wonder_city: (Default)
Resolving Powers

The wind was screaming. Simon leapt between Sator and Brainchild, teeth flashing. The Equestrian and Maelstrom banished the spell that entrapped them.

For one hollow second, the right side of Sator's face darkened and his eyes opened wide, mouth frozen mid-incantation. A pink mist coalesced in the air to the right of Sator. Then Sator dropped to the floor, his flesh crumbling stickily around his bones. The mist rained down and was lost in the general oversupply of gore.

The wind blew itself apart and the gears stopped cold.

There was silence.

"Well," said the Equestrian, staring at the remains of Sator. "That's a thing."

Holy shit, Simon said. Did she...?

My god, Ira said, she killed him. Took all the water... or blood... or something right out of his body.

It was the only thing to do, Suzanne said firmly, but I could feel her reeling with nausea.

We'll deal with that later, Watson said grimly. Start cleaning up, we're on our way.

Be careful, Maelstrom said. Magicians generally leave nasty surprises for posthumous applications.

So a few minutes later, a handful of Gold Stars bounced through the portal and found the Equestrian exclaiming, "I found your hand, Wire. I... think it got in the way when Nereid did her thing, though." She looked up from the object on the floor and said to Sekhmet, "Oh, hello. About bloody time you got here."

"My gods!" Sekhmet said, staring around the blood-spattered room in horror. "Who...? How...?"

The Equestrian snapped, "Later. Look, we've got a massive injury over there--" pointing to Wire "--and another couple of people down. Could you, perhaps, lend a hand?" She looked back at the floor. "I mean, help out?"

Simon was gently nudging Nereid with his cold nose, and Nereid was waking up slowly. I noticed he wasn't trying to, say, lick her face. She was blood, head to toe. (Of course, so was everyone else.)

Sekhmet and her compatriots (I recognized the Blue Eagle costume, but knew it had to be a new one -- or maybe not, if he'd somehow come back to life, which wasn't unusual for the spandex teams -- and the Green Hood) spread out, inspecting Megan and Nereid and Wire from a distance and looking up at the ceiling, where the hole was slowly closing up.

Watson and G went through the portal together and straight to Megan, who was still out cold (because I do my work right). They struggled a little -- she's a big girl -- but between them (and their minor superstrength) they backboarded her (why wasn't I surprised that Watson knew how to do that correctly?) and got her onto the giant-sized stretcher they'd brought.

Professor Fortune, in his cape and with his wacky Einstein hair looking especially Einsteinian, strode into the room like he owned it. "Ah, Molly," he said, smiling benignly at the Equestrian. He looked around quickly, and his gaze lingered on the funnel. "Oh, good," he said softly. "Nice to see the thing with the machine worked out."

Watson and G were slowly walking Megan out, and paused at the door while Watson gave the professor a strange, unreadable look. Her mind was shuttered completely from me. G shook her head at the solicitous Eagle and Hood, and gestured to Watson with her chin. Watson nodded and moved forward; they carried Megan out into Sator's shop, and the Eagle and the Hood followed them.

Sekhmet knelt next to Wire, producing a thick band of leather from some part of her costume to tourniquet the girl's arm.

"Bugger off, you useless toad," the Equestrian said to Professor Fortune. "This is my gig, not yours."

"Molly, my dear," Professor Fortune said, beaming at her, "I'm just here to help out with an analysis of the situation. The Gold Stars called me in."

"Analyze this, Harvey," the Equestrian said, flipping the bird at him (she did it both ways, in case he was too dim to figure out the British way). "Get out of here before Her Nibs notices that the self-styled Grand High Poobah of Earth is standing on her turf, from which, I note, he has been banned for more than four decades. I won't be responsible if she shows up."

The pool of blood on the floor rose up and coalesced gracefully into a replica of Nereid. It wasn't an exact twin: the replica was wearing a long gown streaked with all the shades of red and brown found in blood. Her face kept shifting and it took me a moment to figure out why: I was seeing her through the eyes of several people, and I guessed that her face altered according to the viewer's ideals of beauty. It was like looking at a very peculiar animation, especially since it was still recognizably Nereid's face.

I didn't even try to get near that mind. I'm stupid, not suicidal.

She turned and stared at Professor Fortune with the mad, cold expression of a bird of prey. He tried to smile urbanely and failed. She said in a voice that resonated in several registers, "You know the penalty, of course. I need not insult you by repeating it."

The Equestrian radiated an unholy glee as Professor Fortune backpedaled toward the door. I felt unadulterated terror from Tam Lane, who was trying to shrink behind a bit of debris.

"No offense meant, of course, Your Majesty," he said, pausing at the threshold and producing a handkerchief to mop his suddenly gleaming brow. "We had no idea that the door led to..."

The woman stared at him, motionless. Her dress rippled toward him liquidly where it met the floor.

He caught his cloak in both hands and bounded hastily through the door.

The Equestrian and Maelstrom both executed handsome bows to the creature that had manifested from the blood. "Your Majesty," the Equestrian said. "My apologies for not detecting this mess sooner."

She lifted a hand and gazed incuriously around the room. "You have stopped it, according to your bargain."

"I think we've a good bit more to do," Maelstrom muttered ruefully. The Queen ignored him as she swept into a walk so inhumanly graceful that it reminded me of a jellyfish.

Tam actually ducked his head beneath his arms as she glanced in his direction; I wasn't sure, but I thought I caught the traces of a smile on her face through the Equestrian's eyes.

The Queen paused and looked down at Nereid. Simon, who had turned human in order to lift Nereid's face out of a puddle of blood, looked nervously up at the Queen and I could sense from him that she didn't smell right -- not like blood, not like anything he'd ever smelled. "It is impolite to tamper with the lifeblood of another's realm, yet sufficient unto the day is the repayment thereof." She turned her head towards the Equestrian. "I forget the words," she said sweetly, with an undertone of malice so clear it was like metal. "How is it I should curse her?"

Nereid, who only just recovered real consciousness, looked up into that face and began leaking blood incontinently: I could see it dripping from her fingertips and it streaked her face like tears. I could feel her sheer, bone-draining terror: the closest I can describe it is that of an acrophobic being pressed to the edge of a sheer precipice.

The Equestrian blinked. Then her expression hardened, and she answered, "Your Majesty, I believe it is him you usually threaten, at least in the songs I am familiar with."

Tam came out from under his arms for long enough to shoot the Equestrian a hateful look.

The Queen raised a hand with impossibly graceful fingers -- and possibly too many of them -- to her lips. "Ah, now I remember. I cannot call shame upon her face, because after all, I am using it. Such shame as her ill-favored face may have is only that which she herself shall bring upon it. Let it be so."

She smiled at the Equestrian, as though she had just won a round of a game, and said, "Be off with you all, I want no more of you." With that, the figure collapsed to the floor in a viscous splash, the blood spreading once more into a shining pool.

"Can we get out of here now?" Simon asked the Equestrian. "Before someone changes her mind?"

Maelstrom strode over, nudged Sekhmet aside, and, with an interesting impulse of protectiveness I didn't poke at, picked up Wire, who looked grey and chalky. "Let's."

Sekhmet acquiesced to Maelstrom's preference and walked over to Simon. "May I? At least if I carry her, I can feel like I did something here."

"Please," Simon said. "Feels like she's broken her right arm and maybe some other things." He turned wolf again.

Sekhmet moved around to Nereid's left and carefully picked her up. Nereid's eyes closed.

Tam looked cautiously out from his hiding place, then rushed out to Nereid's side. He reached out for her hand, paused and grimaced. It was coated and shining with blood. Overcoming his squeamishness, he gripped her hand and looked into her face, murmuring, "Ah, my dear, my dearest." He trotted alongside as Sekhmet carried her out.

"Don't move her arm, you git," the Equestrian called after them. "It's broken!"

Nereid's eyelashes didn't so much as flutter. I couldn't parse the terror and anxiety I could sense from Tam, so I didn't try. Then they were through the door to Earth.

You look a mess, Suzanne said as she envisioned throwing her arms around Simon gratefully, and I let that go through, just to Simon.

He gave a wolfish grin and bounded out through the door.

The Equestrian took a last look around after the others had left. This is going to be a long night, she said.

Surely you're done? I said.

Not a chance, the Equestrian said, and let me have a little of her Faerie sight. I could see gaping holes ground into the dimensional wall as far as I could see. This is all over the realm. All over the Earth. We've got to gather up the escapees.

"Speaking of escapees," she added aloud, spinning one of her green balls of fire into a net. Her gaze moved to Brainchild, whose spirit was standing, looking around her with a horrified expression, in the corner of the room furthest from where the machine used to be.

Damn, girl, you have a rough job, I said.

"Yep," she said, flicking the net over Brainchild, who shrank down inside it into a green ball of light. The Equestrian strode over to pick her up, absently tucking Wire's mummified hand into her belt as she bent to receive the ball of light with both hands. She sighed.

Beer first, she said to me. Then onward. She strode through the door.

---

Note from the Author:

Okay! The cliffhangers are over, and the denouement has begun. What loose ends are you most looking forward to seeing tied up?

(Also, much gratitude to Akycha for helping me with the Queen's characterization.)

Remember to vote for WCS!









wonder_city: (Default)
What Your Shoulders May Refuse

A smoky indigo darkness like a tornado's phantom spun down out of the hole in the dome. It touched Sator and he laughed, spreading his hands wide so that the winds stretched out to the walls well before they reached the floor.

Nereid's arterial gout that had been, at least, distracting him a bit, was blasted around the room by the roaring wind. The air reeked of it. Everyone looked like they'd walked through a Hollywood slasher movie. Blood dripped off Nereid's nose and chin and she was badly nauseated from the smell. Everything felt cold and coagulated after the wind passed her on its way to the wall.

At least Sophie, being down on the floor now, seemed to be out of the range of the suction of the funnel, and being untouchable, wasn't covered in gore. She was moving around slowly, apparently confused by the information her spirit-senses were giving her. Nereid wondered why Renata hadn't pulled Sophie into the telepathic link.

Her mind's all slippery, Renata said. I tried.

Simon was a wolf again, leaping toward the magician and trying to lock his jaws into the man's calf muscle. Sator laughed at him and kicked him in the chest. Simon yelped and spun away, but said, in the link, I'm fine. I'm fine.

Nereid knew that Suzanne was out there, listening and watching, and kept looking away from Simon, hoping he was telling the truth.

The Equestrian was on Maelstrom's back, and they were in the air. The Equestrian said, Fuck me, fuck me, that wind is eroding the dimensional wall. He's trying to merge this world with Earth!

Maelstrom threw back his head and let out a shrill horse scream, which drew fire from nowhere to rain down on Sator and made the hair on the back of Nereid's neck stand up. The magician flinched as the flames struck him through his sorcerous shield, and then he gestured dramatically and a net of spinning, glowing barbs closed around Maelstrom and the Equestrian.

Sator flicked a hand at Nereid, and Nereid found herself sailing through the air. She tried to catch herself, knowing in the insanely dilated time as the wall came closer that she was about to hurt a lot, that she mustn't hit her head. Then she hit and felt sharp pains in her arm, her shoulder, and her chest as she crunched into the wall. But at least her head didn't hit. She slid down the wall to the floor, her costume and skin tearing on the sharp teeth of the spinning metal gears.

She looked up. Tam was crouching behind the remains of the control panel that Megan and Meteor had thrown. Sophie had stretched to life size and was crouched, staring around, not far from him, apparently bewildered. Nereid tried to get up. There were warning twinges in her right shoulder that told her: Not this arm. Try again later. She rolled to the other side and pushed herself up to her knees with her left arm. She weaved back and forth, then got her feet under her and stood up.

The world was weird and tinny and distant.

Sator had a moment of freedom while the Equestrian and Maelstrom were dealing with his snare, and he grinned down at Sophie. "Come, you'll seal my victory," he said, and reached out his hand.

Nereid -- her face weirdly numb and cold, her vision going dark around the edges, the voices in the room and in her head moving further and further away -- knew absolutely that she was going down. As Sophie's spirit stretched unwillingly toward Sator, Nereid slid to her knees and locked her gaze doggedly on Sator. There had to be something, anything she could do.

Keep away, keep away, KEEP AWAY FROM HER, she thought, or possibly shouted, her vision going black. She reached out desperately, dragging with all her might on the blood moving in his body to keep him from stalking after Sophie.

---

Note from the Author:

Possibly it's just as well you didn't have to wait till Tuesday for the resolution of this one. :) As before, 10 COMMENTERS gets you the next new episode on Thursday!

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wonder_city: (Default)
L’appel du vide

"Now you," Sator said, glancing over his shoulder. "Megan Amazon, shatter yourself." I had to drop filters in place as Megan took a magical blast that went straight through her invulnerability, ran up every nerve ending, and back down, spasming all the muscles in her arms and legs. Meteor got an accidental punch to the nose from Megan, one that knocked her backward to sprawl on the floor.

On another "channel," I apologized quickly to the Wonderful House kids and dropped them out of the link entirely: Tom was in the ambulance with Brandon on the way to the hospital, Jeshri and Lizzie and Eartha were talking to the police and the Gold Stars.

Block her motor nerves, Watson said tightly. Do it now!

She was right, the spell wasn't stopping, and Megan was apparently strong enough to overcome her own invulnerability, judging from some of the pain I was reading. I stopped everything anomalous that was happening in her motor cortex and knocked her out. She dropped limply to the floor.

Meanwhile, Simon's shape swarmed up to human form (naked) and lunged for Brainchild. His hands couldn't touch her, but he managed to catch the glass fragment -- presumably magical -- that her spirit was standing on. There was a stab of pain as the razor edges of the glass sliced into his hands. Brainchild was stable for just a second, then her spirit turned and tried to grab onto the glass, as if she was being sucked into the funnel by some secret wind.

"Oh, let her fall, child," Sator laughed. "Let her fall and see my century-old plan come to fruition at last!"

Nereid hit him with a firehose blast... of blood. While he sputtered at the mouthful he'd got, she stared at her hands, and I could feel the hysteria welling up amidst her panic.

It's not permanent! the Equestrian snapped at her. It's just this place doing it to you. Do it again!

I can't help her! Simon exclaimed, gripping the glass that was slippery with his own blood and trying to pull it away from the machine without losing Brainchild. She's going to fall!

Meteor! Ira snapped. You're a spirit when you're not in that girl's body. Do something.

The Equestrian and Maelstrom were attacking Sator again to distract him. Nereid, to give the girl credit, pulled her shit together and added her geysers of blood.

Meteor hesitated. I'm not sure I can, she said. Can't Renata help her?

I can't reach her mind, I said. I've tried. And I'm not spiritually telekinetic anyway.

Meteor, you have to save her! Suzanne nigh-shouted. You're her only hope!

Feeling Meteor peel out of the body she was possessing was like nothing I'd ever felt: like someone burning their skin off, and then being totally without pain because there were no nerves any more. Her spirit leapt out of the woman -- G, Watson told me -- and threw herself across the mouth of the black abyss just as Brainchild slipped off the glass. Brainchild hit the "surface" that was Meteor and bounced off her onto the floor.

Meteor said to me, I only ever wanted to be a hero, before her grip slipped and she was sucked into the void, her mind sliding too far away for me to reach.

G staggered backward and fell over Megan. I apologetically seized control of her motor functions, got her ass up, and walked her out the door.

One less potential victim in that room. Go me.

---

Note from the Author:

Because I'm mean, here's a new challenge for Team Commentariat: 15 commenters get you a third new episode on Saturday!

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Hope Like Hell That Man Is an Evil Man

Megan shouldered Meteor aside and leapt over the contorted body of the serial killer they'd chased and through the doorway. She felt Meteor follow via the link. In a corner of her mind, Megan was very impressed with Renata's power -- not every telepath could maintain contact with multiple minds through a dimensional gate, even initiating new links on the other side of the gate. In fact, Megan couldn't think of a single telepath in the literature who could.

Sator's a showier mage-type than we thought, she reported to Watson.

Sator was inspecting his opponents coolly from his vantage point, hovering well above the floor. "Ah, you," he said, his gaze falling upon the Equestrian. "I wondered when she would send you my way."

"You can hardly imagine that she'd ignore what you've been doing here," the Equestrian said, rolling a green glowing ball from hand to hand.

You knew what was going on? Nereid exclaimed in the link.

Of course not, the Equestrian said.

What is going on here? Simon asked, and Megan could hear an echo of the question from Suzanne and Watson.

If evidence can be believed, the Equestrian said, he's collected hundreds of human souls to power an interdimensional engine.

"She rarely cares about the outskirts of her realm," Sator said.

"She cares when you start rearranging the furniture in her house," the Equestrian said, gesturing upward.

"Oh, she'll like the results," Sator said with an unpleasant smile. "For about five minutes. And then I'll destroy her."

The Equestrian looked over at Maelstrom. "Where've we heard that one before?"

"Only every two-bit pretender that's come along," the horse, now much more horselike, said.

I think you all should probably back out slowly, the Equestrian said. We're used to dealing with blokes like this.

Sophie! Nereid and Wire said simultaneously, and Megan noticed, for the first time, the bell jar containing a tiny version of Brainchild.

Dammit, the Equestrian said, and there was an edge of dawning horror from her mind. She's probably the linchpin to kick his machine into high gear. There are few things more powerful than a disembodied living human spirit in this realm.

Bugger, Maelstrom said, and stepped in front of the Equestrian again just as the room became a fireworks show of multicolored magics.

"Where did you get this many souls, Sator?" the Equestrian said, gesturing a magical shield into existence.

"I've been here a long time," Sator said. "And humans -- particularly paranormals -- are very useful for fetching and carrying."

Like the serial killer? Suzanne said. I wonder if he demanded the victim type switch for some magical reason.

"Like the poor chump you've been using lately?" the Equestrian said, raising blue vines from the floor to entrap Sator.

"Oh, he was a killer to start with," Sator said, creating a shredding whirlwind around himself that took the vines to pieces. "He came to me, pathetic thing, wanting to know how to get rid of the ghosts that were following him. So I took them away, and tucked them here for safekeeping. And he went off to make more."

"Not all girls, though," the Equestrian said. Maelstrom kicked a ball of fire up at Sator.

"Oh, it was some Oedipal thing," Sator said, flicking the fireball away. "He didn't get to kill his father, so he wanted to kill his father. I promised to raise his father so he could kill him -- imagine me going to all that trouble for a foolish little creature like that -- and he went out to fetch more souls. But temptation took him back to his original targets. Humans are so predictable."

There you go, the Equestrian said to Suzanne.

That's terrible, said Suzanne.

At least there won't be any more, Ira said comfortingly.

By this one, Suzanne said.

Megan looked around as she ducked the lightning and fire and wind. There was a big, heavy control panel nearby, behind Sator. She ran to it and found herself face-to-face with Meteor, who apparently had the same idea. They nodded to each other, bent, and jammed their fingers underneath the solid mass of steel and lights.

Megan counted, One... two... THREE! and they both heaved with all their might.

The panel tore free of its moorings and slammed into Sator's back, exploding into more lightning and fire and wind.

Sator lost concentration, apparently, as his part of the fireworks ceased for a moment. There was a whirring, whining sound that cut through the air, and Wire's trademark wires, which she reputedly never used on living things, lashed out to wrap around Sator.

His clothing was reduced to ribbons, but his skin was impervious. He pursed his lips and raised a hand. The wires rebounded, lashing back toward their creator.

Wire leapt aside just a fraction of a second too late, and her left arm just... fell off below the elbow.

Megan felt Renata clamp down on Wire's reaction, but she saw the blood burst onto the floor. Wire fell, clamping her remaining hand over the stump. Somehow, Wire stayed silent against some sort of desperate panic that Megan didn't understand.

Worse, the churning, spinning wires kept on and slashed through the glass bell jar that hovered above the funnel, sending glass fragments everywhere.

Nereid screamed as Brainchild's spirit slipped toward the abyss of the black cone.

---

Note from the Author:

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Meddling in the Affairs of Wizards

The door in the middle of the room burst open and the tail end of an ear-shattering scream blew in.

Maelstrom stepped in front of the Equestrian. Wire stepped between the door and the device holding Sophie's spirit captive. Tam stepped behind Nereid.

A light whipped through the door and struck Wire in the chest, knocking her flat. It continued unimpeded on its path into the funnel, spiraling down into darkness.

There was a pop. And another one. And another. The pops came faster and harder, like a machine gun, and Nereid suddenly realized that the walls of vacuum tubes were shattering, making noise like champagne corks in a fire, and the lights were diving down after the first, consumed by the funnel.

The shrieking scrapes of stone on stone and the thrum and grind of the gears sped up around them.

As Wire picked herself up, a little balding man with white hair and muttonchop sideburns wearing an out-of-date suit stepped through the door, tossing aside a small device that looked like a miniature gramophone.

He stopped, staring at them all through his wire-rim glasses, first with bewilderment, then with growing rage.

"Will interference from you confounded paranormals never end?" he demanded angrily.

"I don't suppose it will," the Equestrian said, a ball of green light growing in one of her hands.

There was a crash from the other side of the doorway, and Nereid heard a familiar voice shouting, "SATOR!"

"Megan?" Nereid exclaimed, then clapped both hands over her mouth as Sator glanced at her, amused.

"Don't worry, dear," he said, removing his glasses and tucking them in the breast pocket of his shirt. "I already knew her name. Humans are so careless."

The great golden-furred wolf was, apparently, just as much a surprise to Sator as it was to the rest of them, especially given the way Simon tackled Sator squarely behind the knees, knocking the magician on his face.

"Oh, that'll piss him off," Maelstrom said, snorting flame out of his human-looking face. "Magicians are sticklers about their dignity."

Simon looked up and around at everyone, and his gaze locked on Nereid. The next moment, Nereid felt someone in her mind.

Pardon the intrusion, Pacifica, a sweet, mild woman's voice said. My name is Renata Scott, and I'll be your telepathic link for today.

Oh, thank fuck, a way to talk, Wire said into the link.

Excellent, the Equestrian said, and her mental voice was much older than her physical one.

Sator rose up from the floor in a graceful swoop, his feet well above the ground and energies crackling around each hand. "I have no patience for this," he intoned.

The dome continued to open its eye to another sky wider and wider.

---

Note from the Author:

HERE IT IS! Third episode for the week! Thank you all so much! Next new episode: Tuesday!

And remember to vote for WCS!









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Definitely a Boojum

Where the fuck did he go? Megan said through the link.

This way! Simon said, and everyone paying attention could smell slightly scorched spandex and male sweat, with a number of overtones none of them could identify, but I could feel Simon's translation: fear, rage, hope, desperation, frustration.

Meteor shrank down to about ten feet tall so as to follow Simon, since she'd lost her aerial view of the killer in the shadows almost immediately.

Down this street? Megan said, skidding around the corner after the much tighter cornering of the wolf. But this is...

Sator's, Watson said. He's gone to Sator's. Don't you remember him?

For the second time that night, Megan had a bitter taste of memory that I had to filter and poke her out of. C'mon, girl, no time for expository flashbacks, I said.

They paused outside the door of Sator's, which was neatly closed. Simon listened.

"Sator! Sator!" Camerabro was bellowing, moving away from them into the store.

"What is it?" came an irritated reply, and I could feel, via Watson and Megan, that it was Sator's voice.

"It's all gone to shit," Camerabro said. "Instead of just the kids and the dog, there was a spandex ambush."

I could hear Megan thinking, NOT spandex, very loudly. Meteor shot her a hateful look.

"And so you've come here expecting what exactly?" Sator said, and his voice was a silken-smooth growl.

"Enough power to get you what you need!" the cameraman said. "You wanted one more soul. I can get it for you. But first I need what you promised me."

"Were you followed?" Sator demanded.

Meteor started forward, but Simon said, No, wait, and kept listening.

"Damn you, give me what you promised!" the killer shouted. Then he moderated his tone: "I'll go get a soul for you. Three souls. Six souls. I'll bring them all to you! There are so many girls out there in this city, so many with soft throats and powers that bounce off me. I can kill them all."

"Were you followed?" Sator said.

"I'll bring you more souls than you can count," the man said, "just give me what you promised and I'll go out and get them for you."

Sator said, his tone hard as diamond, "You brought them here, you fool, you hopeless excuse for a human. And now I shall have to kill them myself."

"I'll do it!" Camerabro shrieked, and the shop was oozing the scent of terror now. "I'll take care of them...!"

"I don't think so," Sator said, his voice matter-of-fact. "I only need one soul, and yours is as good as any."

I didn't have time to shield myself much, but I managed to shield everyone else in the link from the mind-searing death that went with the most horrible scream Simon, Megan, Meteor, and I had ever heard torn from a human throat.

---

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Conversations Are Always Dangerous

As Megan opened the outer door of Sator's, someone erupted from within, shoving past her and slamming into her hard enough to make her take a step backward. She looked after the white man in the grey hoodie and jeans, baffled and annoyed, and he shot a vicious glare over his shoulder at her. The close-set eyes and the strawberry mark across his forehead combined with the square-cut jaw and blond hair to ring all her bells for recognition.

She was about to mention this to Watson, but Watson pushed past her into the store, forcing her to follow. When the door was shut behind them, she said, "Watson, that was... I don't know his name, but he's Brandon's camera guy."

"I figured," Watson said. "He matched your description. He didn't knock it out of your hand, did he?"

"No," Megan said, displaying the small, wrapped package. "I'm glad he didn't run into you, though. That collision probably could've dislocated your shoulder."

"Interesting," Watson said, glancing through the window after the man's retreating form. "But currently irrelevant." She gestured Megan on through the shop.

Megan always noticed new items when she picked her way through Sator's, but the older items never seemed to move or change. Today, the highlight of the Sator's Thing-Spotting was a wolf pelt thrown negligently over a set of carved wooden canes in an umbrella stand decorated with Egyptian gods. They proceeded straight through the more crowded rooms into the relatively spacious back room.

"Ah, ladies," Sator said, emerging from behind the purple velvet curtain. His wild white hair seemed even wilder than usual, sticking out at odd angles, though his muttonchops were as impeccable as his white buttondown shirt and grey trousers. "So good to see you again."

"We've brought it," Megan said, a little abruptly. She caught an unreadable glance from Watson for that.

"Excellent!" he said, smiling his charming little mad scientist smile. He swept the purple curtain back and bowed them into his consultation room.

As Megan set the package on the table, Sator said, "You are certain she looked into it?"

"Yes," Megan said. "I saw Meteor stop in the hallway and look into it to check her hair. She was annoyed and made some disparaging comment about our landlord swapping out the mirrors."

"He'll be crushed," Watson murmured.

Megan grinned. She recalled finding Zoltan while he was dusting the public areas, skull-and-crossbones kerchief covering his hair, an apron covering his clothes, and an enormous feather duster in hand. "Do you mind if I swap out the mirror in the hall?" she had asked.

"What for?" he said, eyebrows peaking.

"It's, um, a magic mirror," Megan said. When he looked even more disbelieving, she said, "Look, you've noticed that G hasn't exactly been around lately, right?"

Zoltan nodded, flicking some dust from a bronze statue of Mercury.

"Watson and I are trying to... G is possessed by this ghost, see, and so we've gotten someone who's willing to help us de-possess her, but he needs information."

"So you propose to set your information-gathering trap in my front hall?" Zoltan said.

"Um. Yes."

"Well," he said musingly, neatly removing a cobweb from a high corner, "if G does not work, I am likely to have a non-paying tenant soon, yes?'

"Yes," Megan said. Not to mention a completely different tenant, she didn't add.

"I do not, on principle, have objections to ghosts, you understand," he said, running the duster over a line of leather-bound books on the hall shelf. "I have known some charming ghosts. Though none of them were particularly smart. If I am not wrong, though, this ghost has been taking our friend out on dates in a most inappropriate fashion, yes?"

"Yes," Megan said through gritted teeth.

"Well, then," Zoltan said, smiling sunnily and yet somehow... pointily, "I say that the heterosexual agenda needs foiling." He gestured her toward the mirror.

"Watson told me to tell you that you probably don't want to look into it," Megan said, having replaced the usual mirror with the dark mirror, still shrouded in blue silk. "Unless you want someone knowing more about you than you probably want them to."

"Excellently perceptive advice from the excellently perceptive Ms. Holmes," Zoltan said. "I vanish into the depths! How long will it be up?"

"Until I see her use it," Megan said.

"Very well," he said, and disappeared down the basement stairs.

When Megan was paying attention again, Sator had uncovered the round, dark-surfaced mirror and was gazing into it. Watson was watching his face intently.

"A sudden death," Sator said. "A violent death. A planned, intentional death."

"Planned?" Watson said softly. "Fascinating."

"Yes, it is very clear," Sator said, turning the mirror a little to the left. "A man, I think. And a definite stink of magic."

"Oh, that would explain it then," Watson said cryptically.

"She passed over any number of hosts," Sator said. "She was waiting for a woman with para powers."

"Any para powers would do?" Watson said.

"Yes, I think so," Sator said, giving the mirror a half-turn to the right. "Though some might work better in gestalt with the ghost than others."

"Anything else?" Watson said.

"She has no particular defenses against magic," Sator said, sitting back in his chair and casting the silk over the mirror again. "In fact, she is quite vulnerable as a magical being. I believe that if you can get her into the store, I can deal with her before she has a chance to react poorly."

As they left the shop, emerging into the sharp, raw, early April evening, Watson said, "That was enlightening."

"Was it?" Megan said, frowning.

"You're distracted," Watson said. "Still fretting about what Pearl told you?"

"Yes," Megan said. "I feel like way too many of my friends are in stupidly dangerous situations. Apparently, not being in spandex doesn't matter if you're in Wonder City."

"True enough," Watson said. "Though I can't decide which is worse: a serial killer that might possibly be on the set of It's a Wonderful House or a single person's life being blotted out by a crazy ghost."

"They're both horrible," Megan said. "And I can't do much about either."

"Well, you can warn Simon, at least," Watson said.

"I have to wait until his day off and get him somewhere private," Megan said. "Before he goes gallivanting off with Suzanne."

"Bring him up to my place," Watson said. "I have some toys that will pick up most bugs that might follow him. And the cats might spot others."

"Have you figured out any possible suspects?" Megan said, gesturing inquiringly at a little hole-in-the-wall Turkish restaurant on Staybird's Main Street.

Watson nodded and they went into the restaurant. "I've been doing a little research, and I fancy I've found one or two people it might be, assuming that our mega-telepath didn't just manage to pick up someone strolling nearby. Which, of course, for her could be anywhere in a thousand-mile radius."

"You'd think a woman with that sort of power would be able to gauge the general distance from which she was hearing the thoughts." Megan said.

"Hmm," Watson said as she examined the menu. "Yes, well, with great power comes the need for a great deal of control, which can work against you. By the bye, I'd like to walk past the Wonderful House while we're in the neighborhood."

"Okaaay," Megan said, looking up from her contemplation of delicious-sounding lamb dishes. "Any particular reason?"

Watson looked up at her, blinking through her wire-rim glasses. "Oh? No. Just want to see the lay of the land."

"Not going to crawl over their front yard with a magnifying glass?" Megan asked, tapping Watson's knee under the table.

"Nah," Watson said, smiling. "I'm sure all this sleet has interfered with my clues anyway."

---

From the Author:
Clues! Some clues! Won't say for what, of course, but there are definitely clues.

Comment incentive in June: if I get 50 total comments from readers in June, I will post twice weekly through July. As before, if you all post 75 comments, I'll post twice weekly through August too. Get up to 100 comments, the twice-weekly postings continue through September.









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Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas

Sator's was a more attractive store, when Megan and Watson crossed the threshold, than any of the shops they'd previously visited. It smelled lightly of a dry, musky incense and the chimes on the door made deep, soothing noises. There were a number of glass cases full of jewelry and crystal balls with pewter wizards and witches and dragons scattered among the other wares. A display of swords hung on the walls above packed bookcases lined at the top with stuffed ravens and owls, and a line of overstuffed bookcases split the room down the middle. Across the back wall, taller glass cases displayed colorful Egyptian statues on the top shelves, populated by Asian bronzes and Greco-Roman resin statues below. Both the countertops and statue cases were agreeably cluttered, leading one to believe that if one looked hard enough, one might find a treasure amidst the multitude of Anubises, Ganeshas, and happy Buddhas. An unobstructed doorway offered tempting glimpses of the room beyond.

Watson rambled to the far side of the bookcases, studying the titles and swords, while Megan cruised the jewelry counter curiously. Crystal necklaces dominated, starting from relatively inexpensive faux crystal points and proceeding, as one got deeper into the store, toward precious stones and more ornate settings of silver and gold. There were a few sets of rings, none of which, Megan noticed with amusement, came close to being of a size to fit her hand. There were wands made with wooden sticks or copper tubes, sometimes tipped with a quartz crystal, sometimes encrusted with stones. She and Watson rendezvoused at the doorway, and they drifted through into the next room.

This room was darker and closer and more muddled, and Megan felt like she needed to stoop most of the time to avoid some of the random bunches of decorative objects that hung from the ceiling. Bookcases were obscured by stand-up displays, or tucked into a corner behind an umbrella-holder full of hand-carved staves. A glass case contained Tarot card decks, with more recent decks, like the Wonder City superhero deck, overlaying older cards, backed by a giant-sized Rider-Waite deck with a thin layer of dust on its top edge. A display of incenses and herbs took up an entire corner, flanked by spinning displays full of booklets that looked like they'd been produced on early copy machines, given their fonts and art. Megan had to move carefully in this room, as the aisles were apparently designed to only allow humans about a foot wide to pass unscathed. Even Watson was having trouble getting into some of the corners.

More interesting was the next room, achieved through a narrow, low-linteled doorway. It was Spartan compared to the previous room, with a high ceiling and indirect lighting. Chinoiserie cabinets stood open, displaying books in heavy leather bindings, or statues and wands and daggers that appeared to be actual Art, rather than mass-manufactured objects. Several swords, discreetly labeled with the smith's name, were displayed on one wall. The back wall of the room was innocent of displays, and a heavy purple velvet curtain hung over a doorway.

Megan drifted near enough to overhear a man saying, "It appears that, at this time, you may indulge either of your desires for the best result." She twitched away reflexively, not wanting to overhear anything else of a personal nature. This reflex also kept her, a few moments later, from looking up when a person emerged from behind the velvet and stalked straight out. She caught just a glimpse, seeing only a male shape in a gray hoodie.

A few moments later, a comical little man in a suit of antique style pulled back the curtain and stepped out. His hair was white and enthusiastically expansive in all directions, though the top of his head was bald. He wore muttonchops along his jawline, and peered at them through a pair of wire-rim glasses. "Good day, ladies," he said cheerfully, and Megan recognized his voice, if not the tone, as the one she had overheard.

"Good day, Mister... Sator?" Watson said.

"No mister, just Sator, please," he said. "Are you Ms. Holmes, then?"

"Yes," Watson said. "This is my associate, Ms. Amazon."

Megan braced herself, but he merely bowed and said, "Pleased to meet you both. We can begin the consultation immediately, if you wish."

"Yes, thank you," Watson said. He gestured them back and held the curtain for them.

His consultation room was wallpapered in dark gold and cream stripes. One wall was dominated by an intricately carved walnut mantel and a working fireplace that put out a great deal of heat and but little light. They seated themselves in comfortable chairs -- one even large enough for Megan -- as their host did the same across the laquered card table.

Megan, upon examining his face, decided that he looked like Isaac Asimov. She wasn't sure whether this was reassuring or off-putting.

"How can I help you?" he said, picking up a narrow deck of cards and shuffling it idly.

"We understand that you offer assistance with cases of possession," Watson said.

"Indeed," Sator said, smiling a little. "It is a distressing situation for both the possessor and the possessee, though perhaps the former does not always realize the peril of the situation."

"Yes," Watson said. "I'm glad we agree on the subject. Do you realize how few of your colleagues in town share your perspective?"

Sator shrugged and laid out a trio of cards quickly. He glanced down at them and picked them up almost as quickly as he'd laid them down. It happened fast enough that Megan couldn't figure out what cards he'd been looking at, but thought they weren't standard Tarot designs. "They're simply afraid, of course. The laws regarding supernatural interventions are notoriously vague in wording, and there have certainly been some spectacular cases of malpractice in recent years."

"You make it sound like surgery," Megan said.

"It is surgery, of a sort," Sator said. "After all, if an alien object -- say, a bullet -- enters a human body, isn't the best way to remove it to cut open the flesh and extract it if doing so does not further endanger the patient?"

"In this case," Watson said, "the possessor claims that her removal will endanger the possessee."

"They often claim that," Sator said, plucking a single card from the deck and studying it. "It is rarely true, and is unlikely in this case." He shuffled the card back into the deck. "The most important thing to remember, when dealing with an invader, is that there is generally some advantage for them being where they are. If there is an advantage, then it is also to their advantage to lie. They want their host to believe that they are somehow necessary for the host to continue to live. Most such situations are almost never really symbiotic; almost all, in my experience, are purely parasitic."

Watson glanced at Megan with a look of relief. Here was a man, Megan thought, who could and would likely help them.

"Now," he said. "Is the host paranormal or supernatural in any way?"

"She has minor para powers," Watson said.

"Minor invulnerability and an edge on strength," Megan said.

He nodded and dealt out another trio of cards. Megan could see runes or glyphs or something on the cards, nothing readable by someone passingly familiar with many of the available forms of divination. "Yes, I see," he said, pursing his lips over the cards. "And the... ghost, I see, not a demon or other invading force. She is also paranormal?"

Watson raised her eyebrows. "Yes," she said. "All that from the cards?"

"The cards are merely a focus for me," he said, shuffling them back in and riffling the deck expertly to shuffle. "They help me determine some details remotely that would be obvious if I were to meet her in person. I perceive that their powers are working in a gestalt of sorts, enhancing each other. This may make it difficult if she chooses to struggle."

Watson and Megan both nodded.

He stopped shuffling and set the deck aside. "Well, then, we must take her by surprise, if possible. I can't really help you there; you know your friend best, and will know how to catch her off-guard. I cannot create a trap to lay in wait for her or anything like that. The removal must be by my hand, as there are often complications that must be dealt with on the spot. However, I value my shop."

"Yes, we understand," Watson said.

"Honestly, we've been so focused on finding someone willing to help us," Megan said, "that we're going to have to think about how to manage the rescue now that we've found someone."

"That's often an issue for my clients," Sator said, smiling broadly.

"Then there is the issue of your fee," Watson said.

"I despise discussing finances before I have performed what I view as my duties," Sator said. "I assure you that I will not charge more than you can afford."

There was something about this assurance that made the hairs on the back of Megan's neck stand up, but what choice did they really have, after all?

---

From the Author:

Finally, I get them to Sator's! And finally they get someone who's agreeing to help. (With many thanks again to my wife, who suggested the outing to Salem last fall to gather material for this description and the other shops I've described. None of the shops of Wonder City are replicas of any one shop anywhere; I've jumbled many elements together for effect.)

Remember to stop by and vote in the poll for the next prompt I can offer to Meeks. And don't forget to leave feedback on the Molly and Hel sketch.

Vote for us at Top Web Fiction.







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