Monday, September 28, 2009

The vanished city

There are no cars in Vancouver. There were once. I saw them. Before the city vanished from your world. Sometime after that, they stopped working. Avalon told me the reason once. Lack of fuel.

No cars. No buses. The people ride bikes. All the time, since there's not weather anymore. There are trains for long distances. I'm not certain how they're still working. Probably because people believe they should. It worked for electricity.

None of this is what makes Vancouver weird. What makes Vancouver weird is everyone there acts like nothing is weird. Just kilometers and kilometers of normal. Thing as they are. Always have been. Always will be. Normal is quantified and enforced.

All that's really relevant about this is that it means Vancouver is a quiet city. Sometimes, in some parts, it's a very empty city.

"I need a haircut," Dante mutters.

He doesn't. Not really. His hair is now about the same length as mine. He's just use to it being shorter.

"It looks nice," Maria tells him. She smiles, like smiling can make what she's saying more factual.

She's been humming with concern for him. The change has left her shaken. He dances along. For all his practicality, Dante manages to accept whatever the day brings and moves on. Maybe because of that practicality. He saves being unnerved for things that are unnerving.

When Dante finds something unnerving, it's way past time for the rest of us to be worried.

"Nice." His blue eyes meet my reflected green ones in the large window across from us.

"You look like Oliver." I shrug. "He's nice enough."

Dante regards his reflection for a moment. "I do."

"Who's Oliver?" Maria asks.

Dante starts to answer. I can guess it would be a truthful one.

"Just someone we know," I say.

"I don't really know him," Dante says. "I know of him."

"Is he from here?" Maria asks.

Dante hesitates. It's not that he can't lie. His people are very capable liars. It's that he's decided he respects her too much to be deceitful. But Oliver is not someone Dante should know of. Or talk about.

"He's staying in Emerald City," I say.

A peculiar look passes over her face. Like hesitant veiled belief.

"I go there sometimes." I shrug again.

The music surges. She's increased the volume by sheer emotion. This is why I don't like to talk to people. If I say something, it can change everything. If I say nothing, it can change, too. I had hoped my shrug would change it so she would think it wasn't worth talking about.

"Can you take me there?" she asks. "I mean, if you can leave—"

Dante says: "It's a little different."

As I say: "I don't know."

I don't. There are very few things I don't, but this Thursday keeps confronting me with them. Like it's trying to tell me that what I don't know is significantly more than I thought. Her future doesn't scan as easily as others. What I can do is based on songs of power. Strictly human humans, quiet people from Over There, and Not Quite Right ones like her don't play.

What I do know is that the ones who live in Vancouver have never tried to go back. Or leave the city. They know they have the option to leave, but they choose to stay. To play at normal.

"Ethan was born here," Dante says. "Well, not here specifically."

Maria ignores him. "I'm from Emerald City. I was kidnapped by—something. Some kind of green-faced monster."

Notes of familiarity clamor in my ears. A girl from Emerald City—a fragment of a Beauty power—fragments going missing—a Beauty fragment that crossed the veil between our worlds and didn't return.

We all assumed she was dead.

I stare at Maria. Not dead. Not lost. Abandoned. Discarded. Left as Not Right as the Death fragment who did return. Well not as. Maria's a different type of Not Right. The step before in the process.

I know why she's familiar now.

"Sounds like a ghost," Dante says. "Don't worry. The city guardians keep the ghosts out of Vancouver."

The city guardians keep other things out. Often people, too. Like me. Dante could pass as someone who belongs—not to the guardians, they'll know him by those echoes of power I can't hear. But the people of Vancouver won't know he has no place in their most livable city. Especially since the changes have rendered him more human-looking than not.

He and Maria are fine. Not me. Not with my hair. Not with my ever-changing eyes. Especially not with my skin.

I grab his arm. Feel the tendrils of his silence float through the music.

"Do we have a plan?" I ask.

He stares at me, his mouth slightly open. It makes him look slightly stupid. Dumbstruck.

"They have rules about new things here," I whisper. "She's new."

"We could get her registered," he says. "Uncle Avalon told me the guardians registered all the others who came to live here after."

After what goes unmentioned. I won't tell you, either. It's better if you don’t know. Unless you already do. If you do, don't tell the ones who don't.

"Are they still taking refugees?" I ask.

Not sure what else to call them. The guardians come from Over There. Dante's people. They wouldn’t like the word residents. It suggests a permanence of relocation.

"What else are we supposed to do?" Dante asks. "It's not like we know enough residents to have them convince the others Maria's always been here."

No. We don’t know anyone.

"Avalon does," I say.

It's true. Avalon used to live here. Before Val. Or Chio. Before even Prometheus.

"Are you guys ever going to stop having these whisperfests?" Maria crosses her arms. "You're worse than most girls."

I think Dante's blushing. The change may have had effects on his brain that are just starting to manifest.

"Look." She walks over. "We need a plan. Otherwise we're just running around hoping things will work out."

"That's usually what I do," he says. "My mother raised me to be an optimist."

What Maria was going to say next is lost in her confusion over whether he's serious or not. FYI: He's serious.

"My father's an accountant," he adds. "He puts an emphasis on things balancing."

"My point is that someone will notice me, right?" She spares me a glance. "Since I don't fit in."

Dante pulls the goggles off his head.

"Not true." He hands them to me. "Here, it's Ethan who stands out."

His goggles are heavy in my hand. I wonder if I should tell Maria even if she can go home, she doesn't need to rush. The people she's so desperate to see don't even know she's gone.

"Too bad I don't have my coat," Dante continues. "You could put the hood up."

"We'll find a hat." I slip the goggles on. They aren't very comfortable.

"A hat." Maria throws her hands up. "That's your plan?"

"No. That's the pre-plan. One step at a time." Dante frowns. "They go the other way up, Ethan."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

When I grow up I'm going to be a Harvard Symbologist

I bet you're all wondering what I've been doing because you aren't following me on twitter, so you feel disconnected and completely unaware of my exciting life. It's almost as exciting as Ethanael's, who has a new twitter profile picture that sort of actually looks like him. Except he's happier and more manly. (I am require to stress that he is more manly than his profile picture because I know what's good for me.)

If you're not following us on twitter, I understand how you would feel left out. Before I was on twitter I never knew what Vicki Pettersson was doing, either. Now I am and I do, so it's pretty fabulous.

What I have been doing, aside from working out of my house 5 days a week, is reading The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. I sort of got talked into doing it because of work. It didn't help me at my job, though, because reading The Lost Symbol is the best possible way to discourage anyone from wanting to promote it.

But we're going to stress the good things about Dan Brown's latest "novel." I put "novel" like this because I'm pretty sure that's there a lot of trufax in this book. Like lots. Just like there was lots of trufax in The DaVinci Code.

Anyway I came up with a list of 10 awesome things I can tell people about The Lost Symbol:

1) Dan Brown has learned the difference between a thesis and a novel. Or at least how to wrap more narrative around his thesis to better disguise it.

2) Robert Langdon grinds his sumatra coffee beans by hand every morning. Having finished the book I can't tell you what relevance this has to the story or how/why one would even go about grinding their coffee beans by hand. It is, however, the single most defining moment of the novel, because it's the first thing I think of now whenever someone says Dan Brown. Well, I also think of sock puppets, but that's a complicated in-joke.

3) Most of the 100 plus chapters are only a few pages long. They'd be even shorter if they didn't have so many ellipses in them.

4) There's this hilarious chapter in which Robert Langdon calls his editor to get a phone number. I can't wait to have an editor I can call anytime for phone numbers of people who don't want me to have them.

5) Maureen Johnson has a reader's guide.

6) You will learn about tattoos, Masons, and Washington DC. In the way that you previously learned about Paris and The Holy Grail.

7) Dan Brown made up this cool thing called Noetic Science—wait, no he didn't. That's a trufax. My bad.

7) Robert Langdon in mortal peril! Like for realz.

8) The bad guy does the Dark Arts. He's totally more kick ass than Voldemort, because Harry Potter doesn't have any trufax in it. The Lost Symbol has lots. Not about the Dark Arts. Just about buildings. But buildings are good things to know about.

9) Mal'ahk—that's the bad guy—sort of even has a reason to be so hatin' on the Soloman family. When you learn the reason, you're going to be like "wow, that was a pretty mind-blowing plot twist!" Unless you figure it out at page 140, then you're just going to be bored for the next 320 pages.

10) If you call the number given for Peter Soloman in the novel 202-329-5746, YOU CAN LEAVE A MESSAGE! OMG! Should I tell him who Mal'ahk really is or do you think that would spoil the ending?

All right and here's two more things you probably want to remember if you end up having to talk to people who finished the novel: 1) Zachary Soloman and 2) The Bible.

Or you could just say those two things to people then add "like Douglas Adams, I can only give you these answers. You must go out and seek their questions." You'll feel pretty smart and they'll be all like "WOW, you are like a Harvard Symbolist or something."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Change follows change

Maria isn't waiting for directions. She grabs Dante's wrist and drags him after her. Away from the change. I think she thinks she's being helpful.

I notice she's only helping Dante. Sigh. Better follow them. Even though she doesn't have a compass. If she did, she wouldn't be running away. Well, she might. Most people run from change.

Grass bends and falls beneath my shoes. Some times your people call them runners. Runners for running. I do a lot of it. Catching Maria and Dante is easy. A few blood-pumping heartbeats is all it takes.

The change crashes along silently behind me. It barely ripples the harmonies—

The music. The possibilities.

I stop running. "Andy!"

He doesn't. Maria's white-knuckle grip means he has to run or be dragged. He's chosen to run. His family doesn't like to be forced into anything.

"Little busy, Ethan," he says. Traces of his father in the tone. Only Dante can't pull off the unshakable calm. Hard to when he's trying to maintain his footing.

"We have to go back," I call.

Maria stops, too. Dante nearly collides with her.

"Are you crazy, Ethan?" Her face is flushed.

I'm not sure I like how it feels when she says my name.

"Most think so," Dante says. "But he's not. He just experiences reality a little differently from the rest of us."

"We aren't going back," she says. "Not while that…thing is there."

"Technically it's finished with back there," I say. "It's whatever is in its way now that need to be worried."

She gives me a look like she could strangle me, which I take to me she's aware that what's in front of the change is us. I don't mention we'd have to go through the change to reach stable ground. It's obvious. Even more obvious she's not interested in listening to me anymore.

Oh well. Don't need her to.

"Divert it," I tell Dante. "I know you can."

"I can try." He wrinkles his brow. "But I'm not really plugged into the dream fields. You're the one with Fortune ties."

"You're the mirror-carrying mage."

"Not today. I left it at home."

"Guys." Maria pushes at her hair. "This isn't the time to argue. One of you do something or let's put the Abyss between us and that thing."

She cusses like Girl Val. There's something endearing about it. Dante must think so, too, because he adjusts his scarf and faces the change. He doesn't really need the mirror. Not in our world.

Fingers moving through the air, he traces shapes. Sigils. Instructions for the universe. On your side of the glass this was called mirror magic. Or it will be. Depends on when you're reading.

Glyphs glow with intent against the unknown of the coming change. They sizzle. The music in my head remixes. A symphony obeying a conductor. I think the dream fields will listen. There's a small chance they might not. They don’t like being told what to do.

It's still possible. We can divert the change. It will work. I can hear the beats spinning in our favor.

The change pauses in its approach. Brushes against those violet blue flames. Shrinks away.

Dante holds the glyphs in place by the strength of his will. He's easily more powerful than I am. More skilled. If he wasn't, I wouldn’t have waited for him to do something.

"That's so icy!" Maria’s eyes are wide and shining. "Totally frozen, Andy. Totally."

Dante's mouth twitches. He's trying not to smile. To divide his focus. Interrupt his concentration. He must like the way she says his name. You won't believe me, but I know how that feels. To have someone say your name in a way that makes you want to forget what you're doing. Even if they don't realize that's the tone they've used.

How it feels is how what happens next happens. I realize it's not really her fault. Not completely his fault, either. Just circumstance. A combination of different sounds. Improvisation. The universe can be full of it. Especially when mirror mages are involved.

Dante's focus wavers. The glyphs dim. And the change begins to move. Partially remaining instructions are enough to nudge it a little off course. But not enough.

The change warps the glyphs as it swallows them. Twists and rolls on itself for a moment. Then it surges toward him.

Maria screams out a wordless warning. Panic has her totally frozen where she is. I lunge. Grab his arm. Yank him toward me.

I don't reach him in time to keep him from being clipped by change. But I get there before he takes the full brunt. Before he's swallowed up and spat out somewhere else. The change rolls on its new course.

Maria is completely safe. Dante did what needed doing.

He coughs into my shoulder. I can't hear anything, so I have to assume he'll be fine. We can survive a run in with a change, but no one escapes unchanged. If you think you could, you probably think you go somewhere in your dreams.

"Andy!"

Maria stumbles over. The change has left the ground half-sand, half-scrub. The edging of a beach. The Shifting Lands have shifted. We're not where we were before.

I ease Dante to the sand. Gently. The change is spreading over him. Leeching out what little color his pale violet hair had left. Turning it a familiar black. Wild Changes, undirected as the ones in the dream fields are, can't create new possibilities. Only work with what exists within you.

Dante's father has dark hair. Curly. Dante's now-dark hair isn't curling. He'll be grateful for that small kindness.

"What's happening to him?" Maria half-slips, half-sits beside us.

"That thing contacted him," I tell her. "Now it's playing with his potentials. Don't worry. Minor physical alterations is about all it can affect on someone like him."

Or me. Got caught once. When I was little. Long before Avalon ever came to our world. My parents were doing something. I wandered off. Had my first unscheduled side trip. Might not have found my way back home if my brother hadn't found me.

The compass I have used to belong to him. Before our parents were killed, Matt traveled the dream fields a lot. Then he became King of Inspiration and he stopped exploring our world. Too many responsibilities. Heavy is the crown, you might say. You'd be wrong. There's no crown.

"What about someone like you?" Maria asks. Her unspoken question is what about me.

I point to my hair. "How do you think I got this white streak?"

I don't tell her it would be different for her. She isn't grounded, because she isn't properly connected to Beauty. The change might take her. Swallow her up. Not spit her out somewhere else, but spit her out as something else.

Like it's done with the bits of vanished cities.

"Is he ok?" Maria looks at me. "I mean, except for his hair."

You'd think she'd like his hair being such a boring color.

"You sure he's not hurt?" she asks. "He looks like he passed out."

I shrug. It wasn't the change that hurt. It was the spell being twisted while Dante was still connected to it. If there hadn't been mirror magic involved, it wouldn't have hurt at all. But if there hadn't been mirror magic involved, we'd still be running away from where we wanted to go.

Dante gasps, jerking up like someone returning from the dead. His eyes are wide—the too large pupil contracting, letting the deep ultramarine of his iris expand to a normal size. Both of them. His mismatched eyes match again. Always thought he'd been born with one violet and one blue. Maybe he wasn't.

He draws in a breath. His eyes go over my shoulder. He smiles a little and I prepare for him to give Maria some kind of unnecessary assure that he's fine. Probably apologize for worrying her.

"Hey." He points to something behind her. "Looks like Vancouver found us."

Or not. Dante, like Thursdays, is full of surprises.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Congratulations to Karen Mahoney



That's for you, Kaz, because it has been a long time coming. Don't you worry about Flux being a smaller press, hun, we are going to send them to reprints on THE IRON WITCH. Oh yes we are.

It's my birthday on Saturday

This week has garnered a couple of really fantastic things, one of which being the announcement regarding the film rights to Wicked Lovely selling. (You can read Melissa Marr's reaction here.) That was, of course, yesterday. Today I heard good news for another friend.

For my birthday, I'd like this to continue. In fact, I'd like every day of the next year to bring good news to the people I know. Every single day.

More specifically:

1) I want Rachel Vincent's move to San Antonio to go smoothly. In San Antonio, I want her to find the most kick-ass Mexican restaurant in the whole of Texas. I also want her to get more than ten months to enjoy this restaurant and its inspiring fajitas.

2) I want Rinda Elliott to get her first book deal. She's been more than patient, and I want to read her books. All of them. We all do.

3) I want Leah Bobet to meet her deadlines.

4) I want Vicki Pettersson et al to have a great UNBOUND interview.

5) I want that other friend, who knows who she is, to be able to share her good news with all of you soon. Done and done.

Oh, there's more. Don't think there isn't. But this a start, universe, so best get on it. Birthday cupcakes don't bake themselves.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Wandering the dream fields

Humans have this misconception that the dream fields are called the dream fields because that's where people go when they're dreaming. Not true. People don't go anywhere when dreaming. Except into REM sleep. Believing otherwise is indulgent fantasy.

You're welcome to indulge in indulgent fantasy. Just acknowledge that it is fantasy. It's not real. Which isn't worth getting upset over. Some of the nicest people I know aren't real. Never gets them down.

We call this place the dream fields because it's like someplace you'd go while dreaming. A shifting, changing place. One with its own idea of geography. Encompassing most of the Twilight Lands. If it isn't dream fields or Far Reaches, then it's probably got Old Ones settled there to keep it steady.

Thinking about places keeps them constant. They can't wander off or be swallowed by the dream fields because they haven't been forgotten. Forgotten places are especially at risk of becoming somewhere else.

But the dream fields aren't easy to navigate. You don't navigate them. Not really. They move. You just walk. Turn one way or the other according to the compass. I always end up where I'm going. It's just not always where I thought I wanted to be.

"So this is where people come when they're dreaming?" Maria asks.

You see? This is why I tell you these things. So you know better.

"No," Dante says. "It's just what some call them. Because they're fluid, like places in dreams."

She gives the rippling grass a critical look. "So this isn't where you come when you're asleep."

"Not unless you're sleepwalking," I say.

"Where I'm from," Dante continues, "we call them the Shifting Plains."

The blue-green blades stretch out around us. Typical dream fields. A lot of it is waist-high grass. Sometimes. Other times it's snowy hinterlands. Desert wastelands. Sometimes just color-flecked darkness. You know. Not grass.

Maria looks from him to me. "So you're from different countries?"

Goggles fixing on me, Dante waits for my response. I'm not sure if he even knows what a country is. We don't have them. We have borders between our area and the Far Reaches. But we aren't countries. Not really even dominions. We're territories. Maybe. Mostly just Here and Over There.

We know if someone is from Here or Over There. It means a lot. Probably as much as it means to be from one of your countries. Maybe more.

But when humans look at us, they can't really tell the difference between someone like Dante and someone like me. You're probably more confused because I've mentioned part of Dante is like part of me. Probably shouldn't have told you. Those of us from Here don’t like to talk about those from Over There.

Maria doesn't know that. Or the difference between Here and Over There. How can she? But she'll have to learn to stay Here. Not go Over There. It's not a spatial mistake she wants to make being Not Quite Right like she is. We won't really want her around, but Dante's less tolerant neighbors would want her destroyed.

"I mean." She plays with her hair. Tries to fill the silence. "You said I was one of his."

"No," I say. "You're not one of mine. You might have been one of the partyers. Once. I don't think you belong to anyone now."

She seems to find this comforting. I can't imagine why.

"I meant you aren't from here," Dante says.

She glances at me. "He looks like he's from here."

"I'm not. No one is from the dream fields," I say. "We should keep walking."

We should. The ground shifts beneath our feet. Rippling the grass with pent-up waves of their desire to change. Perpetual motion. Things that stay in one place too long get swallowed. Transmuted.

"Hey." Dante puts a hand on my sleeve. "You know what I meant."

Usually I don't mind him. He doesn't disrupt the music. His touch is like what a touch is to your kind. Just a touch. Even now, it's not the physical connection I mind. It's that he’s doing it to force my focus on him. Not good. I need to focus on where we're trying to go.

"Not now." I point to the compass. "Busy."

Its needle swings away from NOT THERE to THERE. Not helpful. At least it's staying away from NOWHERE. I try turning to my left. Then my other left. Can't get a read on which way to walk. The compass stubbornly refuses to indicate HERE.

"You're cranky," Dante says. "Not just from hunger."

"She shouldn't be here," I reply. "The dream fields aren't safe for humans."

"You need to stop acting like she has a choice."

Easy for him to say. He never tricked a shiny young fragment into crossing the veil between our world and yours. He never watched humanity slip away from someone he knew. This place and what keeps you part of it changes your people into people like me. Sort of. I was born here. But there are those who weren't. Like Avalon.

He may be more like Dante than like me, but I still know Avalon changed. Maybe not as big a change as some of the others. But any change brings differences from before.

Dante reaches for me again. "C'mon, Ethanael, don't be like this."

I dodge. Ignore him and the way my full name races over synapses. Tries to command my attention to him. Instead, I listen to my thoughts. Avalon is a reoccurring riff. His name plays more frequently than usual. When he domineers the melody, it means…something. Last time it happened it meant trouble.

But if there was trouble with Avalon, I would hear it. I've spent enough time around him to know what his music between the notes sounds like. Silent harmonies. Particular pauses. I always know it's him. Maybe not what he's going to do. Just that he'll do something.

But I can't think about Avalon. Not when I'm trying to get us to Vancouver.

"She's staying," Dante says, quietly. "Just like the rest of you. At least until someone finds a cure."

A cure. Like what I am is some kind of disease. Like meds could quiet the music. Make me human. But I was never like one of you. Never part of your world. I've always belonged to this one.

"A cure wouldn't get rid of me," I say. With a smile. Like it's all for fun. "Face it, cousin. You're stuck with me."

"Hey." Maria is watching us. "You said 'Vancouver,' right?"

We look at each other then nod at her.

"But isn't that one of the cities that vanished before the Second Dark Age?" she asks.

I nod. She's a bit slow.

"So this isn't the place you go when you're dreaming," she says. "It's the place you go when you vanish."

Not exactly. You can vanish in a few other ways that have nothing to do with this place. Most of them involve being dead. We aren't dead. Well, not yet anyway. Our status could easily change if we keep standing around.

Dante looks like he might correct her, but the rumbling of the grass silences him. Change is congealing into a dense focal point that's rolling through this part of the fields. Grass curves and twists around it as it advances. We can't see beyond. All we see is being swallowed by Not Grass in the spherical shape of star-flecked darkness.

"What in the Abyss." Maria points. "Is that?"

"Hard to say," I admit. "Don't think it's made that decision yet."

"Ethan." Dante's voice sounds anxious. "Direction would be good right about now."

Instruction, his worried tone implies, would be even better. Holder of the compass does the leading through the fields. It's an unspoken rule.

I move the compass around a bit. The needle swings toward HERE. When I look up, the change is advancing on us. In other words, the way to Vancouver is to do nothing. Great. Dante and I are resilient enough to withstand a rolling change, but what about Maria? She doesn't belong to anyone—or anything.

That's exactly the kind of abandonment that gets things swallowed up by the fields.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Another congratulations to Liz!

Liz has a short up on Postcard Shorts.

It involves time travel and shrunken sweaters, but the sweater is not what causes the time travel. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What we did after that

Maria's stomach makes one of those noises like the things crawling through the dream fields that used to keep me awake. Next thing I know, my stomach's growling back at hers. Nice of her to remind it that I haven't actually eaten anything in… a while. I would have had some pancakes, but you all know how Not Well At All that went.

"I guess you didn't have breakfast," Dante says to me.

See, I've noticed you humans do this thing where you state an obvious observation in order to being a conversation or just fill up the silence. We did not learn this from you. You did not learn this from us. It’s a coincidence. Sometimes they happen.

"Matt made eggs," I reply. "But I didn't feel like eating. Loses its appeal after breakfast tries to bite you first."

Maria watches me like I might take a chunk out of her.

You'd think someone here so long they can't go back to the other side of the glass would be used to the sight of us. Not so much. Old Ones aligned to Beauty aren't necessarily better looking than the rest of us, but there's something about them that keeps your kind from being able to look away. Your brains are too busy being overpowered by Shiny!Pretty! to realize that it's not what you normally recognize as Shiny!Pretty!.

The rest of us don't have that cheat. You look at us and it's up to you to decide whether or not we're the kind of sparkly you find attractive. All your screaming gives me the impression we aren't.

"We should have lunch," Dante says.

"How do you know it's lunchtime?" Maria asks.

He points to the sky. "See those pink stars clustered around the orange one?"

She nods.

"They move in a repeating pattern," he tells her.

It's not a direction or another kind of linear progression. Not like your sun. The star cluster disappears and reappears. In increments. We don't know which increments. No one I know has bothered to find out. But we can use the increments to create the illusion of something like a "day" here. Makes about as much sense as obeying the commands of the chronograph. At least the stars don't yell at you. They aren't as demanding.

"Oh," she says like she wants to understand. "So it's lunchtime."

"Well." Dante scratches his fingers through his hair. "It is for me."

It's a very Avalon gesture. They did spend a lot of time together while Avalon was learning mirror magic. Every once in a while you see it reflected in how Dante behaves.

You were supposed to laugh. It was like a pun or something. Puns are funny. It may have been the something, then, that isn't so funny.

"But I have no idea what we're closed to," Dante continues. "Any of the neutral territories?"

We're close to the Beauty encampment that Maria spilled out from in her taffeta and giddy glamour. Doubt she wants to go back there. Don't need to listen to know I'm right.

"You want to take her into a city." I say it in that slightly slow way Avalon says things when he's questioning my brilliance. Doubtful. Armed with a pointed stick and seeking a hole to poke.

"Why not?" Dante shrugs. "She's one of you."

"No—"

"I'm not!" Maria finishes for me, her face flushed with indignation.

She's insulted? Dante just implied the Old Ones are the same as this Not Going Home fragment. Not usually a stumble his brain makes. His tongue must have slipped on the way to whatever his actual reasoning is.

"I'm nothing like you," Maria says through clenched fists.

"Part of you is something like part of me." I shrug. "Otherwise you wouldn't be here."

It doesn't answer why she was here in the first place. Not many fragments come into our world any more. Someone had to have brought her. A large fragment can enter our lands, but smaller ones like Maria or Girl Val have to be helped across.

Maria was helped. Although helped is not the word she would have used.

She jabs a finger into my chest. "I was kidnapped."

Something about her assertion echoes through the harmonies in my head. It finds a shared string of chords in my melody, but the verse is a long way back. It's hard to hear the past because the present never stops playing. I've almost got the notes. Almost matched them to memories.

"We could always go to Vancouver," Dante says. "None of the Old Ones will bother her there."

Sometimes I wonder if he can hear possibilities. If he listens for when I'm about to reach a conclusion then interrupts me. Or he could just be trying to make it less awkward considering Maria doesn't know us. She doesn't know that I'm not staring at her. I'm not even seeing her. Or I wasn't. Not until Dante interrupted me.

He can't hear possibilities. That's not how he interprets what my grandmother would call "the talent." No, Dante is like his father and his uncle and his cousin. Touchy-feely. I know. You wouldn't think it if you spent any time at all with him. But I don't mean sentimental. I mean tactile.

"We'll have to cut through the dream fields," I remind him.

"Should be fine," he says. "The Inspiration Storm is over."

I think I hear thunder in the distance. Or it could just be the Chronograph going off.

"You don't care," Maria says. "Neither of you care about what happened to me."

"Oh, we care," Dante says.

Doesn't mean our lives stop to discuss it.

He gives me a look. Like he knows what I just thought. Maybe I said it out loud.

"We do." He elbows me. "Don't we?"

I punch him in the shoulder. "Of course."

"Forget it." Maria pushes at her tangled hair. "I'm not wasting my breath telling my story to two idiots who don't want to hear it."

In her pond green eyes, Dante and I are the same. I think I see the offense flash in his mismatched ones before he pulls his goggles over them.

"Lunch then. Vancouver it is," he says. "Lead on, Ethan."