It was not much of a surprise that Reese could open a portal to Jason’s hideout. It was a bit of a surprise how smooth it was, though. It didn’t matter too much to me, but even Snowflake barely even stumbled on the way through.
That was impressive. It took real skill and a fair amount of power to get a portal that smooth. Obviously it was easier for him than it would be for, say, me, but still. It said a lot about just how good he was.
It also did a lot to explain why his people hadn’t been incapacitated when they showed up on that island. I’d been assuming that they were inured to the void, the same way Aiko and I were. The notion that he was just that good at it hadn’t quite occurred to me, and it removed a lot of my justification for thinking they were part of some terrifying conspiracy.
Not that the two were mutually exclusive, of course. It was entirely possible that both explanations were true. But that line of thought would almost certainly lead to paranoia. More paranoia, even.
Jason’s house was smaller than I would have expected. It wasn’t small, as such, but compared to the massive, sprawling complexes some mages used as their homes, it was less than impressive. A moderately large house in Scotland, it was just far enough off the beaten path to make the commute an irksome one. Ordinarily, I was guessing it was still close enough to civilization that things like police would be a consideration. At the moment, though, things were still fairly unstable, and the authorities had more than enough on their plates. I doubted they’d bother responding to a call this far from anywhere that mattered.
I doubted that would be significant, one way or the other. Realistically, Jason’s defenses were probably such that the police didn’t even register by comparison. But it did make things at least a little simpler.
“What’s the plan?” I asked, standing on a hill and looking down over the house. Aiko and Snowflake were a few feet away; Snowflake was dozing, and Aiko wasn’t a whole lot more engaged. I didn’t for a moment think that meant that either of them wasn’t paying attention.
It felt a little odd with just the three of us. Good, but…odd. I’d gotten almost accustomed to having a horde of minions with me.
“We go over there,” Reese said. “And I get some answers.”
“And…you think he’s just going to tell you what you want to know?”
“Yes,” he said firmly. “I do.” He took off towards the house, moving at a fairly impressive pace for a human.
I stared after him for a moment. Then I shook my head, muttered something about how it was amazing he’d lived this long if he was that naive, and followed him. Aiko just snickered.
Reese walked right up to the front door and pushed the doorbell. Literally pushed the doorbell.
I sighed. Aiko snickered some more.
Beyond a quiet chime from inside the building, though, there was no immediate response. Nothing stirred inside. Nothing blew up outside.
Reese, somehow, was enough of a moron to push it again. The response was the same.
“There’s no one home here,” Aiko said.
“They might just be taking a while,” he said.
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “There’s nobody here. No movement inside, no animals. The building is empty.”
Reese frowned. “That’s not normal.”
I rolled my eyes. “Gosh,” I said. “It’s almost like he has a reason to think that someone might cause trouble for him.”
“I’ve seen him deal with threats before,” Reese said. “It’s never driven him to abandon his house. This is something different.”
“Well, let’s find out what,” I said brightly. Then I reached past him and casually shoved the door open.
It was locked. That really didn’t matter much. The door splintered and swung in when I pushed on it, leaving the lock just hanging there.
I was sort of expecting for something to happen at that point, be it an alarm or an explosion. Nothing materialized, leaving me more nervous than if it had. This was going suspiciously well.
“Let’s take a look around,” I said, stepping into some sort of foyer. “Reese, you’ve been here before, correct?”
“Only in the main rooms,” he said. “The public areas. Nothing upstairs.”
“Okay,” I said. “That leaves us the upstairs and anything you haven’t seen on this level to check out. Oh, and the basement.”
“I don’t think Jason has a basement.”
I sighed. “I know how these people operate,” I said. “He has a basement.”
The next several hours were an exercise in frustration, pointlessness, and intermittent danger.
The house, outside of the “public” areas, turned out to be trapped. Rather heavily so, in fact, with numerous magical traps and wards. Had I been almost anyone else, that might have been an actual threat. As it was, it just didn’t have much capacity to actually harm me. Tyrfing could cut right through most wards, and the rest weren’t really relevant, for the most part. Explosions and lightning bolts were impressive, but the most they could really do to me was make me go outside and assemble another body.
The only ward that got anywhere near to actually stopping me was some sort of really odd mental or spiritual attack that tried to crush me with lethargy and depression until I couldn’t move. That one might have worked, but Aiko snapped it like a twig.
Aside from that, no one else even had to get involved. It was slow, tedious, and repetitive, but didn’t represent any kind of threat.
Unfortunately, it also didn’t provide a whole lot of reward. Jason had all the things you’d expect–bedroom, bathroom, library, office. But the place was pretty well cleaned out. It wasn’t complete; there were personal belongings still there, books, clothing, that sort of thing. I was guessing that it had been cleaned in a hurry. But anything that was actually important? Gone.
Jason did turn out to have a basement, though, the stairs hidden in a closet off the bathroom. That part of the house had the things you’d expect, too. There was another library, much more thoroughly emptied. There was a vault, which was completely empty. And there was a laboratory.
The lab was where we ended up stopping. It wasn’t much like the lab I used. Oh, on the surface it looked similar. It had the same fluorescent lights, the same tile flooring, the same epoxy resin tabletops. It even had some of the same reagents, in neatly labeled glass vials.
The work being done there, though, was obviously and dramatically different. There were a couple of projects that wouldn’t have been out of place in my lab, various half-assembled bits of jewelry and such. Pride of place, though, was clearly held by a more biological sort of research. There were around a dozen animals on the tables around the room, each sitting in a tray next to various pieces of equipment. They were mostly rodents, but there were a few frogs, a cat, all laid out in various stages of dissection.
Or, more accurately, vivisection. I realized that when I walked to close to one of the mice, and it squeaked.
I stared. It was alive. Skin flayed and pinned back, organs exposed, eyelids cut off, but somehow, horribly, alive.
I freaked out a bit when I saw that, smashing one hand onto it hard enough to drive half a dozen pins into my hand. There wasn’t much left of the mouse but pulp. When Aiko realized what I’d just done–and, more to the point, why–a wave of fox-scented darkness went through the room. After it was gone, every one of the animals had a visibly broken neck.
We weren’t saints. But there were limits.
“Okay,” I said, trying to extract my hand from that tangle. After a few seconds I gave up on it; it was hopelessly entangled with the pins, and stained with things that I had no desire to contemplate further. Easer to remove it and redistribute ice from the rest of my body to make another. “That was unpleasant.”
“Not my favorite thing to find,” Aiko agreed. Snowflake didn’t say anything, but I could feel that she was rather unsettled as well, which was rare.
Reese was standing next to one of the bodies, staring at it. “He’s not here,” the mage said suddenly. “And he’s not coming back. He’ll have gone to his fallback safe house.”
“Any chance you know where that might be?” I asked.
“I ought to,” Reese said. “I built it for him.”
I paused. “You built it,” I repeated. “Um…what exactly is this safe house?”
Now it was his turn to pause. “How much do you know about the basic structure of the Otherside?”
“Plenty,” Aiko said immediately. An instant later I said, “Not a whole lot,” followed by Jack shit from Snowflake.
“I’ll start with the basics, then,” Reese said. “In this world, a given object can be defined with a set of three-dimensional coordinates plus time, correct? With that information, you can say exactly where it is.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Good. Now, picture the Otherside network as being the same thing. It’s actually got quite a few more dimensions than that, but this is a simplistic model, so three is enough. Now, every Otherside domain has a location that can be defined by providing coordinates in each dimension.”
“Um,” I said. “What are the other dimensions?”
“They’re things,” he said, rather testily. “Complicated things that don’t have names in this language. In any case, the system is fluid, but within limits. Any given domain will have the same fixed relationship with at least a handful of reference domains–Earth, Limbo, and Faerie are the most common ones. So no matter how the system as a whole adjusts, or how individual domains move, you can always find a domain on the basis of that set of n-dimensional vectors. You follow?”
“But I’ve opened portals to domains before,” I said. “And I don’t know anything about these vectors.”
“You don’t realize you know it,” he corrected me. “But you know what the place feels like? What associations it has, which other domains are close to it and which are far away, at least in a general sense? That’s an approximation of the vector values, and it’s close enough to work most of the time.”
“Okay,” I said. “I can buy that. But as interesting as all this is, what relevance does it have to my original question?”
“I built Jason a domain where those vectors are variable on a second-to-second basis.”
I blinked. “So let me get this straight,” I said. “Having constant vectors is how you locate a domain. So…without that, nobody can find this place?”
“Basically,” Aiko said. “He’s using a lot of math words to describe it, but the idea is right. You remember when Fenris’s mansion was destroyed, I split us off on a separate domain? Same idea.”
I slumped. “So we can’t find him.”
“Ah,” Reese said, holding up one finger with a smug expression. “But in this case the vector values aren’t random. They’re derived from a pseudorandom number generator. And the algorithm is designed to leave it in a stable location for a short time every now and again. I should be able to open a portal there in one of those windows of opportunity.”
“When is the next one?” I asked.
Reese glanced at his watch–a wristwatch, with actual clockwork. “Hundred and twenty-one hours,” he said. “Best get ready. This place was designed for security; I’m guessing it won’t be as easy to get into as this house was.”
“Of course it won’t,” I said sourly.
Snowflake just laughed.