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It was still strange, seeing Patrick attending high school.  Like Ev and Keller, he showed up once in a blue moon, as interest suited him.  He wore different faces, stirred up drama, and then disappeared when he’d scratched that itch.  Maggie suspected that it might be a way of keeping tabs on the local players, as humans grew up and the local dynamics shifted.

Evonne, Essylt in her tongue, had only showed up to talk to Patrick the once, that Maggie was aware.  The woman was more predatory, and interrogation of bound goblins had revealed her father was some Faerie De Sade, someone known to be a very good and creative torturer, among a people who’d had centuries to pursue torture as a hobby.  He’d been executed for some failure, and the Ev had been banished.  Keller, a friend of hers and something like an apprentice to Ev’s father, had elected to come along and protect her.

Keller, doing the grunt work in Ev’s plan, showed up now and then among the student body, primarily during lunch hours or after school.  Faerie liked pretty things, and had a way of gravitating toward the prettiest person in a group, but Keller targeted the fringe groups.  The kid with the funny ears and his friends, who all liked the roleplaying games but hid what they were really talking about because the faculty considered.  The French-speakers in French immersion who seemed to do their very best to avoid learning or speaking more English, and the less than successful drama club members.  To them, Keller was the guy with connections, old enough he didn’t attend high school, young enough he could relate to them, even flirt, without crossing a line.  He wore a different face for each group, and he seemed to be equipping them.  More than one had trinkets with some kind of power that Maggie could recognize.

The kid with the funny ears with no cartilage to keep the top ends upright had a regular old book, nonmagical, that had been loaned to him by Keller, that he was apparently using to inspire the adventures he made up for his friends.

The cigarette smoking Quebecois girl that led the French immersion crowd had something in her pocket, and she’d made a recent trip to Toronto, returning with a completely overhauled and rather expensive wardrobe, albeit largely in black, with gifts for all her friends.  Maggie’s suspicion was that the girl was finding she was suddenly far, far better at shoplifting since she’d received the good luck charm from ‘Alain’, Keller’s Quebecois guise.

The rather round member of the drama club was finding his diets were working, he had Keller’s advice on fashion, and was exercising.  Some guys, even, were not-so-subtly gravitating his way, and the drama club was transforming with new membership.

Maggie didn’t have the fancy books.  No library, no resources to tap.  The only reliable source she had right now was, well, Patrick.

Except Patrick was the one at the head of the problem in question.

That left Maggie with the internet, storybooks, the brief and chaotic notes in her binder, and basic deduction.

She was pretty certain that presents and boons like the ones Keller was giving out were traps.  That they’d be wonderful and fantastic up until the point that things turned sour.  Maybe they became too much of a good thing, maybe there was a rule that had to be followed, with some horrific backlash if it wasn’t.  Maybe there was a catch.

Exiled Faerie weren’t allowed to go after innocents, not directly.  But, Maggie was fairly certain, they weren’t forbidden from doing something like giving a kid a flute that would summon a sprite to do their chores for them, with the caveat that the sprite would blind them if they ever tried to watch it while it worked.

End result?  The kid would be stupid, the sprite would eat the kid’s eyes.  People, the kid included, would rationalize it away as an accident, an infection, or just a freak occurrence.  Life would go on as normal, and the local Faeries-in-exile got their jollies without breaking the rules.

Maggie could look across the field where the students who weren’t eating indoors were spending their lunch hour.  She could see the stories playing out.  Connections, two Others among maybe three hundred scattered students; a student that seemed content to repeat the same grade without any teacher noticing he’d been on the class roster for ten years, and Patrick himself.

One of the Behaims took a seat on the ledge where Maggie sat.  A girl.  Strong jaw, full lips, and a hat with flaps over the ears.  Sort of what Maggie thought a female dwarf would look like, except without the dwarf part of it.  The girl was probably taller than she was.

The Behaims were healthy, as a general rule.

“Your rear end is going to get wet and cold,” Maggie said.  She was sitting on her own backpack.

“I’ll deal.  I’m supposed to ask you if you’re willing to look the contract over.”

“Finally?  You guys have been bugging me a couple of times a day, like you’re all worried I’ll change my mind.”

“Have you?”

No.

“Then will you look the contract over?” the girl asked.

Stubborn.

“Not right now,” Maggie said.  “Lunch ends soon, and if that contract is as solid as I’m hoping it is, then I won’t be able to read it all.  I’m thinking, anyway.  I’ll look after school, if I can.”

“Okay,” the girl said.  She didn’t move.

“I don’t know your name.”

“Tenth grade.  Elspeth.”

A year younger, then.

“The Behaims have a thing for really tragic names.”

Old family names.  There’s a power in it.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah.  You’re right, the names we get stuck with can bite, but there’s a reasoning behind it.  Am I interrupting your thinking?”

Maggie shrugged.  Yes, but she wasn’t in a mood to be a bitch about it.

When Elspeth didn’t take the excuse to leave, Maggie said, “Patrick, you see him?”

“Yeah, I see him.”

“What do you know about him?”

“I know of Patrick.  I don’t know him.  He shows up at the council meetings.”

“I mean, tell me something I wouldn’t know myself.”

“He was at the heart of this whole thing last year.  Slept with this guy, Duke, a straight guy.  While glamoured up as a teenage guy.  Ended a relationship that had been going on since middle school.”

“Four years, through high school?  That’s like lifetimes in real years.”

“Exactly,” Elspeth said.  “The aftermath was something to see.  Duke and his girlfriend Mary had been part of this really tight clique.  Just about fractured in half, one side backing Duke, the other backing Mary.  And maybe things would have calmed down, except the news got out that Mary was pregnant.  If Patrick hadn’t split up the friends, maybe they would have broken up over the pregnancy, but feelings wouldn’t have been as hurt, and a full fifth of the graduating class might not have gotten involved in the whole thing.”

“It’s like network television,” Maggie said.

“You’re not wrong.  Things are never simple with Faerie involved.  One thing led to another, which led to another, and so on.  All with Patrick stepping in only now and then to keep the flames fanned.  For him, it’s like a real-world soap opera, interactive.  A nudge here, and stories unfold.”

Maggie wasn’t too surprised, though she hadn’t heard this story in full before.

The hurt feelings, broken friendships and reams of pain and chaos aren’t really something he understands or pays attention to, except when he needs to leverage and use it.

That’s what he is. 

“Creepy, something as old as him sleeping with a high schooler,” Elspeth said.

“I felt that way once.  Then I adjusted my perspective.  Years are to a Faerie what dollars amounts are to a priceless artifact.  You could do your research, find experts to help figure it out, cross-check facts, but it doesn’t really matter in the end.  The priceless artifact costs a lot.  The Faerie are old.”

Elspeth nodded.  She didn’t look convinced, and Maggie didn’t care enough to keep trying to sell the idea.

He’s old.  Old enough to grow jaded and then find new faith in existence a dozen times over, until neither case has any meaning.  Old enough to be bored with reality.

The goblins had told Maggie stories about Faerie that had decided they couldn’t be entertained any more.  Faerie older than Padraic, who had seen enough permutations of everything that they couldn’t be surprised or amused any more.

Padraic didn’t eat or drink in the conventional sense.  He supped only on entertainment, and he’d been hobbled when he’d been sent here.  He was fighting and endless battle to stave off that ennui that would turn him into a monster that ranked up there with the worst.  All Faerie were.

On a level, it meant he wasn’t evil.  He was just… working with a different set of sliding scales.

On another level, fudge that.  He was evil.

Whether it was evil or sliding scales, he was idly moving among the student body right now, talking to some people, charming other.  The equivalent of picking wings off flies.

Maggie ventured, “There’s something like seven plots I’m aware of.  Keller has three charms and one questionable book that he’s given to people around the school.  Patrick has been talking to three people or groups of people, besides me.  This is going to end badly.”

“Maybe.  But if you try to fix it, it’s liable to end worse.”

“I can imagine,” Maggie said.

“Don’t get involved.  They’ve probably anticipated what might happen if any of us stepped in.  If you try to intervene, they’ll get you wrapped up in the game or the drama or whatever they’ve got going on here.”

“Yeah,” Maggie said.

She didn’t mention that there was something else eating at her.

The goblin she’d interrogated, Buttsack, had confessed to systematic attacks on more or less random targets.  There was a lot of little hurt here and there.  Some big hurt.  Buttsack had used a curse on a girl to make her envision everything edible as rotten and disgusting.  Every plate of salad practically compost, meat appeared and tasted rancid, festooned with maggots.  She’d been hospitalized a month ago, on the belief that she had an eating disorder.

Buttsack was upset because he wanted the curse back, so he could use it again.  Maggie managed to twist his arm until he shared the way to break the curse.  She’d scribbled it down and emailed the hospital with a message for the patient.

She’d left a note in the locker of the diabetic with the cocaine-tainted insulin, and discreetly removed the gremlin bait from her math teacher’s keychain, keeping it for herself.

Something told her that Buttsack hadn’t shared every victim of his.

The Faerie were active, the goblins allowed to run rampant so long as they were minor goblins.  Bogeymen and boggarts lurked in the outskirts of town.

The atmosphere was dark, here.

The council was letting bad things happen to innocents because it was, in a roundabout way, a path to power.

A seeing man is king in the land of the blind.  Protect your own eyes and let everyone else get blinded, and you rise to the top of the heap.

The dynamic here was toxic.

Places like this were a haven for those who didn’t want to kowtow to a proper Lord.  For every person here that hadn’t been directly affected by an Other in one way or another, there was another who had.

Too few were benevolent.

As Jacob’s Bell became something bigger, some would leave, because the city was no longer a haven.  Others would try to mark their territory and ride the cresting wave to the top.  They would get bolder, fight one another, or prey on people in an effort to grasp at power.

She hadn’t been able to help everyone that Buttsack had hurt or plotted against, and even though he was the most malicious and capable goblin she’d run into since she’d arrived in Jacob’s Bell, he was still a minor goblin.  Resourceful, but minor.

She wanted to help, but how was she supposed to help with the rest of it if this was all she could do to help him?

How was she supposed to help Blake if she was this powerless?  How was she supposed to face the blood, darkness, and fire that was inching her way even now?

Padraic was taking his leave.  He stepped on ice and used the slippery surface to do a half-turn.  His eyes fell on her.  She could see his smile.  She could imagine his voice in her ear.

“Was he just looking at you?” Elspeth asked.

“You know, if Penelope or Gavin pushed you to come and try and be friendly, you can stop pretending.  It’s not going to change what I decide to do with the contract.”

“Thanks for letting me off the hook,” Elspeth replied.  She stood, dusting snow off her rear end.  “My ass was freezing.”

“See ya,” Maggie said.

Exiled faerie were kept out of towns with Lords as a matter of course.  The Court apparently didn’t want exiles making deals or gaining power, so they stuck them only in small villages and towns, or even in areas well out of reach of humans.

Maggie made a mental note to ask him what would happen to the Exiles when Jacob’s Bell made the transition.

She put her hands between her thighs and pressed them together for warmth, watching the crowd.  Now that Patrick was gone, she was free to watch the practitioners.

Owen was being an idiot over a senior girl, and she’d turned him down despite some shenanigans affecting the connection between them.

Lola seemed distracted by something, fidgeting, her attention on her phone.  Every time she looked down, a connection ignited.  Someone far away.

Penelope was particularly focused on Maggie.  She was one of the people who’d worked out the idea for the contract, and she seemed especially intent on it.

If things worked out well, Maggie knew who to thank.  If they didn’t, she knew who to blame.

She made a long list of mental notes.  Weaknesses, ideas, clues, identifying details.  Whether or not she accepted the contract, they could easily become enemies.

Any information was a possible vector of attack.  Even romantic entanglements, even doubt over some distant boyfriend or family member.

She’d learned that much from the goblins and Faerie of Jacob’s Bell.

Maggie nudged the meat around her plate.  It looked like someone had cut away the good parts of the chicken, leaving only the giblets and tattered bits, and slathered it all in some weak, slimy sauce of vinegar and gluten free flour and cooked up in a baking pan with far too much fluid.  It looked undercooked.

No, scratch that.  It looked like limp, shredded, groin giblets.  Undercooked, limp, shredded groin giblets.  With overcooked asparagus and undercooked potatoes on the side.

Had Buttsack found a way to curse her?  Or was she just being influenced by the goblins, seeing rude things when they weren’t there?

“I know it’s not your favorite,” her dad said.

“That suggests I’ve had this before.  I’m pretty sure I’d remember this.”

Much as I’d want to forget.

“It’s pretty bad,” her father said.

“…Just eat what you can,” her dad said.  “We’ll have something else soon.  To take your mind off it, why don’t you tell us about school?”

Maggie suppressed a groan.

Full disclosure.  It was part of the deal, for her being allowed to practice.

Not that she was telling them everything, but she had to make a good faith effort.

“Bunch of kids approached me a few days ago, offering a truce.  Today they delivered the contract.  I’m halfway through.  I’m thinking I’ll read the rest in bed tonight.”

“Why have a truce if you aren’t at war?” her dad asked.

“Because they want to make sure I don’t go and help Blake with whatever’s going on in Toronto.”

“Does that have anything to do with the box of unpacked stuff you have up in your room, that’s been grunting and moving around?”

Maggie tensed.  “You said you wouldn’t go in my room.”

“I didn’t,” her father said.  “But it’s hard to ignore, and since I’m working from home, it’s… distracting.”

“It’s… a goblin,” she said.

She hated this.  The wounded looks, the bewilderment.

Her dads had been introduced to this world, they were scared of it, and they were vulnerable, even if they hadn’t awakened.  She didn’t have the heart to share her thoughts on just how overwhelming the problems here were, the number of lesser Others who were preying on people.

Let alone Padraic with his games, or Keller with his trapped gifts.

“Okay,” her dad said, “this meal was a failure.  Let’s clear the dishes and we’ll figure out if there’s something fast and healthy we can do.”

Healthy eating.  Her dad’s attempt at asserting control over something, as a way of coping.  It was just stressing her out more in the end, but she couldn’t say that.

You guys and mom are my favorite people in the world, but I feel like we’re falling apart just like Jacob’s Bell isHow can you build something better when the foundation is so unsteady?

“Are you okay?” her father asked.

“Meh,” she said.  “Not really.”

“You can put that entire world behind you, you know.  You don’t have to get involved.  Just… reach out.  Find help, don’t feel you have to tackle it yourself.”

Both her dads had been there to hear the prophecy.

Twice more.  Blood, darkness, and fire.

Hundreds would die.

No, it wasn’t that easy.

“I’ll be in my room,” she said.  “Love you.”

He put his hand on her shoulder, letting it fall as she walked away.

She reached her room, turned on her laptop, and plopped herself down in her computer chair.  She picked up a fat gold coin from the shelf above the computer.

One of the Rescuer’s coins.  Retrieved from the man who had tried to save her from the goblin attack back home.

Yeah, even now she still thought of it as home.

A kick sent her skidding over to the cardboard box.

Buttsack glared at her as she opened the flaps, a post-it note stuck to his face, a rune on the front.  The inside of the box had runes for metal on it.

The silence rune on the post-it was from her binder, the metal ones were from Padraic.

She flipped the coin, then caught it, flipped it, then caught it again.

Heavier than it looked.

She couldn’t carry it around with her all the time, but she appreciated the weight it had, in more than one sense.

No matter what her dad said, she couldn’t just ignore it all.

She left the post-it in place, debating what to ask for.  Did she press for more details on his past victims, in hopes of helping someone out?  It was good to build up goodwill, but as power grabs went, it was weak, and she wasn’t sure he would share details all that easily.

Was it better to ask for techniques?  Tricks?

Expand her repertoire?

The computer bleeped, interrupting her thoughts.  She spun around and kicked herself back to the desk, rolling.

An email, notifying her of a message on her wall.

Maggie,

A situation came up.  I’m going head to head with the biggest name in Toronto, and there aren’t many people I can call on for help.  You have your field of expertise, and I have my hands on something that’s not small potatoes.  If nothing else, could I get you to call me?  It’d make a big difference in figuring this out.  Our previous deal stands, whatever you decide.

This was the deciding moment.  She’d read most of the contract, and it was what they’d outlined outside the school.  Lessons, borrowed books, trinkets, safety and access to their properties.  Tutoring lessons.

It was, she suspected, exactly what her father wanted her to do.  It meant allies.  People who could back her up if everything went to hell.

Not that she wouldn’t hold on to her notes.

Blake, though, had something related to goblins, something that wasn’t small?  A moderate goblin?

The old deal stood.  She helped him out, he gave her access to books.

It wasn’t enough.

“Sorry, Blake,” she said.

“What’s that?”

Her dad stood in the doorway.

“Guy we met before needs help.  But it’s not worth the trouble.  Would mean angering a lot of locals.”

“That’s what was making you look so down at dinner?”

“Part of it,” she said.

“Listen, there’s nothing in the fridge.  I think the potato bar is still open, if-”

“Yes,” Maggie said.

“-You’re hungry.”

“I’m hungry.  Yes,” Maggie said.

She practically bounced as she stood from her chair, pausing only to lock the laptop so it would go straight to low-power mode.  She shut the box and hurried downstairs.

“You don’t have to act that enthusiastic,” her father said, as she reached the ground floor.

“Real food,” she said, just a touch breathless.  “Ridiculously thick milkshakes.  There’s two or three things that are tolerable about this town.  Those milkshakes and that greasy food are them.”

She had her coat on before her dad was even downstairs.

“Can we buy some junk food at the magazine store on the way back?” she asked.  “I want to torment the goblin by eating it in front of him.”

“I’m not paying for you to torture another creature, goblin or no.”

Torment, not torture.”

“No tormenting either.  Yes, you can get junk food, but you pay for it yourself.”

Maggie grinned, grabbing her backpack and slinging it over one shoulder.  Her wallet was still within.

“And you do your homework after,” her father said.

She rolled her eyes.

She, her dad and her father ventured out into the dark side streets.  In the dead of winter, the only light was from the street lights, and they were intermittent, with whole streets cast in ominous pitch darkness.

Her thoughts about the state of the city gave her pause.  She turned on the flashlight she kept in her coat pocket.

The potato bar was part of the little stretch of stores in the ‘downtown’ area.  A third of the storefronts were empty and desolate, others were only open in the summer and looked empty and desolate, and the others had dingy signs.  Even though it was downtown, only three cars passed them as they made their way to the bar.  One completely ignored the stop sign.

She held the door for her dads.  In the time they blocked her view of the dark block of parkland opposite the bar, a pair decided to appear.

Maggie held the door open as they approached.  A woman and a child.  Both so beautiful they could be models.  Neither were human.

Ev and Padraic, both wearing glamour.  Pretending to be a twenty-something mother and her young child.

Maggie joined her dad, remaining keenly conscious of what the Faerie were doing.  She was focused enough she needed a nudge before she could give her order.

The food arrived fast.  Chipped chicken in poutine and a chocolate milkshake so dense the mug could probably be used to bludgeon a bear to death.

Padraic used a high child’s voice to order a milkshake, little legs kicking as he sat on his stool to Maggie’s right.

The five of them and the one cook were the only ones in the dim bar.

Maggie ate her poutine as fast as she could without burning herself on the hot grease.  Poutine wasn’t good if it got cold.

She’d kick herself if she got into something with Patrick and let this rare treat go to waste.

Fortune prevailed, and she was largely done when the cook disappeared into the back, clattering with dishes or something.

She wiped her mouth, then asked, “Did you want something, Patrick?”

“I want a lot of things,” child-Patrick said.

“What?” her dad asked.

“I said I want a lot of things,” Patrick repeated himself.  “I want freedom, I want to go home.  I want sweet, cold revenge.”

The words were chilling, coming from someone who looked and sounded like a small child.

“What does that have to do with me?” Maggie asked.  “I’m enjoying time with my dads.  I don’t want hassle.”

“What makes you think I came here for you?” he asked.

“Tell me you didn’t.”

Patrick didn’t reply.  Instead, a smile crept across his face.

“I think we’ll step away,” her dad said.  Her father nodded in agreement.

They gathered up their sweet potato fries and chicken-potato wrap and retreated.

Maggie felt a moment’s loathing for the Faerie, independent of all the rationalizing she’d done earlier.

Events of blood, darkness, and fire could strike her at any time.  Moments like this were precious.

“I’ll clarify,” Maggie told him.  “What do you want with me?”

“I’m bored.  Can we chat, Maggie-closest-to-my-heart?”

Again, hitting those creepy notes.

“Define ‘we’,” Maggie said.

“Essylt is along for the act, nothing more.  She can leave now, if she wishes.”

Just like that, the elegant young mother stood from her stool.  She flashed a smile at Maggie’s dads.

Gross.

“Can we just not dance around the subject?  You approached me for a reason.  I’m guessing it’s something that recently came up, because you didn’t approach when I was visiting the dip by the bridge this afternoon.”

When I was visiting the ghost.

“The Briar Girl is spying on Blake, and she offered me knowledge for a point in the right direction.  Mr. Thorburn apparently intent on vigorous leaping from frying pans to fires, idiomologically speaking.”

As he spoke, he was breaking up his own glamour.  It was subtle, the changes only obvious when Maggie focused elsewhere, then returned her attention to Padraic.

He continued, the pitch of his voice changing just as gradually as he spoke, “He’s started a little contest, and even handicapped himself.  It’s really quite interesting.  You were named as a possible champion for his undersized, underarmed side, and I’m very keen to hear any details.  I’m limited to this grim little town, you see, and it’s rare to experience any involvement in greater events.”

Maggie sucked on her milkshake while he talked.  She put one finger on the top of the straw to trap the air inside and keep the milkshake from dropping back into the glass.

“I’m sorry to disappoint,” she said.  “If I had more to share, I’d barter for something.  He sent me a message.  I’m thinking I’ll have to tell him no.  Refuse him even answers to his questions about goblins.”

“No, Maggie dear, you can’t do that.  He’s interesting, you’re interesting, and you want to just leave it be?”

“I’m planning on signing the contract, unless something comes up.”

The cook stepped out, glanced at Patrick, and gave Patrick a puzzled look.  Patrick was grown, ordinary.

But Patrick was taking a taste of his own milkshake, and the cook seemed willing to accept he’d already been served.  The man disappeared into the back.

“This is tragic,” Patrick said.  “So much could have unfolded from this.  Do I need to offer you more knowledge, to urge you to go to Toronto?”

“Maybe,” Maggie said.

Knowledge was good.

“The prophecies the others mentioned?  It’s because Mr. Thorburn is going to perish, if he doesn’t get help at the right time and place.  All of the contract business, unsigned or not, those pages are primarily a manipulation, to keep you away from that place until that time passes.”

Blake was going to die?

That was different from ‘Blake isn’t going to come back to Jacob’s Bell.’

So many things wrong and rotten with this city.

Could she accept responsibility for another Thorburn’s death?

She had to.

“I’m… no, Patrick.  That doesn’t change anything.  My first and last priority is getting stronger, to prepare.”

“They called you the wild card.  Be wild, Maggie Holt,” Patrick said.

His words had glamour in them.  They aroused an excitement and restlessness in her that she knew wasn’t supposed to be there.

She suppressed it, and found it surprisingly easy to do.

In learning from him, she was getting better at dealing with this sort of thing.

“Then you leave me no choice but to make one grand offer,” Patrick said.  “You want power?  Shall I put Maggie Holt in the same place as one of the more powerful and respected beings in the area?”

He let the idea hang in the air.  Maggie suppressed the compelling glamour that was trying to get her excited.

“That sounds like a terrible bargain,” Maggie said.  “Far too many traps.”

“You’ll face zero risk from him.  You stand to learn a great deal,” Patrick said.

“Who is he?”

“An entity with the experience of Lordship, though he’s been stripped of much of his power.  It’s really quite an unbalanced deal, so I must alter the terms.  I’ll arrange the meeting, alongside my guarantee that you’ll personally face no meaningful risk from this being, in exchange for, let me see, I want you to consider helping Mr. Thorburn, and…”

And?” Maggie asked.  “There’s an and?”

“Trading in opportunities and maybes alone is feeble.  It can breed ill-will with the spirits, if you leave too much abstractness up in the air.  What if we agreed to the deal, you refused the opportunity, gave consideration to serving as the diabolist’s champion, and decided against that too?  The spirits might sort through all that, trying to decide if we’re disturbing the system or if the deal was struck in good faith.  Much like someone might draw ire if they tried to game the system.”

“Assuming I’m interested in this bargain, what’s the solution?”

“A token exchange of something concrete.”

“And that exchange is one way?” Maggie asked.  “I don’t believe it.”

“As you wish,” Patrick said.  “Good for you to be on your toes.  I’ll arrange a meeting in some form, with a personal guarantee that he won’t touch you.  I promise opened doors and troves of new lessons, and, let me see,” he paused.

Faerie didn’t need to pause, not really.  An act, theatrics.

He bowed a little, “In this shop that smells like rancid grease, I hereby offer Maggie Holt a ring from my finger, impregnated with my power, should you accept this deal.  It bears a connection to me, and through it, the owner can draw out glamour until I’m spent of it.  I’ll give it to you for one month’s time, thirty days.”

Maggie managed to suppress her shock.  She settled for being very still, her eyes fixated on the ring.  Gold and obsidian, with the gold formed into branch-like protrusions.  “You’ve lost it if you’re offering that.”

“Not at all.  Handing this over would mean I’m extending a measure of trust.  Imagine it as a prelude to taking me on as a familiar, Maggie my dear.”

Her heart nearly skipped a beat, but she remembered Lola’s advice from the other day, and barely hesitated.  “You’re assuming I want you.”

“Are you pretending you don’t?  As partnerships go, it would be mutually beneficial.  I’m powerful enough that when I speak in that council room, everyone present listens.  Familiarhood is an out, a way to slip the shackles of exile.  To be free to leave this city.  It wouldn’t earn me fast friends, but the court can keep track of me by keeping track of my partner.  The smallest of hurdles.”

“‘Small’ is relative,” Maggie said.  “And again, you’re still assuming I want you as a familiar.  I’m not even sure I like you.”

“Everything is relative, if it’s definable,” Patrick said.  “This ring is defined very simply.  An extension of myself, a golden circle.  Gold for bounty, a circle for an aperture, a gate.  If you were to take this ring and prove you won’t abuse the ability to wield all the control over glamour I have, and if make a good showing of it, I would sign myself to you as a subordinate familiar, swearing whatever oaths are necessary to keep my power from overwhelming you.  Maybe you don’t like me, but I think you like the font of power I offer, my knowledge and skills.”

Maggie took a pull on her milkshake, as much to give herself a moment to think as to drink.  It had partially melted, and it tasted delicious.

This deal sounded delicious too, which only made her wary.

“And in exchange for this, I’m giving you…”

“Consider going to Toronto to help Mr. Thorburn, and give me my pick of one thing from inside your backpack there.  The value isn’t so important to me as the sentiment.”

“That isn’t reassuring,” she said.

“Maggie dear,” Patrick said.  She expected the glamour to hit her before it even did.  Imbued words, charming, meant to tug at her heartstrings.  He continued, oblivious or uncaring to the fact that he’d had little effect, “My primary interest here is in what is happening in Toronto.  Interest being the operative word.  Allow me to sate that interest, and I’ll embrace this uneven deal.”

“One thing from my backpack?”

“Yes.”

“Is it something I’m aware is inside?”

“I dare say it should be, barring mental defect on your part, like amnesia.”

“I’m going to look inside my bag first,” she said.  “I reserve the right to take stuff out, if I don’t want you to have it.”

“You’re considering my offer then?”  Patrick asked.  He smiled, hitting her with glamour again.  “Fantastic.”

She dismissed the glamour, dashing it aside, and dusted herself off to be sure.  Before she did anything else, she paused, making sure she wasn’t thinking strangely.

Taking full mental stock of what was going on…

She glanced back at her dads.

“They’re content,” Patrick said.  “I’ve distracted them and the man behind the counter so we can talk in private.”

“If you’re looking to win me over, messing with my dads is not the way to do it,” Maggie said.

“I’ll take note of that.  I swear to leave your parents be.”

She relaxed, and set to sorting through her bag.  The wallet was inside, and she wasted no time in removing it.  The remains of her lunch, which she really should have removed earlier… nothing of value there.

Textbooks, she could afford to lose them.  Unfinished homework… even there, she couldn’t imagine his interest.  Pens?

One nice pen her father had given her.  Sentimental value.

Patrick had said something about sentiment.  Did he want to take the pen along with the attachment to her father?  Could he?  She wasn’t sure he was capable, and he’d just sworn to keep them safe.

She set it aside, just in case.

Leaving only textbooks and notebooks.  She took her time paging through the notebook to be safe.  Half a year of notes and handouts.

She could handle the inconvenience if he took the notebook out of some idle curiosity over how humans operated, or as material to help him in his schemes.  It’d make the next semester harder, but her education wasn’t the highest priority.

“Is this a trap?” she asked.

“I harbor no animosity toward you, Maggie dear,” Patrick said.  “I find you interesting, I would tarnish myself if I suggested becoming a familiar to someone boring.  I’m motivated by interest: Maggie Holt in one hand, Toronto in the other.  Combining the two seems like common sense.”

Patrick used his hands to gesture, clasping them together as he said ‘combining’.

“Are you anticipating that this Lord-level entity I’m supposed to meet is going to trap me or otherwise act against me in some form that escapes the protection you’re offering?”

“No.”

“Are you anticipating that I’ll cause trouble by going, breaking the truce and obviating the contract with this Junior Circle?”

“Yes,” Patrick said.  “I’m disappointed, but yes.  You will bring chaos down on your head by accepting the deal, refusing the contract, and assisting Mr. Thorburn.”

“Maggie,” her dad said.

Time was out?

Maggie drummed her fingers on the counter.

“Maggie,” he said, again.

“You could probably have distracted them a bit longer,” she said.

“Yes, but I’m impatient,” Patrick said.  “Yes or no?”

Maggie drummed her fingers more.

“Yes.”

Padraic smiled.  “Your bag?”

Her heartbeat was like something else, the way it pounded in her chest.

Padraic took his time removing the content.  Textbooks and a pencil case, some tampons, a bit of loose change, her notebooks.

“Maggie,” her father said, joining her dad in the orders.

“Just go,” she said.  “I’ll catch up.  This is important!”

Her father shot her a very unimpressed look, but the door shut, and it was just Padraic and Maggie.

She made doubly sure her Athame was on hand, in case there was trouble.  She’d cut goblin hair with it, and it was probably laced enough with impurities to do some real damage to Patrick if he made a fuss.

When the bag was empty, Patrick examined it thoroughly, turning it inside out.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Satisfying my curiosity, for one thing,” he said.

“And for the other?”

“Looking,” he said.

He picked up the notebook, then paged through it.

“For?”

“This will do,” Patrick said.

He picked one piece of paper from among the various slips and handouts she’d stuck between pages, so everything fell in chronological order.

The test paper, with the underlined ‘D’ on it.

Patrick pulled his ring off.

“That?” Maggie asked.  “That’s it?”

“Not exactly,” Patrick said.

He used a ‘branch’ on the knife to swipe across the paper, once horizontally, once vertically.

He tore off one corner, “I’ll give this to you, my dear.”

She took the test paper.  Every part of it, the underlined D included, was present.  “I don’t understand.”

Patrick turned the slip of paper around so she could read it.

Maggie Holt

She felt a chill run through her.  “I don’t understand.”

“You’re repeating yourself, my dear.”

“So are you,” she retorted.  “Keep calling me ‘my dear’, it’s weird and creepy.”

She knew she sounded defensive, but she didn’t like this unease in her gut.

“What should I call you, then?”

She opened her mouth, but the name wouldn’t come forth.

It dawned on her just what a horrible mistake she’d made.

She reached for the ring, but Patrick was quick, pulling it out of reach.

“The deal-” she started.

“The deal was that the ring would go to Maggie Holt,” Patrick said.  “Maggie Holt is my name.”

His name in the possessive.

He swiveled around on the stool, then hopped down.  “And, as promised, I’ll work to ensure that the person with the name of Maggie will cross paths with the de-powered Lord when I make my visit to Toronto.  As promised, you face no risk in the process.”

Me.

“Who am I?” she asked.

It was such a dumb question, but it held so much weight.

“That is a very good question,” Patrick said, with a smile.  “I’d hurry up and answer it.  Names are a lynchpin in the composition of our being.  You’re going to suffer if you don’t fill that void.”

“You bastard.”

Padraic began cloaking himself in glamour.  Short black hair with a hairband, canted eyebrows that looked perpetually caught between anger and a frown.  A shorter, female body.

“I look forward to this,” she said, “Getting to go to Toronto.  Finally getting out of this city.  While you’re suffering for lack of a name, I’ll be shoring up my disguise.  If it makes you feel any better, I’ll help out Mr. Thorburn.”

“You said you felt no animosity.”

“I don’t.  Like I said, this is pure interest.  I have a great deal of interest in ‘Maggie Holt’, the name, but I have no strong feelings either way for you,” the new Maggie said.

“You’re a bastard,” the girl in the real checkered scarf said.

“Be sure to consider going to Toronto, lest you be forsworn on top of everything else, not that I recommend it.  You might collapse like a house of cards if you venture too far from the connections you have here,” ‘Maggie’ said.  “I have a trip to Toronto to arrange.  It’s been so long since I had a good ruse and got to practice my acting.”

The girl in the checkered scarf stared, horrified.

A moment later, she found the Athame.  She stepped close, hiding the weapon with her body until the last possible moment.

Maggie blocked it with a fork, catching the blade between the tines.

A twist, and a strike with her free hand, and the girl in the checkered scarf was disarmed of the implement.  She found a hand around one wrist and her neck, a gentle tap of heel to the back of her knee took away her balance.

Dishes spilled from the bar counter as she was pinned, facing skyward.

“This implement, if I remember the rituals right, rightfully belongs to Maggie Holt, the name is invoked as part of the ritual.  I can’t really use it, but I’ll have to make do,” Maggie said, taking her implement in hand.  “You’re already weaker, I can tell.”

The girl in the checkered scarf grunted, struggling to win the contest of strength, but the fingers tightened around her throat, punishing her.

“Don’t interrupt,” Maggie said, whispering in the other girl’s ear.  “Save your breath, and save your strength.  You’ll need both.  Like I said, you have lessons to learn.  Doors have opened to you, as they are wont to do for lost souls.”

Fuck you,” the girl in the checkered scarf spat the words, despite the fingers at her throat.

She seemed more surprised at the epithet than Maggie did.

Maggie let her go, dancing back with wallet in one hand and mostly-empty schoolbag in the other, Athame stuck in her belt.

“This is fun,” Maggie said, smiling wide.  “I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I’m hoping it won’t be for a long, long time.  Bye!”

Then she was out the door, half skipping, half running.

The girl in the checkered scarf composed herself, catching her breath.

DadFather.

She collected all of her things that she could carry, stupid scattered school things, useless, then ran to catch up to them.

To Maggie’s family.

She only stopped running when she reached their back steps.

She knocked, unable to breathe past the lump in her throat.

The lack of recognition in their eyes was like a sword through her heart.

She looked like their daughter, but she wasn’t Maggie Holt.  When push came to shove, the latter won out over the former.

She was adopted, her birth mother lived in Toronto, meaning she couldn’t even claim a blood relationship.

The girl in the checkered scarf turned away before any questions could be asked.

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