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Reverse Charge Call

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“Yeah? Er, that is, Giles residence, Rupert speaking.”

“Good afternoon, sir. This is Miriam from the telephone company. Will you accept a reverse charge call from an… Ethan Rayne?”

“%*@#$!”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“Yes, yes. Put him through.”

“Hello, Ripper.”

“My name is Rupert. And I thought I told you not to call me here.”

“It’s nice to hear your voice too. Not sure about the new accent, though. Can’t say that it suits you.”

“This is my real accent.”

“Still doesn’t suit you.”

“Why are you calling, Ethan? I thought we agreed to keep our distance while we sorted our lives out.”

“As I remember, most of the agreeing was on one side.”

“A-and I’m quite certain that I’m not in the mood to have this conversation again. I’ve got a lot of studying to do—”

“Oh? Back in uni already?”

“No. Though, if all goes well, I should be by Michaelmas term.”

“Michaelmas term? Oxford, then? Only they’d be too snobby to just say ‘autumn.’ I wonder, have your posh old school chums missed you?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. I imagine some have moved on by now. It’s been several years. And, as for those who are still there, I imagine they’ve more or less forgotten about me.”

“Yeah, easy enough, isn’t it? Making new friends and forgetting old ones? You were struggling with it when we first met, but you’ve always been such a quick study.”

“I wasn’t planning on forgetting you, Ethan. I’ll be out of London for a few years, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still meet occasionally.”

“Oh, yes. I can just see it. You, me, and your fancy Oxford mates… No? Maybe something more like this: you call, I bus up to Oxford, we meet in some towny bar where you don’t run too much risk of being seen by anyone you know. Or, if that’s still too much for you, you can always pop down to London during a school break, meet me in some dive, and finish up the evening by buggering me in a filthy alley—”

“Ethan! I am at my parents’!”

“Ah yes, and how are the ‘stodgy old hypocrites’ now anyway?”

“My parents are fine. Now—”

“Remember when you took that scabies-infested slag home for Christmas, just to piss them off? Now that was a laugh.”

“The look on their faces was—Er. Th-that is to say, it wasn’t particularly funny in the end. It took Mum months to get rid of the infestation.”

“Come now, you laughed harder than any of us when you told that story.

The funny thing is though, you never had to pick up some twat. You could have taken me up on my offer. Scabies may itch, but I could have really gotten under their skin.”

“...”

“Oh. Bad choice of words. Does your mark ever bother you? Mine does sometimes. Prickles in the middle of the night, keeping me awake. And then I’ll start thinking about what it was like. When he was inside us. That feeling of freedom. All the worry and pain, just sliding away. It’s enough for me to almost want him back. Even remembering—”

“Yes. Well, I do have quite a lot of studying to do, so if there’s nothing else…”

“Wait! I didn’t call just to catch up.”

“What do you want?”

“I wasn’t lying when I said I was happy to hear your voice. But the thing is… I’m in a spot of trouble.”

“Ah. And what have you gotten yourself into this time?”

“Mmm, nothing much. A slight complication. I’d agreed to do a job for a clan of Kelroth demons. Just a spot of chaos magic. Meant to make the members of the rival clan lose all their hair. No small feat considering how the buggers are covered in the stuff.”

“So your spell failed?”

“Oh, it worked perfectly. A little too well really.”

“It affected all of them didn’t it?”

“Both clans, yes. And you how vain the Kelroth are about their hair. Now that I’ve seen what’s underneath, I can understand why.”

“Ah. And now the Kelroth want their money back? Money which you, of course, no longer have?”

“Er, yes. Plus extra for ‘loss of dignity.’ Really, I can’t see why I should be blamed for the vagrancies of chaos magic.”

“Why indeed? Honestly, Ethan, don’t you think a little more caution would be warranted? Kelroth demons are notoriously hot-tempered and chaos magic is—”

“Dangerous? Unpredictable? You might be able to afford caution. You’ve got your parents and your destiny to fall back on. But me? At least Janus won’t turn his back on me. I’m not even sure if that’s even possible given his two-sided nature.”

“You’re worshiping Janus now? Have you completely lost your mind? When did this start?”

“A few months ago. I didn’t have you or the others to back me up anymore. I needed power, and Janus offers plenty to his worshipers.”

“And mental instability and early death.”

“I’m touched by your concern. Really. It’d be a little more believable if you hadn’t vanished the instant things got difficult.”

“I told you. I needed some time to see my parents, a-and get my life sorted. That didn’t give you the right to start worshiping chaos.”

“The right? And you’re the authority on what I have the ‘right’ to do?”

“That’s not what I meant. But… you can’t seriously think that Janus is the answer.”

“What I think is that, if I don’t get the Kelroth their money, they’re going to tear my fingers out one by one and give them to their spawn for teething toys.”

“And how much money are we discussing here?”

“Well, the advance was around three hundred quid—”

“Three hundred?! That is, no. I’m sorry, Ethan. I can’t.”

“Why not? Your family’s not exactly short on dosh.”

“My family. Not me. And I can’t ask them for money, not after everything I’ve already put them through.”

“There must be something you can do.”

“No, but maybe there’s something you can do. Leave Janus behind. Find a more legitimate use for your gifts. Th-the council maybe. They could always use a sorcerer of your talents. They’d protect you. My word may not count for much with them right now, but maybe if I could convince my father to vouch for you—Don’t laugh, this isn’t a joke!”

“Your father? Hah, well you’ve got to admit it’s a bit funny. You weren’t willing to take me to your parents even to piss them off.”

“This is different.”

“Yes. It certainly is. Tell me. How exactly would you introduce me to your father?”

“As a friend. And a competent mage.”

“Right. I’d rather take my chances with the Kelroth.”

“Of course. Why should I expect anything else from you?”

“Look, Ripper. Surely everything we’ve been through together is worth a couple hundred quid?”

“It’s Rupert. And everything I own doesn’t add up to more than a few hundred. Look, Ethan—”

“Hmm. Well, I wonder how your dear Mummy and Daddy would respond if I were to turn up at your doorstep.”

“What?”

“Oh, just imagine the chaos I can make. Not to mention all the things I could tell them. Some of which I’m sure you didn’t mention when you pulled your prodigal son routine.”

“Oh. I see.”

“I can think of a few particularly juicy anecdotes right now. For example, there was the night we started at the King’s Head and ended in the rubbish dump—”

“Ethan, stop. I’d been about to say, before you tried to blackmail me, that I can try to get your money. But it won’t be easy. You said 300 pounds?”

“Er, better make that an even 500. I’ll need a little extra, don’t-rip-out-my-extremities money.”

“500? Jesus, Ethan.”

“I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t serious, you know that. It’s just, you should see how angry this lot is and—”

“Shut up. I’m thinking. My father keeps too close of an eye on the books and artifacts. But my nan collected a lot of stuff on her travels that hasn’t seen the light of day in decades. I bet I could nick some of her things and fence them downtown without anyone being the wiser. … Er, that is, items that aren’t too dangerous to put on the market.”

“I knew I could count on you, Ripper old chap.”

“It’s Rupert! Ripper was an idiotic nickname from the worst part of my life. And I won’t be called by it.”

“The worst? You can’t mean—”

“How can I not mean it?! Randall died, Ethan. Have you already forgotten, or do you just not care?”

“…”

“I’ll get you your 500 pounds. But on one condition.”

“That I’ll get on the straight and narrow and never touch another drop of chaos magic as long as I live?”

“No. We both know you’ll keep looking for your next thrill till it kills you.”

“And you’re any different?”

“I bloody-well am! … Or at least, I’m trying to be.”

“What then?”

“Give me one week to get your money. And after... You will leave me alone. You will not call, you will not scry, you will not write. You will not happen to run into me on the street or turn up suddenly on my door. Our association will be over.”

“But, surely there must be some way we can still be—”

“Be what, Ethan? We’re… we’re not on the same path anymore.”

“I just… don’t want to lose you too.”

“Then don’t make me steal from my family. Tell me you’ll get the money some other way.”

“…”

“I thought not. Give me a week. I’ll contact you through the old channels when I have the money. Now, is there anything else?”

“No. No, I suppose there isn’t.”

“Fine. Goodbye, Ethan.”

“Goodbye. Rupert.”