Category Archives: 6.10

Subordination 6.10

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I stopped, and Isadora was content to let the words sink in.

I glanced inside.  Inside the vacant apartment, Alexis and Ty were drawing on the floor in chalk.  Deadly serious.  Rose appeared here and there, her distorted reflection appearing in the door of the oven and the glass light fixture.  She was no doubt giving directions, and I was pretty sure she had a book held in her hands.

Evan was simply watching from his perch.  Maybe talking – it was hard to tell when he opened his beak.

Rose appeared in the window beside me, and the angle allowed her to get a clear view of Isadora.

I met her eyes and indicated she should go back with a little jerk of my head.

A frown creased Rose’s face, but she left.  I saw her rejoin the others.

She must have said something, because they all tensed a bit.  I held up a hand, telling them to stay back.

Isadora, in the midst of this, stood there, calm and regal.  Her chin was raised just a touch too high, as if she couldn’t quite shake the guise of the noblewoman, even when she’d long since abandoned it to become the stern college professor.  Her dress was fashionable if simple, white, and there weren’t many places where she would have stuck out while wearing it, her coat had a ruff that might have been fur and might have been feathers.

Her breath fogged in the air, which I found somewhat interesting, on a basic level.

But I was focusing on these things to distract myself from reality.

“Fated,” I finally said.

“You are not long for this world.  When you are gone, your partner will take your place.  Things will reorder themselves in the aftermath, and she will adopt the ties that you have abandoned.  Depending on her nature and the internal logic of things, it’s very possible that minor people in your life will become major people in hers, in the transition.  It will be disorienting, for her, for those you two know, and for your enemies.  There’s a kind of strategy to it.  Rose will be able to dispatch whoever killed you in the chaos that follows.  In the days, weeks and months that follow, things will reach an equilibrium.”

“Just like that?” I asked, feeling numb.

“As I’ve said, your death at my hands would make for the cleanest ending.  The transition would be naturally smooth.”

“I mean, my grandmother did this?  So easily?”

“I don’t imagine it was easy.  All things have a cost to them.”

“She’s murdering me.  And Rose is… what, Rose was made, unknowingly complicit?  Set up to take advantage of my passing?”

“It may be that you two already sense it on an instinctual level, that there is only place for one of you in the world.”

“I’m getting really tired of people telling me I’m going to die.  Laird at first, then more powerful individuals, and now you, saying it like it’s a certainty.”

“That, too, might be instinctual, the others taking notice.”

I was distracted by the rather dark thoughts of death.  I looked up at her.  “Hm?”

“Practitioners and Others can see the ways of things, the ties that bind, and just as a mortal might learn to intuit the weather, we learn to intuit other things.  Some of us have a background that lends itself to seeing these things, as the farmer’s attention falls on the weather.  Some only have a small sense of things, only when the prevailing winds are especially strong.”

“And the prevailing winds are suggesting I’m going to bite it?”

“Yes.”

“I have to ask, then, what’s the point of you coming after me if my death is inevitable?”

“All deaths are inevitable.  Even immortal things will perish eventually.  Why would you ever murder someone, knowing they’ll die eventually?  That’s a rhetorical question, no need for an answer.”

I rubbed my hands together for warmth, then folded them into my armpits.  I leaned against the railing of the balcony, facing the others, the city at my back.  “I think your point is clear enough.”

“Good.  If it helps, I don’t think you’ll need to concern yourself with me until you’ve cleared up your business at the police station.  I’m more comfortable leaving you be for this little exercise, given how disruptive the antics were yesterday morning.”

“Antics?”

“We talked about spinning plates.  Where a dragon is said to make a bed of gold coin, I find I’m more comfortable on a bed of these metaphorical spinning plates.”

“Everything in balance?” I asked.

“Yes.  I’m as sensitive to changes in the balance of things as a common man might be to changes in the light or to noise.  I’d struggle to explain this to you as much as I would struggle to explain color to the absolutely blind, but I would say that power touched across a great many individuals and places, like a vast stroke of lightning, followed by a thunderclap forceful enough to shift each of those things from their positions.”

“Shift?  Tossing stuff around?”

“In part, but it primarily moved people somewhen else.”

“Ahhh.  That wasn’t me.”

“I know.  It was the younger Behaim that was at fault, who earned my ire here.  Time distorted, and everyone that you and the younger Behaim had talked with moved backwards.  Reality wobbled quite a bit until you each caught up with the rest of the world.  The metaphorical plates fell, and my rest was disturbed.”

“In the late hours of the morning?”

“Not that it matters, but I sleep eighteen hours a day.  A useful thing for my mother, created as a sentry and sentinel over holy sites, a nuisance of a thing for me.”

“Ah,” I said.

She was grouchy because of the little time reversal that Duncan had pulled, and she was giving me a free shot at them first.

Was this what it was like being on the other side of the fence?  Duncan and Laird had lost the three times, and they’d broken their word, and now other people and things were conspiring to help me screw them over.

I wasn’t about to complain.

“If that’s all, I’ll leave now.”

“Wait, please,” I said.  “Two things, if that’s alright?”

“Perfectly alright, Mr. Thorburn.  I declared war, I’m obligated to hear you out.”

I paused.  “Can I filibuster you?  Hypothetically?”

“If you can hold me here by discussing relevant things.  I don’t believe you can, and even if you tried, the Lord of the City would find you and catch you before then.”

I nodded.

“What did you want to ask?”

“I’ve been led to believe that the Lord of this city is merely a figurehead.  That you’re keeping him in place.”

“Fell would be the one who told you.”

“Yeah.”

“Yes.  Essentially true.”

“You could have told me.”

“When?  By the time I had a sense of you, I knew you were a diabolist, and nobody is going to associate with diabolists that easily.  It’s easier and safer to remove you, given the precedent history has set.  Even now, after you’ve proven your mettle.”

“Is the figurehead thing why you’re coming after me?”

“Yes.  We can’t have you unseating the Lord of the City.  Your background makes things worse.  You’re upsetting things, and while it isn’t so dramatic as what the Behaims did, it’s a problem across the board.  You can see what’s happening in the city.”

Screwed twice over by things I couldn’t control.

“Alright,” I said.  I didn’t want to argue.  Not about that.  “What if I said that I don’t expect to win?”

She arched an eyebrow.

“Just asking,” I said.

“If you lose, you’re just as dangerous.”

“Things aren’t that binary,” I said.  “Existence isn’t black and white.”

“Existence is very much binary,” she said.  “You exist, or you do not.”

“I think you know what I meant.  I don’t think you can paint all of reality with strokes of ‘right and wrong’.”

“I would argue that everything can be broken down to right and wrong,” Isadora said.  “Case in point, I can ask, ‘Do you disagree?'”

I stayed silent.

She smiled a touch.  “You don’t give me an answer, because you’re afraid of giving the wrong answer.  I just condensed a great many possible answers into two.  Right, wrong.  You can do the same with all of existence, if you wish.”

“I see.  I’m not sure I like that view of reality.  If there’s one right answer and nearly infinite possible wrong answers, aren’t there an awful lot of wrong answers in existence?  Isn’t reality made up of a great deal of wrongness?”

“Break it down, Mr. Thorburn, examine the densest material at the most fundamental level, and you’ll find a lot of empty space between the components of each molecule.  A great deal of empty space between molecules.  Look at the universe itself, and take note of exactly how much of the void occupies the solar system, compared to the objects, and I think it’s a strong representation of reality.”

“You’re linking right and wrong to existence and nonexistence.”

“I’m the very manifestation of that link, aren’t I?  Rhetorical question, once more.”

“Point taken.”

“Look at the very fact that we are alive in the here and now.  How likely are we as individuals, how likely are we in this exact state at this exact time?  Right is being a point of light in an infinite darkness, and that holds power, because it brings vast complexities into being.  Even small decisions or changes in wording might lead you to different courses in life, to meet different people.

My friends inside were noticing I was talking to someone.  Were they seeing the connections?

It was good if they were getting practice.  I shifted position, trying to convey that I was at ease.

There was virtually no way the Sphinx would come after me right now.  It wasn’t in her nature.

“I have to admit, it’s eerie to hear a being such as yourself talking about the universe and molecules.”

“Then I’ll give you the sort of answer I might have given when I was young, instead.  Everything is reducible.”

“Even your argument, apparently.”

She smiled.

“There’s a problem with that, though,” I said.  “When you asked me if I disagreed, I stayed silent.  You reduced it to two possible answers, but I took a third option.”

“Silence.”

“Yes.  Before this discussion began, you reduced another question to two possible answers.  Will I defeat the Lord of the city and destabilize things enough to justify your murdering me, or will I lose and surrender myself to him, justifying you murdering me?”

“You’re proposing a third option?”

“Would I be offending your intrinsic nature if I said I’m proposing a third, fourth and maybe fifth option?”

She smiled, “Not at all.  My favorite answers to riddles are the ones I could never anticipate.”

I nodded.

“Anything else?”

“My friends,” I told Isadora, while staring at Alexis.  “When you come after me, please leave them alone.  Ty is pretty awestruck by you, Alexis is maybe the most right person-”

“Thorburn.  There’s no need to justify why I should leave your friends alone.  If they remain out of it, I will leave them be.”

I nodded.

“I wish you luck, diabolist.  I will try to find you later in the day.”

“Thanks for being fair,” I said.

She nodded, then hopped up to the railing, then stepping off.  The flapping fabric of her dress, coat and hair spilled out into something bigger, and she was full size before she was halfway to the ground.

I sighed.

I’m going to die.

The realization was a heavy one.

But I couldn’t dwell.  The others were getting more restless, and I needed to move.

I stepped back inside, rubbing my hands.  Evan lighted on my shoulder.

Three circles, each distinct.  Geometric shapes, symbols, and words scrawled out in remarkably good handwriting.  That would be Alexis.

As I progressed further into the room, the bathroom came into sight, a large mirror facing the door.  I could see Rose standing in the doorway of the bathroom.  The best reflective surface in the empty apartment.

She moved, and I could see the summonings.  Three, in circles on the other side of the mirror.  The others had drawn the circles, they’d appeared in the mirror world, and Rose had enlisted their help in summoning the things, using her voice to summon them to her mirror reality.

From there, I suspected, they could be bound into more convenient packages, as Maggie had bound Dickswizzle into the flute or the whistle or whatever it was.

The circle closest to me held a woman.  She was dressed in brown homespun clothes that were spattered with dark brown patches that I suspected were dried blood, holding a kitchen knife that seemed disproportionately large, all things considered.  Her facial features seemed slightly offset, as if they weren’t quite anchored in place, and the longer I stared, the more the eyes, cheekbones, eye brows, nose and mouth seemed to drift from their starting point.

A man with an apron and vest, wild orange hair, and slashes of dull ashy yellow wax crusting his skin here and there.  One of his eyes was missing, and the orb within was more wax, set with a tiny black dot in the middle, slipped into place.

The other circle was empty.

I wasn’t an expert, but there was only one Other we had discussed summoning.  I’d vetoed the choice.

Rose was tense.  Braced for an argument.

Was there more to the inherent hostility?  Was the sphinx right?  Were we instinctually aware that there was a game of musical chairs in progress, the two of us dancing in circles, and only one chair?

Fuck that.  Fuck the hostility, fuck the arguments wasting time, fuck the game of musical chairs.

I’d take the third route.

Starting by forestalling whatever argument she was prepared to make.

I tried to keep my voice level, but a kind of hoarseness found its way in despite my efforts.  “In the interest of full disclosure, the Sphinx has informed me I’m fated to die.  It won’t be too long.  It’s… sounding pretty damn certain, and it fits with what some others have been telling me.  Fated, was the word she used.”

Evan spoke up, “There’s gotta be a way to stop it.”

“This isn’t the movies, Evan.  Yeah, I’ll fight it if the chances comes up, but something like Isadora would be pretty screwed if she lied that blatantly.  If she tells me something straight up, I’m inclined to believe her.”

I saw Tiffany’s hands go to her mouth in shock, as she took it in.  She was the first to react, oddly enough.  Our relationship was the newest, the shallowest.  Was that why?  did it take longer for others to grasp the full import?

Alexis’ expression was one of shock, but it kept going, distorting, until it hit some breaking point.  Her face crumpled a little, and tears appeared in her eyes.

She reached up, as if to hug me, then thought again about it a moment later.

I felt like an utter asshole for not just hugging her anyway.  That was what happened in the movies, right?

But I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit how shaky I felt.  Standing still, being stoic, it was all I could do.

I looked at Rose, and I could see the alarm on her face.  She’d been waiting, probably, with words prepared to argue for the summoning of the Corvidae spirit, and I’d left her speechless.  But it was more than the shock that Alexis was demonstrating so well.

Was she worried about her own existence?

Good.

“I’m sorry Rose,” I told her, and my voice was a little hoarser than before.

I didn’t tell her why I was sorry.  I’d lie to let her keep worrying.  If we were caught up in some dance we weren’t aware of, then maybe mutual self preservation would push her to cooperate where she wouldn’t otherwise.

“I’m sorry Evan,” I said.  “We made a deal, though, and I’m going to try to make the most of the time we have left, to follow through.”

He didn’t respond, but he hopped over a bit and settled closer to my neck, leaning on me.

Ty hugged Alexis in my place.

Fell finished painting the posterboard, then stepped back to examine his work.

My eyes moved from the board to the circle that was drawn on the floor of the apartment, checking over every detail.

“This is your escape hatch,” he said.  “While in the spirit world, things take on a different dimension.  The workings of practitioners are more physical, the workings of man are more fragile.  You’ve already seen hints of this, how easily neglected things fall to ruin in that world.”

I nodded, and Rose nodded with me.

We’d talked briefly, running through the various stages of grief in our own way and our own individual orders.  I’d gone in with acceptance of a sort, and it helped that my recent brushes with death had acclimatized me to the idea.  Rose still seemed to be in denial.  But she’d dropped the pretense of a fight and she seemed to be in my court, now.

I wished it hadn’t affected Alexis as much as it had.  Ty, too, seemed to have switched to a very introspective mode.

We’d agreed not to tell Fell and Maggie, when we heard them at the door and realized our time for mourning was over.  Not telling them meant putting on our best game faces.  Some of us were doing better than others.

“With luck, the defenses they’ve set in place are going to be geared towards stopping us in the spirit world.  If they are expecting us, they have to expect that Blake will make a personal appearance in the real world.  If he couldn’t, he wouldn’t be able to follow through on the agreement he made with the local police chief.  They’ll be prepared in other ways.”

I drummed my fingers on the kitchen counter that divided the kitchen from the living room.  “We hit them from multiple directions, and we hit them hard.  I’m inside the building with Evan and Rose.”

“Will you be okay?” Alexis asked.

She was maybe having the hardest time dealing with what I’d told her.  It surprised me, because she was often so strong.

But people worked to leave legacies, and while my ambitions were pretty damn low, merely on leaving the world a better place than I’d left it, Alexis was having to face the fact that the legacy she was leaving was in jeopardy.  One of the people she’d saved and helped rehabilitate was potentially going to die.

“No idea,” I said.  “But Rose has the firepower, Evan can hopefully help me work around the traps.  We have Alexis and Ty as eyes on the scene, and Fell guarding the perimeter to distract further trouble.  In an ideal world, this is our chance to take out one of Conquest’s champions.”

“Perception and misdirection are my stock in trade,” Fell said.  “I’ll set your friends up so they’re hard to spot and capable of tracking whatever is going on.  If trouble heads your way, I’ll try to turn it aside or stall it.  If I can’t, Maggie will step in.”

“The goblin catching expedition was a wash,” she said.  “I have my gremlins, and some Faerie tricks I’ve picked up, but that’s it.”

“Faerie and Goblins are usually opposing,” Fell said.  “Allying or borrowing the help of one usually scares off the other.  A feud dating back thousands of years, even.  It’s surprising you’re able to balance the two.”

“I know,” Maggie said.  “But I hate goblins, and that counts for something for at least one Faerie.”

I nodded.  “Whatever you can do helps.  We’ll try to be fast, hit them hard, do what I need to do, and get out.  I just don’t want to get cornered again.”

Rose spoke up.  “Saying ‘we’re going to do this fast’ feels like you’re tempting fate when we’re talking about chronomancers.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“Definitely,” she said.  “But since we know who we’re up against, I did some reading.  Time is a fundamental force.  It’s hard to find a valid counterpoint to it.  But it’s a heavier thing to manipulate.  The restrictions are bigger, and the costs are stricter.  Physical space is one of the big restrictions.  You mess with time, you have to work within certain boundaries.  The house is a pretty clear example of that.”

“Very strict focus on the area affected,” I said.

“Turning back the clock, if the sphinx was right, is probably limited to degrees of separation and connections.  Only people that are three degrees of separation from the target, you, and from Duncan, or something like that.  If there were ripples that extended beyond that third degree of separation, then there would be incongruities.”

“Stuff not adding up?” I asked.

She nodded.  “And that costs, when dealing with a magic that’s very costly to start with.  It’s not a cost you can anticipate, either.  Chronomancers either have to build up a safe buffer to protect themselves in case they wind up having to pay a penalty fee, or they suffer consequences.”

“Like?” I asked.

“Years off their lives, premature aging, distorted perceptions, stolen memories.”

I nodded.

How was I supposed to process this?  On the shallow level, we were talking about employing monsters to stop Laird and Duncan, very dangerous creatures.

On the other hand, I was hearing about those penalties, and my knee-jerk reaction was to think that I wouldn’t make my worst enemy face something like that.

To be rushed to their demise?

Maybe it hit closer to home than it might have before my conversation with Isadora.

“That’s essentially it,” I said.  “If ghosts or vessels start to show up, Ty and Alexis do what they can to warn us so we can clear out, or Fell and Maggie go after the Shepherd.  If we end up facing the Astrologer, Fell tries to bend the paths the light is following and distort the picture.”

“She’s stronger at night,” Fell said.  “Less of a concern.”

“We have strategies for everyone.  Either stall and warn us or go on the offensive, depending,” I told them.  “Stay alive above all.”

“Let’s go,” Fell said.

I bent down to pick up the posterboard and wobbled a little, stopping halfway only to catch my balance.

Still not entirely recovered.  Not even halfway there, even.

It was hard to tell if I felt better because I was getting better, or if I was getting used to being a weakling.

I folded the posterboard along the pre-cut marks, until it was a quarter of the usual size.  I slid it into my backpack.

Fell, Maggie, Rose and Alexis used the gate to cross over, and they became vague silhouettes, pale.  Rose was even harder to make out than usual, but she was brighter than the rest.

Two overlapping realities.

I had to wonder if this kind of vague form was what Others made out when they looked at us.

I focused on them until I could make them out, as if I were adjusting the dial on a microscope.

Alexis stared back at me, her eyes lacking irises or pupils.  As it had after the awakening ritual, her hair shifted as if in a breeze.

Her clothes were transparent, and her tattoos stood out.  On her back, on either side of her body, on her leg, including a few small ones on the side of her foot, practice sketches, visible through the foot, as if it were more real than her flesh was.  Three molars were visible through her cheek, like some faintly glowing mark on her cheek.

I glanced away before I saw anything too rude.

Fell was also wearing an astral body, and his clothing had changed in a way that left me no doubt he’d inscribed it like I had my suit.  I could still peer through it, seeing the holster of his gun and the powder that now stirred as if it were alive.  I deliberately avoided looking below the belt.

Maggie – Maggie was just as problematic, but for different reasons.  A touch too young for my conscience.  What I could see of her without looking right at her was surprising.  She was second only to Rose, and Rose was pretty much an astral body made solid, Maggie was the most intense to look at.  She was something wild and restless, her hair tangled and bristled like a briar bush, eyes dark, slightly thinner than she was in reality, her fingertips and ear tips were pointed.

I couldn’t tell without looking, but I thought there might have been blood spatters.

Had she stepped a bit too far into that world?

Or, maybe, was she right?  Had she really dealt with an ‘eight’ on a scale of one to ten?

Fundamentals had warned about using the sight too much, going too deep.  I was starting to understand how that worked.  When we crossed over, our sight had adjusted.  If I peered hard enough or long enough, I suspected, I might not be able to readjust my vision to view the normal world at all.  Go too deep, exploring permutations and distant perspectives of things, and perhaps you couldn’t resurface.

I could see the problem with that.  Being in the real world, but only able to view the spirit world version of it?  It would be like going mad, except the monsters and things in the shadows could very well be real, and there could be no hope of maintaining normal relationships, when you saw normal people through the eyes of an Other.

There was probably more to this, what I was seeing, and what it meant to look at things out of focus and see the spiritual side of people, but we didn’t have time to explore it.

I adjusted my vision until they were blurry enough that I could look at them without being embarrassed, and signaled the go-ahead, carrying the posterboard.

We moved as a unit, though Rose moved from mirror to mirror, and Evan flew, taking to the air to view the area around us.

Interesting, to see how some pedestrians walked through Fell and Alexis, while others stepped around him, as if unconsciously acknowledging his presence.

One by one, we split off.  Taking our stations.  Ty, still real, found a table at the window of a big book store, while Alexis stopped on a street corner.  Fell and Maggie waited on the same block the police station was on.  An impressive red brick structure.  Some police officers and a fair number of cars were situated just outside, the cars parked along the length of the street.

Evan approached, flying low to the ground, flying recklessly enough to disturb some of the brave pigeons that had lingered for the winter.  He rose just in time to land on my shoulder, and I flipped up the hood of my sweatshirt.  He took refuge beneath as I set the hood down flat, Evan peeking out from beneath.

Wouldn’t do to have a bird flying around the police station.

Here we go.

Through the doors.

I used the sight to search for traps, a brief sweep.

“Move!” a heavyset woman ordered me, when I opened the door but didn’t rush through.  Nothing on the frame.

“Old man,” Rose whispered.  “Over the staircase.  Crucified by gold chains.  Sand leaking from the areas where the chains bite into the walls.”

I nodded.

They were here.  I turned, heading off to find another, less direct route to the chief’s office.

“Stop,” Rose said.

I stopped.

“Four.”

“Four?”

“Four Behaims.  Very close.  Younger.”

Bastard isn’t one for half-measures.

I reached over to push up my sleeve.  I touched the Stonehenge charm.

I could feel connections of varying intensity.  Bonds between the charm bracelet and the other people around me.  People paying fines, staff, police…

Two to my right.  A teenage girl and a younger boy who was maybe just on the cusp of teenhood.  The boy had what looked like a pad of yellow sticky notes held between index and middle finger, and was periodically flipping through it with his thumb, a practiced gesture.  There was something drawn on the top one, and it looked complicated.

Another to my left, older, maybe older than me, a man in sunglasses.  Another in front, the same age, standing to one side, fiddling with her phone.  It wasn’t a smartphone, some brick phone, the durable sort.

All of them had the standard Behaim look.  Dark hair, square faces, heavy builds that weren’t necessarily fat.  Well, the youngest boy and the older girl looked like they might be, but that wasn’t the concern.

None had noticed me quite yet, but I was stirring interest by way of the charm.

I stopped using it, trying to duck out of sight.

Off to one side.

They were searching for me, and I paid attention to the roving connections, trying to hide.

Maybe that was a mistake, because the guy with the sunglasses noticed.  The others saw his reaction and took that as their cue.

I wouldn’t be slipping by.  It was a shame Fell wasn’t willing to teach me his illusion, because I’d really like having it.

“How do we handle this?” Rose asked.

“Gently, I said, as the teenage girl and sticky-note boy made a beeline for me.

“I think Laird is counting on you being gentle.”

“Maybe,” I said.

I turned a hard right.  Heading for a long hallway that would let me put distance between us.

They followed, except for phone girl, who remained where she was.

“Another Other lying in wait toward the end of the hall, keeping you from rounding the corner.  The giant with the hidden face.  He’s powering a circle that was drawn on the wall there, hidden in the midst of some graffiti.”

Fuck me.

“Tell me when you want me to stop,” I said.

“Twenty paces.”

For now, the number of people in our immediate proximity was an advantage.  Cover, and they couldn’t do anything obvious without drawing attention.

“You wanted me to be your firepower, Blake,” Rose interrupted my thoughts.

“Not against kids,” I muttered.

“You think they’ll play nice?” she asked.  “They’ve been practicing longer than you have.”

“Not with those things, and what happened last time.”

I drew looks for talking to myself.  People seemed surprisingly okay with it, all things considered.

“I was more careful.  The restrictions are tight.  No killing.  No harming me or you.”

Mail and reception, bathrooms…

Bathroom could be a dead end.

Another stairwell.

I bit my lip, thinking.

“Three paces.”

I stopped.  Those were my options.

I could see runes laid out, making it a dangerous proposition.

They’d trapped the building.

Pretty fitting, given Duncan’s previous M.O.

Alright then.

If there was anyone inside the bathroom, they were in the stalls.  I walked to the far end of the bathroom, using the sinks to steady myself as I ducked low to see if any feet were visible.  I was alone.

Rose was already waiting when I turned to the bathroom mirror.

“I need you to stall them.  Going to duck into the spirit world.  With luck, their sight isn’t that good, I can slip by.”

“Relying on luck already?” she asked.

I dug through my backpack, pulling out the posterboard.  “They didn’t see the connections as well as I did.  Their sight isn’t that well trained.”

“At least one of them saw.”

“Maybe one of them is competent then, but it’s better than being followed by four.  Go.  We’ll figure this out.”

She went, traveling from one mirror to the next on her way to the door.

I could see her walking.  Raising a hand as she passed one mirror, then it was lowered when she passed the other, her mouth open as she said something I couldn’t make out.

When she’d reached the mirror closest to the door, she had company.

Mary, the woman with the kitchen knife.

Wouldn’t have been my first choice.

I’m losing control of all this, I thought.

Losing control of Rose, no longer having my friends compartmentalized…

The door swung open.

The boy with the sticky notes, the girl I assumed to be his sister.

“Laird uses children to fight on his behalf?” I asked.

“We volunteered,” the girl said.  “Those books you ruined?  Those were valuable.  That was fucked up.”

If theft of property that belonged in a certain place had repercussions, then destruction had to be the same.

“You shit on them?” the boy asked.  “In our aunt’s house?”

“To be fair, I only let a goblin loose,” I said.

“It wasn’t fair at all,” he said.  He held up the stickies so I could see the inscription.  It looked like a complex piece of clockwork more than a magic circle.  “You probably deserve this.”

“Your family killed my cousin, and tried to get me killed.  I’m not supposed to fight back?”

“I-” he started.  He stopped when something clinked against the mirror.

Rose was standing beside me, but something else was tapping the mirror, with steady, sharp sounds.

He and his sister looked at the mirror.

“Go get Gav,” she said, her eyes wide, her voice a hush.  “Get him in here, tell him to use protection.”

He fled the room.

“That was a mistake,” I said.

“No,” she said.  She looked at the mirror.  “That was.”

She reached into her pocket, and she withdrew a chain.  Not steel.  Some other material.

She tossed it to the ground, then kicked it twice, until it made a rough oval shape.  She stood within.

The glass shattered.  A knife point stuck through.

Mary came through a moment later, with a crash of glass.  She collapsed on entry.

The man with sunglasses, ‘Gav’, appeared in the door.  He also had a chain in hand.  He tossed it to the ground at the doorway, then used his toe to move it so it was secure.

Mary staggered to her feet.

I could see the fear on the girl’s face as she remained within her small circle, arms tight against her side, chin raised.

Mary stalked around them.

Raised her knife, ready to stab, but didn’t swing.

The girl reached into her pocket, careful not to let her elbow move beyond the boundary of the circle.  She unrolled a small scroll.  “I hereby bespell you, Blake Thorburn, by the-”

I snapped my fingers and pointed.

Evan flew.

The circles didn’t stop him.

Gav’s chain did move in his passage.

Gav stumbled back, his fear visible even with the sunglasses hiding his eyes.

The door swung shut.

He didn’t know that Mary only attacked women.

The girl’s fear was palpable.  She shrieked as Evan flew by again, and the scroll tumbled to the ground.

“My uncle-”

“-can come,” Rose said.  “We’re dealing with him anyway.”

Evan flew by a third time.  She kicked the chain to make it a rough circle again, and she managed to hit him with her knee.

Enough bullshit.

I strode forward.

I saw her expression as she realized what I was doing.

“No,” she said.

I pushed her to one side on my way to the door.  I kicked the chain under the nearest stall.

Mary swung her knife.

“Scare, no permanent damage,” Rose ordered, stressing permanent.

Which was probably scary enough when you were disarmed and had a knife-wielding Other on you.

Mary seemed to listen, all the same.  The cut across the backs of the girl’s forearms were as shallow as cuts could be.

The Other hung back as the girl retreated into a corner.  Staring, bristling with latent hostility.

I snapped my fingers and pointed at the window.

“Mary,” Rose’s whisper was barely audible over the shrieks and screams, “Come back.”

I was dimly aware of the Other making her way to safety.

I headed out the door, leaving them.

“Officer!” I shouted at the nearest cop, before the other Behaims could ambush me.

The officer turned my way.

“There’s a girl in there with slashed wrists,”  I told him.

His reaction was immediate, calling for help, shoving his way inside.  More officers came running, and the area was chaotic.

Blocking the young Behaims from their sister or cousin.

I used the chaos to my advantage to leave them behind.  I was dimly aware of one running up the staircase that was warded against passage.

As I passed the pictures mounted on the wall, Rose walked in step with me, and the Bloody Mary walked in step with her.

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