We made it three-quarters of the way through the ritual without any sign of the fanfare or effects that had accompanied Rose and my mystic awakenings.
Of course we did. The world surrounding me was already touched by craziness. We had an audience of psychic echoes.
Then I, _____, by the old rules, invite you into the world of man and mortal, I read.
“Then I, Blake Thorburn, by the old rules, invite you back into the world of man and mortal,” I improvised. “Let this be the port and gate by which you enter, the destination and arrival, passing through the border…”
I briefly wondered if I could really invite Evan into the world of man and mortal if I wasn’t really there.
“…Now, or when we arrive there,” I added, just in case.
I drew a circle on the floor in soap, retrieved from the dispenser above the sink. Surrounding Evan, and the body. He stood within, I stood without. As icons of civilization went, hand soap was… it was something. At least it was distinct enough in the gloom, with the lights catching it. All we’d really needed was a circle.
“As the willing guest, I… Evan Matthieu, accept your hospitality,” Evan said. “By… by our compact, I agree to share of my power and share in yours.”
“By that same compact,” I said, “I agree to shelter you, whatever form of shelter you might require, my home and hearth are yours to share, in the brick and mortar, the demesne and the spiritual.”
“I accept the offered shelter, and I agree to guard that territory as if it were my own.”
The walls were falling away. Not fading, not collapsing… they were already hard to make out, dark in a room lit only by the glimmers of ghosts. Light snow fell on Evan’s side, rain and wind on mine. Shadows congealed into trees behind him, dark, barely lit by the moon. Leaves were falling along with the snow. They landed in darkness, settling on a surface that was well beyond the walls of the morgue.
I glanced over my shoulder.
The city, under rainfall, lit by flickering, dim streetlamps. Each time a streetlamp flickered out, it resumed flickering somewhere else, as if the city were changing in the moments it was dark.
Some of the ghosts fell away, as if they were actors playing a role on this stage we’d set.
Angrier ghosts, I suspected. Ones who’d died in pain.
They occupied the landscape, which intersected at some vague point I couldn’t define, where it was unclear where I was looking at wet leaves and snow lit by flickering streetlights or wet city streets lit by the moon. They were shadowy bystanders in my world, monsters in his.
This… wasn’t really what I’d wanted or hoped for.
But it was a common ground, I supposed. Evan seemed to take it in stride.
“I offer you sustenance,” I said. “Whatever form of nourishment you might need.”
“I accept your sustenance, and I agree to lend you the strength I gain in return.”
I remembered a whole section in the book that had gone into detail about that one exchange. It went both ways. It could mean I fed Evan my personal power in exchange for his muscle or talents. Sustenance for a powerful being, conversesly, could be attention, or praise, while the being supplied strength in the form of personal power.
“I give you reprieve from the forces that hold you, as the old laws permit.”
“By the compact, I guard you against those…”
“Selfsame,” Rose mumured.
“I give you asylum from the forces that follow you, as the old laws permit.”
Death, the usual ‘force’ this line referred to, wouldn’t claim Evan’s soul for the time being.
“By the compact, I follow you.”
The connection between him and his body flickered, moving until he and I were connected. It looked thin. Insubstantial. That was a little worrisome.
Duncan had noticed what was going on.
That was concerning. I could understand him noticing me even with the amount of myself I’d bled away. I was asserting myself here. But he shouldn’t have that kind of power at his disposal. I’d won. I’d turned his promise into a lie, and that came at a cost.
“Blake,” Rose said. Stirring me back to the matter at hand.
I read the book.
“I give you this with no expectation of secret knowledge or revelations,” I said.
“I- I-” Evan stuttered.
I glanced over. There were two options, common answers for the Familiar.
His eyes scanned the words, trying to make sense of them, reading backwards. He’d done remarkably well so far, stumbling only on some oddly constructed and very long words.
He looked to Rose
“I can’t tell you what answer to give,” Rose murmured.
Duncan was approaching, making his way down the hallway. I crossed the room, forging my way through the insubstantial images, found the door there, a little more real than anything else, a little more out of place, double doors in the midst of my background. I barred the handles.
“Then, um. By the compact, I share what I have, regard- regardless,” Evan said, behind me.
I nodded, smiling as I turned around. He wasn’t an Other with knowledge he had to safeguard. It made sense.
There were options and suggestions here. This part was more freehand, more personal. I didn’t really have to dwell. I definitely wasn’t giving Evan my body. I wasn’t serving as his mortal hand for a quest. There were no big terms to stipulate here.
“I, Blake Thorburn, give my friendship to Evan Matthieu. I offer from a place of shared history, and I give it willingly, with no expectations. I give my mind and spirit, my body and power, and agree to defeat evils, so I might give him a satisfaction he might carry beyond.”
Evan stared at the book. He’d proven good at improvising and problem solving while on the run. Could he do alright here? Especially as a ghost-ish soul or a soul-ish ghost, who might suffer a bit in the imagination department?
“I, Evan Matthieu, give… my protection? You asked me to show you to safety, and I’ll try. You asked me to find things, and I’ll try. I’m… I’ll do my best.”
He looked like he might say more, but the door banged. Duncan was on the other side.
“I’ll take your watchful eyes, Evan Matthieu,” I said. “I accept your company as scout and guardian, as companion, and I offer you a mortal body, as our mutual power allows.”
A pause. When I glanced at him, he was looking to Rose. She nodded.
“I accept,” Evan said.
He ceased to be a ghost. He became something else, a form no larger than my fist, shrouded in the gloom.
The double doors were decaying. An offensive use of time magic, apparently. Paint peeled with accelerated speed, cracks formed in the fiberglass, and the little glass windows began to crack, warping slightly as the door distorted around them.
“Then I, Blake Thorburn, bind myself to my words and I swear to give that which I have promised to give,” I said, glancing away from the door to check the book. “Take what you will, Evan Matthieu.”
Evan’s tiny form hopped over to get closer to the lid of the drawer, to Rose’s reflection.
When he spoke, it was with the same voice. “I, Evan Matthieu, will take, and I give in return. I accept, and I likewise swear.”
The connection between us went from insubstantial to solid, dim to bright. It was like a breaker had been thrown, and the dark backgrounds surrounding us were cast away. The room returned to what it had been. Not quite normal, but a ways there.
The door began to come apart. I backed away, so the wall and counter would help keep me out of Duncan’s immediate line of sight.
I felt better, in a way. Very much like I’d come up for air after being underwater.
Evan took to the air, settling on my shoulder with a flutter of wings.
Our heads turned in the same moment, looking to the window. We were in the basement, but the window looked out onto the pavement. Snow piled halfway up the window’s surface.
I could see him in the corner of my field of vision. White, speckled with brown.
I grabbed the soap from the end of the drawer that Evan’s body laid on, then pushed the drawer shut. It only took two good pushes.
Then I tossed the soap down onto the ground in the middle of the floor.
By the time I reached for the window, Evan was there. Beak and clawed toes on the complicated latch. There was a keyhole, and we didn’t have the key.
It clicked open, regardless.
I pulled it open, while Evan hopped down, wings flapping. He achieved the angle he needed, passing through the gap between the top of the piled-up snow and the top of the windowsill, heading outside. The snow scattered as if something a little larger than a sparrow had passed by it.
Creating a bit more room for me.
I hopped up, putting one foot on the counter, starting to make my way up.
I heard a gun click.
No longer moving, I said, “Why not shoot?”
“Is that really the question you want to be asking me?” Duncan asked. “I might reconsider and actually pull the trigger.”
“Right,” I said.
“Close that window and lock it,” he said.
I let the window close. I flicked the lock around.
“I already called for help,” he said. “You and me are going to stay here until others show up. You’ve made a mess, and even the fact that you’re here will raise questions.”
“Probably,” I said. “The door too, I imagine.”
“Turn around,” he said.
He looked a little ragged, a few cuts on his face, a little dusty. He wore his scarf and a heavy coat with large pockets, no doubt carefully chosen to keep implements and tools out of sight.
He was glaring at me. Behind him, the deterioration of the door was reversing itself. The cracks in the glass shrunk, and the damage to the fiberglass gradually healed.
“How?” I asked. “You said you’d keep me in the building for the day. You lose access to your magic if you lie.”
“And you aren’t really you, are you? It’s why you were able to slip my fellow officers so readily. A portion of you is still occupying the floor of that jail cell. The man who jumped from that window was… well, I imagine many spirits had trouble figuring out who he was, just as the others did. I did take a hit, but a lot of the power I’m using right now is borrowed power.”
The spirits and implements the circle had loaned him.
“You managed to escape, and you came back here. Why? You did something, didn’t you?” he asked. “A ritual?”
I looked down at the floor. The circle had been scattered somewhat when the connection had solidified, as if an explosion had gone off in the middle.
“Yes,” I said.
“To do what?”
As if to answer him, a bang sounded on one of the hatches to the drawers.
Duncan raised an eyebrow.
More bangs. Steady thudding. Almost knocking.
“Necromancy?” Duncan asked. He seemed rather unconcerned.
“I don’t really know what qualifies,” I said. “I improvised some.”
“Better toying with the dead than diabolism,” he said. “But instead of my going to check, closer to those very reflective surfaces, why don’t you tell me exactly what you did? No hedging it, no half-truths.”
There was more knocking.
“Or?” I asked. “Maybe I don’t want to reveal the cards I have up my sleeve.”
“Or I shoot you in the leg?” Duncan asked. He reached over to grab a glass vial from beside the sink, then dropped it on the ground. “If someone asks, there was an altercation. You tried to hurt me. You had a… let me see.”
He opened a drawer, found a scalpel, and tossed it onto the ground. He met my eyes. “Let them infer that you had a weapon. I can tell them I briefly and sincerely believed my life to be at mortal risk.”
“I’m flattered,” I said. “I didn’t think I put up that good a fight, upstairs.”
“You’ll be suffering from a bullet wound too, if you don’t start talking. Necromancy, yes or no?”
“Yes or no, Blake Thorburn? Don’t test me.”
“What was the ritual intended to do?”
“Settle Evan where he was supposed to be. I’m hoping,” I said.
“As far as I’m aware,” I said. Evan had flown out the window.
“Ah. Promises?” Duncan asked.
“There were quite a few promises,” I admitted. Then, to throw him off the trail, I added, “He helped me deal with one monster.”
True, but a bit of a non-sequitur. If he wanted to weaponize half-truths, so could I.
“And the banging… ah. She can shatter glass, but not metal, I take it? Come out, mirror-dweller. Unless you want to see Blake shot.”
Rose appeared. She crossed the room, until the drawers showed her reflection, standing at roughly the same point I did inside the room.
“You went to some lengths,” Duncan said. “Your arms, your… current condition.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I’m surprised a diabolist would do that to themselves. I’d think a diabolist would know as well as anyone.”
“I’m not a very good diabolist,” I said. “No idea what you’re talking about.”
“Demons and devils do ask for people’s souls. Or they make Faustian promises. They don’t put any particular value in the soul, though. That’s not to say the soul is useless as a commodity, it does have some power to it, but my understanding is that most such Others are more interested in the soulless than the soul itself.”
“I met an imp a few days ago, who was very interested in finding chinks in the defenses, so it could wedge itself into them,” I said.
“Exactly,” Duncan said. “It’s not demons and devils alone that want that kind of opportunity. Nature abhors a vacuum, and you’ve cracked yourself like an egg, emptying out the contents and allowing anything and everything else in.”
“Seemed like the thing to do at the time.”
“You polluted yourself, and you’re going to get rather sick, given time, Mr. Thorburn. The initial effect, when the foreign bodies take hold, it’s disorienting. When they make themselves known, the effect will be very similar to injecting dirty water in your veins. Our bodies reject foreign entities, and our spirits will do the same. I don’t even need to do anything.”
He paced a bit. “I’m going to, don’t get me wrong, but only to secure this. Ah, I hear my coworkers.”
“Don’t suppose I could get you to turn back the clock?” I asked. “We could have a round three.”
“Wouldn’t matter. You remain fundamentally the same.”
“Damn,” I said.
No sooner had I said that, than the other cops burst into the room.
“Damn,” I repeated myself for good measure.
Duncan spoke to the new arrivals, “Watch your step, don’t trip. He tried to bar himself in, in the room with the boy’s body. Watch for the mess on the floor, too. He was throwing soap around. I think he’s a little disconnected from reality.”
“Drugs?” one of the officers asked.
“I wouldn’t definitively rule it out,” Duncan said, without taking his eyes off me. “There’s only so much we know about him.”
“How much do you really know about anybody?” I asked.
“Just as I said,” Duncan asked, deadpan. “Irreverent, disheveled, disconnected. Self-harming, apparently. He was threatening violence earlier.”
“So were you,” I said. It sounded feeble.
“Looks like he got you,” one officer said. There was something dangerous in his tone. He didn’t look pleased when he looked at me.
Aw fuck. No police officer liked it when one of their own was attacked.
“I know the usual protocol,” Duncan said. “But he’s clearly troubled. I looked at his sheet. He was homeless for a stretch. A few near-misses with the law, hospital records suggest he was the victim on more than a few occasions. Go easy on him.”
“I’m sure,” Duncan said.
I’d hoped Duncan would approach and slip on the soap at the pivotal moment. But he hung back while the officers carefully made their way over the soap.
I glanced at Rose.
She started to reach for the drawer, hand in a fist. To knock?
I shook my head.
She moved her hand away.
When I looked at Duncan, he nodded a little.
Evan stood behind him, in ghost form. Duncan was oblivious to the little boy.
“Hands behind your back,” one of the officers said, as he carefully made his way over the sea of soap.
“What were you doing, huh?” he asked.
I kept my mouth shut.
I heard fluttering.
Duncan had half-turned, still holding the gun. Evan-in-sparrow-form was halfway inside his coat, wings still flapping violently. I heard rustling plastic.
“What the fuck?” one of the officers asked.
Duncan pressed one hand against his coat, holding it against Evan, only for Evan to move, slipping higher up. More rustling. For an instant, it was like something out of a cartoon, Evan dodging every time Duncan’s hand moved.
It wasn’t for good, though. Duncan moved his gun-hand to help block the bird’s path and then reached into his coat. He came out with a bird in hand.
“Oh,” Duncan said. He looked at me, clearly displeased, then back to the bird. “Enough of that.”
“What the hell is a bird doing in here?” the officer asked.
“Rifling through my pockets,” Duncan said.
What did he have in his pockets?
The tools the Behaims had lent him? He’d stopped by the lockup.
Evan was still seeking out the items I’d sent him to find?
Now he was caught. The officers moved my arms, and for a moment, I could only see Duncan and Behaim out of the corner of my eye.
Evan tried to turn back into boy-form, Duncan held on, and Evan was forced to revert to being a bird.
The officers turned me around.
One on each side of me, they marched me down the hallway, Duncan and Evan following.
“You’re going to let the bird outside?” one asked.
“Yeah, I’ll get it outside,” Duncan said.
They didn’t seem to catch the distinction between let and get.
“If I happened to want to complain, again, about the issue of Duncan being involved, here,” I said. “A third time, no less…”
“I was downstairs,” Duncan said. “I had words with Ellis, at inventory, and I heard a commotion. It would have been remiss to not check and see what was going on.”
We ascended the stairs. Things weren’t as odd as they had been at their worst. I still wasn’t absolutely sure about what was real and what was the natural wear and tear of the police station, though.
Duncan stepped out of the same side door I’d entered after dropping down to the parking lot.
His back to the officers as they led me further up the stairs, he twisted and snapped Evan’s neck.
To say the strength went out of me wasn’t right. I felt like everything that was holding me upright was gone. As if all the contents of my torso just bottomed out and hit ground. Muscle sloughing from bone, brain liquefying…
The only things keeping me from hitting the stairs face first were the two officers who held my arms.
I wasn’t really disintegrating. But I felt like it. The sensation of my toes and shins banging against stairs as they hauled me forward felt out of place given the immensity of what had just hit me.
The deal I’d struck with Evan, the de-facto deal, was to keep him from Death. Death, even with outside intervention, wouldn’t claim him.
But that deal, holding to that deal? That took power.
I was dimly aware as the dead bird was tossed at the side of the building. I felt it like a physical blow when salt was tossed onto the body.
Duncan shut the door, bringing in a brief draft of cold air, equally discordant in terms of the sensations on my skin and how they jarred with the pain and general devastation that simple act had wreaked.
“…Feel ugh,” I said, almost incomprehensible, even to myself.
“What’d you take?” the officer asked.
“Need fresh air.”
“You’ll have to make do with this air,” he said. “There’ll be a toilet you can puke into if you need it.”
I need the door open, I thought. It’s one of the things I need.
I looked for Rose and found her reflection reflected in a black LCD screen. One glance told me she’d felt the effects of Evan’s second death just as much as I had.
There was no way I was going to put up a fight. I could barely move. Rose couldn’t affect this world.
Evan… Evan was lying in a snowbank with a snapped neck, until he pulled himself together.
If I was going to win this, we needed to achieve it with this alone.
“I’m sweating, I don’t feel good. I need some cold air,” I said, stressing the word cold.
All true, on each individual count, taken separately.
“Deal,” the officer said.
My eyes didn’t leave Rose’s, as I was dragged further along the path between cubicles.
“Maybe Officer Behaim can interrogate my ghost a few hours from now,” I said, trying and failing to sound angry enough to fit the line. It was forced, it was obvious enough that Duncan would twig to what I was doing, and I wasn’t sure if it was a lie or not.
Nothing seemed to change, though, and I was short enough on resources that I suspected I’d be able to tell if I burned any more.
“You sound a little-” Duncan started.
Rose interrupted him. “June.”
She’d caught my hint.
Duncan had gone straight to the inventory room, where all the crime scene evidence was locked behind a caged door. I’d thought he was collecting his trinkets, the ones the Behaim family had given him, but that wasn’t it, or it wasn’t the whole story. He’d anticipated that I would come back for my things, and had waited for me there.
He carried my hatchet because it was the best way to ensure I wouldn’t find my way into that locker and claim it the moment he had his back turned.
“June,” Rose said. “Make your presence felt.”
Rose’s plan was apparently different from my own. I’d hoped to get the door open, to flood the place with cold… Rose was going more direct.
But if the room temperature here dropped, then it would bode ill. We’d be reaping bad karma for bringing people into the fold, if anything bad happened to them as a result.
“June, you’re colder than you’ve ever been. Feel how cold your fingers and toes are.”
“I’m going to go report about what happened downstairs,” Duncan said, giving me and Rose the briefest dirty looks. “Talk to you guys later.”
He almost ran, heading away.
“June,” Rose said, louder.
“You say something?” the officer asked me.
I only shook my head.
Duncan was pulling off his jacket, folding it over one arm-
Rose raised her voice. “June! Remember that moment! You remember that moment when you realized you were going to freeze to death!”
Duncan dropped his coat. He shook his hand a little, as if it stung. He didn’t bend down to pick it up.
The officers were walking me out of the area. In a few seconds, I wouldn’t be able to influence events.
I looked for Rose, to ask for help, to pass on a message, and I couldn’t see her.
When I looked, using the sight, I found her in Evan’s company, outside the building. She was talking to him, I was dimly aware. Convincing him that he wasn’t really dead. That it was only a broken neck.
That all he had to do was turn his head and fly, because I needed him.
A moment later, she was breaking a window, to give Evan a way in.
The sparrow came flying through the police station, in from the stairwell, making a beeline straight for the fallen coat.
I resisted the two men who had me by the arm, which didn’t amount to much. Looking, straining to see…
The bird had revealed the contents of Duncan’s inside pocket. It was barely visible, but for the edge of the hatchet’s handle and a plastic bag sealed with deep red tape. Tape that, I was sure, if I viewed it up close, would read ‘evidence’.
“Officer Behaim!” I raised my voice. I sounded drunk, I was so out of it.
“Shut up,” the officer that was hauling me off said. “You hurt an officer, but even if Dunc-”
“Why is that evidence in your pocket!?” I shouted, ignoring him. “In that jacket pocket!”
“I was right! You’re screwing with me! You have no reason to have that! You’re not supposed to be touching my case!”
I saw Duncan, head bowed slightly. A moment passed.
He bent down to pick up his jacket, grabbed the hatchet and tossed it to the ground. I saw pink on his hand where skin had stuck and torn away.
I was too focused on that to notice that he had drawn his gun.
The other people in the room were moving a fraction slower than they should.
He’d done something, in that moment his head was bowed.
I was moving slower, or I would be, if what had happened to Evan hadn’t left me more or less paralyzed. No moving out of the way.
The bird flew past me. As with the snow, he gave me just a bit more of a bump than he should have been able to.
The two shots missed.
Others were drawing their weapons, but Duncan was moving, retreating.
Disappearing into a room, shutting the door.
I was hauled in the opposite direction, away from confused shouts and bellows.
Evan came to me, settling clumsily on my shoulder, nearly falling. His wings fluttered violently until he found his balance.
The officer seemed a bit taken aback.
“I collect birds,” I said, glancing at him.
“Keep quiet,” an officer that held me said.
He dragged me into the hallway with the cells, depositing me in the one opposite the cell I’d occupied prior. Drunk-girl cell, harboring trace aromas of puke.
“What do we do with the bird?” the other officer asked.
“I’m not touching it. Leave it be. We need to go see what’s up with Dunc.”
“You keep that bird here,” the other officer told me as he undid the cuffs.
The door slammed shut.
I settled on the bed.
“He’s resetting time,” Rose said.
I glanced at the door, unable to reply without sounding like a lunatic to my neighbors in the next cell. I shrugged.
At least it buys me more time to plan for the abstract demon.
“You collect birds?” Rose asked me, appearing on the stainless steel surface of the toilet. “Or was that a lie?”
I rolled up my sleeve. Silent, not wanting to be overheard, I tapped the birds.
“Oh,” Rose said. “I guess that counts.”
Evan flew down to my hand, then lifted one foot.
He let go of the locket, letting it fall into the bowl of my cupped hand.
I smiled. I murmured, “I had a feeling you were a good pick.”
I popped it open. No hair. But there was a black crust to it, a patina, like silver in grievous need of polishing, or copper that had gone green.
It took me far too long to wind the locket’s chain around my wrist, tightening it until it was uncomfortable. Evan hopped around on my sleeve, one leg still raised, wings flapping.
The other leg raised.
No wonder he’d had trouble landing. I held out a hand, and Evan deposited another object into it.
I grinned, feeling relief wash over me. “Definitely a good choice.”
I showed Rose, and I saw her eyes widen.
I wasn’t so worried, now. All I had to do was wait, uncomfortable as it was. I was still aware of the deadline that loomed. I had a demon to find and bind, and it was already early afternoon.
Evan hopped up to my shoulder.
“Can I speak?” he whispered. “Or will they hear me?”
“I’m not sure,” I whispered back.
“You introduced me to June earlier,” Evan said, in my ear. His voice was hoarse. “You were saying you needed more help, before. She was the first person I thought of.”
I nodded and gave him a silent thumbs up.
Evan flew over to the cell door, settling on the bars. He pecked twice.
The door popped open.
I stared, then leaned over, using my foot to hook the door. I shut it, glanced at Evan and shook my head.
“Are you sure?” Rose asked.
I leaned over the other way, to speak to Rose. “If I’m going to get out of this with my life intact, I have to play by the rules, at least a little.”
Confiding in a toilet, I thought. Maybe I have gone mad.
“What Duncan was saying earlier,” Rose said. “It’s true for any ghost. A fractured echo of a person, it gets filled in with the relevant pieces. Evan’s… he’s a little bit bigger than a ghost. I’m guessing we’re seeing one thing that filled in the empty spaces.”
“I guess so,” I said. “What filled me up? What’s going to happen when my body decides to reject it?”
“I don’t think it was so simple. How many different effects did you use?”
I shook my head. How many runes? How many lines to break connections?
“Let’s hope we get you out of here while you still feel okay,” she said. “That power you gave me? I lost it when Evan’s neck got snapped. I don’t think Duncan there realized you’d transferred the power in-house, if you know what I mean?”
He’d thought I’d given the power away, that I had no reserves?
Yeah, that was the kind of surprise I’d hoped for, in an abstract way. Rose, Evan and I were interconnected, it seemed.
“When you assume,” Rose commented, “You make an ass of you.”
“That particular barb cuts both ways, given how fast and loose I was playing it there,” I said. I leaned back. “I’m going to try being very still and very quiet, in the hopes that I can delay the inevitable.”
“If you can’t go after the abstract demon,” Rose said, “That’s okay, isn’t it? You only promised you’d try to bind the three things. Conquest only really wanted you to do it so you’d be weak and pliable when it came to his big plan.”
“Well, he achieved that,” I said. I lifted a hand, then let it flop down. “He had altars, Rose. Three altars, for three prizes. I think it’s a little more complicated than that. And besides, I told Evan I’d help him stop other monsters from preying on people, and, seeing what Pauz and the Hyena did? I’m not so keen on letting another thing run loose.”
“Yet you’re really okay with waiting? With trusting the system here?” Rose asked. “Duncan is out there, manipulating it.”
“That’s three wins for me,” I murmured. “Three times I’ve successfully woke his boss up to the fact that he’s gaming the system, gunning for me. I’m thinking maybe this time, it’s going to stick.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “But I’m not unsure either. Gonna conserve energy for now. We wait.”
“Then I’m going to read,” Rose said. “I want to actually help for this one. And I’m saying, for the record, I’m hoping they keep you, just a little longer. Because I don’t think you’re up for it.”
“That’s fair,” I murmured. I shut my eyes. “Good plan.”
I opened my eyes.
It was Duncan’s voice.
“Dunc, stop. You’re not doing yourself any favors.” His partner’s voice.
“Thorburn! You took something from me! Give it back!”
He was shouting, and something or someone was keeping him from entering the hallway. Maybe he was being led away in cuffs. Didn’t matter. He was pissed, and the day hadn’t reset.
“Good job Evan,” I said. I smiled, shutting my eyes again.
I moved my hand, to ensure the object was still there. A short silver chain with the charms on it. A bracelet, with little silver etchings of the individual components of Stonehenge. Evan’s second retrieval from Duncan’s jacket pocket.
If Duncan hadn’t broken his promise to keep me contained, I still might have worried, because he had the items.
But he didn’t. Not all of them.
Leaving me reasonably satisfied I was safe from another reset.
I shut my eyes again, smiling at Duncan’s fading shouts.
Not shouting, this time. I raised my head to look.
My lawyer was in the hallway, on the other side of the barred door. Mrs. Harris, with her badly bleached hair and crisp suit.
“What time is it?”
“Six in the afternoon. You had a pet bird?” she asked.
“More a friend than a pet,” I said. I rubbed at my eyes. “I’m becoming very eccentric.”
“Apparently so. I’d ask, but I’m in a hurry. The apparent malfeasance in your case has raised enough reasonable doubt. I got in touch with a justice of the peace, and she had words with the police chief here.”
I nodded. “I can go?”
“They raised some questions about your activity in the morgue-“
I heard her prattle on, saying nothing of consequence. The lack of time was getting to be more of a problem. I had six hours to bind the demon and get it to Conquest. I needed time to prepare.
“Can I go?” I cut her off.
“It’s complicated,” she said. “There’s the question of charges against Officer Duncan Behaim, the allegations against Laird Behaim, further charges possibly being pressed against you, and paperwork.”
“Yes or no?” I asked. “Can I go?”
“We’ll have to wait and see.”
“Can I talk to someone in charge?” I asked.
“I can ask.”
“Please,” I said.
That was it. Things were falling into place.
The officers showed up to escort me to the police chief’s office after a ten minute wait. Those ten minutes stung worse than the first hours had.
When they helped me to my feet, though, I was surprised at how weak I was. No more strength than a baby. I staggered rather than walk, my leg muscles failing me.
This might be phase one of the rejection process.
Worse, it was phase one of the possession process. I’d read about what happened when too big a spirit took up residence.
“You wanted to have a word?” the man asked. He left me standing while he sat, which was kind of a reverse power play, or he was trying to make it clear he wasn’t trying to intimidate me.
“What happened there… it’s going to be ugly, when the media gets ahold of it.”
He didn’t sound surprised. More weary. “Ah, that’s your approach?”
I shook my head. “You know that what you have arranged against me is thin. It’s clear there was something going on with Behaim there. You made a mistake, letting him get close to me after what I told you, when you first brought me in. If I wanted to make a fuss, I could make a big fuss. But I don’t want to make a fuss.”
“All I want is out. I have important stuff to do. You can handle this incident however you want to handle it, I go away, except to come in and say what you need me to say, at my own convenience.”
“We have questions.”
“You can ask those questions. But in exchange for my complete and total cooperation, I’m asking you to save those questions for a day or two from now.”
“I can’t imagine it’s wise,” he said, “To compound one breach in procedure with another.”
“I’m thinking it’s going to look bad no matter what you do,” I said. “I’m offering.”
I’d seen it before. The forces that had been keeping me in were now disrupted. Balance sought to restore things, and that meant pushing me out.
I just had to leave the door open for it to happen.
“I have no intention of leaving Toronto in the near future,” I said. “You’ll have my full cooperation, you know where I live…”
“Check in first thing tomorrow.”
I was eager enough to jump at the chance. “Of course.”
“I would send an officer to give you a ride back to your residence, but with the mutters going around the department, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“I have errands to run, of a sort,” I said. “That’s fine.”
He gave me a look. “Whatever condition you’re in, I expect to see you tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” he said. A dismissal.
Triumphant, I made my way out, one hand on the wall for balance.
I made my way outside, and leaned against the wall. My legs were shaking.
“He thinks you’re an addict,” Rose said.
I raised an eyebrow.
“You look like you’re in the throes of withdrawal.”
“Ouch,” I said. Evan hopped from one of my index fingers to the other, then back again. Some passerbys stared. My locket dangled from one wrist, the Stonehenge charm from the other.
“You’re not in any shape to do this.”
“This isn’t going to be a run-around binding, or I’m not going to be able to handle it,” I said. “Even without… this, I’d be too tired to do anything of the sort. This one is one we’re going to have to tackle with our brains.”
“I’m counting on your brain.”
“I hope I’m up to the task.”
“Rose? I talked to the Knights. This one scares the fuck out of me.”
“I can imagine.”
“I’m not sure you can,” I said. I drew in a deep breath. “Can you follow the chain back to Conquest? I need you to send Fell, so he can give me a ride.”
With that, Rose was gone.
“Let’s fly,” I said, flicking my finger. Evan took to the air, and I limped.
The abstract demon wasn’t the end of it. Five minutes after midnight, tonight, Pauz was free.