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A Strange Displacement

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It was several minutes before Elijah got back to her and told her to Skip. She was a good Displacer but for specific unfamiliar locations this was a good trick. She did it often. She felt for the Fabric, the material from which all space is made, and opened it. There, reaching for her, was Elijah. She took his hand and he pulled her to Belarus. He’d chosen a closed-up shop on a lonesome backstreet. Renatus and Aristea were already there. In the dimness, she could see the New Zealander’s light-coloured eyes looking worriedly back at her, and knew that he was less than delighted to be here with them once again. While perfectly competent, even well-suited to tense or dangerous situations, Elijah was not motivated to jump into them the way Emmanuelle or Renatus were.

“I don’t like this,” he mentioned. “That Displacement felt strange.”

“What took you so long?” Emmanuelle asked Renatus, annoyed with him. Few people would speak to the imposing Dark Keeper so forthrightly but Emmanuelle’s long-held fear of him was a distant and almost laughable memory by now. Last week he’d nearly killed her – Lord Gawain’s risky gamble of portraying Emmanuelle as a traitor had momentarily fooled everyone, even Lisandro, even Renatus, even Aristea. The Healer herself had been surprised with how very nearly the ruse had worked out, but also knew that her chief danger had not been the enemy she’d tricked. Even in that knowledge, though, even as Renatus had threatened her and torn forcibly at the wards around her guarded mind, there had been no fear. There should have been – her life had been left in his hands and she’d left him angry – but there was no room for it any more. It was shoved aside months ago to make room for hatred of Lisandro and disgust for Jackson, and now, fury with her kidnapper cousin Aubrey.

Renatus answered with a half shrug, eyes on his apprentice as the girl rushed to the grimy window.

“The building was taller than any of these,” Aristea insisted. “This can’t be the right place.”

“Lord Gawain wants us out within ten minutes,” Emmanuelle reminded them. “We must be fast.”

“There was something strange about that Skip,” Elijah said again, though of course the other three couldn’t know what he meant by that. Displacers saw the world differently from other classes of sorcerers. “It felt like... falling. Or sliding.”

“Falling where, I wonder?” Emmanuelle asked. “Is ‘e expecting us?”

Renatus blasted the lock and shouldered through the door into the rain and Aristea raced after him. Emmanuelle followed with Elijah, keeping an eye out for suspicious movement. The backstreet was dim and abandoned, as was preferable for Displacements, but that only created more hiding places for the people they were looking for. And Emmanuelle didn’t waste time these days believing that Lisandro didn’t know when they were coming. He carefully blocked his actions from the sight of the White Elm’s scriers, so the occasions on which they did see something were usually orchestrated.

Emmanuelle cast a series of wards to protect their group against most anything that was thrown at them. Renatus, ahead of her, caught Aristea’s shoulder and pulled her back within his reach before she could get too far ahead, and then dropped his pace to fall into step with Emmanuelle.

“Blue-eyes, whoever he is, cut through Lisandro’s blocks to send a message to someone,” he told her in a low voice. “Someone called Paul. He wasn’t trying to get our attention but because we’re always looking, the vision got through. A few other little things are coming through, too, but less relevant. Lisandro doesn’t know about the hole in his blocks yet, or I’d be cut off already.”

“Was ‘e a prisoner? Was ‘e calling for help?”

“I don’t think so. I think he works for Lisandro... but changed his mind.”

Emmanuelle nearly forgot to keep breathing, so suddenly did the memories of Peter flood her. Up ahead, Aristea glanced back worriedly, no doubt tapping into her emotional distress. He works for Lisandro... but changed his mind.

“We must find ‘im,” Emmanuelle insisted, pulling herself under control. “Such displays of independence are not forgivable to Lisandro. If ‘e finds this escapist first, there will be nothing for us to find. There is so much we could learn from ‘im. He may know where we can find the boys.”

“Damn. Aubrey.”

Emmanuelle spun towards the sound of Elijah’s voice, power already channelling down her arm to her wand, knowing logically that as a Healer, she would not be able to kill her traitorous cousin, but prepared to do enough damage to let him forget that. Renatus’s wand, platinum etched with three names, shot out over her shoulder, but there was nobody to point it at but Elijah.

“Where?” Aristea cried, running back, looking all around.

“Sorry,” the Displacer said. “He’s not here. I just thought of something.”

A sudden sound to their right caught them off-guard and the four drew quickly together, safe under the pre-prepared wards of Emmanuelle and Renatus, and the shields that now sprung from the hands of Aristea. They were good wards, Emmanuelle noted with no small amount of pride. The girl had always had a talent for it but Emmanuelle, her teacher in this area, had spent the past few months helping her to fine-tune her skills.

The noise-maker turned out to be a bony stray cat, trying to escape the rain by hiding in bins. After a tense moment of waiting, nothing else appeared and the sorcerers relaxed.

“I have a theory,” Elijah said, sounding displeased. “I can be back in a few minutes.”

He disappeared on the spot and the remaining three continued down the laneway. Boxy communist architecture contrasted with quaint and classical little free-standing buildings, and somewhere in a nearby street, the glossy onion-like spire of an old church towered high enough to be seen from here. The signs over the doors of the closed-up shops were written in a language Emmanuelle could not read. Renatus kept pace with Emmanuelle but kept his whole attention on Aristea as she took the lead again. Emmanuelle spared a moment to consider the apprentice, too, and noticed something strange. Around the seventeen-year-old was a very solid, smoothed aura of energy (interspersed, as always, with odd black sinkholes that mirrored Renatus’s) that just yesterday had been rough, turbulent and slightly tattered at the edges. Since then, she’d received life-shattering news – the series of events that resulted in the deaths of her family members had actually begun within the White Elm, the council she’d pledged herself to serve. That kind of stress, trauma and unresolvable hurt would be enough to shred an aura, yet Aristea’s showed the sort of evenness expected from a calm, purposeful, stable person.

Is she alright? Emmanuelle asked Renatus, worriedly. Had she not understood Susannah’s admission? Was she in denial?

We sorted some things out, was the Dark Keeper’s unconcerned response. For his part, he seemed pleased with Aristea’s current state, but Emmanuelle wasn’t convinced that a single conversation could really have such a huge impact. There was something else, and Renatus seemed unaware of it. Emmanuelle briefly considered pushing the topic further but decided against it. Maybe Aristea wanted it this way; maybe he wanted it this way. In any case, she was broaching the topic with the wrong person.

“I think she’s right,” Renatus mentioned a minute later. “This doesn’t look at all like the place we saw. Right time of day, right weather... wrong place.”

“Are you suggesting Elijah got it wrong?” Emmanuelle asked incredulously. Elijah was the best.

“No,” the younger but more senior councillor said very pointedly, “but this is the wrong place.”

“That sneaky little shit,” Elijah’s voice muttered darkly from beside them as he reappeared. “I should have known he’d do the same thing here.”

Emmanuelle and Renatus stopped; Aristea peered around the next corner and returned to them when she saw nothing of note.

“Who?” Emmanuelle asked.

“Aubrey!” Typically optimistic and cheerful Elijah shook his head, frustrated. “Remember what he did to that beach house?” When they all stared at him, he explained, “You couldn’t Displace in or out. The whole space was affected. Well, he’s done the same thing around this hostel. He’s warped the Fabric – pulled it so tight, any attempt to get through it and you just bounce right off and land somewhere nearby.” He gestured at their surroundings. “We’re very close. Within a kilometre, for certain, but...” He looked around, frowning. “I need a map, and we need to get far away before we’re noticed.”

Get out, Lord Gawain ordered. Things are shifting.

“Yes, we need to leave,” Renatus agreed, reaching for Aristea’s arm. “The blocks are back up. Lisandro can’t find us here. He can’t know we’re closing in again.”

Elijah took Emmanuelle’s wrist, she grabbed onto Aristea and the four left Belarus. They reappeared outside a house Emmanuelle had only visited twice before.

Lord Gawain’s house.

The front door opened immediately and Davina Harrington, a well-dressed homemaker in her sixties with the same kind smile in her eyes as her husband, stepped onto the porch to meet them.

“Elijah,” she greeted the one she knew best with a warm smile, before turning the smile to Emmanuelle. It faltered on Renatus. The reaction was not lost on anyone, but it shouldn’t have been surprising, either. How was the Welshwoman meant to feel about the orphan son of shady underworld kings whose appearance in her husband’s life had led him to uproot the family from their lifelong home in Wales to begin again in Dublin, where he would essentially adopt the boy and devote himself to turning the troubled boy’s life around? Granted, Lord Gawain’s influence had done wonders for Renatus, but from the perspective of the Harringtons, it must look quite different.

“Renatus,” Davina said, much less warmly. “Gawain would like to see you all inside.”

The Lord’s wife eyed the young Dark Keeper until he dropped his gaze. Then she turned away into the house, gesturing for them to follow. Emmanuelle led the way, pulling Aristea after her. Even with her hand on the girl’s skin, she could feel that something had changed. This was not the same Aristea Byrne she’d known yesterday. Yes, this one was much tireder (probably she hadn’t even slept yet) but that was not explanation enough.