The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 26

    In general, our bodies like sleep. It’s a chance to repair the damage we inflict on them, both major and minor. That’s part of the reason they make us feel so miserable when we try to wake up too early.

    “Ugh, what hit me?” I grumbled as I forced myself awake on Earth Glass. The world wasn’t happy about that but I’d badgered it long enough that it didn’t feel the need to shatter at the thought of me being conscious so soon after a head wound.

    Where the world was willing to let things slide though, my body had some very different ideas about the notion of me being awake. Or moving in the slightest. For as bad as it was though, I noticed that the pain was less than it should have been. The ‘Amazing Jin’ was tough but what I was feeling had to indicate that someone had given me some kind of drugs. Probably to get me to wake up sooner than later given the results.

    “A high caliber sniper round. Though only barely it seems.” a man said, answering my question in a faintly accented voice.

    I opened my eyes, blinking against the harsh light that was shining down from above me. I was in a tiled room with various tables and trays containing medical instruments. I was laying on a table in the center of the room, which was a good sign. It confirmed my suspicion that someone had been working to keep me alive. I was also strapped down to the table. That was a less positive sign.

    I began testing the straps and was immediately reminded that I’d been shot in the shoulder as well as the head and neither injury was anywhere near healed yet. Both injuries seemed to have been patched up to some degree though. The head wound was just a nasty scrape and a ridiculously painful headache but the shoulder had taken real damage and was bandaged up considerably.

    “Where am I?” I asked, though I had a pretty good guess based on the enemies I’d been making a few hours ago. I had to be in the hands of an enemy too. If Way or Kari had rescued me, they wouldn’t have tied me down.

    “In a medical lab, Miss…?” the man asked, prompting me to supply my name. He was standing at the top of the table so I tried to twist my head to try to see him. I didn’t have any luck there though. They’d strapped my head down to the table too.

    “You can call me Jin.” I said and continued lightly testing the straps that were holding me down.

    “Ah yes, ‘The Amazing Jin’ isn’t it? I saw your tryout at the Chimera Club last night.” the man said.

    “You missed the best parts of the act then.” I told him.

    “So I can imagine. Tell me though, why would a talented performer such as yourself be involved with the Scribes.” the man asked. There was an edge in his voice when he said ‘Scribes’ that told me it was the name of a particular group and that they were his enemy in some fashion.

    “And the Scribes would be?” I asked, having never heard of them.

    “Claiming ignorance? After you were shot in the company of one? That is not a wise move at this juncture.” he said. That meant the Scribes were either related to “Boss” Stone, or to the Night Warder and of the two, the mystery woman with the secret identity seemed like the safer bet. “Scribe” just didn’t seem to be a description you’d use for an organization a gangster was in.

    “I’ve been shot twice tonight. What part of that would lead you to believe that I’m wise?” I asked.

    “The part where two such injuries should incline you towards avoiding a third.” he answered. The irritation in his voice was at least partially due to sleep deprivation if I guessed right. That put a smile on my face. It was nice to see the bad guys were having as tough a night as I was.

    “If you were going to shoot me, I’d be laying dead in a gutter somewhere and you’d have a far worse problem on your hands.” I said. A far worse problem in the form of Way and Kari, but he didn’t need to be aware of that just yet.

    “Tell me, do you believe a rescue is coming? That we have taken you to one of the six venues which your fellow Scribes are aware of? Perhaps you’re counting on them arriving in the nick of time to rescue you from the Dragon’s teeth?” the man asked. He’d started pacing as he was talking, distracted by his aggravation.

    Pieces continued to fall into place. The Brotherhood of the Dragon had been after Way and I since the show at the Chimera Club. They’d shot up our private investigator’s office, burned down our apartment and the Chimera Club and I was reasonably sure they were the ones who’d shot up Guy McIntyre’s penthouse suite too.

    That was a lot of mayhem in a short time, so something had to be motivating them pretty strongly. The presence of a rival secret society might go a long way towards supplying that motivation.

    They thought Way and I had stolen some files from them, or at least knew where the files were. That meant our private investigator, Detective Shurman, was probably the one who’d found the files. The chance that we would know what was important in a random set of documents seemed pretty low though, or at least not enough to justify the efforts they were making to reclaim them. If they thought we were members of a secret society they were at war with however, they would have to assume that we would know exactly how to use hidden data to hurt them badly.

    The one piece of the puzzle that eluded me was how they’d gotten wrapped up in this in the first place. Then I saw who was interrogating me.

    “To be honest, I’m really hoping no one shows up to save me, Mr Smythe. Or should I call you Cranston?” I asked. He’d walked a little too far around me, so that I was able to get a glimpse at him. The last of the “Big 3” players in the fateweaving.

    Together with Guy McIntyre and Eddie Stone, Cranston Smythe had been at the center of the redevelopment deal that Kari had picked as the focal point of her fateweaving.  The deal had been a chance for the city to revitalize itself by rebuilding the worst of its neighborhoods into a center of industry. It had also been a chance for the people involved to gain a lot of very subtle power over the city’s future.

    “You recognize me do you?” he asked, his tone a little too smooth to cover his surprise.

    “Enough to know that you don’t plan to let me out of this operating room alive.” I told him.

    “You are very perceptive, but we neither need nor wish to kill you. Covering up a dead body which people are sure to look for is too much work. If you work with us we will only need to erase your memories to ensure you are not a threat to our cause.” he explained.

    “And if I resist.” I asked.

    “You cannot resist us. The formula I have developed will weaken your will. If you try to fight the chemicals I shall administer more as needed. Eventually you will talk but if you force me to administer too much then your mind will melt under the strain once you’ve told us everything we desire to know.” Smythe said.

    “Doesn’t sound pleasant.” I admitted. “ The truth is I don’t know the answers to your question, but I get that you’re not capable of believing that yet. Unfortunately by the time you are, we’re going to be having a much different sort of conversation.”

    Due to who and what I was, my mind wasn’t tied to my body in this world. So Smythe’s threat carried less weight than it would have for anyone else in my position.  That said though if the body I was using had a scrambled brain I’d be viewing the world through a distorted lens for as long as I inhabited it.

    “You won’t be capable of conversation at all if you insist on the charade of ignorance.” Smythe informed me. I sighed. I didn’t want to have the sort of conversation that started with him trying to fry my brain with chemicals. Those kind of discussions tended to end with pieces missing from the world I was in and a few extra demerits going on my official record.

    “I could try to talk you out of this. I could even try to convert you away from the life that you’ve chosen. Do you think I should bother with that Mr Smythe?” I asked, vainly hoping for a simpler resolution to our discussion.

    “I think you should look to your own future. You have some few minutes left before my assistant is finished preparing the truth formula. If you tell me what I need to know before he arrives, I will need to administer only the smallest of doses, just enough to remove your memories of the last several days.” he said.

    “Tell me what you want to know then.” I said. Diplomacy can be a deadly weapon but it does have limitations, many of which involve an inability to talk sense into the senseless. Very talented individuals can manage that but despite four years of training, I’m still too much of a novice at it to manage that particular form of magic. Especially when I don’t have my enhanced awareness to draw on for clues as to what secrets the other party is hiding.

    “The location of the files which were stolen from us.” he said.

    “Would those be the ones with the membership roster for the Brotherhood or are you looking for the other files?” I asked. I had no idea what was in the files the Detective Shurman had purloined, but since my actual ignorance wasn’t going to get me anywhere I had to settle for playing on Smythe’s paranoia.

    “You don’t have our membership roster.” Smythe said, his tone indicating that his patience was wearing thin.

    “That’s true, at the moment I do not have your membership roster.” I said, playing for time. One of the key parts of a secret society is that it needs to stay a secret. If Smythe didn’t think we could blow the secrecy of the Brotherhood by revealing its members I was at a loss for what was driving them to recover the documents.

    “You have no idea what is in the files you stole. Don’t think your fellow Scribes will be able to decode them either. No one outside the Brotherhood knows the cipher they were written in.” he said.

    “Are you sure about that?” I asked him. “Shurman knew they were important enough to take. He knew they were important enough to die for. Do you imagine he would have been willing to do that for a bunch of random scribbles?”

    “That won’t work Ms. Jin. We reclaimed the decoding tablet from his body. We know he didn’t pass that on.” Smythe said.

    That caught my attention. There weren’t a lot of things a secret society would encrypt in an “unbreakable” cypher apart from their membership list. Bank account information and financial holdings were matters of public record. You obfuscate those by establishing them in the name of fictional companies or individuals. Blackmail requires proof, pictures, letters, or other artifacts that can support the blackmailer’s accusations. Apart from those, I only knew of one other thing that secret societies tended to value.

    “He passed on enough to us to make out the general details of the ceremony, the time, location and participants. How about I tell you where the files are after you tell me where you’re keeping the sacrifices?” I was taking an enormous gamble on little more than a guess, but it was an informed guess.

    Groups of all kinds establish bonds between their members by making them take part in shared rituals. In the case of a secret society of murders and arsonists, those rituals had to ensure that everyone in the society was on board with the actions the society took. Most people aren’t monsters inside, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be convinced otherwise. A little alcohol, a charismatic figure to respect, the offer of power. Put those together, add some peer pressure  and people can wind up believing all sorts of insane things about themselves.

    That sort of belief is short lived though. Outside of the context of the ritual, the participants can wake up the next day and remember who they are. That’s why the sacrifices are needed. A society like the Brotherhood of the Dragon needs to make sure that its members don’t try to cross back over the line they’ve stepped beyond. It needs them to stay as the monsters it wants them to be, and making them do something irrevocably wrong is the easiest path towards accomplishing that.

    Looking into Cranston Smythe’s eyes I could see the haunted panic that my wild guess sparked. The Brotherhood believed they were powerful enough to get away with their crimes, but in their heart each one knew, on some level, how vulnerable they were. It was their anonymity that protected them from the consequences of their actions, more so than any other power they wielded.

    I smiled a malicious, knowing grin at him and held his gaze. He desperately wanted to believe I was bluffing. He needed to see me flinch and reveal that I was lying about knowing what he was and what the Brotherhood was up to. Underneath all that though, he was afraid. Down at it’s darkest roots, icy veins of terror reached up to grip his heart in a deadly claw of despair.

    I wasn’t a threat to him. I was strapped to a table and wounded, but I wasn’t afraid. That meant I still had secrets. I couldn’t harm him, but I obviously knew someone who could, and based on what I said, they had the information required to do it.

    “I see it is pointless offering you mercy. We shall apply the formula at once.” Smythe snarled as he stomped out of the room and ran down the hall outside it.

    “Finally!” I breathed in relief. With my audience gone, it was at last time to start working my magic!

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