Category Archives: 2.06

Damages 2.6

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“Stop,” Ms. Lewis told me.  “Look.  Our destination.”

The building sat across the street.  Squat, unimpressive, with some large windows showing bookshelves on the other side.

“The library?”  Rose asked.

“A government institution.  If you find a lost driver’s license, you can leave it in a mailbox, and the post office will take it where it needs to go.  Leave a note clearly labeled for the police at a library…”

“And they’ll take it to the police,” Rose said.

“Why did we stop?” I asked.

“Two reasons.  Both having to do with attention.  First of all, I think it would be a damn shame if you were to put all this time and effort into this, only to see it shoved into a drawer and ignored because it is inconvenient, or thrown into the trash.  Give some thought to how you label it.”

I nodded, but my mind wasn’t feeling as sharp as usual.  I didn’t think it was blood loss, I hadn’t bled nearly that much, stabbing my hand, but I had suffered from blood loss before, and the symptoms weren’t so different.

“Something blatant? Rose asked.

“Something blatant.  Remember, presentation is tied to effect.  Be dramatic.”

“Something like, ‘For the eyes of the RCMP only: Contains information about the Molly Walker murder‘?”  Rose asked.  “Get the library people talking, word spreading, people asking about it?

“That’ll do,” Ms. Lewis said.  “Mr. Thorburn?”

I hesitated.  “Am I missing anything?  We’re about to leverage the supernatural stuff to try to ruin his non-supernatural life.  There’s no way this doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass.”

“We’re declaring war,” Rose said.  “But there’s nothing special there.  They declared it first.  We’re just responding.”

“Ms. Lewis?  Is there a factor I’m not paying attention to?”

“The rules about secrecy were established for everyone’s mutual benefit.  Inducting too many people into this world carries too much danger, too much weight.  There are no hard rules about doing this, but there are very, very few people who would be willing to, knowing the kind of enemies it makes, and the confusion and chaos it causes.”

“So…” Rose said, pausing for a second, probably to gather her thoughts.  “This isn’t one of those situations where a rule becomes law and law becomes natural law?”

“No.  I must say I’m wondering why you returned the familiar to its master and showed some restraint, only a few minutes ago, but you are responding in this fashion to a more indirect threat.”

I sighed.  I wasn’t in a state to offer an articulate response.

“He’s fucked up,” Rose said.  “Laird is.  He’s crazy, and he seems to be spearheading this whole thing against us.  Those kids, they were acting like they were following orders.  Going to some dance class, they saw us, they attacked.  I get the impression we changed their minds a bit.  I don’t think Laird is ever going to change his mind about us.”

“That’s a fair assertion,” Ms. Lewis said.  “Is this going to do enough damage, for the kind of response it’s going to get?  He is going to retaliate.”

“Probably,” I said.  “But how much worse can it be than him trying to kill us?”

Ms. Lewis said, “Individuals like him, typically, have effectively stocked up on good karma, so they might spend it in times of crisis.  I have a good idea about what’s happened, even if my information is incomplete, and I think he may have been holding back.  Acting upfront, informing you as to why he’s attacking you, being honest and helpful.  Inviting compromise.  Tempering himself.”

“And he’s going to stop?” Rose asked.  “Start going into debt to take us out?”

I glanced back the way we’d come.  Nobody following.  “He’s been holding back because he’s trying to decide if I’m a threat or someone who will happily sit back and wait until he’s ready to actively kill us.  I’m not sure if he’s made that decision yet, but I have to assume it’s sliding towards the latter.”

“Is it?” Rose asked.  “If you take the Duchamp thing just now into account, word is going to spread about what we did.  Shouldn’t we seem less threatening than we did?”

“You’re making that a question, and not a statement,” Ms. Lewis noted.

“It feels like a question,” Rose said.

“I agree.  It doesn’t feel like a certain thing,” I said.  “I’m more inclined to be paranoid, I’m betting they won’t tell the full story.  If only half the story gets told, then people in the Duchamp family are going to notice that the familiar is injured.  They’re going to know there was a fight.  That is going to reflect badly on us.”

“I agree,” Rose said.  “Yeah.  Well said.”

I nodded.  “Yeah.”

“So it’s settled.  You’ll send the letter, clearly marking it for what it is, so they can’t ignore it.  That raises the second point of interest.  The anonymous note loses its impact if Blake Thorburn, new to the area, is seen on a security camera, dropping the letter off.”

“I don’t see a camera,” I said.

“Are you looking?” Ms. Lewis asked.

Right.  I looked.  Connections.  Where was attention being devoted?

I couldn’t see anything.  Things were unfocused and unclear.  I could barely make out the spirits against the gentle snowfall.  “I think I’ve spent a bit too much of my personal power.  Rose?  Can you see?”

“I don’t think so,” Rose said.  Too fast a response.  I looked down to make sure that the mirror was dangling outside of my jacket.

“How come?” I asked.

“I just can’t.  I… don’t think I can see spirits, after all.  I was confusing it with something else.”

I frowned.  “Need more info than that.”

“…Later.  We’ll figure it out?”

“Right.”  I was too tired to argue.  “Fine, but that still means we have to figure this out.  Or we just ignore the cameras and deal with it.”

“You can do it,” Ms. Lewis said.  “Take your time, Blake, don’t focus too much on the particulars.”

I wasn’t happy, shouldering the burden here, but I did as she’d said.

Rose’s voice interrupted my observations.  “How much longer before you have to go?  We can’t take too long or we’ll wind up walking back without you.”

“We can’t,” Ms. Lewis said.  “But I did promise I would see you home, as safe as you allowed me to be.  I feel confident Blake can get a good grasp of this.”

“But you won’t do it for us,” Rose said.  Still talking when I was trying to focus.  “You can’t… except you had that box, and you were prepared to do something.”

“I do.  I was willing to violate the spirit of one oath to keep the letter of another.  I’m glad I didn’t have to.”

I tried to focus on the spirits, letting my vision blur to help ignore the snow.  Focus on the things that were rising.  I could see little clouds of fog around vents, where buildings were being heated.

Was I looking at it wrong?  The snow had its own spirits, as did the vents.

I relaxed a little.   The walls had their own spirits.  The cold air did.  I was trying too hard to see past things, and in the doing, I was missing the forest for the trees.

Taking it all in was easier, when I was as tired as I was.

The world had a pulse of its own.  Things flowed.  If I let myself get swept up in it, then I naturally saw the various things at play.  The direction the wind moved, the temperature, the weather…

Every time I got a grip on what I was sensing, I was already feeling my attention slip to the next.  There.  Cameras.  I could see the focus they were devoting to an area.  Almost like spotlights, as if I could see the outline of their field of view.  Some more focused than others.  A traffic camera here, a static and blurry image there.

I could see the areas people traveled, when the day was at its height.  The aftermath, the lingering emotions, almost like the community left a ghost in its wake.  A mood.

Blake.”

I stirred.

“You haven’t been responding.  You okay?”

“My vision is swimming,” I said.

“Don’t get too deep,” Rose said.  “That’s dangerous.  Maybe you’re more vulnerable because you’re tired.”

“I think I am,” I said.  “I’m going to turn it off for now.  Keep from draining whatever charge is left in the battery, so to speak.”

“Were you successful?” Ms. Lewis asked

“I think I saw it.”

“Then please lead the way,” Ms. Lewis told me.

I did.  I didn’t have the benefit of the sight to make out where the cameras were, but I did remember their general locations.  I crossed the empty street, tracing a lazy ‘s’ on my way to the library.  The drop-off box was similar to a dumpster, only half the size, and had a sign in a plastic sleeve inside, explaining what it was and the pick-up hours.

“May I suggest saying a few words?” Ms. Lewis asked.  “Gestures and words can both lend weight to actions.  There is always something listening, after all.”

“I’m not up to much,” I said.  “I’m feeling pretty drained.  Is this usual?”

“No.  No it isn’t.  But your situation is a unique one.”

“You mean Rose.”

“I mean your relationship to Rose, yes.”

“I have questions,” I said, “But we should get this over with.”

“If you’re not feeling up to it, I can try saying something,” Rose said.

“Sure,” I said.

“Laird declared himself our enemy when we first met, acting against us, misleading us into thinking we had safe passage, and abandoning us.  His actions were in accord with the letter of the law, but not the spirit.  We now tender our retaliation, in keeping with letter and spirit of law, to the best of our knowledge.  Those who are witnessing us, beings of law, justice, and right, help guide this to the right hands.”

She glanced at me.

“Help guide it into the right hands,” I said, feeling just a little lame, that I couldn’t expand on the flowery, stately language.

I dropped the letter into the slot on the side of the book return box.

“Well said, Ms. Thorburn,” the lawyer said.

“Thank you,” Rose replied.

“You just pulled that out of your ass?” I asked.

“I’m not bad when it comes to that stuff,” Rose said.

“Most definitely not,” I said.

“The letter is delivered” Ms. Lewis said.  “You’ll want to be returning home, I expect?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I feel like I could sleep for hours.  This is the vestige thing, right?”

She smiled, “‘The vestige thing’, yes.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Cool.  Which raises a few questions I’ve been meaning to ask.”

“Keep in mind I’m here in a teacher capacity, not as your lawyer.”

“Sure,” I said.  “But this vestige thing-”

“I can’t tell you the particulars of the deal we made with the late Rose Thorburn.”

“Speaking hypothetically?” I asked.

“I won’t answer questions about a hypothetical situation so close to my real-world knowledge, lest I give up some information I shouldn’t.”

“Okay, speaking generally then, what advantages are there, to having a vestige partner?”  To making a close copy of someone?  Can you use that to get around contracts?”

“You can.”

“Rose can’t use magic.  Is that usual?”

“That’s more of a question of environment.  If Rose wanted more details on that, we could start billing you, and see what we could arrange.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.  “Environment?  She’s stuck in the mirror, but she’d have power elsewhere?”

“She’d have more power in virtually any other situation, if you’re talking about faculty, the ability to act.  If I wanted to say more than that, I’m afraid, again, I would need to bill you.”

“Again with the billing,” I said.

“Everything has a price, Mr. Thorburn.  Even a leisurely walk and talk with me.”

“What’s the price there?” Rose asked, a note of alarm in her voice.

“It gives me time to convince the latest diabolist of the Thorburn line, in ways both subtle and overt, to join us.  You two are growing to like me, just a touch, because I’m one of your only allies in a sea of enemies.  You’re growing to trust me, because I’m more or less trustworthy.  My knowledge can be granted in exchange for your trust.  Knowledge I deem valuable enough to exact more of a cost comes with a price tag.”

“You’re not going to share the knowledge on vestiges,” I said, “because you know it’s something big?  Something we need to figure out if we’re going to survive?”

“In part.  But, as a suggestion, perhaps we could go for a walk.  We’ll take a detour on our way back.  If I give you material you can use to find your own way, instead of giving you the complete, more costly answer.”

“A walk to where?” I asked.

“A bit up the main road here.  We’ll make it back in time.”

“No trick?  Nothing conniving here?” Rose asked.

“No.  Only an illustration.”

“Sure,” I said.

She smiled, pointing the direction.

It was only half a block before we reached the main road.  One four-lane street that ran north-to-south down the middle of Jacob’s Bell.  The buildings on either side were typical for any of the regular places between one of the major cities.  Fast food places, a big gas station that stood out as much as anything, a strip mall set off to one side, with a parking lot as large as all of the collected stores put together.  Here and there, there were other businesses, more for locals than people stopping in for a coffee and donut or to fill up their gas tanks.  A vet’s office in a repurposed old residence, fitting in the same general era as the Hillsglade House.  I made out a hospital off to the side, just off the highway.  One of the largest buildings here, and Hillsglade House was visible on the other end of the small town, looming over things.

We approached the highway.  The road dipped in a very deliberate way as it passed beneath, like someone might be overly cautious in avoiding hitting their heads on an overhang.

“The north end,” Rose said.

Right.  The expanded city, above the highway.

“The notes said we shouldn’t come here,” I said.  “Explicitly forbidden.”

Ms. Lewis said, “You’re with me, and I’m not going to let you enter the dangerous area.”

“The dangerous area?” Rose asked.  “Johannes’ area?”

“Yes.”

We made our way up the inclined that followed after the dip in the road.  As we crested the top of the rise, Ms. Lewis said, “What do you two see?”

It was the upper end of Jacob’s Bell.

“I’m not seeing anything special,” Rose said.  “Maybe I’m missing something.  Things get indistinct as they get further from the mirror Blake is wearing.  There are some reflective surfaces, but it’s kind of muddled.”

“Rose, I would suggest you look beyond the scope of the mirror.  Focus on the city in the distance.  Blake, use your sight.”

“My sight isn’t much better than my regular sight,” I said.  “I burned myself out during that fight.”

Try.  This isn’t very hard, as these things go.  Fact is, I suspect it will be hard to ignore.”

That was ominous.

But I looked.

Through the sight, it was all different.  The sky was cast in red light, and I could see the crimson highlights on the clouds, as if the sun was in the midst of setting.

At five or six in the morning?

The buildings were twisted, the street more winding and narrow, the rooftops changing.  All towards one peculiar, oddly cramped aesthetic.

I could see people there.  Vaguely, from a distance, but they were people.

“It’s all lit up,” Rose said.  “How did we not see this before?”

“This is an illustration,” Ms. Lewis said.  “I can give you answers, but-”

“We’d have to pay for them,” I cut her off.  “Right.  You want us to reach our own conclusions?  I think it’s based on proximity.  We get closer, we’re stepping more into… there.”

“Well said.”

“It’s all lit up,” Rose said, again.  “Why?”

“Why do you think?”

“You don’t get it, Rose?”  I asked.  “Remember what Johannes said?”

“Yeah,” Rose answered me.  “He said I’d find myself in good company.  Maggie said it was because I was an Other, and this is some kind of amusement park for Others.  But that’s not it.  All of that stuff we’re looking at…”

“Vestiges,” I said.  “Or it’s one vestige.  A big one.  How’d he do it?”

That is a very good question,” Ms. Lewis said.

“One that would be very costly to buy an answer for, I’m betting,” I said.  “Right.”

“He took over an area,” Rose said.  “He made it a demesnes… and this vestige is some kind of reflection of that demesnes.”

“Or he made the vestige,” I said, “And made that vestige some kind of territory he could base his demesnes on.”

“More likely the former than the latter,” Ms. Lewis said, “But I don’t think you’re too far off base.”

Rose spoke up, “He took over an area and then copied it.  But it’s different.  A vestige degrades with attention and stress, so maybe he’s shoring it up with something?  Some kind of power source that would twist it by association?”

“Or,” I said.  “Like other amusement parks, there’s a cost to visit.  A lot of little power sources.  Each one has a general influence, twisting things in a certain way when it fills in the cracks and gaps.”

“Oh god,” Rose said.  “Oh.  Maggie said it was a place for Others to relive the old days, before mankind got its footing.  I thought maybe it was scaring people, picking off one every few months or so.  But it isn’t.  If the people were copied over too, if they aren’t real people, then what’s to stop Others from hurting them all the time?  Openly hunting them down and eating them?  Making it a constant, daily thing?  Those people would be stuck there, like I’m stuck in the mirror.”

“Except they have company,” I said.

“I think we’ve gleaned enough from this little case study,” Ms. Lewis said.

I nodded, a little numb.  Rose didn’t say a thing, and I couldn’t see her to know what she was doing or how she was reacting.  Going by her tone of voice just a moment ago, I was guessing she was horrified.

We collectively began our trek back to Hillsglade House.

“What do you think I wanted you to take away from that?”  Ms. Lewis asked.

“A place can be a vestige,” I said.

Ms. Lewis smiled, “True, but that isn’t the answer to my question.”

“Vestiges can be twisted into something else,” Rose said.  “And… I’d have power there?”

“You have power anywhere,” Ms. Lewis said.

“I mean I can have magical ability there.”

“Again, you can have magical ability anywhere, Rose,” Ms. Lewis said.  “But that’s not the issue you’re trying to address.  Your concern is the here and now.  Right now you’re in a world of mirrors, largely powerless.  Blake was asking how you could achieve more faculty.”

“And now we know,” I said.  “You can go to a place with more people and things to interact with, Rose.  I’m not sure you’d want to, given what’s going on over there, but you could.”

“I could,” Rose said.

A short answer, noncommittal.

“So this psycho guy builds up this huge demesnes, converts it into a kind of feeding pen for Others,” I said.  “But how do we do the same thing?  I’m getting the feeling we’re in dire need of these three big power sources.  Tool, familiar, demesnes.”

“You do what you did today,” Ms. Lewis said.  “You claim power where you can, then you make a play, using that power.  Look at what you’ve accomplished already.”

“An ice-hatchet and a lock of hair,” I said.

“The hair was an interesting choice,” she said.  “Why did you choose it?”

“Because I didn’t want to hurt her while she was down, I didn’t want to mess with her clothing because that’s a little creepy, and I don’t want to carry around some broken piece of metal from the sword… there aren’t any other things I could grab.”

“There are a great many other things you could have taken.  Many more abstract than the physical things you’re focusing on.  But you chose the hair.  You said you’d take some power, when you talked to her.  Did you break your oath?”

“I… honestly don’t know,” I said.  “I said a lot of things, right then.”

“If you lie,” Ms. Lewis said, “You’ll suffer for it.  You’re already drained.”

But she said it with a small smile.  As if she already knew the answer.

“I don’t think I lied,” I said.  “I didn’t feel like my vision got that much worse between when the fight started and when we dropped off the letter.  When I said that stuff, I spoke from the heart.  No deception, being direct, being blunt, like you said.”

The smile widened a small fraction.  “And?”

“And… I said I’d take power.  I thought, taking the hair, well, if a Faerie uses glamour all over the place, where are they going to use it more than in their personal appearance?”

“You thought all that through?” she asked.

“No.  I barely thought.  I was focused more on the fact I’d just puked, and barely being able to stand.  I mean, my actions make sense to me, looking back, but it wasn’t a big thing where I outlined it to myself step-by-step.”

“Well, your instincts were good.  Some Faerie give tokens to their favored humans and practitioners.  Little objects, trinkets, scraps of cloth.  Objects infused with glamour.  These objects carry a kind of charge, an influence.  A coin infused with a glamour that it’s lucky.  An earring that’s infused with another sort of glamour, granting an ability.”

“And the lock of hair?” I asked.

“Is only a lock of hair, infused with a small glamour to keep it lustrous and pretty.  But it’s infused with glamour, nonetheless.  In the old stories, there are tales of people given gifts, to use at certain times.  Throw this hairbrush down, and it becomes a forest of trees.  Throw this ribbon down, and it becomes a river.  One big glamour, expending an item.”

“This is the same thing?” I asked.

“It can be either.  A simple object with a simple benefit, or a charge of glamour to be spent.  Whatever you do with it, you’ll want to cultivate it.  Give it your attention, make it a part of your routine, and it will gradually get stronger.  Be careful, however, that you don’t get used to it.  Glamour is innately elusive, subtle, and misleading, images striving to slip from the conscious attention to the unconscious attention.  There is a reason we don’t have troves of these infused objects lying about.  In the majority of cases, they become a part of the scenery and routine, they lose importance, and they seize on that to become unimportant.  The fortunate coin is unfortunately lost, you see.”

“You said everything has a cost,” I said.  “What’s the cost, here?”

“A very good question,” Ms. Lewis said.  “Tell me, how does it go in the stories?  A woman gets the favor of a family of brownies, provided she rubs ointment on the brownie child’s eyes once a night.  She’s warned she should never use it on herself, but she does, and she gains the ability to see the brownies as they go about their business in the city.  She is discovered, and as punishment, they strike her blind.”

“Ironic punishment,’ Rose said.  “Karma.”

“The universe seeks balance, and it can be heavy handed.  You might earn the earring that gives you an uncanny ability to listen, and this is tolerable, because you earned it.  But when the earring is lost, balance is restored, and-”

“You might go deaf,” I said.  “Or you could lose the ability to hear kind words, or you could get the ears of an ass and your ass-ears can’t understand everyone’s mocking whisperings behind your back.  I think I get the drift.”

“You do.  Think of what you’re willing to lose before you turn that lock of hair to a purpose.  Should you misuse it or treat this little thing of power poorly, you’ll pay a price equal to what you gained.  But for the time being, I recommend you take time for it.”

“If nothing else, it’s a hair grenade,” I said.  “Pull the pin, throw it, make a spiderweb or something.”

“I don’t think it’s a suitable thing for fighting,” Ms. Lewis said.  “You won’t get as much effect out of it there.  It could even backfire.  Keep in mind that it was and is hair, and it lends itself to similar purpose.”

“Right,” I said.  Hair’s purpose?

We were approaching Hillsglade House.  Only a few minutes away, now.

“Where do I go looking, for a familiar?” I asked.

“Where do you go looking for a date?” Ms. Lewis asked me.  “You’re looking to make a long-term commitment.  You don’t leap into it, you put yourself out there, in the sort of place that you might ordinarily like to spend your time, doing what you do best, or doing what you enjoy most.  You introduce yourself to those of similar interests.  Get to know them.  See how compatible you are.  Only after some time do you make the investment.”

“That kid just now found a familiar at thirteen or so,” I said.

It was Rose who answered me, not Ms. Lewis.  “Arranged marriages exist even today.  Even in Canada, they’re happening.  Not so hard to believe a family would set something up with familiars, given how backwards this community seems.”

“Exactly,” Ms. Lewis said.

“Okay, then forget familiars.  Implement?  I mean, we read the books on this stuff, but-”

“But you’re lost.  The implement requires a more intimate knowledge of yourself.  Who are you, and how do you address the rest of the world?  Some people find this an easy decision to make.  They know they are warriors at heart, or thinkers.  For others, it’s a very nuanced choice.  A small few rush into it, and they find they’ve crippled themselves.”

“Haste makes waste,” Rose said.

“Hm?” I asked.  “That sounds familiar.”

“Romeo and Juliet?” Rose asked.  “Last year of high school?”

“I didn’t have a last year of high school,” I said.  “I left home.  Still sounds familiar.”

“One of the things we read,” Rose said.  “Idea’s the same.  We rush into this thing, getting one of the big three power sources, we could wind up crippling ourselves.”

“Except the Duchamps are giving kids this stuff.  Setting them up with deals.  Aren’t they kind of making waste with haste?”  I asked.

“Making waste with haste?” Rose asked me.

“It sounded better before I said it out loud,” I said.

Ms. Lewis said, “They’re making a sacrifice on one front for assets on another.  Children raised in that fashion may struggle in some respects, but they’ll have a foundation of having grown up in this world.  Experience and knowledge.”

“Well, I don’t have experience,” I said.  “I don’t have time, either.”

We reached the block where the hill and house sat inside the short wall and fence.

“I don’t have the time, ability, or inclination to go into too much detail about why,” Ms. Lewis said, “But I would recommend you hurry, Mr. Thorburn.  Haste might make waste, but as you say, you don’t have time.”

Rose asked, “So what do we do?  We can’t afford to spend too many days doing what we did with the ghost or picking fights.  We won’t make it.  We can’t get real power without having power to start with.”

Ms. Lewis said, “To clarify, you do have power.  You simply aren’t willing to use it to its full effect.”

“I don’t want anything like the barber as a lifelong companion,” I said.

“It isn’t as grave a thing as you’re imagining, Mr. Thorburn.  I’ve tried to equip you with what you need to defend yourself and defend Ms. Thorburn in the mirror there, but taking on a lifelong companion you don’t have any fondness for is a very small compromise, when your life expectancy is as short as it is.”

“I…” I started, but I found myself lost for words.

“I’m telling you the truth, Mr. Thorburn.  Look at me.  You’ll see I don’t hesitate, I won’t glance away, my eyes don’t waver.  You know I can’t lie, but I am telling you an utter truth.  You are not long for this world.  Barring exceptional circumstance, and I do mean exceptional, you are going to be replaced by the next heir.”

The words hit me hard enough that I reeled a bit.  I wasn’t quite up to par, I was a bit wobbly.  Still, it still said something that I found myself stepping back, reaching for the painted-iron railing so I could hold on and keep from landing ass-first on the sidewalk.

She continued, relentless, “Maybe in weeks, maybe in months, and maybe in years.  There is a good chance it is going to be horrible.  It might be violent, and if it is, that will be merciful, because the other sorts of horrible are worse than mere violence.”

“I-” I started, but the words weren’t coming out.  “I- You’re kind of less likeable than you were ten minutes ago.”

“You might not like me for saying this much, but you’ll respect it, and I think that, provided you last long enough, you’ll see the honesty in it.  You have options.  Our firm is one such option. You’re callow, you’re new to this, and your value to us is particularly low.  But we can negotiate with you and Ms. Rose here, and I think we can find a way to keep you both on board.  Reaching out to things like the barber is another option, power at a high price, power you could use to live.”

“I’m not so sure those are options,” I said.  Giving something that evil and fucked up a foothold in reality?  Letting them prey on others?  Or making deals, and risking a mistake that resulted in the very thing the Duchamp and Behaim families were worried about?  Hell on earth?

“The third option, the most noble of your options, would be to make the most of your time, fight every step of the way as you fought with that Faerie, and come to accept your reality for what it is.  Make decisions, hurry, make errors in the process, but take the power you need, and use that power to pave a way for your successor, remove her enemies from the world, and pray that your work means she doesn’t have to do the same for her successor in turn.”

I thought of Kathryn.  The next in line.  The oldest of us cousins.  A woman with a husband and newborn kid.

I couldn’t see it.

“Is this some trick?  Some fancy wording to scare me, kick my ass and get me into gear?”

“I can’t lie, Blake Thorburn,” Ms. Lewis told me. The words were uncomfortable, heavy, and they took the wind out of me.

“That’s… not fair,” I said.

“I can only tell you how things stand.  No, it isn’t graceful or pretty.  You aren’t liable to be as happy or powerful as you would be in a world where your grandmother and the ones who came before her weren’t diabolists.  You need to complete those rituals, because the fourth option, meeting a stupid, pointless end?  It’s a very real, very likely option.”

“And me?” Rose asked.

“Your future is tied to his.  His success is your success.  His failure is your failure.  Work with him, find a balance, and help him, so he might help you.  Now, I’ve given the two of you a great deal of information and a great many answers.  Hopefully that sets you on a more productive path.  I’m hoping that path is one that leads to us, when you’re stronger, more knowledgeable, and more useful to us.  If it supports your family, however, I’m nearly as content with that end result.  But please, don’t die a pointless death.”

“Sentiment?” I asked.  My voice was a bit clipped with anger.  I’m not sure if I would have toned it down if I’d known it would be before I’d opened my mouth.

“Yes, sentiment.  I’d hate to think my time here accomplished so little, helping two novices who summarily got themselves murdered.  That’s a large part of the sentiment, if not the largest.  I did, I admit, enjoy your company, and I enjoyed having some time to relive my earliest days as a practitioner.  New to this world.  That’s another part of it.  But it’s mostly business, not sentiment, and I can’t do much work with dead clients.  One of us partners will see you shortly, to see how far you’ve come.  With my advice here in mind, I’m going to hope that you have one of the rituals complete, Mr. Thorburn.”

“You’re setting a deadline?” I asked.

“I am.  Decide for yourself.  Do you know where you want to be for the rest of your life?  The kind of place you would make your home?  The kind of place that is as comfortable with you as you are with it?  Find a Demesnes.  Fight for it, and if you’ve picked the right place, that fight won’t be so hard.”

“There isn’t a place I want to be,” I said, “Except somewhere that isn’t here.  There’s my apartment in Toronto, but even that’s more about the people than the place itself.”

“Do you know the company you’re willing to keep?  You need to know who you are to know who or what you might spend the rest of your life with.  Do you have interests?  A passion?  Find an Other in keeping with those ideas, and make them your Familiar.”

We’d stopped by the gate.

Lifelong companionship?  I couldn’t even wrap my head around that.  I was only barely learning to trust friends, and they were adapting to me in turn.  Those were friends.  Exceptional, rare, people.  Finding a familiar, among a sea of cunning and conniving Others who wanted to murder me?

“No,” I said.  “I don’t think I can do that.  Not in a month.”  Not in a year.

“Then it’s a question of direction, of focus, figuring out how you’ll address the situation you’re in, how you address any situation.  A cup, a container, to store power?”

Useful, but no.

“A weapon, to fight back?”

I thought of hitting the Faerie with the pipe.  The sound of meat on flesh.

I shook my head.

“A defensive object?  A symbolic one?  A personal one?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I’m sorry.”

“You have a little under a month to find out.  Now, I should be going about now, and I think you have a guest waiting for you.”

I turned to look.  A girl in a checkered scarf, sitting on the stairs by the front door.

“Maggie,” Rose said.

“Shall I walk you up to the door?”

“I don’t think it could hurt,” I said.

We made our way up.  Maggie gave Ms. Lewis a wary look as we reached the bottom of the steps.

“Problem?” Ms. Lewis asked.

“Nope,” Maggie responded.  “Who’re you?”

“An acquaintance of the late Mrs. Thorburn,” the lawyer said.

I could see Maggie’s eyes widening.

“Oh…” she said.  She made a face, like she was trying to get something out and couldn’t.  A stutterer mid-stutter.  “…Golly.”

“Golly,” Ms. Lewis responded, deadpan.

I let myself into the house, then turned around, standing just inside the doorframe.  Safe.

“Is that all, Mr. Thorburn?”

“I think so,” I said.  “Um.  Ms. Lewis.”

“Yes, Mr. Thorburn?”

“I’m not feeling too articulate.  I’m a little wrung out, metaphorically speaking.  But… thank you.  Sincerely, thank you.  All of that information, even the talk about me dying, it helps.”

It helped, but it didn’t make it easier to swallow.

She smiled a little.  “Good on you.  Manners matter.  I’m glad if my advice helps you, even the less pleasant bits.”

I watched her walk away.

“You okay, Blake?” Rose asked.

“I nearly forgot about mirror-girl,” Maggie said.  “Hi there, mirror girl.”

Her lighthearted tone was very much in contrast to what I was feeling.  Ms. Lewis had waited until the last minute or two to lay the heaviest stuff on me.

I sighed, running my hand through my hair.  I wanted nothing more than to shut the door in Maggie’s face and then collapse and sleep for the next ten hours, but I couldn’t offend a… whatever Maggie was.  Not an ally, but not wholly an enemy either.  At this point I was willing to settle for an enemy pretending to be a friend.

“Hi, Maggie,” Rose said.  “We might have to talk to you another time, if possible.”

“Sure,” Maggie said.  “I just woke up extra early so I could see you guys before school, but whatever.  No pressure.”

Only a teeny bit sarcastic.

“We were just talking about some pretty big stuff, and we nearly got killed in a fight,” Rose said.

“Sure.  I get it.  I’ll bug you another time.”

She hopped to her feet, rubbing at her legs and rear end where she had been sitting on the cold stairs.

Before she could go, I called out, “Maggie.”

She turned.

“You have an implement?  Familiar?  Demesnes?”

“Yes, no and no.”

“Can I see?”

She bent down, reached into her boot, and withdrew a small knife in a sheath.

When she pulled it free, though, I saw it wasn’t a knife.

The little dagger had a funny blade, wavy.  It looked more decorative than useful.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Kriss-style athame.  It’s used a lot in Wicca, but that’s more because this one guy was a blade aficionado.  I like it more for its roots as a sacrificial blade.”

“You do much sacrificing?” Rose asked.

“Nah.  But I like the old stuff, the mysteries, the biblical stories about God as a deity of sacrifice and blood.  It resonated with me.”

“That’s not reassuring,” I said.

“I’m not the reassuring type,” Maggie said.  “Why do you need reassuring, anyway?”

“I was thinking-” I started.  Then I stopped.  I didn’t quite have the wherewithal to say everything that needed to be said.  To outline the key points, to make sure we were careful.

“You want to invite her inside?” Rose asked.

I felt a measure of gratitude.

“Yeah.  But I need you to do the wording thing.”

“Do you agree to do us and our property no harm?”

“Heck yeah.”

“You enter with no ill will in your heart?”

“I’m loving the old-school wording.  You guys are inviting me inside and maybe giving me a peek at something new?  You’re my new best friends.  No negative intentions to speak of.  No cunning, hostility, tricks, traps, lies, deceptions, distractions, violence or any of that intended.”

“You’ll take nothing of ours unless you have express permission, and take nothing you learn inside these walls to our enemies?”

“Heck with those guys, your secrets are yours, and I’m not stupid enough to tank my karma by betraying hospitality and stealing.  No, if you need me to actually say it, I won’t steal and I won’t tell anyone.”

“You accept that this invitation is this one time only?”

“I accept.  Except I gotta leave in, like, twenty minutes.  School.  I kind of promised the dads, and they know about this magic stuff, even if they aren’t into it, and they aren’t above squeezing promises out of me.”

Rose had gone silent.

“Alright then,” I said.  “The house is getting cold with the door open like this.  Come on in.”

Maggie practically skipped in her hurry to come indoors.  The door shut heavily behind her.

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