There’s a downside to having very well honed combat reflexes. The human brain can only process events so quickly. In a fight that processing speed is simply not fast enough. You can’t spend time thinking and analyzing unless you have significant amounts of superhuman speed. Instead, experience and training pre-wires in responses to various situations so that you can act immediately in response to them. That can make the difference between life and death in some cases.
In other cases it can make the difference between greeting one of your friends warmly and slamming her into a brick wall so hard the mortar cracks.
“Oof!” was the extent of Kari’s witty banter as the impact with the wall knocked the breath out of her.
“Kari?” Way exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
Way released Kari and the younger girl collapsed down into a sitting position.
“Beside getting brute pummeled by Way that is.” I said.
She took a moment to catch her breath before responding.
“Trying to do you two a favor.” she gasped out.
“Sorry there. Are you ok?” Way asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Just didn’t expect that.” Kari said.
“As a general rule sneaking up on Way is not a good idea.” I said.
“I’m just glad I didn’t sneak up on you.” Kari said.
“Me? Why?” I asked.
“You don’t pull your punches like Way does.” Kari offered, with a pained smile.
“Ugh, one little training accident and I’m never going to hear the end of it am I?” I groaned.
“Maybe if they ever put the moon we were practicing on back together.” Kari said.
“Yeah, yeah. Anyways what brings you here? I thought you were going to stay away from the fateweaving until we had it unraveled?” I asked.
“That was the plan.” she agreed.
“But something happened to change your mind?” Way asked.
“Yep. Something named…” she began.
“Professor Haffrun.” we all said in unison.
“How did she trick you into coming back here?” I asked.
“She didn’t have to trick me. The fateweaving I put down has caught to much power in its strands. The movers and shakers of this city, a dreamweaver and now you two.” she said.
“We’re not caught in your fateweaving…” I said, my voice trailing off as I felt outwards for the strands of dream magic that gently brushed over the city. Like thin bits of gossamer thread they had spooled and twisted around both Way and I.
“Well that’s interesting.” Way said, her gaze distant and abstracted the way mine had been. Her expression was unreadable but I guessed she felt the same surprise that I did. I turned my memories over looking for when we’d gotten caught up in the events that were going on.
Shurman’s death had been the beginning. That was the lightest of the strands that tied the two of us to this world. It wasn’t that his death was unimportant, we simply hadn’t formed enough of a connection with him. If we abandoned Earth Glass though his unavenged death would prey on the both of us. Just because we can’t change the world through dream magic doesn’t mean we can leave it without doing our best to set things right.
In the same vein, our burned apartment building was another wrong that I couldn’t easily leave behind. Even Eddie Stone and his bodyguard fell into that category to some extent. If Way and I hadn’t intervened he would have died in the Chimera Club whenever the Brotherhood of the Dragon finally decided to attack. He was alive though and for good or for ill that was on us.
“So like I was saying, I stepped back into the world because this is my fateweaving, therefor it’s my problem to deal with.” Kari said.
“Way, would you put her through the wall again please?” I said. I could recognize the beginning of an “it’s all my fault so I must deal with it alone” argument. They were stupid. I knew this because I’d used that argument myself. If crashing her through a brick wall knocked the notion out of Kari’s head then she’d thank me later.
Way started reaching for Kari who threw up her hands in a defensive gesture.
“Wait!” she cried. “Look I know you want to help me but it’s too dangerous. If the weave breaks apart you know that’s going to trigger the dream weaver.”
“All the more reason for us to be here.” I said. “You don’t want to have to handle things on your own if they wind up going badly.”
“You’re right, I don’t want that. But I don’t want you two to wind up in trouble because of this either.” she said.
“Trouble? Bah, like we’ve never been in trouble before?” I said waving my hand dismissively at the concept.
“I don’t think the Explorer’s Corp has forgiven us yet for what we did to your world.” Way added.
“This is different though. You’re starting your apprenticeships in a few weeks. If you get put on probation you’ll miss the window for that and you’ll wind up with the safest, tamest, most restrictive mentors they can find for you.” Kari said.
“Ah, and there’s the hook that Professor Haffrun set.” I observed.
“Yes. I know. She was manipulating me. Forcing me back into the game. But I’m not stupid. She wasn’t lying or tricking me. All she did was point out something I wasn’t looking for.”
“So you’re going to take on the whole world for us?” Way asked.
“It’s what you were willing to do for me! It’s what you’ve always been willing to do for me!” Kari protested.
I laughed and shook my head. Then I grabbed Kari and drew her into a hug.
“Kari, dear, has it ever looked like we weren’t having fun in what we were doing?”
“For certain definitions of ‘fun’, no.” she admitted.
I let her go.
“I can promise you, taking on the world alone is not fun at all.” I said. I resisted the urge to glance over at Way.
“If you get held back, we’ll all get held back.” Way said, ruffling Kari’s hair.
“When you put it like that.” Kari said, with a conciliatory smile. If I hadn’t known her I would have thought she was giving in and agreeing with us. I’d seen that smile before though. She was plotting something still.
“So is there anything else Professor Haffrun shared with you that we should know about?” I asked.
“Only that we’re on our own here until the Auditor shows up. Three Parliamentary representatives is three more than a world like this would normally be allowed to have. No other Parliamentary agents will be issued permits to travel here until the Auditor clears it fully.”
“Which means she won’t be able to help us either.” I said.
“Not directly. You know her though.” Way said.
“Yeah, she could teach sneakiness to a snake.” I said.
“She does. You’ve meet Ssathara right? She’s in sophomore Identity Crafting with me.” Kari said. Ssathara wasn’t technically a snake. She was more of a naga. Identity Crafting though might as well have been named “How to be a Ninja” with Professor Haffrun teaching it. I’d gotten middling marks in it since sneakiness isn’t precisely my forte but everything I’d manage to learn in the class had turned out to be useful several times over. Say whatever you want about Professor Haffrun but she was a damn good teacher, and those are the sort of people who will always change your life for the better.
“We should get moving.” Way pointed out. “The Brotherhood has been able to find us a few too many times already tonight.”
“They’ll probably know about the truck crash by now.” I agreed.
“And they’ll know that we escaped. Even if the guys from the back of the truck aren’t conscious the fact that they were left so far behind it will show that they weren’t there when it crashed.” Way said.
“Do you think the driver survived?” I asked.
“Possibly. We slid for a while and stopped because we ran out of momentum rather than because we hit anything. Assuming the Night Warder didn’t shoot him, he should be alive still.”
“Alive but injured. Where do you think they’ll take him? The hospital or the police station?” I asked as an idea assembled itself in my mind.
“With how fast we were going? I’d guess the hospital. Even if he didn’t break anything, which is unlikely, he still would have been bounced around enough to have been knocked unconscious I think.” Way said.
“Plus there’s the chance that the Night Warder simply shot him.” I pointed out. Technically the morgue was part of the hospital too.
“I don’t think she did.” Kari said. “I came back just before you two got out of the truck – which is another reason I came back by the way – and I haven’t heard any gun shots since then.”
“That’s good. It’s hard to question a corpse on this world.” I said.
“I don’t know, it’s like this whole world is a corpse.” Kari said. Her homeworld was one where magic abounded. It wasn’t as technologically progressive as the Earth I hailed from, but a surprising number of the basic amenities of life were covered by magical means. For her, a magic free world was almost soulless, despite the fact that Earth Glass had technologies like the car and the radio that were far beyond anything her world had yet developed.
“How about we make the hospital our next stop.” I suggested. “I think we’ll be able to scare up some information there.”
“They’ll have the driver under guard.” Way pointed out.
“I certainly hope so.” I said with a mischievous smile.
“You’re planning to capture the assassin they send to keep the driver from talking.” Way said, intuiting my plan.
“The police won’t notice if he disappears and I bet we’ll be able to learn all sorts of interesting things from him if we’re persuasive enough.” I said. The number of tricks that a pair of magicians can pull on someone strapped to an operating table in a properly lit surgery room boggles the mind. Granted we’d lost a lot of our props when the Chimera burned but a simple bonesaw could be put to all sorts of suggestive uses.
“Did I hear that these ‘Brother of the Dragon’ guys burned your apartment down?” Kari asked.
“Yeah.” I replied, and felt a pang at the thought. I’d saved some of the people there. Some but not all, and each life lost was another thread tying me to this world and the fateweaving. I couldn’t bring them back and vengeance wasn’t going to help them at this point. The most I could do was to remember them and make sure that there was something positive that could be associated with their deaths as a memorial to the value of their lives.
“I should check on the place I have rented. There are things there that definitely shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.” Kari said.
“You didn’t leave any notes about the fateweaving did you?” I asked. Those would act like a lit fuse if they ever came into the possession of a nascent dreamweaver.
“Not directly. But I had the data that I collected about who the major players were. Just the fact that someone was collecting that info would be bad to let slip.” she said.
“So you want to go check that out while we check out the hospital?” I asked.
“Yeah. We’ll cover more ground that way.” she said.
By which she meant “that way I’ll have a head start on the race to find McIntyre so I can keep you two out of trouble”.
It wasn’t that she was predictable exactly, we just tended to think similarly and I knew that’s what I would have been planning were I in her shoes.
Still, she had a valid point, and since I didn’t think we’d be able to keep her from running off eventually, I didn’t try to stop her.
“Where will we meet up?” I asked, so that we’d have a rendezvous point for when our plans inevitably went horribly awry.
“How about your Detective’s office. No one should be watching it anymore right?” she suggested.
“That works. I’m not sure how long it will take at the hospital though.” I said.
“That’s ok. I don’t know how long it will take me to clean out my room.” she said.
She turned to go but I stopped her before she could walk off.
“Promise me that you’ll be careful ok? The Brotherhood is really dangerous within this world.” I said.
“And the dreamweaver is more dangerous that that.” Way added.
“I know. The same goes for you two though. You’re in as much danger as I am. Probably more.”
“We’ll be fine.” I promised her.
“Same here.” she promised me back.
Once she was out of earshot, Way turned to me.
“So where are we really going?”