Category Archives:  Arc 13 (Execution)

Gathered Pages (Arc 13)

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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.

Almost disappointing.

“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.

Keller’s work.

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.

JoannaChloe?”

“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.

Delicious.  Fantastic.

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.

“Yes.”

“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.

A crow?

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.

Alister Behaim.

Ainsley Behaim.

Rose Thorburn.

Lola Duchamp.

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.

He sighed.

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.

No matter.

“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.

“Bigger?”

“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.”

“On what?”

“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”

Rose nodded.

“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.”

He disappeared.

“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.

Mags disappeared.

Rose remained.

“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.

“Yeah?”

“Could I share your bed?”

I nodded.

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.

Half truths.

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.”

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Execution 13.9

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The two satyrs looked just a little too smug, as I reunited with the splinter group.  It wasn’t a nice smug or funny smug.  It was the kind of smug that people enjoyed when they’d pulled something on you and they knew there was nothing you could do about it.

Green Eyes was breathing hard.  Her hair was mussed up to a point that even ‘swimming’ through the snow wasn’t pushing it all straight back away from her face, she had nasty looking bite marks on her collarbone and shoulder, and a claw scratch on her arm that looked oddly frayed, as the scales there had broken away and pointed in odd directions.

“Where’s chicken nugget?” Green Eyes asked.

I pointed at my torso.

Her eyes went wide, and her mouth dropped.

“You bastard,” she said.

“What?”

“You ate him!?” she cried out.

I realized I’d been pointing more at the middle of my body than my upper chest.  I was about to respond, when my thoughts ran aground wondering if she was upset because I’d beaten her to eating Evan or if she was upset because she liked him now.

“He didn’t eat me!” Evan’s voice was muffled, emitting from within my ribcage, sparing me from having to find a way to gracefully word my next statement.

Green Eyes gave me a suspicious look.

Evan wormed his way forward until he managed to stick his head through a gap in some more knotted branches and ribs.  “See?”

She gave him a look that was just as suspicious.

“We need to move, at some point,” I said.  “Get where we need to be.”

“With Jerry?” one of the satyrs asked.

“No,” I replied.  “He’s doing… whatever he needs to do.   Each person we take out is one more clue the enchantresses need to pull it all together.  I’ve brought down six out of seven of them.  There’s one left.  If they’re going to figure it out, they’ll figure it out now.”

“They’re good at this,” one of the satyrs murmured.

I nodded.  “The last one is alone, independent from the main group.  He’s not well liked.  The spellbinder.”

I looked pointedly at the satyrs.

“Who?” the first satyr asked, brow furrowed.

“The one who went off alone,” the second said.  “Quiet.  Smelled like shea butter, sandalwood, and tobacco?”

“Shay what?” Evan asked, head still sticking out.

“Shea butter,” the satyr said.

“Why would someone butter themselves up?” Green Eyes asked.

“I think he used it for shaving, going by the nuances of the smell.  But it’s good for the skin, helps with healing, and it carries other scents well,” the satyr said, the words adopting a faint roughness as he spoke, almost as if he were purring.  He extended an arm.  He was definitely purring as he said, “Smell.  Tobacco, sandalwood, and shea butter.”

Green Eyes sniffed his wrist, then broke into a smile.

“Enough of that,” I said.

The satyr shot me a sly smile.

“You’re wearing the same stuff as that guy?” Evan asked.

I poked the bird’s head with one finger, pushing him back inside.

“No.  It’s useful to be able to decide how you want to smell,” the satyr said, arm still extended.  “Cinnamon and myrrh, for when you want to cozy up.”

“I like that,” Green Eyes said.  “It’s been so long since I smelled nice smells.”

“I thought you’d like it.”

More annoyed, I said, “You’re wasting time.”

The satyr didn’t quite manage to look apologetic.

“It’s useful.  Now I know what the guy smells like,” Green Eyes said.  I was about to concede that it was useful, when she added, “We should keep one of these guys around.”

I ignored the statement.  “Do you know where the spellbinder is?”

“No,” the satyr said.  “He left to hit some key areas where local monsters gather.  Goblin shack, goblins under the bridge that serves as a gate to the Sorcerer’s domain, the woods where the hag lives, and some others I’m not remembering.”

“The faerie hangout,” the other satyr said, stepping away from Green Eyes to stand beside his fellow.

“He could be anywhere in the city,” the first satyr told me.

“I figured as much,” I said.  “You can’t find him by sniffing him out?”

“Not unless we want to backtrack alllll the way back to the lakeside and then follow the same path he took,” the satyr said.  He adopted that same smug grin from before.  “Moving slower than he’s moving, if we want to be accurate and not get sidetracked.  We might never catch up to him.”

He was putting emphasis on words, rubbing it in in a way that made it hard to call him out on.  Practically telling me that if I tried to rely on him, he’d sabotage me.  Sabotage Jerry, in a roundabout way.  It was doubly irritating because I wouldn’t have called him out on it if he’d said it outright, I’d have shrugged and accepted that his loyalties fell at least partially with Sandra, and that the satyrs had reason to resent me for killing some of their own.

But by implication and by denying me the chance, he made it doubly infuriating.

The maenads were the High Priest’s warriors.  The satyrs were… more versatile, I imagined.  Quick, with sharp senses, capable of defending themselves, and readily weaponized in a social conflict.

Making them hard to deal with here.

I didn’t rise to the bait, even as the tolling of the bell in the background was like a push on the shoulder.  Familiar enough at this point that it was almost like a friend goading me to take a dare.  Just do it, and it’ll be satisfying.

“I’m not surprised,” I said.  “That leaves plan A and plan B.”

“You mean plans B and C.”

“Relying on the satyrs was never plan A,” I said, as I made eye contact with the satyr who’d just been trying to provoke me.  “Plan A is… no, let’s call it Plan B.”

“Plan B is supposed to be the plan that works,” Evan said.

“Well, if there’s any symbolic power in that, we could use it.  It’s a long shot.  We call someone back at the house.  See if they can’t use magical means to find the guy.  Except we don’t have phones, unless the satyrs have one and are willing to share.”

“Dead battery, was listening to music,” the first satyr said.

The second shrugged, patting his pockets.

“Thought not,” I said.  “Meaning we need to find a pay phone, or borrow a phone, one way or another.  Then we’d need to get ahold of someone, hope they weren’t too busy and that they had the knowledge needed.”

I ran my hand through my hair.  Very little of it draped into my eyes, these days.  It had snarled into longer lengths, held together by grit, as if I’d let particularly grimy clay into it, solidified by cold rather than heat..  A few twigs were snarled in there, and I wasn’t sure they’d ever leave.  More likely they’d grow and set down roots.

“What’s plan B?” Green Eyes asked.  “Run?  Six is enough?”

“No,” I said.  “I’d rather do seven than six.”

“Six is pretty good,” she said.

“Seven is an important number, Jerry says,” one of the satyrs commented, arms folded.

“Three, seven, twelve,” I said.

The satyr nodded.

Green Eyes only looked puzzled.

“It’s practitioner stuff,” I said.  “More than monster stuff.  Magic numbers.  Beat someone three times, counts for more, holds more sway with whoever’s there, watching.  Do it seven times, that’s something too.  We should finish this.”

“You’re missing bones,” Green Eyes said.  “You were supposed to grab some.”

“If the opportunity comes up,” I said.

“That goblin kicked your ass good,” Evan said.  Then, after a pause, he added, “Mine too.”

“I walked away.  That’s what’s important,” I said.

“The night’s almost over.  I think.  I’m not a very good judge of time.  It was a few years since I saw the sun, or the moon,” Green Eyes said.  “I like the idea of stopping, get some food, keep each other company.  But if you think we should…”

“I think we have to,” I said.

“Okay.”

“What’s plan A, then?” Evan asked.

“This, right here,” I said.  “Waiting.”

Waiting?

“Waiting,” I said.  “Though we could stand to get to a better vantage point.”

“I’m wondering if he’s cracked,” Evan piped up, sticking his head out at a different point.  He dodged my finger.  He poked his head out elsewhere.  “Not making much sense.”

“Assuming the enchantresses haven’t figured out a trick to find out where we are, despite the Evan influence,” I said.  “What are they going to assume we’re doing.”

“Going after the spellbinder,” the first satyr said.

“What are they going to do in response?”

“Warn him?” the second satyr asked.  “A phone call?”

“They’ll send some help.  A warning wouldn’t be enough,” Green Eyes said.  “We follow the reinforcements?”

“Yeah,” I said, my voice soft.

“Assuming we can,” the first satyr said.  “What if ‘help’ is a spell.”

“Evan breaks spells.”

“Or if they drive?”

“How many people do you see out there driving?” I asked.  “Why didn’t your High Priest drive?  Why didn’t any of them?  Rhetorical question.”

“Ha,” Evan said, barely audible from within my chest.

“I don’t know,” the satyr said.  “Why didn’t they?”

I pointed.  Reluctantly, the satyrs followed.  Green Eyes was already moving to my side, following.

I spoke as we traveled.  “Because in a war like this, where an awful lot of things you don’t want to pick a fight with look human if you’re standing far enough away-”

“Like you,” Green Eyes interrupted.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.  Thank you,” I said.

She smiled.

“Anyway, I imagine that a lot of the sort of things you don’t want to mess with, like genies, that goblin I just dealt with, they’re human shaped.  So if you stand far enough away, or if you’re dealing with a crowd, you have to wonder.  You hold back.  But something in a car?  It’s going to be a practitioner, and I don’t think many practitioners can practice while driving.”

“They’ll travel on foot, maybe assisted by practice,” I said.  “Evan’s unable to fly, so we’ll have to be quick, we’ll have to be smart, and we’ll have to be lucky.”

“Because luck has really been with us?” Evan asked.

“It has,” I said.  I thought of the karma hoarder I’d stabbed.  “Eerily so.”

We climbed onto a garage roof.

“Don’t look directly at the enchantresses,” I murmured.  “Take in the scene as a whole, focus on details, or the people accompanying them.  Green Eyes, same idea as before.  Use their fear to gauge if they’re watching.  We can’t let them see us if this is going to work.”

“Yeah,” she said.

We’d hunkered down on our bellies, only our heads visible above the garage.  I was at the one edge, Green Eyes beside me, and, naturally, one of the Satyrs had settled beside her.

“Cinnamony,” she murmured.

The satyr on the far side of her smiled.

I really didn’t like that they were using such simple means to try and manipulate her.

She saw me looking, looked at the Satyr, then turned her eyes forward, ignoring me.

I saw a small smile creep across her face.  It got wider, until her teeth showed.  Narrow, long, and sharp, interlocking like a piranha’s.

Was she playing me?

I didn’t like the idea.  It stirred up all kinds of ugliness, like a footstep in a clear puddle kicking up clouds of black, vile mud.

“The smell of cinnamon makes me think of food,” she murmured, still watching the house down the street.

The satyr edged away from her.

Green Eyes, apparently unaware, leaned forward a bit, eyes narrowing, as if she were looking at something, her shoulder pressing into my armpit.

“What?” I asked.

“I saw movement,” she said.  “Wasn’t important.”

She settled down, the soft part of her chin resting on my arm, while her shoulder remained tucked into my armpit.

“I didn’t see nothing,” Evan said.  “You’re crazy.”

I turned my head.  He’d crawled out from inside me, and made his way under the back of my sweatshirt to my neck, just his head peeking out.

“Careful about lies,” I said.

“Oh yeah.”

“It’s okay,” Green Eyes said, not lifting her head as she talked, so her chin made my arm move with each word, “I am, just a little.”

“Okay,” Evan said.  “But if you’re seeing stuff that isn’t there-”

“Evan,” I said.  “Let it be.”

“But-”

“Let it be,” I said.  “And don’t expose yourself.  We might need you in fighting shape.  Focus on rest.”

“Hmph, shutting me up, stowing me away,” he said, retreating just a bit under my sweatshirt.  He stuck his head out again, “don’t think I didn’t hear that chicken nugget comment earlier.  I figured that out too, you hear?”

I reached up to poke at his head again, but he was already gone, disappearing inside my shoulder.

The snow fell.  There was activity in the house, people moving across windows.  A general sense of agitation.  A few too many people, perhaps, crammed into one house, unless it was a demesne – and I wasn’t seeing anything special through the windows to suggest it was.  Those numbers in that kind of space wasn’t a big problem when things were quiet, but things weren’t quiet.  Several recent deaths, high stakes surrounding everything, and people were probably limited to the common areas.  Restlessness.

It was more peaceful where we were.  I didn’t breathe, but Green Eyes could.  I couldn’t feel much, not heat or cold, exactly, but I could feel the pressure of her chin, and the movement of her body with each breath she took.  I could feel her heartbeat, distant.  It was almost reassuring, like having a heartbeat and lungs of my own again.

Quiet, calm, laced with a kind of tension.  As if we were snipers, waiting for hours for a possible shot.

Time was running out.  Was my guess right?  Would this work?  Or should we send the satyrs out to find a pay phone?

Were they capable of figuring out who the last target was?  All they had to do was connect the last dot.  Through magic, enchantment, any number of divination tricks, summoning spirits.

Or they could ask.  They just had to figure out, to hear where I’d gotten the names from, and then they could grill the various kids in the chatroom.  I had little doubt they could get the information they needed out of people.

Would they walk into the metaphorical crosshairs?

It didn’t do to dwell.  I glanced at Green Eyes, and noted the bite mark on her collarbone.

“How’re you holding up?”

“Wish I got to eat more of the people we stopped,” she murmured.  “Wish you got more raw bones and dead wood in you.  But all in all, this is good.”

She snuggled a little closer.

Having been where I’d been, experiencing what I’d experienced, knowing it was only partial, I had no grounding in what to do.  I’d had girlfriends.  I’d had more than enough tender moments, back at Carl’s compound, but now, like this, being what I was?  The only reason I wasn’t panicking at the idea of physical contact was because I’d left so much of myself behind.  I’d disconnected from Blake the human.

But maybe this was a possibility because we were monsters.  Green Eyes was probably never going to be a tool to manipulate me.  I wasn’t about to be something she could look at as food.  Or at least, not quite, in both cases.

I settled one hand on her back, and pulled her closer, more to reaffirm that it was good.

She made the smallest noise in the low part of her throat.

Evan piped up, “While we’re talking about food, you wanna know what I never did when I was alive?  I never had sushi.”

“I was getting to be fond of you, nugget,” she said, “Don’t go and change my mind.”

“Well, I liked you pretty much right away, so there.  Maybe I’m just a better person,” Evan said, his head poking up beneath my sweatshirt, a little lump at my back.

“If you are, then learn to be quiet when a girl’s trying to enjoy a moment with the boy she likes,” she said, very gently pushing the lump under the fabric down.

“Oh.  Oh, dangShoot,” he said.  “Didn’t realize.  Now I feel bad.”

He sounded genuinely upset.

“Don’t,” Green Eyes said.  She stroked one section of the sweatshirt.  I could only assume Evan’s head was under it.  “It’s good.”

“Speaking of good,” one satyr spoke up, “You were right, bogeyman.”

I could see people moving out.

I watched, noting the number as they continued moving around the side of the house.

The number was the most important thing, here.  It set the tone of the coming confrontation.  How hard a fight would it be, and who would be fighting?

There were two big possibilities here.  Either Sandra would send a select group, or she’d send everyone that was willing to go, with only stragglers remaining behind, I assumed.

“Five,” I murmured.  “Ten.  Twelve… 

“Fifteen,” Green Eyes updated the count, as three more left the house.

“No lucky number.”  This from the satyr that had been cozying up to Green Eyes.

“No,” I agreed.

The group added up to twenty.

Probably closer to being everyone that was willing to go.

Good.

That was ideal.

We moved quickly, down from the roof, then along the sides of the street.  As planned, it was Green Eyes and I in the lead, the satyrs trailing behind.

Sandra was there.  More confirmation that it wasn’t the elite contingent.  Sandra wouldn’t have left the people with doubts alone to commiserate.  It wasn’t that she was manipulative, which she was, at least a little, but more that, well, she had a group to look after, and I would have stayed behind, if the positions were reversed.

I caught a glimpse of Needledick the Goblin King.  His familiar was with him, still humanoid.  He’d collected the axe I’d driven into the one Ritchie Brother’s groin, and held the serrated sword again.

I’d left the axe behind on purpose.  A spur of the moment thing.  It struck me as the kind of thing the goblin would come after me for.

I really didn’t want to pick another fight with a goblin of its caliber.

The diagram drawer was there too.

If we accidentally gave ourselves away, we’d have him to deal with again.  I didn’t want that either.

If seven was our lucky number, and if all went according to plan, then succeeding here would be key.

If I’d had a heart to stop, it would have stopped as I saw the diagram drawer look back, his fear spiking and staying at the new height.

Recognition?

He said something to the practitioner beside him.

The fear rose a bit more.

We reached the main street.

More open area, less cover to help us.  More white behind us, making us silhouettes against a pale background.  Without speaking a word, we collectively fell back a bit more.  Even the Satyrs, I imagined, had hunted enough to have instincts on this front.

I was only beginning to consider possibilities for slowing them down and getting ahead of them, now that they seemed to be moving with more direction, when Sandra acted.

A gesture, a movement, her chalice raised high.

The group blurred, as if I were wearing strange bottle glasses, and then the colors shifted, growing more stark.  When they moved, they moved fast, out of sync with reality and the space around them.  One footstep covering the length of two parking spaces, the legs not stretching, the individual not moving in any odd way, just… moving farther.  The heightened colors left a trail behind them, odd, veering too far in odd directions.

In moments, they were gone.  Down two blocks, then around a corner.  The trail of colors dissipated in their wake.

Leaving their pursuers, us, in the dust.

“Did they see us?” Evan asked.

“No,” Green Eyes said.  “There would have been more fear, or less fear.  They were the same.  They were just-”

“Covering more ground,” I finished.  “Did they leave smells?”

“Yes,” the first satyr said.

“You can track them?” I asked.

Yes,” the satyr said.

We switched roles.  The satyrs led.

This was complicated.  I wished I knew Sandra better, to guess how she thought, how she strategized, and what she might do in this sort of situation, everything on the line.

It, in the end, took five or ten minutes to catch up.  Others watched us, and with each one, I had to wonder if they’d left watchdogs, guardians, reporting back to them.

The calm was gone.  There was only tension.

Yet Green Eyes looked positively rosy with good cheer.

“Which place is this?” I asked.  “It’s not the bridge.  Not the woods, unless I got really turned around.  Goblin shack?”

“No,” one of the satyrs said.

The scene came into view.  I stared.  “God dammit, why can’t it be simple?”

It was, in large part, an ordinary section of street.  A dead end, with a house at the far side.  The eclectic decoration around the house, which included a tarp-covered fountain and several rather elegant little statues standing in a snow-covered garden, pretty much told the entire story.

The Duchamps had gathered.  They had spread out, occupying the end of the street.  Several sat on car hoods and bumpers.

The Spellbinder, as it happened, was easy to pick out.  He looked so ordinary, if a little stone-faced in expression, with drooping cheeks and larger ears betraying his age just a bit.  His hair was parted to one side.  I could have figured his identity by process of elimination, after stalking the Duchamps enough times tonight.  I didn’t have to.

A diagram sat at the far end of the street.  The simple, stark, straight-line-and-geometry diagrams were to this what printed writing was to cursive.  Flowing lines, curving, like elaborate musical notes or calligraphy, all with a pattern in mind.

Which was fitting, given the Faerie in the center of the circle.

At least, I hoped it was a Faerie.

There were two girls in red-and-black checkered scarves.  They were identical in appearance, but different in dress.  Both had unruly curly hair that was only slightly more manageable because it was damp with snow, both had earmuffs, albeit with different styles.  One knelt in the center of the circle, slumped over.  The other stood between Sandra and Needledick the goblin king.

Each possibility worse than the other.

The entire group was arranged to protect the spellbinder.

Except he was no longer my focus.

“Mags,” I said.

The girl standing between Sandra and the goblin king shook her head slowly.

My eye flickered to the girl sitting slumped in the circle.

I thought of the story I’d heard of the spellbinder.

He’d bound his wife.  Enslaved her mind, spirit, and body.

Mags?

The girl standing between Sandra and the goblin king shook her head.  “No, Blake.”

“No?”

“That’s not Mags either.  Well, unless he decides to call himself that.  It’s not like the name belongs to one person in particular.”

I looked between the two girls.

The girl beside Sandra raised a hand, and pointed at the spellbinder.  “He got the faerie for me.”

“You might consider it a gift,” Sandra said, “for goodwill.  My family has long dealt with faeries, and Padraic is a bastard.  I’m content I can smooth over any hurt feelings.”

“I’m Maggie again,” Maggie said.  She smiled, but it wasn’t the smile that should have gone with the statement.  She hugged her arms close to her body.

“The ambassador is supposed to be impartial,” I said.  “You can’t side with them.”

Mags is the ambassador,” Sandra said.  “She doesn’t have the name, she doesn’t have the title, or the obligations.  If she takes on any bad karma due to any lingering ties to the title, that will be dissolved when I become lord and do away with the job.  Maggie, of course, will be free to go.  No consequences.”

“It’s almost everything I wanted,” Maggie said.

“And your family?” I asked.

Maggie hugged herself a little more.  “Like I said.  Almost everything I wanted.”

I nodded slowly.  “I was assuming you were talking about this, us.  Will I be the second Thorburn you kill?”

“Harsh,” Maggie said, her voice cracking a bit, as she dropped to a whisper.  “You don’t hold back.”

There was a pause.  The tolling of the bell continued in the background.  I could only assume Molly was resting, or she’d be here.

“Screw this!” Evan piped up.  “You were cool!”

“I’m still cool,” Maggie said.  “Believe me.”

“Nuh uh!”

Needledick took a step forward.  He drew a weapon, and laid the handle in Maggie’s hand.  A trench club, not unlike a short baseball bat, with spikes at the tip, to lend it a bit more oomph.

Maggie gripped the weapon in both hands, the leather of her gloves squeaking against the handle. In this short dead end of a street lit only by two streetlamps, I could make out the tension at her jaw.

“Is this how this plays out?” I asked.

“You’ve had a good night,” Sandra said.  “Picked off several of ours, striking out of the cold and the darkness, from several angles, disappearing from even our ability to see you.  Winning over Jeremy was an especially good bit of luck on your part.  There’s a lot to be said for momentum, and this was the best way I could decide on to break yours.”

“Well, it’s a good way to do something,” I said.

Maggie nodded.

“Once, I mused on how similar we were,” I said.  “We might have even talked about it.  Do you remember?”

“You’ll have to be more specific,” she said, staring down at the weapon.

“We both want the hell out of this town.  I think it stems from the same desire.  We want to be free, and this place sucks.

She reached up and grabbed the fabric of her shirt, right over her heart.  “Believe me, I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t want to be free of this place for good.”

“The key difference, though,” I said, “Is that you wrap yourself up in more bondage to get free, while I… lose myself, I guess.”

“Bondage?”

“You’re their puppet, doing what they say.  Doing things the way they want you do to them.”

“Yeah.  I am,” she said.  She couldn’t make eye contact.

“Part of my success tonight is due to the fact that I’ve started to play my role a little better.  I’ve defined who I want to be and why, and I’m following that path.  Can you say the same?  Is this who you want to be?  Or are you their pawn, again?

She stared down at the weapon.

“Moving speech,” Sandra commented.  “But a deal’s a deal.  She already agreed to our terms.”

“A benefit of changing identities,” Maggie said, “Is that you get to leave consequences behind.”

She straightened, and looked me in the eye.  She turned on Sandra, backing away, moving in our direction.

“Yes!” Evan said.

“Breaking a deal makes for bad karma,” Sandra said.  “Doing it when you’re in a precarious position-”

Drat you,” Maggie said.

She swung the club.

The ground and air shimmered, tremoring, and many of the Duchamps stumbled backward.

“Yes!” Evan cheered.

She’d avoided attacking in the direction of the circle.

“Get back,” Sandra said.  “Use the circle for cover.  She won’t-”

“I might,” Maggie said.  “Take it from me, Sandra, you do not want to get on his bad side.  I know.”

As if to punctuate the statement, the Faerie in the circle screamed, features distorting.  A guttural, male scream, cutting right to the core.

Maggie backed up further, and shot me a winning smile.

“Yes!”  Evan said.

Green Eyes hissed, and Maggie practically jumped out of her skin.  She jumped even more as Green Eyes snapped.

“No!” Evan said.

“Maybe don’t bite the allies,” the first Satyr said.

“Agreed,” Maggie agreed.

The other practitioners were moving.  Reorganizing.  Getting implements out.

I watched each.

Sandra’s troll emerged, from stoat to full size.

A fight.  War.

Too many things to keep track of.

Hyena in hand, I put the point to Maggie’s throat.

It all settled.  Things going quiet.

“No!” Evan said, louder than before.  “What?  No!”

I met Maggie’s eyes.

“Drop it,” I said.

She dropped the weapon.

There was a long pause.  Very nearly silent.

“What gave me away?” Maggie asked.

“Green Eyes.  I don’t think the reaction fit to Maggie’s.  And I’m not so optimistic to think that things would go this well for me.”

“Yeah,” Maggie said.

“Fool me once,” I said.

“I fooled you quite a few times, in Toronto,” she said.  “More than once.”

“Well you didn’t get me here.  That’s your Faerie pal, in the circle there.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“I could stab you,” I said.  “Free Maggie.”

She shook her head.  “Wouldn’t get the name back.  But if you let me go, I’ll leave until all of this is over.”

“Suppose I have to,” I said.

She backed away, then ran, moving faster than any human should.

The other Maggie stood from the circle.  She moved her arms and swept up the diagram, wrapping it around herself like a drape, as she backed away.  I saw the Spellbinder fall in step beside her.

“That doesn’t end this,” Sandra said.  “You’re outnumbered, and we’re positioned.”

“And, I’m guessing, the Spellbinder is nowhere near here.”

“Nowhere near here,” Sandra said.  “I sent him home.  He already left the city.  You won’t get your seventh kill for the list.”

I nodded slowly.

She flicked a hand.  The trench club flew to one side.  When I looked down, I saw that Green Eyes had been inching closer to it.

“I’ll surrender,” I said, very deliberately, “I’ll end the fight, let you have Jacob’s Bell if you can earn it, even support you, if you so desire, with one condition.”

“One condition?”

“Yes,” I said.  “Yeah.  All I need you to do, is swear to me, on your family, on your title, on your power, that you’ll stop with the fucked up arranged marriages.  You’ve told others in the family, you swore to them, you’ve implied, I want to hear it from you, that the Duchamp family will no longer continue catering to husbands like the ones I’ve killed.”

“You’ve killed a variety of husbands,” she said.

“Stop prevaricating,” I told her.  “You know what I want.  I want you to tell me, straight out, that I’m wrong.  That the Duchamps aren’t going to take the lordship and then keep doing what they’ve been doing.  Do that, you win here.”

The wind whistled.

There was no answer she could give.

I’d created the cracks.  Created sides, fostered arguments and doubt.  Put people on two sides with the six previous kills.  All I needed was one more.  A seventh.

“I can’t give you an answer, one way or another,” she admitted.

Which was, in its way, an admission of defeat.

I backed away slowly, my arms spread.  The others joined me.

Nobody moved to stop me.

I hadn’t gotten my seventh kill, using the list.

I’d achieved my seventh win.

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Execution 13.8

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“Jerry?” one of the Satyrs asked.

“Don’t worry, Itys,” the High Priest said.  He sighed, and I could see the cloud of cold breath in front of his face.

Sandra put her hands in her pockets.  I saw her gaze move past the High Priest to me.  Her eyes were half-lidded, as if even this eventuality hadn’t truly startled her.  She remained poised.

“Can you explain?” one of the Maenads asked.

“Yeah,” the High Priest said.  “I can explain, but it’ll be after.  For now, form ranks.  No permanent damage or killing of any of the Duchamps… but we are dealing with them.  Get ready.”

I saw Sandra shaking her head a little.

“That right, Blake?” the High Priest asked.  “No hurting or killing the Duchamps.  I’m laying out my terms, here.”

“I’m not making any promises,” I said.

He turned his head, so his face was in profile, only one eye turned my way.  He gave me a disapproving look.

“I’m not stupid,” I said.  “You haven’t promised anything.  You’ve alluded, but that means nothing, in this world.”

“Uh huh,” he said.  “I promise, then, to aid you in your efforts against the Duchamp family, provided you promise to refrain from doing permanent harm or killing the individual members.”

“If they don’t give me cause.  I’ll exercise self defense.”

“Agreed,” the Drunk said, turning his head back to face Sandra.

“But I like Sandra,” one of the Bacchae said.

“I’m with Thais,” another said.

There were less committal murmurs of agreement, with that.

Sandra smiled a little, but it wasn’t a happy one.  It looked more apologetic, sad.

“I guess karma comes back to bite me in the ass sooner than later,” the Drunk said.  “Dissension in the ranks.”

I saw the one Maenad glaring at me.

She elbowed one of the women next to her, a Bacchae or Maenad, I couldn’t see the details, and muttered something.

Enemies.  Blaming me for acting in self defense.

Green Eyes emerged from the snow next to me.  I’d been so focused on the Drunk and Sandra that I hadn’t noticed her retreat.  Evan shook off more snow.  He wasn’t in any shape to fly, being as damp as he was, so I had to bend down a little to pick him up and lift him onto my shoulder.

“I won’t lie,” Sandra was saying.  “I anticipated something along these lines.  For years, I thought you’d suddenly show up, after finding the right kind of power, or the right contact, and you’d react.  Take action.  Fix what was broken.  I didn’t anticipate it in the here or now.  Your timing sucks.”

“If the timing was more convenient, I wouldn’t be doing this,” he said.  “I’m capable, I have resources, but I’m not about to tackle your family when you’re having a good day.”

“Yeah,” she said.

I saw the plume of breath as she sighed.  “Damn it.  How are we doing this?  Are you going to sic all of your followers on me?”

“That would be rude,” he said.  “Not very fair.

She didn’t respond.

“Can’t help but notice that Hildr isn’t here.”

“Standing watch over the men that he was attacking.”

“You’re going to tell Hildr to attack, aren’t you?” he asked.  “First chance you get?”

“Yes.”

The Drunk winced.  I was looking at his back, but I could tell.  He spoke, “We’ll let you walk away without taking you hostage if you promise to call her off.  Keep her out of this.”

Sandra looked at the five or so Satyrs, the four Bacchae and the three remaining Maenads, at me, Green Eyes, Evan, and then back at the Drunk.

“You get a one-minute head start,” Sandra said.

“Ten minutes.”

Three.

“Starting from the time you meet with the other Duchamps,” he said.

“From the time you let me go.  I’m not joking around, Jeremy.  The stakes are high, here.”

“No,” he agreed.  “Not joking around.  I let you barter me down to three minutes of head start, let me decide when the timer starts.”

“Fine.”

She didn’t move.

The frantic screaming continued in the background.  The Other I’d loosed was still active, recently freed by Evan.

“Remember how we put it back then?” she asked.  “No asking for forgiveness.”

“I think,” he said, “We meant there was no need.  ‘We do what we must’, remember?”

“Because that worked so well for us, you think?” Sandra asked.  Another small sigh.  “I’m being a bitch.  It got us halfway, at least.”

“Yes,” he said.  “Goodbye, Sandra.”

The word held a kind of weight to it.  Finality.

“Then you realize this is goodbye,” she said.

He only offered a curt nod.

She turned to leave.

I could see the tension in the Drunk’s minions.  The stares that were directed his way.

“I don’t get it,” I said.

“Oh, God, that’s good,” Evan said.  “Means it’s not just me.”

“The context doesn’t matter too much,” the Drunk said.  “What matters is that we have limited time before Hildr comes barreling our way.  All of my followers together could stop her, I’m almost certain, but Sandra knows that.”

“It won’t be alone,” I said.

“No, she won’t,” he said.  “Your bird can’t possibly keep her from tracking all of us.  We’ll need to move.  Now.  She’s faster than she looks, I’m sure you know.”

“We’ll split up, then,” I said.  “I’m not done here.”

“What do you have left to do?  You wanted to weaken the Duchamps.”

“I have three more targets here.  A fourth elsewhere.”

“Names given to you by Duchamps, if I heard right?  Your announcement, after killing Crooked Hat and Gudbrand?”

I nodded.

“Who are you after?”

“Mason Hall-McCullough, the Ritchie brothers.”

“Ah,” he said.  “If I’d known you were after the old man, I might have decided differently.”

“Why?”

“There are some individuals you don’t want to cross,” he said.  “You can deal with him on your own.  The Ritchie Brothers… if it’s them you’ve got me on board.”

“Just like that?”

“Are you complaining?”

“No.  But I don’t trust events when they work in my favor.”

“My god is, in some respects, a god of fertility, madness, and beasts, among many other things.  In some respects, in a narrow, particular fashion, Those two could be said to fall within my god’s domain.  I still despise everything they stand for, and that’s all I’ll say on the subject.”

I don’t mind a vote of confidence on the ‘they deserve killing’ front, I thought.  On the other hand, I didn’t like ‘that’s all I’ll say‘, either.

“Can you give any tips on their appearance?  I’ll need to find them in the crowd.”

“Red-blond hair, red-blond beards.  Green jacket, for the one, black jacket for the other.  One of them has a book.”

I nodded.  “And Mason?  You’re okay with going after the brothers, but are you saying Mason doesn’t deserve to die?”

“He might.  He might not.  I don’t know him well.  If he did do something worth being killed for, I doubt anyone would be in a position to find out.”

“That was my understanding,” I said.  “I was thinking he could be a trap.  A name given to throw me off, a situation where I’d almost definitely lose.”

“As opposed to a genuine target?” the Drunk asked.

“A genuine target, yeah.  Maybe one of the Duchamps named him because they know something none of the rest of us do.”

“And maybe,” the Drunk said, “He’s both a genuine target and a fight you’re bound to lose.”

I frowned.

The Drunk gave a signal.  His Satyrs and Maenads began to move out, away from the main group.  His own feet crunched in snow as he headed to the side of the backyard, toward the neighbor’s yard.

When I didn’t join the general retreat, he paused.

“What are you thinking?” the Drunk asked.  “You’ve faced down the troll once.  If you stay here, you’ll endure a round two.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“But you’re not running.  I know you’re quick, elusive, but…”

“I’m thinking,” I said, “That this may be my last chance to get to the Ritchie brothers and Mason the Benevolent.”

The Drunk stared at me.  His stubble was almost at the point of being a beard, and his eyes looked damn tired.

“You don’t have to follow,” I said.  I offered a hand to Green Eyes.  She climbed up onto my back.  “But I can’t let them go.”

“Word is you were human, not long ago.  Did you forget that mortals like me get tired, after hours of tension and stumbling around in the cold and darkness?”

“No,” I said.  “I’m counting on the fact that mortals like them get tired.”

I headed up to the porch the Maenad had jumped off, then hopped up to the roof, landing knee-deep in snow.  A small avalanche of snow occurred beneath my feet, but I maintained my position.  I scaled the roof.

I saw Sandra rejoining the group.

Snow crunched around me.

Two Satyrs.  They were surprisingly adroit, on the steep, ice-and-snow laden roof.  But then again, they were goat men.  They wore only sweaters and gloves, despite the cold, no jackets, one with a scarf, the other with a hat.  All despite the fact that the weather really demanded a hat, scarf, gloves, and coat.

One prowled forward, crouching at the apex of the roof.

“You need more allies like this,” Green Eyes murmured, looking down at him.

“Hm?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“She said-” Evan started.  Green Eyes swatted at him, and he managed a brief flight before landing on my shoulder again.

“I see the Ritchie brothers,” she said, pointing.

The Duchamps were gathering at the house where snow had fallen, blocking the front of the house.  Some were moving around to the back.  Others were facing Sandra, where she was talking to a group of ten individuals that was about eighty-percent male.

The husbands.  Maybe one or two of the people in the group might have been female family members or allies of husbands.

The Ritchie Brothers were there.  At this distance, given the circumstances, I couldn’t quite judge color, as the gloom turned everything into shades of gray.  But they were standing side by side, and I thought I saw the book.

“Red-blond beards?” I asked.

“Yes,” Green Eyes and the Satyr to our right said, at the same time.

She leaned forward, hugging me more, chin over one of my shoulders, my head effectively blocking her view of the Satyr, but I did catch a glimpse of her face, a suppressed smile.

“Your eyes suck, Blake,” Evan said  “You need animal eyes.  Or monster eyes.”

“Diagrams on the ground,” Green Eyes said, pointing.  “There, there, and there.  Like the one before, kind of.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I could almost make them out.  Spaced out at even intervals.

That made the approach harder.

“Maybe if you plucked out your eyes and let them regrow?” Evan asked.  As if the question wasn’t horrifying enough, he managed to ask it in a way that sounded innocent.  As if this was the most normal thing in the world.

“I think tampering with my perceptions is a bad idea,” I said.  “And I kind of want to keep whatever I’ve got left, fleshwise.”

“You don’t got much,” he said.

“Hey, yeah,” Green Eyes said.  “How much do you have, even?”

I declined to comment.

Just by being here, not even talking, the Satyrs were bad influences.

Still, it was manpower.

And, I thought, it was symbolism.

A more experienced practitioner like Jeremy wouldn’t have missed that.

I crossed the roof, and hopped down.  The landing was harder than I might have liked, with the added weight of Green Eyes on my back, but I still landed on two feet, and managed to avoid falling.

The Satyrs landed almost gracefully.

We hadn’t been noticed.

What did it mean for practitioners like the Enchantresses, so used to being aware, to tracking connections and more, to have to deal with an enemy they couldn’t track?

If I was targeting them, I imagined, it might have been entirely different.

I was aware of the Ritchie brothers.  Standing off to one side, talking with another bearded guy.  The diagram-drawer.

Mason the Benevolent was talking to Sandra.

I saw her check her watch.  Her stoat perched on her shoulder, leaning forward to look as well.

Tense, ready to act.

We’d spent a couple minutes talking.  In less than a minute, the troll would be loosed again.

Attack?” Green Eyes whispered.

I could hear the toll of the bell.  Faint, but there.

“No,” I said.  “Attacking is suicide.”

Especially with Mason the Benevolent there.

I glanced at the Satyrs.

Both were staring at me.  Glaring.

Because I’d killed the Maenad?  Or because we’d been enemies only minutes ago?

I pointed.

They nodded, small gestures.

I led them around.

Avoiding the diagrams.  Avoiding the route the troll was most likely to take.

Off to one side.

“Diagrams?” I asked.

Green Eyes craned her neck, twisting her body, scanning.

“There.”

Damn it.

“For trapping the living curse,” one Satyr said.  His hooves were making a steady chipping sound against the ice and snow, as he ran alongside me.  He was close enough to a mortal in how he operated that he did get tired, it seemed, as he was breathing harder, but I was guessing he had more stamina.

“Would they work against me?” I asked.

Shrug.

Right.

“Diagrams?” I asked again, after passing a house.

“No,” Green Eyes replied.

I pointed, then led the way.

Between two houses.  The Satyrs, like me, were fairly quick, and adroit enough to land atop one section of fence, where the back yard was walled off.

I pointed again.

Taking the long way around.  Half a block to the right, forward, and now half a block to the left.

Thing,” Green Eyes hissed.

I saw it a half-second later, as I came to a halt.

A gargoyle.

More animal than person, it had a jutting jaw and hair that was carved out of stone.  Its eyes glowed.  It had horns, claws, and wings, with spikes down its spine.

It was perched on the edge of the roof, above the back door where Duchamps were filing into the house.  Its head swept from one side to another, moving like a security camera might.  Except this security camera was attached to something the size of a small car.

The men had been airing grievances with Sandra, or asking for more information.

With luck, they were reacting to the loss of the High Priest.  The Drunk had been, going by what I’d seen earlier, a representative of their side, in the Duchamp contingent.  Powerful, somehow a leadership figure, and someone with Sandra’s ear.

I drew closer, using mounds of snow that had accumulated over a tarp-covered air conditioner and barbecue as cover.

“It smells like bad meat,” Green Eyes said.

The thing’s ear twitched.  Its head turned, quicker  eliciting a grinding noise, like the roll of a tire over gravel, yet audible from two hundred feet or so away.

I let myself drop to my knees, closer to the ground, harder to see behind the lump of snow.

When I looked again, the thing’s head was roving, scanning the surroundings.  A share of its attention was pointed our way.  Diagrams to cover from one angle, gargoyle from another.  If I’d circled the other way around, would I be running into a another form of defense?

“It-” Green Eyes tried, testing, her voice even quieter.  When it didn’t react, she whispered, “Smells like the little things back at the house.”

Homunculus?

I looked again.  This time, I saw the first of the men heading around to the back door.

Any second now, the brothers or Mason the Benevolent would disappear through the doorway.

“Evan,” I said.  “With me.”

“Yeah.”

“Satyrs, distract?”

I’d looked at them as I asked the question, and I saw the glances they exchanged, the dark looks on their faces.

“Nevermind,” I said.  “Just stay quiet.”

There was no time to waste, no room for planning or biding time.

I peeked, checked it was looking, then moved the second its head turned away, a full run.  In the doing, I underestimated how deep the snow was in the one yard, and my progress slowed.

I wasn’t going to make it to the shed that was supposed to be my next bit of cover before the thing looked my way again.

I saw its head turning, and simply let myself fall.  Arms spread, face down, landing in the snow, three-quarters of the way across someone’s backyard.

“Wait,” Green Eyes whispered, her voice breaking due to the smallness of her words, the individual components so faint they used parts that weren’t practiced much.

“Go,” she said, and she was off me.  Slithering away.  Or swimming.

I went, no longer burdened by my passenger.

To the shed, then the fence beyond.

I tensed as I saw her in the snow, freezing almost right under the thing’s nose.

It didn’t notice.

She was camouflaged.

She’d maybe even camouflaged me, being on my back, helping to offer just a bit more white to join the reams of snow.

I waited, now close enough I had to be careful of the humans seeing, making sure I wasn’t letting the Ritchie brothers or the Benevolent slip my noose.

I hopped the fence, landing in a crouch in snow, then moved to the side of the porch.  Snow had piled up and between rails in the railing, making it a simple wall.

Green Eyes approached me.  She extended a hand.

I started to reach for her hand, but she shook her head.

She pointed.  At Evan.

I didn’t dare speak, with the guardian homunculus so close.  I could only pass Evan to her, and in absence of words, will a message to her.

Don’t eat Evan.

She moved with glacial slowness, scaling the side of the house.

If I looked, I could see some of the homunculus.  Its flesh looked like it was ninety percent callus, the worst sort of callus that appeared on the feet, as dirt and sweat colored it yellow and gray.  Being homeless, working for a farmer, living at Carl’s commune, I’d had chances to build up some pretty gruesome calluses.

But it went a step beyond.  Large patches of its flesh had almost ossified, or calcified, or something.  It, in simple terms, looked as tough as dammit.

Makes me think of those biopunk movies, I thought.

Green Eyes reached the roof.  Helped in being silent and unnoticed by Evan’s presence.

As she moved through the snow, though, a lump of snow fell from the roof.  A miniature avalanche, much like the one I’d created earlier.

Green Eyes pounced on the gargoyle, setting her teeth into its neck.  Her tail scraped and stripped flesh from one wing, rendering it to tatters, and one layer of flesh from the thing’s side.  She made a screeching noise, and the thing howled at her, in return.

It was my cue.

I was nearly silent as I went around the railing.  The stairs had been shoveled clear, as had the porch, but there was enough snow to dampen my foosteps, and the noise of the fight was a distraction from the sound of broken branches.

My eyes were on the practitioners.  Their focus was distracted.  I could flank the group, hit them hard, and there were a half-dozen places I could escape to if I needed to.  Over the edge of the porch and into the neighbor’s yard, onto the roof, onto the neighbor’s roof, back to the backyard I’d just approached from…

The porch had two sets of stairs.  One leading into the backyard proper, the other had a gate at the bottom that opened to the driveway.  The gate was open, and the practitioners were there.

The Ritchie brothers, there.  Mason Hall-McCullough the Benevolent was there, too, but he was halfway down the driveway, at the side of the house.

All unaware.

Until the Satyrs behind me screamed.  Battlecry screams.

Eyes fell on them.  Standing behind me, still in the backyard.

My own eyes found them.  I saw the glares.  The anger.

It was Jeremy’s bad karma, quite possibly, that was bleeding over to me.  The Satyrs were upset.  They had loyalties to Sandra, and I’d killed one of their kin.

They were following the letter of the law, but not the spirit.

They’d revealed me.  Ruined the element of surprise.

I broke into a run, leaped into their midst.

Practitioners needed opportunity to practice.  To say words, to draw symbols, or use the right item in the right way on the right thing.

I faced a cluster, a pack.

“Deus-” one started.

I smacked him in the mouth with my forearm, goblin-chain-and-barbed-wire included.

I saw another drawing sheets of paper from his pocket.

I simply struck them out of his hand with the butt-end of the Hyena.

Throwing my weight against the group, I shoved the closest practitioners back into the ones behind.  They were a group, on or at the base of the stairs, without much room with the house, fence, and railing all in close proximity.

“I was asked to kill specific individuals,” I said.  It was easy to speak while I fought, as I didn’t really need to breathe.  My words came out strange, wind whistling past trees, albeit with force behind them.  “By Duchamps.  For Duchamps.”

Green Eyes and the gargoyle fell from the roof, in a heap.  She was covered in blood, and I had no idea how much of it was hers.

“Eric Ritchie, Stan Ritchie,” I said.  “You’re next on the list.”

I saw heads turn.

Stan and Eric.  A green jacket and a black jacket.  One had a thick mustache, but his beard was scarcely more than stubble, a step behind in growing in.  The other had thick glasses, a book in one hand.

“I’m on the list too!” Mason Hall-McCullough called out, almost cheerful.

“Wait your turn!” Evan shouted.

Some had fallen, being pushed back, or finding that snow, ice, and other’s people feet made for lousy footing.  I walked on them, pushing my way forward, keeping the rest on the defensive, retreating in a space that was almost painfully confined.

I was almost surrounding myself, leaving barely injured practitioners behind me, and there was nothing saying the Duchamps in the house couldn’t come out.

Except the Satyrs.

Even though they’d given me away, they were staying true to their role.  One had headbutted a practitioner, knocking him down, and the other was standing by the door.

In the time I’d looked, one practitioner had found opportunity to grab a fine chain  from their coat.

I stabbed to one side with the Hyena.  The chain was struck against the wall, falling loose from the practitioner’s grasp, the blade piercing brick, millimeters from cutting the webbing between the practitioner’s fingers.

In this, like this, Karma was on my side.

Declare my opponents, stick to the plan.  Be what I was supposed to be.

Using one hand to help, I grabbed the side of the gate, and I hauled myself up, perching on one corner post, Hyena held out as a warning, my eyes quickly moving between the various practitioners, searching for any more telltale signs, for lips that might be moving in an incantation.

Higher ground, albeit precarious.  I held the Hyena out, broken blade visible.  Light from a nearby streetlamp shone through the tangle of wood and bone that was my arm.

A bit of theatrics.

“I’m only interested in them.  Stay, and I’ll deal with them and leave,” I spoke.

For a long moment, I thought they were going to listen.

Then one practitioner in motley garb flung an arm out.

A toad.  A large toad.

Perceptions seemed to warp, the thing moving too fast toward me.

Thing was, it wasn’t foreshortening at play.  Not a thing growing bigger because it was closer.

It was getting bigger because it was getting bigger.

Evan took flight, and gave me a push as he did it.

I hopped back off the side of the gate and onto the end of the driveway, in front of the garage.

The goblin landed where I’d just been.  Its fingers had had iron worked into them, twisted into and under flesh, a pair of permanent gauntlets with pointed tips, permanent claws.

Those claws bit into the wood of the gate door.

The thing’s face had nails in it.  All inserted vertically, just under the skin.  Red, raw spaces between the individual nails, and around the spots where the nail had pierced or scraped skin on the way through.  Four nails surrounded each eye socket, a diamond shape, points nailing the eyelids into permanently open positions.

Its mouth was closed, its lipless grin literally ear to ear.

It wore armor, damn it, and it was hard to tell where armor ended and flesh began.  Much of it had been inserted through and beneath flesh.  I saw bits where muscle was hooked around or over spikes of dark iron.

It looked at my weapon, and the grin somehow got more intense.  Not wider, but it looked like it could barely keep its mouth closed.

It drew it’s weapons.

Two bound-goblin weapons.  A sword with so many spikes jutting out the side that I doubted it could cut.  An axe with a face etched into it, so much decoration I suspected it would get stuck if it was actually swung at something.

The goblin was showing off its stuff.  The weapons it was holding weren’t the only weapons it had.  More dangled from its waist.  A trophy collection.

The weapons, if I had to guess, were what the Hyena might have been if it hadn’t been insistent on taking an inconvenient form.  And if it were unbroken.  Goblins, quite possibly, of the Hyena’s general caliber.

I looked in the direction of the goblin king.

Was it pencildick or whatever the guy had been called?

The goblin came at me.

Fast, considering the armor it wore.

I backed away.  I only barely deflected the serrated sword with the chain and barbed wire around one forearm.

A practitioner beside me kicked me.  I bounced against the wall of the neighbor’s house, then twisted aside before the axe could hit me.

The face on the axe screamed on contact with the wall.

Brick shattered violently, with copious amounts of gore, torn intestines spilling from the open wound.  The air filled with the iron-rich scent of bloody feces.

Cosmetic effect?  Or something else?

On the off chance that it was ‘something else’, I made very sure to stay out of the axe’s way.

“They’re monsters,” I said.  “Monster enough their own family wants them dead.”

The goblin stabbed.  Wind rushed past me.

I felt blood well from the flesh around my face.  It filled my mouth.

I spat.

The goblin looked at it sword, expression eerily neutral with the nails in the skin and around the eyes, then slipped it into a loop of chain at its back.  It drew another weapon in the same motion.  Another goblin weapon.  A knife.

“They want them dead, even knowing the stakes, knowing the fight for the Lordship is happening right now,” I said.  “Knowing I have no interest in you, why defend them?  More than a few members of the family want blood and justice more than they want the Lordship.”

I backed up further as the goblin advanced.

It stabbed the hood of the car with the dagger, and dragged the blade down the side.

The metal on either side turned rusty, and sagged, more like old leather than car.

Smaller goblins began crawling out of the tear.  Being birthed by it, almost.  Naked, wet, and covered in blood.

I could see the dagger.  A female goblin was engraved on it.

Lovely.

The goblin slashed at the wall of the house, as we reached the midway point of the driveway.

“Diagram,” Evan said.

I’d almost forgotten he was with me.

Yeah.  If I kept walking back, I risked walking into the three or four diagrams I’d taken the long route around to circumvent.

I’d really, really wanted to do this subtly.  To do it clever, targeting the people I needed to target and then run.

“Or are you defending them because you’re monsters too?” I asked, edging to the right, circling around, hoping to avoid the diagrams.

The tolling of the bell seemed to get louder.

The smaller goblins had finished accumulating.  Each slash of the dagger was only good for two or three, it seemed.

They gave the larger goblin familiar a wider berth.

“Monster?” Mason the Benevolent asked, behind me.  “Tch.”

I ignored him.

The goblin pointed its dagger.

The smaller goblins moved as a group.  Charging me.

In that same moment, I felt the tug of enchantment.

I didn’t even need to look at the living room window to know there were enchantresses there.

The enchantment burdened me.  Evan fluttered, a short flight to one side, breaking the snare before it took hold, but it was a pivotal move at a critical time.  The smaller goblins pounced on me.  Ten to thirty pounds each, clawing at me and my clothes.  One reached my face, digging fingers into my mouth, hooking sharp nails over my teeth.

It tasted like butt smelled.

With eerie, easy confidence, the goblin strode forward, sheathing the dagger.

With a two-handed grip, it swung the axe.

I couldn’t react the way I wanted to, burdened by smaller goblins, but I managed to catch the handle with the blade of the Hyena.  When that didn’t stop it, I was forced to raise one hand, and press my palm against the flat of the Hyena’s blade.

The goblin was stronger than I was.  The axe inched closer.

I felt the snare taking hold again.

The axe blade touched the goblin on my face.

“Urp,” it said.

It screamed as it blew up, into gore amounting about three times its own body mass.

Evan flew by, and the axe slipped free, and the goblin familiar staggered.

It grabbed onto me for balance.  It switched around, changing positioning, and lifted me clean off my feet.

Strong.  Strong enough, as it happened, to heave me.

I didn’t move far, but I still moved.  I landed roughly, staggering backward, fighting to keep my feet.

I knew what I was in for.  Why the goblin had thrown me.

The diagram was expanding around me.

I reached out for Evan, and he flew into my hand.

I looked, and I saw the diagram, the shape of it.

I’d spent weeks of my life staring at the books, poring over them.  Seeing them out of the corner of my eye, or glancing over covers on my way to finding what I needed.  I’d seen them in Rose’s mirrors.  I’d seen my fair share of circles, of diagrams.

Only twenty or so minutes ago, I’d seen the diagram that had housed the box.  I’d carefully studied and examined the diagram there.  I’d used my analysis to hack it, for lack of a better term.  Understanding and circumventing it.

The bell tolled twice in the time it took me to catch my feet.  In those two tolls, I was forced to draw on instinct borne of that manner of study.  To guess, and guess well, and figure out where to put my feet and my body, with Evan’s help to guide my positioning.

Something flew past me in the moment before I came to a stop, and I heard glass crash on the far side of the street.  I went utterly still, and watched as the diagram snapped into a completed shape.

Nothing flared to life.  Nothing went off.

“Sorry,” I said to Evan, releasing my deathgrip on him.

“S’okay.  Watch your step.”

I did.  I made my way out of the diagram, staring the Goblin down.  The practitioners were all behind it, watching from a distance.

For a third time, I felt the snare start to settle around me.

Evan stirred, and it broke, more easily than before.

I didn’t feel the binding resume.

“I think I’m good,” I said.  “Go help Green Eyes if she needs it.”

“You sure?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

He flew off.

I saw the goblin familiar watch Evan fly off toward the house, over the roof to where Green Eyes and the Satyrs had been dealing with the homunculus sentinel.

I saw its eyes narrow.

Bad feeling.

I ran for it.

The goblin didn’t turn away from watching Evan as it glanced at me sidelong.

It opened its mouth.

It wore braces, in a manner of speaking.  Machinery wired into teeth, into mouth, and down its throat.

That machinery consisted of three barrels.  One was empty.  One had an arrowhead sticking out of it, and the other had a dozen needles bristling from the end.

He held the axe out to ward me off as it fired the crossbow bolt, moving head and mouth as if it were speaking.  Except it was firing a weapon, with the snap of machinery kicking into motion and a crack of gunpowder.

But the Hyena and the full bearing of my body struck his axe arm.  He proved too strong, too heavy with armor and too big for me to really move.  All my effort and I only nudged.

I didn’t even make out the crossbow bolt striking Evan.  I saw only the bird fall, with a scattering of feathers that fell much, much slower.

I dragged the Hyena down the shaft of the axe, twisting my body out of the way of the axe, cutting the back of metal-clad fingers.  In the doing, I found some flesh.  He loosened his grip, and I tore the axe from his hand.

He backed off fairly quickly after that.

Rage told me to press the attack.  I wasn’t sure if it was rage borne of the monster part of me or the human part.

Evan.

I turned my head to check on Evan.  Which was perhaps the only thing that saved my eyes.  I’d almost thought the goblin had retreated out of fear.  He’d retreated to have room to fire, at optimal range.  The goblin familiar opened his mouth.

The needles, as it happened, were a kind of shotgun spray.

They tore into my shoulder, into my head, and the side of my neck, but they didn’t strike the flesh of my face.  Branches as thick as a finger were shattered by needles as thick as, well, needles.  The sort one put threads through.

I staggered back, until I was at Evan’s side, where he’d landed in deep snow.  Feathers lay not so far away.

I cupped him in one hand.

“Ow,” he said.  “Ow.”

The mad fluttering inside my body stirred, as I touched him.

He had a gash running down the length of his body, head to tail.

“Can’t fly,” he said.

Wordless, not trusting myself to speak, I grabbed him.  I lifted him into a cage of safety within my own body.

I touched bloody and feather-strewn snow, then crushed it in my fist.

The monster demanded revenge for daring to hurt Evan, and it was hungry, angry, violent.

The human wanted revenge for different reasons, in different ways, but it wanted it all the same, just as much.

All together, though?  The human and the monster together?  What that wanted, what I wanted, was different.

Absently, I drew a streak of blood and snow and the occasional scattered feather across my chest.  To clean my hands, because my clothes were grimy enough with Drainstuff it hardly mattered.

The mission.

The brothers were there, in my peripheral vision.

Watching.

The goblin had drawn a flail of some sort.  A weight on a chain.  It came for me, the weight tracing a lazy circle around it.  I retreated rapidly, closer to the brothers, to the other practitioners.

Twisting, I charged them.

No revenge.

My focus here, the problem I was trying to fix, it was them.  The real monsters.  The monsters who made worse things possible.

“Only them!” I called out, as I saw the practitioners reacting.  “At the request of a child!”

I could only wonder if those words had an impact.  If it slowed the response.

I saw a diagram expanding.

Their buddy.  He’d been busy while I fought.

I touched the trace of sparrow blood at my chest with knuckles that gripped one weapon, and held out the one hand in the direction of the diagram.  Moving around as the diagram grew, like an explosion in slow motion.

I swung the axe underhand, catching the one in the groin.

Reaching over, I pulled the looser chain and barbed wire away from my arm.  I only managed a half-foot of length.

But the goblin was giving chase, slowing as light erupted from the growing diagram.  Blinded, it turned its head to one side.

I hooked my arm over the brother’s head, and pulled the chain against his neck.  A human shield, between me and goblin.

The weight came around, and struck the top of his head clean off, meat and only meat striking the side of my face.  Several practitioners dropped to the ground as they avoided the flying sphere.

“Back,” Needledick said.  “Back.  No collateral damage this time, please.”

The goblin stopped, letting the weight strike ground, then car, before it stopped.

There was a moment of silence, me still holding the body upright against my own.

“Only them,” I said.  “And him.

I looked at Mason Hall-McCullough, and I let the body drop.

“I can handle this,” the practitioner spoke.

The old man smirked, looking down at me.

“Can you?” I asked.

He smiled.

I advanced, and approached him.  He stood by the trunk of the car.

I saw no trap.  No diagrams.

He spread his arms wide.

“If you think it’s right,” he said.  “Strike me true.”

I stabbed him in the chest with the Hyena.

Turning back toward the house, I saw the Satyrs and Green Eyes, covered in blood, Green Eyes cradling one arm.

I pointed.  I got a nod in response.

I wiped the blood off the Hyena and onto my pant leg as I moved on.

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