Lucy watched as the texts rolled in. With things already tense, the texts coming in as fast as they were, as upset as they were, did not help.
I saw the look on her face and thought one of you was dead.
She showed up at the hospital looking for me. I tried to fob her off on Averys parenting.
Did you have to get her this panicked right before leaving?
Shes waiting for me to take a break or finish.
I already took an extra break to respond to a false alarm by the dog tags.
“Your mom went to my mom and is bothering her at work.”
“Tracks,” Verona said, before pausing and making a sympathetic face. “Sorry. To you and your mom.”
“I’d say it’s not your fault but it kind of is, and-” Lucy started. Avery whapped her in the back of the head. “-it’s okay. It’s understandable.”
“You guys and your honesty,” Oakham said.
“There’s honesty and there’s saying stuff you don’t have to, leading to hard feelings,” Avery said.
“This is coming from you?” Verona asked. “Avery? Hey. Hey, Avery, remember when, hey, hey-”
“Whatever incident you’re going to bring up, I don’t want to remember it.”
“Do you think there’s just one incident of radical honesty from you that made things harder?”
“Let’s go easy, okay guys?” Lucy asked. “We’re tired, we’re frustrated.”
“I’m not,” Oakham said. “I’m alright.”
“I’m kidding. Really, Ave,” Verona said.
“So long as you’re not bringing bad stuff up. I have enough groanworthy moments when I’m lying in bed at night,” Avery said.
Lucy typed her reply to her mom.
“They’re on their way over,” Avery said, indicating the group by the road, turning into the parking lot beneath the ski slope. The parking lot here was a bit inaccessible and needed a bit of a plow. “Verona’s mom didn’t go to my parents? Or did she go and leave?”
Verona shook her head. “My mom doesn’t know your parents. Like I said, it tracks. My mom likes her, not sure what to call them. Haunts? Old usuals? Church, before. Work. The whole setup at Thunder Bay, with friend groups and stuff. I think that’s why she likes socializing with experts…”
“Scintillating,” Oakham said.
Verona says sorry. A lot of bottled up stuff came out with Verona weirdness to spice it up.
“…having someone available to consult in case of any scenario, kind of? Your kid’s an artist, don’t know enough about art, have an artist friend on hand who makes four hundred thou a year doing what she does to call and meet.”
“And my mom’s her parenting expert?” Lucy asked. Her phone buzzed.
Verona weirdness? What weirdness specifically?
“Or her Verona expert,” Verona said. “For keeping tabs.”
“I can kind of appreciate that take. Covering your bases, knowing people, not expecting yourself to have every answer, about everything,” Avery suggested. “Obviously actually being directly involved with you as a daughter would be better.”
“Would it, though?” Oakham asked.
Verona pushed on Oakham’s arm, hard enough Oakham nearly slid off the end of the table they were sitting on.
“And it falls apart as a coping thing if you don’t actually have an expert for the actual problem,” Lucy said, before sending the text. “This is a magic thing, not a mom thing.”
Verona weirdness is “I’m going to throw a bunch of curveballs at you and hint magic is real and I almost died once” to keep ownership of conversation.
Except it controls things now usually. Later? Sometimes messy.
Sorry for mess.
You safe? You ok?
Yiyun, Nomi, Adrian, and Harri had made their way over.
“Oh, heads up, watch out, there’s- the timing is important, we need- say cheese, needed to, seconds ago…” the little homunculus piped up, craning his head around then went quiet. He used a little flipper-limb to stroke his chin.
“That’s a good reminder, don’t use your Sight!” Avery warned.
“That looks like one of Josef’s little alchemy things,” Adrian noted. “Except his things have legs.”
“It’s a homunculus,” Lucy said. She adjusted the position of her bag so Alexanderp wouldn’t get seen by a passerby driving along the main road. “Different purpose.”
“Reminds me of Seth,” Harri said.
Nomi frowned. “Except Seth is cute and-”
“Ew,” Lucy said.
“-that’s an abomination of nature.”
“Repeating the ew so it doesn’t get lost or forgotten,” Lucy said. “Seth?”
“That little abomination is mine. Came out pretty well,” Verona said. “Based on Alexander. Seth’s uncle.”
“Hm,” Adrian grunted. “Wow. That’s fucked up on a few levels. Wasn’t that a guy you guys killed? Also the guy that forswore Seth. Basically tortured Seth, for months. And you made… that?”
“Look at his little expression, and he’s wearing a sock with a suit on it,” Verona said, holding up Alexanderp, with his wreath of scarf that Avery had put around him. Oakham brought her head over and mimicked the smirk.
Lucy elbowed Verona, and Verona changed her tone to be more serious, adding, “Seth was and I do believe is a very problematic dude. I don’t mind if this gets his goat, and it’s kind of ideal if this gets his goat, since that makes it work better.”
“About Seth,” Yiyun said. “He seemed okay, at first. A lot of the others did.”
“The others don’t seem okay,” Lucy countered. “The other ex-Forsworn seem fucked up.”
“Because they are,” Adrian retorted. “Or they were. You gave Cameron a nightmare she was Forsworn? Of course she’d lean harder into their side.”
“Wasn’t really the point,” Verona said.
“They. Were. Forsworn,” Adrian said, enunciating every word. “Look, hate them or not, they weren’t all bad people. Then they were made into bad people. Objectively, they were people, all sorts of people, and then the rules were changed and the whole dynamic changed, and the Seal turned the world against them, said this person sucks, they fail at everything, they don’t get anything, they don’t get love, they don’t get justice, they don’t get family, or jobs, or hopes or dreams. They are now bad people, like how a person tossed into a septic tank is a shitty person.”
“We’re not fans of forswearing. I’ve got twenty or so contracts with market partners and certain practitioner families that specifically include clauses to minimize forswearing,” Avery said.
“I’m not saying you are. I’m saying they were people, good and bad, pretty and ugly, scary and… whatever the girls think Seth is.”
“Cute,” Nomi said.
Lucy made an ‘ick’ face.
“Cute,” Adrian said. “Sure. But they were people, and they were made bad. They were fucked, that’s a verb, up. Their normal was abnormaled, they went to dark places a lot of people don’t come back from, and then weren’t allowed to die when they wanted to, for some. I don’t like what they’re doing, I’m… not out, exactly, but I’m here, and I’m not going to say they’re bad at heart.”
Lucy glanced at Yiyun. “They horrified a child. Gillian Belanger-Ross. They were willing to sacrifice some of you, while they were getting us, back at new years.”
“Because they were fucked up.”
“Some were fucked up before. Helen screwed over another family-”
“Was made to,” Harri said.
“By her family. Super strict, really fucked up family. She hinted at some of the stuff she went through, that she couldn’t and wouldn’t have me do, as part of the family practice. It was bad.”
“Okay, well…” Lucy floundered.
“Seth made a pass at Snowdrop,” Avery said. “When she looked years younger than she does now.”
Nomi frowned, looking at Snowdrop, who smiled, a bit toothy. She was wearing her nicer outfit, a silver dress that faded to black on the way down, with gray leggings. She had her headphones around her neck, and wore her coat partially unzipped, so the top of her t-shirt was on display. ‘Meme beast’.
“Are you dissing my familiar?” Avery asked. “Because that tone makes it sound less like you’re concerned about Seth and more about not thinking Snowdrop rates on some level.”
“It’s okay,” Snowdrop said, looking at Avery. “I get it.”
“Let’s not fight,” Lucy said. “Enough of that going on tonight.”
“Seth went through a lot. It’s beside the point anyway, isn’t it?” Adrian asked.
“It’s on point, for a lot of points,” Lucy said. “But… let’s drop it.”
“How old was this guy?” Oakham asked Verona, quiet but still loud enough to be heard in the parking lot by the Killaloe Dough.
“Eighteen,” Verona replied.
“And she looked younger? Geez.”
“Let’s drop it?” Lucy asked, more pointedly.
Verona nudged Oakham, almost knocking her off the table again.
Avery shook her head and adjusted her scarf, which she’d put around Alexanderp for warmth, a nest for him as he stood on the table. Or sat on it. Lucy wasn’t sure. He was a living thing. He ate, he drank, he got cold. He smirked up at Avery as she finished, like Alexander with an ‘all according to plan’ look on his face.
“They’re peeking at us to see what we’re doing,” Avery said.
“That gets me thinking, like, we should find a goblin with the biggest, hairiest, ugliest butt we can, and have it be a backdrop for their next peek,” Verona said.
“Of course that’s where your mind goes,” Lucy said. She looked at the three students and Yiyun, who were standing in a huddle. Verona, Avery, and Lucy had all seated themselves on one of the picnic tables outside the Killaloe Dough that had closed in all the chaos. Shuttered, lights off. Snowdrop stomped around in the snow. Oakham lived about as close as it was theoretically possible to, and had been first to join them, settling in beside Verona.
They’d cleared off the snow from the table before settling in, sitting, bags and Alexanderp between and behind them.
Gashwad was by the sign. She’d heard him muttering to himself. He didn’t have the ability to magically teleport, and he’d given them the little shivs that were supposed to summon him, so it looked like his game plan was to stalk them until they had an occasion to use the things. She wasn’t sure what he was thinking for when they split up.
“We’re still waiting for someone,” Verona said. “We can start when she gets here.”
“I have no other plans,” Yiyun said. “Worst that happens to these guys should be that their parents start wondering where they are.”
Yiyun was Chinese – Lucy had looked up the name when researching Yiyun as an enemy, before, shorter than average, with straight black hair and eclectic clothing choices. Lucy was put in mind of Avery’s practice to shuffle things- like how a Path could have the same ‘bones’, as Lucy thought of it, same key elements, like something big and round, but it would differ depending on the visit or depending on the observer. A giant wheel in one visit, a moon in the other.
Yiyun fit in a similar mental framework as Verona’s mom, to Lucy. Being shorter, the clothing choices where they clearly knew how to find nice, high-end clothing, but by some quirk, it didn’t add up to being one hundred percent polished as a complete outfit. For Verona’s mom, it was the sort of thing where you could say ‘I love your boots’ or ‘I love your bag’, but the boots were red faux alligator skin and the bag was mustard yellow leather and they didn’t go well together. Not that it was usually that garish or weird, but… Verona’s mom liked nice things, for the sake of having them, more than anything else. A contrast to Verona’s set style.
Yiyun was like the Gate of Horn shuffled version of that. Same bones, different problem. Stuff was nice but hadn’t been taken care of, as if it had been pulled out of storage and shaken free of the most obvious dust. It made her look a bit older and more tired.
Both Verona’s mom and Yiyun gave Lucy vibes of like, moms, minus the kid.
Adrian and Harri were cousins, Lucy remembered. They were the sorts that were so lacking in color they were almost albino, very blonde, pale to the point blue veins stood out in brighter light, with the winter really not doing them any favors- both noses and Adrian’s ears red, eyes a bit red-rimmed. Adrian wore glasses, and Harri had earmuffs on, as well as the hairband that kept her bangs back. They wore black coats that Lucy was pretty sure were ordered through whatever vendor sold the St. Victor’s uniforms, because so many students who went there had them. Like the uniforms, they sat somewhere at the intersection of simple, classy, and maximally cheap. Both Adrian and Harri had regular clothes on underneath, with stuff like earbuds and maybe practice stuff in easy reach.
Nomi was the first defector- or maybe deserter was a better word. She’d left the night Edith had been killed, Girl by Candlelight extracted. Brown hair straight and parted in the middle, freckles lighter and less dispersed than Avery’s, with a yellow wool hat that was tight around the head but floppy otherwise. She had a nose ring, choker, at least two necklaces, and two earrings in one ear. And bracelets, peeking out from her sleeves. Loading on accessories – she’d collected more over time. Lucy wondered if it was practice based, or if Nomi liked to put on more stuff that was all removable at the end of the day. Nomi wasn’t wearing the black coat the other two were, just a regular winter jacket, and Lucy wondered if it was so she could have a front breast pocket for a small mummified mouse to peek out of.
The group was assessing them, too. Which was fair.
Her phone buzzed. Just her mom confirming, saying to be safe, all that. Okay.
“You guys crossed lines, you know?” Lucy asked.
“Is this what we’re here to talk about?” Adrian asked.
“No,” Avery said.
He turned to Harri. “Want to go?”
“It’s not what we’re here to talk about,” Avery said, glancing at Lucy.
“Waiting for Louise before we get into the important stuff,” Lucy said.
“I was hoping to start with the more positive stuff,” Avery said.
“I was going to get there,” Lucy said. “You guys crossed lines. I think all four of you did. There’s some we know about, some I’m guessing we don’t and maybe won’t ever.”
Adrian looked restless.
“But,” Lucy emphasized. “You’re here at least. So that’s a step forward.”
“Right,” Adrian said.
“It’s a starting point. We’d like to bring you guys into the good parts of what we’re doing. In an ideal world, we win, you get to be part of magic, learn stuff, get involved with the market, meet Others.”
“Do you really think you’re going to win?” Adrian asked.
“Easy does it,” Yiyun said.
“In a less great situation, there are things we’d want to keep alive, keep doing, market still, protecting Kennet, and we probably have to work around what they’re doing. Charles and his people. If we could stay in touch, maybe we can work together on that?”
Yiyun spoke up, saying, “This is where-”
Lucy’s head turned. Louise was pulling in. She returned her attention to Yiyun.
“-I should make it clear, we swore oaths to their side. Including oaths to not tell you everything.”
“Including about the oaths themselves?” Verona asked.
“Kind of,” Yiyun replied. She considered for a second. “I can’t really explain. Due to the things sworn.”
“Frustrating,” Lucy replied. And I can’t say there’s zero chance you guys won’t turn on us. “Okay.”
Avery waved to Louise, while Snowdrop ran over to her, to meet her partway and walk over with her.
“We couldn’t have met somewhere indoors?” Harri asked.
“People are indoors,” Lucy noted. “And this probably shouldn’t be overheard. Here, there’s not many people around, but it’s easy enough to get to.”
“Connection blocks?” Harri suggested.
“We’re conserving practice and keeping things light,” Avery said.
Verona explained, “We get power from local Others and they’re out there. We get more power and take less from each Other in town when there are more Others on board, swearing oaths to Kennet, but even one percent could make a difference.”
“What are you even doing here?” Nomi asked. “So many people are gone. A lot of stuff’s gone dark.”
“Talking to you,” Lucy answered, while Verona made a zipped-lips gesture to Nomi. She amended her statement, to not be as hostile. “If we told you the full story, we’d risk problematic people listening in.”
“It’s all so fucked up, huh?” Nomi asked. “No straight talk.”
“You can’t tell us everything that’s going on, we’re blocked by oaths,” Harri said.
“Hey,” Snowdrop said, as she and Louise reached them. Louise looked very tired, and a little washed out. “Let’s encourage Louise to smoke like we agreed.”
Lucy raised her eyebrows.
“I haven’t had the one cigarette I allow myself yet today,” Louise said.
“You’re supposed to be down to none,” Avery said. “You told us to give you a hard time if you did.”
“Special circumstances. Nervous, my home’s gone.”
“Sorry,” Lucy said.
“Can you guys not give me too hard a time on this one?” Louise asked. “And tell me Matthew’s okay?”
“He was okay last we saw him, but we’re not getting updates,” Lucy said. “Stand downwind?”
Louise nodded, wet a finger and held it up, and then moved south of them. Yiyun followed, and was faster to get her cigarettes out. They were in an antique-style cigarette case, black and silver, and the cigarettes themselves were black from end to end.
“I’d offer one to you, but I hand roll them, can’t testify to quality…?” Yiyun left it hanging like an open question.
Yiyun handed one over.
“Boo and hiss, for the record,” Avery said. “Because I said I would.”
“Okay,” Louise said, lighting her cigarette. “I did ask for it.”
Snowdrop elbowed Avery. “You cover the boo, I’ll cover the hiss.”
Avery narrowed her eyes at Snowdrop. “That’s… I don’t think that works. I’m trying to get my head around what you want, with the familiar bond helping, and it’s confusing me.”
“Isn’t it just opposite speak?” Harri asked.
“No. It’s opposite intent. So if I say boo?”
“Boo,” Snowdrop said.
“Yeahhhh,” Avery sighed. “Can’t trick it.”
“Getting back on track,” Lucy said. She had to shift position because her ass was a bit cold, sitting on the wooden table. “I think we’d be willing to bring you guys in on some level.”
“Market, the town events,” Avery said. “Council, in a way.”
“We talked about compromise with this group some, after you three were run out of town,” Louise said. “At New Years. What compromise would look like. Mostly me and Matthew, but we all talked at the council table, too.”
“And?” Lucy asked.
“The market would have to be theirs, the Carmine’s. Or, technically, ours.”
“Can we fudge it?” Verona asked. “Say, Louise is head of the council, more or less, a responsibility shared with Miss and the warlords of Kennet below. We fold you in as assistants to Louise, with a stake of ownership, uh-”
Everyone except Harri was shaking their heads already: Yiyun, Adrian, Nomi.
“No,” Yiyun said. “Before the new year, Rook told us that you had a habit of bringing enemies onto your side. In retrospect, I think the Carmine anticipated that, and wanted to get out ahead of it. The idea was, for the children, that they could either be in or out. Not halfway. Not joining you or compromising.”
“Then you took ‘out’ away,” Adrian said.
He sounded angry.
Adrian shook his head. “Then doing things halfway was taken away as an option by the deals we made, which I can’t talk about in detail without being forsworn. And then being in didn’t feel good. So we’re-”
“Nowhere, as far as where we belong,” Nomi said. She looked at Yiyun. “In a suspended state.”
“Suspended states are a concept dealt with when you create undead,” Yiyun said.
“We sort of know, from dealing with our local ghouls,” Lucy said.
“Of course. It’s not unlike undeath. Being caught between factions like this.”
“So what then?” Lucy asked, folding her arms. With her gloved hand, she toyed with the necklace.
“Was this why you asked us to come? To offer a compromise we can’t take?”
“To-” Avery said, as Verona said, “We-”
“Go ahead,” Verona said.
“We asked you to come for other stuff,” Avery said. “We have a greater plan, but if we could get certain information from you… I don’t want to sound like it’s some deal and that we wouldn’t be trying to find a workable place for you if it wasn’t for the plan.”
“You want information?” Adrian asked.
“Yeah,” Lucy replied, glancing at the others, who nodded slightly. “About you guys. About the others. About your families.”
“Families?” Yiyun asked.
“What?” Harri asked.
“The last time we did something on this scale, our parents became Aware through it. Mostly the fault of invaders, one invader, really pushing things. But things were going that direction.” Lucy’s hand gripped the tags at her neck harder.
“My dad especially, but again, someone else’s fault. Poking holes in Innocence.”
Verona had an intensity about her as she leaned forward from her seat on the table. “And what we’d be doing next, people would become Aware. For some people, especially those around you guys, that could get really complicated really quickly. Your parents would be the first to tip over to Awareness, we’re guessing.”
“And that’s why they’re here?” Nomi asked, indicating Louise. “The experts?”
“Moral counsel, for a move that could be immoral, if your parents are the wrong people,” Lucy said. She studied the kids. Even if they couldn’t say anything outright, which was her guess, maybe they could give something away, in terms of how well this worked as a move. “Question becomes, if we do this and people become Aware along the way, who do we work to keep out of it, and who could be a positive?”
“Positive?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“What, you want to pull some big ritual, like the way you made that third Kennet, and if some parents become Aware along the way, you figure they’ll call their kids and ask them to come home?”
“I don’t know.”
We’re trying to figure out how to capitalize on any weak links, and with the other Red Heron kids way over at the BHI, I figured maybe they’d be stretched thin. And with parent issues on our minds…
“It was a thought,” Verona said.
“We can’t give you that kind of information,” Nomi said. “About parents, about the other guys… is it the parent stuff you’re after? Is that it?”
“We might fight them,” Lucy said. “Or have to work against them, not a fight exactly. If they pull some practice…”
“Does that bother you?” Avery asked. “Were you friends?”
Adrian looked at Harri and sighed.
“Is that touchy somehow?” Avery asked.
“It’s… if we were friendly, or if we were going to be friendly, I don’t think they would’ve picked us. Not that they picked us to be mean, but they picked-”
“Can’t say,” Nomi said, cutting Adrian off.
They’ve hinted at it before, and Miss has mentioned it too. It’s the same as us, just… different type of hand picking. People that are disconnected or not part of society, picked with bloody hands instead of nonexistent ones.
“Hmmm,” Lucy pondered, sitting forward, chin on the heel of her hand, elbow on knee.
Verona, to the right of her, smirked.
Verona pointed past Lucy, and Lucy saw Alexanderp, leaning forward, chin on flipper-hand.
“Remember when you had me do write-ups on everyone? In the little black notebook?” Nomi asked Yiyun. “Students and teachers?”
“It was an exercise, somehow relating to undead, wasn’t it? I didn’t get that.”
“Finding the throughline of a being’s physicality, immaterial components…”
“Right. Yeah. Learning to look for that.”
“And I thought it would be a good way to keep track of the other young students and get your thoughts on them. I’d get Dony and Stefan and Travis mixed up.”
“Aha,” Nomi said. “It’s too bad I can’t do anything with those notes. Trade them away, leave them where they can be found. Hint at where they are.”
“You’re already walking the line,” Yiyun warned.
“Right. It’s not like you guys made a good offer, either, right?” she turned to Lucy.
“Can’t really, can we? It’s all jammed up.”
“I’m so curious what you’re doing,” Nomi said. “Big picture. Big enough some people are bound to be Aware. That’s gotta be hitting Kennet with something, huh?”
Verona did the zip-lips gesture again.
“Is that it, then?” Yiyun asked.
“I don’t know,” Avery said. “I hoped there’d be a way.”
“They made sure there wasn’t much of one,” Yiyun replied. “I was mostly sticking around in case other kids needed me. But with things being what they are, I think that’s over. Tonight, some may kill, some may be killed, some may be changed. I’ll leave.”
“Fuck,” Nomi said, quiet.
“I appreciate you being fair,” Louise said.
“I wasn’t. I did bad things. I was plunged into darkness, I was made a bad person, a fucked up person, to use Adrian’s phrasing. I surfaced, thanks to the Carmine Exile, and then I stayed bad and fucked up for a while after. I haven’t made amends. I haven’t fixed everything I broke. And I’m not going to try. I’m going to leave, I’ll go elsewhere, fresh start, and I’ll maybe do some good.”
“It’s better than you doing what the other ex-Forsworn are doing,” Verona said.
“I’ve taken a loan, from practitioners I probably shouldn’t take a loan from. I’m good at what I do, I can take contracts and do work. I can work on a spellbook I’ve had in mind throughout all the time I was forsworn. But with the loan I have money,” Yiyun said.
“Those are things you’re planning to do, but what do you want?” Lucy asked.
“What I want… it’s impossible. But I’ll dabble in practice, stay in contact with people studying necromancy.”
“To raise someone?” Avery asked.
“That would be a tall order, with the time that’s passed. I don’t think the best necromancer could do it without a preserved body and a soul captured after it left the vessel, after this long. I’d settle for talking to her, as a goal.”
“There might be possibilities,” Lucy said.
“There usually are.”
“The Sable has someone working for him as an agent. Who has a deal, to be able to talk to his children, who I think are dead,” Lucy said.
“God damn,” Oakham said.
Yiyun replied, “If I had to guess, the children died in his domain. My daughter didn’t die in the Sable’s domain. Besides, staying in the Carmine’s realm when I don’t think he’s especially happy with me, it wouldn’t sit right. I can imagine bringing me in wouldn’t sit right with the Sable if it puts them at odds.”
“If the Carmine gets beat, maybe that stops being an issue?” Avery asked.
“Either way. I doubt it’d work. For a few reasons.”
“For the other thing, we might know someone who could help find her, maybe, it’d be an ask.”
“And I’ll stop you there. If she’s an ally of yours, then cooperating with him or her, it would run up against oaths we swore. Ones I’ve already strained by helping these three, but was only barely able to survive because technically, we made the deals we made with the idea they could go. Don’t tell me your ally’s name, and I’ll be content knowing there’s someone out there like that. If I run into them, it will have nothing to do with you.”
“But thank you.”
“Right,” Lucy said.
“Can I ask why?” Yiyun asked.
“You asked what I wanted. I get the impression you’d be happy if we went and confronted the Carmine, added our strength to your side’s, even without anything that could be called an alliance.”
“I mean, yeah,” Lucy said. “But fuck. Whatever. You’ve been half-decent to us, at least, even if you say you’ve been bad. It’d be nice if you could talk to the person you lost.”
She shrugged, sitting up a bit, and felt the slight shift of the dog tag and ring against her skin.
“Hmmm,” Avery said. “One thing we talked about, where we could use manpower, if you happen to be going in the direction of Winnipeg, there’s a place with a concentration of Aware.”
“Yeah. If you happened to send certain people our way as they showed up…”
“According to the oath…”
“If they were as much a problem as a benefit?”
“…Maybe,” Yiyun said. She gave them suspicious looks, puffing away. Then she turned her head. “Harri, Adrian?”
“I already told Nomi, I’ll set some aside for you. It’ll go to guardians you trust. Nomi’s is going to her grandmother. We talked about our options around the time we talked to Rook. If we stay, we’ll be at odds. We can’t fit into or cooperate with what they’ve built, with the oaths we swore. We talked about leaving. Walking away.”
“We didn’t want to get on the Carmine’s bad side,” Adrian said.
“We’re already there. We’ll need to watch our backs, in case he sends someone to fetch us or ensure he gets what he wanted out of us. But it’s best to go.”
“When?” Adrian asked.
Yiyun glanced at Louise. “Do you need us to stay for any reason?”
“Protection,” Louise said. “We have people from the undercity, we have a handful of Foundlings, we have the three girls who don’t want to use practice, and we have some goblins without leadership. Things are delicate.”
“We can’t coordinate patrol schedules with you, or I think we’d be testing oaths,” Yiyun said. “We may or may not help protect Kennet.”
Louise nodded. Bloody tears glinted in moonlight as she glanced around Kennet. She drew on the cigarette.
“I’ll leave when others start returning. Nomi? Let’s put this into action? Find a way to convince your grandmother?”
“Can I go where you go?” Nomi asked. “Not, like, living with you, but if you go to a city, somewhere outside of the Carmine’s territory, I’d like to go with you.”
Yiyun finished her cigarette. She disposed of the ashes inside a compartment of her cigarette case. “Okay.”
Nomi seemed to be trying to look like that didn’t mean a lot to her. She nodded, a little too fast.
“If you can convince your grandmother. Adrian, Harri?”
“We’ve got family here. I don’t think they’d budge.”
“Lis. The city spirit,” Louise said.
“There’s a thought,” Yiyun said. “Reaching out, maybe a move to another location? She can link to places tied to Kennet, can’t she?”
“No,” Louise said.
Lis was there, wearing the St. Victor’s private school uniform, looking like a senior student. Cheap-but-tidy coat and all. The Alabaster Assembly was there too, eyes flowering, wearing a black coat, carrying a coffee.
Lucy listened, as she rose to her feet. Avery was already two steps ahead of her, while Verona busied herself picking up Alexanderp.
“Here? Is this aimed at me?”
“It’s across his territory.”
“Charles. He’s doing something,” Lucy said.
“He has been doing it for as long as you have been having this conversation,” the Alabaster said. She was now behind Lucy.
Lucy turned, backing away. She, Avery, and Verona formed a loose triangle around the Judge in white.
“Doing much as you’re doing, talking to others about where they belong, responsibilities, and, I think, enacting a broader, subtler plan. I do not know what he’s after, and I don’t know what you’re doing, but grave things are happening.”
“What’s going on?” Avery asked.
“He’s taking back what he made.”
“Us?” Harri asked.
The Alabaster bent, planting her travel coffee mug into the snow, then straightened. A slack thread slick with blood extended between her hands, as she held them up. The thread had a dramatic bow in the middle of it, wet with that blood.
“A knot? Kennet below,” Verona said.
“Things have reached a point,” the Alabaster said, gathering up the thread in each hand. The loops that extended out from around the bow began to shrink as the thread was pulled. “Where parts of this fall within in my backyard. What happens to deals of protection and sanctuary if-”
Lucy was first to move. Avery was fastest once she got moving.
By instinct, lunging forward to cross the ten or so feet of snow between herself and the Alabaster, Lucy reached for the thread.
Lucy put fingers through the loops of the knot before they could all be pulled through, before the thread could cease to be knotted and made straight.
She wasn’t sure why she’d jumped to do that.
“-he takes too much? What happens to the people who made the oaths? I have answers, but maybe you have a better one.”
The Alabaster let go, then walked to the side, ducking beneath the length of thread.
Lucy had her fingers in the loops, keeping them from being pulled straight.
Verona had pulled out pens and markers, doing what Lucy did. Lucy wasn’t sure if the effect was better or not, the loops were smaller, taut around the pens and things, but she’d preserved more of the shape.
It looked like Avery had grabbed the Alabaster’s hand or hands, and now held a mostly limp thread with a small residual knot.
The three of them each holding a representation of the knot, the thread forming a triangle between them.
“The market, the people,” Verona said, breathless.
“Bracken?” Oakham asked.
“We can’t know who or what, yet. This whole thing? It cuts both ways,” Lucy said. “Think about what happens. Not just the deals broken, the contracts we made with other little markets… knots can have consequences. We only barely avoided this one killing Kennet, between Summer and the founding.”
Avery stepped forward, taking Lucy’s hand and Verona’s hand. She brought their hands together.
They pulled back a bit. Threads extended to the knot between the three of them. Lucy’s outstretched hand blocked some loops from being pulled tight, as did Verona’s pens and things stuck in it all. Avery’s hair and the ribbons on one arm blew in the wind. Verona had a dark look in her eyes.
“What do we do?” Avery asked. “This?”
“No infighting. Someone gets their hands on something? They get it. You want something like that? Get there faster.”
Lucy turned her head, trying to find the source of the whisper of a voice.
“The Founding ritual, same principles,” Verona said. “It’s a strategy that’s worked for us. The pens and marker? They’re a stand in for-”
“The mundane items from the Paths? Specific random items that code in as Earthly but Lost?” Avery asked. “That’s more Path-specific.”
“But it’s something,” Verona said. “And we should reinforce Kennet found too.”
“Alabaster,” Avery said, turning.
The Alabaster was gone.
“This is what they do,” Lucy said, trying to absorb the impact of this, trying to brace herself to even begin to think about what they might do. “Alabasters don’t tend to get as involved. They put the right people on the path to solving things, if I remember right. Knights on quests with only hints, visions, and symbols to insulate the Alabaster from direct involvement.”
She looked down at the knot between them, and it was gone.
Just there to give them the right idea and start them on the right path.
She looked at the St. Victor’s practitioners, Yiyun, and Louise. They wouldn’t cooperate, they couldn’t, really. Not unless they’d won, subjugated Kennet for Charles’ sake.
“Louise!” Lucy called out. “The knotting of Kennet below might be changing. Charles is drawing power out of it or something!”
Not a message meant for Louise, but for the people near her.
“Do we call people back from the fight?” Louise asked. “Matthew?”
“Don’t think we can, it’s too far, I don’t know what they could do. I don’t know what we can do, exactly. Just be ready and available?”
“Come on,” Avery said, hand at Lucy’s arm. “We should see if we can scrounge up the right items.”
Items… if Verona’s idea of the markers and pens blocking up the loops was a representation of the items they’d used for the founding, the fingers were something else.
The attack, destroying Verona’s home… pulling Rook away? Had Charles been laying groundwork for something? Weakening them in a way, so this would land better?
“Wait,” Lucy said, resisting being pulled away by Avery. She turned, “Wait, one more thing, Louise!”
“Remember the founding ritual? We needed items and we needed fixtures, we needed-”
“And the council seat. Can you open the council?”
“A council of just me? Almost everyone else left.”
“And anyone else you can scrounge up. Not everyone left Kennet to fight.”
“On it,” Louise said. “Rook gave me what I need to open the roof. Oakham? You come help?”
“I’ll go with them,” Oakham said. “Are we going downtown?”
“Yeah,” Avery said. “I think?”
“I’ll come to you after,” she told Louise. “But I want to help Bracken and Bag.”
Avery was pulling on Lucy again. Lucy let herself be pulled. She saw Louise nod.
The fingers she’d jammed in were stand-ins for the locations they’d used. Fixtures, anchored in a way the pens and markers weren’t.
“Girls!” Louise called out.
They were moving.
“We don’t have Matthew.”
“We’ll figure something out!” Lucy called out.
We don’t have a third Demesne with someone present, Lucy thought.
She’d called out to Louise before, but she hoped the others had heard and would act. That Yiyun, Harri, Adrian, and Nomi could do something.
They ran. Oakham joined them. Her ankle wasn’t great, but Verona put out an arm. Oakham ended up grabbing Verona’s shoulder, to lean on her a bit.
Oakham made a pained expression.
“-I got more serious about physio.”
Lucy. Lucy. Lucy.
A goblin’s voice. From that same non-direction.
“It’s so quiet,” Snowdrop said.
“Calling you?” Lucy asked.
“Tell me my undercity friends are going to be okay. Tell me Bracken’s okay.”
“We don’t know,” Lucy said, tense.
“Fuck!” Oakham swore, the word coming out strained, with her exertion from running.
“There are goblins in the Undercity,” Lucy said. “And people there can sense something’s going on, I think. Or they knew this was the plan. I hear whisperings, I think coming from the access ways. They’re planning an attack. A raid.”
“They’ve done that before. Raiding Kennet?”
“I want a nice two bedroom house.”
“Might have to evict people.”
“Or keep them.”
“This feels different.”
“Guys,” Avery said. “Remember our write-ups on knots? The shapes they can take? We ended up with a mirror version of Kennet, but what happens if we get one of the other versions?”
“Noose, bulging, pocketing, thinning, emptying,” Verona said. “Only some of those were valid when we were researching Kennet below.”
“Neighborhood by neighborhood. It’s easier to get through windows than doors. Scare the people in the houses bad enough, they won’t think about resistance.”
“Fuck! We stabilized this, and he tears it down just like that!? What do any of those things do to the rest of Kennet? Kennet above, Kennet found?” Lucy asked.
“A lot of things,” Verona said. “Few good. It would potentially warp both. We lose Kennet below as a mirror of the other two, Kennet found might stop being a mirror too.”
“And then?” Avery asked.
Verona nearly slipped on some ice. She was between Avery and Lucy, and both of them caught her. “Fucking- fuck. Um. Get me back on track?”
You’re still tired, and distracted.
“Kennet found stops being a mirror and?” Lucy asked.
“Noose, bulge, pocket, thin, empty,” Verona huffed. “I forget the exact terms for some.”
“Noose, common, uh, the natural forces shift. Kennet’s people leave, Others might move in. Kills the town in the area, Innocent society explains it away as the place being unlivable.”
“I don’t want to be killed.”
Lucy saw Lis standing on a rooftop.
“Toadswallow’s place!” Lucy shouted up to Lis, touching her earring to help it carry. “Then the passage down the street from there!”
The road straightened. Buildings began to slide past them, like they were in a car on a dark highway, and they were passing streetlights. It had that effect where things looked like they were barely moving closer, sped up as they got close, and then zipped by their right or left side.
“So this could kill Kennet,” Verona said, finishing her thought from before.
“We kind of had that. Emptying. Before we stabilized,” Lucy said. “The slow death.”
“It can be a mix,” Avery explained. “Bit of noose, bit of bulging.”
“Can be a pocket. Stuff bulges up and through, distorted space all around it, like an intense knot. A neighborhood or building in the middle of a city that’s hard to reach unless you take a sequence of roads,” Verona explained.
“Bristow mentioned something like that, I think,” Avery said.
“Or it was a partial knot, instead of something created,” Verona said. “Don’t remember if that building suddenly existed or existed before. Doesn’t matter.”
“Right,” Avery said.
Lucy could see the Arena to the left. The Arena had been a regular thing in a lot of Kennet weirdness. Kennet below had originated from it. The Carmine Beast had died there.
Verona wrapped Avery’s scarf around Alexanderp until he was totally covered. He wobbled his head around.
She saw the Arena. The arena from Kennet Below was there too, overlapping, painted in very watery watercolor – but the burning tree and the hole in the side were definitely there. Blood red watercolor washed out, taking in more and more of the orange and black from the fire and tree, until it looked like a bomb from one of Wallace’s games. The sort that was black to start with, but then glowed red and then orange and then yellow, with increasing rapidity, until the point of detonation.
“Thinning is when the barriers between real and not get super weak, usually that’s the beginning of the Abyss or something taking the town, and-”
“I think it’s a- it looks like it’s going to blow up,” Lucy said.
Verona passed Alexanderp to Lucy. Lucy made sure he was wrapped up.
“Yyep. Like a pimple waiting to pop. Stuff oozing in from below. That’s a bulge. A primed knot.”
“The Arena?” Oakham asked.
“I think Kennet below might just explode up and out of it,” Verona said. Lucy nodded.
“Doing what the fuck to what?” Oakham asked.
A muffled voice spoke up, “It will, you might find this alarming, we’re in the middle of a crisis, it’s, if I can be clear, putting things on a scale of one to ten, we’re actually-”
“Fuck you, Chuck!” Verona raised her voice. “Fuck. It’d mean no more Kennet below, maybe, and it’ll be like a bomb went off. Fire, echoes, spirits, negative emotions… to people outside, it might look like there was a disaster, like someone actually bombed the Arena, and everything went wrong after. Riots, panic, people being their worst selves. Kennet above and Kennet found, if they’re even distinct, would be laced through with below stuff.”
They paused at a property that had a fence that was almost a wall around it, posts with board between them, too tall to see over.
There was a tree beside it that had grown around an old chain link fence. When the new fence had been put in, the old fence had been cut out as best as was possible.
Squeezing between the wall and the gnarly fence-eating tree was one passage to the Undercity.
The tree had fallen, the fence torn out, the wall damaged, and there was old, blackish blood all around it.
To Lucy’s Sight- she covered Alexanderp to be safe. Yeah. She could see that pulsing swelling around the damage.
They went down a block. There was a power pole with extra wire lashed to it, forming a loose loop. Or there had been. The loop was gone, torn down, the way obliterated. Old blood in the snow and damage.
We’re losing doorways.
“This is happening fast,” Avery said.
“Let’s go,” Lucy said.
Lis was carrying them to Toadswallow’s speakeasy.
“There could be horrors,” Avery said, like it was an answer to a question that hadn’t been asked, or a thought she was having out loud. “Innocents would be horrified, or twisted, like some people in Kennet below are twisted. In ways that don’t fit them.”
They reached the front window, covered with plywood. Traffic that had coincidentally just happened to not be on the street started flowing around them. Whole parts of Kennet that had been pulled out of the way came back in, like a breath had expanded Kennet’s chest and then exhaled.
And Lucy could see more buildings picking up that energy. The Arena was worst, because of course it was.
In a way, more than the town center with its glowing clock above it, the Arena was the heart of Kennet.
“We need something like a third Demesne,” Verona said, under her breath.
“Me?” Oakham asked. “If I did the magic thing, then claimed, I dunno, anything? The Arena?”
“Awakening takes time. The Demesne ritual does too. This might be happening in less than an hour,” Avery replied.
She moved the plywood aside.
Lucy saw on Oakham’s face what she was holding in her own heart, even if she wouldn’t and couldn’t let herself panic. She’d been trained by Guilherme and Bubbleyum to manage her composure, or lack thereof.
In a way, it was good Oakham was here, to make those feelings more real, when Verona, Avery, and Lucy couldn’t afford to.
“I need to do something.”
Lucy gave Oakham’s shoulder a squeeze before stepping through.
Lucy then stopped the first awake goblin she saw. A stranger. “Go to Kennet found, Warrensways should be open if the usual ways aren’t. Check if Miss is back.”
The goblin paused.
Lucy pointed, in the general direction of the back offices, where she figured there might be doors.
The goblin hurried off.
“She’s supposed to rubberband back after a bit,” Verona said.
Avery lobbed an opossum into the air. Snowdrop became human, and landed, feet skidding on a dirty floor.
“I know, but I don’t want to waste time checking and I don’t want to encourage a rubberband too fast, if she’s doing something useful.”
“She can’t be our third seat. She is Kennet found, basically.”
“I know,” Lucy said, short.
“This is a test!” Snowdrop raised her voice. “Safely ignorable, I don’t care if you listen or not! If you know anyone who’s not here, signal them to stay away, because we’re getting into some real boring procedural bullshit.”
Goblins that had been asleep woke up and poked their heads up. Lucy could hear overlapping goblin voices, as names were called.
The room quickly filled with goblins from the market. Ones too small, detached from Kennet, or incapable of joining the fight.
Avery took over. “We need to pull together the items we had when we founded Kennet found. Mundane items. I think some have been in storage here, but some might have been carried off. So… big scavenger hunt, and we need it fast, or we lose all of this.”
“No prize to the winners if we make it through this,” Snowdrop said. “You’ve got an opossum for a goblin sage, so you’d better figure there’s zero point in trying at all when it comes to scavenging. That base is thoroughly covered, there’s nothing to prove.”
Lucy saw the little toad-protector looking like she wanted to help and wanted to put the toad somewhere, but didn’t want to leave it, so she ran back and forth a bit along the same section of the bar, beneath the stools.
“Lucy?” Oakham asked. Oakham hadn’t come through, and stood with her back to the window. Lucy really wasn’t sure that it mattered, though. On a lot of levels. Oakham had seen so much already. Maybe it was a question of deliberateness.
I guess we’re going to have to find out, with whatever would be the opposite of having training wheels on. Rocket strapped to our backs.
“What do I do?” Oakham’s words had an emotional intensity to them that was threatening to cut straight through to Lucy’s own emotions, and she wasn’t prepared for that to happen.
Lucy bent down and took the toad.
The toad-hugger looked up at her, horrified and forlorn, following Lucy to the window.
Avery was outlining what they needed in terms of items. Goblins were pulling things out from the back room.
“Oakham,” Lucy said, quiet, passing Oakham the toad. “You okay guarding this with your life, until the owner comes back?”
“I’d say it’s someone’s whole world, and we need her to be a scavenger,” Lucy whispered to Oakham. She crouched down, whispering, “That’s what you want, right, little one?”
She felt like she got Verona and Peckersnot a little more.
“We gotchu,” Lucy whispered.
The goblin nodded fast and then ran forward to join the thicker parts of the crowd.
It looked like some other goblins had seen. Lucy gave them all looks, and they scattered.
Lucy stood, then whispered, “Okay?”
It frees the little one up to be useful and keeps you out of my hair.
Which wasn’t fair, but… she really had no idea what to do with herself, let alone Oakham.
“Stay where we can get in touch?” Lucy whispered. “Go to Louise when it feels like things are more intense?”
Oakham nodded again.
“Guys?” Avery asked. “I’ll do this part.”
It was said in a way like, Please go, I’m not sure this will be enough.
Lucy nodded. “Lis?”
“Lis,” Verona said, when there wasn’t an immediate response.
“Lis,” Avery said.
“Yes,” Lis replied, stepping into view. Bits of glass and dust were pushed across the floor, like a small shockwave had hit. Lis looked agitated. When she turned her head to look at them, she briefly slipped into the appearance of Nettie.
“When we first came to Kennet, goblins were limited in the parts of the town they could access. Under Ken, we really opened that up. And you’ve been keeping it open too.”
“If these guys are hunting for the right items to finish these sets of mundane items… can we open things up more? To homes?”
“That costs. I take responsibility.”
“Goblins? For these items only,” Lucy said, as authoritative as she could be.
“You can fuck with them a little, this time,” Snowdrop said.
“Done,” Lis said. “I hope you’re right that this matters, because I’m barely holding things upright.”
Then she was gone.
“Okay, guys,” Avery addressed the room. Some goblins were bringing things out from the back.
Lucy stepped through the window, pushing the board aside. Verona followed, cradling Alexanderp. Oakham trailed behind them.
“I’ve got to be at my Demesne,” Verona said, to Lucy. “I can- I’m worried I’ll go and I won’t do anything else useful.”
“Then eyes forward, keep us on task for what comes next? Or nap-” Lucy asked.
Verona laughed, fierce and brief.
Oakham was tenser, hearing that laugh. It reminded her of how she’d felt when Kelsey had laughed, when the Aware-ening of the parents had happened. When it had felt like her life was crashing down around her.
“Mal, and Anselm…” Verona said. “I should ask a goblin-”
“Mal’s gone,” a small goblin said, near the window.
Verona looked down.
“Went to fight. Said it’d be funny.”
Verona swayed a little on the spot.
Lucy reached out, and pulled Verona in for a hug. With a hand, she grabbed the scruff of Oakham’s coat at the shoulder, pulling her in too.
Oakham, for once, wasn’t stubborn about shit.
Heads knocked together a bit, after they’d settled into a hug-huddle.
“Kennet below’s like this really shitty, really fucked up cat I put so much of myself into,” Verona murmured. “At really hard times.”
“I know. It’s good you’re saying it. That’s some good claim there.”
The goblin Lucy had sent off was back.
The goblin shook its head.
“It’s dark in Kennet found?” Lucy asked.
“We need a third place to claim,” Verona said.
It felt like a microcosm of the entire thing, planning against Chuck. Avery with an idea that might not be enough, but that laid groundwork. Verona with no ideas. Lucy…
“I’ve got it covered,” Lucy said. “Okay? It’s handled, I think. So you handle other stuff we can’t right now.”
“I’ve got a toad.”
“You handle Ronnie, then Louise. Round up goblins to be part of the council. Make sure to talk about Kennet below a lot.”
Lucy broke away from the hug. She faced the other two. The plywood that was nailed at one corner and could be moved aside to be their door into the speakeasy was ajar, and she could see Avery, talking, organizing.
She nodded, communicating silently with both.
Then she went.
The town distorted in front of her as she ran. Traffic passed her, then didn’t keep coming. Places that were dark illuminated. Parts of it distorted because Lis was working to shorten the ways. Parts distorted because of the way the knotting was going. To her Sight, which was freer now that she was further from Alexanderp, the watercolors were being applied in increasingly bright and intense concentrations.
It looked like swords were being poked through the paper of reality from the other sides. Points sticking through with no handles or ribbons.
She could hear more of the mob. The raid that was imminent, eager.
“I guess this is where things come back on you,” Lucy said. “When you did what I asked you to do, were you serious about it? Did you set it up so it’d stick?”
Lis seemed to infer her intent. The way cleared, the turn in the street moving closer to Lucy, so she could see straight ahead, to the town center, with its clock above. They’d fought the Choir under a clock like that.
And between here and there was a part of Kennet that had been made to look nicer for tourists. With old-style lamp-posts with electric lights inside them, and paved walkways, and gardens.
The monument they’d installed. A series of short steps led up to a short pedestal, with the statue above it, epigraph below.
“Sable? We made a deal,” Lucy said. “That certain things would matter more. That I’d get more karmic weight. That they would. To make up for a wrong done by the powers that be. To make up for oversights.”
She put on her weapon ring on her left hand, the chain with John’s tag and Yalda’s ring attached. She closed her fist around it, winding chain around hand. To use some things like the duelist’s arena, she’d have one hand occupied anyway. She could still grab spell cards in a pinch.
“Made a deal with Lis here, to establish this spot,” Lucy said, to the open night air, surrounded by a distorted Kennet, that had been pushed back and away to isolate this spot and give it more prominence. “Again, addressing past wrongs. To reach a tough compromise.”
The town strained.
“Do you think you can give me a good door through, Lis?” Lucy asked.
The distortion happened locally.
A door through to Kennet below opening around Lucy.
She didn’t walk through, but straddled it. Kennet above and Kennet below.
She could shift her weight slightly to the left and the monument was one with a few battle scars, but it stood there, a fountain instead of an epigraph. Military dogs in various poses, pointing, snout down, lying down injured, piled up there.
A shift to the other side, and it was a man.
Avery came running, slowing for a second as she saw Lucy. Then picking up speed.
“I’ve got them on the job. We have one near-complete set of mundane items. One goblin who really likes footwear took pieces from three different sets of items. Some goblins are trying to find where they might’ve stowed things. It doesn’t- it doesn’t matter the shoes are clean, right?”
“Might even be better.”
“I’ll manage them, help Snow. I- you okay?”
“Have to be.”
“You want me to come back?”
“Get to the rooftop before anything goes off. Each of us in one of the three locations.”
Have to hold Kennet up before we even know how bad the damage is. What he took out.
She thought of Verona and Oakham’s expressions.
Bracken… was a friend. A training buddy.
She thought of all the people that she’d seen on the other side of the river. Disadvantaged, struggling.
It wasn’t a mean cat she’d taken care of, but she’d done a lot to try to find some kindness in it, and give kindness to it.
“The rooftop is Kennet’s future, our goals, our plans,” Lucy said, glancing at Avery, who’d lingered, looking out at swollen, distorted Kennet with her eyes misty green. She hadn’t taken the time to peek when Verona and Lucy had been looking. Avery mostly saw connections as lines of film, and the traces of things that were left behind represented as handprints.
“Verona’s demesne is us in the moment, our thoughts, our ability to act, the people we’re holding close at any moment,” Lucy said. I hope you’re listening, Sable.
She could see the people from Kennet below now. A concentrated group. She’d seen them as a mob before but it had been a mess. People had pushed back. There’d been people lingering, looking out apartment windows, not participating.
This was more focused.
It was like she’d had Lis open up a vent-hole, and the people that were now funneling this way were responding to it.
“And here we have a monument to the past. Things we lost, people we’re carrying with us, even though they’re not here anymore. A bit of John in here, a bit of Ken, because city magic made it happen. And if we lose anyone from Kennet below, let that give weight to a space like this too.”
“We’re losing a lot,” Lis said.
“Sable, by the Law, by the deals we made when I came to see you, by the karma invested… fucking stop that.”
She felt the air stir.
She stepped into it. A counter-move like Bubble had taught her, applied to the ability to stand so the wind or cold slid past her. Except she let it hit her, let it catch her.
Her ponytail was pulled to one side, as was her coat and the end of her scarf, wind whipping around her, making constant noise. She stood across the doorway that had formed here, one eye peering into Kennet above, and one into Kennet below.
“Now we’re not,” Lis said, quiet. “But pressure…”
“Let’s hold onto who we have,” Lucy said. “We’ll manage best we can.”
The Family Man was in the crowd. Not at the front, but people moved around him, showing him respect.
“You going to be okay?” Avery asked.
“No idea. Gotta try. Or my mom will be upset. Plus…”
Lucy looked up at the monument.
“Of course. You know, what’s happening, in abstract…”
“Yeah,” Lucy said.
“Yeah,” Avery said.
And then Avery ran off, going around the monument so she could black rope.
This is, in a way, a lot like what we had in mind. Except what we’re going to do is going to be ours, not his.
Awareness. It wasn’t a side effect of what they were doing, as she’d alluded to, with the St. Victor’s deserters. It was the point.
Avery was gone. Lis was here in spirit only.
Lucy stood here alone.
They would stand together against the seal. They’d tear out its teeth if they had to. There were things that were needed but things needed to change, too. Assumptions.
The family man and his people gathered. Lucy had her hole through to Kennet above, and Lis was holding it open. Everything was being pressured to vent out. This was the pore the pimple popped through. The opening the explosion would blast across.
Here, at least, Lucy was alone. She stood against the very worst of Kennet, of society, brazen and clear to see. Enough people that the space between the building faces on one side of the downtown street and the other side was packed, and people still leaked through, coming out side roads north and south of there, or across rooftops.
Anything and everything she could do to handle this would reduce the force of what was pressuring to burst out through Kennet and knock down that three-sided town.
The Family Man wore the thorn in the flesh that Verona had stabbed him with as a necklace. He was shirtless, less gaunt than he had been, and pale skin looked like it had been splashed with blood so often that the stains had set in. He spread his arms wide, smiling indulgently. Religious leader to his shitty congregation.
“My child,” he said.
“You have no idea how stupid that is,” she told him, and she stood so the wind rattled past her, weapon in hand.