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Safe Now

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This is the story of how I got kidnapped by a fucking talking horse.

Felix was bored in Grimglass Town, like we’d both hoped he wouldn’t be. I was fucking bored too, since you ask.

Grimglass Town was about half the size of Breadoven and not even half as interesting. Not much going on there. Looked like any dozen of the shithole towns I’ve seen, except for the ocean. I like it and Felix pretends it isn’t there. We didn’t figure on it being a problem, but it ain’t hard to see that somebody terrified of water won’t get cozy in a seaside town. Not that he had anybody to get cozy with, and if it comes to that, neither did I.

Anyway, both of us weren’t settling in. The virtuer’s tower they’d wanted Felix for ended up being the lighthouse and you have to take a boat to even get to it. So, of course, Felix had to pretend that it didn’t bother him for me to row us over open water twice a day. And there was no one for him to talk magic with, except by letter to the virtuers and students in Esmer.

Kay was up past his neck in paperwork at Grimglass Castle and he kept Julian hopping most of the day, sorting shit out so those vulture uncles couldn’t snatch nothing away from Kay’s new stepson in the future and seeing that all the little fights everybody had got smoothed out. But I could tell Kay liked the work, and the days Felix didn’t need me for the boat, I’d go up to the manor and give Julian a few hours off. Mostly we’d talk, though I still read out loud a lot. Kay liked telling me what the books about Caloxan history get wrong. But he could do that with anybody really and I knew Vanessa read to him too.

What I mean is, Grimglass wasn’t what we’d hoped and although I thought I’d travelled enough for a few lifetimes, I was okay with the idea of going north. Kay suggested it six months after we’d arrived. He said it was important to know stuff about nearby countries. Felix jumped at the chance, anything to go inland, I figured. But he said he’d read some things in the lighthouse books about the weird shit they do for magic north of Corambis so that was our excuse. Kay gave us money, saying it was an ‘official expedition’ which was a nice way to say ‘go away before you blow up important landmarks’. The Grimglass people were real proud of that lighthouse and Kay knew that Felix hated it more and more every day. So we found supplies, packed up, and went.

Kay also gave me a notebook and told me to keep notes so I could give him a ‘full report’. I wasn’t sure how serious he was but I’d improved enough on writing that Felix said it was only practice I needed. I worked on the writing for Kay every day when we stopped for the night. Felix wanted to read it but he waited for me to offer and I didn’t. Part of living with Felix had shown me that I needed to keep some things to myself. I guessed when I wasn’t sure about spelling because I knew I’d be reading the notes to Kay anyway. I sure as hell wasn’t going to give them to Julian. He’d faint at the state of the pages.

Our first map wasn’t worth the vellum it was drawn on but I found a better one when we passed through a big city in Seejay. Everybody thought we were Corambins which was okay. I heard some weird languages but nobody expected us to speak them so that was good. We had this little cart, on account of my leg, with two horses to pull it. It had room for both of us to sleep in the back and an oilcloth cover in case of rain. I didn’t fancy walking all the way to wherever we were going but that cart was more trouble than it was worth some days. We’d left in late spring so the roads weren’t as bad. Small favours, since the cart had been sprung by somebody who didn’t know what the fuck they were doing and it bounced in the road ruts something awful. Mostly, we used hotels that were along the way but cities weren’t what you’d call plentiful so we slept in the cart sometimes and kept supplies in it too.

Felix really wanted to meet other hocuses, which made this trip basically the opposite of all the other ones we’d taken together. And Seejay was much more welcoming to magic than the Kekropian Empire. There were women Felix called hedge witches everywhere, with market stalls selling every kind of thing, right next to the vegetable sellers sometimes. Those weren’t the hocuses we were after, though both of us were surprised at how open they were about being there.

I was keeping my ears open like always and I heard some bad stories about the next country north, Ruven. Slave traders and bandits who attacked anybody not in a big group. I told Felix about it and I could see him planning on telling me to shut up but instead, he said, “We will need to find companions then. If the country is so dangerous, there are bound to be caravans.”

I wanted to tell him that there didn’t ‘bound to be’ shit. But I just said, “Okay,” because I knew Felix hates being at a loss. And even a stupid plan like maybe finding a caravan that would maybe take us with them and not just try to rob us as soon as we left the city, was better than sitting around wringing our hands. Or just deciding that we were scarier than the bandits, and though my leg was in a bad mood about those ruts in the road, I ain’t feeling too scary these days.

We were pretty close to the Ruven-Seejay border about two decads into our trip. I’d pulled over to a clearing beside the road where there were blackened places from other people’s fires. The horses were happily eating grass while still hitched to the cart. Felix was reading one of the books he’d borrowed from Grimglass Tower. I was fishing around in one of our packs, looking for my extra quill, when the Sibylline fell out and spilled across the ground.

Felix jumped up like the folding stool had bit him and we both stared at the cards. Three of them were face-up: The Magician, Strength, and The World.

“Did you drop them?” Felix asked, like he hoped I had.

“Never touched them,” I said.

Felix knelt on the ground and slowly picked up the cards one by one.

The last time those cards had made a fortune-telling reading on their own, we had been on a train in Corambis, on our way to rescue Kay, and I hoped like hell there wasn’t another death-machine around. Seejay folks weren’t as machine crazy as Corambins but you never knew what people had hidden away.

“Hmm,” Felix said, at last. He was staring at the pile of cards in his hand like he had never seen them before. I remembered what Mavortian had told me about the cards, way back in Mélusine before I had even met Felix or known I had an older brother at all, let alone a hocus one. Anyway, he had told me some of their meanings and I didn’t think these ones were too bad. Strength was obvious and The Magician meant magic and action. I wasn’t sure about The World.

I waited to see if Felix was going to say something else but he didn’t. He looked east, towards the road. I was just wondering whether I would say something when Felix dropped the cards and bolted west, into the trees. Before I could think, I was after him.

If he got a lead on me, I’d never catch him. Frantic, I reached up and grabbed Felix’s shoulder. Then my leg gave out and we were on the ground. It hadn’t done that in a long time. I heard the frightened neighing of our horses.

Felix was panting like he’d run for miles instead of for a few steps. My breathing was pretty ragged too. Some of that was pain but I was also scared. If a bad magic thing happened to Felix, there was nothing I could do. Well, there was never much I could do.

“Are you okay?” I asked. I wanted to let go of his shoulder but if he started running again…

“Yeah,” said Felix and I was immediately on full-alert. When Felix’s flash accent starts slipping, it means that he ain’t okay.

He must’ve felt me tense up because he immediately said, “I mean, I am perfectly all right.” He was still gasping like a fish out of water but he sounded like a flashie again. I let him go.

Felix groaned and sat up. I tried to do the same but my leg felt like a block of wood some bastard was trying to carve.

“Oh, damn,” Felix muttered. I jerked my head up but he wasn’t looking at me. I followed his gaze back to our camp.

Fuck me sideways. We had company.