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Liminals

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The opening door broke the silence in the room. An imposing woman went in, the overcoat fluttering as she walked around the table and took a seat. She was black, tall and had piercing dark eyes. Her white box-braided hair was tied back in a ponytail and her clothes didn’t have a drop of water in them, despite just having walked in pouring rain. An ID plate affixed to a chest pocket had her name on it: Cpt. Sojourn . She sat impeccably straight on the metal chair and looked at each of the three individuals currently at the other side of the table, a cautious curiosity in her dark eyes.

“So, I go after an elusive ghost and come back with a woman with a fractal field of energy, a second woman with a fake shadow and an apparently sentient bird with layer after layer of spells tied to their core. That is not an usual work day.” She made a pause. “Can you please state your names and occupations?”

The two women and the bird looked at each other briefly. They couldn’t be more different from each other: one woman was tall, had raven black hair, golden eyes, and the impeccable posture of a noble; the other was of a regular height, with short and chaotic brown hair, big brown eyes and a very expressive face; and the bird was, well, a regular robin redbreast, small and round, currently held in a metal cage.

The tall woman started. “I’m Amélie Guillard, a ballet master for the Royal Opera Ballet.”

Her voice was calm and velvety, but her eyes were tense, almost angry. Captain Sojourn would assume she was  outraged at being in a questioning room in a police district. 

“Lena Oxton, freelance visual artist.”

“Oxton?” Captain Sojourn repeated, cocking her head a bit. “It sounds familiar. Are you famous?”

She shrugged. “Well, if you count ‘beaten-to-almost-death-and-appearing-in-the-newspapers-for-it’ famous, then maybe.”

“Oh, that case.” Sojourn frowned slightly, but offered no further commentary. Instead she gestured for the bird to go.

The bird just stared at her, and she stared back. After ten seconds of that Lena decided it was best to clarify it: “She can’t talk, ma’am. She’s just a bird. Can you take her out of the cage? She won’t be flying away without us.”

Sojourn barely spared her a glance before going back to the previous focus. “If she was just a bird, Miss Oxton, she’d be flying away the moment I opened the cage, and she wouldn’t have this many spells on her.” 

“They’re not for that.” Amélie countered.

“So tell me what they’re for, then. I’m sure it’s reasonable.” The sarcasm in her words didn’t reach her expression.

“Is this breach of our personal lives legal, captain? I thought you had to defer to the current case.” Amélie crossed her legs, staring at Sojourn from above. Lena looked at her companion like she didn't think acting that way wasn't really a good idea, and she was right. An entitled, clueless suspect always amused Sojourn, though.

She relaxed her posture a bit on the chair and opened a smile for the first time that night. “Do you really think it’s only one case against you here, sweetie? Let me enumerate: Trespassing a high risk area; trespassing a restricted LMPD-issued area, irresponsible manipulation of magic--”

“Wait a moment there!--” Lena started, but Sojourn raised her voice above hers.

“--with impending risk to the surrounding area; destruction of property and ah, of course, unregistered innate and/or acquired magic or magical conditions...”

Lena was stiff in her chair, eyes wide and fixed on her hands. Amélie looked like she was clenching her teeth. The two of them were handcuffed to the metal table, but Sojourn was sure they wouldn’t be moving even if they were free, in this case.

“So you see, Miss Guillard, I have all the right to ask about it based on the current accusations.”

“We don’t know what most of the spells are for.” Lena said, quietly. “We don’t even know how many of them there are. We just know they’re trapping her like that.”

“Lena!”

“What? She’s going to arrest us and we did nothing wrong, might as well tell her.”

“You should listen to your friend, Miss Guillard. She’s smart.”

“Girlfriend.” Amélie replied, sharply.

For the first time, captain Sojourn was taken aback. “I wasn’t aware, I apologize. Now, you say she’s trapped by the spells, miss Oxton?” She leaned forward, interested.

“Yeah... It’s complicated. Emily’s our girlfriend too. She disappeared two years ago and only returned now, in the form of a bird.” Lena looked towards the cage again. “Listen, can you please take her out of there? It’s unnerving.”

Sojourn raised an eyebrow and reached out for the cage. She brought it closer and unlocked it, opened the door and waited. The bird - Emily? - looked at her and simply walked out in a relaxed pace, sitting outside like it was trained to do so. Out of the blue a song started playing on the room, even though there was no visible speaker:

 

Freedom! (I won't let you down)

Freedom! (I will not give you up)

Freedom! (Have some faith in the sound)

You've gotta give for what you take (It's the one good thing that I've got)

 

Freedom! (I won't let you down)

Freedom! (So please don't give me up)

Freedom! ('Cause I would really, really love to stick around)

You've gotta give for what you take

 

As quickly as it came, it went.

Sojourn was startled, looking around in utter confusion. “What the hell was that?”

We don’t have a clue!” A voice came from the same place, fairly obviously a hidden speaker.

If none of the police officers there or behind the glass wall (there were always officers behind them listening to testimony, any bad policial series could tell you that) knew what was happening, Lena and Amélie were very aware in turn.

“George Michael, luv?” Lena laughed, and it was as genuine as children’s laughter.

Amélie had a smile and raised eyebrows.

Sojourn saw that, of course. She turned to them for answers. “Explain!”

A different song boomed in the room.

 

Magic, it's a kind of magic

It's a kind of magic

Magic, magic, magic, magic

Magic, ha ha ha ha it's magic

Ha ha

Yeah, yeah

It's a kind of magic

 

Lena could only laugh more frantically as Freddie Mercury sang and Sojourn was startled again. As the sound died down, the officers on the other side made sure to say in rather squalish voices they really weren’t doing any of that.

“It’s Emily, captain.” Amélie finally explained. “She’s answering your question.”

Sojourn stared and blinked for a moment, trying to make sense out of it “With songs? In a magic-suppressing room?”

“It’s what she does.” It was time for Amélie to open an amused smile. “Lena, make sure you don’t puke from laughter, yes?”

“M-my belly…!” She half laughed, half whimpered.

Emily, the robin, chirped in a lively way and nodded to Sojourn.

That really wasn’t the usual work day.

“You three have a lot of explaining to do.” Sojourn managed to say, still taken by surprise. “And no more songs.”

Lena and Amélie looked at each other expectantly. A new song came.

 

Deception

Disgrace

Evil as plain as the scar on his face

Deception (An outrage!)

Disgrace (For shame!)

He asked for trouble the moment he came

 

“Called it!” Lena shouted to Amélie, who shook her head.

“I’m going to put you back in the cage if you keep this up.” Sojourn pointed to Emily. I can’t believe I’m threatening a bird.

The song stopped.

“Okay, go back to explaining, miss Oxton.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Your girlfriend, Emily, is that right?” The bird nodded. Hell. “ She used to be human, then she disappeared and came back as a bird. Did you report this to the police? How do you even know this bird is her? No offense.” She added quickly.

Hesitation. Again Lena and Amélie looked at each other. This time, it was Amélie who spoke.

“Emily could run this sort of interference before, with the songs. It wasn’t all that difficult to figure things out when she did it as a bird, and she can type with her beak, given a proper computer keyboard.”

“It takes some time and looks tiring, though.” Lena added.

Emily walked towards Lena’s cuffed hands and rubbed her head against them, sitting where both Amélie and Lena could pet her.

“Right." Sojourn had seen weirder things in her career, true, but they usually had to do with more offensive magic and curses. This case was piquing her curiosity in a way that didn't happen all that often. "And did you report her disappearance?” 

This time, there was no answer, which could be considered an answer on itself: they clearly didn’t. That would put them in further trouble than anticipated.

Sojourn sighed and crossed her hands on the table, giving them a tired, appraising look. "You do know this hesitation doesn't look good for you, don't you?" 

"It's--" Lena started, but stoppe abruptly as she clutched her chest and inhaled sharply. Her eyes went wide and she lost all strength, falling to the side and being caught by a startled Amélie.

"Lena!"

 

Sojourn got up in a reflex, reaching out for them. "What's wrong?!"

As if on cue, the whole room shook. Sojourn had to lean on the table to keep herself up.

"Did you… Urgh." Lena slowly tried to right herself on the chair, but even her words were weak. "What did you do to that machine?"

"Machine?" Sojourn repeated.

Lena took a deep breath and blinked a couple of times. Color was returning to her face and her words were getting louder than a whisper, but that didn't mean Amélie let go of her. "The one you took from my hands."

"It's being analyzed as we speak, of course."

"Bloody hell, I told you to destroy that thing!" She groaned. "It's activating again!"

About one hour before, Lena, Amélie and Emily were in a warehouse containing a myriad of clandestine magical machines, mostly trinkets and baubles, not unlike the flashing toys meant to attract kids. Only a handful of them had real power and one had malfunctioned and tore through time, a rift big enough it resulted in Khronos pulling Lena in her sleep to tell her to take care of the nuisance. 

It had been hell to get into the warehouse at first, so much Amélie and Emily, who were originally only giving Lena a ride and waiting in the car, joined her efforts to somehow get in. If Emily hadn’t flown up to the small windows up the wall and warned them through songs about danger on their phones, Amélie and Lena might’ve been hit with a pile of brass machines taller than them as soon as they unlocked the door, for example. After that they had to climb up and enter through a window.

The inside of the warehouse was wrecked. The time-tearing machine had formed an orbital field around it, all sorts of scrap metal, screws, coils and devices spun around it endlessly while everything else was repulsed to the walls. Lena had urged her girls to go back, but there was no way they’d leave her alone in a place like that, if only to ensure she wouldn’t be dragged and trapped in a different dimension like it seemed to happen when they weren’t looking.

It took a good while and some nasty bruises for Lena to be able to blink to the source-machine and smack it enough for the field - and subsequently, the tear in time - to stop. She asked Amélie to keep an eye on the machine and started doing the thing Khronos left her alive for, mending the rift with her time powers.

She had just finished doing that when the magic police stormed the place, rifles in hand and Sojourn as their head. Lena knew enough to be sure Khronos probably stalled them enough for her to do the job, but he didn’t care enough to ensure her safety after that. Asshole. She still shouted for the officers the machine had to be destroyed or it would start tearing things back, but she didn’t have a way to know if they did so as they took the thing away and handcuffed her.

Well, her advice wasn’t followed, in the end.

“How do you know that?” Sojourn asked, then directed herself to the officers on the other side of the wall. “Can you verify this for me, guys?”

“I feel the time warping in my guts, captain.” Lena said, annoyed. “We gotta do something before it blows a hole in it in the middle of your district, take me to it!”

She scoffed. “There’s no way I’m releasing you.”

“Then handcuff me to you, I don’t know--”

“Captain Sojourn, the guys at the lab confirmed there are strange measurements coming from said machine.” One of the officers replied through the hidden speaker.

“Lena is telling the truth.” Amélie spoke, harsh but collected. “Let her do her job or it’ll probably end very badly.”

Sojourn bit her lip and inhaled. There was clearly an internal battle going on in her head. “And why can you, of all people, put an end to this?”

The room shook again, more violently this time. Emily even took flight, and Lena gasped and clutched at her breast again. This time a pair of concentric blue neon circles appeared in front of her chest, spinning slowly. Her whole body blinked on the chair for a moment, like there were two of her in different stages of cowering from pain. It was back to normal in a heartbeat. She went limp on Amélie’s arms again.

“Because she did it at the warehouse, captain, and you should know this by now.” Amélie snarled. “Now if you don’t take her to see to it, she’s going to have these episodes more and more and I’ll see to it that when I’m out of these handcuffs I’ll personally skin you!”

Both Emily and Lena looked towards Amélie in surprise. Sojourn scoffed, rolled her eyes and produced a key from a pocket.

“If you threaten me again I’m having you put into a cell, miss Guillard.” She opened Lena’s handcuffs with a click and went to her, offering a hand. “Now show me what you can do.”

--

When they arrived at the lab, they found the lab guys crowding the observation room, eyes locked on the machine on the other side of the reinforced glass, tension clear in their expressions. The machine, an amalgam of cables, brass, runes and lights the size of a shoebox, was floating high from the ground, casting a blue aura far around it. Delicate lab instruments and vials were orbiting it, spinning fast up and down.

“We’ve tried all sorts of dispelling, Captain” A man said, turning to face Sojourn. “Nothing happened.”

“Of course, you can’t dispel time.” Lena frowned, shaking her head. “You gotta unravel and mend it.”

“And you are?” The man replied, more curious than annoyed.

“The person who's going to stop this mess, but only if we get moving, oh, this century?” She side-eyed Sojourn, who rolled her eyes. They were handcuffed to each other. Lena couldn’t do whatever she wanted.

“Open the door, Brenson. We’re going in.”

“But captain, we weren’t able to penetrate the field--”

“You weren’t, but this girl here?” She pointed to Lena with her head. “She can. Now open it.”

The man nodded and straightened his glasses, started pressing some buttons with practiced ease and pulled a lever: A thick metal door to their left hissed and clicked, decompressing. Sojourn lead the way and pushed it open slowly, as it was very heavy, and made way for Lena to go in as well.

The first thing that hit them was the heavy wind, then the humming static; it was almost like the machine was pulsing on itself. Sojourn closed the door again and they heard it sealing shut behind them. There was nowhere to go but there.

“Okay captain, I’ll need you to uncuff us and hold tight on me.” Lena said, dead serious.

Sojourn did as she told, set them free and passed her arms around her waist. “What are you--”

Her words were cut short as Lena blinked forward, her time-bending speed colliding with the orbital field of the machine. Thankfully it was still small enough it wasn’t the most exhausting task to stick an arm through it and grab a coil. A jolt of energy ran through their bodies and suddenly everything was shiny, blue and full of motion around it. Sojourn gasped, surprised, and Lena held her arms on her waist.

“Don’t let go, luv. You wouldn’t like being lost here.”

“Where are we?”

“Time.” she said, simply. “Gotta mend it from the inside.”

Who are you?” Sojourn looked around and couldn’t make sense of anything. That was crazy.

“I told you already: Lena Oxton, freelance visual artist. I’m also ex-RAF and a time-oddity, if you really want to know.” She looked back at Sojourn and grinned. “It’s literally my job to fix messes like these, and now I have all the time in the world to tell you all about me, Amé and Em without people eavesdropping!”

--

 

The opening door broke the silence in the room. A bubbly woman with windswept hair walked in and made a beeline to her girlfriends, kissing the dancer and ruffling the bird’s feathers affectionately. An imposing woman walked in after her, closing the door on her wake. She looked troubled, her eyes wide with things she’d seen. She went to a chair on the opposite side of the table, sat there and leaned forward, not a word uttered.

“Did you solve the problem, chérie? ” Amélie asked, leaning her head on Lena’s shoulder as she sat down.

“Yep! Captain Sojourn ordered the machine destroyed. They’re going to study it in pieces.” She giggled adorably.

“And you’re not in handcuffs.”

“That’s because we had a chat, me and the captain. It really sorted things out!”

Amélie raised an eyebrow and turned to look at Sojourn, who was still looking at them with that distant and surprised expression. “What did she do?”

“Oi! Believe me, will ya?”

Sojourn creased her brow further and took a moment to find the words. That wasn’t easy at all, in the end. “She took me inside time.” She made a pause. “And told me about the three of you.”

“Oh. Everything?” Amélie’s posture relaxed. Now she looked a bit concerned for Sojourn.

“Enough for her to understand.” Lena replied.

“Mm.” She nodded.

Emily walked up to Sojourn and stared at her. A song started on the hidden speaker, but not a booming tune this time - it was loud enough to hear, but not to startle. 

 

Annie, are you ok?

So, Annie are you ok?

Are you ok, Annie?

Annie, are you ok?

So, Annie are you ok?

Are you ok, Annie?

Annie, are you ok?

So, Annie are you ok?

Are you ok, Annie?

You've been hit by

You've been hit by

A smooth criminal

 

Sojourn focused on her for the first time. “I’m… Processing. But thanks.”

“What are you going to do about us?” Amélie eyed Sojourn with veiled expectancy. 

She looked back at Amélie and took a deep breath, that soon turned into a sigh.

“I’d like to make a deal.” She looked very conflicted about it, though. “I let you go free now, provided that whenever the LMPD feels the need to call for your expertise, you oblige.”

Lena raised an eyebrow. “That sounds good. What’s the catch?”

“I want the three of you registered with your respective powers and conditions.”

Lena scoffed, but it was Amélie who spoke. “And how do you suggest we register Emily?”

“How about we discuss this further in my office?” She slid the keys through the table and Lena picked them up. It was time for all of them to be out of the handcuffs.

--

Captain Sojourn sat in her office, and the silence was welcome after all the talking. The trio of the most improbable girlfriends had just exited after a lengthy discussion of terms for a deal, and she would be lying if she said she wasn’t surprised by their whole story still. A muse trapped as a bird for acting too much as a human, a ballerina who lost her shadow to an entity in exchange for the hope of saving her girlfriend, and an unbelievably cheery artist who happened to have a piece of time itself embedded in her soul… Lena Oxton was the ghost who’d been dissipating all the time anomalies the LMPD couldn’t for two year. It would be a crime to have her arrested and lose that, especially when she seemed to be the only one who could do it. 

That deal would do good for both of them. Amélie Guillard just had a simple glamour cast on her, a fake shadow not to alert people to her lack of a real one. It wasn’t anything to be concerned about. Emily the muse, however… There hadn’t been a time Sojourn had dealt with spirits and it didn’t spell trouble. She could understand all the hesitation from the mortal women about bringing her up to the discussion, now - how would they register a spirit in the system when she theoretically didn’t exist in the concept of that plane, and when ghosts were registered by their local of haunting and level of menace? How could they even explain the concepts of why and how she was cursed, when those things were done out of their view, by laws they didn’t know about?

Sojourn should’ve insisted they reported Emily as she was, but she couldn’t. Instead she suggested they came again the next day and she’d help them register her as a sentient familiar of unknown origin, left in their care. It would enable them to pursue the nature of some of the spells on her on legal terms, and it wouldn’t raise too many questions.  They were happy with it. She was, as well.

She sighed. That definitely wasn’t an usual day.

She picked up the receiver and dialed some numbers.

“Hello? Amari, come to my office. I need to talk to you for a second.”