Category Archives: 6.05

Subordination 6.5

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We had no allies.  We probably couldn’t even hope for allies.

The people gathered around this spirit-world version of my apartment were silent.

Damn it all.

I’d known we’d be against ugly odds, especially since I was foregoing allies for the chance to subvert Conquest, to steal his assets out from under him.  He had the muscle, he had numbers, and he had… very possibly centuries of experience.

I’d known that, but I’d gone ahead anyway.  I’d counted on being more indirect.  Fell had demonstrated an ability to avoid notice, some kind of enchantment.  Evan was good at escaping.  Rose was… well, she existed on level that was one step removed from reality.  She might very well be hard to pin down.  I had the Knights and my cabal to back me up.

I figured we could work around Conquest’s muscle, maybe rally some help, and attack from some oblique angle.

That didn’t work if all of the potential help was just as against me as Conquest was.

“You sided with me,” I told Fell.  “Knowing this?”

“I think you know why.”

“You had no other choice,” I said.

“No.  The others don’t see the full effect of what it’s done to me and my family, being enslaved, they don’t pay too much attention to it,” Fell said.  “Yeah… I had no other choice, not really.”

“Sorry,” I said.

He shrugged.  He stood up and crossed the room, looking out the window.

My eye swept over the apartment.  Not everything was in place.  It was almost as if it had stepped back in time a little, my belongings scattered much as they might have been after the cops ransacked the place.  There were other spots where it looked like it had aged, where the paint peeled and the carpet was grungier at the points where it met the wall, cleaner towards the center.  The simple contrast between clean and dirty made for starker contrasts.

My eye fell on the table.  The sword lay in the middle of it.  Ugly, unwieldy, painful to hold, and bearing the Hyena’s features on the hilt and pommel.

“Evan,” I said.  “When I took the Hyena, I did it to take it away from Conquest.”

“I thought you got it.”

“I did.  He’s caught.  And I don’t have plans to do anything with it that will let it go back to doing what it was doing.”

“But it can get free again?”

“Theoretically, but only if given permission.  He’s a dog on a leash now,” I said.  “I’d rather we held the leash, instead of Conquest holding it.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I know.  It’s honestly a little scary for me, too.  But it beats the alternatives.  Make you a deal?”

“What?”

“I won’t unbind the Hyena without your say so.”

“Hmm…” Evan said.

“Don’t make that decision too quickly,” A woman’s voice.  I turned my head to see Rose in the wall-mounted mirrors.

“You’re back.”

“I’m back,” Rose said.

“Why shouldn’t I?” Evan asked.

“Blake made me a similar offer, before.  A few times, really.  Promised to take my counsel.  To give me a chance to offer my input, to decide before he went ahead with anything big.  Do you know how many times he’s actually followed through?”

“That’s not fair,” I said.

“I agree,” Rose said.  “It isn’t fair.  You got a familiar, you got your… circle thing.”

“Cabal,” Fell said.

“Yeah.  Cabal.  Adding more fuel to the fire.  Inquisitors, even.”

“To be fair,” Ty said.  “They say nobody expects the Inquisition.”

“We could forestall trouble by telling them that Alexis and Ty have sworn not to touch the diabolism stuff.”

“I’m just sort of wondering what we’re here for,” Alexis said.

“I know,” I said.  “We’re going to hash that out.  It means more to me than I can say, that I have you here.  Really.”

“You could forestall trouble,” Rose said, “Or maybe they play it safe, you guys go to sleep one night, and you don’t wake up.”

“That seems sketchy,” I said.

“Because everything else here has really been on the up and up, hasn’t it?”

I leaned forward, leaning over the table.  “If it’s a problem, I’m not going to assert any kind of control over them.  Maybe that makes it less of a cabal and more of a circle that has a sort-of-a-diabolist guy as a member.”

“Two sort-of-diabolists, if you count me,” Rose said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Though you don’t really fit the definition.  You haven’t done anything.  You sat out for the imp thing.”

If I maybe made that a bit of a barb, the fact that she’d been so useless, it was because I felt a little bit cornered and a lot betrayed after the lengths I’d just gone to in order to free her.  She was undermining me more than she was helping.

“I’m more of a Thorburn than you are,” Rose said.

I’d been poised to reply, to fight back.  That caught me off guard that I mentally stumbled.

“Be careful you don’t lie,” I said.

It came across as a little wimpy.

“The diabolist of the Thorburn line is supposed to be a woman, or a girl,” Rose said.  “Who got the voice?  Who gets the respect, of the two of us?  You want to talk more abstract points?  I stuck with the family, for better or worse.  I don’t even know how much was intentional, but in my recollection of the conversation with Grandmother, talking with her on her deathbed?  She pretty heavily implied that she wanted us to fight tooth and nail.  But you left.”

“You’re blaming him?” Alexis asked.

“No.  I’m just saying, I’m the girl that’s stuck in the mirrors while Blake’s flesh and blood, but I’m pretty confident when I say that I’m more Thorburn than he is.  He left the family, I remained a part of it.  But that doesn’t mean, Evan, Alexis, that he didn’t take something away from it.  He can apparently be as manipulative as any of them.”

“I don’t agree,” I said, “and maybe this is the sort of thing we should discuss in private.  It’s not really relevant.”

“It’s very relevant,” Rose said.

“To this.  To the fight against Conquest,” I said.

“Ah,” she said.  “Can’t say for sure.  I’m going to go get more books and tools, or I won’t be so useful as one of your champions.  I only want the rest of you to think twice before you accept an offer like that.  What was it he said?  Actions matter more than words?”

“That wasn’t the context,” I said.

But she was already gone.

I leaned back, sitting a bit straighter, and sighed.  “Fuck me.”

“She’s you if you were a girl, huh?” Alexis asked.

Apparently.

“Female you is kind of a bitch,” she said.

I didn’t have a response.  I didn’t want to just slap a convenient label on Rose and demonize her.  I’d had that done to me often enough, even in the past few days.

“Just what happened to her, in Conquest’s realm?”  I asked.

“She already explained,” Fell said.  “Conquest made her do what he wanted.”

“Which was?”

“Which was inconsequential, really.  The part you should be focusing on is the fact that the Lord of Toronto made her act what he wished.  He bent her will to his and took all volition from her.”

I felt ugly feelings stir at the idea, and pushed them away, along with the images that accompanied them.

“He’s done the same to you?” I asked.

“He’s done it to me, my family, my father’s family, my grandfather’s family.  He’s done it to others, and when they broke, he tossed them away.  If and when you lose this contest of yours, he’ll do it to you.”

“If I win, I’ll earn the wrath of every local.”

“Yes,” he said.

I nodded.

“There’s no tidy, neat way to do this,” I said.  “So we’re going to do it in an untidy way.  Alexis, you’ve asked a few times, you deserve more of an answer.  You want to know why you’re here, and not one of the champions?”

“I think I kind of understand.”

“Having contact with you guys helps me.  I don’t need you to be a champion to do that.  I don’t want you, Ty or Tiff to be in the line of fire.”

“What do we do, then?”

“I don’t know how long this is going to take.  It could be over in hours, it could take a few days-”

“Faster than shorter,” Fell said.  He still stood by the window.  I’d only managed to get one light working in the kitchen, and the light from the window was all we had.  It was good, enough to make faces visible, but his presence by the window cast a shadow over everything.  He added, “Conquest prefers short, one-sided fights over long, drawn-out ones.”

“Okay.  Thanks, that’s useful.  Changes it up, then,” I said.  “I was going to say Alexis, Ty and Tiff could set up spaces for us to retreat to, places to sleep, acquire food.  Novice or not, you guys can still draw defensive circles.  But if this is going to be fast… think less about food and sleep, more about the defenses.  The knights lent us a book.”

“I have it,” Ty said.

“Good,” I said.  “We can’t fight them head on.  It’s suicidal.  What we’re going to do is split up.  Rose can find and communicate with our different groups.  We keep moving, we communicate, and we share our assets.”

There were nods around the table.

“Ty, Tiff, Alexis, I’m going to try to stay close to you.  I can’t move very fast or very far, really.  Fell?  Can you do something about their ability to track us?”

Hiding is hard.  Costly.  It’s a lot of people to protect, and there are a lot of forces arrayed against us.  Each one needs different countermeasures, or we take one measure that covers all the bases.”

I nodded.  “What if we don’t hide?”

“What are you thinking?”

“Distractions.  Misdirection.”

“Yeah.  I can work on something.”

I nodded.  “Knights?”

“We’re sitting this one out,” Nick said.

No.  I was short enough on allies as it was.  “I’m not asking for you to fight.  Only that you maybe help my circle get around.  A ride here and there.”

“It’s too close to the fighting,” Nick said.  “I’m sorry.  I told you from the beginning that we couldn’t and we wouldn’t.  We’ve already pushed it.”

I winced.  “Can’t really stop you.”

“Probably could,” Nick said.  He extended a hand.  “Thanks for not making a fuss.”

I reached out and shook it.

They took a moment to grab their jackets.  In another moment, they were gone.

That hurt.  I understood, but it hurt.

“Your friend just replied to the internet message,” Fell said.  “You’ve convinced her.  She’s got to get her things, sneak out, and she’ll be here soon.”

I exhaled.  We got Maggie.

‘Soon’, however, translated to one hour at a minimum.

I looked for a clock and saw it lying on the ground, not mounted in its usual place.

That meant we had a bit of time to prepare, the better part of an hour to endure the hostilities and contest, and then we had Maggie.

Maggie wasn’t a big gun, unfortunately.

It wouldn’t be a game changer.

“Okay,” I said.  “Everyone has a weapon?”

Nods all around.

“Do we need anything before we move?”

“Access to that toolbox,” Fell said.

“Go for it.”

He did, opening it.  He lifted off the top half to check the bottom.

“And, since I’m not seeing them in here, I need scissors,” Fell said, rummaging.

I fished in the kitchen drawers.  All disorganized.  As if my apartment had been taken apart, destroyed, and then put back together and cleaned, with an emphasis on sentimentality and how frequently I used things.

I had five pairs of scissors and they were all at the very bottom of the drawer,

I handed him my best pair.  He’d already laid a hammer and some nails aside.

“Stand still,” he said.

He snipped off a lock of hair.

He proceeded to grab one of my dining room chairs by the back, lift it overhead and dash it to pieces.

Not the real chair, the spirit-world equivalent.  Cheap stuff from a furniture store where the stuff had unpronounceable names.

It still grated.

“Burning off nervous energy?” I asked.

“No,” he said.  He grabbed the hammer and nails.

No further explanation.  He was helping, but we weren’t buddy-buddy.

One long piece of wood, propped against the wall.  He used duct tape to stick the lock of hair to the top.

One horizontal bar, a third of the way down, nailed in place with two deft strikes of the hammer.

Another, at the base, to help keep the thing balanced.

He drew some powder from his pocket, and drew a series of solid lines, forming a triangle around the thing.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It…” Fell said, licking his thumb, then dragging it across the hardwood floor, “is a distraction.”

I could sense the connection shift, and I saw facsimile connections appearing between it and my friends.

Fell’s back blocked my view of the stick thing.  When he was out of my way, I saw a Blake Thorburn sitting inside the powdery pyramid.  He was so beaten-down that I almost expected to see fraying around the edges of his clothes.  He had circles under his eyes, stubble on his chin, and the lines of his face and neck were more defined than they should have been.

His blond hair was almost long enough to cover his eyes, and the only reason it wasn’t was the natural wave, but it was dirty, and it did the same thing my hair did when it was the least bit greasy, twisting away from my head in fat curls.

He looked like I imagined myself looking when I thought of the times I’d been homeless.  If I’d been walking down the street and I saw him sitting on a flattened cardboard box, I wouldn’t have thought twice about him.  Except for the looking like me thing.

I reached up and touched the part of my head where his hair curled.  I felt the hair there, where it had sprung out of place.

“I really look like that?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Alexis said.  “Wow, that’s creepy.  Does it have to stare off into space?”

“It’s a bit of wood from a chair, not a person,” Fell said.  “Yeah, it does.”

It was me if I were brain dead, maybe.  Sitting with one back against the wall.

“Can we do something with it?” I asked.

“We could,” Fell said.

“Booby trap it?”  I asked.

“How?  I’m not really a shaman, and I don’t want anything like fire or explosions to burn down your apartment.”

This version of my apartment, you mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Why not?”

“What happens here happens there.”

Meaning it would be fire or an explosion of sorts in my apartment.

“Something nonlethal?” I asked.

He rubbed his chin.  “Okay.  Let me think… do you have ribbon?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Let me figure out where.”

It took only a minute to find.  Colored birthday ribbons were sitting in the bottom half of my toolbox.

He unfurled a bit, then handed it to me.  “Tie it to the biggest, most inconvenient object you think you could carry.  Tie it securely, so they can’t untie it, or break whatever it is you’ve tied it to.”

I headed straight for the kitchen.

Stove?  Dishwasher?  Too big, too heavy.

Fridge?

They were options, but there wasn’t anything I could tie the cord to.  The handle on the stove door was loose, and the fridge handle was recessed into the side of the door.  The hinge… it was such a reach I wouldn’t be able to get more than the simplest knot on it.

The microwave, though, was closer.

One loop of cord going vertically around the microwave, another going horizontal.

I tied it firmly.

By the time I was done, Fell was entering the kitchen, scuffing the floor with one toe.  Where he scuffed at the ribbon, it effectively disappeared.  The part I could see stuck out from the gaps in the tile as if the tile had been laid out over the ribbon.

“Neat trick,” I said.

He used his fingers on the part of the ribbon that stretched up to the microwave, turning it until I was looking straight on at the thinnest side.  When he was done, he threw powder at the microwave itself.

“What does this do?” I asked.

“One circle around the effigy, one snare around that.  If they get close enough, the snare will attach to them,” Fell said.  He led the way back into the dining room.

I felt a little creeped out, looking at my double.

Sure enough, words were written on the hardwood.  Simple ones in a foreign language.

“The words?”

“Conditions,” Fell said.

“To?”

“It doesn’t matter.  Don’t touch.”

Fell headed to the front door of the apartment.  I heard the closet door slide open.  A little rougher than the sound I was used to.

Alexis was writing on the same pad of paper I’d used to write up the contract with the imp.  I looked over her shoulder, and saw that she was copying the wording Fell had used for the inscription on the floor.

She explained, “He told me it would bind the person to the object on the far end of the ribbon.  The snare releases them only so long as they carry the object on the other side.  If they put it down, the snare seizes them again.”

I considered it.  I could imagine Laird lugging a microwave around.

“Like I said before,” I commented.  “I do respect Fell, even if I don’t always like him.”

“I might say the same of you,” Fell commented.

“Thank you,” I replied.

Might.

I winced.  I’d walked into that.

“If it helps,” Tiff spoke up for the first time since we’d walked into the apartment.  “I respect you, and I like you too.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Yeah,” Alexis said.  “I respect and like you too.  Let’s keep it that way?”

“Please,” I said.  I turned to address the room.  “Alright.  Let’s go!  Get your stuff!”

I grabbed three mirror-shards off the wall, pocketed them, then got the goblin-sword and imp-book.  The imp-book went in my backpack, along with the bottle and a few of the other stuff.

Leave the creepy Blake-doppelganger alone.

Don’t think too hard about why it bothers you so much.

Fell walked through my apartment with boots on, still wet from being outside, not long ago.  He collected the wood from the destroyed chair, using the pieces to fill a trash can, deposited hammer, scissors and nails within, then left the apartment with the can under his arm, not even waiting for us.

We were still only a few steps behind him.

The elevators were out of order, so we used the stairs.  Tough for me, but doable.

I did feel better, having Alexis and Ty close.  I felt stronger, I was bouncing back… it still sucked, but it could have sucked more.  I could be faceplanting like I had outside the factory.

Better or not, I still needed to stop partway down.

Rose appeared in the reflection of the door.

I turned to Ty, who was helping to support me and make sure I didn’t fall down.

“Go ahead,” I told him.

“You sure?”

“Need a private word with Rose, I’ll be right out.”

He nodded.

“You too, Evan.”

“I can’t fly that far away.”

“I know.  Just… out of earshot, please.”

“‘Kay.”

A flutter, and Evan was gone.  Sometimes he flew so gracefully, and then there were times like this, where he’d start flying, then flutter violently to reorient himself before he could hit a wall, fly a bit until he was out of sight, below us, followed by another audible flutter.

“You okay?” I asked Rose.

“Not really.”

I nodded.  “I’m sorry.”

“I need actions, not words.  I’m sorry too, but I need reparations.”

“What do you need?  I freed you.  That has to count for something.”

“I was only caught because of you.  I’ve seen you go out of your way to try to balance the scales with your friends, with the bystander that gave you a ride to Jacob’s Bell.  Always fair.”

“Yeah.”

“Why does it feel like you and I aren’t balanced?  Like I’m the only person you’re not trying to balance the scales with?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Yeah. I don’t know either.  You’re not denying it seems that way?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Well, keep it in mind, maybe.  Weigh it in your head, and if and when you feel you’re sorry enough to act on it, that’d be cool.”

I nodded.

“You should go.  It’s almost time, and you don’t want to be near the apartment when this contest starts.”

I nodded.  “Are we okay?  As a unit?  A pair?”

“No.  Third time’s a charm, remember?  This is the third major time you’ve undercut me when I was helpless to fight back, and it’s making it really hard for us to be allies, Blake.”

“But we’re allies?”

“Yeah.  I really don’t want to be enemies.”

“Do you think that’s in the cards?”

“I worry that it has been from the start.”

“We did pretty damn good going up against the abstract demon.  We didn’t win, but, I mean, fuck me, we could have done a whole lot worse.”

“Yeah.”

“Why can’t we work together like that again?”

“We can try.”

So many noncommittal answers.

“Communicate with me,” I said, my voice low.  “There’s no way we can fix this if you’re leaving stuff out.  I’ve… I know I’ve maybe shortchanged you here and there.  And it’s not equitable, but I’ve consistently tried to be…”

I grasped for a word.

Honest would be pushing it.

“…Straightforward.  To act in our mutual interests,” I said.

“Sure,” Rose said, with a tone that was unreadable.

“You’re not being straightforward.  What aren’t you telling me?”

“It’s… complicated.”

“What is?”

“Conquest.  While he had me, he made me tell him everything I didn’t want him to know.”

“You told him about the books.”

“Yes.  And when he ordered me to, I brought them to him.  He would have made me summon something.”

“The contest here stopped him, right?  You got the books back?”

“I did, but this only stalled him.  If he wins, he gets you, and he gets access to the books all the same.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“Blake, there was more.  I told him other things.”

“Blake!”  A shout from further down the stairs.

“Trouble?” I called down.

“No.  But don’t take too long!”

I started to head down the stairs.  I grabbed a mirror from my pocket and held it for Rose.

I was down half a flight before Rose spoke again.

“I told him your weaknesses.”

Balls, balls, balls.

“You explained how I don’t like physical contact.”

“I explained a lot of things, Blake.”

“My patterns?  Habits?  Mindset?”

“Blake,” Rose said.

“What did you tell him?”  I asked.

“I’d explain, but I’m really, really worried that if I brought it up here, you’d either never forgive me, or it’d affect your mind and emotions, and fuck you up in this thing that’s happening right now.”

What did you tell him!?

My voice rang through the stairwell, echoing off the walls.

“I- I speculated.  I told him things that I wasn’t sure on, about why you were the way you were, on a lot of levels.  The fact that you don’t like being touched was a part of it.”

There they were.  The dark, ugly emotions, settled in the pit of my stomach.

The betrayal was a new one, separate.

I didn’t blame Rose for telling Conquest.

Or maybe I did.  Maybe I would be lying if I’d said I didn’t blame her out loud.

But I didn’t blame her that much.  I couldn’t say until I experienced it for myself, but a part of me wondered if she could have resisted more.  And I knew that was horribly unfair.

No, it was that she hadn’t been upfront about it.  That she’d felt like she couldn’t tell me.

That was the part that really got to me.  That she could very well have let me walk into this without my eyes open, for Conquest to hit me with some custom-made flavor of fuckery, all of the horror and madness that an incarnation of Conquest could bring to bear, designed specifically for me.

I was a flawed person.  I knew it.  Had someone asked before all this started, I would have admitted it.  But one of the places I felt most flawed, one of the least comfortable things for me to admit, was just how weak I was at my core.  Some people could turn to the ugly incidents in their past and find a kind of strength there.  An anger to drive them forward.

When I touched that part of myself, even around the edges, I almost always felt like all the strength went out of me.

I wanted to be angry enough for it to matter.  I drew my arm back, ready to throw the mirror, gripping it so hard that the sharp edges bit into the meat of my fingers.

I stopped there, lowering my arm.

The tension went out of me, the feelings remained.  My arm hung limp at my side.

“Blake!” a voice from below.  Ty, I was pretty sure.  “We need to move!”

Rose had wanted equity.  For the scales to be balanced, and me to make the effort.

Fine.

She was angry at me, too.  She felt betrayed.  I kept moving forward without her, and she was there, stuck in reflections.  She was struggling to deal, but she was playing ball.  Mostly.

I could do the same.  Or I could try.

I was breathing hard, and my body wasn’t in good enough shape to handle the anger well.  I was like an old man, my body going well before my mind did.  Or maybe I was like a demented old man.  Body and mind going, and all there was was the confusion, the anger.

Fuck.

The others were in sight, half a flight below me, when I spoke.  “Rose?”

“Yeah?”

“We’re going to set up a spot we can defend and regroup at, then split up.  Are you okay with coordinating?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Thank you.  You can move faster than any of us, so do what you can to keep an eye on things.”

“I can do that.”

“Thank you,” I said.

We left it at that, by some mutual agreement.

The others were gathered in the building lobby as I descended.  Evan made his way to my shoulder.

“Ghosts across the street,” Fell said.

“What does that mean?”  I asked.

“The Shepherd fosters psychic echoes in an area around him.  Rouses things that have gone still, for one last action.  He’s close.”

“Will he come alone?” I asked.

“Usually.  But with Conquest giving orders?  I wouldn’t guarantee it,” Fell said.  “We should go.”

“Not complaining,” I said.

“Too many of us for one car,” Ty said, “Unless people want to ride in the trunk.”

“Knights were our rides,” Alexis said.

Losing them sucked.

“Does anyone feel brave?”  I asked.

“You mean suicidal?” Alexis asked.  “I know exactly what you’re thinking.”

“You should say think you know,” Tiff said, her voice small.  She wasn’t so confident in the midst of the group.  “Be careful.”

“No,” Alexis said, meeting my eyes.  “I know.”

Holy hell, I’d needed this.

My friends were one thing, a connection to me.  Like ties that bound me to the rest of the world.

This was another.  When I was miserable, when I wanted escape, or relief, or if I wanted to stop doing something and do something else entirely, this was my go-to.

An escape to myself.  My escape from myself, too, if I needed it to be.

The light snow covering on the roads flew behind me as my bike tore down the dimly lit city street.  There were no lights in the windows.  Only the moon above, filtering through the fog, the dim glow of white snow catching the reflected light.

I saw not by the light, but by the dark.  The road was only a yawning stretch of black speckled by white.  My eyes scanned the surface, watching for any dark areas without a faint covering of snow.

Riding in winter wasn’t the hardest thing in the world.  If the roads were mostly clear, then it wasn’t impossible.  The big concern, inevitably, was the other drivers.  People were stupid, people in winter conditions were stupider, and the guy on the bike was the guy who got the short end of the stick in those cases.

Here, at least, there were no other drivers.  The roads were empty, the sidewalks mostly clear.  No pedestrians running out from in between parked cars.  No being cut off.

Tiffany was riding behind me.  It wasn’t the romantic sort of ride she’d maybe anticipated.  I’d told her that she couldn’t wrap her arms around me, so she leaned back instead, holding the bars behind her seat.  I suspected she’d come with me to avoid having to be with the crowd in the car.  I also suspected she was regretting the decision.

Evan, for his part, was tucked into the ‘v’ where my coat’s zipper parted at the collarbone.  He periodically screamed something that might have been spelled with a few dozen letter ‘A’s, lost in the rush of wind and noise of my bike, and periodically laughed, a noise that was easier to make out.

I was cold, tense, and I knew I wasn’t as strong or coordinated as I could have been.  Visibility could have been better, with the mist and the snowfall.

But every second I was on the bike was a second I felt better, recharging my personal batteries, leaving my argument with Rose and the tensions of the night well behind me.

I accelerated, and I felt myself feeling better faster.  I heard the engine’s volume increase, felt the bike beneath me, reacting.

I was leaving the others behind.  Rather than slow down, I zig-zagged from one side of the street to the other, tentative at first, then a little more aggressive, reminding myself of how the bike handled, how it handled with a passenger, and getting a feel for the road, all at the same time.

Getting closer to the sidewalk, I saw the ghosts.  Greater and greater numbers.

The Shepherd was closing in.

One in the middle of the street, blocking my way.

I gave it as wide a berth as possible.  A quick glance, then I rode up on the sidewalk.

It lunged for me.  Flickered, crossed a distance far greater than it should have.  An exaggeration of what the person who’d hit him must have experienced.  A misjudgment of distance.

A moment later, I heard a loud crash.  I slowed, glancing over one shoulder.

He’d reversed directions, throwing himself into the car with the others.  The windshield was cracked, the hood dented, the ghost gone.

With every passing second, there were more ghosts on the sidewalks.  More psychic echoes.  A few were lingering images that seemed to trail after the gaps in the mist.  Echoes in the process of being engraved on the fabric of reality.  The most miserable, angry, lost individuals.  People who might only need a push to leave a mark behind, a ghost.

The way the numbers were increasing, I took it to be a sign.  We were moving straight toward the Shepherd.

I saw a car on the road, meandering.  A psychic echo of a vehicle.

If it was anything like the ghost who’d thrown itself into Fell’s car, I didn’t trust my ability to avoid getting hit.

I flashed my blinkers, signalling for good measure, my arm bent at a right angle, hand up.

I turned.  Going the wrong way down a one-way street.

Had to lead us further away from the Shepherd.

It wasn’t the Shepherd that made the first appearance.

A dark silhouette, easily six feet tall, broad at the shoulders, dressed in rags.

The Eye.  Given birth in the 1904 fire of Toronto, a reminder to man that the elements weren’t entirely under our control.

It raised its arms, and I saw reality distort.  A glimmer of light, an artificial Aurora Borealis.

The lights, however, weren’t any natural effect.  They were very real city lights.  A bright flash lit up the space behind him, showing just how wide the effect was opening.

There weren’t many lights on in this spirit world.

We weren’t looking at the spirit world.

I slowed, pulling a U-turn to put the Eye behind me.

The bright flash behind him only got brighter.  Headlights.  Multiple sets.

I was looking over my shoulder, and my focus was partially on getting the bike moving away from him without toppling or driving straight into one of the larger potholes.  I didn’t see exactly what happened next.

The collision, however, put the impact of one human body against Fell’s car to shame.  It was easily two or three hundred feet away, but I could feel it like a punch in the gut, a noise and vibration that momentarily tore my thoughts from my brain.

The aftermath wasn’t much prettier.  One car, virtually airborne, followed by chunks big enough to dash my brains in, flipped halfway-over in midair, then hit the road, roof-first.

No illusions about what might have happened to the person inside.

The other car squealed, fishtailing before running up and over a bike rack that was bolted to the sidewalk, half-turning to skid back onto the road.

Another flash, like a stroke of lightning, except this flash, too, was headlights.  Not from behind the Eye, this time.

A squeal, and a car, coming the opposite direction, hit the car that had run over the bike rack.

I saw flickers, brief psychic echoes of pedestrians who had been hit.

The gap yawned larger, and I could see the people on the other side.  I could hear the screams, shouts of alarm.  See people running towards the three-car pileup.

Oblivious to the Eye, who walked down the length of the road.

Approaching the second crashed car.

It might have been the least damaged of all the cars.  The bike rack had gutted it, torn into the underbelly.  It would need work, but…

…But the Eye was moving toward it with purpose.

“Off, Tiff!” I shouted.

“What?”

“Get off!  Now!”

Rather gracelessly, I pushed her to get her off faster, simultaneously turning myself around for the second time in ten seconds.  Back toward the Eye.

“Evan, clear the way!”

He said something, but I didn’t hear it over the sound of the engine coming to life.

I saw him circle, and pointed.  Used my arm to point, so there was no doubt.

The bike soared toward the crashed cars and the Eye.

My eyes roved over the scene, trying to see the very real woman who was in the driver’s seat, trying and failing to open the door.

As I got closer, I could see the pedestrians.  Evan flew through them, darting left, then right, and pushed them to the side with the weight of a small boy, the speed of an unladen sparrow.

I rode onto the sidewalk, shifting to a one-handed grip, letting go of the clutch.

No way this would work.

No.

The Eye didn’t give me a chance for a sudden rescue.  He touched the car before I could grab the driver and pull her out of the window.

The gutted underbelly had leaked gas, against all odds, and the Eye had ignited it.

The rolling eruption of flame knocked me over.  I could hear the screams.  The driver and many of the bystanders who’d tried to help were caught, and onlookers experienced pain of another sort.  Horror.

Another small eruption, the car rocking to one side, partially rolling over.

I tried to get to my feet and failed.  I was stronger than I had been, but that didn’t count for much.

No.  It wasn’t pure coincidence, that second eruption.

The Eye was in the midst of the flame, wading through, using one hand to push at the flaming vehicle, rolling it out of the way.

He was coming for me.

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