Monthly Archives: March 2016

Broken Mirror 13.24

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David arranged to meet me outside of an ice cream parlor downtown. It was a place I’d been before, along with a sizable proportion of the city’s population. It was a smaller shop, but it had a good reputation, and it was fairly popular. Even in the late evening, in the winter, it was doing a brisk business.


I felt inordinately proud of that. People were still nervous, undeniably; plenty of them still carried weapons, openly or otherwise. But they were out and about, after dark, and they didn’t look like people living in a warzone. It was hard to believe that just a couple months ago you couldn’t walk down the street without fearing for your life. It was hard to believe that there were so many places that you still couldn’t.


Neither of us had brought thugs, this time, by unspoken agreement. This wasn’t a meeting between the Guards and…whatever you called my organization. This was between him and me. I did have Snowflake with me, but that hardly counted.


It felt oddly…peaceful. There was very little tension, on either side. I didn’t really have to worry about him; his magic wasn’t the kind of thing that could present more than a temporary setback to me. At the same time, I was reasonably confident that I couldn’t actually get to him before he could escape. It meant that we both knew the other wasn’t in a position where they could hurt us, like mutually assured destruction in reverse.


“You’ve been busy,” David said, leaning back on the bench and sipping at a milkshake.


“It’s been a busy time,” I agreed. I didn’t have any ice cream myself. I wasn’t hungry. Or, more accurately, I was, but not in a way that food could assuage. “You know what I was doing?”


How could I not?” he asked. “You’ve not been particularly subtle.”


“I think I’ll be bringing the Lighters down shortly,” I said. “For good, I mean.”


“By yourself?” he asked. “That’s ambitious.”


I shook my head. “I’ve already done my part,” I said. “I have more than enough dirt on them to finish the job if I spread it around. Plenty of information on who they are and where to find them, and enough detail on what they’ve done that a lot of people would want to end them. I wouldn’t have to lift a finger.”


“I see,” he said after a moment. “It might be better if you didn’t do that.”


I nodded. I’d been expecting him to say something like that. “Why are you protecting these people?” I asked. “I mean, you all but handed me the details I needed to chase them down.”


There was a long pause. “What you did was one thing,” he said at last. “You had reason, and it needed done. Frankly, someone needed to take them down a notch. But actually wiping them out? That’s not as good. Their viewpoint needs to be preserved.”


“Their viewpoint is a bunch of lunatics murdering anyone that looks slightly different from their idea of what a person ought to,” I said sharply. “I’m not entirely sure what value you see in preserving that.”


David looked at me for a second, then said, “We’re losing.”


I blinked. “Um. Against what?”


“In general,” he said. “You know better than most how large the world is, Winter. And how small we are by comparison. We’re small fish in a very, very big ocean.”


“The Conclave are hardly small fish,” I said dryly.


“You’re not thinking on the right scale,” David said. “This whole planet is small. Practically insignificant. Faerie is bigger than this, and any one of the Queens is a match for any of the Conclave, easily. Then there’s Hell, your giants, the tengu. And that’s just the places with a presence in this city. Nobody even knows how many things there are in Limbo that don’t even have names. There are whole domains we’ve never even seen.”


“And gods,” I said.


He paused, and looked away from me. “Yeah,” he said. “And that. You see what I’m saying, though? Humanity is outnumbered. Add them all up, and it’s probably hundreds or thousands to one.”


“I always feel uncomfortable when people get onto this topic,” I said idly. “The whole ‘us against them’ thing. Because I’m kind of on the other side, aren’t I? I’m at least mildly affiliated with every one of the groups you just named, and I’m not remotely human.”


“And I don’t have a problem with that,” David said. “Give me some credit, Winter. I don’t hate nonhumans. It’s not a matter of us against them. You play the game, you help to keep things working. You’re not running around murdering people for kicks. As far as I’m concerned, you’re fine.”


I stared at him for a moment, then sighed. “Okay,” I said. “Whatever you’re getting at right now, I’m not in a condition to catch it. What are the Lighters good for if not murdering everything that isn’t exactly the right kind of human for their tastes?”


David pursed his lips and thought for a moment. “You’re fine,” he said at last. “But that doesn’t mean everyone is. And we need people who can deal with the ones that aren’t. I can live with being a small fish in a big ocean, but if we don’t have some kind of protection, we’ll be eaten.”


“Frankly, I much prefer the Guards for the protection.”


“It’s nice that you’d say that,” he said, smiling. That smile faded quickly. “But that brings us back to where I started. We’re losing. You know how many Guards died in the first month after Loki’s announcement?”




“Forty-one. Around a sixth of us, gone.”


I whistled. “Damn.”


He nodded. “Then there was the mess in Russia. Another in Korea, didn’t get quite as bad, but we still lost people stopping it. Add in smaller scale crises, and Guards just getting unlucky, and we’re up to sixty-seven dead. More that are out of commission while they recover.”


“But you’re recruiting more,” I said. “That whole shift to the public approach, recruiting people from outside the clans.”


“Yeah,” David said. “But it’ll take time to train them, and in the meantime we’re losing more. And we’ll never be really numerous. There aren’t that many people with enough magic to work, and of those, a lot don’t have things that help much in a fight. Then how many of those have the mindset that would make a person want to join the Guards?” He shrugged. “There’s not many people with the potential, and it takes too long to train them.”


Damn, Snowflake said. That’s…pretty grim.


Yeah, I said. Then, out loud, “You’re sure of all this?”


He nodded. “I’ve seen the models,” he said. “If there’s an error in them, it’s one that I couldn’t find. And even the most optimistic models don’t have us being as prevalent as we’d need to be to keep things under control on our own.”


I took a deep breath and let it out. “Well,” I said. “That’s rough. That’s why you guys want the Lighters around, then? So they can cover the little things and leave you to focus on the problems they can’t handle?”


“That was the argument that got me to put up with them,” he confirmed. “They’re xenophobic lunatics, but they’re numerous, fairly effective, and they aren’t affiliated with any political group in particular, which should keep them mostly out of the infighting. I’m hoping the philosophy can find a more…discriminating expression, but at the moment it’s just too damn useful to let it die.”


I nodded slowly. “All right, then,” I said. “I understand a little better now, I think. I’ll hold off on publishing those files.”


“Thank you,” David said. “Though I wouldn’t mind a copy for our use. At the very least, it would help us know which of them need to be reined in.”


“I’ll have something sent over.” I paused as a group of teenagers walked by, talking and laughing. Most of them had ice cream. “I’m kind of sorry it didn’t work out with me being a part of the Guards,” I said, after they’d gone past us. “It seems like you’re trying to do a good thing there. It would have been interesting to be a part of it.”


“Yeah,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. I misjudged you at first, Winter. I thought you were just a shallow punk who’d gotten lucky. But I was wrong. I think you could have done a lot if you’d been able to stay on with us.”


“That’s how it goes,” I said, shrugging. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter what any of us would like. Things are the way they are.”


He nodded, and pushed himself to his feet. “I should be going,” he said. “There’s work to do.”


“Same here,” I sighed. “As always. Good luck.”


“You too,” he said. “Try not to get killed out there.”


He turned, and walked away. I sat there for a while, and then got some ice cream before I left. Snowflake had a cup of the peanut butter flavor, made a spectacular mess, and enjoyed every moment of it.

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Broken Mirror 13.23

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A hundred and twenty-one hours gave me just over five days to get ready. I really didn’t think cutting it close was a good idea, though. Not when I had no clue how long it might take until there was another chance to get into this hideout. So I figured that rounding it down to four days was probably the safer option.


I spent the first day on prep. I didn’t have a clear idea what to expect, what kind of defenses Jason might have in place in his sanctum, but it seemed pretty obvious that I wanted to be prepared for some fairly unpleasant things in there.


I started by spending some time with Legion working on new foci to replace the ones that I’d lost when…well. When I lost pretty much everything else. It was an interesting piece of work, manufacturing things that weren’t so much objects as ideas. In some ways it was much simpler, more straightforward than the foci I was used to making. It was the same basic idea of creating a conceptual filter to make a certain type of magic flow more easily, without the added step of tying that filter to a physical object.


It was also very strange, though, requiring me to think in ways that were alien to how I was used to looking at the world. It almost reminded me of that optical illusion that could look like two faces or a vase, depending on how you interpreted it. Either way of looking at it made perfect sense. You could even switch back and forth. But try and make them line up with each other, or see them both at once, and things started to break down.


This was like that. The way I was used to making foci, to thinking of them, was one approach. This was another. Individually, either of them was perfectly viable. But there was such a fundamental difference in how they looked at things that going from one to the other was…hard, to say the least.


As I was working on the foci, I found myself feeling very grateful for the differences in how I functioned. I didn’t get sleepy, or tired. I didn’t even get bored, at least not the way I used to. Repetitive tasks were still tedious, but that fidgety restlessness just…wasn’t there. I could keep working as long as I needed to.


It took around thirty hours straight of work in the laboratory. But in the end I had a couple of the foci that I was more likely to need, and a couple of stored spells.


I’d have liked to make more, but the process was time-consuming, and I was acutely aware of the ticking clock. I still had a lot of other things I had to get done, other commitments to follow up on.


Having a strict, but distant, deadline was an interesting experience that way. I had to balance things. It wasn’t enough to want to do something; I had to consider whether I wanted it more than all of the other things that I could do with that time instead. And while I would certainly like to have more equipment before going into this mysterious hideout of a world, I couldn’t afford to spend all my time on it. I had other obligations that I couldn’t neglect, especially when there was a very real chance that I wouldn’t make it back.


So once I had that basic set of equipment, it was time to wake Snowflake and get back to Colorado, to follow up on some things that needed work.


Once again, there was a dramatic reaction when I walked into my throne room. I was starting to think that would always be the case, at this point. Things had just developed in a way where that was inevitable.


The reaction this time was a little more…frenetic than most, though. There were probably a dozen people instantly clamoring for my attention, each one raising their voice louder than the last in an attempt to be heard over the din.


It made sense, I supposed. I hadn’t been here in…I wasn’t entirely sure how long. A while. Things had built up that I needed to deal with.


“Hush,” I said, loudly enough that I drowned out the shouting. Not having actual lungs was nice that way. A lot of the normal limitations just didn’t apply to me.


People hushed. I think they were more impressed by the sheer volume than any great charisma on my part. Snowflake, certainly, winced at the sound. But it got them to quiet down, which was what counted.


“Now, one at a time,” I said, walking through the crowd to my throne. “And briefly. My time is very limited.”


There was a moment of silence before Tindr stepped forward. He cleared his throat. “Finances are stable,” he said. “Assets were…significantly drained by your recent expenditures, but I believe that we have adjusted for them at this point. A detailed breakdown can wait until you have more time.”


“Good,” I said. “Next.”


“Situation is stable,” Kyi said. Her voice was crisp, and just the slightest bit cold. “A handful of people were causing problems of one sort or another.”




“They were dealt with,” she said simply. “There were no particularly powerful people involved. No one that required your attention.”


I frowned. “Dealt with how?” I asked.


“Lethally, in some cases,” she said. “A group of looters, an arsonist. Most could be discouraged without such drastic measures.”


I wanted to be upset that she’d killed people–or, more accurately, that she’d done so without my orders, without even confirming it with me first. But then, I hadn’t been around, had I? I’d been off doing other things. And it wasn’t like I’d have said anything different if she had asked. I could sympathize with a lot of people. There were a lot of people I could offer a second chance to. But the looters? The people who, with things as bad as they already were, went out and made them that little bit worse? Those people weren’t on the list. And Kyi had plenty of ground to know that, too.


As was getting to be a disturbingly frequent experience, I felt like I should be upset by what was happening, like I should be disturbed or morally outraged. But when I actually tried to find a reason to feel that way, it just…wasn’t there. Kyi hadn’t done anything wrong.


I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was happy with that thought. But, as usual, I couldn’t really take the time to figure out what to do about it, or even if I wanted to do anything about it. So I put it on the list of things to look into later.


That list was disturbingly long, at this point. I was pretty sure there were important things on that list that I’d forgotten about, by now. It was getting to be an actual problem. Which, and this was the really fun part, was in and of itself a problem that I had to put off to later.


“Okay,” I said. “So the situation is stable. Nothing that needs my attention?”


“Not immediately, no, jarl,” she said.


“Good. Next.”


The computer expert I’d hired was the next to speak–Greg, I thought his name was. “We’ve finished decrypting those files,” he said.


“Anything useful?”


He shrugged. “There’s a lot of information there. I’m not sure whether you’ll find any of it useful.”


I grimaced. “Of course. There’s a copy of the decrypted files?”


“The hard drive is in your office.”


“All right,” I said. “I’ll look at that later, then. And I’ll hold you responsible if anything happens to the data in the meantime.”


“I’d expect nothing less,” he said, with a wry smile.


“All right, then,” I said. “Next.”


“There are a handful of diplomatic requests,” Selene said. “Things that need you to respond to them personally.”


“Anything that can’t wait for a week?”


She shook her head.


“All right, then. I’ll look at it later.”


“There are also a handful of personnel adjustments,” she said. “Mostly routine, but there is one thing that I think you need to be aware of. You recall the entity from Limbo that you hired?”


I frowned for a moment, trying to remember what she was talking about. Then it clicked. “You mean the one Crim summoned?”


“That’s the one,” Selene confirmed. “She’s…well. She seems to be struggling. We aren’t entirely sure why, but it seems like she’s losing her grip on things.”


“Can you…clarify that a little?” I asked.


“Not really,” she said, sounding distinctly unhappy about that fact. “Her behavior has been…inconsistent. Unpredictable. So far she’s been willing to listen to us when we rein her in, and the only violence has been fairly minor. But it’s anyone’s guess how long that will last.”


I sighed. “Okay, then,” I said. “See if you can find more on…whatever she is. Probably start by asking Alexander. Oh, and find out who she was. There should be records.”


“I’ll get someone on that,” she said.


“Good. And…make arrangements, for if it doesn’t work out. She’s tough as hell, but she’s not invincible.”


“I’ll see to it,” Selene said.


I nodded. “All right, then. Anything else?”


“Yes,” she said. “David wants to meet with you.”


I smiled without any particular humor. “What a coincidence,” I said. “I’d quite like to talk to him too. Arrange a meeting as soon as possible.”


“Will do. Should be tomorrow, I’m guessing, from what he was saying about his schedule.”


“Good. Let me know when you know the details. In the meantime I’m going to do something else. Something…restful, I think.”

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