Category Archives: 8.05

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From the witch’s hut to meeting Hansel and Gretel.

Before all this had started, she had grilled goblins for tidbits.  The tricks and techniques almost always had to be bartered for, but information was easier to come by.  Goblins got bored, and when they were done cursing and making threats, they could be prodded to talk.

The goblins traveled in very specific territories.  They liked areas where they could enjoy human comforts while not quite being in the presence of humans.

More frequently, they picked places that had been abandoned or for sale for some time, and Jacob’s Bell had a lot of those buildings.  By the time a realtor or bank employee stopped by to check on the building, walls were spray painted or had holes, feces were smeared in places, and garbage littered every surface.

It was with this knowledge that she limped along busier streets, keeping to areas where the heavier plumbing made crossing harder for goblins, under an archway.  Avoiding goblins in general, because a minute after she had one on her tail, she’d have a half-dozen.

It was light out, there were people around, and it was morning.  All things that discouraged goblins.  So long as she traveled these roads, she was okay.  She’d done it practically every day, just to be safe.

The risk came when she headed into one of the less stellar areas of Jacob’s Bell.  Only a twenty minute walk from Sandra’s, she approached a deceptively nice looking area.  The houses were more in the prefab style, all identical, built maybe five years ago, but had languished and started falling apart, largely ignored, before Johannes’ area and the station had started bringing attention to Jacob’s Bell.

The people who moved in were able to keep the houses in a below average state, but tended to find that when they put in the time and money to fix something, another thing broke.

Goblins.

If you were struggling, they ensured you kept struggling.  If you were well-off, they weren’t much of a concern to start with.

In better-policed areas, practitioners and the Lords that managed them were strict about keeping Others from interfering too much with humanity.  If one person every generation was grabbed by the likes of Mara, a few people had their lives ruined by Others like Buttsack and the Faceless Woman, well, the general sentiment seemed to be that it was a drop in the bucket.

Drop a frog in a bucket of boiling water, and the frog would hop out.  Put it in cold water and slowly bring it up to a boil, and you had a roasted frog.  Except not really, but the idea held true.

Humankind was slowly roasting in boiling buckets, and the Lords and practitioners were more focused on dealing with those who were being less than gradual, less than subtle.

Even if the buildings here looked more modern, with less peeling paint or weather-worn wood than, say, Sandra’s place, she knew that the slow boil was well underway here.  Different rates of boil for different people.

The trick here was to study her surroundings.  She didn’t know the exact address, but she could put two and two together.

She kept one eye on her back, another on the state of the buildings, making mental notes of the little details.  A garage door for a house with no furniture inside was stuck, partially open, snow creeping into the garage space.  Another house had broken windows.

Like dogs marking their territory with urine.  Come to think of it, goblins probably did that too.  The same method, different ends.

There was a point where stuff was less lousy.  The damage normal, not goblin-made.

She did two laps through the neighborhood before she had a sense of it.  The epicenter of ‘not quite so messed up’.

Of the four houses, one wasn’t occupied, but it wasn’t trashed either.

Another had kids digging a tunnel through one snowbank.  They were so still and quiet when she approached that she wondered for a moment if they were goblins in snowsuits.

Paranoia.

Rather than continue searching, she approached them.  Better to forge new connections, no matter how small.

“Hey,” she said.

They kept playing.

“Hey, little dorks.”

One boy poked his head out of the hole-in-progress.  Clumps of snow clung to the fabric of his hat.  “Dorks?  We aren’t in the two-thousands anymore.”

“You need to shore up your tunnel.  If that snow falls on you while you’re crawling through, you’ll suffocate.”

“It’s just snow,” he said.

“Avalanches can wipe out buildings, you don’t think this much snow could wipe you out?”

He shrugged, then ducked down to continue playing, scraping with some sort of tool.

“Hey,” she said.  “Midget.  Pay attention to me.”

He poked his head out again.

“Don’t ignore me,” she said.  “Get on my bad side and I might break your tunnel.”

He didn’t flinch.  He thought she was joking.

She raised one foot, placing it on the side of the snowbank, driving the point home.  His eyes widened, and a little girl standing on the driveway piped up with a mewling “No!”

“First off, shore up that tunnel of yours.  Then tell your parents they’re idiots for not watching you better. Third, you can tell me if you know where Andy and Eva live.”

The boy didn’t respond.  He only stared.

The girl in the checkered scarf looked at the others.  Make this easier on me.  Where are the local witch hunters?

One girl at the side, smaller, said, “Andy lives in that house right there.  He used to babysit me, before his parents disappeared, and then he was too busy most of the time.  Then his sister came back, and we couldn’t be near him at all anymore.”

“Mom says Eva’s a psychopath and a tramp,” the second boy said.  he stood by the little girl, and was so bundled up that only a slice of his face was visible.

“You know if she’s around?”

“Andy might be gone right now, he usually goes and gets groceries around lunch, buys some fast food or sandwiches while he’s out, and sometimes he gives us something.  Asks if we saw anything strange when he was gone.  I think I heard him, but I’m not sure if he was coming or going.  Don’t know about Eva.  She’s usually out at night more.”

“Uh huh.  Good to know.  Hey, did he warn you about anything?  Places to avoid, in case you came by?”

“Huh?” the girl asked.

But the other boy did have an answer.  “He said we had to stay off the property, like our moms and dads told us.  If we did have to come to his place, though, we should stick to the front walkway and stairs, no fooling around, no tampering with windows or trying to sneak in.  Knock firmly on the door.”

“Got it.”

“I don’t,” said the boy in the snowbank.  “What’s to get?  Why even ask that question?”

“Because I might know Andy and Eva better than you do.  I know the sort of thing Eva gets up to when she’s out for her nighttime walks, for example.”

That had their interest.

“What?  What does she do?”

“Answers don’t come for free, dork.”

“You want us to pay you?”

“I want info.  You’ve obviously paid attention to those two.  They would’ve been the cool teenagers when you were kids, and now they’re two twenty-somethings who’re living on their own, they’re mysterious… you’ve watched, and you haven’t figured it out yet.”

“What, is she like a prostitute?” the girl said.

You’re, like, seven.  How do you even know what a prostitute is?

“No.  Look, you tell me something, I’ll tell you something.  Maybe something Andy said, or that he did, or you saw Eva when she didn’t know you were watching.”

The three children exchanged glances.

The boy standing on the driveway spoke up, “I don’t know exactly, but there was this one time when my dad was having problems.  Really stressed out and kind of freaking.  Nothing going right, and he and my mom kept talking about this boy, and it was bugging me…”

The etching of concern on the little boy’s face suggested ‘bugging’ was the wrong word.  He’d probably been tormented by confusion and the sheer negativity surrounding whatever had been going on, his friends hadn’t been any help, and he’d gone to the only trusted ‘adult’ he could find for counsel.  Andy.

“Paul,” the boy in the snowbank said, “I really don’t think Andy would want anyone to tell.”

“Oh.  Yeah, I guess not,” ‘Paul’ said.  He looked embarrassed, conflicted.  Caught between loyalty and interest, unhappy with where he stood on both fronts.

The girl in the checkered scarf looked over the group.  “I think I already know the answer.  It was bugging you, so you talked to Andy about it.  Then something happened, and the problem fixed itself.  The ‘boy’ that was giving your parents trouble just… disappeared.”

Paul didn’t even try to hide his surprise that she’d hit the mark, or at least came close to it.

“Yeah,” she said.  “I know.  And since you gave me a half-finished story, I’ll give you half an answer.  Your mom told you Eva is dangerous?  I think Andy is more dangerous than she is.”

“But he’s klutzy, and slow, and he’s a nerd.”

“Get with the new millennium, dork,” she said.  “Nerds are the second scariest group that humanity’s ever produced.”

“Second scariest?  Who are the scariest?”

“Stupid people,” she said.  Seeing their expressions war between confusion and incredulity, she added, “You’ll get it when you’re older.”

She left the kids with that tidbit of wisdom, she headed to the house they’d pointed to.

In retrospect, she suspected she could have figured it out.  The house was in worse shape than the others on the block, but it wasn’t malign influence or devious business that had caused it.  Just the fact that two twenty-somethings with very little idea how to maintain a property had lived here.

She wasn’t about to play games with the rules the kids had outlined.  Even if they didn’t know anything, a warning to them was as good as a warning to her.

Stick to the path, knock on the door.

There wasn’t a reply.

She hesitated to knock again.

The kids weren’t wrong.  Reports from various sources seemed to conclude the same thing: Andy was a bit slow.  Not mentally, but physically.  His reflexes were bad, he wasn’t athletic, he had no stamina or raw strength.

But Andy knew that.

He knew he couldn’t win in a straight-up fight with any practitioner or other.  His response to that knowledge was to avoid the straight-up fights entirely.

If he thought she was a threat, he’d kill her while she stood right here, before she even knew he was around.

“Hansel, Gretel, you home?” she asked the door.

The door opened, and her line of thinking made her take a step back.

It wasn’t Andy that was the problem.  It was his sister.

The young woman had a black tank top, sweatpants, and a crossbow in hand, aimed at the girl in the checkered scarf.  Her blond hair was tied back into a ponytail that left waves of hair framing her face.

Her eyes, not the crossbow, were the most concerning thing.

“I-”

“Shh,” Eva said.  “One more word that isn’t an answer to a question, or one more action I don’t give you permission to make, and I’ll shoot.  Nod slowly if you understand.  Good.”

Eva glanced around, furtive looks, as if unwilling to look away for more than half a second, then stepped back, the crossbow unwavering. The interior of the house suggested a lot of stuff that just didn’t have places to be.  Stacks of what might have been tax forms, books with no shelves to go to, bags of garbage sitting by the door, waiting to be carried out… it might have looked organized, but whatever organization was trying to take hold, disorder was winning out.  One garbage bag had been opened and left open, and bits of garbage sat on a chair with no table, right in the front hallway.  As if someone had been going through the garbage.

It was chaotic.  Unbalanced, even.  A healthy, ordered mind didn’t live in a space like that.

“Step inside, very slowly, then close the door with your foot.”

The girl in the checkered scarf moved at a glacial pace, partially to see if it would agitate Eva.  Eva didn’t seem to mind.

The door clicked as it shut.

“Without turning around, reach behind you and lock the door.”

Whatever the state of the house, the bolt slid in smoothly as the latch rotated.

Another click.

Eva stared, studying her.

“Who are you?”

“I’m the practitioner who came into town halfway through the year.  I’ve been to some meetings, I even played a part in what happened to Molly Walker.”

“Oh.  You.  You’re…”  Eva said.  She paused, groping for the name.  “Can’t quite place the name.  You’re easy to forget, apparently.”

“I’m-”

Eva pulled the trigger.

The girl in the checkered scarf managed a strangled grunt.

Watch enough action movies, spend enough time sitting in class, bored out of your skull, and you spend a little time imagining how you’d do in a proper fight.  You like to imagine you’d dodge the arrow.

She hadn’t.  She’d barely registered what had happened.

She gasped, clutching at her throat.  The bolt had penetrated the door, and it had punched through her scarf in the process, pinning her to the surface, scarf tight against her throat, the bolt itself so close to her neck that her struggles made skin touch cool, smooth wood.

The crossbow landed on a broad, square landing that marked the turn in a staircase leading upstairs.  Eva was drawing a knife from a back pocket, closing the distance with long strides.

The girl in the checkered scarf didn’t even try to fight.  Hands went up, flush against with the door, above her head.

Eva kicked her squarely in the sternum, and didn’t move the foot after it made contact.

It hurt, and Eva hadn’t really held back, but the girl in the checkered scarf left her hands where they were.

Eva’s face was only a foot from her own, and the knife-

She didn’t dare look.  No doubt the knife was in a position to do some immediate, terminal damage if she did anything else that Eva didn’t like.

A long ten seconds passed.

“Next time, you die.  Understood?”

Slow nod.

“Good.  Don’t even think that agonized screaming or blood are a problem.  The walls are thick, and Andy lacquered the floors after doing the spring cleaning.  Nice and thick, so there won’t be anything seeping into or between floorboards.  Cleaning up is easy.”

The young woman stepped away, arm extended with knife pointed, not once shifting her posture, position or eye contact in a way that suggested she couldn’t close the distance in a half-second and stab something vital.

Eva didn’t touch the shaft of wood that had penetrated the door, either.  She managed to reload the crossbow with a knife in one hand, eyes fixed on her new prisoner.

The only movement the girl in the checkered scarf made was to press her neck against the shaft, giving slack to the scarf and freeing up her neck for easier breathing.

“Now,” Eva said, as she raised the crossbow again, “You have my permission to say whatever it was you felt you needed to say.”

“I’ve honestly mostly forgotten what I was going to say.”

“Can’t have been that important.”

The girl in the checkered scarf remembered halfway through that sentence, opening her mouth to speak, but not letting a sound escape.

Eva indicated for her to speak, using the knife to make her ‘go on’ gesture.

“My name was stolen, which is why you can’t place it.  One of the Faerie has it.”

“Oh?  Well, that sucks.  Probably really bad for you.  But that doesn’t explain why the lamb came to the slaughterhouse.  Where we specialize in slaughtering lambs, among other things.  Explain.”

“All the creatures I captured got released.  Some are after me with vengeance in mind.  I was also thinking of going to see Johannes, and I’d rather make that visit as armed as I can possibly be.”

“You want our weapons?”

“Yes.”

“The only thing people negotiate with me is slow or fast.  You’re out of luck, Jane Doe.”

“If-” the girl with the checkered scarf said, pausing only to make sure she wasn’t about to be shot, “-If you could, please don’t call me that.”

“How come?”

“An lack of a name is a void waiting to be filled.”

“Really?  I could give you a goblin name like Twatface, and it could stick?”

“Yes.  So please-”

“Clitwart?  Ragstain?  Shitdribble?”

“You could call me anything you wanted-”

“Even Madonna?  No, that’s not nearly creative enough.  The Olsen Triplet?  Fatalie Shortman?”

The girl in the checkered scarf felt a chill.  A little too intense to be just in her head.  Not just cold seeping through the door, either.  “Please stop.”

“This could be the most fun I’ve ever had putting the screws to someone.  What about something off the wall?  Like Hitler?  Dahmer?  Satan?”

“That would be a bad idea.  Names have a power unto themselves, and some of those names probably have a lot of curses aimed their way.  You might bring something to pass.”

“Seems too easy.  Losing a name, replacing it…”

“It’s not easy at all.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I wouldn’t know.  I’m a newbie to all this.  I’m in bad shape, I just… I need to find a solution, before I degrade and I can’t do anything.  I need tools and weapons to do it, and you guys are the best source available.”

“In theory only.  I’m curious how this works.  You degrade?”

“No name, nothing at the center of my self.  I think it’s like the metaphysical equivalent of taking ten pounds of flesh out from within someone’s ribcage.”

“So take a new name.  Replace thy flesh.”

“That doesn’t help the fact that I don’t have many connections.  If I have too few and they get severed, or if they grow weak-”

“Hey, stop,” Eva said.  The crossbow moved a fraction, giving weight to the words.  “I’m not big on the magic stuff.  When people explain the magic stuff to me, I work it out in my head, and I distill it down to a simple, clear explanation.  I can do it with any magic.  Really.”

The girl in the checkered scarf nodded.

“Right here?  All this talking you’re doing?  It says one thing to me.  Nobody will miss you if I shoot you right here and watch you-”

Eva shut up right as the lock clicked. The door moved, but stopped short.

“-bleed out.  Ugh.  Worst timing ever.”

A whisper, a male voice.  “Is that you at the door, Eva?”

“It’s not me!” Eva called out.  “I’m here.”

A pause.

“Wait, shit, don’t try anything!  I’m fine, I’m safe.  Password is Creevey.

“…Okay.  Let me in.”

“Let him in.”

To avoid being strangled, the girl in the checkered scarf was forced to make twenty or so tiny steps to follow the motion of the door.

Andy stepped inside, throwing a foil-wrapped sandwich to Eva.  She caught it while still keeping the crossbow aimed more or less at her target.

He walked right across the crossbow’s line of fire to put bags down on the square stair where Eva had tossed the crossbow earlier.  Milk and the like.

“You let someone in?” he finally asked.

“Don’t lecture me.”

“The deal was I wouldn’t get in your way when you have a job you want to do, you don’t argue when I outline protocols.  There are some things out there that you don’t want to let inside.”

“She’s not a thing.  She’s just a practitioner who’s in a bad way.”

He reached into one bag to grab a chocolate bar.

“Gimme,” Eva said.

“I gave it to the lookout kids to share.”

“Fuck that!”

“They said someone came in and didn’t come out.  I needed to bribe them to get them to go inside.  Witnesses are bad.”

“Give them your chocolate.”

I didn’t violate protocols.”

The girl in the checkered scarf cleared her throat.

“Who or what is she?” he asked.

“She’s someone we know, minus the knowing part.”

“A trick?  Is she an assassin?” he asked.  He took a bite.

“No.  Just a dumbfuck who got in over her head, looks like.”

“Uh huh,” he said.  “Then why are you holding her at crossbowpoint?”

“Because letting a potential threat inside and not pointing a crossbow at them seems like a bad idea?”

Andy didn’t seem impressed.  He put his half-finished chocolate bar back in the bag and retrieved a sandwich like Eva’s.

“Open mine first,” Eva said.

He did, peeling back foil wrap.  He held the front of the crossbow up while she took a bite, then served himself.

“I just wanted weapons, and maybe tips on dealing with a situation like mine, if you had any” the girl in the checkered scarf said.  She kept her voice level, stayed assertive.  “No harm or trouble intended.  I can swear I won’t hurt you if that helps.”

“We’re witch hunters, it’s our duty to hunt witches.  Now one falls into our lap,” Eva said, ignoring the offer.  “Nobody is going to miss her.  I’m gonna put one through her heart, add a notch to my belt, dispose of the body in the furnace downstairs, and then watch a movie online.”

Andy chewed on his sandwich.

“Or are you going to renege on the deal and start interfering with my hunts?”

He finished and swallowed.  “She’s scared enough, Eva.  You can stop fucking with her.”

Eva scowled a little.  “You’re so lame.”

But she lowered the crossbow.

The girl in the checkered scarf released a deep breath.  She’d been inhaling, but not daring to exhale.

“I’m going to put a new protocol in place, I think.  Doing this sort of thing is dumb, Eva.  Making enemies of practitioners you don’t intend to finish off?  You pointed a gun at Thorburn, and now this?  No matter how bad their situation is, that situation can improve.”

“I don’t want to live to thirty anyways,” Eva said.

“I’d be okay with that, except you’re going to get me killed along with you,” he said.  He looked at the pinned girl, “Sorry about this.”

“I can talk, right?”

He took a bite of his sandwich, nodding as he chewed, approaching her.

One hand seized the bolt in the wood.  He pulled and failed to get it out.

“You’re so lame,” Eva said.  She approached too, and the girl in the checkered scarf found herself with two people less than a foot away from her.  She craned her head away from the bolt to give them more room to work.

Fuck,” Eva said, abandoning her attempt.  She bent and broke the bolt, which produced more splinters than a clean break.

The girl in the checkered scarf freed herself, gingerly working the scarf free of the bolt.

Andy nudged past, then opened the front door, reaching around it.  He fiddled for a second, then stepped back, holding a package.  Rectangular, broad, and wrapped in what looked like butcher’s paper.  A piece of electrical wire stuck out, apparently what he’d used to attach it to the door knocker or whatever.

When he put it down on the pillar at the bottom of the stair railing, it made a faint but detectable ‘clunk’ sound.  Hard.

The girl in the checkered scarf checked her scarf.  There was a hole where the bolt had passed through.

“Don’t fuss.  Nobody’ll notice,” Eva said, flippant.

“Spirits might.  Every connection matters at this point.  Even a piece of clothing.”

“Way I see it, if you’re that desperate for stuff to hold on to, you’re already fucked.”

You’re not wrong, the girl in the checkered scarf thought.  She couldn’t formulate a reply, witty or otherwise.

“I’d offer you food, but we aren’t bound by the usual rules,” Andy said.

“Right.  That’s okay,” she replied.  “Fuck me, I hate this town.”

“Sounds like we have something in common,” he said.  “I feel so damn tired at the end of the day.  Place takes a lot out of you.”

“I can’t wait to be gone,” she replied.

“Question is, where are the likes of us going to go?” he asked.

Right.  They were witch hunters.  They knew stuff, and it was hard to leave all that behind and live an ordinary life.  Practitioners could very well be unhappy or unsettled by the appearance of the twins in their town.  Lords or local powers could seek to control them, even abuse them.

Her own circumstances weren’t better.  Pretty much anywhere she went, she’d be second or third tier.  At best she’d be ignored.  At worst, she’d be a potential threat or target.

That was, if she even got out of this in one piece.  As it was, she was a target no matter where she went, working with borrowed time.

Eva ate while Andy grabbed a bottle of water out of a bag.

“Yeah,” the girl with the checkered scarf finally said.  More in answer to the silence than the question.

“Yeah,” Eva added her own voice.

“Look,” the girl in the checkered scarf said, “I don’t want to kick up a fuss, and I don’t have a lot to bargain with.  You guys want to clean up dangerous Others?  Arm me and send me on my merry way.  If you’re fair about it, I’ll promise I won’t hold a grudge for the whole crossbow thing.”

Eva rolled her eyes.

“Deal,” Andy said.  “You do know that deals with the likes of us aren’t binding?  Not on our end, anyway.”

“Yeah, I know that.”

“Just so we’re clear,” he said.  Without another word, he led the way to the back of the house.  She limped behind him, the wound Buttsack had left made worse by the walking.

Eva, for her part, headed upstairs.

Stuff cluttered everything, even here.  Andy methodically moved scattered papers to appropriate piles, moved a book or two around, and then knelt by a cabinet, where he fished out a keychain from his pocket.

Everything about his movements suggested he was the one who organized everything.

More subtly, she could conclude, objects had a kind of importance in this room.  Stuff that might have been family knick-knacks in another house took up odd positions here, sort of akin to how a museum might arrange things.  Giving objects a kind of prominence.

Odd objects.  A figurine of a bear, a frame that held a strip of cloth with an embroidered knot on it taut, a kettle, a small statue of a pig, a mannequin’s hand, a metronome…

Andy unlocked the cabinet.  A drawer slid out, heavy enough that the desk momentarily rocked when it reached its full length.  Part of the drawer had to be recessed in the wall.

Knives, swords, and something that looked like a mace or a scepter, but hollow, with holes punched through the surface.

He saw her looking.  “Censer.  When you want to hit something and you need a particular kind of smoke, both at the same time.”

Five seconds later, he had another drawer open.  Guns, many of which were old fashioned, ammo, and lead pipes.

“Take your pick,” he said.

“For real?”

“Some things I wouldn’t let you take, but that’s like, uh, that gun there, it’s the first gun I bought for myself, personal attachment.  And that sword right there is impregnated with the blood of a fox-woman.  And maybe that obsidian knife, unless you had a specific use for it, it’s sort of niche, and it’d be a pain to replace.  Just about everything else, well, if you lost it, it’s an excuse to get a replacement, or it’s less clutter.  Win win.”

She ran a finger along a length of pipe from the gun drawer.  “Sometimes all you need is a good whacking stick, huh?  I know one goblin who could stand to get hit by this thing.”

Wordless, Andy picked up the pipe from the rack.  He showed it to her.

“No freaking way.  That works?”

“Yep.”

“I’ll take it.  And I’ll take that, thank you, and, if you’re sure I’m not being greedy here-”

“No.  Just so long as you don’t come after Eva later on.”

“-Promised.  I’ll take that too.”

The highway divided the older part of the city from the new.  Only Harcourt led under it, and the north end of Harcourt was a ways from the twin’s place.

The town seemed to be fighting her more, now.  It reminded her of being in Mara’s woods.  Everything got in her way.  There were barely any people on the streets, but the woman with the two small dogs on a leash just so happened to be on the sidewalk in front of her, and even when traffic was so light kids might have played ball hockey in the middle of the street, two cars just happened to pass by just when she realized she couldn’t walk around the lady with the dogs, who were yipping and zig-zagging so violently that a disaster seemed inevitable.

The wind pushed against her.  The snowbank devoured her leg to the knee when she tried to walk over it, trapping her, doubly hard to extricate herself from when her other calf was injured.  Then the ground on the far side was frozen, covered in gravel, making it more slippery, as if she’d stepped on marbles scattered over ice.

Her sight was having a harder time seeing reality over the spirit world.  Not an intense difficulty, but enough that she noticed.

Then, topping it off, the goblins showed up.

Broad daylight meant they had to be furtive.  They moved when her head faced the other direction.  Lurked in the shadows that were available, eyes gleaming in that reflective way that animals had.

They were more secretive this time around.  Kept more of a distance, watching and waiting for an opportunity.

They gathered in greater numbers, perhaps in hopes that if another woman with a troll arrived to back her up, they could scare the troll off.

They even, she suspected, might have spread the word that the girl who’d hunted goblins was now vulnerable.  United in a common cause.

Hatred, of course.

They made a move as she reached the bridge.

Shadows, a lack of traffic…

A dozen pairs of eyes that she could see.  Some clinging to the roof of the bridge, others lurking at the sides, or in crevices.  Most were small, cowardly.

She recognized the goblin who barred her way.

“Buttsack,” she said.

“When you’re dead by my hands, I’m going to cut the skin off your face,” he growled, “and I’m going to make it a thong.  I’ll wear it so your lips are stretched tight against my butthole, and your eyes will have a close-up view of my cock, with balls bulging out one hole and schlong out the other.”

“That’s an amazing mental picture,” she said, managing to keep the tremor out of her voice.  She drew the section of pipe.

Hope this works.

Buttsack held out his shiv.  Not a knife, per se, but a piece of metal in a knife-like shape, ragged.  “We’ll make your death so bad it makes a dozen ghosts, and I’ll fuse the ghosts to my new thong so you can feel it.  So it’s just a little bit alive.  Moving, kissing my puckered brown ass all day long.”

She slapped the pipe against her palm.

Then she pointed it at him, walking toward him.

He cackled.

The one pipe was actually two pieces of pipe, one smaller pipe sliding into the other with a healthy amount of WD-40.

The smaller pipe, in turn, had a shotgun shell stuck in the end.

The big one had a blasting cap welded to the end.

She slammed the small pipe against the big one.

It fired.  Butsack went down, one side of his face and his shoulder a bloody mess.

Not quite dead.

The smallest goblins scattered.

The big ones-

They weren’t moving.

If they did move, she could probably make a run for it, but it wouldn’t be fun.

When she drew the stiletto, it was partially for their benefit.  Because seeing her draw a weapon in front of their wounded pseudo-leader would hold their interest, keeping them watching rather than participating.

She moved Buttsack’s hands, fighting him as he moved weakly.  One hand over the other.

She stabbed both at once with the stiletto.

The goblins lurking at the dark corners of the bridge watched in silence as she dragged Buttsack into Johannes’ realm.

Into twisted, narrow streets.

What little she could make out of the real world was quick to fade.

This was another realm entirely.

She thought, but wasn’t sure, that she could hear screaming.

A child ran by, with rat ears and a long rat’s tail.

An ogre, ten feet tall and built like a cartoon caricature of a high school bully turned real, lumbered into view.  Fat, broad in the shoulder.

She didn’t flinch, didn’t show fear.

“I’m a practitioner,” she said.  “You can’t touch me.  Johannes’ rules.”

When the ogre spoke, it was with a British-ish accent.  “Not for long, little girl.”

She set her jaw and continued forward, moving more easily, even with her limp and bleeding burden.

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