Not the final version, still being beta read, yada yada. Copyrighted by Richard Raley, don't republish or quote elsewhere, please link back here!
Some days you get lucky.
Some days you wake up next to the girl of your dreams.
I had it bad for the chick. Especially now. When you’ve literally been through hell with a person and find love on the other side . . . well . . . I was fucked. Nights of college girls and one night stands were over until Val said otherwise. Shit, I might even get mopey and emo when Val inevitably breaks up with me, due to me doing something incredibly, mind-numbingly stupid no doubt.
I had them.
Didn’t help at all that it was a perfect summer mourning in the mountains. Know even a little about me and you know I hate all parts of summer, but damned if the fucking sunlight coming in from the window wasn’t just perfect looking. Temperature was just cool enough that the sheets felt good at my back, just warm enough that Val lying against me was too hot . . . which I liked. Pyromancer and all, of course she should be a furnace in bed. Even if it was uncomfortable, it was pleasant too . . . let me enjoy the fact that I could feel her there beside me.
I thought about waking her and getting back to what we’d been getting damn good at all night long. I’m King Henry Price, of course I thought about the grunting and humping first. But I decided against it. Val looked too peaceful asleep like that. Shit, I even smiled over the little bit of drool at the corner of her mouth.
Star ain’t perfect after all . . . but close enough.
I slipped out from beside her without waking her—one of the mastered arts of one-night college girl relationships—before I stopped at the edge of the bed, did myself some ruminating.
I was still alive.
Fought the Curator . . . but still alive.
Knew his name.
Faced Meteyos twice . . . but still alive.
Knew some truth.
Couldn’t talk about it with anyone except Val.
And the way she snuggled her pillow was too damn cute to interrupt.
Got it worse than bad, Price, got it worse than bad.
From what I understood, I’d been almost dead for the last few days. Convalescence and all that. Only Val and Miranda had seen me. Meant Ceinwyn and the Lady would be after me as soon as I stepped outside. Ain’t no way around it. I was at the Asylum. I was trapped until I could bum a car from someone to get back home.
I really thought of my shop as home. How about that? Wanted to get back to it. Wanted to walk before my wall of anima vials. Wanted to tap my fingers across them and dream of the wonders I could create.
Had some new ideas I needed to test out.
How did you do all that, Paine?
How far behind you am I?
How quickly can I catch up?
Val mumbled something about mushroom trees.
Talks in her sleep too.
Isabel hadn’t. Quick in and quick out. Reordering all my memories would take awhile.
It made me feel violated. I suppose if the sexes were reversed you’d call it rape. Reverse the sexes and you’ve got some Uther and Igraine, bring down some kingdoms type shit. But it also made me feel relieved too. Val was Val. Psycho Val was Psycho Isabel. Not like you didn’t enjoy it over the years.
But . . . Isabel had used me, used Val, broken trusts all around. One day, I’d have a talk with her.
One day I’d have to visit her prison cell.
I got up from the bed, searched around for some suitable clothes without feeling like I was snooping. Val loved to read, so there was a bookshelf. All kinds of space ships and hobbit shit. Guess T-Bone and Val would have something to talk about. LED TV . . . collection of TV shows in a basket. She apparently liked True Blood since she had every season—if there’s bigger proof a person ain’t perfect, I don’t know what it could be.
Least the Vamps don’t sparkle in it.
Dresser with various pieces of clothing I’d get in trouble for rummaging through. Bedside table. Old-fashioned hard-line phone.
Still no clothes.
My luck lately was such that if I left the room naked, I’d one-hundred percent get caught out by Miranda. Not sure either of us would be able to go on living with that predicament being reality.
Never say King Henry Price ain’t considerate of green-eyed ginger sensibilities.
There we go.
I found my usual outfit in the bathroom. Same one I fought Paine in and arrived at the Asylum almost dead in, I’m pretty sure. Looked like someone washed it. I smelled my geomancer’s coat. Maybe twice. They even tried to take out the blood stains.
I dressed quickly. Underwear. Jeans. Undershirt. Coat. All of it was beat up, torn, and stained at least pink, if not crimson. Testament to the last few days of my life.
Next, I looked for my artifacts. Val had mentioned putting them in her drawer.
I stared at the dresser for a bit.
I stared at Val sleeping . . . naked, beautiful, peaceful.
Back at the dresser.
Back at Val.
If I start searching and she catches me in her panty drawer, how much trouble will I be in?
Normally, I’d be worrying about coming across twelve-inch black vibrators too . . . but given Val’s sexual status before last night and the proof of it I’d witnessed . . .
I still found it hard to believe. So scared of hurting people with the Mancy that she’d let herself stay alone and untouched for twenty-two years. Valentine Ward . . . virgin. I just met a dragon, discovered a lost species of legend, and found out an Artificer built an insane asylum to use as an anima bank, but Val’s virginity seemed the most outlandish of it all.
All those years, all those years we lost to misunderstanding!
Yup, done that. Probably more than I thought.
Made me question every woman I’d ever been with.
Isabel was gone by Pent, so Eva had been Eva. My little fling with Naomi though? All the Intra girls over the years? That time Vicky Welf came on to me and I turned her down and then she acted like it never happened?
I had to chance the dresser. I needed to walk and think about things. Geomancer I might be, but I was born in a valley and live in a valley. Sometimes a guy just needs some sky over his head.
I lucked out.
Shirts, no panties.
No twelve-inch vibrators.
Way fewer of them than I had a few days ago.
But the Shaky Stick . . . and Poug’s dagger.
They were still left. The big guns.
The ones that could alter history.
Proof there’s no God, only that Bitch-Queen Fate.
No kind, loving God would ever give King Henry Price something called a World-Breaker.
Sure enough, Miranda was waiting for me in the kitchen. Thank the Mancy, both of us had clothes on.
She was already dressed for the day. Guess Val and me slept in.
The dress was yellow, not a color I usually associated with Miranda. Cut off at the knee and with skinny straps at the top, it completely surprised me. It was a dress that softened her and teachers at the Asylum ain’t soft. No place for soft when your students can use anima.
Her hair was long and wavy and as red as always. Pale green eyes. Sweet, heart-shaped face. She kind of looked . . . cute.
I must be in a really good mood.
She smirked my way, reminded me she was still the Ginger Nemesis who had hounded me from Single to Hep. “Had a busy night, did we?” she mocked.
I sat down at the kitchen counter across from her.
She placed a cup of coffee in front of me. Black. So strong it could dissolve a metal spoon. Just like I liked it. “You remember what I drink?”
“I’m considerate like that,” she sniffed.
Miranda was always . . . bitchy. Sorry, ladies, it’s the best way to put it! Sexism, misogyny, rabble, rabble! Hiss! Boo!
But underneath the bitchiness was a deep kindness. It’s too bad it only came out when no one else was around or someone was really hurt. I didn’t mind Miranda too much when she was kind.
“So . . .” I said.
“Yes?” she smirked again.
“How much did you hear?” I muttered, grumpy about it.
“All of it,” Miranda admitted, “Too much of it, actually. Did the two of you really have to keep going round after round? The walls aren’t that thick, you know.”
Anyone else would have been shy, me . . . never. “Who knew Val’s a screamer?”
Miranda rolled her eyes and shook her head at me, just like always. At least she wasn’t calling me ‘gross’ though. Guess she’d gotten enough years on her that sex and body parts wasn’t talk for the commoners.
Can’t even tell she’s a rich, Old Mancy kid nowadays. Wonder what Welf and Hope and all the others were like? Not teaching at the Asylum, that’s for sure.
Miranda poured her own coffee in a cup, then added a bunch of cream and enough sugar to kill an elephant. Aeromancers . . . sweet-tooths all around. Sweet-teeth? Sweet-teeths? Fuck it. “So . . . just so I’m sure I heard correctly—”
“Yeah, walls ain’t thick, but ears pressed against them can’t be completely accurate,” I growled.
She smirked again. She enjoyed my discomfort far too much. “—you thought you and Valentine have been . . . skoodilypooping . . . since . . . ?”
“The Winter Ball during Bi was the first time.”
“Well, well,” just way too smug, I tell ya, “That does explain why Valentine was so upset you disappeared that night. I suppose you and Isabel were just—”
“That’s enough from you,” I growled some more.
I don’t know where she got the doll from, but it appeared from under the counter. “Can you show me on the doll where she touched you?”
Miranda would have burst into pieces if my gaze alone had the power. If we were still kids, I might have even pooled to break her glasses, but she wore contacts now. Who knew she was hiding such large eyes and fine eyelashes?
The better to look down on me with!
“It hurt Val too,” I reminded her.
Some of the old Miranda appeared. That temper I knew. “I realize that . . . and if Isabel wasn’t in a psych ward, I might find her and cut her into little pieces one slice at a time.”
I drank my coffee some.
Miranda pointed at the doll’s lips and raised her eyebrows in askance. She moved her finger down to between the doll’s legs and raised her eyebrows again.
I drank my coffee some more, glowering at her.
Eventually, Miranda let out a long sigh. “I suppose we have to be friends now that you and Val . . . consummated.”
“Fucked,” I said, “All night long. Come on, prude, you can say it.”
“I sure heard it,” she whispered under her breath, pouring me a second cup of coffee.
“Did you know that . . . she, uh, no bangy bangy?”
“I’m her best friend, of course I knew.”
“Never thought of pushing her on some guy?”
“We’ve double dated a few times. I’ve tried, believe me.”
“Miranda Daniels, you sound almost experienced. Consider me shocked.”
She might have grown up, be she still blushed crimson when she was embarrassed. And no one’s better at embarrassing her than I am. “Val’s more fragile than most think. She’s very powerful with the Mancy. She’s scared of it.”
“But I suppose you’re very powerful too.”
I grinned, completely lecherous. “I got enough to do the job.”
“I’ve seen your tool and you’re overselling it.”
My grin disappeared.
“Guess I should thank you for saving my life,” I eventually said.
Miranda’s blush deepened, even more embarrassed. “I would have done the same for anyone. It was just applying some H.I.A.M.S.”
I left unsaid how much more than that it was. “Thanks.”
She couldn’t look up from the countertop. “I’ve never seen that much blood, even during Winter War. All those broken bones . . . and you dragged yourself to my door?”
“I wanted to live. So I did what I had to.”
“You had splinters in all of your fingers.”
“Did what I had to,” I repeated.
“Did Val do what she had to?” Miranda asked.
“Yeah, but when Val does it, it’s to other people.”
“Be careful with her, King Henry.”
“I’d never hurt her,” I said defensively.
Miranda didn’t say any more, but the expression on her face made me think it wasn’t Val she was worried about.
I stepped outside to take care of a problem that had been plaguing Val and Miranda for the last few days.
A geo-anima concentrate appeared during my . . . Got Knocked the Fuck Out . . . to protect me. It attacked Ceinwyn, Miss Strange, even the Lady. Nothing very violent, just throwing up bits of dirt at them. Fairies—the non-dragon variety—ain’t that dangerous most the time. Takes years and years, even centuries for them to work up enough anima to really be a threat.
They also have pretty friendly personalities. I once met the hydro-anima concentrate that lived in the Mississippi and she wasn’t too bad. Didn’t like Meteyos, but I couldn’t blame her for that. Tell ya the truth: I think they’re mostly lonely. So the minute you show up, they put on their Sunday best and bring out the good silver.
This little shit though . . .
I noticed him right off the bat.
Again, any time I mention anima sensing I compare it to sight, but we’ll just say it’s the closest thing. At least for me. Pocket smells anima, if you can believe that. Not too bad at it too. Of course, Vicky Welf is the best I’ve ever seen. She can tell you a person’s discipline just by looking at them. Or if they have the Mancy or not too.
Ceinwyn was really pissed when Vicky didn’t join the Recruiters after her graduation, especially since Vicky had actually wanted to before Mamma Welf drew in the reins.
I’m told Ceinwyn cursed out Moira Welf right in front of the entire Learning Council.
Shit went down.
But enough sidetracking.
I saw this concentrate hanging around in the dirt outside the house. The whole area was thick with cast off geo-anima, but at the center there was just a huge glob of brown aura that couldn’t be anything other than a concentrate. It was maybe four feet deep and, as I neared the last step of the patio, it woke up and started doing figure-eights.
Kind of like a dog chasing his own tail.
“Hey, Mini-Meta, what you doing attacking people?” I asked it, no clue if it could understand me.
It did a few more figure-eights and then stopped, shivering in anticipation.
“I’m okay now, you can go home,” I tried.
I swear . . . if a fairy can wag its tail, then this one was.
I sighed, studying it. “Let me guess, Meteyos sent you to watch on me permanently?”
A single figure-eight.
Just fucking great.
“Right. Can you stop attacking people now that I’m awake?”
“Good. Then just . . . hang out and don’t pee on the carpet.”
Task One: finished.
Task Two: up to bat.
As in: Crazy Old Bat.
Being that they were newly minted Asylum staff, Miranda and Val’s house was one of the smaller and newer houses farthest away from the center of the grounds. Still a free house, still nicer than I had back in Fresno, but . . . location, location, location.
I had myself some walking to do through the neighborhood.
Damn, it was weird being back.
It was a school day, almost the end of the year, so everyone would be giving an end push towards the triple event of the Jobs Fair, Finals Week, and Graduation.
Val and me must have slept in longer than I thought, since the sun was a good ways into the sky. 10AM maybe? Good, I could have a talk with the Lady and then have some lunch in the Cafeteria.
What day was it?
Shit . . . I didn’t know.
Please let it be Friday. Please, please let me get some fish tacos.
So limey, so peppery . . . one day I’ll steal the recipe, one day!
But not today.
Got to talk to the Lady.
Got to lie to the Lady.
Not like I’ve never done it before, but not about things this important.
Couldn’t tell them . . .
Didn’t trust them.
Not even Ceinwyn . . . especially not Ceinwyn if anything Paine had said was true. Week before and I would’ve told you I trust Ceinwyn more than anyone else. But now . . .
How much are you lying to all these students? How much are you lying to us still?
Someone laughing brought me out of my ruminating.
I glanced up, then over.
Eva Reti stood on her patio, shaking her head at me. “Look what the cat dragged in,” she teased.
I froze in place, stunned. “Hey,” I said stupidly.
Eva’s tiny, barely over five feet tall. She’s one of the few women in my life I ever had to kiss down. Black hair cut short, eyes a pretty gray that reflected the sun. If she even weighed one-hundred pounds it was from the muscle on her. She had a tomboy love of sports and camping and all things physical.
Guess that’s why we eventually got physical ourselves.
It was never serious between us . . . then it was . . . then it was off. Some friends with benefit rom-com shit, only with an amicable—if not romantic—ending.
I hadn’t seen her since graduation.
Now there she was.
Random Number Generator fucking me good and hard.
She walked over and stopped in front of me, still smiling. She barely came to my chin. “I don’t know if I should comment on all the blood on your clothes or that you smell like a whole bedful of sex.”
“Val,” I explained.
“Again?” she laughed.
I only shrugged. Damn it was good to see her. Eva’s just easy to be around. She’s kind of one of the guys . . . only . . . with boobs. Tiny, perky, lovely boobs. She can ride any horse you put in front of her, start a fire with a twig and some string, do twenty pull-ups, splint a broken bone, and hit a target with a throwing knife from twenty yards.
Oh, and she can burp the alphabet.
Talk about a major turn on.
Horrible cook though.
That’s how we starting hanging out Hex. She lived in the graduate apartment next to me and she smelled my cooking.
Good thing I can call those memories good and not worry about Isabel being a part of them.
“What about the clothes?” she asked, poking a finger through a hole in my coat.
“Saying you don’t know? I remember how fast the grape vine works.”
Eva shook her head. “Just got in last night from an assignment.”
“Ah . . . what are you doing exactly?”
She punched a nerve in my shoulder and my whole arm went dead. “Tell me about the bloody clothes, Lover Boy!”
“I’m with ESLED.”
“I fought the Curator and lived. ESLED, doing what?”
She gasped. “The Curator?”
“ESLED, doing what?” I repeated.
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” she muttered, distracted. She put a hand on my chest, concerned. “Are you okay?”
“Good as new.”
Better than new really. Anima felt . . . odd . . . ever since I left the Geo Realm.
Would take some experimenting to figure it out.
I threw her evasions back at her, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
“Not fair!” she whined, hitting my other arm and making it go dead as well.
Like I said: physical.
You have no idea.
“Need to talk with the Lady and Ceinwyn so . . . good seeing you, Eva.”
She beamed up at me. “I’d hug you, but you stink.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m marked up and tied up good and plenty.”
“Try not to cry too much when she breaks your heart this time!” she called after me as I walked away.
“I didn’t cry,” I mumbled, “I got really fucking drunk.”
I kicked open the Lady’s front door.
She had a house as close to the school without actually being in the school as you could get. It was called the Dean’s Mansion but, from what I understood, only the guy who raised her, some douchebag Welf ancestor, and the Lady had ever lived in it. Really nice house. Too good for an old crone. Others were bigger, but only Plutarch had one equal to it in distance to the school. Don’t even get me started on that bastard . . .
Hadn’t seen him since I graduated either and didn’t plan on rectifying the matter.
Bastard can find another replacement. I have a world to save.
The Lady wasn’t at her customary spot in a recliner next to her TV, so close to it you could reach out and touch it. Only other place she would be was outside by her pond, which had been vacant when I walked up, in a meeting with the Learning Council, or in bed.
There were a couple stories in the house, but the Lady had moved into the bottom bedroom, being that she was likely to break a hip on the stairs. When you’re one-hundred and a billion you have to be careful.
I headed for the bedroom.
With my luck, she’ll be dead and I’ll have to break the news to everyone.
I heard some noise.
Not dead then.
“Hey, old bag! We need to talk!” I yelled before opening her door.
I slammed the door shut.
I could not unsee . . .
“Knock next time, you stupid shit!” Fines Samson called from inside the room.
He and the Lady . . .
My eyes . . . they burn . . .
Balls shouldn’t droop like that . . .
Boobs shouldn’t lie next to you on the bed . . .
Vaginas shouldn’t . . .
My eyes . . .
Burn . . .
I left the Lady’s house in the knowledge that I’d never be able to look at her again without having flashbacks.
Paine hadn’t given me PTSD, but that shit had.
Maybe I could find a Mindmaster to wipe it out of my brain . . . if I only trusted anyone enough to mess with my brain that was.
Seriously, I might never get a stiffy again.
Them balls going side to side like a clock pendulum . . .
I shook my head, banishing the thought.
It never happened.
Just like my journey through the Geo Realm.
Yeah, that’s right. Meteyos ain’t a dragon. Poug don’t exist. Fines Samson and the Lady don’t have decrepit, Crypt Keeper sex every morning.
I threw myself into nostalgia as I kept on walking to the grounds proper. You ever gone back to your high school after you graduated? Same feeling here. That sense that you’d conquered and left it behind, that you knew absolutely every little twist and turn the students still at the place would have to deal with.
Like rewatching your favorite movie.
No surprises, just some expectation and contentment at a journey relived.
Yet . . . you occasionally notice something new.
The ‘No food and drinks’ sign on the Library doors had been replaced. The road in front of the Admin building had been repaved. More colorful flowers had been planted in the Park.
All the students looked smaller.
Already had that sense for the Singles and Bi’s by the time I’d been about to graduate the place, but now I felt the same for every single one of them—even the Ultra Heps. Don’t know anything, you poor bastards. Only a few years separated me from them, yet what a few years, eh?
Place current King Henry up against Graduate Student King Henry and I’d thrash the little shit. Two years between them, but it felt like a lifetime. What would the next year bring? Paine? Annie B? Vega? Meteyos?
Two years and now I’m lucky enough to have people in my life who want to kill me!
People who want to save me too, I suppose. Annie B went in both categories. Meteyos too. JoJo was back in my life. T-Bone was a friend I could count on. Even if along with the lightning bolts I had to count on him nagging me about destroying property.
Sometimes it felt like the guy was Quilt, Raj, and Miranda rolled into one. He didn’t know I was aware of Ceinwyn making him watch out for me . . . or watch out for the people of Fresno from me. But I did. I just didn’t hold it against him. Better T-Bone than Ceinwyn herself. It’s bad enough I have to keep breaking phones to sideline her influence . . . and that I need to have a talk with Auntie Badass every time something exciting happens in my life.
I wouldn’t go to her.
Not this time.
Let her find me.
“What are you doing out of class?” a feminine voice asked from behind me. “And what did you do to your coat?”
I stopped in my tracks again.
What is it, Ex-Fuckbuddy Day?
I turned around, flashed my teeth in warning at the woman stalking towards me like she meant to give a student a scolding.
Naomi’s heels stopped clicking on the pavement, her eyes wide, jaw dropping. She had on dress pants and a forest green blouse that matched her eyes. Curly brown hair, same as always. Skinny, but a lot going on, same as always. She hadn’t changed much; she just dressed about ten years past her age to gain some authority.
Knew she stayed on as a teacher like Miranda and Debra. Was the only person I wince over doing so. Naomi doesn’t handle authority well. Makes her nosey and spoiled and severe. Teacher’s kid, ya know? Being a teacher calmed Miranda down . . . for Naomi, it had done the opposite.
“King Henry?” she whispered.
“In the fucking flesh,” I greeted.
“What are you . . .” she frowned. “I heard you were hurt helping the Recruiters with something.”
“Never better.” My lips pulled back even farther, adding, be careful.
“You shouldn’t be walking through the grounds,” she snidely pointed out.
“When I ever cared about the rules?”
Naomi’s lips pressed together. She was about to snap back at me when she realized that all the classroom doors were open to keep them cool. We probably had about one-hundred students listening in on us and two or three teachers. “Why are you being so hostile?”
“When did you turn into someone who bullies students around?”
Her shoulders shook. “I do not!”
“Come on, who you kidding?”
“I do not!” she whined.
“And you’re about to throw a tantrum.”
“If you have business in the Admin building, then go there! But don’t walk through the class areas! I won’t have you distracting the students! You’re a horrible role model!”
“That we agree on,” I admitted.
She turned around to stalk away, looking for other prey.
“Did we really fuck during Pent or am I just imagining it?”
She glared at me. “It was the biggest mistake of my life! You . . . you . . . asshole!”
I shrugged. “Okay, just checking. Even before the time in the Park when your dad caught us?”
Her whole body shook as she stalked away.
Poor Naomi. All uptight and cog-like . . . what a waste.
I stopped in at the Cafeteria.
It was Friday.
Sometimes you get lucky.
Unlike Naomi, the Cafeteria ladies were happy to see me. I’d been a big fan of their work for years and they’d always taken pride that I went from a scrawny rat of a fourteen year old to a fully grown—if short—adult male under their care.
I got a double order of fish tacos to go, a bag of waffle cookies, and two bottles of Dr. Pepper.
I waved goodbye, heading for my favorite bench on the Mound.
Ceinwyn was already waiting for me.
“If it ain’t the Last True Dale,” I said as greeting, handing over one of the soda bottles and the bag of waffle cookies.
She’s Ceinwyn, so she smiled over me as I sat down beside her. “Feeling better, King Henry?”
Her hand came up, thin fingers surprisingly strong as the latched onto my jaw. She forced me to meet those cutting blue eyes. Cutting . . . just like Paine. Not like Paine, not to hurt. To tease, to play. “Don’t ever do that again,” she ordered me, “Or I will be very cross with you.”
“More than usual?”
“Much more than usual,” she whispered, finally letting go of me to dig out her snack.
“I’m sorry, Ceinwyn, but I did what I had to do . . . for the girl.”
She sighed. “For the girl? If only I believed that.”
I pulled out my first taco and dug in. I hadn’t eaten for days. Slush will do a lot for your body and might work in place of food, but it doesn’t actually fill your stomach up. I was starving.
“What’s with that title anyway?” I asked between Taco the First and Taco the Second, “The Last True Dale?”
Ceinwyn sighed again, appearing tired. Her smile barely stayed in place on her face. “I’m the last of my family line.”
“I know that. So?”
“There was a prophecy hundreds of years ago about the line . . . we’re related to Augustus Caesar from one of his by-blows supposedly. People put much more stock in prophecies before we understood how impotent they are. Scientific understanding killed the magic trick.”
“Augustus Caesar, huh?”
“The man who beat back the Vampire Embassies and founded an empire in defiance of them.”
“My great-great-grandfather was killed for running rum.”
“How lucky to have so little to live up to,” she teased me.
“Better than having a prophecy in your life, I suppose.”
“Much,” she said, smile finally dropping.
I went back to Taco the Second. Ceinwyn took her time with her waffle cookies. The students appeared from classrooms, heading for the Cafeteria and then whatever place they chose to hang out during lunch.
The Ultra students made for the Mound, one group after another. They saw King Henry Price and Ceinwyn Dale having a chat, word spread, and every single one of them turned right on around to be elsewhere. It’s got to be the first time in the history of the Mound that no Ultra had lunch on it. Not that I really know the history of the Mound. I suppose they built it up for the Winter War.
“I cast a prophecy once.”
“No . . . full prophecy. When I used the baton thingy in Fresno. Had to find a source for that much geo-anima and blam: prophecy.”
Ceinwyn very much wasn’t smiling now. “Why have I never heard of this?”
I shrugged. “It was gibberish. All jumbled up.”
“Was Anne there?”
“Yeah . . . was a bit busy reattaching her arm though.”
Taco the Third.
“So,” she asked, “Where would you like to begin?”
I played dumb. “About?”
“Disobeying my orders? Knocking out Jason? Subverting Estefan? Risking Valentine’s life? Disappearing into a hole in the ground? Appearing in Seattle? Fighting the Curator? Almost dying how many times?” she listed.
“I got Val to fall in love with me though, so it was totally worth it,” I pointed out.
Ceinwyn went silent.
She used it as a weapon to make me feel guilty about keeping everything from her. I did feel guilty, that was the thing. I should trust her. It was just . . . everything Paine hinted at. Or split pooling? Or extended pooling? And all the Meteyos and Geo Realm stuff . . .
How much of it was Ceinwyn being in the dark?
How much of it was Ceinwyn lying to me?
Would Ceinwyn Dale, the Last True Dale, the Head of Recruiting, really be that in the dark about there being other . . . dimensions?
There hadn’t been a lot of time to think about what I’d learned and what I’d been told in the past week. But already the ramifications seemed . . . really bad. It cast a huge pall on what I’d learned about the Mancy at the Asylum. About what the teachers taught us. I thought they held some secrets back . . . dangerous tricks, especially deadly conjurations, stuff like that.
But this . . .
Okay, not telling us about extended pools and split pooling . . . I got that. Don’t want even the Ultras playing around with really powerful stuff until they’re older. Ceinwyn’s always talking about when I’m older, she’ll tell me. So eventually we’d be told. That sucked, but it was fair.
Mancy knows how many people in this world are fucktards, mancers included.
It all smelled of conspiracy and deceit and treachery.
Plus . . .
Only a fool steals some of the truth and then gives it away.
That’s how you end up in prison.
Don’t think the mancers have a prison? We do. Guild of Artificers runs it.
They say you can’t use the Mancy inside of it, like one big Holding Room.
“I had to do it for Christmas,” I finally said, “Kid’s kind of a brat, but she didn’t deserve that.”
“And what would have happened to her?”
Time to lie with the truth. “Curator’s an Artificer and I think he’s got his own asylum, that he’s draining mancers your Recruiters miss.”
Ceinwyn paled. She was actually scared by the thought. Or did she guess at who the Curator was? Good ol’ Obadiah Paine, still alive even though she dropped a boulder on him? If she did, she didn’t say anything about it. “What can you tell me about him?”
My don’t-give-a-crap shrug. “Beats me. Had some nice toys. He had armor on so you couldn’t see him well.” Only parts of him and you could see his face, but this was a good lie to cover the secret.
“Titanium? Steel? Clank, clank, wherever he went.”
“Had a guy called Conan with him doing the kidnappings, was a corpusmancer.”
Ceinwyn nodded. “Valentine told us . . . Conan Sapa. He was a student here. He joined the armed forces, special corpusmancer division. Left four years ago, became a freelance mercenary, then completely disappeared last year.”
“Rounding up little kids for the Curator’s museum.”
The pale faded from Ceinwyn, an anger instead overtaking her, coloring her cheeks with heat. “So it’s believed.”
“Gonna kill him one day. Both of them.”
Ceinwyn studied me. “Leave them to me and to ESLED, you keep working with your Artifacts.”
“You’re the one who threw Annie at me,” I accused, “You started it all.”
“A small taste of the bigger world so you could defend yourself,” she scoffed at how the best laid plans of mice and men had worked out, “Yet you keep digging the hole deeper and deeper!”
“I’m a geomancer . . . I like holes.”
Taco the Fourth.
“Speaking of which,” Ceinwyn hedged.
“Yeah, yeah. I don’t have a clue what happened.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Really? After knowing me for so long?”
She nodded at a point well scored. “I guess history does back you up as a bumbling buffoon.”
“Hey now, I might be a fuck up, but I have feelings.”
“As I’ve told you before, fairies are very dangerous,” Ceinwyn said, “Their deals might seem simple and valuable to you, and I know the hydro-anima concentrate helped us the one time . . . but don’t go looking for them.”
“I just wanted to know where the Curator was taking Christmas; I didn’t expect to end up where I did.” See, it’s easy to lie with the truth. “Or that it would save me from the Curator after we fought.”
“It pulled you out?”
“We’re kind of friends, I guess. I don’t know . . . I don’t get it.”
“Stay away from fairies,” she repeated.
He’s not a fairy. He’s a dragon, I thought, but didn’t say out loud.
“Is that it? The end of the grilling?”
I don’t think she bought it all, but she bought enough of it that she knew she had to eat the tacked on warranty cost and the taxes and the surcharges. Fucking civilization . . . got to eat the taxes. Don’t eat the taxes and it all falls down.
Guys like the Curator end up in charge.
Or King Henry Price.
Eventually, Ceinwyn nodded. “The Lady wants a written statement before you leave the school and ESLED wants you to sit down with a facial reconstruction artist to see if you can give us our first survivor’s picture of the Curator.”
I nodded too, but like a man who had dodged a bullet. “Why not do some mentimancer mojo on me?”
Ceinwyn scowled. “No one trusts mentimancers, you know that.”
It makes me very happy.
A world that trusts mentimancers is a world without bullshit.
I love me some bullshit.
It’s my natural habitat.
I bagged my food wrappers, hers too. “See ya then.”
Ceinwyn seemed put off by the sudden dismissal. “No Auntie Badass time?”
“Nope, sorry,” I told her, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to return to having copious and probably unhealthy amounts of sex with my new girlfriend.”