Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 20

    Heroism can take many forms. Sometimes its about speaking up when all around you are silent. Sometimes its about putting your safety at risk to save someone else from peril. Sometimes though it’s simpler than that. Sometimes being a hero means taking an overwhelming fear and  putting it aside.

    Screaming and yelling has a grand tradition in regards to heroics, but its often the quiet sort of heroics that are the most difficult and the most important

    “What do you mean Peri has gone to fight the monster under her bed.” my Mom asked. I didn’t need any special awareness to know that all of her old fears were flooding back to the surface. We’d lost my Dad to unnatural violence and it had left both of us scarred. We still carried those wounds with us despite the years and despite gaining vast amounts of unnatural powers ourselves. The prospect of losing another family member, especially Peri, was not one that my mother could face rationally with much ease.

    For me it was a little different. I couldn’t bear to lose Peri either but, if I was right, she was in my domain which meant I knew I wouldn’t have to.

    “I saw it earlier. There was a small rift under her bed. I told her to leave her room until I woke up. She was supposed to go play with Melissa until then.” I started to explain.

    “If you saw it, why didn’t you do something about it?”

    I could see her trying to hold back her anger.

    “Belle had already gone in to fix it. She’d put a ward in place over it too. I didn’t think Peri would even be able to get in.” I said.

    “Is she in any danger?” my Mom asked, slowly and carefully.

    “Yes.” I said. “But not like you’re thinking.”

    “Please explain.” she said. I could see the sky darkening and feel raw currents of power gathering under us. Mom never used her power at home but in the face of emotions as strong as the one’s she was repressing, the mantle of Gaia she wore couldn’t help but react.

    “Belle’s in there. You’ve never seen her fight but take my word for it, she’s like a force of nature, and she won’t let anything happen to Peri. More importantly, I’m going to go in there.” I said.

    “You can save her?” Mom said. She needed to hear the words explicitly to even begin believing them.

    “Peri’s in the Dreamlit world, the borderland between the real and the unreal. There’s almost nothing I can’t do there.” I told her.

    “So you can save her and bring her home.” Mom asked again.

    “Yes. If she’ll come with me.” I told her.

    “What do you mean?” she asked, not reassured at all yet.

    “If she likes it there? That would be a problem. I can bring her back. I can even bind her to this world, but I can’t bind her imagination. If she likes the world beyond the rift, her heart will long to return there. She’ll pine for it.” I said.

    My Mom breathed a sigh of relief. I knew how what I’d said sounded. Peri pinned for things all the time. For about five minutes. Then she’d find something else to want with all her little heart and soul. I could have left my mother thinking that was the case here, but with her, for something like this, I didn’t even want to let a lie of omission slip by. There were times I needed people to trust me where I couldn’t offer them any explanation of why they should. The only way I knew to build that kind of trust was to be as honest as I could with them whenever I could, even if it was painful.

    “This isn’t like you’re thinking. If the Dreamlit world captures her imagination, she won’t let it go. Ever. If I have to pull her out of that realm, she’ll grow up to be as much of a resident of it as she can. And she’ll make the world around her into as much a reflection of it as she can.” I said.

    “How obsessive would she be?” my mother asked.

    “Best case? On par with a life long Star Trek fan who speaks fluent Klingon and dresses in Starfleet uniforms. Worst case? Well the worst case is if she were to be denied it for years and years and then woke up as a dreamwalker. Like I said, I can bind her to this world but she could disappear within herself, literally.” I explained.

    “We are not going to let that happen.” Mom said.

    “No, we’re not. And Peri isn’t going to either. I know this sounds insane and I know that she’s only four but I believe in her. And you should too.” I said.

    “What do you mean?”

    “You’re with her more than I am. How long has it been since Peri was her own little person? She got about ten times the willpower and personality as I did at that age. She wants Belle back. Do you really think anything like a monster-under-the-bed is going to be able to distract her from that?” I asked.

    “I don’t know. She’s so little.” my Mom said. I could see her holding back tears. The clouds did her crying for her in the form of a sudden hail storm.

    “Did I mention Belle was in the form of a puppy when Peri saw her?” I said with a smile.

    My mom smiled at that and our shared laugh broke the mood of gloom.

    “I’ll get her back. I promise. I was in a hurry before because of the mission Way and I are on, but I’ll take my time and do this right. I’m not going to tell you not to worry, but I am going to ask that you trust me.” I said and put my hands on my Mom’s shoulders. She pulled me into a hug.

    “I do trust you. I always have you know.” she said.

    “Thank you.” I told her. Her belief was a simple human decision, not a fate weaving or dream magic, but it made everything easier somehow.

    “That said, are you sure you shouldn’t bring Way in on this?” she asked.

    “I could, but that would get complicated.” I said.

    “How? Wouldn’t she be able to help you? You’ve said you do your best work when you’re together.” Mom asked.

    “I do. But, well. It’s…complicated.” I said, flailing around for words and feeling butterflies in my stomach again.

    “Tell me how.” she said patiently. She wasn’t willing to risk her youngest daughter’s safety on my stomach butterflies.

    “Well, I can’t get a message to her in the world we’re working in until I wake up there, so to let her know what was up, I’d have to wake her up here.” I said.

    “How would you do that?”

    “I’d go to her castle and wake her body up there.” I said.

    “Way has a castle?”

    “Yeah. It’s in one of the Faerie realms.” I said.

    “I don’t understand.”

    “To stay ‘real’ here, we have to leave part of ourselves in this world. Since it’s nice to have bodies here, that’s what we leave behind. Way’s not here much though so she leaves hers in a remote and extremely well defended spot where she can rest in an enchanted sleep for as long as she wants. Sounds like a Faerie tale right?” I said.

    “But the Faerie realms aren’t on Earth are they?” she asked.

    “No, they’re their own planes. But as far as our Earth is concerned, they’re real. They’re a part of the cosmos we live in. The same as the Olympian realm that you and James get your powers from.” I said.

    “So when you say that your mission with Way is on another world…” Mom asked, trailing off as she tried to form the question.

    “The Earth we’re on is like this one except that it’s not real as far as our Earth is concerned. The only connection between the two is through imagination. It has similar but different laws, both physical and metaphysical.” I said.

    “And where Peri is now?”

    “She’s closer than that. The Dreamlit realm around our world is a mirror of what’s real for us mixed with what can be imagined. By default it’s very similar to the world that you see all around us.”

    “Ok, leaving that aside, you can wake Way by going to her castle. Why is that complicated?” Mom asked, returning to her original line of questioning.

    “Well, she might be in the middle of something. In fact with how our ‘luck’ works its extremely likely. If I wake her during a gunfight, she’ll probably get killed there.”

    “Can’t you check on that before you wake her up?”

    “Yeah, I can. It’s a little tricky since I have a comatose body there, but I can manage it.” I said.

    “Then why don’t you want to?”

    I sighed. I had to be honest. With myself as much as with her.

    “I don’t want her to know that I messed up. That I got hurt.” I said.

    “What?” the hail storm had stopped but I heard a peel of thunder in the distance.

    “If I wait a bit, I can probably argue and annoy the reality there into letting me wake back up. I can make whatever wound I took less severe. Way’s not going to be expecting me for a few hours still. If I can show up in one piece, even if its a somewhat damaged one, she won’t be as scared.” I said.

    “Scared? With what you both can do? What would she be scared of?”

    “That I can’t take care of myself.” I said quietly.

    “How could she be scared of that?”

    “Did James ever tell you about the first time he saw me use my powers?” I asked.

    “It was in the stadium when you fought the Faerie Queen for us wasn’t it?” she asked.

    “No. It was before that. After you were taken by the faeries. They didn’t take James because he’s Aegis and they couldn’t even get close to him. They didn’t take me because they were afraid of me.”

    “They were afraid of you? Why?”

    “Because of this.” I said and reached deep into my heart. In my hand, a black flame appeared.

    “What is that?” my mother asked, recoiling instinctively from it. Her mantle knew exactly what it was and the danger it represented.

    “Oblivion. This is the unmaking flame, a piece of non-existence. Anything which this burns is not only destroy, it is erased completely. Reality as a whole is diminished with each thing I destroy with this. No real power or force can stand against it.” I explained.

    “How did you…” my Mom started to ask.

    “I’m not entirely real anymore remember? It’s the price I paid. I can never fully be a part of this world, and I can never fully be a part of the imaginary realms.” I said and quenched the Oblivion fire. It was a part of myself that I chose to look away from. I could never forget it was there, but I didn’t have to feed it, didn’t have to give in to its call to let everything burn.

    “I still don’t understand though. Why would Way be afraid for you?”

    “We’ve been with each other for four years. Ever since we both changed. She’s always been there to support me, to cheer me on and…to stop me from going too far.” I said. “Without her? On my own? If I can’t take care of myself, do you know what I could become?”

    “Yes.” my mother said. She was smiling, a tiny little smile. I couldn’t understand that. Hadn’t I been clear? If not, I didn’t want to try to be any clearer.

    “I won’t push any farther, if you’ll answer me this and make me one promise.” my mother said.

    “Ok.” I agreed.

    “Tell me, truthfully, are you sure that you can rescue Peri without Way’s help?” she said.

    “Yes. I’ve seen things like this before. Even if what’s hiding in there is a lot more powerful than it’s letting on, I can deal with it.” I said.

    “Fine. I do trust you. Go get your sister back.” Mom said.

    “What about the promise?” I asked.

    “Promise me that you’ll have Way talk with me before you two have your chat.” she said.

    “Uh, ok?” I said. I had no idea what the two of them might have to talk about, or why my Mom would ask for that, but as promises went it was probably the very easiest I was going to get off, so I asked no further questions.

    “How long will it take you?” she asked.

    “If I did it quick? Two seconds. Maybe less if I didn’t put any flourish on it. But I want to do this right. If this goes well, you should see Peri pop out from under her bed all on her own in a little while. I’ll follow along a few minutes after that.” I said.

    “What will you be doing once Peri’s out of there?” Mom asked.

    “Teaching a monster under the bed a lesson in manners.” I said.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 19

    Waking up in your bedroom is what most people expect to do on most days. It says something about my life that I was both surprised and annoyed when I did though.

    “You’ve got to be kidding me! I was at the edge of the spotlight! Why did they shoot me rather than one of the people who were clearly illuminated!” I grumbled. I could feel my body on Earth Glass when I concentrated on it. I wasn’t dead but I wasn’t in good shape either. The bullet wound – probably a head shot – had left me deeply unconscious. If I tried to force my way back to wakefulness, Earth Glass would crack open like an egg.

    “Way is going to kill me.” I muttered to myself. I couldn’t risk sending her any information on what had happened. She’d have to find out via purely natural means. That meant she wouldn’t even know to start looking for me until I was late for our meeting at Shurman’s office. Even then she probably wouldn’t think to come looking for me on my homeworld since I didn’t have any reason to come back here given the time crunch we were under.

    “Maybe breaking that place wouldn’t be such a bad thing.” I continued grumbling. I didn’t mean it, but there was a part of me that found the idea tempting. Call it my “Inner Bull in a China Shop”.

    “Oh you’re awake? How is your work going?” my Mom asked from the door to my room.

    “Well I managed to keep three people from being shot by snipers.” I said. I was pretty sure Madelaine, Tiny and Eddie would have been able to escape in the total darkness before the snipers got off a lucky shot. I wondered if they’d even noticed me get hit though?

    “That sounds good.” she said cautiously.

    “Yeah. Would have been better if I hadn’t soaked up a few bullets myself in the process.” I said. I stretched my shoulders and neck, grateful to feel them in perfect working order.

    “You were shot? Are you ok?” Mom asked. She looked concerned, but seeing me whole and in one piece right in front of her made it hard for her to be too worried about it.

    “Here? Just fine. There? Not so much. I don’t think I need to spin up a new body for myself yet but I need to give the one I was using some time to recover.” I said. The question of how much time that would be gnawed at me. Two days to recover from being shot wasn’t a lot of time and we had a lot less than that given the other players who were on the board.

    “You can make new bodies for yourself?” Mom asked.

    “Sure. It just takes time and imagination.” I said.

    “That’s just in your dreams though right?” Mom asked.

    I looked at her and saw puzzlement in her eyes. She didn’t look concerned, just curious.

    “Yes and no. The things that I can craft, bodies, identities, tools and so on, those all begin in what you could be called ‘dreams’. They’re the “unreal” given a name and a form by imagination. What I can do is to make those things real within the context of a given world.”

    “So you can make dreams come to life.” Mom said. We’d talked about it before, so she was mostly indicating that she understood what I was saying.

    “Right.” I agreed.

    “And nightmares?” she asked.

    “Those too.” I said. Nightmares were easy to create, and even useful sometimes but they could also take on a life of their own all too often.

    “How do you keep it under control?” she asked.

    “It’s easier than it sounds. There’s an awareness that comes with the power. I can see through a lot of illusions, even the one’s I try to make for myself. If I create a monster, I don’t get to pretend that I’m not the one doing it, or that it’s actually a fluffy cuddly bunny.”

    “What about when you get mad?” She’d stopped putting away the bath towels in the closet and was looking at me with appraising eyes.

    “Same thing. I don’t get to pretend that I’m justified in blowing up a building just because I stubbed my toe on a desk in it.” I explained.

    “Are there bad people with your kind of power though?” she asked.

    “Yeah.” I admitted. “The real monsters don’t usually have enough to hold themselves to a particular world so they drift out into the unreal and become lost in worlds of their own making. The other ones, the one’s that do manage to stay attached, they often run into, or wind up creating, people like me.”

    “What happens then?”

    “A lot of different things. Sometimes they destroy their world, other times it’s worse than that.” I said.

    “What could be worse than destroying the world.” my mother, the Champion of Gaia, asked me.

    “Changing it in a way that its people stay with it even when none of them want to be there anymore. World’s that are destroyed can be remade. It’s like a circle of friends. The one bad apple gets spit out and the rest continue on. It’s what happened with Kari’s world. In fact Kari’s world was a good example of the bad scenario too. There was a dreamer there who was twisting the world into something horrible but he was doing it slowly enough that the people were tolerating the increasingly toxic environment.” I explained. I didn’t mention that pulling a world back together was in no way an easy task. I’d seen world fragments and dead worlds where life had chosen to move elsewhere and leave behind the broken past instead of putting it back together.

    “You can remake shattered worlds, and build new bodies, can you make the people to fill them with? Could you make another me for example?” Mom asked.

    “Nope. I mean, I could make someone who looked like you and sounded like you, but she would only know the things that I knew. She’d basically be just another costume that I was wearing. It’s one of the big things about being a dream lord; the only thing we can’t make is other real people, so those are the most important thing in any world to us.” I said.

    “That’s very interesting.” Mom said. Her expression was one of contemplation. As though she was putting pieces into a jigsaw puzzle I couldn’t see,

    I got up and rummaged around in my bureau. If I was going to be awake here for a while, I might as well see if there was anything that needed tending to on this front. With a world as big and weird as mine, there was almost always something going wrong somewhere.

    “Not that I mind the questions, but what made you curious about all that today?” I asked. I’d held off on talking to Mom about my dream lord stuff for a long time because of my general concern about creating other dream lords. Over time though I’d seen that she’d connected deeply enough with this world that the appeal of imaginary ones wasn’t going to get her to give up the life she’d worked so long and hard for.

    “Oh, I’m just wondering if you’re sister is starting to follow in your footsteps.” she said.

    I did a double take. That was a scary concept.

    “That’s just what you need right? Two of us sleepy slugs?” I laughed.

    “Would it be dangerous if she did?” she asked and I finally caught a glimpse of what she was thinking. My step-brother, her step-son, was a nearly indestructible super hero. I was, in some ways, tougher than he was. Peri, on the other hand, was the one child my Mom had who was just a normal girl. A normal, very vulnerable little girl, at least by comparison to her siblings. With what James and I had done in the past, Mom had reason to believe we’d be safe even if she wasn’t watching over us. With Peri it was a different story.

    “It could be.” I told her. “I was lucky. When a new dreamer wakes up they can do a lot of damage, most especially to themselves. There’s scary stuff out there and depending on how you react to it things can go a lot of different ways. I’m close to the poster child for best case scenario and, well, I’m not exactly the girl I used to be.”

    “Everyone changes though.” Mom began to say.

    “I know, but sometimes those changes mean you can never go back to being who you were. I mean…do you know what the scariest thing for me was that first night?” I said.

    “No, you didn’t talk about it much afterwards.”

    “The whole world seemed like it was going nuts, but what scared me the most was that you would cast me out. That’d you’d see I wasn’t really Jin anymore.” I said.

    “I would never, ever do that.”

    “I know, or I know that now at least. But the point is I didn’t feel like myself because, in part, I wasn’t. I mean the ‘Jin’ that you knew was a normal girl, defined by her normal girl limitations. The person I became that night had a whole new set of definitions. She could be anyone or anything she wanted, except who she had been.”

    “That sounds a lot like life in general.” Mom said.

    “Yes, well, I was fourteen and scared and stupid.” I said with a smile.

    “Don’t be hard on yourself.” Mom said, putting a hand on my shoulder.

    “I let you get kidnapped by evil faeries who almost destroyed the world. Trust me that has served as a very valuable object lesson on how important it is to communicate with people.” I said.

    “Speaking of that, how are things going with Way?” Mom asked.

    I wilted.

    “We’re,  um, going to talk about stuff once this case is done. Don’t want to be distracted before then.” I said, fidgeting.

    “That’s good, since you don’t seem to be distracted by it at all at the moment.” Mom said.

    I hadn’t known my Mom was packing weapons-grade sarcasm but on the other hand I probably deserved it. Those who repeat history are doomed to be teased about it.

    Not that I was in a position to do anything about it at the moment.

    I was saved from my potential brooding by the door bell.

    “You expecting anyone?” I asked. Meta-awareness told me whoever was at the door was about to make our day interesting. Given who we are, the first thought that came to mind was an exceptionally polite alien invasion.

    Instead of that we got a little girl with a very simple question.

    “Can Peri come over to play?” her friend Melissa asked.

    My Mom and I looked at each other. I knew Peri wasn’t in our house because I hadn’t heard her in the last five minutes. Looking at my Mom told me that she’d thought Peri was already at Melissa’s house. I only had to play back the last hurried encounter I’d had with my sister to figure out what had happened.

    “She’ll be over in a little while. She has to finish picking up her room first ok?” I told Melissa before my Mom could speak.

    “Ok! Tell her we’re gonna have hamburgers tonight and my Mommy said its ok for her to have some too.” the little girl said before bouncing across our lawn and back to her house.

    “Where’s your sister?” Mom asked, her face deadly serious. She had her own form of super human senses and I knew what they would be telling her. Peri wasn’t anywhere on Earth. Or at least nowhere that the champion of life could detect.

    “Well, you said she might be following in my footsteps right? I think she’s gone to save a puppy girl from the monster under her bed.”

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 18

    There are experiences that I can never share with anyone who isn’t a fellow dream lord. For example being caught in a situation where you know there’s a good chance you’re going to be shot repeatedly. Lots of people have been in tight spots like that, and they had it much worse than I did. The worst case for me would be that the Amazing Jin wound wind up full of lead and I’d need to dream up a new identity to do anything on Earth Glass. Where regular people needed courage, I could more or less laugh off the danger I was in.

    Except it still hurt.

    When I measured it against what someone without my abilities would be faced with it seemed really whiny to complain about that, but I still held back from showing myself. Reality was happy with that. The Amazing Jin didn’t have the kind of experience that would let her fearlessly charge into a hail of gunfire.

    “If I have to come get you, I promise it will be with both guns blazing.” the Night Warder said.

    “Night Warder?” I called out. The Amazing Jin could at least be expected to recognize her voice, and talking before exposing myself to a potentially hostile situation seemed like a winning play.

    “A girl? Who are you?” the Night Warder asked, confusion evident in her tone.

    “It’s Jin, you rescued my friend and I earlier tonight.” I told her. Giving out your name is usually a terrible idea. Even on a world like Earth Glass names have power. I made it a point to always give mine out though. I wanted the kind of people who were going to misuse that power focused on me so that I could teach them the error of their ways. Also it seemed friendlier with most everyone else.

    “Come out here.” the Night Warder said.

    “I’m not armed.” I told her. I didn’t bother adding “so don’t shoot”. The sort of people who would shoot someone who was unarmed didn’t usually take requests like that.

    I walked down the hall, casting my imagination out for a good story to explain why I was here. My options were pretty harshly limited by the circumstances. I settled on the notion that I was a “Girl Detective”, blending in elements of our original story as representatives of Windy Springs. It wasn’t the best story but it had enough reality supporting it that it would hang together reasonably well.

    All of those thought fluttered out of my mind when I rounded the corner.

    Madelaine Deckard was there, pointing both of the Night Warder’s pistols at me.

    Both of her pistols.

    Pieces started falling into place. I was an idiot. I’d figured Madelaine for the leader of the Assassin’s because I’d thought she’d offed her boss. I hadn’t even considered that she might be the one with the really dangerous secrets!

    “And what are you doing here Jin?” Madelaine said, keeping her guns pointed at me.

    “I…” I started to say but she cut me off.

    “Work for the Brotherhood?”

    I tipped my head to one side to see if one of us has gone crazy. Then I figured out why she thought that. When she’d found Way and I we’d been in the company of Eddie and Tiny. She’d been in the audience at the theater so she’d seen our performance. Putting two and two together, she’d assumed we worked for Stone. Believable enough that the Brotherhood would grab everyone who Stone tried to escape the Chimera Club with. They could sort it out back at their base.

    Then I show up in McIntyre’s apartment, sneaky enough to be trying to get the drop on her. It occurred to her that Stone and Tiny were tied up but Way and I were free when she found us in the back of the truck. Add to that the fact that both of us were conscious while even a big guy like Tiny was still sleeping off the knockout gas. The sum of that equation had us looking much more like accomplices to the kidnapping than victims.

    The wrong thing to do when someone is holding a gun on you is to burst out laughing. It can lead them to believe you don’t appreciate the threat they are making. What looks even worse is trying to suppress your laughter and failing.

    “Would you care to share the joke with the rest of us Dragon lackey?” Madelaine said.

    “I’m sorry.” I said, wiping a laughter tear from my eye. “Life is just very amusing sometimes.”

    “I’m sure, but you still haven’t answered my question.”

    I took a deep breath and considered things from her point of view.

    “No matter what I say, you really can’t afford to believe me at the moment can you?” I asked her.

    “Possibly not but do go on anyways. I’d hate to have to punctuate this conversation with a full stop if you take my meaning.” she replied.

    “Believe me I do. So let me suggest this; ask Tiny what he knows of me. I can tell you its not going to alleviate your concerns but I think starting from an unbiased source will put us on the right footing.” I said.

    “What’s her story? Why was she with you?” Madelaine asked Tiny without turning her guns from me.

    “Cause she put a gun to the boss’ head.” Tiny replied.

    “What?” Madelaine asked, risking a glance at Tiny to see if he was serious.

    “It’s true. The boss had her friend and her brought in because it looked like they knew something about the dead guy who got dumped on the stage. We’re in the middle of interrogating them and she pulls a gun from nowhere and starts interrogating the boss right back.”

    “It wasn’t from nowhere, I picked it out of his holster actually.” I said.

    “What, when did you do that?” Tiny asked.

    “When he was screaming in my face.” I said.

    “Oh is he gonna be mad when he hears you pulled his own gun on him.” Tiny said.

    “So, wait, you had Eddie Stone at gunpoint?” Madelaine said.

    “Yes, but to be fair Tiny had his gun on me before I could do anything. If I’d shot Stone, Tiny would have blow me away not a second later.”

    “Yeah, but your friend got the drop on me. I don’t get why she didn’t shoot though. She had me dead to rights.” Tiny said.

    “She’s not a killer.” I said.

    “I don’t think so. The eyes that dame was looking at me with? She could have dropped that hammer any time she wanted to. I’ve seen softer looks on guys who did twenty years in the pen.” Tiny said.

    “In any case, she didn’t shoot you. And Ms. Jin here didn’t shoot Mr. Stone. What did they want instead?” Madelaine asked.

    “Nothing. They said they’d come to us to find something out but they didn’t ask any questions that would have told them much.” Tiny said.

    “And then what happened?” Madelaine asked.

    “Then they wouldn’t let the boss go out and get killed fighting the guys who burned the club.” Tiny said.

    “I don’t understand.” Madelaine said.

    “We were interrogating them when the club got hit. The boss wanted to go out and shoot it up with the guys who were burning the place. She wouldn’t let him though. Said we’d just get killed if we did that.”

    “And was she right? Or was she herding you into being captured?”

    “I don’t know if she was herding us, but she was right about going out to fight the guys in the club.” Tiny said.

    “I see. And how did you wind up getting captured?”

    “Eh, that was my dumb fault. Some guys were waiting for us in the escape tunnel. She threw a knockout bomb at them but I thought it was just smoke so I ran into it. Fumes must have got to the boss too.” Tiny said.

    “Actually you’re smarter than you think Tiny. What I threw was just a smoke ball. It was one of the props from the stage show. I figured it would help you and Way get close without getting shot. It was the guys who were after us that had the knockout gas. No chance you could see if with the smoke though. I only noticed because they threw a second one at Eddie and me.” I explained.

    “Who burns down a building and comes to the party packing knockout gas? That’s crazy!” Tiny complained.

    “Not if you need some of the people alive for you questioning.” I said.

    “Wait, you mean this broad’s the one who smoked us out?” Tiny asked, staring at Madeliane. It was the night for misunderstandings it seemed.

    “No, she’s the one who rescued us.” I explained.

    “What about the guys who grabbed us then?” Tiny asked.

    “Two of them after going to be in ICU after the beating Way gave them. I don’t know what happened to the guys driving the truck though.”

    “There was only one driver. He was unconscious when I left.” Madelaine. “Why didn’t I see any other members of the Brotherhood in the truck?”

    “Because you weren’t watching your rear view mirror while you were ramming us.” I said. “Way threw both of them out of the back of the truck.”

    “We were on the freeway though?” Madelaine said.

    “They had guns, so it was toss them overboard or shoot them.” I explained.

    “It’s the same thing either way isn’t it?” Madelaine asked.

    “I think being shot hurts less actually. But they were alive after they landed.” I said.

    “Be that as it may, that still doesn’t explain what you were doing there. Or what you’re doing here.” Madelaine said.

    “Well you see I’m…” I never got to say ‘a girl detective’.

    A flash of insight slipped through – a preternatural warning of danger. Not for myself directly but for Madelaine. I felt reality crack as I leapt forward. It was the lesser of two evils. Better that I get a supernatural premonition than her.

    Of course from Madelaine’s point of view my leap looked exactly like an attack.

    So she shot me.

    I knew I’d been shot immediately but shock held the pain off for just long enough that I was able to land on her and bear her to the ground before the penthouse’s floor to ceiling windows shattered inwards.

    Two other windows shattered as well but the gun shots sounded impossibly distant.

    “We’re being shot at.” I barked out through gritted teeth. The pain hit a moment later and I groaned. Madelaine’s bullet had hit me somewhere high in my shoulder area. I couldn’t tell exactly where because everything on that side of my body was screaming at once.

    I saw Tiny lunge to the side and knock both himself and Stone over so the chairs they were tied to fell to the floor. That put them behind a couch from the vantage point of someone outside the window.

    “How are they shooting at us? We’re the tallest build for a mile around!” Madelaine said as she scrambled out from under me. I would have appreciated an “I’m sorry” but under the circumstance I wasn’t going to ask that she be too clear headed.

    “A plane?” I grunted. That would be bad news if so. Planes didn’t tend to be armed with small caliber guns.

    “I can’t hear any.” Madelaine said.

    “We have to get out of here.” I told her. “Tiny can you carry Stone?”

    “Not tied up like this.” he said.

    “Madelaine, give me your guns and untie them.” I said. I didn’t bother with keeping my tone polite. If she wanted cheerful sunshine then she shouldn’t have shot me.

    “I can’t…” she began but this time I cut her off.

    “You can’t waste time. I just saved you from a sniper shot. Give me a damn gun and then do what’s needed to get us out of here.”

    She looked at me, her features torn in confusion.

    “If they have snipers then they have guys coming into the building too. You know this has to be the Brotherhood right? I’m not with them and if we live I will probably help you take them down. The three of you cannot die here though, so stop wasting time!”

    I don’t know if my words convinced her or if whatever mental calculations she was running turned out in my favor. She passed me one of her pistols and moved away in a crouch to untie Tiny and Stone without any further argument. I almost expected reality to complain about that too but it was probably just the bullet wound making me cranky.

    Pistols are absolutely the wrong weapon to bring to a sniper battle. I’d have been about as threatening with a pile of rocks. I crawled over to the edge of the room and hit the lights to help even the odds slightly. It was getting to be standard procedure when I was shot at.

    It took me a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness when I turned off the lights. I just had my night vision in place when a brilliant beam of light bathed the inside of the room. Someone was shining a search light horizontally into the suite.

    Hitting an enemy sniper at range with a pistol was the kind of thing that would have made reality very unhappy with me. Spotlights on the other hand are much bigger and more obvious targets. I waited until the light was shining on the other corner of the room before popping off a pair of shots.

    I was holding the gun in my good hand because my other arm was a mess of useless agony. Even the recoil from the pistol shots was enough to make me wince, so I wasn’t surprised when both shots missed the big glowing target I was shooting at. I dropped immediately to the ground following them and, as I’d hoped, saw that I’d drawn return fire from our distant snipers.

    It was definitely more than one too. Three shots landed in tight succession on the wall near where I’d fired from. If there were three there could be more, but three was enough that escaping was going to be very difficult.

    “Do you have them free yet?” I asked.

    “One second…yes.” Madelaine said.

    “Good. Crawl to the door then!” I said.

    The spotlight that had swept the room locked in place to illuminate the path to the exit. I sighed. There was no cover for a long enough part of it that anyone crawling for the door would be shot to pieces.

    “We can’t move forward.” Madelaine said.

    “I’ll take care of the light. Be ready to run….Now!” I said and popped up from behind my cover. I was at the edge of the light but my shots attracted the spotlight’s attention. One, two, three bullets. One, two, three recoils that made me gasp in pain. And not a one of them hit the spotlight. With one shot left I clenched my teeth and spit out a little magic to force the matter.

    Madelaine and Tiny were fully exposed in the light of the spotlight, with Tiny carrying Stone on his back. That meant they were maybe two seconds from dying in a hail of sniper fire. Fortunately, the tiny bit of dream magic I put into my last shot carried the bullet straight and true. I was rewarded with a wonderful rush of darkness as the spotlight shattered. Madelaine, Tiny and Stone were safe.

    Then I was rewarded with a less wonderful rush of darkness as another bullet hit me.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 17

    There are bad ideas that only become noticeably bad after they’re put into motion. Then there are bad ideas that are obviously bad right from conception. Of the two, the ones that are clearly bad from the outset are the least dangerous since they’re so easy to avoid. Unless of course you’re me.

    “We could just go to the hospital together.” I said, holding back the plan that was forming in my mind.

    “But I know you have a better idea than that. I can see it wrinkling up your forehead.” Way said.

    “Oh, it’s not a better idea. It’s one of my ‘clever ideas’.” I said. Some people have clever ideas that are truly brilliant. My clever ideas on the other hand usually involve taking far more risks than any sane person would. The problem with my clever ideas is that while they’re obviously terrible in many ways the potential payoff can still make them seem appealing enough to attempt.

    “How clever?” Way asked, her eyes narrowing. It’s one of the advantages of knowing someone well; She was able to learn from my mistakes even when I wasn’t.

    “Well we’re kind of in a race now right?” I asked.

    “True, we’ve got less than two days until the auditor gets here and there’s also Kari to consider.” Way said.

    “Right, so we need to find Guy McIntyre or at least what happened to him as soon as possible.” I said.

    “You want to break into his apartment tonight and see what clues you can turn up don’t you?” Way asked. That’s another benefit to knowing someone well; you can arrive at the same bad ideas with only the bare minimum of prompting.

    “I do. I think it’s the best way to find out what his angle on this deal was.” I said. With how the fateweaving had swept him up, we both knew there had to be some secret he was hiding.

    “And the assassin that will be sent for the driver?” Way asked.

    “I think we need to catch him too.”  I said with a frown. There was only one option that let us be in two places at once.

    Way paused and leaned back against the wall of the alley to considered that for a moment.

    “Dibs on the assassin at the hospital then.” she said.

    “Do you want to question him too? If I doesn’t take me long at McIntyre’s apartment I should be able to meet up with you before dawn.” I said. Dawn would bring a shift change at the hospital and the rooms would be put to more use. That meant it would be harder to commandeer an empty operating room for a theatrical interrogation of a captured assassin during the day.

    “If you can, that would be great, but I’ll see what I can get out of him before then.” she said.

    “So how ‘clever’ do you think this idea is?” I asked her. I didn’t like it but it did seem to be our best chance to resolve things quickly.

    “Clever enough to work maybe.” she said.

    “And the chance we wind up getting shot?” I asked.

    “Pretty high with how our night’s been going.” she said. She was joking, except we both knew that she wasn’t wrong.

    “We really should have kept the rifles from the truck shouldn’t we?” I asked.

    “No, then we’d have the police shooting at us too.” Way pointed out.

    “Where should we meet?” I asked her.

    “I think Kari had the right idea, Shurman’s office will be the best place in the short term. We’ll need to be careful tomorrow though. The police may send a team to check out the room again.” she said.

    “I wish we could stay in touch.” I said and then caught myself. I’d meant it in terms of having our dream speech or at least cell phones. Being honest with myself, I meant in the broader sense too, but it wasn’t the time to discuss that yet.

* * *

    The trip to Guy McIntyre’s apartment building wasn’t that long once I’d hailed a taxi.

    It occurred to me as I got out of the cab that I was going to need to start my breaking and entering earlier than I’d planned. As befitted his wealth and status, Guy McIntyre’s apartment was in the very prestigious “Hotel Marlow”. The “Amazing Jin” had reason to be in a lot of different places, but a high society hotel was not one of them. At least not as a guest.

    I was almost disappointed to see that for such an elite hotel, the Marlow used trashy and cheap locks on the doors to the staff area. It took virtually no skill to pick them and once inside I was able to grab a maid’s uniform without anyone noticing.

    To be fair to the building security, there wasn’t much going on in the staff areas in the dead of the night. Those few people I ran across were distracted and tired enough that I barely even needed to hide from them.

    I discovered the other reason for the laxness of the security when I reached the common areas. The only ways up in the hotel were by the elevator or roped off stairs. Both were guarded by bright young bellhops who were worked in short enough shifts that they were still alert.

    Since I needed to keep things quiet, I didn’t like the idea of interacting with either of the bellhops. They would remember a random Chinese looking girl in a maid’s uniform too easily if anyone asked. In theory no one should ask of course, but if I left any clue to the break-in I had planned there was a good chance the police would find it very interesting.

    There was another option however. Rather than put on the maid uniform, I headed back to the staff area and made my way to the service door for the elevator. Before I reached there I dropped off the maid’s uniform where I’d found it and ‘liberated’ a tool box instead.

    Reality strained a little at what I was planning. The Amazing Jin had no reason to know how elevators worked, certainly not well enough to override the operation of one. I argued back that understanding mechanical devices was one part of what a good magician would study to perfect their illusions. The Amazing Jin was young so her depth of knowledge shouldn’t be that great, but on the other hand elevators are kept as purposefully simple to make sure they can be repaired easily.

    I had to pass through some pretty greasy areas and climb up into an access hatch in the roof of an adjoining room to get to the top of the elevator car. It was worth getting my clothes dirty though. The top of the elevator gave me access to all of the control lines.

    Working very carefully and quietly, I puzzled out which wires ran to the control lever that usually controlled the up and down motion of the car. One quick snip and I was able to take control of the elevator, much to the consternation of the poor boy inside it.

    I could have ridden the elevator all the way up to the top floor where McIntyre’s suite was but that struck me as too suspicious. I stopped it instead four floors below the top and carefully rewired the lines back into the normal configuration. A little bit of black tape finished the job and left it so that it would be difficult at best to tell that the elevator had been tampered with. Since it had never reached the top floor no one would be suspicious of anything happening in Guy McIntyre’s apartment either.

    That all worked wonderfully. Except for the part where I needed to climb the last forty feet of elevator shaft on my own.

    By the time I got to the top of the shaft my hands were raw and I’d picked up a number of scrapes and bruises. I was also aching with fatigue. The Amazing Jin was a lot more physically fit that my regular self was but it had been a very rough evening.

    I suppressed a cough from my overworked and still smoke damaged lungs and headed down the corridor McIntyre’s room. The security for the rooms on this level was much better than the cheesy locks for the staff entrance. Triple locked doors with some of the best locks that money could buy guarded every suite.

    The truth about locks though is that even the best locks can be defeated. It just takes time and knowledge, or in my case a little bit of each of those and a tiny push of dream magic to help nudge the process along faster.

    I opened the door soundlessly and stepped in to prevent anyone from noticing me in the corridor.

    “You were quite a pain to get up here, let me tell you.” I heard a female voice say from the living room. I froze at that. There was not supposed to be anyone here.

    “The only question will be if you’ll have enough sense to make all this effort worth it.” the female voice continued. For a moment I had thought I’d been detected but, from what she was saying, it seemed like there was someone else in the living room as well.

    “Are you a sensible guy Eddie? I’m going to guess you can be. Not too many guys get to the position you’re in without being able to tell when someone’s got it in for them.”

    Eddie? My mind raced to find anyone else the woman could be referring to but all I could come up with was Eddie Stone. I replayed her voice in my head. It sounded familiar.

    “And what about you big guy? You go everywhere your boss goes right? You the one who talks sense into him when he needs it? I’m guessing you’re going to be waking up soon. Unless you’re already awake that is.” the woman said.

    I heard a grunt of irritation and pain from a distinctly masculine voice.

    “Ok. I’m awake.” Eddie Stone’s bodyguard said.

    “You’re Tiny Royals right?” the woman asked.

    “Yeah. What did you do to the boss?” Tiny asked.

    “Nothing. You two were captured and drugged with knockout gas. I rescued you from your captors and brought you here so we could discuss some business…opportunities.”  the Night Warder said.

    I searched every scrap of memory my brain could get ahold of looking for what or why or how the Night Warder could possibly be in Guy McIntyre’s apartment. I came up empty but my imagination was happy to fill in some possibilities.

    The first and ugliest one was that if someone had killed McIntyre then they would also be aware that his apartment wasn’t being used. It would make a perfect spot for clandestine meetings. That theory felt weak though. If the Night Warder was a killer then why would she have left Way and I alive? Maybe if McIntyre wasn’t the good natured philanthropist that people said he was? If he was guilty of some terrible crime that might be enough to bring an otherwise decent person to murder him. But if so they wouldn’t be likely to then turn around and use his apartment for a chat with a known gang boss.

    The next  possibility was that Way, Kari and I weren’t the only ones looking for McIntyre. If the Night Warder was searching for him too, she might know more than we did about what had happened to him. The question then was what she wanted with Eddie Stone.

    The last possibility was the worst of the bunch. It was possible that the Night Warder was simply being swept up in the flow of the fate weaving. If so she might not have any reason for the things she did beyond “it was destined that I be here.” I hated that kind of thing. Especially in cases like this where it threatened to lead to her rapid demise as the world tried vainly to protect itself from her.

    The worst thing to do with a nascent dreamweaver is try to kill them. If there’s anything that’s likely (though not guaranteed) to wake a dreamweaver up its placing them in any sort of lethal danger.

    “Before we begin our discussion though, I’d like to have our guest in the foyer come in and join us.” the Night Warder said. “Don’t try to hide, I saw the light change when you opened the door. Don’t try to leave either. The elevator won’t reach you before my bullets will.

    I grimaced. Way had been right, there was a pretty high chance I was going to get shot for my clever plan.


The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 16

    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.

    Kari sighed.

    “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?”

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 15

    Sometimes getting exactly what you’ve been searching for can be the last thing that you want. That’s particularly true when what you’ve been searching for is as volatile as a stick of dynamite. To complete the metaphor it’s worth noting that in the past I’ve had a somewhat “incendiary” effect on the people I’ve come in contact with.

    “That was close.” Way said, her eyes still wide with surprise.

    “I didn’t say too much did I?” I asked, feeling like I was standing on pins and needles.

    “No. I don’t think so.”

    “That’s good. We’ve still got some time then.”

    We’d been searching for the dreamweaver that we suspected was involved with Kari’s fateweaving. The problem wasn’t so much that we’d found her, the problem was that she’d found us.

    Under the best of circumstances, meeting a dreamweaver was something we needed to handle with care. The transition between being able to subconsciously manipulate reality and being fully awake to that capability was one of the most profoundly life altering experiences any sapient being could have. It was birth and death and transformation all rolled up together. It was different for each dreamer but there was one consistent element for everyone who experience it – you were never the same person afterward.

    That’s why no matter how forgiving the world was, no matter how open to change or accepting reality could be, we treaded carefully. It was difficult because we could never explain things fully without running the risk that the explanations would “complete the circuit” and provide the last piece needed to wake up the dreamweaver.

    In the case of a world like Earth Glass, things were even more precarious. A dreamweaver’s awakening didn’t threaten to end only their own life, it threatened everything there was. That’s why we needed to be careful. Way and I had both been throwing around about as much dream magic as Earth Glass would allow. It wasn’t observable by any regular inhabitant of the world, but to a dreamweaver it would be like a faint scent they couldn’t quite make out. If something drew their attention to it, they wouldn’t be able to let it go.

    “What do we do next?” Way asked.

    “Stay away from the Night Warder.” I said.

    “I think that will be harder than it sounds.” Way said.

    “Yeah, she’s caught up in Kari’s fateweaving. It’s going to be tough to do anything about that without knowing what the other major players are doing though.” I said.

    “Can we risk investigating them?”

    “I think we have to. We’ve got a new player in the game, but the fateweaving has them all joined together. Whatever one of them does will affect the others so any one of them could push the dreamweaver to the point where she wakes up.”

    “What about Stone and his bodyguard?”

    “Obviously not the dreamweaver.” I said with a short laugh.

    “I can see why you got an ‘A’ in your Deductive Reasoning class last year.” Way teased me.

    “Hey, I worked hard for the ‘A’!” I objected.

    “I seem to recall you spending the week before the final test dreaming you were Miss Marple.”

    “Cramming counts as working hard!” I said with a much-put-upon pout. Skills learned while dreaming don’t tend to stick around but with enough concentrated dreaming they can linger long enough for you to pass an otherwise brutally hard final exam.

    Way gave me a dubious look in response to that. I was tempted to protest that the workload I’d been carrying all but required cramming, but that wasn’t an argument I was going to win. In retrospect, I had to agree with her on the foolhardiness of working so much. I’d learned a lot but I’d trade any two of my ‘As’ to spend the time with her instead.

    “Anyways, Stone’s not our dreamweaver but he’s still one of the keystones of the fate weaving. I’d been hoping we could nudge him out of it but if the Night Warder was looking for him then he’s still got some kind of role to play.”

    “His bodyguard too.” Way observed.


    “Yes. It could just be in his role as a bodyguard though. The Night Warder said she was looking for ‘these two’, not just Stone.”

    “That’s interesting, I’d missed that.”

    “It surprised me – people don’t usually notice the guards like that, and I think Eddie Stone is the kind of guy who wants all the attention for himself. I don’t think he’d be happy to be considered ‘one of those two’.” Way said.

    “Probably not. I am painfully curious what the Night Warder wants with the two of them though?”

    “To hard to speculate. We don’t know anything about how she fits in with this.”

    “Yeah, she’s not part of the original urban redevelopment deal.” I agreed.

    “Unless she is. What if she lives in Fairbanks?” Way asked.

    “So however the deal turned out, she’d be directly affected by it? That makes a lot of sense actually.”

    I thought about it. Kari had tied her fateweaving to the urban redevelopment deal between the city, Guy McIntyre and Cranston Smythe. Eddie Stone had been swept up in it because he controlled most of the large construction companies in the city. If the Night Warder was only connected to Eddie Stone then she should have pulled him out of it.

    In fact, he should have been pulled out of the deal since the bidding on it was being opened up on a national level. That meant that much bigger companies than Eddie’s were going to be able muscle in on the action. Eddie was a big player on a city level but on the national scale he was strictly a small fry.

    So Eddie hadn’t roped in the Night Warder. It had been the reverse.

    “The Night Warder needed Eddie Stone and his bodyguard, why?” Way asked.

    “Because with his bodyguard, Eddie still looks like he’s in charge. Alone, with the Chimera Club in ruins, he’s beaten. His Lieutenants would turn on him in a heartbeat.” I said, reasoning it out as I spoke.

    “If he’s still in charge then he’s still got the power to order his minions around.”

    “How would that help the Night Warder though?” I asked.

    “Maybe she needs a small army?” Way guessed.

    “What would she need…” I started to ask and then stopped myself as an idea hit me. “The Brotherhood of the Dragon.”

    Way looked at me and frowned in agreement.

    “They have more than just a few assassins don’t they?” she asked.

    “Yeah. They have at least enough men to risk an open assault on the Chimera Club and to leave an ambush group for us in the secret escape tunnel.” I said.

    “Speaking of that, how did they even know about the secret tunnel?”

    “They had to have been planning this for a while.”

    “So it’s whoever’s behind the Brotherhood is someone who had a reason to want to kill Stone.” Way said.

    “Well that narrows the list down to nearly everyone who’s ever met or heard of him.” I teased.

    Way glared at me, but I felt it was fair after her earlier teasing. We really didn’t have any idea why someone would want to kill Eddie Stone because the list of motives ranged from “revenge for my murdered family member” to “have you met the guy?”.

    “Wait! The Brotherhood wasn’t there for Stone!” I said, as a memory came back to me. “I was groggy from the knock-out gas so I didn’t latch onto the idea properly at the time but the moustached guy. He told us what they wanted!”

    “I don’t know if I heard it, I had to sleep off a little of the gas than you did I think.” Way said.

    “He said they were going to interrogate us about the location of ‘the hidden files’ we stole from them.” I said, an excited grin spreading across my face.

    “Stolen files? But we haven’t stolen files from anyone yet!”

    “I know! But this is huge! So, they were after stolen files which they thought we had, and they attacked us at Stone’s place, which they had researched and knew just how to take down, including his secret escape passage.”

    “They were already planning to take Stone out and we pushed up their time table.”

    “Right. It was a two-for-one deal. Capture us and take out Stone. But why leave Stone alive? I mean even long enough to interrogate?”

    “Because of the files. Whatever is hidden in them is so sensitive that they have to be sure they’ve eliminated any possible leaks.”

    “Right. Stone’s not a dumb guy. If he got his hands on anything that was likely to get him killed he’d definitely have backups of it somewhere, as a bargaining tool or just as spite from beyond the grave.” I said.

    “And if they’ve been planning an attack on him, they’d know that. The problem is neither we nor Stone have the files.” Way agreed.

    “Yeah, that would have made the interrogation fairly…lengthy.” I said.

    “I heard what you said, while we were in the truck I mean.” Way said.

    “What I said?” I asked, reviewing the conversation I’d had with moustache man.

    “About making them regret hurting me.” Way said softly.

    Oh. That part of the conversation.

    “I…once this is over I need to ask you something.” she said.

    My stomach felt like lead and the rest of me was envious of it.

    “O-okay.” I agreed. I hated that we couldn’t dreamspeak with each other here. I have a very strong imagination and in the absence of comforting data I’m not immune from that imagination turning against me. In the beat of a heart it filled my head with a thousand terrible possibilities, each scarier than the one before. The worst part though was that I knew exactly how to fix the problem. All I had to do was talk to Way. All I had to do was ask her what she meant. But she’d asked that we wait till this was over. Part of my wanted to respect that. Part of me said I was an idiot for being worried at all. Part of me was afraid though. All the terrible ideas that surged through my mind? All I wanted to do was run and hide from them and pushing them off till the future was one way to do that.

    “For now though we need to figure out what’s up with those files.” Way said, guiding our conversation back on track.

    “Right. The files. Well, we may not have them but we can probably figure out what was in them.” I said, trying to unscramble my thoughts.

    “Something incriminating.” Way guessed.

    “Worse, something identifying.” I said.

    “Secret society of assassins. They must have some local members who they can’t risk having exposed.”

    “And enemies.” I suggested.

    “The Night Warder definitely wasn’t their friend.”

    “And given that they’re willing to burn down buildings, shoot cops and kill private investigators, I can’t imagine regular law enforcement would be fond of them either.” I said.

    “Kill private investigators.” Way said and I could see the connection form in her mind. “I think we know who stole the files from them.”

    I blinked.

    “I think you’re right. Oh, yeah, that fits much too well.” I said, catching up to her.

    “They didn’t know who we were while we were on stage.” Way said.

    “But they knew that Shurman was meeting with his employer at the Club.” I said.

    “Yes, but why kill him then? Why not drug him like they planned to do with us?” Way asked.

    “Try this idea on: They find out that Shurman stole their files. They get to his office and find out that he’s meeting with his employer at the Club. Somehow they get a message to him that makes him think we’re supposed to meet on the roof. He shows up there and they try to ambush him like they did us. But he fights back. Maybe he kills one of them, maybe not. Either way they don’t have a choice, they have to kill him.” I said.

    “It’s possible. Detective Shurman was a fighter, and he was experienced enough to see a trap before it was sprung.” Way agreed.

    “So they’ve got a corpse on their hands but they don’t know who his employer was.” I said.

    “Or why he was looking into them.” Way agreed.

    “Yeah, they have to be paranoid and assume that someone is on to them. So they trash his office looking for a clue to who it was. Shurman didn’t keep notes on who he was working for though. I asked him and he said it was bad for confidentiality and too much work.”

    “They staked out his office then on the chance they’d get lucky?” Way asked.

    “They have the personnel, I’m willing to bet they staked out his office, his apartment and probably the top ten places we’d go if we knew what the files said. You don’t need luck when you have enough manpower to work with.” I said.

    “I don’t like where this is going.” Way said.

    “I don’t either. Their operative at his office sees us with a cop and realizes capture’s not an option. If the police get involved the whole thing blows wide open. So the lookout takes a shot and then comes in for the other kills.”

    “He and I get into a gunfight but he’s recognized who we are, so he flees to report in to the rest of the Brotherhood rather than go out in a blaze of glory, or be captured and forced to spill their secrets.” Way said.

    “And from there the Brotherhood starts targeting us. We’re obviously Shurman’s employers at that point. So they go to our apartment to wait for us.”

    “And they find the security measures we put in place there.” Way said.

    “We kinda shot ourselves in the foot with that I guess. We’d done enough to secure our stuff in that room that they couldn’t be sure they’d found everything or that we wouldn’t know someone was waiting for us before we went in.” I said.

    “Especially if they’d already had Shurman almost fight off one of their ambushes.” Way said.

    “So they burn the place down.” I said.

    “That makes sure we don’t have a place to stay, and in the confusion they’d be able to pick us off from the rooftops.” Way agreed.

    “And then you get the drop of one of them and his partner shoots him.” I said.

    “They’ve been having a miserable night haven’t they?” Way asked.

    “The Chimera Club makes up for it a bit. They had to figure we were connected to Stone somehow, otherwise why would we have met Shurman there right?”

    “Apart from needing to maintain our cover and not having a lot of time? But they wouldn’t know that.” Way said.

    “Easier to assume that we were working for Stone. He uses minions all the time. Then we get driven up to the Club with an escort of bruisers to keep us safe. We couldn’t have looked more in league with Stone if we’d tried.” I said.

    “And so they attack the club, but why wait till everyone left?” Way asked.

    “Simple: they’ve got manpower but they’re stretched thin tonight. Also take the King and you can find out everything his pawns have been up to.” I said.

    “So what’s their next move?” Way asked.

    “Well, they’ve lost us and lost Stone. Two more of their men are down. They could cut their losses and run at this point.” I suggested.

    “Except for one thing.” Way pointed out.

    “The fateweaving.” I agreed. They were a part of it as much as Smythe, Deckard and Stone. Until it was resolved, none of them would be free of its pull.

    “They’re going to call in more of their forces.” Way said.

    “Yeah. Which means we need to find out what’s going on before they find us again.” I said.

    “The file?” Way asked.

    “That and what Madelaine Deckard and Cranston Smythe are doing.” I said.

    “And what became of Guy McIntyre.” Way said.

    “Yeah. He’s at the heart of all this. We find him and I’m betting we’ll have the key to solving this whole thing.” I said.

    “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.” a girl said as she dropped off the roof on a wire.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 14

    Luck is a complicated thing. For one thing there’s far less of it than most people imagine. Many events can be traced back to a series of decisions, or at least physical conditions, that created them. “It’s bad luck it rained the day we went to the beach” is an example of both. That’s the result of observable physical conditions (the rain) and a poor decision (not checking the weather forecast before planning an outing).

    In that sense, Way and I winding up in the back of a moving truck, tied up and held at gunpoint wasn’t bad luck. We’d made our choices. They’d led us to a spot we couldn’t get out of. At least not without cheating. The question was what sort of cheating could manage to get the job done.

    I tested the walls of reality with a little nudge of dream magic and immediately eased off. The mere fact that I was awake was straining the bounds of what the world could tolerate. Any more direct cheating on my part would pitch the city into the dreaming, with the rest of Earth Glass to follow shortly thereafter, mostly likely as a cloud of rapidly expanding and disconnected idea fragments.

    I tested my bonds by flexing my wrists and feet. They were made of rope and tied tight enough to cut off circulation. That told me the guys who’d picked us up had put together the operation quickly, probably in response to Way beating their marksman. If they’d had time, they’d be using handcuffs or manacles. It said something about their organization that they’d had incendiaries and knockout grenades available at a moment’s notice but not restraints. Reflecting on that, I didn’t like our chances of surviving the next few hours.

    “You could save your friends a lot of pain if you told us where you’ve hidden the files you stole from us.” one of my captors said in accented English. He had the kind of pencil thin moustache that suggested he wanted to appear sauve, unfortunately it didn’t fit the blocky bone structure of the rest of his face. His companion was clean shaven and had a brow so thick I wasn’t sure he had a full set of human chromosomes. Whatever his parentage was though he knew how to hold his rifle properly.

    “You’ve got the wrong girls.” I told Mr Moustache.

    “For your sake, I hope that’s not true.” he said.

    “Why? What are you going to do to us?” I asked. I knew, in general terms, what they had in mind and I wasn’t all that interested in exploring the details but the more they talked the more chance I’d find a clue to how we were going to escape.

    “We are going to ask you some questions.”

    “And if I don’t want to answer them?”

    “We have chemicals that will insure that is not a problem.”

    “Chemicals? What kind of chemicals?” I figured playing up the scared and confused stage girl was the safest play I could make. Unless their secret society had access to technology far in advance of the rest of the world, I knew what sort of chemicals they’d be using. Opium, hallucinogens and other similar tools were the stock-in-trade of the professional (and immoral) interrogators on Earth Glass. Dosage and purity control were poor at best, as was the accuracy of the results produced, but the effects on the subject looked so profound that people had a hard time shaking their belief in the efficacy of the drugs.

    “A special formulation of our own devising. Be assured Ms. Lee, you will have no secrets from us. You’re future need not hold the special agonies that we can bestow though, all you need to do is to submit to the will of the Dragon.” the gleam of madness played in Mr Moustaches eyes. It was worrisome that he knew “The Amazing Jin’s” last name, but not that surprising. They’d been able to find where we lived in under an hour. Turning up information wasn’t a problem for them.

    I looked at him closely. It wasn’t just madness in his eyes. His pupils weren’t quite dilating right. Apparently the society was a firm believer in drugs all around.

    “You don’t want to know my secrets.” I told him.

    They both laughed.

    “You and your friend led us on quite a chase, but I assure you, to the Brotherhood of the Dragon you are nothing.” Moustache said.

    The semi-human looking guy kicked Way’s leg in agreement with his companion’s opinion. I felt something cold run through my veins and a little voice in the back of my head wondered whether I really cared about Earth Glass all that much.

    I stayed quiet for a moment to make sure I had my emotions under control.

    “I’m going to make you a promise; if you harm my friend, you will regret it in ways that no human in history has ever regretted their actions.” I said calmly and without inflection.

    I wasn’t speaking to them, not precisely. I was warning the world. For the most part injustice, cruelty and the other forms of human evil were not something I couldn’t change. To wish the world into a state where no evil could befall the innocent would mean changing it on such a profound level that most worlds would shatter under the strain. Even the one’s that could bear the alteration would lose too much for it to be worth it. A world where I dictated all that was allowed to occur would be little more than a fancy clockwork that reflected no one else’s desires but my own.  That kind of world could be fun to visit, like an amusement park, but it wasn’t a place where people could live and grow.

    So I was careful to tread gently in the worlds I visited. Unless someone hurt Way.

    I didn’t dwell on what I would do to them. I just knew that, unreasonable as it was, I would not allow them to harm her, no matter what the cost to Earth Glass was.

    “You should not speak to us like that.” Mr Moustache said with a snarl. He raised his rifle and reversed it. His next action would have been to smash me in the face with the butt of the rifle. To his good fortune though he was interrupted before he could make the final mistake of his lifetime.

    As Mr. Moustache spun his rifle around, there was a tremendous crash and the moving truck bounced violently to one side. Moustache and Cro Magnon Man were both tossed off their feet. The rest of us were already laying on the floor but the crash was violent enough to bounce us off the walls.

    I landed on my back and started working frantically on my ropes.

    “We’re under attack! Kill them!” Moustache shouted. He’d lost his grip on the rifle he was carrying but his companion was still armed.

    I wrenched my hands free of the ropes but I could see it was going to be too late. He was both too far away for me to reach and too close for him to miss.

    A blonde blur passed in front of me and I heard the rifle crack.

    I almost did something regrettable but I noticed that Way have managed to get the barrel of the rifle pointed at the roof of the truck before the shot went off.

    A moment later I heard a different sort of rifle crack – this one being where it smashed into the Cro Magnon’s nose and shattered it. The man gave a choking cry as I saw Way bury her elbow in his throat and then flip him over her shoulder so hard that he flew to the back end of the truck and smashed through the doors to tumble out onto the road we were racing along.

    Moustache dove for his rifle as Way worked the bolt action on the one she’d taken from his partner. Both of them were interrupted by another collision. From the sound and the force of the crash I guessed that some maniac was playing bumper cars with us and was using a truck that was bigger than ours to do it.

    Somehow the truck we were in manage to avoid tipping over, which gave Way and Moustache a chance to regain their balance, while I got my feet free of the ropes.

    Moustache made another attempt for his rifle, but Way pre-empted that with a strike to to his jaw using the rifle as a club. I heard bone snap and watched her kick him in the side hard enough to launch him out of truck after his companion. Seeing the impact that he made on the asphalt made me wonder if it wouldn’t have been nicer to just shoot him. He was still twitching when he came to a rest but if there were any unbroken bones in his body they could only have been very tiny ones.

    “Are you ok?” Way asked.

    “Yeah, thanks for the timely save there.” I said.

    “Thanks for distracting them. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get out of those ropes in time.” she said, anger still rippling through the muscles of her face.

    I saw something there, in that moment. She could have dealt with our captors much more gently if she’d wanted to. She could have disabled them or even knocked them out without breaking a sweat. They’d threatened me though.

    Its hard to put into words what I felt in that instant. On the one hand there was the warm, squishy, happy feeling of knowing that I was that important to her. On the other hand though there was the understanding of what that meant she’d been willing to throw away for me. She was strong, but it was kindness that she’d always kept in her heart. To cast that off would be like destroying who she’d chosen to be. That wasn’t something I ever wanted her to do for me.

    My musings were cut off by another tremendous crash. Whoever was playing automotive patty cake was done fooling around. Our truck rolled over completely onto its side. All of us inside the truck were smashed into what had been the left wall as it skidded against the ground leaving behind sparks and random bits of metal behind.

    When we came to a rest, I checked myself over and was pleasantly surprised to find nothing was broken. Way looked at me and nodded, indicating she was similarly in one piece.

    “We need to get out of here.” she said.

    “We can’t leave the two here though.” I said.

    “Are you one of Eddie Stone’s underlings then?” a new voice asked.

    A woman, clad in black stepped around the back of the truck and peered in through the opening. She had two gleaming guns, one in each hand and was wearing bulky enough clothing that I knew she was well armored too. The full face mask was a bit surprising but far less so than the feeling that ran through me as I watch her.

    Way looked over at me with eyes as wide as mine were. Neither of us moved a muscle.

    “Not used to having guns pointed at you? Maybe you don’t work for Stone.” the costumed woman said.

    I blinked and shook my head to regain my voice.

    “No. We don’t work for him. I’m pretty sure he’d like to shoot us in fact.” I said.

    “Well that’s a mark in your favor then. What’s your name?”

    “Jin.” I said.


    “Well Jin and Way, you can call me the Night Warder. I believe you were talking about getting out of here? Allow me to endorse that idea fully.” she said as she bent down and waved a small vial under Eddie Stone’s nose. Smelling salts. “The police will be here soon and I’m willing to bet that if you were interesting enough for the Brotherhood of the Dragon to kidnap then you’re not the sort who would enjoy being interrogated by the law for the next few days.”

    “What about these two?” I asked as Stone started to twitch violently awake.

    “I’ll take care of them.” Ms. Night Warder said.

    “Take care of them how?” I asked.

    “I’ll see that they get the medical care they need. If I wanted them dead, I’d have shot them already.”

    “Fair enough. Why did you rescue us though?” I asked.

    “You were a bonus. I was looking for these two, but I’m glad I was able to keep you out of the Dragon’s hands.” she said.

    “You seem to know a lot about them.” I said.

    “It’s one of the perils of my profession.” she said.

    “But you can’t tell us because it’s too dangerous for us to know?” I guessed.

    “I’m afraid so.”

    I nearly burst out laughing. It felt Poetic Justice and Karma had found me in a dark alley and were beating me with a pair of Irony bats.

    In the distance, the sounds of sirens picked up and started growing closer.

    “You better get a move on.” Night Warder said.

    “Right. See you later.” I told her as Way and I headed out of the ruined truck.

    We made it to the nearest alley before Way grabbed my arm.

    “That was her! We found the dreamweaver!”

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 13

    During times of stress a lot of different things can go through your mind. Tactical insights and strategic plans can blossom as the brain scrambles to imagine solutions to the problem it’s faced with. Those are the helpful sort of thoughts to have. Especially when you’re stuck in a narrow tunnel with two gangsters who would be delighted to see you shot full of holes and you know there’s someone waiting around the next corner ready to do exactly that.

    Then there are the not so helpful sort of thoughts.

    “Seriously? Again?” I complained silently. It wasn’t that we were being ambushed in a dusty tunnel that should have been safe. It wasn’t that we were stuck with prisoners who wanted to kill us. It wasn’t even that our attacker had gotten the drop on us. It was that this wasn’t the first time all of those things were true.

    It was one of the perils of being a dreamlord. Even when Way and I tried to go on vacation and lay low all kinds of trouble would still manage to find us. In situations like this, where we were actively looking for trouble, the sky was the limit for what could go wrong.

    I nudged Way and held up my hand to stop Stone and his bodyguard. We were in a narrow, empty corridor. That didn’t give us a lot of options. If we retreated we’d be in the Chimera Club as it burned to the ground. Having already been in one collapsing building within the last several hours, I wasn’t all that interested in repeating the experience. Moving forward was pretty certain to provoke a hail of gunfire though and that wasn’t too appealing either.

    I reached into my satchel and found a pair of “billiard balls”. One looked like a cue ball and the other the eight ball. In place of solid core like a real pool ball though, these were filled with a pair of chemicals. As long as the balls were intact, the chemicals were perfectly harmless.

    I hurled the cue ball at the turn in the corridor beyond which our ambushers were waiting. The ball shattered into a hundred pieces and the chemicals within had a violent little party with each other. Smoke filled the corridor instantly, exploding out from the point of impact to obscure all visibility.

    Way was off like a shot, with the bodyguard following her. The smoke was dense, designed so that it would puff up over the stage and then quickly sink back down to reveal the outcome of our illusion. For a stage performance that was wonderful. In this case it sucked since it meant the smoke was only going to buy us a few seconds to act.

    I was considering when to throw the eight ball when I felt something odd. It took me a second to recognize that someone on my homeworld was trying to prod me awake. I groaned. This was about the worst possible moment for me to try to split my attention. On the other hand people didn’t wake me at home unless something really important was going on.

    I tried to resist waking at home. Way needed me here. The poking grew more insistent. Worse, I felt myself getting somewhat woozy on Earth-Glass. Something was wrong with the smoke. It wasn’t dissipating as fast as it should have been.

    My head started to spin as I wracked my brain for some understanding of what was happening. Then I heard metal clink on the stone floor nearby and got a lung full of gas that left my lips and tongue tingling and numb.

    Knockout gas. They’d taken advantage of the smoke to vent a canister of knockout gas so that Way and the bodyguard had walked right into it. Then they’d tossed a canister down the corridor to take care of any stragglers.

    I really hate bad guys who come prepared. And who react quickly.

    I pulled a scarf out to breath through and tugged on Stone’s sleeve. We had to fall back, even if it meant falling back to a burning building.

    I felt something yank on my leg, and managed in my addled state to figure out that it was someone on my homeworld doing it. Sighing, I put my body on Earth Glass on auto-pilot and checked out, mentally, to see what the problem was on my homeworld.

    The trip home passed in a blink and I found myself looking down my bed at my sister. This time rather than hiding in my wardrobe, she was sitting at the foot of my bed, yanking on my toes.

    “WAKE UP!” she demanded.

    “Peri, what is it? What’s wrong?” I asked. She hadn’t woken me like this before, so no matter how desperate I was to get back to Earth Glass, I wasn’t going to be mad at her. Or so I told myself.

    “The monster under my bed ATE the puppy girl!” Peri shouted at me.

    “What?” I asked, to buy myself time. The ‘puppy girl’ was Belle, but there wasn’t an actual monster under Peri’s bed, and even if there was Belle should have been more than capable of handling it. I searched outwards with my awareness and didn’t find any sign of her though.

    “The puppy girl went under my bed and I called to her and she’s not coming out so the monster ate her up!” Peri said. She wasn’t scared by that though, she was angry. The adorable little furrows on her brow said I could either fix what was wrong, or join the monster under her bed as a subject of her terrible wrath.

    I buried my face in my hands. I didn’t have the time for this. Not right this second. On the other hand ignoring it could prove to be a horrible mistake too.

    “Ok, let’s take a look at what’s going on.” I told Peri and got out of bed.

    Peri followed me into her room, her serious expression never wavering.

    Glancing around revealed little more than the contents of any other four year olds room. More toys that normal since Peri’s birthday had been just last week, but those had mostly joined the mountain of stuffed animals or the piles of kids books that had cluttered her room since before she was born. Buried underneath the largest portion of the stuffed animal menagerie sat Peri’s little bed.

    “Don’t go under there. The monster will eat you too.” Peri said, grabbing hold of my sweatpants.

    “Don’t worry. If the monster tries to eat me, I’ll eat him right back.” I told her with a serious look in my eyes. It helped that I was being quite literal. When you can shape reality there’s less need to destroy the monsters you find. Not when you can “repurpose” them for later use.

    I went to bend down and felt the concrete floor underneath me. I’d succumbed to the gas on Earth-Glass. I closed my eyes on my homeworld and felt my body on Earth-Glass dwindling into unconsciousness. With a snarl I forced my eyes open on Earth-Glass and saw that Eddie Stone was down for the count as well. Ahead of us, another knockout gas grenade lay on the ground. They’d thrown one beyond us to make sure we couldn’t escape the effect. Reality groaned and creaked at the notion that I was somehow ignoring the effects of the gas, so rather than push it too far I let myself sink down into the proper embrace of unconsciousness, right after I made sure that my scarf was in place over my mouth so that I’d receive less of a dose than I might otherwise have to contend with.

    Opening my eyes on my homeworld again,  I glanced under Peri’s bed. There was nothing there. Or more precisely there was “Nothing” there. A small rift in reality floated under her bed leading to a place that bore only a passing resemblance to reality.

    “Oh no.” I sighed.

    “Do you see her? Do you see the puppy girl?” Peri asked.

    “I need to look closer. I think I see where she went. Stay close to me ok?” I told her.

    Normally the right thing to do is to send children as far away from dangerous situations as possible. In this case however I wasn’t about to let my sister out of my sight. Rifts to the Dreamlit World, the border between the cosmos of the real and the realm of the unreal, were not something to that should be able to exist in my world, but thanks to my presence the normal rules weren’t fully in play.

    Dreamlords have a disruptive effect on reality when they stay in a place for a while. It was something we could mitigate or even eliminate by keeping our powers in check, like Way and I were doing on Earth-Glass. The other alternative, on worlds that weren’t as fragile as Earth-Glass, was that we simply dealt with the disruptions that our presence caused. Unless someone else dealt with them first, that is.

    “I don’t think the monster ate Belle.” I told Peri. “In fact I think Belle is paying him a visit right now to sort things out.”

    The rift under Peri’s bed wasn’t like the reality fractures Way and I were looking for on Earth Glass. A reality fracture is a failure of the world to reconcile something with the essential rules that defined the world. In the case of Earth Glass, it had a whole lot of “essential rules” that made its reality very solid and dependable. They also made it brittle. My homeworld on the other hand was more fluid. In one sense it wasn’t as “real” as Earth Glass, super science, meta-human powers and faerie magic routinely ignored the “laws” of physics and somehow everything held together ok. The rift was a step beyond that, a graver violation of reality itself, but there wasn’t the danger that it would spread wildly on its own or shatter the world.

    I reached out to touch the rift and felt a resistance in the way. As I’d expected the resistance had the feel of Belle’s magic to it. On this side of the rift, I could push through it with effort, but there’d be very little that could push through it going the other direction. She’d sealed the rift after she went in to make sure nothing from the Unreal could escape into reality.

    I felt out further and could sense that there was a whole sub-realm that had spawned around the rift on the Dreamlit side of barrier. Basically a tiny dream realm to serve as a secondary border against the Unreal. Within that realm would be the “monster-under-the-bed” that Peri was so angry at. I almost felt bad for the poor thing. I’d faced Belle before she was my friend. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody I didn’t truly hate.

    “Belle’s just fine sis. She’s…locked the door on the monster so he can’t get out while she has a little talk with him.” I explained.

    “When’s she going to be done?” Peri asked.

    “I don’t know. They might have a lot to talk about.” I told her. By which I meant, Belle might take her time “educating” the monster on why picking on little girls was a bad idea.

    I felt rough hands lifting me up and realized that I was being carried somewhere on Earth-Glass. If I was willing to argue with reality there, I decided I might be able to justify waking back up in response to the rough handling.

    “I’ll tell you what, if Belle’s not back by tonight, I’ll go get her ok? Until then, maybe you can go play downstairs or at Melissa’s place?” I asked Peri. Melissa was her best friend from across the street. A quick check with my awareness showed that there weren’t any rifts or other supernatural surprises over there to worry about.

    “But…the puppy girl!” Peri complained as she followed me back into my room.

    “Belle’s way scarier than any other monster. You don’t have to worry about her.” I told my sister as I slid back into bed. I felt my Earth Glass body fall onto some hard and cold surface. I had to get back there. “Just be careful and stay out of your room.”

    Peri pouted and folded her arms but didn’t put up anymore of a fight. That really should have clued me in to what she was thinking, but I was a little too distracted to notice the signs.

    Casting myself fully back to Earth-Glass was difficult. I wasn’t willing to accept a prolonged period of unconsciousness but Earth-Glass wasn’t happy with the idea that I could shrug off knockout gas faster than a big lug like Stone’s bodyguard. I called on my dream magic and tried to reason with it.

    I’d gotten a much smaller dose thanks to moving away from the initial gas grenades. Gas grenades weren’t exactly a precise delivery mechanism though so once I’d fallen I’d almost certainly inhaled far more than was needed to knock me out. I’d had the scarf to help mitigate that I reminded the world. But to get me out of the corridor whoever had carried me would have taken that away, so I would have breathed in plenty of gas without it.

    Being jostled around could wake me though, I thought. Of course if there was a good chance of that then we’d all be awake, in which case our captors would either dose us again or just shoot us.

    In the end I settled for diminishing the effects of the gas but spending several minutes fast asleep anyways. When I finally clawed my way back to consciousness, I found that the four of us had been loaded into a van. We were tied up and two men who were wearing gas masks and holding rifles were watching over us.

    “Where are you taking us?” I asked, my voice slurred with the remnants of the unnatural sleep that I’d been dragged into.

    “<One of them is awake.>” one of the hooded men said in German.

    “<She must be resistant to the gas.>” the other replied.

    “<She will not be able to resist the interrogation though.>” the first said.

    “<Yes. It will be almost a shame to kill them once we have the list back. They were quite resourceful.> the second one said.

    There were only two of them, but I was tied up and they had three hostages to use against me. I’d been in worse situations but I’d had my dream magic to fall back on then. This time I had only stage tricks and sleight of hand and it didn’t seem like they’d be up to the job of getting us all out of here in one piece.