Category Archives: 7.04

Void 7.4

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“Welcome back,” Rose said.  She closed her book, setting it down across her lap.

My attention was on Corvidae.  He was within the full-length mirror, standing in front of and to the right of Rose, a small notebook in one hand, an old-fashioned pen in the other.

He was an Other who had been scary enough he could be mistaken for a demon, much like the Hyena had been.  Seventh choir, the abstract, easy to underestimate.  They played subtle games, standing at the opposite end of the spectrum from the first choir, which simply took the most direct route, devouring.

Except he wasn’t a demon.  He was a less-than-garden-variety Bogeyman.

His eyebrows were thick, his teeth a fraction too wide.  He had a hook nose, and his long hair was slicked back, tied into a ponytail that didn’t stick out, but draped down over one shoulder.  His skin was a dark brown, like a supple leather, but his eyes were pale.  When I wasn’t making eye contact, it looked like his eyes were white from corner to corner.  When I was, his narrow pupils bored into me.

He wore a dress shirt with a tie, a vest, and slacks, and threads stuck out here and there, the cuffs of his shirt and backs of his pant legs abraded, the knees threadbare.  His fingers were long, the nails in need of a cut, a little chipped and frayed, as if he had been scraping at a hard surface.

Had I passed him in the street, I might not have given him a glance.  The more I looked, though, the more I noticed the oddities.  His features, cheekbones and the lines of his chin, the shape of his ears, the structure of his neck and shoulders, it all was slightly off, almost as if he’d been drawn by someone who’d never seen a grown man before.  It quickly became unsettling.

I looked away.

We were in the furnished apartment from the other day.

“Alexis?” I asked.

“She’s okay,” Rose said.  “Well, as okay as you can be after being stabbed.  Nothing vital.”

I relaxed some.

“Tiff, Ty?”

“They’re here,” Rose said.  “Look.”

I turned over, and found it easier than it should have been.

Tiff and Ty were lying on thin mattresses on the floor, with blankets drawn up over them.  Circles had been drawn on the ground, and the design had the same elaborate flair as the concentric circles Rose had suggested we draw for Laird and Pauz.  Was Rose developing a signature?

Odd to think about, when she wasn’t the one drawing the circles.

I didn’t miss the use of blood in the diagram, dried to a dark brown in the midst of the white chalk lines.

I touched my chest, and found a great deal of it numb.

When Mrs. Lewis had suggested they were reviving me, two ugly possibilities had sprung to mind as far as how they might do it.   Both had come true.

Ty and Tiff had given blood, for lack of better terminology, to revive me.  The same way I’d given blood to revive Rose.

But reviving wasn’t enough, was it?  You could fill a broken glass all you wanted, the liquid would still flow out.

My shirt had been removed, and I had a heavy pile of blankets on top of me.  I removed them to verify what I was touching.  I’d been plugged up with wax.  It was a pale beige-brown, out of contrast with my skin, the skin around the injury still red and angry, though not necessarily infected.

It matched the contour of my chest and ribs, soft enough to expand as I breathed.  A little cooler than the rest of me.  I could scrape off wax with my fingernail, so it peeled away in a curl.

On second thought, maybe it was better not to do that.

I moved my hand to get the wax out from under my fingernail, and I found another patch of wax there.  The damage from wielding the Hyena.  It had mostly healed.

“Healing?” I asked.

“Maggie’s been using a trick she learned to patch you together, do away with the wax and smooth over the skin.”

I experimentally raised myself up, and accidentally shifted Evan from where he was snuggled up against my neck.

“Unh,” he said.  His eyes were closed.

“He’s asleep?” I asked.

“My recommendation,” Rose said.  “He can’t go all that far from you without wanting to return, I’m not sure if it’s familiarhood or sentimentality.  He was frankly driving us up the wall, wanting to be entertained or involved.  I told him that you might rest better if he rested too.  He doesn’t have to sleep, but it seems he can do it if he wants.”

“Sorry about this, little man,” I said.  “Keep sleeping for a little bit.”

“Buh,” he mumbled, incoherent, tiny eyes still closed.

I checked I was wearing pants, then swung my legs over the side of the cot.

“It’s been slow work, giving you new flesh, undoing the damage.  Apparently Maggie could do it fast and give you gnarly scars, but she wanted to do it slow and leave you looking normal.  I thought you’d want normal – you’re already fighting to keep your identity from slipping away, with everything else that’s going on.”

“You thought right,” I said.  “Thanks.”

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Eerily good,” I replied.  I extended my arm.  My left arm’s movements felt a little more limited.  One of the scratches extended from my right nipple to my left shoulder.  There was wax there, not matching the skin.  Numb.  “But definitely not perfect.”

“Perfect would be expecting too much,” Rose said.  “We had to knock two people out to get you up to par.”

I glanced at her, trying to ignore Corvidae.  He disturbed me on a number of levels, one being his appearance, the other being the fact that he was here.

At the same time, I didn’t want to do what Rose had done to me earlier, now that our roles were reversed.  Maybe there was an explanation.

“Two people bled out to bring me back?” I asked.

“Yes.  We talked it over, they don’t want to fight, but things are getting uglier, time’s run out, and you weren’t waking up.  We need you active and able to fight, especially since we lost Fell.”

I shut my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose.

“Sorry,” she said.

Fell wasn’t someone I loved, and even my ability to like him had been strained, but I’d respected him, he’d been competent, he’d even gone out of his way to help.

But I’d gotten him caught up in this, and now he was dead.

“The Shepherd collected his soul,” Rose said.  “Not just the echo, but the soul.  He got in touch with us yesterday, offering a trade.  Laird for Fell.”

“He made this offer on the Lord’s behalf?”

“Not explicitly,” Rose said.  She paused.  “I said no.”

“What?”

“I thought about it for a while, and we talked it over.  Maybe in another situation, we’d be able to stick him somewhere, put the soul in a vessel, bring back Fell in some capacity.  But they wouldn’t give us Fell if we could still use him.  By getting Laird back, he kind of counteracts your victory earlier, and it’s maybe the last hold we have on them.”

“If we’re counting points, then any points I got for getting Laird are probably matched by points they got for collecting Fell,” I said.

“Exactly,” Rose said.  “And if we give up Laird, along with any points we earned there, the Shepherd releases Fell, and then Fell’s soul moves on…”

“They have more points in the end,” I said.  “Fuck, no, you’re right.  That might have been the right decision.”

“It wasn’t a hard one to make.  They’ve been making a number of plays, trying to subvert the advantage we had.”

“He’s been busy, then,” I said.

He has been very, very quiet, actually,” Rose said.  “He’s staying out of the way, giving you your three days.”

“You said things were getting uglier?”

“He’s staying out of the way, but he’s doing that whole thing where he’s technically following the rules, but he’s not forcing others to do it,” Rose said.

I nodded.  “How bad is it?”

“Pretty bad.  He’s ‘protecting’ the city by maintaining the snowstorm, keeping people out of harm’s way by keeping them indoors.  His people have been telling local Others that there may be a change in the way the city operates, and this is the time to get in good with the lord of the city, be in his good graces when he moves up.  The ones that aren’t smart enough to understand are still happy there are no people around, so they’re roaming, looking for trouble.  If I’m being open about what’s happening, then I’d have to tell you that people are getting hurt.”

I hadn’t thought it would get this bad.

She continued, “The news is saying it’s a bunch of kids and thugs capitalizing on the snowstorm.  The last big fight at the police station?  The cars got totaled?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, the real cars caught up to their spirit world equivalents.  The damage is being blamed on vandals.  Arson, looting, beatings with very little information about the alleged attackers, speculation about a new drug on the streets…”

“Okay,” I said.  “Stop.  This isn’t helping my conscience.  This was a dumb idea.”

“It was a good idea,” Rose said.  “It got us out, it gave you the upper hand… it just went badly.”

“If a plan turns out badly, can it really be called a good one?”

“I think so.”

“Because when I think of things backfiring and schemes with horrific collateral damage, I think of family.”

“I do too.”

“The stuff that mom pulled?  The dormitory thing?”

“The dormitory thing,” Rose said.  “Yeah.  Most definitely remember that.  One of her… less human moments.”

“Yeah.  That.  I don’t know how many students were left without a place in the middle of the semester, but it was a thoroughly shitty thing to do, and it was a whole lot of wrong just to inconvenience a potential heir.”

“Yeah,” Rose said.

“I don’t want to follow in their footsteps.  In fact, that may have been one of the moments where that really dawned on me.  That I wanted to go a different route.”

I climbed to my feet.  I had to search around for clothes, and found my backpack.  I dug out a shirt.

“It wasn’t for me,” Rose said.  “It wasn’t a revelation or anything.  I feel like I reached that point a long time ago.  I got pulled into the schemes, that was an early one.”

“Early?”

“Against Kathy.”

I blinked.

“Callan, for me,” I said.

“Ah,” she said.

“But go on.”

“It’s just… I was immersed in it, I was implicated, I played roles, reported back on them if I saw them at school.”

“Ah,” I said.  Worlds different from me.  Mom and dad had essentially given up, with no real viable heir, only periodically attacking the people who looked like they might be contenders, and our family being the target more than a few times.

“I fought it, but I didn’t really have a way to break the pattern or get them to stop.  They plowed forward, I watched it like I might watch a car wreck, and it became easier to just ignore it, do my own thing.  Or so the fabricated memories go.”

“Were you in the running?” I asked.

Rose nodded.  “We all thought Paige was the top candidate, then Peter made his play and… well, the next thing I remember, I got confirmed as heir at the meeting.”

“Not Molly?”

Rose shook her head.

“I didn’t know that,” I said.

“It doesn’t really matter.  It’s just the vestige thing.  When it’s bent out of shape, reality seeks the straightest path to righting itself.”

“That can’t be right,” I said.

“Hm?”

“Molly.  You’re forgetting Molly.  If reality is seeking the straightest path, why would you be the first pick for heir?  Why not follow after Molly?”

Rose frowned.  “I don’t know.”

“That’s the kind of important detail you really should be sharing,” I said.

“Our focus has kind of been elsewhere,” Rose said.  “With the most recent issue being you in a near-Coma?  Remember that?”

“I remember,” I said.

“The discrepancy is important, but let’s not lose sight of what’s really going on.”

I bit my tongue for a second.

If I pushed on this subject at the expense of other stuff, I’d be doing what Rose had done.

“Okay,” I said.  I found my sweatshirt on the back of a chair, grabbed it, and found both the claw marks on the front and my clawed-up t-shirt beneath.  Both had been thoroughly washed, but a thorough washing hadn’t gotten all the blood out.  Unsalvageable.

“Changing topics.  What’s really going on, then?”

“The lord of the city has, through indirect means, sent Others out into the streets, searching for our hideouts.  They’re finding our hideouts, and if we’re ‘counting points’ as you said before, then we’re losing here.  The Knights aren’t responding, Fell’s dead, for all intents and purposes, the Imp is occupied keeping Laird pinned down, and the Hyena isn’t cooperating.  Your friends, I get that you wanted them here, they aren’t really potent strategic assets.  I’ve been teaching them, giving them access to books, but they’re not exactly big guns.  We’re losing.”

I pulled on the tattered sweatshirt, because going out in the cold with just a t-shirt seemed like a bad idea, and I didn’t have any more clothes.

I looked at Ty and Tiff, and I wondered if they had any clothes I could borrow.

It would be a bad idea, I reasoned, to take the clothes outright.  It could be bad karma, even if we were close enough for the sharing of said clothes to be implicit.

Or did the connections factor in?  Were the clothes okay for me to take simply because of the indirect ties I had to them?

Fuck, I didn’t understand enough about how the world worked.

“You only have two champions,” Rose said.  “You’ve got me, and you’ve got Maggie.  Maggie’s out, doing her thing.”

“Her thing?”

“Hunting monsters.  Diverting them away from Laird, our last remaining hideout.  We don’t have Fell to hide us anymore.”

“And you?  What are you doing?”

“Ah.  This is the point where I have to explain J.P. being here.”

J.P.?” I asked.

Corvidae smiled.

“Do you talk?” I asked.

“I do,” he said.  His voice was hoarse, uncomfortable to listen to.  More fitting for an old man than a young one, or for a heavy smoker.

“Primarily when asked questions,” Rose added.

“When invited to respond,” he corrected.

“Full name?”

“John Pica,” he said.

I broke from his unwavering eye contact to look at Rose, my eyebrows raised.

“We needed ammo.  They were rooting us out, they’re still using the dolls, the vessels, they’ve got ghosts, and when they get close, they bring in the Eye to start wreaking havoc.  Power goes out, fires in the neighborhood… trying to get us to pick up and move, distract us.  Astrologer has constructions at regular points around the city, it’s… it’s a mess overall.  So we called on a few more Others.  I called on a few more.”

More?”

“It’s all I can do.  I can’t match the Lord of the City in numbers, not with summonings.  I can be smart about bringing them in and pointing them places.  I can call on specific Others for specific tasks, and J.P. was one.”

“What task?”

“Distracting your adversary’s champions.  J.P. set the Astrologer and the Sisters of the Torch against each other.”

“How?” I asked.

“Apparently the sisters have this elemental they all use in their rituals.  An intermediate flame spirit, the eponymous ‘torch’ of the group, their go-to power source.  J.P. went for a walk, came back, and the elemental decided it wanted to set up shop in one of the Astrologer’s pieces of equipment, rather than the housing they’d prepared for it.  Apparently there’s a lot of power flowing through her systems at the moment, enough to bait an Elemental closer.”

“She’s not giving the elemental back, I take it?” I asked.

“The equipment was handed down to her by her teacher and master.  It’s sentimental and it’s a huge aspect of her power base.  No, she’s not giving it back.”

I’d made some headway with the Sisters, and I had questions about the Astrologer and her changing allegiance… this wasn’t something I would have gone along with.

Stupid as it sounded, I didn’t want to hurt them.

I bit my tongue.  “Where’s my jacket?”

“You’re not going outside, are you?”

“I’m not sitting here and waiting for things to get worse,” I said.  “Evan, wake up.”

Saying his name flexed the connection between us.  He roused, then did a small bird stretch, wings extended fluffing out his feathers to look bigger.  “You’re up!  You’re okay!”

He flew to my shoulder.

“Thanks to my friends,” I said.

“Ahem,” Rose said.

“I’m counting you among them,” I told her.  “Don’t be silly.”

She seemed genuinely taken aback by that.

“What are we doing?  What’s next?” Evan asked.

Already full of energy, it seemed.

“We’re meeting up with Maggie,” I said, “Then we’re putting together a battle plan for one last skirmish against the big man.”

“I don’t think that’s wise,” Rose said.

“Why?” I asked.  “We’re weaker than we were, he’s stronger?”

She didn’t respond right away.

“A… voice in my dream told me that he’d consolidated his power and he was strong,” I said.  “Are you saying there’s more to it than that?”

“Kind of,” Rose said.  “It’s better if you see.”

“That sounds ominous.”

“It is,” she said.  “I can station Mary to guard your friends, but maybe you want to leave a note, reassure them it’s all okay.  We should go meet up with Maggie.  I might not agree about going up against the lord of the city, but I do agree that we should hash together a plan.”

The snowstorm was bad.  I’d borrowed Ty’s coat, scarf and hat in the end, and the cold cut right through it.  My chest tightened as the wax filling my wounds hardened.

I’d be sensitive to temperature, it seemed.  Keeping away from direct heat sources would have to be a priority.

Hail had broken windows and damaged cars, broken branches lay around every tree, and the snow was bad enough that the plows weren’t keeping up, if they were showing up at all.

The city had shut down.  With no power, the snow, and thick clouds, it was darker in the middle of the day than some nights had been.

Minutes passed where all I could see were flurries of thick white snow, all I could hear was the sound of wind.

The Tallowman followed me.  Rose was clearer than ever as she moved within the windows, Mary, Corvidae and an oily black figure following her.

Rose was stronger.

I wasn’t so sure I could stop her if she decided to send her monsters after me.

She’d saved me, though, to her credit.  She’d also known something about me being vulnerable, what happened when I died.

She’d told Conquest.  I could put two and two together.  Conquest knew the particulars about how Rose and I functioned as a pair, including the fact that I’d be replaced by Rose if I got offed.  Rose knew more particulars than she was letting on.

I hadn’t lied when I said I considered Rose a friend.

I didn’t trust her one hundred percent, but I hadn’t lied.

At the same time, I wasn’t sure the sentiment went both ways.  What was I to Rose?

Was I a jailor?  A figure that kept her from leaving her prison of mirrors?

Had I been that jailor from some point very early on?  I could remember how she’d acted, on our early mornings in the house.  Sudden shifts in attitude, harboring knowledge, hostility without rationale…

…I could remember her reactions.  The way she’d acted almost offended when I’d been nice, reached out, tried to make amends.

Almost as if she wanted to hate me, and I was making it harder.

Had she known?

I felt Evan shiver beside my neck, tugged Ty’s scarf tighter, to bring the my familiar closer.

If Rose had known, how had she found out?  Had she been reading something I wasn’t aware of?  Had the lawyers reached out to her by some arcane means, like Mrs. Lewis had found me in some buried part of my psyche?  Or had she known from the beginning?

Or was I something else to her?  If not a jailor, could I be something else?  Molly had been a sacrificial pawn.  Was I the same?  Was I simply chosen because my mirror-world alter-ego was the most competent, or because I was most likely to help the family’s overall karmic balance before I died?  Was she only helping me because it bought her more time before she had to brave these dangers herself?

No.  She’d put herself at risk, being shackled by Conquest to spare me from being tortured.

I had to remember that.

She might have come to regret the decision, but I had to remember that sacrifice.

Her reactions to so many things like the taking of a familiar and the binding of my friends, it all made more sense if I thought that she didn’t want me connecting myself to this world, making myself harder to dislodge.

But I had to remember that she’d made the big sacrifice.  There was no explaining that away.  She cared on some level.

“Heads up,” Rose murmured.

I looked, and I saw a homeless man in a puffy jacket making achingly slow progress through the snow.

When I looked at him with the Sight, though, I saw something else.

In the sliver of his face I could see, I noted no nose.  His mouth had no lips, only obvious, yellowing teeth.  His skin was a bruised green-purple color, his eyes hidden by shadow.  Almost like dessicated corpse given life.

The window beside him shattered.  Rose’s oily black creature pounced from the midst of the flying glass to tackle the big brute.  Long fingers circled its neck.

“Keep moving,” Rose said.

I couldn’t shake the mental image of her sending the black thing after me.  It was eerie in appearance.  If Corvidae was the kind of Bogeyman that preyed on adults, powerful people –white men, if Rose’s accounting was right- then the black strangling thing was a baser kind of monster.  One that would be perfectly at home under a child’s bed or in a dark swamp, waiting for the right foot to be placed down in its reach.

We didn’t get half a block before she was sending Mary out to attack two more bystanders.

I hadn’t even realized they were there before blood was being spilled.

Rose’s expression was hard and unreadable.  What was going through her head?

I didn’t want to be second-guessing my allies when I should have been going after Conquest, but I was.  My head was whirling with questions long before I saw what Rose had wanted to show me.

Then I had more.

“The hell?” I asked.

Streets that should have been straight were curved.

They were shorter, the dimensions warped.

It was even true when I didn’t use the sight.  The snow made it less obvious, shifted to more aggressive patterns to blind me, flakes stinging my eyes, or moving in such a way that I couldn’t notice.

But, all that in mind, the reality was that in both the spirit and the real world, the city was being drawn together in a spiral.

Like spaghetti around a twirled fork.

The fork, I realized, was Conquest’s tower.

He was drawing up the city, altering geography and everything else.  The spirit world was the most obvious victim, and the real world was following suit in its own way.

It was his city.  Now he was restructuring it.

Or, more likely, he was having a minion do it somehow, just like I’d had Evan act as an extension of myself for the purposes of freeing the Hyena.

“What the hell is he doing?”  I asked.

“Giving us less places to hide, while pushing out the monsters from their roosts, driving them out to roam.”

Squeezing us out.

“You think he’s pretending to be stronger than he is?  When he’s doing this?”

“I want to think so.”

“If you’re right, and that’s you’re as in you were, not you are, things might be different now.  Look at this.  Think about the power being spent.”

I took it in.

I looked away, for much the same reason I’d looked away from Corvidae, earlier.  From ‘J. P.’

It was unpleasant to consider the implications.

That Rose was shrugging off the one stipulation I’d made.  That Conquest really was this much stronger.

“It doesn’t change anything,” I said.

“He’s a monster.”

“I’ve committed to the duel.”

Stay committed.  But let’s do this smart.  Think less about battle plans, more about playing it smart.  Give me time, let me summon more Others.  We can raise the stakes, raise an army, up the strength of what I’m summoning…”

“Until you summon another Midge?” I asked.  “Make another mistake with collateral damage?”

“That was one mistake,” she said.  “My first summoning.  Absolve me of that like I tried to absolve you of guilt for starting the contest.”

I glanced up at the tower.

Work with me, Blake.”

“I want to,” I said, “But I’m afraid he’s going to get stronger faster than we do.”

Rose didn’t have an answer for that.

I turned away, trudging in the direction the connections were pointing.

Past a husk of a car and a patch of blood that had frozen and been nearly covered by snow.

“Let’s go find Maggie.”

Maggie was embroiled in a fight when we arrived.

Rose had made another call I didn’t necessarily agree with.  Maggie wielded the Hyena, a gauntlet on her hand, sporting a very similar design.  The gauntlet served to protect her hand from the worst of the spikes, I assumed.

Three wraiths had her cornered in a looted store.  Floor to ceiling display windows had been shattered, the shelves largely cleaned out, and snow had drifted within.  Maggie was nearly invisible in the gloom, prenaturally pale in the midst of it.  A bit bedraggled.

Three wraiths.

Three monsters.

Rose’s creatures were stronger.  As rescues went, it wasn’t a dramatic one.  Two wraiths were torn apart.

Corvidae intercepted the third, a man that had burned to a crisp, apparently, gripping him by the wrists.  He’d spoken something in french, and then released the spirit.

The spirit flew away as if it had a goal in mind.

I shivered a little.

“You’re alive, Thorburn,” Maggie said, when we reached her.  She was bleeding, and her lips were too red.

“You’re holding my sword,” I replied.

Our sword,” Evan corrected, hopping forward so he was clear of the folds of my scarf.

“Our sword,” I amended.

“Rose gave me permission,” Maggie said.  “You were unconscious.”

“You could have asked me,” Evan said.  “I could have woken up to say it wasn’t cool.”

Or, I thought, she had you go to sleep so she was free to lend out the weapon.

“How are you managing?” I asked, changing the subject.  As if to make it clear what I was doing, I adjusted my scarf.

“Hoping they aren’t missing me in Jacob’s Bell,” Maggie said.

“Could really do with an explanation of how you slipped away,” I commented.  “But for now, let’s talk about the contest.  Sooner it’s done, sooner you can go back.”

“I’m not complaining,” Maggie said.  She flashed a smile, and there was blood in the spaces between her teeth.  She’d been hit.

It was disconcerting.  For her to be, what, excited, while I was feeling so grim about this?  So guilty?

I felt like all I was doing was suppressing my feelings.

“The perimeter?” Rose asked.

“Having a bit of trouble,” Maggie said.  She wiped at her lip, and her fingers came away crimson with blood.  “Things suddenly picked up about half an hour ago.  I think the Lord is awake, alive and well.”

“Define a ‘bit of trouble’,” Rose said.

“I kind of failed.  It might be a good idea to check upstairs.  See how old Behaim is managing.  Can’t really guard against attacks from all directions when you’re all on your lonesome.”

“Something slipped past you?” I asked.  “They have access to Laird?”

“There’s a guard,” Maggie said, “But yeah, maybe.”

“I asked if you needed help,” Rose said.

“I didn’t when you asked, when I did need help, you weren’t available.  It’s not like I can call you on a cell phone, not really.

Two people, or a person and a vestige, struggling to do the job that we’d had a hard time doing as a group.

Two people I didn’t necessarily trust at this point.

I wanted to trust them, so much it hurt, but I had too many questions and not enough answers.

“Let’s move,” I said.

We were forced to take the stairs.

“It’s wraiths,” Maggie panted.  “They don’t need to use stairs.”

I redoubled my efforts, taking stairs two at a time, leaving Maggie and the Tallowman behind.

I reached the apartment and kicked the door rather than wait for Maggie to show up with the key.

I rounded the corner at the end of the hall, and I found myself facing Laird, still in the circle.

Pauz was crouched there, grinning, his back to Laird.

Two Wraiths flanked the circle.  The new Other Rose had left behind, a woman with a Glasgow smile and surgical mask pulled away from her face, lay unmoving on the ground, clutching her chest.

“Took you long enough,” Laird said.

“Laird.”

“I’ve been trying to communicate with your imp, despite the fact that you forbade him from speaking.”

Rose and Maggie caught up with us.

Rose’s eye fell on the fallen Other.

Laird held up his implement.

How?

The Wraiths had tossed the thing to him?

“Basic rule,” Laird said.  “When a malevolent being is released from its binding, it goes after the one that bound it.  Isn’t that right, imp?”

Pauz shrugged, but he was grinning.

“I noticed you coming,” Laird said.  “I thought I’d wait for you so I could watch it happen.”

He broke the circle, flinging water across it.

Pauz was free.

Pauz took a step towards me.

Then, a moment later, Pauz was a book again, pages and cord fluttering into place, trapping him, then taking form.

Laird watched as the book hit ground.

“A bluff,” he said.

“We’re better than you think,” I said.

“So am I,” he replied.

He clicked his watch.

A moment later, he was gone.

My heart pounded.

“We lost,” Rose said.  “Down one champion, your friends are out of commission…”

“No,” I said.  “I don’t think this is a loss.

She looked at me.

“Just the opposite, almost,” I said.  “If we can pull this off…”

“What are you thinking?” Maggie asked.

“It’s time to test my theory on the Behaims, and make the decisive play.”

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