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Drawing Lines in the Sand

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The others got me home.  After Anne healed my shoulder, they prodded me out of my armor and into the shower.  There was little by way of blood for me to wash away, only masonry dust and grime, but I stood there until the water ran cold anyway.

The police came for me the next morning.

“What do you want me to do?” Luna asked me, expression one of upmost seriousness when I told her the police would arrive.  She’d been unconscious for the majority of her time in Deleo’s hands, and she’d come out of the entire experience none the worse for wear.  The only truly notable difference I’d seen so far was another layer in her expression when she talked about Sonder.  I’d sent Vari and Landis together to fetch him, thinking that he’d be more apt to trust a pair of Keepers, but once he’d heard Luna was in danger, he’d been onboard at once.  He hadn’t even glared at me when he realized we would be working together for her rescue. 

“Nothing,” I told her.

Nothing?  Alex, I can’t be your apprentice if you’re in prison.”

“They’re just following up on my father’s report.”  I looked out the shop window and could just see the pair of inspectors a block away.  They were both in ill-fitting navy suits.  “They won’t be able to charge me without the bodies.”

After the chaos of the night before, Caldera had called in the Order to sanitize the scene.  As Deleo was a high-profile Dark mage with a full team tracking her movements, the Keepers had claimed her body along with the harvesting rods to ensure there were no curses, resurrection spells, or other magics associated with it.  I’d told Caldera I’d handle the mundane investigation.

“Damn right you will,” she’d growled at me, glaring at my right shoulder.  Since I’d recounted the events of the evening and the actions that had led to the death of Deleo and Cinder, she hadn’t looked me in the eye.  The three individuals who’d joined the battle the night before were mundane, paid mercenaries with guns and grenades presumably hired by Deleo and Cinder.  They hadn’t been a serious threat to the Keepers, but they had muddied the water enough—and thrown enough explosives—to trump the attack in Chiswick as the biggest Cloak shakeup of the year.  My status as an auxiliary Keeper was under review.

“But what if they arrest you anyway?” Luna asked.

“They might,” I allowed.  “They can hold me for a while if they decide to go that route, but it’s unlikely they’ll be able to make anything stick.”

“Do you have a solicitor?”

“No.  I’ll call around once I figure out what their plan is.”

Luna bit her lip.  “Alex, you don’t want to be arrested, do you?”

I opened my mouth to reply, but Luna didn’t let me speak.

“I understand if you feel guilty, but you told me what happened, and I really don’t see anything else you could have done.”

Shot to wound rather than kill, I thought, even though I knew nothing else would have stopped her, had seen the futures of the moment and known there was only one recourse left to me.  Put myself in front of the beam and hoped Deleo would allow my father to leave after I was dead.

“I know,” I told Luna at last.  “I knew Rachel a long time, and I even liked Cinder in a way.  I just need some time to come to terms with it all.”

She smiled, but I could see I hadn’t convinced her.  That seemed legitimate seeing as I hadn’t convinced myself either.  “Okay, I won’t interfere.  But if you’re not back by dinnertime, I’m calling Talisid and ordering him to send someone down to fetch you from the cells.”

“I’m sure that will go over well.”  The bell chimed and the inspectors walked inside the shop.  “Sit tight, and try not to worry,” I told her before I went to meet them.

Despite what I’d told Luna, I knew they were going to arrest me, and they did.  Then they set me in an interrogation room and left me alone for an hour.  Then for two hours.  Then for three.  I was halfway to hour four when I snapped.

“Hey,” I asked the two-way glass.  “If you’re not going to ask me anything, could I at least have a glass of water or something?”

There was no answer, but five minutes later the door to the interrogation room opened and a man in a slick suit with equally slick hair walked into the room.

“Mage Verus?” he asked, holding out a hand for me to shake.  “I’m Edmund Carrs, your solicitor.”

I ignored the hand.  “I haven’t called for legal representation.”

“A benefactor called on your behalf.”

“And the police aren’t holding me under the name ‘Verus,’ particularly not ‘Mage Verus,’ so I have to wonder what you’re doing here.”

“A benefactor called on your behalf,” Carrs repeated.  He sat across from me and unlocked his briefcase but didn’t open it.  “I’ve been speaking with the inspectors handling this investigation, and they’re going to release you.  To be honest, it was bollocks for them to arrest you to begin with, given that they don’t even have a body to prove a murder took place.  What physical evidence was present at the scene is suspect enough that they’ve realized it would be unwise to pursue you any further.”

“Unwise meaning?”

He flashed me a shark’s grin.  “Unwise meaning legally unwise.  They’re processing you now.  You should be free to go shortly.”

I didn’t think Luna would have actually followed through on her threat to call Talisid, and if she had, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine him sending this guy.  “What do I owe you for this?” I asked warily.

“It’s been taken care of.”  Carrs reached into his briefcase.  “I’m supposed to give you this as well.”

He held out a small envelope of thick, cream-colored paper.  My mage name was printed on the front in even copperplate letters.

I looked at the future and flinched.  “I don’t want it.”

Carrs’s eyes were almost sympathetic.  “I don’t think that matters, son.”  He stood, leaving the envelope on the table.  “Try to stay out of trouble for the time being.  Good evening.”  He left, and as he said, shortly after a constable led me from the station.

It was a couple of miles, but I walked home.  I wanted the time to think, but my brain felt clouded and thick, and all I managed to elicit by the time I arrived back at the shop was a crushing wave of mental exhaustion.  Luna took one look at me and ordered me to take a nap.

When I woke, it was to the sound of Vari and Luna arguing.

“We can’t tell Talisid,” Luna said.  “He’s been wanting an excuse to use Alex as a double agent, and this is pretty much serving that possibility up on a silver platter.”

“But he needs to know!  This could be related to whatever the fu-”

“Vari, please,” Anne objected. 

“Sorry.  This could be related to whatever the hell he’s planning.  What will keeping it secret gain us?  It’s going to come out eventually, and if he learns that we didn’t tell him, he’s going to suspect we’re working with our own agenda.”

Their voices were coming from the kitchen.  I pulled on a sweatshirt as I moved to join them.

Luna snorted.  “Since when are you in favor of cozying up to authority?”

“Since Alex became the chosen of the darkest of Dark mages!”  Vari threw up his hands then saw me and grimaced, guiltily glancing at the envelope Carrs gave me, which I’d left on the kitchen table.  “Er, hi Alex.”  He glared at Anne.  “You could have told us he was awake.” 

She blinked back at him, unaffected, and took a sip from the teacup beside her.  “I knew you were about to figure it out.”

“It’s alright,” I told them, picking up the envelope and removing its contents.  Like the envelope itself, the paper inside was of high-quality and the calligraphy was impeccable.  It read like a form letter, formally naming me as the chosen of Mage Drakh and congratulating me on overcoming my trials to this point.

I set it back down, sick to my stomach.

“What do you think we should do, Alex?” Luna asked.  “About Talisid?”

The kettle was still hot, and I moved to pour myself a cup of tea.  “Tell him.  Vari’s right.  He’s going to learn about it anyway if he hasn’t already.”

“But what if he forces you to go back?”

“I’m never going back.”  Luna stiffened at my cold tone, and I modulated it as best I could.  “I told him that already.”

“But what if-”

“We’ll handle it,” I interrupted gently, leaning against the kitchen counter.  “What I don’t understand is, what’s his end game?”

“Talisid’s?”

“Richard’s.  The contest for chosen was over years ago, and Deleo won.  There was no reason for him to revive it.  What could he possibly stand to gain?  I can’t figure it out.”

“Well,” Vari began, sounding hesitant.  “It could be exactly as it appears.”

I stared at him.  “What do you mean?”

He winced apologetically.  “I mean that if I was a Dark mage—any kind of mage, really—if I was a power player, I’d want you as my chosen.  So maybe that’s what he’s after.  Just you.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that, and my friends could tell that despite voicing the question, I wasn’t quite ready to talk about it all objectively.  They left me in peace, and I escaped to the roof with my tea for some solitude.

The sun was below the purple horizon when Anne joined me.

“I’ve brought you more tea.”  She settled herself beside me and joined me in looking up at the few bright stars and satellites that penetrated the haze of light that was London at night.

“Thank you.”

She didn’t try to force me to talk, and I appreciated her quiet presence, the aura of support and camaraderie having her at my side evoked.

“When Richard came to the shop yesterday,” I began, “he said something to me.  He said that I claim to have lines, but that I keep redrawing them.  That he never knows how far I’ll go, and neither do I.”  I stared up at one particularly bright body in the deep purple sky—Saturn, I thought it was.  “I’m afraid he’s right.”

“He’s not.”

“If you’d asked me yesterday morning, I would have told you there was almost no way I would kill Deleo.  Rachel.”  I scoffed at my own words and rubbed my face.  “’Almost no way.’  What kind of person does that make me?”

“You’re a good person, Alex.”

“I shot her in the head, Anne.”

“You did what you had to do to save your father.”

“And now he’ll never speak to me again.”

“Have you called him?”  I didn’t answer.  “Give it time.”

“You don’t know my father,” I told her.  “He’s a pacifist.  Time isn’t going to make this better.”

Anne kept her gaze on the horizon and moved her shoulder, a lopsided shrug.  “But he’s alive.  You had a choice, his life or Deleo’s, and you made it.  But Alex, she had a choice too.  You gave her an opportunity to save herself and Cinder both, and she didn’t take it.”

“She didn’t believe me.”

“That was a choice too.  Richard’s wrong about you.” She turned to face me fully.  “You do have lines, and they’re set.  It’s only that they’re not around vague, moral concepts.  They’re around the people you care about.”

I eyed her.  “You’ve gotten very philosophical.”

“Hazard of being a life mage.”  She stood and dusted off her slacks.  “Are you ready to go back inside?” She extended a hand toward me.

I looked at her and thought about the lines we draw and where we draw them.  What we truly mean by ‘this far and no further.’

I took her hand and stood.  “Yeah,” I told her.  “Let’s go.”

[End]