We stopped moving once we were clear of the small war that was going on at the lakeside.
Evan settled on my new shoulder.
Green Eyes collapsed, rolling onto her back in the snow, and picked a small bit of glass out of one hand. The blood looked surprisingly red against her pale skin.
“Yes,” she said, smiling. “This is nothing compared to where we were before, you know.”
War, blood, destruction and various Others roaming everywhere, cold, icy, generally hostile. I wasn’t sure I agreed.
But I could at least say that this world wasn’t actively conspiring against me, right?
Well, at least it wasn’t actively conspiring against me with some malign intelligence. It was just general karma and bad luck.
“I’m glad you’re happy, all things considered,” I said. It would have been douchey to disagree, and less than entirely honest to agree.
She smiled wider.
“Evan, how good are your eyes?”
“Good? Try great. It’s like having a superpower. I’ve got bird eyes when I want bird eyes and human eyes when I want human eyes.”
“Great. Jacob’s Bell isn’t that big. Less than twenty thousand people, if I remember the sign on the highway right.”
“That’s a lot of people,” Green Eyes said.
“Figure two to six people to a house,” I said, “Eliminate a chunk by saying there are people in those squat apartment complexes, but we can probably rule them out. The local families are established enough to have houses. Stay away from the areas with apartments, and the downtown area where it’s all businesses…”
“I’m just thinking… Molly mentioned that Mags is with the junior council.”
“You want to find Mags?”
“Yeah,” I said. “She’s… I’m somehow doubting that if all the junior Behaims and Duchamps and whoever elses are meeting, tonight of all times, they’ll be meeting at Sandra’s house or any of the major Behaim meeting spots.”
“Maybe,” Evan said.
“Process of elimination, to figure out what sort of places we need to look.”
“Not near the house, right?” Green Eyes suggested.
“Good,” I said. “Right. Unless they wanted a view… but they’d want to be safe, first and foremost.”
“And out of their parent’s way,” Green Eyes added.
I nodded. “They’ll have guards. Both against each other and against outside threats. If what happened here happened there… chaos. A bunch of kids trying to get their bindings in order while their Others are now free.”
“Okay,” Evan said. “That’s something I can look for.”
“Loop back regularly,” I said. “Don’t get too far away.”
“Got it,” he said.
Evan took flight.
I looked down at Green Eyes, who was looking up at me. Her hand still had a small wound in it.
“You shouldn’t crawl with your hand like that,” I said. “Especially with the salt on the road.”
“It’s mostly healed, and I’m tougher than I look…” she said, trailing off as I offered her a hand. “But, um, sure!”
She smiled a little too wide as I lifted her up, pulling her back to a piggyback position. Her tail encircled my middle, to anchor her in place.
I followed Evan, carrying Green Eyes. I could barely see him in the dark, a white and brown shape against a background of pitch black.
I felt a stab of envy.
“What are you thinking?” Green Eyes asked.
“Right now? I’m wondering if I could make wings out of branches, or if the cost would be too great. Getting the ability to fly would be an awfully nice compromise for losing my motorcycle.”
“Can’t you ride now? Like this?”
I looked down at my hands of wood. “With gloves, clothing covering me head to toe, and a full helmet, maybe. But it wouldn’t be my bike. I know that sounds stupid, but… man, I remember working my ass off for that bike. Skipping meals to put an extra five bucks in the jar.”
“Skipping meals?” she asked, aghast. It took me a second to realize she was joking. Poking fun at herself.
I hadn’t really thought about her having a sense of humor.
“I was homeless for a while, I got used to being hungry. For a while, it felt like my body forgot how to tell if it was hungry or not. Sometimes I’d be ravenous just after I’d finished a meal, and sometimes I’d realize I hadn’t eaten all day.”
“I know what that first bit is like,” she said. She shifted position, and settled her chin on my shoulder. The point of her chin might have dug in a little, but I wasn’t that easy to hurt.
This would be the time to talk, I thought, but nothing came to mind.
“We don’t really know each other that well,” I spoke my thoughts aloud. “Beyond the obvious.”
“Yeah,” she said. Then, impulsively, she shifted her grip and raised her chin off my shoulder. You wish you could fly? I wish I wanted my motorcycle,” she said.
“I mean, I wish I had something I wanted like you want your motorcycle. But I didn’t. There was nothing left for me to want so I went and I went to the Drains. I had no reason to stay and nobody and nothing wanted me back. I think if I’d even had a dog, that would have been enough to keep me out? Or get me back out when I started to go in there?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I feel like the biggest loser, when I think about it all like that,” Green Eyes whispered. “Better to think about food and comforts and being useful and company.”
Her arms and tail squeezed me just a little tighter.
“Well, I’m here,” I said. “So you’ve got me.”
“And there’s food,” she added, as if she’d forgot. “Can’t forget the food. Thinking about food is good.”
“Don’t eat me,” I reminded her.
“Okay. Until you’re dead.”
“Until I’m dead, no eating me.”
Evan returned. “That whole block is a no. Nothing except some goblins which might be coming this way.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Going thataway,” Evan said. He didn’t even point before he headed off.
I glanced around for the goblins that were apparently headed this way, and didn’t see them. I picked up the pace all the same. My feet were wood, as were my toes, and though the general shape matched the feet I was supposed to have, they had a gnarled texture, branches criss-crossing one another, mingling like roots grown over one another. They bit into snow like the best pair of rugged boots.
Green Eyes grabbed me a little tighter, getting a better grip as I picked up the pace. Her fingers hooked on branches and bones, some even inside my body.
It struck me that I was okay with it.
That I’d been okay with it, even since the revelation that, yes, I was a vestige, or something close to one, but my memories were real. Carl was real.
That was hard to process, and I didn’t like where my thoughts were going, as I dwelt on it.
I spoke my doubts aloud, instead.
“I didn’t miss the implications, when you talked about company,” I said.
She squeezed me just a bit tighter, like it was an involuntary thing.
“I’m not very good with girls,” I said.
“I’m not a girl. I’m a mermaid,” she said.
“Someone once tried to use sex to control me,” I said. “It was one of a few ways he had of getting into my head. Touching other people, even being friends with people, it was hard. It’s hard to untangle the good stuff from the bad memories. I get a hug, and the first place my mind goes is to… him, and the person he wanted me to be, leading the life he wanted me to live. Because back then, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get girls or hugs or friends again, if I didn’t get the ones he and his people offered me.”
“Was he more family?”
“No,” I said. “But I think he wanted to be.”
“Do you want me to let you go? I can crawl. My hand is better.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “I’m… I thought it wasn’t real, but recent events have opened my eyes. It’s hard to reconcile it all.”
Snow crunched under my feet as I tried to keep up with Evan.
Green Eyes’ head turned about a second before I heard more crunching.
And there were the goblins.
Bigger than the others I’d seen around Jacob’s Bell. Almost human in size, but with monstrous features.
A fat one had rings in his nose, with chains reaching over and to either side of his head, making an already large nose into almost a pig snout, his hair looked like it had been shaved off with a rusty knife, and his upper row of teeth were exposed by the way the nose was pulled up and stretched. Both upper and lower rows of teeth had double-edged razor blades or box cutter blades stuck between each tooth.
The female goblin in the group was swaddled, a scarf or two wrapped around her head. Her eyes glowed like red dots in the shadows where her eyes were, while a long, narrow tongue lolled out of a gap between wrappings. Her hair was long and tangled.
Two more, of matching height and build, were muscular, and far too hairy to be real people. Thick sideburns and bristly hair on their heads was normal enough, but their necks were hairy as well. Their teeth were pointed. They were built like bodybuilders.
Unlike so many of the small ones I’d seen, these ones were fully clothed, and they were armed. Winter coats, scuffed leather jackets, pants, and general accessories. Fatty had two large butcher’s cleavers that looked like they could take a head clean off. The woman goblin had a pole or a pipe, and the men had smaller weapons in each hand – knife, bottle, knife and hatchet.
“When I said I wanted company, I meant it,” Green Eyes said, her voice low. “I’ve been awfully alone for a very long time. Even before I fell into the water.”
“Yeah.” We’re talking about this while we’re about to be attacked? I would have said something, but… Green Eyes had been helpful. Unquestionably helpful. If she was untrustworthy at all, it seemed like a fairly predictable sort of untrustworthiness.
If she did like me, I wasn’t about to make this harder. It was a bad idea to screw around when sensitive feelings were on the line. It risked making friends into enemies.
“It’s like the bit of glass in my hand,” she said. “Things have sucked for so long, even this… inconvenience, it’s cool. It’s great, like the nugget said. Because I’m not there. I’m not dealing with that.”
“Yeah,” I said.
The goblins were spreading out, drawing closer.
“If we’re here and we only ever talk, that’s great,” she said, as she climbed off me. She dropped to the ground, elbows bent, ready to pounce, “If you’re carrying me that’s great, too. If you decide you want to date or whatever it is monsters do together, or if you want to do something with none of the strings attached or people trying to make you into something you’re not, then that’s great. Better than great.”
“I’m not sure how this is going to turn out.” If we’ll survive the night?
“So? You’re being weird and overthinking it.”
I think you’re being weird by talking about it right now, when we’re about to get in a damn fight.
“I don’t want to mislead you, or hurt your feelings.”
“You got me out of there. You freed me and you didn’t have to. I’m not… you’re not that guy you were talking about. You’re you and you helped me and you’re my hero. Hell, you offered to let me eat you. You’re nice.”
“That’s an odd metric for nice,” I said.
“I don’t think big about the future, I don’t think complicated. The only way you’re going to hurt me is if you lie to me or if you decide you never want to see me again.”
“I don’t think I can lie,” I said, “And in terms of the future, if we make it out of this, if I’m being honest, I’ve always thought of the future as this place I’d go where I could get away from it all, get away from everyone…”
She wasn’t facing me, but I could see the muscles in her arms and back tense.
“…But,” I said, “You’re on the short list of company I’d like to keep, anyway. Only way that’s going to change is if you eat someone I care about.”
“‘Ey, fish,” one of the hairy goblins said. He moved his knife over to the hand with the bottle and then groped his man-parts. “You want company? I got some right ‘ere. Two ‘andfuls.”
To his credit, it did look like two.
“Already stanks like pussy,” the other hairy goblin said. “Fishy smell. Gets the heart pumping, ‘ey? You can ‘ave us both at the same time, fishy. If you’re good, we won’t cut you up for sushi after.”
I saw her tense.
Thinking she was stressed or bothered delayed me by about a second. Then I realized who I was thinking about, and only just managed a “Wait!”
But she pounced. Strength of arms and tail together, she covered a solid ten feet, from ground to eye level.
Right for the one with the knife and hatchet.
He staggered back a few steps, trying to keep from being bowled over.
It was pretty impressive he managed to keep his feet at all. They were strong.
But Green Eyes’ jaw strength wasn’t that bad, either.
She sank her teeth into his throat.
Dropping the hatchet, grabbing her hair, he tried to pull her away. It wasn’t that effective – basic engineering at work. To get her to let go, he’d have to pry her jaw open, or pull her teeth out of his throat sideways.
She swung her tail around and up, and slapped the second hairy one in the face. Pulling the tail away, she removed a full quarter of the face, and sent him staggering toward me.
Having them both at the same time, in a way.
I was already moving forward, acting on instinct.
The goblin’s arms were already up around his face, so I went for the body, rather than risk hitting the arms. I stabbed him in the ribcage, stomach, then a few more times in the ribcage.
I wasn’t sure what I was stabbing for, and he was big enough that I wasn’t sure the Hyena’s relatively short blade was penetrating anything vital. If goblins had the same vitals.
I stabbed, then cut, forcing it out sideways. The blade penetrated between two ribs, and exited about a half-foot below the armpit.
I couldn’t focus too much on the one. Green Eyes was still attacking the other, and the other two goblins were on the attack. Fatty and the woman goblin with the tongue.
The woman squared off against me, which left Fatty to go after Green Eyes, cleavers in hand.
The woman goblin’s pipe was held like a spear. I could smell the substances on the end. Caked in shit and blood, from the smell of it.
I tried to move around, but she was almost as fast as I was, and her weapon had reach. She jabbed for my face. I slashed back in retaliation, trying to strike the spear. I hit only air.
“Watch out!” I called out.
The fat one was attacking, cleavers swinging.
Green Eyes leaped away, pushing herself off with as much force as she’d leaped onto the hairy goblin.
In that half-second where I was looking, the woman goblin caught my throat with her tongue. She turned in a quick circle, her tongue winding around her head, then leaned her head back in the same moment her spear came forward.
I managed to turn my head just in time to avoid losing an eye. The spear’s point raked the side of my head, digging over my scalp.
She leaned to one side, using the fact that my head was turned, pulling me just a bit off balance.
Enough that I couldn’t do anything as she stabbed the spear through the bottom of my chin. The point hit the back of my throat.
I could taste it. The metal, the shit, the blood.
I cut with the Hyena, but the tongue was already retracting.
The spear was yanked out, and I was pulled forward. I caught myself, and backed away before she could stab me somewhere else.
Tongue came out, lighting fast, like a frog’s, and caught my knee. She retracted it, pulling her head back, and tried to pull my leg out from under me.
I wasn’t that lightweight, though she did succeed in making my feet slide on the road’s surface, where tires had packed the snow down into an almost ice-like slickness. She retracted her tongue in the instant I started to swing the Hyena. I saw the spear coming, and elbowed it off course with a change in direction of my still-moving sword arm.
Fatty appeared at her side, cleavers in hand.
“Nuh,” she said. “Mah fog!”
“Share,” Fatty sneered.
“Mah fog!” she said, her voice shrill. She swung the spear, striking him across the face with the flat of it.
He swung the cleaver at her head. She ducked out of the way.
My throat was healing, but slowly. I wasn’t sure I could speak, with the damage to my tongue.
I couldn’t call a message to Green Eyes. We were allies on the battlefield, but until we could communicate, we weren’t much of a team.
These two were mine to deal with.
I took a step forward. Tongue slashed the spear’s point in the general direction of my head, and I was forced to stop and back away a step. She then kicked fatty in the side, screeching, “Mahn!”
He swatted the cleaver in her direction again.
Green Eyes was retreating, trying to get into a position where she could pounce, but the hairy one I’d stabbed and the hairy one she’d bitten in the throat were giving chase. She couldn’t stop for a second without letting them get close enough to hurt her.
Fatty saw me edging in Green Eyes’ general direction, and hurled a cleaver.
I barely registered it, but instinct won over. My left arm came up to shield my face, and the cleaver bit deep enough to hit bone. I was surprised to see blood. My grip on the Hyena slackened.
At my throat too.
Great. They were fighting among one another, and I was still losing.
Bigger goblins weren’t slouches in a fight, it seemed.
He was reaching into a pocket. I started to back away, ready to dodge, and the tongue caught me.
He hurled a snowball, with surprising strength, right for my face.
My hand caught it.
Bits of broken glass and gravel fell to the ground as the ice and snow crumbled. He’d thrown it hard enough that two of the nails in the midst of the snowball had stuck into the wood of my hand. Not even a little. I’d have to pull them out, and my other hand already had the Hyena stuck in it, and a cleaver in the arm.
Man, fuck goblins.
I couldn’t even reach up to grab the cleaver with the nails in the way. I brought my hand up to my mouth, gripped the nails with my teeth, and-
He hurled the snowball from the other pocket.
I twisted my body and face away, but it still struck me in the temple. I kept moving, walking away, but I was staggering a bit, and the snow and glass in my eye was making it hard to stay focused on the pair.
I didn’t even see Tongue before she’d cleared the distance between us. She was airborne, spear in both hands, and thrust it, right for my chest.
I thought of Evan. He wasn’t here, as far as I knew, but he would have been really helpful to have around. It was a moment’s inspiration, but I moved as I might if he were present, pushing me.
I twisted around, turning almost three hundred and sixty degrees. The spear slid past me.
Barely looking, she took a step back, and used the butt end of the spear to catch one of the chains that extended around Fatty’s head, and ripped it away from his nose. “Mahn! Mah gob! Mah kill ya!?”
I finished turning, stumbling as I faced her again. I tugged the cleaver from my forearm.
Fatty, bleeding profusely from a ruined nose, pointed at me, as if reminding her she was still fighting.
Tongue stabbed. My eyes weren’t on the spear. I watched her face-
Saw the wrappings part. I started moving before I even saw the tongue.
The Hyena cut it.
She stabbed, but this time I had the advantage. I caught the pole with both of my weapons crossed into an ‘x’ of sorts, and pushed it down and away. I managed to step close enough that I wasn’t in danger of being stabbed with the spear’s point, and uncrossed the weapons, cutting her forearms.
She backed away before I could hit anything more vital.
I backed away as well.
I saw Fatty moving in the corner of my eye. I ducked the thrown cleaver. It hit a more distant window, across the street.
After so much guttural non-speech from a goblin who had far too much tongue in her mouth, the very clear voice was almost disorienting.
I turned to see that the one I’d stabbed several times had the bottle in hand.
He’d turned it into a molotov. Cloth sticking out the top, already lit. The cloth wasn’t well soaked, it seemed, and it wasn’t burning all that well.
Still, a molotov.
His hairy buddy was keeping Green Eyes at bay, keeping her from interfering.
I threw the cleaver at the bottle.
No years of practice at butchery here. I missed.
The goblin, though, backed away a step. A bit too much.
He raised his hand to his wounded side, in reaction to some pain the movement had elicited.
I turned on the spot, bull-rushing him.
I didn’t have a great idea of why I was charging the guy with fire, when I was mostly made up of dry wood.
But it put Tongue Spear and Fatty McCleaver behind me.
I kicked the hand with the bottle. It was on the far side of me, and the end result saw the bottle falling free, a couple of feet away.
The resulting fire was far, far less impressive than I’d anticipated. The pool was barely two feet across.
He’d probably already drank the rest.
The other side effect of my attack was that I’d practically collided with the goblin, my chest touching his chest.
I reached over and dug my hand into the wound I’d carved out with the Hyena. He flinched, and I used the opening to stab his throat.
He still didn’t go down.
I saw his eyes widen.
Looking over my shoulder.
I moved, and Tongue’s spear impaled him, right through the middle. Now he went down.
She backed away, tugging the spear free before I could attack her.
The ones who remained were scared, now. I could feel it, clarifying me. Mending me.
Was this how the monsters in the movies got the energy to keep going, just when you thought they were down?
Green Eyes moved to my side. Her hairy goblin’s throat now fully torn out.
“I’m in a good mood,” she said. “You do not want to get in the way of that.”
I saw Tongue Spear and Fatty McCleaver exchange looks.
Fatty wiped the blood away from the side of his face.
Then, very deliberately, gave us a very bloody middle finger. Because just flipping the bird normally wasn’t emphatic enough.
The remainder of the fight took less than a minute. Tongue Spear didn’t have a full-length tongue anymore, and Fatty didn’t have any more cleavers or snowballs. They were scared, even if they’d decided to fight to the end, and that only helped us.
In the end, we had them broken and bleeding, lying on the ground. Green Eyes had Fatty pinned, and I had Tongue at bladepoint.
“I’ll let you live, but I need concessions,” I said.
“Gkkk, hrrgle,” Tongue gurgled. She snorted, looked for an instant like she was going to spit in my face, then twisted her head around and spat a mouthful of mucus and blood on the side of Fatty’s face instead. “Mak krggle,”
Even less intelligible with a length of her tongue lopped off.
I wished I could sigh.
“You,” I said, to Fatty.
“See any gatherings of young practitioners around?” I asked.
“Who sent you? Who brought you here?”
“Goblin King Hal Spikedick.”
“Is his wife blonde?”
“Fuckably,” Fatty sneered.
Green Eyes gave me a sidelong look.
“I need a promise you’re going to never attack or hurt another-”
I could see his expression change before I was even done speaking.
“Nevermind,” I said. “Does the binding Mr. Spikedick arranged keep you from doing that whole ‘turn into a weapon’ thing? Binding yourself?”
He shook his head.
“Because the third option, after pacifism and you doing the weapon thing, is me putting you down right now.”
It took him only a second. His skin peeled like old paint, and the rest of him crumbled.
What didn’t crumble congealed.
I reached into the congealed mass and pulled out a fairly shoddy looking piece of meat cleaver. Where the blade would normally be flat, a bit had been carved out of the middle, in the shape of an animal with legs splayed out like roadkill. The genitals, I noted, were both generous in size and displayed erect, sticking out into the carved-out portion.
When I gave it a shake, the blade rattled in the wooden handle. It didn’t give the impression of something well made. I doubted it would last for more than a few whacks.
I looked at Tongue.
She turned her head and spat.
She dissolved much in the same way.
I picked a length of chain out of the muck. Rusty, with barbed wire woven through it to the point that it was impossible to hold easily. I had to give it a few shakes to get most of the bodily fluids off of it.
“Want?” I offered Green Eyes.
She gave me a look like I was crazy. It was extra effective, considering it came from the mermaid with goblin blood all over her face and chest. The blood was fitting into the cracks between the finer scales, making them more pronounced.
“Right,” I said. I wrapped the chain around my arm, over the sleeve of my sweatshirt. I looked around. “Where the fuck is Evan?”
We spent a moment looking, then started moving, Green Eyes crawling at my side.
In about twenty seconds, Green Eyes perked up.
Her hearing was slightly better than mine. I could hear Evan.
“Help help help help help-”
Growing louder with each ‘help’.
He flew past.
Green Eyes lunged, and caught the gargoyle-thing that was chasing Evan out of the air. She landed in a snowbank with a bit of a puff of snow, before shaking her head like a dog might, killing it.
Evan settled on my shoulder, very obviously breathing hard.
“Couldn’t-” he started.
“Could- couldn’t turn. Or he’d get me. Used my Evan-mojo, dodge. Kept having to fly away. Saw a chance, space in trees, big enough for me. Not him. Turned, flew here. Thank you, thank you. Good mermaid.”
“Bleugh,” Green Eyes said, dropping the gargoyle. “It’s not meat.”
“Then I really owe you one,” Evan said. “For saving me.”
“Yeah. Because fairness is power and power is my road to awesome, and because I’m really really super duper grateful I didn’t become gargoyle food.”
“Yeah? What food could I provide? I’m a sparrow, I’m dead, I’m…”
I pointed, and we started moving again, still talking.
“A snack,” Green Eyes said. “Um. I’m really hankering for chicken nuggets.”
I shot her a look.
“Real chicken nuggets,” she said.
“I’m not sure real chicken nuggets exist.”
“Real, like from a fast food place.”
“Now I’m not sure what not-real chicken nuggets are. You mean homemade ones? Are those even a thing? Do people make homemade chicken nuggets? I’m suddenly really interested.”
“Sort of?” Green Eyes said.
She looked up at me.
“I’m not digging you out of this one,” I said.
“Digging? Did I miss something?” Evan asked. “I missed something. What did I miss?”
I could hear the tolling of the bell.
Distant. Whatever was happening at the lakeside, it hadn’t ended yet.
“Put a pin in that thought,” I said. “I promised Molly I’d help her against Sandra. That promise holds. Did you see what we were looking for?”
“No, not exactly.”
“It’s a barrier. A big one. It’s protecting an area. And I’m pretty sure I saw guards.”
“Around a neighborhood.”
“It’s not super obvious. But… this way.”
“Okay,” I said.
“So, about the chicken nugget thing,” Evan said. “Green Eyes? Can you explain?”
I let them talk as we moved, watching Green Eyes be uncomfortable
The barrier was three blocks away.
Except it wasn’t quite a barrier.
“Do you get it?” Evan asked, “Because I’ve flown over this town a lot, and I still almost didn’t get it, especially being distracted by the gargoyle things.”
“Things, plural?” I asked. Perched at my shoulder, he used a wing to point.
They were flocking. Them and something larger.
The skies weren’t much safer than the ground.
But they were avoiding one area, and by doing so, they were being forced into tighter clumps.
“They’re being redirected,” I said. “It’s… almost impressive.”
“What’s impressive?” Green Eyes asked.
I looked around, and confirmed my suspicion. “Opposite side of the street… George, Chapel, Hubert street…”
“This side of the street… George, Hubert.”
“It’s… hidden,” I said.
“Tucked away or something,” Evan said. “I tried to fly into it, but I got turned around, and then the gargoyle came after me.”
“Protecting a territory,” I said. “Seems like something Duchamps might do. Direction and redirection. Powerful enchantment.”
“Maybe,” Evan said.
He took off, flying toward the section of road between George and Hubert.
The second he was out of view, flying close to the rooftop, he came right back.
“Huh,” he said. “What?”
He hopped around on my shoulder, trying to get different perspectives, to the point that it got annoying. I raised a hand and placed it gently on top of him, to hold him still.
“Let me try,” I said, out of sheer curiosity for what it was like to get turned around so readily.
I passed between houses, into a backyard.
Passing a point, halfway across the backyard, I felt a stir of wind. My hair, grimy as it was, didn’t move the slightest, but my sweatshirt fluttered momentarily.
I had to check three times to make sure I was still on course.
I… was immune?
It took nearly a minute of thought before I connected the dots.
“Guys,” I shouted.
“Yeah!?” Evan called back.
“Back in a bit! Don’t worry unless it’s a long bit!”
“Define a long bit!”
“Do you have a watch?”
“Then does it matter, if you have an exact time?”
“Bye!” I called out. “Back soon!”
I passed through the backyard.
In doing so, I must have tripped a secondary barrier, because I got attention.
There were Others on the street. Shadowy, fat, tall, figures, with eyes that glowed like coals. All wore loincloths, and looked like they were made of condensed smoke. Their expressions were bestial.
If I’d never seen a demon before, I might have taken them for demons.
Three of them.
I watched a woman stride out of one house, approaching.
I’d tripped an alarm, so to speak.
I spread my arms, glad I’d already sheathed the cleaver. I wasn’t as menacing as I might have been if I were fully armed.
It was the sister. The one that Joyce had dragged away from the gathering of Duchamps.
This wasn’t what I’d wanted. I’d wanted the junior council.
“I talked with your sister earlier,” I said.
“You’re the reason she’s acting strange?”
She had that general tone to her voice, one of the ones that made me instantly dislike certain people. As if she were trying to sound casual, but came across as hostile by default, because that was just how she was.
I ignored it and nodded.
“Sitting on the couch, eyes on the floor, nonresponsive, except to take the food and water I gave her.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“What did you do?”
“I spared her,” I said.
“The alternative was that I’d cut her throat,” I said. “But I overheard her talking to Lola on the phone, and…”
“I could end you right now,” she said. But I felt how spooked she was. I’d waded past their defenses.
“Maybe,” I said. “But, before you decide to, I should tell you that your sister swore to take no action to stop or interfere with me.”
“That’s why you were able to get past the barrier.”
“Is it? That’s not my point.”
“Get to the point, then. It sounds like all hell is breaking loose down there, and I don’t like being outside,” she said.
“Your sister took you away, which did help. One less person for me to deal with.”
“Deal?” she asked.
I saw her expression change fractionally.
“I played a role in killing your husband and his brother,” I said. I left out the Duchamp woman.
She staggered like I’d struck her.
“Damn her,” she said. “That wasn’t her call.”
But she sounded different. The hostile tone was gone.
She sounded a little choked up.
“It wasn’t,” I agreed. “Me and my friends did it. Now, I’m not looking for a fight, here.”
She didn’t respond.
“I want to speak to Lola,” I said. “Where can I find her?”
“Inside,” she said, still sounding dazed. She seemed to rally her senses. “If you think I’ll let you in-”
“Just ask,” I said. “I’ll meet her out here if need be.”
I watched her turn to go.
It was an awkward few moments, waiting with the smoky things, quite possibly ogres, standing there, staring at me.
“Come in. Protections inside are a better safeguard than anything inside. If you try something-”
“I don’t intend to do anything overt,” I said.
I shrugged, “I only want to talk, ideal world.”
“Your funeral if you don’t.”
I passed inside.
Much as before, I could sense the change.
Not an ordinary home.
Sure enough, Joyce was on the couch, sitting on her hands. She looked at me.
Lola was standing by the kitchen table in the adjoining room. It was an open concept, and we had a clear view of one another.
“You again,” she said.
“Not meeting the junior council?” I asked.
“I am,” she told me.
I raised an eyebrow.
She took a step to the side. I could see the laptop on the table.
“What do you want?”
I gestured to the laptop.
“Um, I don’t-”
“Please. And a phone. This is important.”
I saw her look at her mother, who only stared at the floor.
“I think maybe you’d better leave,” Lola said.
“I helped kill your aunt’s husband,” I said.
Her eyes widened.
“I’m interested in continuing the process. But, here’s the thing, I get it if you can’t tell me to go after your fiance.”
“But I’m suspicious that if I put out an open call, asked the Duchamp kids in the chat… he wouldn’t be the only one that deserves to die, harm to the family aside.”
“I only want to ask,” I said. “And open a proper discussion. Unfiltered. Nothing more.”
I saw her look at her aunt.
“Who are you calling?” she asked. I had her.
“Thorburns,” I said. “Or a friend, who can get my cousins online.”