hand at the wrong time.
The man the cell phone had belonged to picked up his coat. Muscular, tattooed, he seemed comfortable in the cold. The gun slid off the coat as he moved it.
Sandra’s head turned.
She could see connections being manipulated. The man moving to catch the gun, much as she’d moved the Goblin King’s head into Hildr’s meaty paw.
“Look at me!” she called out. “Attention!”
She grabbed her chalice, raising it.
My eyes didn’t leave the man with the blond beard, the diagram drawer, the one who’d owned the gun.
Sandra’s words and presence lacked weight, in this moment. The diagram drawer’s eyes remained on his work, etched on the road. He took too long to focus on the chalice. On Sandra.
Hands went to implements. Recognizing that Sandra was manipulating. Not, perhaps, recognizing that it was for their own good.
A lesser being might have hesitated. Sandra didn’t. She reached for the diagram drawer. Took his attention. Turned his head her way. She had to know that it would make others hostile.
“The hell?” the tattooed man with the gun muttered. The words were loud in the quiet.
The diagram drawer looked away from Sandra for a fraction of a second. She tried to wrest his attention back to her, but he’d seen the weapon.
The crow must have been watching from the beginning, to figure out how to do it. Must have known the man was paranoid, or put some other clues together. A grudge, some other details.
It must have been watching the Thorburns, too, to know how devastating this would be to their plans.
On seeing that he was facing down a practitioner with a gun, the diagram drawer reacted without hesitation, in the time that practitioner was looking down at the weapon.
He drew a knife from inside his coat and used it in the same motion. Slitting the gunman’s throat. He reached for the gun and reclaimed it as the gunman’s free hand went to his throat, in surprise.
Auntie Marge covered my eyes, and I might have killed her for it, if I’d been permitted by the terms I’d agreed to.
But I was only an observer, given the chance.
A work of art. A tableau, of action and consequences, frozen in a moment.
The Goblin King, now a distance away, reacted.
Ordering Gallowscream forward. Throwing fragments of etched bone to the ground, loosing more goblins.
His focus was on Sandra and the elder Duchamps.
The diagram drawer placed a wooden box on the ground. Lines slid off the individual wooden pieces and into the snow, forming a barrier between him and the others.
Then he raised his gun, aimed, and fired twice into the crowd.
The sound was deafening, even with the snow to dampen it. The ringing of the shot joined the sounds of the bell.
The returning shot, a paper card, burned as it passed through the growing diagram.
From an intricate web of relations to a tangle, a snarl. No doubt helped by the bell. A night of exhaustion.
“Penelope!” Sandra cried out, in the midst of the chaos. “Go, get the younger Duchamps-”
Penelope’s eyes widened, on realizing that Sandra was talking to her. Before Sandra could finish speaking, Penelope spat in the woman’s face.
Sandra stared, taken aback. No longer in control.
“Lea! Maisie! Jade, Lina, Juliette!” Penelope cried out, turning. Her eyes found me and Keller. “Joanna!?”
“Mother sent me here!” I answered.
Which was true. My own mother had sent me here to Jacob’s Bell.
“Chloe? You’re with. Come on,” Penelope said.
As a group, apparently eight girls and one supposed Behaim boy, we ran.
I cast a glance backward at Sandra Duchamp.
The faction had broken up. Grudges that had been suppressed now boiled to the surface. In the midst of it all, the former leader of the Duchamps stood alone.
A paraphrasing of the events on the Night of Red Bells, II
Penelope finished drawing the circle.
She checked her laptop, then looked down at the diagram.
Nervously, she looked over at the door.
Not one minute after we’d arrived, Erica Duchamp had left. She was the mother of Joanna and Penelope, and I told myself to look concerned, to fidget, to stare off into the distance.
“There,” Penelope said.
Her voice sounded hollow in the stillness of the house. When she looked at the other girls for confirmation, her face betrayed the same concerns they had.
The anger displayed by the Goblin King had been shared by others, if less obvious. Yet others were afraid, or upset for other reasons. The Duchamp camp was split in half, between those that agreed with the removal of the true monsters and those that didn’t.
Lola Duchamp had chosen not to join Penelope here at the house, claiming it was too dangerous to go out. That sunrise was in less than an hour.
One spark, a flick of a knife, and things had imploded. The allies had become enemies. Each girl had a mother, an aunt, a cousin, that might not survive this. Many had to wonder if their dads or uncles would turn on the family, now that the family was no longer convenient and useful to them.
Couch and chairs had been pushed to the side, a rug rolled up. The diagram drawn on the floor had circles that displayed the masks of Thalia and Melpomene. The dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy. Large, shallow bowls of water were set at different points around the diagram.
“Chin up, girls,” Penelope said.
Almost as one, the collected Duchamp girls fixed their expressions, squared shoulders, and wiped tears from their faces. Across the room, Chloe Duchamp crossed one leg over the other and folded her hands in her lap.
To all appearances, each of the girls was calm and composed. Only details here and there suggested otherwise.
Penelope tapped a spoon to the bowl.
It sang. Water rippled.
An image shimmered into existence. Then another.
Mags. Wearing a concerned expression as she looked around the room.
The ambassador’s eyes fell on me. The one who had taken her name.
She smiled sympathetically.
I smiled back, but to all appearances, I failed to put on a brave face, and broke eye contact.
“The Duchamps are out,” Alister said.
“Don’t sound so happy about it,” Penelope told him. “People are dying.”
“I was talking to Craig,” Alister said, ignoring Penelope’s point. “He explained the terms of the deal you were discussing. Terms for the junior council to follow, whatever happens.”
“I listened in,” Mags said. “The wording was right.”
“A bit late for that deal,” Penelope said.
“Is it?” Alister asked.
“You won. I have a hard time believing you’re going to agree to a deal that ties your hands.”
“Believe it or not,” Alister said, “I’m actually interested in the council succeeding. I believe in what we’re trying to do.”
“But?” Penelope asked.
Penelope went on. “I refuse to believe you’re being utterly altruistic in this. I grew up alongside you. We went to the same schools, traveled in the same general circles, despite the age difference. I know you well enough.”
“I am being altruistic. But I don’t think you’re going to like how far that altruism extends.”
“Extends?” Penelope asked.
“Rose Thorburn,” Lola Duchamp spoke.
“No,” Penelope said.
“She’d get a spot on the junior council,” Alister said. “With all associated benefits. If her friends remained in Jacob’s Bell, they fall under her wing.”
“That’s insane. She’s everything we’re fighting against,” Penelope said.
“Rose Thorburn the elder was a part of our local council,” Mags spoke.
“Rose Thorburn the elder was a hell of a lot stronger.”
“This Rose is just as scary. Trust me,” he said.
“If you think you can blackmail us,” Penelope started.
“That’s not what I’m doing,” he replied. “Believe me, if things hadn’t happened this way tonight, I would be making the same offer. I’ll agree with what you were offering to Craig, provided Rose Thorburn is included.”
“Stop fighting everything,” Lola said, her voice low.
“Don’t think I don’t know that you helped the Bogeyman do this,” Penelope said. “I knew that something like this would happen. I’m pretty sure he planned for it to happen.”
How amusing, I think. If I hadn’t been forbidden from interfering, I might help, just to see what happens. Tell them it was outside interference.
“I don’t know what he’s planning,” Rose spoke. “What I do know is that something bigger is going on.”
Ah, so they’ve figured it out.
“Alister detected a larger threat. He told me about it before the engagement,” Rose said, holding up the hand with the ring. “Something else is pulling strings. Not a practitioner. Something powerful. There are other things at work here.”
“Dawn is in less than an hour,” Penelope said. “Things will settle down then.”
“No,” Alister said. “We can’t afford for things to settle down. If things are left to stand as they are, Johannes wins, and Johannes isn’t cooperating or communicating. We can’t afford to give him ten hours of daylight and peace to consolidate and strategize. We can’t afford for the other player to get a chance to step back and plot his next move.”
“You want to revoke the rule that creates peace at dawn?” Mags asked.
“No,” Alister said. “I’m going to work around it. The Behaims have a store of power. I’m going to spend it.”
“Postponing dawn,” Alister said. “Call it the sleeping beauty effect. An awful lot of citizens are going to have bedsores and wake up hungry, but they’ll be safe in their beds for at least another twenty four hours. I’m leveling the field between Behaim and Duchamp. Rose’s suggestion”
“If you weaken yourselves when we still have Johannes to deal with, cozy in his domain…”
“This is contingent on several points,” he said. “Working together against Johannes is key among them.”
“He’s the new enemy number one,” Lola said.
“And our parents?” Penelope asked. “The Duchamps?”
Alister spread his hands.
Penelope nodded, “Not much you can do about that.”
“I’m moving forward with postponing dawn,” Alister said. “Get sleep, if you can. You know how to reach me.”
“I’ll negotiate the deals, when the time comes,” Mags said. “I’ll see what I can do about your parents in the meantime.”
“Thank you,” Penelope said.
“What?” Penelope asked, hostile.
Unaware of just how much she was influenced by the well of karmic gravity that surrounded even the image of Rose Thorburn.
“I’ll see if I can convince Alister to help,” Rose said.
Her image disappeared. The water in the bowl gone.
“Manipulative bitch,” Penelope said under her breath.
She sighed. “Sorry. I’m tired. Find places to sleep, guys. Try to get some focus back. Two or three to a bed, if we have to. Joanna?”
I raised my head.
“Share your bed.”
“Okay,” I replied.
I was the first one to the stairs. I reached the bedroom door with a sign marked Jo on the front, in bright colors.
Opening it, I could see the shape under the covers.
I approached it.
“Jo?” Lea asked.
“Could I share your bed?”
I moved the sheets. Bundled up sheets and blankets, in a human form.
“What’s up with that?” Lea asked.
“I kind of snuck out,” I answered.
Which was true. I had left Jacob’s Bell, as Maggie.
The birthday celebration
“There you are,” Essylt greeted me.
“Here I am,” I replied. Padraic again.
She kissed me on both cheeks.
The inside of the Faerie House was luxurious. Glamour painted every surface. The front hall had been expanded to a grand hall, with twin staircases leading to a balcony above.
Music played. Puppets made up with glamour danced. A clock loomed over the staircase.
Joanna laughed. “Padraic!”
“Joanna,” I smiled.
“I thought I’d missed you,” she said. “I’ve got to go home in a few minutes.”
“Of course,” I said.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “Thank you for this… everything!”
“You’re very welcome,” I told her. “And you deserve it.”
“Why does she deserve it?” Essylt asked, not for the first time. Or the tenth.
“Because I’m going to be the youngest practitioner in the family to do the Awakening ritual!” Joanna gushed. There were lights reflecting in her eyes that would never stop flashing and dancing. “I’m going to get a familiar, her name’s Letita, and I’ll get to practice. But I’ve only got five or ten minutes, and there’s so much happening.“
“When the clock hits ten, you’ll go, as we agreed,” I said, gesturing to the clock that hadn’t moved in quite some time. “You don’t want to miss your tenth birthday party.”