I’d faced more than a few situations that left me bewildered, scrabbling for mental footing before I could be killed or caught in a trap.
This situation, as it turned out, was more bewildering than most, the imminent death or trap a little more questionable.
The Behaim kids had caught me, I realized. They’d surrounded me.
That wasn’t so hard to understand.
But I was in the spirit world, where I’d been in the real world not so long ago.
A touch more concerning.
I was also in a foreign place. The far end of the spirit world version of the police station’s parking lot. Everything was fenced in, except for the dilapidated gate at the end, where an old Father Time figure was lurking, bearded, old, and robed, with golden chains draped over the ground around him like a squid’s limp tentacles.
Three on the side of me closest to the building, sunglasses and Father time on the other side.
Their expressions were stern, distorted by the influences of the spirit world and the fact that my vision was out of focus.
I just dealt with you.
The girl who Mary had sliced was there, cut arts covered by her sleeves. Either the situation had had a particularly fast resolution or… or what?
I’d seen the Behaim ritual and the aftermath of accelerated time around the house, I’d seen Duncan turn back time, and now this.
Had they rewound themselves? How did that explain my being here? Had they stopped time and moved things in the interim?
I didn’t have my backpack or the hammer that was engraved with the rune, but my pockets were still full.
Evan fluttered, landing on my shoulder.
“Hey, kid,” I said, murmuring.
The Behaims were staring at me but not moving. That damn little kid with his pad of sticky notes was riffing through the pad with his thumb.
“Are you as confused as I am?” I muttered.
“We’re not where we’re supposed to be,” Evan commented.
“Yeah,” I said.
The Behaim guy with the sunglasses might have heard, because he smiled a little.
“Where’s Rose?” Evan asked.
I looked around. My eye traveled over the back windows of the cars.
No sign of our resident girl in the mirror or her knife wielding Other.
“Good question,” I said.
This was too eerie, too out of place.
Something was wrong.
“Gut feeling on an escape route?” I murmured, a little quieter than before.
Evan turned his head.
I glanced without turning my head. He was looking at a police van, fairly nondescript, but for a red and blue stripe at the side and a coat of arms on the side. The nose pointed at me, rear bumper facing the chain-link fence.
I bolted, and Evan took off in the same moment.
I stepped up onto the bumper of the van, then the hood, slipped, and climbed onto the roof on all fours.
One of them was doing something, because my legs were moving more sluggishly than my upper body, as if I were wading through water. My shoulder ached something fierce, and I couldn’t think back to any incident that might have caused it.
Evan’s passing flight helped me shift my legs into position, and helped dismiss whatever effect was accumulating there.
The top of the van was slick with wet snow, but I managed to find my balance.
The top of the chain-link fence was just about level with my collarbone. A short jump, easy enough to make, even with me in a less than stellar physical state.
I didn’t make it.
Evan was the reason. He flew past me, and he altered my trajectory.
I wound up stepping right off the side of the van. I dropped and crashed onto the trunk of the police car parked next to it.
The kid with the sticky pads had bolted to the fence. He touched one sticky note to one of the posts with three fingers extended.
I could smell the burning air. No flickers of lightning or anything of the sort, but the smell was thick and pronounced enough to suggest that I might not have survived contact with the fence.
I groaned as I rolled off the back of the car, careful not to touch the fence.
“Sorry,” Evan said, as he landed on my shoulder.
I groaned again, quieter, while rotating my shoulder.
The other three kids were closing in on me. The younger girl, the older girl I’d seen the Bloody Mary cut, and Sunglasses.
“Laird’s sending his nieces and nephews to do his dirty work, huh?” I asked.
“Not just nieces and nephews,” the kid with the sticky notes said.
The older girl Mary had attacked spoke up. “We volunteered. We take you out, the family fortunes improve, and because we had a hand in it, our fortunes improve too.”
I had to bite off the urge to make a sarcastic retort.
“I see,” I said. “Where does this go? Killing me?”
“Binding you,” Sunglasses told me. He looked at the younger boy. “Craig?”
Craig tore off a sticky note. The one on top that I’d seen earlier. Like a piece of clockwork.
Why was I here? What was going on?
I’d beat them. Slipped away.
The old man Other was still looming, cutting off my escape.
The other escape routes included the fence, which was awkward, especially now that they expected it, or making my way back into the building.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there, but with very few alternatives…
Slowly, I climbed up onto the trunk of the car next to me. The kids maneuvered themselves to stay an even distance away from me.
“Again, Ainsley,” Sunglasses said, speaking to the girl that Mary had sliced.
Ainsley drew a striped candle from her purse with one hand, and it lit itself. She already had needles in her other hand.
I couldn’t imagine many situations where one of my enemies using needles was a good thing.
Evan darted straight for Ainsley and the candle.
He stopped a foot in front of Ainsley, and I felt as though I’d been hit by a car. I tumbled, landing with my back to the fence.
Or, more to the point, I felt like I were a bird that had just flown into a solid surface.
“That never gets old,” Craig said, still holding his sticky notes.
“Shh,” Sunglasses told him.
Ansley slid a needle into the candle, right at the base.
“Zero hour,” she murmured, “Let us begin.”
This pain is an illusion, only a matter of perception, I told myself.
I tried to struggle to my feet, and found the strength wasn’t there.
They’d turned things around on us, and they had me in the worst position possible.
I just wish I knew how.
“Hour one,” Ainsley said, sliding a needle in at the first stripe. “I bind your legs, Blake Thorburn. I bind the pigeontoed that first held you up. I bind the legs you wear as a man, now, and the crooked weary hips that will be yours when you’re old.”
I could feel my legs getting heavier again.
“I reject your binding,” I spat the words, “Because I have sources telling me I won’t fucking make it to old age. Your third point doesn’t stick.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Sunglasses said.
Ainsley nodded, grave.
“Fuck,” I muttered.
She found another needle. “Hour two. I bind your legs with the folly of childhood, the trials of adulthood, and the frailty of age.”
My legs grew heavier, as if she’d laid something heavy across them.
I started to get my bearings, grabbing the side of the car for support, but my legs felt three times as heavy as the rest of me.
Evan fluttered, trying to put distance between himself and the kids.
Sunglasses kicked him.
Only the fact that I was leaning heavily on the cop car kept me from collapsing.
“Hour three,” Ainsley said, “I bind you in place, the cradle with its bars. The career with its trappings. The cage of the body, the deathbed, the coffin.”
“I reject your binding,” I gasped, as I slumped down. “I rejected it once, I reject it again. I was never going to be able to hold a career, I can’t now, as a diabolist and a target for just about fucking everyone. I’m probably not going to die an old man, either. I reject it, I reject it, I reject it!”
“This isn’t about you,” Sunglasses said. “It’s about saying things that other forces understand. But by all means, please keep going.”
“Hour five…” she said.
“You skipped one,” I said, as she worked a needle into the soft wax. She didn’t flinch as hot wax dripped past her fingertips, catching on the needles.
She shook her head. She was almost a quarter up the way of the candle, skipping several stripes. “…I bind you to remain in place until such a time as you’re released by my word or the breaking of this small totem. I root you where you now kneel.”
I needed Evan to break the spell as he had before.
“Then I want to fly,” I said. “Evan, I name you. We’re kin in our desire for freedom, our desire to keep moving. You and me are bound, what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine. Lend me your power, give me your wings.”
Evan started to move, but a tap of someone’s boot sent him sprawling, and left me on my hands and knees on the ground, grunting at the pain in between gasps for air.
“You’re just guessing, aren’t you?” Sunglasses asked.
“Doing my damndest,” I panted.
“Might have worked if you didn’t-”
Evan, having faked how hurt he was, took off, flying under the nearest car before he could be kicked again.
I caught him.
The effect didn’t break.
“Lay it on thicker, Ains. Craig? Go get your dad. Watch the barrier at the doors, we don’t want the others coming through to rescue him.”
Sticky Note Kid glanced at us as a whole, then bolted for the doors to the police department.
“Hour eight,” Ainsley said. Another needle in the candle. She held it in such a way that the needles stuck out through the gaps between her fingers, wax running over the backs of her hands. “I take the freedom you cherish, Blake Thorburn. I take your wings, I take your claws, I take your ability to crawl, to slither, to leap and trawl. I take this freedom from you as time takes all things.”
The pressure that had weighed me down before now pressed in from all directions.
“Rhymes,” I said, in an effort to fight past my frustration. “Cute.”
“I try,” she said.
“Evan,” I said.
Sunglasses stepped closer. I saw a golden disc in his hand. Like a saucer, almost.
Ready to beat on my familiar?
“Get help,” I said.
I flung him, back and away from the others.
Sunglasses stepped forward, disc raised, but Evan was already gone, up and over the fence, then down, so he could take cover behind it, flying around the building.
“One,” I said, “Two, three, four, five…”
“Hour-” Ainsley started.
“…six, seven, eight…”
“Ainsley,” Sunglasses said.
“…nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen…”
It was childish, but I was going to disrupt her concentration any way I could. The numbers were important, no doubt, I had no idea why or how, and I was going to throw as many numbers out there as I could.
When kids did it, they did it with random numbers. Ty had shown me the truth, once upon a time, when I was measuring things for a display. Count in order, and you could more effectively disrupt someone’s ability to recall numbers. Their minds would get caught up in the flow of numbers, and they’d lose track.
“…eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two…”
“Cover my ears,” she said.
Sunglasses covered her ears with his hands.
She ran her free hand up the candle, counting the needles.
I stopped. No point in continuing.
Sunglasses and the youngest girl turned their heads at the same moment.
“Trouble,” Sunglasses said.
“Someone stepped into the snare,” the youngest of the two girls said. “They won’t make it much further.”
“Yeah. Be careful, keep an eye out.”
“…I bind that which I have already bound…” Ainsley continued.
I grit my teeth.
What to do?
I didn’t know enough to free myself, and I didn’t know enough to bind them faster or better than they were binding me.
Attacks? I had no weapons.
I could sense Laird drawing closer. His kid was Craig, the sticky note kid?
“…bind you thrice over.” Ainsley said, finishing.
My heart was pounding, my mouth dry. I was cold, being crouched down against the freezing pavement and snow, moisture soaking through my jeans.
“Kind of overkill, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Not after what I saw in that bathroom,” she said. She reached into her pocket, winced, then pulled out another needle.
“Kind of sheltered, aren’t you? That wasn’t even remotely diabolic.”
“It was barbaric. Using something like that on me?”
“People haven’t really held back in dealing with me,” I said.
“I’m holding back,” she said, glaring down at me. “You know what Craig would have done? He would have stuck you in an old man’s body. Aged you by ninety years, until you were so old and demented you couldn’t speak. My uncle? He would have had Craig leave you like that.”
“Taken down by a sticky note?” I asked.
My supposed savior was stuck, trapped in one place, and Evan was stuck with them.
I could only stall.
“Craig’s good. He started earlier than most of us, and…” she stops as Sunglasses elbows her. “Hour twenty-one.”
Very near the top of the candle.
“Does it hurt? The wax?”
“I bind-” she started.
The nearest car shuddered, then tilted. The tires on one side had been punctured.
I heard rattling. the fence was swaying.
“Get your silvered chains,” Sunglasses said.
“We used them to bind the exit.”
“Not all of them. Tandie?”
The younger of the two girls pulled one of the gleaming chains from her bag.
“Some well-off families get their kids fancy cars,” I said. “I guess your family gives you… what? Protective chains?”
Sunglasses ignored me.
“Where do I put it?” Tandie asked. “Around him?”
“No. Ainsley, finish the binding, so he can’t be moved by others. Tandie, protect us.”
“We won’t fit all in the circle.”
“Me and Ainsley, then.”
“Give me the chain and run. Go inside!”
Tandie hesitated, then did just that, practically throwing the chain at him before bolting.
I heard a loud crash. The car closest to the door moved. It didn’t move fast, but it still moved, rolling between Tandie and the door.
“No, please, no,” Tandie said. “No horror movie stuff please, no.”
Another crash followed. The car next to the other one began rolling forward.
One by one, the cars began moving, brakes cut, somehow shifted into neutral.
“I bind you one final time,” Ainsley said. “I bind-”
The one to my left shuddered, and the crash was painfully loud. It began rolling.
Safe within the circle, Sunglasses and Ainsley stayed stock still as it approached.
She tried again. “I bind-”
The car to my right shifted into motion with a bang.
The car door swung open. Nobody inside.
As the car moved forward at perhaps five miles an hour, Sunglasses watched the door approach, threatening to bump into him and Ainsley.
When it was close enough, he kicked it, vicious. It slammed shut.
Tandy shrieked. She’d been climbing over the car hood to get to the door, but now she fell, landing on the snow-covered pavement, two hands wrapped around her ankle.
Her screams turned more frantic as she got a look under the car. She began to crawl away on three limbs.
“Come, Tandy!” Sunglasses called out.
He wasn’t looking as a small figure crawled over the open car door.
It was the size of a chimp, roughly as hairy, but less consistently hairy, with a receding hairline and thick body hair. Its feet and hands were clawed, and it had no tail. The macabre overbite showed off an uneven row of fangs.
What was eerie was how it had decorated itself. It wore a makeshift monocle that wasn’t round, but held in place by points of glass that punctured its eye socket. Its genitalia was decorated, pushed through a series of washers and wound up by wires that bent it into some grotesque art piece.
It grinned as it saw me. It then winked, catching hold of the handle above the door, weighed-down genitals swinging madly for a moment, then swung itself into the car.
Sunglasses was fixated on the other of the two little monsters, which was assaulting the youngest of the two girls. That one was female, potbellied, just as hairy, but similarly decorated. It carried a makeshift backpack and wore a collar and a self-inflicted two-way wedgie with a single length of rusty chain welded to a collar.
Sunglasses’ composure broke, and he bolted to the side of his cousin or sister. “Bind him, Ainsley!” he shouted.
Ainsley looked down at me.
“I bind you, Blake Thorburn, as I mark the twenty-first hour. I bind you for the eighth time, I fix you in place by the cardinal and intercardinal directions…”
The car behind her, the one with the male goblin within, started up, rear lights glowing.
“Move,” I said.
“I bind you-”
“Ainsley,” I said. “I bind myself, until you’ve released me. Get out of the fucking way!”
The car’s wheels spun before it got traction. That bought Ainsley enough time to look at me, eyes wide, then to move.
The car came within an inch of her as a creature four feet tall somehow managed to work both gas and steering wheel. It turned as it reversed at full speed.
It veered in a ‘u’, skidding on ice-slick pavement, tail end swinging four feet in front of me like some great sledgehammer before it violently collided with the other car that had been parked next to me.
Untouched by the crash, almost invigorated, if sheer excitement and activity were any suggestion, the male gremlin crawled up onto the roof of the police car.
The female was currently dancing circles around Sunglasses, who was kicking at it while hugging Tandy close with one arm. He had the golden disc in one hand, and was periodically angling it at the gremlin, trying to catch it with a reflected beam of light.
Ainsley was backing away, putting her at the furthest point from Sunglasses. All of the cars in the long, rectangular lot were now stopped at one side of the fence. She wasn’t on that side, and it left her with very little cover.
“Screwloose,” I called out, remembering the thing’s name. “Return to the one who summoned you.”
He hopped down, then approached me. Swaggering. Strutting, chest out, arms swinging to his side and behind him.
I saw tools appear in his hands at some point they swung out of view. Makeshift tools, things that might serve triple-purpose as lockpicks, swiss-army tools and/or weapons.
There was only malice in his eyes.
Right. What was it Maggie had said? She dealt with mad dogs. Best let off leash on very short spans of time.
Except she wasn’t here to stop it or call it back.
I glanced over, and I saw Ainsley’s abandoned silver chain.
I reached, and found it maybe three or four feet beyond where my hand could touch pavement.
My legs might as well have been welded in place. I was paralyzed from the waist down, fixed in place by some sevenfold curse.
I glanced at Ainsley. She still held the candle.
She looked down at the candle, then back at me.
She shook her head.
I deflated a little.
No use wasting my breath arguing.
I pulled off my jacket, then threw it out, so it might drape over the chain.
It might have worked, if the snow and slush didn’t hurt the traction
I flung it out again, hoping for a better snag on the chain.
A small explosion startled me out of my wits, cutting past my jacket.
The goblin carried a length of pipe with a strap that could go over one shoulder. No, it was two lengths of pipe that were connected, Some kind of crude, makeshift shotgun?
He dismantled his makeshift weapon, shook a shell out, then reached behind him, digging for something.
I took note of the fact that he wasn’t digging in his satchel… and he wasn’t wearing pants.
He retrieved what must have been a gremlin-made shotgun shell, still striding forward. Shell into the small pipe, large pipe slid over both.
I covered my face.
He slammed the large pipe against the small one. It fired.
Shallow damage from a crude contraption, but it was still me getting shot.
“Fucker!” I shouted, lowering my hands. I was openly bleeding from the gouges. A twisted paperclip stuck out of my arm at one spot. Glass in another.
I heard him cackling.
“Little fucker,” I said. “I swear, if and when I get out of this-”
There was a clatter and a bang.
I looked in the direction of the others.
Douchegargler, the female goblin, was perched beneath the open hood of one car, hand holding the hood up. Smoke was billowing from the engine block.
Sunglasses lunged for her.
The goblin ducked into the engine block, letting the hood slam on his hand.
I wasn’t about to complain, except they were being indiscriminate, I was included in the indiscriminate part of it, and Laird was almost-
The door opened. It stopped short, banging against the side of the car that had stopped in front of the doorway.
Craig squeezed through the gap. He took in the scene. A parking lot thrown into disarray, his cousins in peril. “What the hell?”
“Gremlins!” Ainsley shouted from the far end of the lot.
I used my jacket to try to catch the chain again.
I managed to get some traction. Not pulling it toward me so much as bunching it up.
Holding both sleeves, I managed to fling the jacket out and get the collar around the chain. I dragged it closer.
Screwloose was apparently out of shotgun shells. He came at me with a blade.
Still kneeling and immobile, I whipped out the chain.
The chain struck him across the face. Shocked more than hurt, he staggered.
I whipped it out again. I caught him around the throat and forearm.
I hauled him close. When he struggled, I bound him further with the chain.
“Drop the weapon!” I shouted.
Pulling chain tight enough to cut off circulation, I bashed one tiny, gnarled hand against the pavement until he let go of the blade.
“I forbid you from biting or harming me,” I growled.
“Nuh, we’re lovey-dovey,” he growled the words with a distinct English accent. “Bugger me, diabolist, and bugger me well. I’ve got sharp stuff stowed back there. I’ll bite you all I want.”
I held him fast. There was one gremlin, and it was perched on the hood of the car that had trapped Sunglasses’ hand. Laird or Craig were doing something to the door, eroding it by aging it, but it was a metal door, and the process was slow.
Craig and Tandy had backed away from Sunglasses and the gremlin, a little too unnerved to get close.
“Ainsley,” I said. “Release me, and I’ll help Sunglasses over there.”
“I can’t,” she said. “I made promises. To take this seriously.”
“This is serious.”
“-I can’t,” she said, so fast I doubted she’d even heard what I said.
“You can. Sunglasses over there-”
“Owen’s going to get hurt if that engine explodes. I bound myself to save your life. You-”
“You were bound,” she said, still responding too fast. She was shaking her head, as if trying to deny the situation. “You didn’t have to.”
“I saved your life!” I shouted. “Are you willing to trade away his for some better fortune in the family!?”
“Because if you are, then I’m fucking better than you!” I shouted.
“You’re never going to be better than me!” she said, a note of hysteria in her voice. “I could let a hundred people die and I still wouldn’t be as bad as you are when you’re just existing!”
I growled with frustration. Tried to ignore the goblin that was rhythmically thrusting its pelvis skyward in its struggles to escape.
I couldn’t convince her.
“Owen!” I shouted. “Sunglasses guy! You talk sense into her!”
“I’ll be okay!” he shouted.
“Gargler!” Screwloose cried out, as if mocking my tone, “Fucken Drive!”
The female gremlin looked at him, then grinned.
She kicked the windshield, cracking it, then threw herself through it.
“Fuck!” Owen said. He hauled on the hood, but it didn’t move even with the gremlin gone. “It’s snagged!”
“You morons! You’re willing to die for this?”
“To stop you?” he asked.
The car started up.
“Yeah,” he finished.
Fucking kids drank Laird’s kool aid.
“I’ll let you go if you stop her,” I told Screwloose.
The door was still coming to pieces.
“I’ll let you go if you go after Laird Behaim. I can sense the connection on the other side of the door.”
Screwloose looked up at me.
“Agree to hurt only him, tell me you’ll leave Toronto and leave people alone for a decade, and you’re as free as Maggie’s binding will leave you.”
“One-of,” he said. “Totally free?”
“Free, but you leave humanity alone.”
I saw indecision on his face.
I might have been missing something, but my gut said this little bastard was just a short-term thinker.
I unraveled the chain.
One problem dealt with.
The car’s wheels shifted, the front swerving slightly as it fought for traction. I saw Owen’s eyes go wide.
He tried to shift position, getting his legs up, crawling onto the hood, so he wouldn’t be in front of the car.
He didn’t succeed. Not really.
One shin was caught between the bumper of the car and the side of another.
“Evan,” I said, bowing my head. “Evan, I call you by name. I call you by the ties that bind us…”
I felt the connection appear.
“Evan, we’re connected. Nothing can keep us apart. Let’s use that.”
I felt something click.
Thirty seconds later, Evan descended from the sky.
“Finally,” I said.
“Got shot,” I said. “Nothing too bad, don’t think. What held you up?”
“Trap. Got Maggie. I tried to help her out, but I’m not as good at helping her as you.”
“Felt you call,” he continued, “I decided to come. I tried to find help,” he said. “She’s all I could find.”
“Well,” I replied. “I think that’s our help, then.”
We looked at the scene.
‘Gargler had managed to reverse back into the fence, and was in the midst of switching gears and preparing for another forward rush.
Ainsley had another candle out, no doubt working on one of the goblins.
The other two had disappeared inside as Screwloose had appeared. Under the protection of Uncle Laird.
Screwloose was lurking under a vehicle. I had no idea what he was doing.
“I can’t help you,” Evan said. “I could before but I can’t now.”
“I know,” I said. “You couldn’t find the others?”
“There was Maggie, and Fell’s busy in front of the police station.”
Busy? With what?
I didn’t want to know. Saying he was ‘busy’ was enough.
“Rose is inside, and I think her monsters are too. She can’t get out.”
What the fuck was going on?
Did I miss something?
“Evan,” I said, my eyes on the ground. “We need backup.”
“Either the imp or the sword. Fell has both?”
“They’re in the car, and he’s close to the car.”
“You want the imp, then?” Evan asked, with a note of hope.
“The imp… it’s dangerous. It’s a bad precedent.”
“You want the Hyena,” he said, with a note of disappointment.
Disappointment in me?
“Do we really have to?”
“People might die if we don’t.”
“People might die if we do.”
“No,” I said. “No, I don’t think so. Not if we’re careful.”
“You can’t be careful with something like that.”
“We can try,” I said. “Listen. Find the sword. Tell it… fuck me, I’m guessing again. But it bound itself as much as I bound it. It surrendered to my will, and you’re an extension of my will. Tell it that it’s free for ten minutes, provided it accepts the conditions and it agrees to be thoroughly and equally bound after those ten minutes are up, no matter what happens to me or to it. Tell it that it can’t hurt anyone or anything without our express permission. Tell it that it has to do everything I- no, everything you say.”
“Yeah, Evan. Does that make you feel any better?”
“Tell it that if it accepts, then it gets a chance at sanctioned bloodshed-”
“It gets a chance to draw blood that it wouldn’t get otherwise. It gets a chance to be scary, to be something other than a sword. Maybe that’s enough. Come back to me if it isn’t.”
“Okay,” Evan said. I detected a slight tremor in his voice.
“Will you remember all that?” I asked.
“Will you forgive me, Evan?”
“Yes,” he said, decisively. “Because your heart’s in the right place, even if this is stupid.”
Then Evan took off.
The car’s wheels were spinning, but it wasn’t moving. More of an effort than simple wheels on slick pavement.
Ainsley had four needles in her second candle, but the wax was melting in streams and rivulets that were running down to her elbow, inside and outside her sleeve. It was apparently hot and intense enough that she was flinching, even as she fought to recite her words and stick more needles into it.
It had already melted enough that there was no twenty-first line to stick her needle into.
The door to the station fell into roughly five pieces, little more than rust filigree at this point.
Laird, followed by the two younger kids. My sense of the connection had been accurate.
He glanced over the situation.
He drew and fired his gun into the door of the police car with spinning wheels.
The acceleration stopped.
Laird helped Owen -Sunglasses- open the hood, and he dragged the boy back, until his back was to the wall of the station.
I heard murmured words, thought I maybe saw a nod from Owen.
Laird stood straight. His eyes fell briefly on me, then he approached the car, reaching in through the shattered windshield to turn the wheel. He nodded at Ainslee.
She broke the binding, and the car rolled forward. The wheels were still spinning, so it was a little faster than five miles an hour.
It bumped into the pile-up of cars on the one side of the parking lot.
“There’s a gremlin under the car!” Ainsley called out.
I saw the gremlin scamper away.
Afraid of the stranger, maybe somehow recognizing that Laird wasn’t a novice practitioner.
Laird strode forward, approaching me.
Something tripped, and a device launched out from under the car. Like a hockey puck, it skidded out beneath Laird’s outstretched foot.
Laird stopped, foot suspended in mid-step.
He moved it out of the way, bent down, and carefully picked up the object.
It looked like some sort of small bear trap.
“Maggie, I presume,” Laird said.
“Your other friends are occupied or caught in traps by Duncan and his sons, Rose is bound indoors, and I’ve broken most of the available and useful reflective surfaces in the spirit world. Things are going to find an excuse to break in the real world in the coming days and weeks, but we can cross that bridge when it comes.”
“Sounds like bad karma,” I said. “Giving the universe a lot of menial work to do to keep everything coordinated.”
“Well,” Laird said, “I’m hoping to make it up to the universe.”
“Borrowing against the future for the sake of the present?” I asked.
“I would say it’s just the opposite,” Laird said. His eye roved, searching for the gremlin.
“I seem to have a gap in my memory,” I said.
Laird smiled. “Your, uh, Rose? She does too, it seems.”
“What did you do?”
“I’m particularly fond of the saying, what is it? ‘Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it? It’s very useful when we can use the same tricks a second time around without you being any the wiser.”
“I’m asking what you did.”
“You can ask. I’m not saying anything more on the subject.”
“You’re far from being my favorite person in the world, you know that?”
“I do. I’ll live, basking in the irony that I’m really doing you a service.”
“Most of the others want to see you dead. I want to see you live, ideally as a non-threat, for at least a little while longer.”
“As a withered, helpless old man?”
“Better than being dead, considering where you’re going.”
He stopped in front of me.
He was imposing, especially when I was hunkered down on the ground, shivering and bent, while he was standing tall above me, with his heavy jacket, barrel chest, and square jaw, glaring.
Not exactly my mental image of a practitioner.
“Conquest is coming,” Laird said. “He’s smart enough to stay out of the thick of things until the opposing king is in check.”
“How nice for him,” I said.
“I may be your biggest ally here,” Laird said. “Conquest wants you dead, I want you bound. The sooner you offer your surrender, the better off we all are.”
“You’re lying,” I said.
“Some consider that kind of accusation a grave insult,” he said.
“Good,” I said. “Add ‘fuck you sideways‘ to the insults you’re due. You’re not my biggest ally. He is.”
The Hyena prowled forward. Evan was perched on one tattered ear, wings spread.
“Ah, we expected that one,” Laird said. “Craig, take Owen and Tandy inside!”
“You expected it?” I asked.
“Yes, and you’ve made a bit of a mistake,” he said.
The Hyena stopped short of the fence.
“Go, whelp!” Evan ordered. “Obey me, mutt!”
The Hyena snarled in frustration, but stopped short of the fence.
An enclosure around the parking lot.
A ring of metal, to keep a proper goblin at bay.
“I don’t know whether to respect your integrity for leaving the imp be, or to pity your lack of foresight.”
“Take it from me and Evan,” I said. “That thing’s no small potatoes, fence or not. Evan!”
Laird seemed to read something in my posture and tone, because he didn’t give me a chance to finish. He crossed the distance between us, and he kicked me, heel to face.
I landed on my back, stomach arched skyward, knees still fused to the ground by Ainsley’s binding.
“Hurghf and burgfh!” I managed, one finger extended.
“What?” Laird asked.
“Huff and puff!” Evan shouted. “Do it, ugly! Huff and puff, there!”
The Hyena blew.
“Ainsley!” Laird shouted.
Ainsley shielded the needle-punctured candle with her body. Successfully blocking the Hyena’s breath from the lit wick.
She, however, wasn’t prepared for the other effect of the Hyena’s breath.
I could smell it from halfway down the parking lot.
She staggered, doubled over, and vomited.
In the doing, she wasn’t able to maintain her focus and keep the candle close enough to stay out of the way, but far enough that she didn’t stab or burn herself.
Somewhere along the line, the candle went out.
I toppled, landing on my back.
“Don’t move,” Laird said.
I heard the cock of a gun.
Ainsley approached, staggering. Her eyes were watering, and she had a hand pressed to nose and mouth.
“I’m sorry, uncle,” she said.
“It’s okay. Keep an eye out for the gremlin.”
“I see it,” she said.
Their eyes -and mine- traveled to the fence.
The goblin was there, arms spread, gripping the chain-link, legs bent as clawed toes found purchase on the fencing.
“Shoot it,” she said.
“I’m not taking my gun off the diabolist. Bind it.”
“Okay,” Ainsley said.
She drew out a candle.
The goblin extinguished it with a stream of foul smelling urine. Much as one might hold one thumb over the end of a tap or garden hose to concentrate the stream, the workings of wire and more made for a surprising long-distance spray.
Laird shifted position, turning sideways, raising his coat with his free hand to block the stream. “I hate goblins.”
“If they keep this up, I may start to like them,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter,’ Laird said. “Conquest will be here in a moment…”
The gremlin let go of the fence. It raised one hand. I saw what it held.
“…and this will all be settled.”
A sticky note with a rune on it.
The goblin managed to activate it.
This time there was an arc of electricity.
Ainsley shrieked and Laird wobbled before dropping like a rock. The gremlin dropped from the fence like a stone.
Ainsle went for the gun. I beat her to it. I pointed it at her.
“All things considered, I think I played pretty fair,” I said.
She set her jaw, lips tight. She still had a fleck of vomit at the corner of her mouth.
“You’re going to let Rose out of the building now,” I said. “Or I may do something to your Uncle Laird that you’ll regret.”
She didn’t move.
“You don’t care what happens to them?” I asked. “That kind of makes sense to me. I’m not very fond of your family either.”
“Ha ha,” she said, without humor.
Did that count as a lie?
If not, I’d have to remember that one. Some situations mandated sarcasm.
I checked Laird’s pulse. It was there.
“You won’t hurt him?” she asked.
“If I was going to hurt one of you, I would have let that car hit you.
He was even semiconscious, it seemed.
I did what I could to drag Laird back while keeping the gun available.
Things picked up a moment later when the door opened and the Tallowman came striding out with Bloody Mary a step behind.
Ainsley backed away from Bloody Mary, giving her as wide a berth as was possible without climbing over the cars that were piled up in the parking lot.
“The Tallowman has your bag,” Rose said, from one car windshield.
The wax-crusted man handed me my backpack.
“We save Maggie from the trap first, we rescue the others from Duncan, and then we scram,” I said.
“Sounds like a plan,” Rose said. “Tallowman, go around to the front of the building. You recognize our friend?”
“Yes mistress,” the Tallowman said, his voice meek.
“Go help him.”
“Yes, mistress,” the Tallowman said.
A little creepy.
“That went screwy fast,” Rose said. “I blacked out for a good half hour. Amnesia.”
“Some trick,” I said. “Evan and I did too. They used it to split us up, separated us, we still came out ahead.”
“Be careful about lying. We’re not sure how this went while we were out.”
“I’m pretty certain,” I said. Maggie was in sight, looking very impatient inside a rectangular magic circle that was bound to the pavement by golden chains.
“You’re certain we came out ahead?”
“We got Laird,” I said, pointing to Laird’s limp body, dangling from the Hyena’s mouth. There was a white smear drooping from the side of the Hyena’s nose to Laird’s shoulder. “And I think I’ve figured out the trick.”
“The Behaim’s power.”