Chapter 19: You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Work Here, But Help!

The blue paper gown. My fingers rub and stroke along the material. It’s different from cotton or silk or felt or any of those. You can tell it’s different. It’s the little things that tell you that you’re mad. The institutional nature, for one thing. If they think you’re insane, you need to be put in something that you can’t possibly hurt yourself with. Something that can’t be made into a noose or a cutting edge or a bludgeon. It doesn’t matter that you’re not suicidal. You’re unwell, and so you must undergo the same procedures as everyone else until you can prove you’re not.

The walls are padded. Same thing. They don’t want you to hurt yourself. The body must be kept safe from the mind. No stimulation, nothing to shock you or put you out of balance.

My mother told me a story, once. Of her, and her father. She told him that she thought she might be bored to death. His remark was that it sounded like a horrible death. I often thought about what it might be like to be bored to death. I hated the idea. For most of my life everywhere I had gone, I had brought a book, because the thought of leaving my brain simply on autopilot, with nothing to do, was the most nightmarish of things.

I looked down at the pocketless gown. No books here. No…

My mother had told me that story when I was 25.

The mental hospital had been when I was 14.

This wasn’t real.

Unless, of course, I was back in the mental hospital.

I looked up, and focused. The man walked by. The same blue robe. The same scruffy appearance. The same man. This was the hospital from when I was 14.

But what if I had imagined it?

No.

That wasn’t me.

People so often think of madness as spirals of colors and impossible imagery. But this is madness. The subtle creeping disconnection with the world. It doesn’t have to be wild and psychedelic images. It’s just seeing things that aren’t there.

But I don’t see the things that aren’t there. I see the things that are there, damn it. I was not mad. I found the sense where it was hidden. Not the sense where there was none to be found. I recognized patterns, not random noise. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t mad, damn it.

I stood up, and tried the door. It was unlocked. I slowly pulled it, and took a step, and then hesitated.

If I was mad, if I was losing it, then I should stay in the room. Where it was safe. If I couldn’t trust my senses, I would be in danger. Who knows what might happen to me? I could walk into a street, get run down. I might prove I had lost it. If I stayed in the padded room, I would be safe. If I stepped out into the world, who knew what might happen to me?

If I had a coin, maybe I would have flipped it. Absent that, I decided to trust myself. I pushed the door open and stepped through. I trusted my senses, and my memories, and my decisions. It was the only way to move forward when I was alone.

I found myself in another place. You know dreams. They shift around you. I was standing in a burning building. A pair of robed men ran past me. A sword was lying on the ground. It had been shattered by a falling beam. A simple, stupid accident. Its glittering black and red silk handle flashed in the light, jagged edges shining. A simple katana. A length of perfect steel. Its blade was chipped and frayed from battle, but the thing had survived a lifetime of war and been cared for, put somewhere safe to retire. Now, the blade lay glittering on the floor, a few chips of steel visible on the rice straw mats of the room. The handle lay forlornly in the wooden display holder, no longer properly held up, the jagged end resting, its falling edge sunk several inches into the wood of the stand. Chipped and locked away, it was still incredibly sharp.

I saw the spirit of the Tsukumogami. Old, and wise, and powerful, and beautiful, and broken, and dying. The shattering would kill it. Perhaps not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but it was a symbol. A broken sword was dead. The man who made it, so many years ago, was without peer. It could not be remade. And there was no one who understood it, who knew what it needed, who could make it whole. It wept, for all it had wished was to be a symbol, to protect those who needed its strength, and in the end, it did not even have that.

I saw the shadows congeal. The woman stepped out of the darkness, and her soul was black and cruel. She had tasted the despair and the war in the air, and so she took her opportunity. She crouched by the blade, giving it a disdainful look, for she hated what was weak and pathetic and could break, and in the end, everything could break. All of this I saw written in her expression, in her stance, in the way she threw the blade aside, and raised the handle.

“You have a choice,” she whispered. “A choice between a pointless, pathetic death, and survival. Do you wish to accept my gift?”

The sword was not innocent. Swords often are, for they do not choose who to cut. This one was not innocent, for instead, she was just, and she cut only those who deserved to be cut. She knew the price for her survival.

“My gift is betrayal,” the black-hearted woman murmured, softly. “You will cut like nothing else.” She laughed softly, and rested her hand on the hilt. The power infused it, annealed it. It did not heal the wound. It made a scar out of it.

Then she faded back into the shadows, as a man entered the room. A pale man. An adventurer, out seeking amusement. He bent down, and grabbed the knife, looking to either side. He chuckled softly, under his breath. And then he was gone.

“I foresaw the pain it would cause,” said the red-haired woman with the black skin and the green eyes and the gunmetal gray teeth, from the shadows. “That is why I did it.”

“And is that why you knocked me out?” I asked, shaking slightly.

“No. I did that because you would have tried to fight using Jack, and Polly would have killed you, the way she killed Alfred.”

The shakes stopped. My shoulders slumped. “He’s really dead.”

“Not exactly. He was never meant to die. King Arthur never did, after all. He was spirited away, to arise again. But he may as well be dead. When he awakens, there will only be the shell of Alfred and the rest. That could not be avoided. The forces you were up against would not allow anything else. This game had been rigged from the start, and though you fought magnificently, in the end, there was nothing you could do.”

“So what’s the point?” I asked, feeling suddenly exhausted. “If the world is going to end, and Alfred was going to die all along… What was the point of any of this? Why should I have even bothered?”

“Yes,” said the red-haired woman. A jagged machete appeared in her hand, and she twirled it slowly, serenely. “Why do you not cut your throat, each day?” She tapped the stand with the machete. “Why did she not die, rather than accept a gift that she knew would cause terrible pain? Why did she keep going, in the face of despair?” She smiled. “Why did you go to law school, knowing that you would probably never become a Supreme Court Justice, as you had once dreamed?”

“Because… every step along the way was a good idea, even if I never made it to the end.” I stared at the woman. “How did you know about that?”

“I was there when you discussed it with your family. I haven’t paid much attention to you, Atina LeRoux, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the underdog. You project an image of never failing, but in truth, you’ve tasted failure a great deal in your life, haven’t you?”

I looked aside.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. After all, an attorney who never fails is an attorney who only takes sure things. And what good is that?”

“So why did you help me, if you actually helped me?”

“You couldn’t stop Polly. The best you could have done was kill her, and die yourself, and Alfred would not have been saved either way.” She shook her head. “And then what would have happened? You aren’t a fighter, Atina. You aren’t a killer. You are a lawyer. What would happen to everything you had planned, all the people you helped, if you died in a hopeless fight?”

I looked to the side, and I felt bitter tears run down my cheeks. “I hate being helpless.”

“You are not helpless. The odds are not impossible. But you must remember, that in order to have a last-second change of luck, you must keep pressing, to the very last second.” She smiled. “You could not do anything about the plans made to kill Alfred. And yet, the ones behind this still did not act openly. Think about that. And one last thing…”

She reached out, and into my pocket. She took out the list. I marveled at the fact that I had pockets again, while she checked. “Jenny Nishi, Lady Ann Willing, Edwin Link, Wen, The Half-Faced Man, and Tadodaho. Not bad. Almost got it.” She began to rearrange them, her finger dragging through the ink. Changing it. “Ann Willing. Tadodaho. The Half-Faced Man. Edwin Link. Jenny Nishi. And Wen.” She shook her head. “I can see how you got that confused. Don’t worry. You’ll get the message.”

I nodded slowly. “I, ah… thank you.” I looked down at the stand. “What changed? Why are you trying to help, now?”

“A man,” she said, and smiled. “You’d be amazed what love can do. Makes the old feel young again. Not forever, obviously. But sometimes, just long enough to make a difference.” She patted me on the shoulder. “I can see why the Half-Faced Man likes you.”

“Are you one of the Sisters?” I asked, looking aside at the woman.

“No. Now, before you go, read that.” She pointed at the plaque.

“The Honjo Masamune,” I read. That made no sense, because it was Japanese there, and I was shit with languages. But it seemed to be in English. “I… I’d thought it might be. But the timeline’s all wrong. Jack was in England decades too early for that.”

“A copy was made. That was the sword that was transferred to the American forces, and melted down by a careless Sergeant Cody Beamer. After all, it doesn’t do to admit that one of the greatest swords in history has disappeared, leaving behind only a few broken shards. Sometimes, the truth is obscured because of assumptions. Sometimes, because the vital information has been hidden from you.”

“So why are you showing this to me?”

“Because it was my fault, and I am trying, piece by piece, to make things right. It was hard to find the right time and place. And because I am illustrating a point for you. Occam’s razor only works so long as you are very clear about what is impossible. Look in a mirror.”

She snapped her fingers, and my eyes opened sharply. I was lying on my bed. I could feel the ache in my fist, and my ankles, and my shoulders, and my lower back. My body was exacting a toll. The dawn twinkled.

It was 7 AM.

The Half-Faced Man sat up sharply. “You’re awake?” And to my very great surprise, he threw his arms around my shoulders and squeezed me.

“Yeah. I think your little gamble paid off. What happened?”

Alfred was dead. That much was sure. His pacts had been broken. Polly was missing, and presumed guilty for both his death, and that of Dean Morton. Jenny was missing. Queen Wen had been sentenced to death.

“You recall the faerie who repaired Alfred’s rapier? He came forward, admitted that he had been paid a substantial sum by Earlen Wen in exchange for the rapier. It’s become clear that she engineered the entire thing. She was apprehended by a joint force of fairies and the Night Court, shortly after Prince Vassago notified both courts of Polly’s perfidy. She gave herself up without a fight. She has chosen to forego representation.”

I stared blankly at the wall. “I chose a hell of a time to pass out.”

“I’m glad you’re awake,” said The Half-Faced man, softly. “You were not doing well when Prince Vassago found you.”

“Was he the one who got me out of it?”

“No. He said that was in your hands. You had been totally nonresponsive, at first.” The Half-Faced Man sighed. “Setting your mind free of time and space was a very dangerous gamble, Atina. Did you earn anything from it?

“I’m not quite sure.” I smiled. I could feel the sticky sweat on my skin, the disquieting feeling of being dirty, only partially because of last night’s exertions. “I’m going to take a shower. I feel disgusting. Give me a minute?”

The bathroom that adjoined my bedroom was easily the nicest in the house. One of the things I’d always loved about this house was that there were no fewer than four bathrooms, which was a rare luxury to someone like me, knowing that no matter how many guests stayed over, there would always be room for a bathroom. God, that was a dark insight into my nature. I stepped into the shower, and washed myself until the aches and pains had abated slightly. That was something. Then I stepped in front of the mirror, and stared at my own hair, sighing as I drew my fingers through a strand. Ever since I’d gone through the Bar exam, I’d started going gray at my temples. It was what my mother called the curse of the Irish, and it marked everyone on her side of the family with their distinctive salt and pepper…

I froze, mid-internal-monologue. I stepped back out into the bedroom, surprising the hell out of the Half-Faced Man, and pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil from a drawer, disappearing back into the bathroom. How had she ordered it…

“Ann Willing. Tadodaho. The Half-Faced Man. Edwin Link. Jenny Nishi. And Wen.”  I stared down at the Wen for a moment, and then erased it. I replaced it with my name.

I stared at the words for a few seconds longer, erasing the ones that seemed… superfluous. Ann. Tadodaho. Half. Edwin. Nishi. And Atina.

My stomach tightened into a nightmarish knot.

I opened the door, dressed this time. My stomach felt like I’d had a heavy meal of iron. “I need to see Queen Wen,” I said, softly.

“She’s in confinement. I’ll see if I can get an appointment.”

I walked down the stairs, slowly, and breathed in, and then out. Nothing I could do about what was weighing on my mind. Other things to take care of. Jack was sitting at the breakfast table, her expression utterly miserable.

“I felt him die,” she said, softly. “He hadn’t broken off the pact. I felt him just… wink out.” She sniffled softly. “I should’ve been in his hand, I could’ve… I could’ve helped him…”

“I don’t know if you could’ve,” I said, softly. “It was a surprise attack. Alfred’s got great instincts. No one was expecting that to happen.” I reached out, and rested my hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Jack, you’re the Honjo Masamune.”

“What?” She looked up, bemused. “What’s that?”

I took a deep breath, and started the story from the beginning. I had, in fact, researched the Honjo Masamune a fair amount. Masamune had featured heavily in my suspicions ever since I’d heard about her freaking out about choosing who to kill. I’d dismissed it because none of the timelines of any known swords matched up.

It didn’t make sense. That’s the annoying tihng about history. Sometimes, you take what you know for granted. You’ve got to presume that the timelines people agree on are true, and work from that basis. Unless you can find someone who can attest to a different timeline.

The thing was, saying the words wasn’t enough to break her out of whatever fugue she’d been put in. It was the conversation that seemed to do it. Discussing the history of that legendary sword, its owners, its passage through time.

“It was broken during a small rebellion. Pointlessly small, the kind that isn’t recorded in history books. A falling beam shattered the sword, and it was picked up by a madman, after the sword was offered… a deal.” I paused here. “Do you remember any of this?”

“I… sort of. I remember it, it feels right, but it feels like I was a very different person,” said Jack, softly, her head lowered. “I never thought about it. I went without thinking about it for so long, it stopped being real, then it stopped being even a memory.” She wiped her eyes. “I said… It wasn’t my fault. But it was, wasn’t it? I was the one kind of sword that could choose who to cut, and who not to cut.”

“So you don’t remember who that woman was?”

“No.” She shook her head. “She was the one who knocked us unconscious?”

“I’m not sure. She told me she wanted to make amends. But who knows what to believe.”

Jack nodded. And she looked down at her hands, and tears ran down her cheeks. “I hurt people last night.”

“Yeah. They’ll all live, and not in the ‘wishing for death’ way.. If Alfred hadn’t had you, he might’ve killed someone, or he might’ve died.”

“But he died anyway.”

“Yeah. But he got a little bit longer. He lived long enough to save us all.” I wasn’t strictly sure about that, but hell, I could give it the benefit of the doubt.

“So what now?” said Jack, softly.

“I have a contact. I’ll get in touch with them.” I smiled. “Someone who can fix you.”

“Will I have to go?”

“Maybe.”

She looked down. “It was really nice living with you, Atina. Spending time with you. Being… a person.”

“It was nice having an assistant who was willing to work for room and board. I’ll miss that.” I grinned, and reached out, ruffling Jack’s hair. She let out a groan, swatting at my hands very gently, but without much rancor. “Anyway. We’ll have to see about that. There’s still some other things to take care of first.” I took a deep, slow breath. “I remember what Li Fang Fen told me. You intimidated a god, once. You think you could do it again?”

She swallowed, but then, she nodded.

Around nine AM, I arrived at my mechanic.

“Hey, Atina,” said Danny, a gigantic bear of a man. He looked like a bear, talked like a bear, had the facial hair of a bear, and the higher education of a bear. It was one of his best features, along with his great familiarity with mechanics. “It’s a total loss.”

I looked quietly at the car. Its front engine compartment was totally torn apart. Momi stood next to me, the Atlantean looking a bit dazed from yesterday’s adventures, but reassured that there would be no further madness. “I am afraid he’s right,” she said, softly. “Whatever spark it was developing is gone. The car is dead.”

“I could’ve told you that,” said Danny, shaking his head. Danny was, all things considered, a man who had taken quickly to the precepts of Atlantean philosophy. Possibly because they were based in a deep and abiding love of tools. He’d probably be the kind of man who could make a Tsukumogami one day. “Engine block’s a wreck, frame’s badly damaged, you couldn’t repair this. You’d have to start completely fresh.”

It’d saved my life. When it was failing, it had been aware enough to fight through its own fear and pain in order to save me. And it’d died. It wasn’t a person, exactly, closer to a very unintelligent animal, but it had the potential. That kind of thought hurt. The idea that it had died because I hadn’t taken good enough care of it. That if maybe, I’d been a little bit better…

“I understand,” I said, softly. “Keep an eye on it. Okay?”

Around eleven AM, Jenny showed up. Bedraggled, her clothing torn, looking quite miserable, she knocked at my front door.

“I came to in Endicott. The last thing I remembered was getting stabbed in the chest and falling in the river. The stake must have come out, and I washed up on the shore.” She sat, shivering slightly, in a borrowed shirt as I washed and dried those clothes of hers which were salvageable. I’d caught her up with the situation. Her fists were tight. She was wound to the breaking point, and frankly, I was a bit worried about her.

“Are you alright?”

“I can’t make a haiku,” she said, and her knuckles cracked. “I was walking for hours, and all I could think of was Polly’s face as she stabbed me.” She looked up. “I stabbed her, with iron. It didn’t even phase her.”

I blinked. That was, in its own way, another clue. Jack sat in the corner of the room, her knees pulled up against her chest. She tried to say something. “Jenny…”

“All of this power, and she just humiliated me! I’m… I’m…” Jenny buried her face in her hands, and the tears ran down her cheeks. “I’m useless.”

“You saved us, last night. You saved Alfred. If it hadn’t been for you, who knows what would have happened?”

“And Alfred still died.”

“You did more than I did!” said Jack, her eyes red.

There was a very heavy silence in the room. Jenny lowered her head, apologetically. Jack looked to one side. I breathed out.

“You both did something,” I said. “You saved him, and me. Both of you were fighting hard. And I know that it’s miserable, to have fought so hard, to put your all into something, and then have someone just slap you and tell you it was worthless. It wasn’t, though. You both accomplished something. But we’re not done.” I sat back, and breathed in. “There’s more to this, and I’m going to need both of you absolutely sharp as knives if we’re going to do something about this.” I let the breath slowly escape between my teeth. “This isn’t over yet.”

“Alfred’s dead,” said Jenny, resting her hands on the table in front of her. “His murderer has escaped, the person ultimately responsible is in custody. I need to track down Polly, and…” She looked down.

“And kill her?”

“She deserves it.”

“You don’t want to know why she killed him?”

“She was ordered to! She was a vicious monster! Who cares!” said Jenny, and the table snapped under her fingers. A large chunk of wood, simply shattered under the sheer pressure of her fingers. She stared down, and shook slightly. “Are you really defending her? After what she did?”

“No. I’m never going to forgive her for what she did. I took her into my home, and I trusted her. But I want to understand exactly why she did it. This wasn’t lunacy, or some unplanned action. This was a culmination of years of work, and it was someone who was using us all. I don’t know why, I don’t know to what end, I don’t even know how.” My teeth clenched, and the next words came out as a hiss. “But we’re not tools!”

Jack considered this for a moment, and opened her mouth.

“You are not a tool, Jack,” I said, softly, my fingers twitching uncontrollably. “You never were. Because you could choose. That means you sometimes chose to do horrible things, and that’s awful, but it’s still better than having no choice at all, because if you have choice, even if you do horrible things, it means you can sometimes be decent.” I rubbed my forehead. “I’ve got an appointment with Wen.”

It was house arrest. That was enough, for fairies. She’d sworn she would face her fate, and she would not flee. That was the thing that rankled, as I sat down across from Queen Wen.

“Yes, I am still queen, until I am executed. It isn’t a position which can be removed. A successor will be appointed by the Winter King. Most likely my predecessor.” Wen smiled. “Even at this moment, you’re still asking questions?”

“Of course. Never a bad time to learn.” I sat across from her at the table. She did not look like a woman torn apart by pain and the horror and shame of what she had done. She didn’t look like someone who was being executed. I got the impression that Wen did not do ‘out of control’. “So, it all ends up rather neatly. Polly disappears, her name is mud in the Court of Binghamton and those of its allies, but she survives. Alfred dies unjustly, accused. The architect of all of this is executed, clapped in irons. The murder of Dean Morton is avenged. I’ve noticed that the fact that he may not, in fact, be actually dead, is not influencing people much.”

“He was assaulted, his soul torn from his body. If he has survived, and I would be very surprised if that is true, it is still a capital crime. An act of war. The execution of the one responsible is planned, and she arranged it for reasons of base political gain. A dastardly plot to throw the fairy courts into confusion, to open up a chance to take the place of the Queen of the Winter Court. I was discovered, and rather than hide my crimes and allow my daughter to take the fall, I decided to accept my failure. A lady of the Winter Court does everything with dignity.” She sipped her tea. “Even die.”

“Funny, you know. You, protecting your daughter.”

“How is that funny? You know how important she is to me.”

“No, I mean the idea of her needing to be protected.” I picked up one of the ginger biscuits, and bit into it, slowly. It was a challenge, the Queen had good taste, and it was delicious, and I didn’t know how long it had been since I’d been eaten but it felt like years. Nevertheless, watching her maintain that fixed expression of quiet interest as I chewed was good entertainment. Finally, she gave in.

“I’m not sure I understand your meaning.”

“Well, she did go toe to toe with Jenny. Jenny’s inexperienced, but she’s very powerful.”

“And Polly is very good at what she does. I trained her well,” said Queen Wen.

“You also swore you weren’t responsible for the death. That no one you controlled was, either.”

“Who controls their children? I noted that it would be useful, but pointed out all the dangers. She decided it was something I wanted. That is why I’m protecting her. I was not responsible for it, but I can still take fault.” It was double-talk. I knew that trick well.

“You know what’s really funny to me is, how she took that sword to the gut.  One of Alfred’s swords. Even with the scabbard preventing blood loss, that should be a killing blow for a fairy, having an iron sword rammed through your stomach.”

“Faerie,” said Wen, and there was just a hint of tightness to her voice.

“Was she, though?”

“What else would she be?” said Wen, and that was its own kind of clue.

“That’s a good question.” I was silent for a moment. “I’m still wondering what you got from all of this. What did Athena offer you?”

Wen’s knuckls went white around her teacup. But she was not a character in a bad criminal procedural. She did not collapse and confess at the first revelation. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me.”

“I thought about Athena. The last time there was a murder mystery, a powerful outsider who had just showed up was responsible. Whoever did this was using sunlight, and that’s not the kind of thing that anyone can pick up.”

“I understand that Polly had discovered the sunlight while travelling. She always had a talent for finding strange things.”

“Everyone’s talking about how this game has been rigged against me. They talk about how it’s impossible. They’re all dropping hints. I know that you fucking supernatural types adore that. I have a theory about that, you know? You can’t be a mystery and be powerful. Gods, monsters, they become powerful because of belief, and you have to tell stories about someone to garner belief. Even when a god is hiding, they have to give a hint at who they are, at what they did. Even when they’d rather no one find out, they have to leave the clues. It’s compulsive, almost, the way they do it.” I watched Queen Wen, as I set down the list. “I did a Dreamwalk. I have no idea how the hell she managed to fake a psychometry, but the fact stands that she did. Alfred was nowhere near Dean Morton, that night.” I slowly scratched out all but the important letters. The initials. Then I turned the piece of paper to face Wen.

Her shoulders sagged. “Do you ever want to have children, Atina?”

“Someday, it’d be nice. I think I’ve got some pretty good genes and some pretty good taste. I’d hate the world to be without someone like me.”

“Children are such a handful. They would probably spite you and become something else entirely.”

“Yeah, but that’s what I’d do in the same situation. It’s important to rebel.”

“Imagine that you had a child. And you learned that she was… different. Special. Blessed.” She stared out into empty space. “It was a thing that existed in potentia. Much like Alfred’s status as a bergentrückung. I thought that, if I made her a fairy, it would preserve her. Make her no longer… qualify. But it turns out that it simply made her the only choice.”

“When did this happen?”

“When she was five,” said Wen, softly. “When she was five years old, my little girl became a goddess. One that was old, and cold, and of the deepest, most heartless winter. That warm, trusting child, the little girl who might have one day grown up to be… anything, was snuffed out.” She looked up. “But she was still my child. And so I hardly have any choice.”

I sat back. “You could tell everyone.”

“To what good? You cannot hold the gods to account, Atina. That is what makes them gods. Imagine if you were to tell the nobles of this city that Athena and the Morrigan were responsible for the murder. What are we to do?” She shook her head. “It would shatter the law. The beliefs of those who live here. The perception of the law is more important than the law itself, Atina. You should know that. When people are made aware that the law is helpless, the law becomes helpless. No. Better that I die, and preserve the city.”

“You know the reason I dismissed Athena as a suspect?” I said, taking another ginger biscuit, trying not to eat it too fast. “It didn’t make sense to me. Sure, the whole ‘save the world’ thing seems like a good reason to set up something like this. But why be coy about it? If she’s really above the law, if the end is nigh, why would she hedge like this? Just come out with it. If she didn’t need help, then she wouldn’t have done it.”

“Atina, drop this,” said Queen Wen. “My life is not worth it.”

“This isn’t about your life,” I said, and that wasn’t entirely true. “You could die, for all I care.” That was an outright lie. “But it doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is that the city has to have law, and consequences. There has to be a point to all of this. She was afraid, and I can think of two things she’d be afraid of.” I studied the biscuit, the glaze of frosting on the top, the delicate matrix of bubbles and batter that made it up. “Usually, people who tell you that there’s nothing can do are the ones who are afraid that you’ll try something, and succeed.”

“Do not do this, Atina,” said Wen, her voice in a low hiss. “I am not worth it!”

“Maybe not.” I stood up. “But you’re part of we, Wen.”

“Part of being a part of the Winter Kingdom is knowing when you must let someone go!”

“Well, that’s why I’m not a goddamned fairy. I’m doing this. And it’s not for you.”

I stalked out of the warm room, and left without acknowledging the servants.

There were two possibilities. The first was that Athena was afraid of what the city, united, was capable of. The population of Binghamton had… grown, metaphysically speaking. There were a lot of wild-cards. Chaac, Jenny, the Half-Faced Man, Tadodaho, King Sidney, Arthur. If everyone knew, if everyone was united, they could do a lot.

The other was… Well, Athena had said there was no such thing as dragons. That was a very definite statement.

Roy had abandoned me. He hadn’t been there at the times when I could’ve really used him. When my life was on the line, when Alfred’s was, he’d been gone. He’d probably had enough of me, and I didn’t blame him. But maybe, he could protect me, and the city, one last time.

It was an awful risk, but that was the only kind I had left. I made a lot of calls. I called in a lot of favors. I got called crazy quite a lot. And then, I made the last call.

“I’d like to make an appointment to see Athena,” I said, checking the card. A gift from the goddess. “I’ve decided to take her up on her offer. Tell her to meet me at Irish Kevin’s. I’ll give you the address.”

“She has an opening tonight. Does 6 PM work for you?”

2 thoughts on “Chapter 19: You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Work Here, But Help!

  1. Bella continues to be one of my favorite characters and I wonder what it’s going to be like when we meet Polly again. How will she feel about what she has done?

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