She hasn’t done anything wrong, protested Flicker.
Yet. Have you seen that temple?
This is not the way of Tal, Sister Jane said sternly. Do you want to be like him?
Curtis Lowe waved as the nun pointed at him. Kill the bitch, he opined.
“I, uh, take your point,” Schneider mumbled at Jane.
Well, you should at least have a contingency plan ready. Roxy tossed her head. In case we’re right.
Justice must be done, agreed Javert.
Uh, excuse me, said Jason, meekly. Sir? Are you, uh... busy?
“What?” Schneider blinked at the kid. “Who are you?”
“My name’s, uh, Jason... I thought you were a member of the Rat Pack or something, but I can just keep on moving if that would be--”
Tila snickered in the jester’s mind, and he bitch-smacked himself forcefully on the side of the head, trying to dispel the phantasms. These delusions are just getting more and more embarrassing to the everyday life here. “No, it’s no problem at all, kid. Just using some, uh, long-distance communication spells, that’s all. You need some help?”
“Well, yes, actually. It’s Thalia. You see, it’s her birthday today--”
“And you need somebody to make balloon animals for the party?”
“Uh, well, no.” Jason fidgeted. “It’s more like she’s fallen into a deep sleep and we can’t revive her.”
“Holy poisoned spinning wheels, Octavian!” Schneider pulled out his magic mirror. “I better bring the cavalry in on this one.”
“I’ve--never seen anything like this before.” Khyrisse regarded the comatose princess with conmingled wonder and concern. “Was it that vampire again?”
“I believe it was a fairy curse,” Sashami explained. “She had to find her True Love by her eighteenth birthday, or some such thing, and she didn’t find him.”
“Well, her birthday’s not over yet,” Jack said optimistically. “Maybe we could, uh, divine the identity of her true love somehow?”
“Except she also has to marry him,” sighed Chloe.
“I don’t think unconscious women can get married legally even in Sturtevant,” said Jason.
“Well, maybe we can reverse the curse.” Valende inspected the sleeping princess’ hand gently. “I doubt there’s much I’m going to be able to do, but perhaps we might send for Rhynwa?”
“Sidhe magic,” Aithne commented to Khyrisse. “I think, it is very strong.”
“Could you dispel it?” Khyrisse asked.
“Me?” The witch boggled. “No, my magic is not this strong. But yours is certainly. I think you must dispel.”
Khyrisse wondered, and not for the first time, how Aithne was going to react when she realized her new matriarch was no longer a goddess and not the caliber of magic-user the girl blithely assumed she must be. Would she defect to Omeria? Try to overthrow her? Or just look at her with those disappointed eyes, the way the people of Trade did when she proved powerless to save them? Khyrisse wasn’t sure which was worse. “Remove Curse won’t work on such a high-level hex,” she admitted reluctantly. “That would have made the whole situation with the Remnant a lot easier, wouldn’t it...?”
“You are the witch-queen,” said Aithne, half in confusion and half blind faith. “Your magic will unbind this one’s.”
Khyrisse sighed and started casting. She couldn’t very well refuse to try. To her surprise, though, the spell seemed to resonate strangely as she cast it, an unusual oscillation that reminded her more than anything of her few magical collaborations with Luthien; though no one else, not even Aithne, was casting. Khyrisse had just enough time to think how odd before the ensorcelment broke and Thalia, coughing, sat up from her bed. “Thalia!” said Chloe happily, hugging her friend. “You’re alive!”
“I had the--strangest dream--” Thalia mumbled, squinting like she was trying to hold onto it. “Something about--a bird...”
“How did I do that?” Khyrisse asked Val in elven. Val shrugged helplessly.
“Then that’s it?” said Alderon. “Fairy thwarted, we can go about our normal lives now?”
“Oh, I--doubt I’ve seen the last of this curse.” Thalia looked visibly shaken. “I didn’t find my True Love... I failed. I wish I remembered more of the dream, but... The object of your desires shall become the object of your destruction. That was what she said. ...Maybe I should have stayed in bed.”
She said it light-heartedly, but there was dread around her pretty eyes. “You, uh, don’t need true love, Thalia,” Schneider said quietly. Everyone turned and looked at him, and he cleared his throat but raised his voice. “I said you don’t need true love to have a meaningful life,” he said, and almost believed it. “You can do all kinds of good things in the world, important things. I mean, I hope you find him and all that, but if you don’t, it’s not the end of your life. Not yet. There’s still a whole world out there for you.”
“And you’ve got your friends,” Chloe added, giving her hand a squeeze. “It’s not even like you have to be alone.”
“Damn straight!” Alderon smacked one of his hands into the other. “We’re still here, and you’re still kicking. Come on, everyone, let’s hit the Hammer. The drinks are on me, tonight.”
Stand By Me
“Wait up!” huffed Skitch. “Hey, I said wait up!”
“I am waiting up, you slowpoke!” Kit kicked pebbles down at him. “Geez, you’re an even worse climber than you were before. I thought you said Diarians were good at things?”
“Bite--me.” Skitch scrambled laboriously up the side of the Dyaromn Bluff. “And the best thieves are halflings anyway.”
“Says the Players’ Handbook. Read it and weep!”
“Oh, like that thing matt--”
There was a terrible creaking sound, and then a big slab of rock started to pull away from the cliff face in some terrible slow motion. “Kit!” cried Skitch. “Look out!”
Luckily, the two kids weren’t very far up the Bluff yet, and they managed to rappel out of the way of the massive sheet of rock before it could crush them like ants. Unfortunately, the House of Rekzyr, at the base of the bluff, was less mobile. “The temple!” wailed Skitch, a few seconds before the loose detritus falling in the rock slab’s wake swept both of them off the cliff and into the rubble.
Skitch coughed and sat up. There was dust everywhere. The House of Rekzyr was in ruins. “Kit?”
“Got you!” A Diarian air force officer plucked the young thief from out of the landslide, his eyes glinting angrily from beneath his black beret. “Your recklessness will be punished with death, you blasphemous kiljhac!”
“What?” Kit struggled. “I didn’t do it! I was just climbing up that wall. Skitch, tell them!”
“Friend of yours?” said the policeman pointedly, poking his nightstick at Skitch’s chest.
“No...” said Skitch. “I--I was just sitting here in the temple hospital, and...”
“Skitch!” yelled Kit, furiously.
“Is that your name, boy?” said the soldier.
“My name is Akjhir,” said Skitch.
“And the kiljhac?”
“I’ve never seen her before in my life.”
Skitch sat up in bed with a sudden, violent jerk, gasping for air as the nightmare shattered. He had sweated through the hospital sheets, and was out of sleeping draught.
A young priest would come through soon to offer him painkillers, and Skitch, though he didn’t really need them, would accept. But the comfortable haze they induced would not drown out the sound of Kit’s betrayed screaming still echoing in his ears, and Skitch’s pain would not be absolved this night.
“Brett?” Ebreth came out onto the porch in his bathrobe. “It’s three in the morning. Are you okay?”
Her short hair was wet with rain. “It’s time,” she said.
“Don’t do it, Jackson,” said Jacob.
Jackson Cage hadn’t heard the old farmer behind him. “Why not?” he said, gravelly.
“Ain’t nothing there a man needs,” said Jacob. “I’d know.”
“Time?” said Ebreth. “Are you in some kind of trouble, Brett?”
“Maybe,” she said quietly. “I’m not supposed to be here. But I like you, Tor. And if you’re going to go. Your best chance is now.” She pointed behind her. Ebreth could almost see a door behind her in the rain. “The Hotel,” Brett said. “Go now, Tor. Before it’s too late.”
“Let it be, Jackson,” said Jacob Gallowsdance. “Take what you’ve got, make the best out of it.”
“To settle back is to settle without knowing the hard edge that you’re settling for,” said Jackson. “You can say there’s nothing there because you’ve been. I have to find it myself.”
“Got to learn every fool thing for yourself, boy, you’ll never learn nothing new,” said Jacob. “You think you invented this stuff? You think the darkness on the edge of town ain’t been there longer than any of us? Let it be, Jackie. Looking into it never did a damn thing for anyone. Not for me, not for your father, and not for you.”
“I’m different,” said Jackson.
“Every boy thinks he’s different,” said Jacob.
“I ain’t a boy,” said Jackson. “I’m a man. And I believe in a promised land, Jacob.”
“Won’t find nothing but road,” said Jacob, “in there.”
The Rat woke up with a shrill squeak. He had had the dream again, the one with the house of many rooms. Jack, he thought.
The mathematician was nowhere to be seen.
Clambering up to the sill, the Rat peered out through the rainstreaked window just as a strike of lightning illuminated the street outside. There he caught a glimpse of his friend, hurrying down the sidewalk with his forearm out in front of his face, soaking wet. To the north, up by Main Street, a shimmering light. The geometry was wrong. Seeker of Places could tell as much from here.
The Rat leapt down from the windowsill, right over the sleeping duck, and galloped through his trapezoidal pet flap and down the hall. He would never catch up with Jack in time to follow him into the Hotel, but he wasn’t sure that would help at this point anyway.
Seeker needed to find Mina Paris, and he needed to find her now.
“Ebreth?” said Khyrisse, sitting suddenly up in bed.
Jackson ran sad and free, until all he could see was the night.