[AC] Anthology 2: Lonely Stranger: III & IV (Mature)

Artifice Comics artificecomics at yahoo.co.uk
Sun Dec 14 03:41:30 PST 2003

>>From Artifice Comics:


Anthology Two Presents
Lonely Stranger:
"III & IV"
By Aaron Baugh


The blue light surrounded me again, and I stepped through the portal.

The grass here was lovely, and to my right stretched a long, shallow,
concrete-lined pool. A vast obelisk stretched towards the sky. To my
left, a low, dark wall inscribed with names pointed towards a marble
bearded man in a massive chair. His house was adorned with columns,
and behind me brass men walked towards it.

Washington, D.C. Local time, March 11, 2023. 10:33 AM.

The knowledge soaked into me while I stood there and simply reflected.

I was near a pool built especially for the task, so why not? 

I stuck my hands in my pockets and walked towards the Lincoln
Memorial, then turned towards the White House. My goal. As the reason
I was here came to me, I felt...disturbed. Queasy.

Believe me, this is an odd feeling for a human being who is an
enforcer for the powers of heaven. It was a sour feeling, a terrible
feeling that I didn't like, not one bit. I hated what I was about to

I had to assassinate the President of the United Americas.

See, on this Earth, there was no Civil War. The war with Mexico before
that era was successfully prosecuted to its fullest extent, and the
Pacific coast of Canada had been purchased immediately after, so that
there was a link with Alaska. Now, there were fifty-six states. The
regular ones, plus Chihuahua, Baja California, Vancouver, Puerto Rico,
Mexico, and Yucatan.

The American empire was a vast one by 1950, when a smattering of
Pacific islands came into the fold. Add to this major representation
in Africa and Southeast Asia, all peaceful places brought along by the
two Kennedy presidents by 1975, and the world was quickly becoming a
very very nice place. Israel gave way to Palestine, and the two new
countries were getting along fabulously. Thank Jimmy Carter for that

Safe. Comfortable. A chicken in every pot, that kind of thing.

So, why did I have to kill the man who currently led the country
responsible for this love-fest?

And yes, kill. I couldn't just have a man-to-man with him, couldn't
show him the error that he was about to make, couldn't tell him that
he was going to make a single poor decision that would bring the whole
heap crashing down around his ears.

But I could try. 

I could try.

Getting into the White House was simple. I took the tour. No muss, no
fuss, just a matter of waiting in line.

The tour lady was very nice, by the way. She smiled and tried to be
funny with the same stale jokes she'd told every group every day for
the past six years she'd had the job. Here was where FDR sat, here's
where LBJ, that colorful vice president, gave interviews while on the

He did, really. 

So when I asked where the Oval Office was, she told me politely that
it wasn't on the tour, but if it was I'd go down this corridor and
take a left, where I'd be pounced on by Marines and Secret Service.

We all giggled, and when the group turned a corner, I dropped out of
the back and went down that corridor, saw the security gate ahead, and
simply faded from view for, oh, about forty seconds.

After that I was in the inner sanctum. I was inside the
decision-making area, the lushly paneled and furnished offices and
boardrooms where the high and mighty of the world met to discuss the
fate of multiple nations.

There were small cubicles nearly everywhere, the constant hum of
phones and printers and, you'll love this, typewriters. Yeah, they
actually still use them. Neat, huh?

Anyway, I did another neat little trick and walked through the door to
the Oval Office. Through it, literally. Spacing my atoms apart and --
well, you don't care how, but I got in there and then I sealed the
room because I can do that.

So when I got there, the President was just hanging up the phone,
having just finished talking to the Prime Minister of Burundi.

He looked at me.
I looked at him.

He reached for what I knew to be an alarm, and I held out a hand to
stop him.

"Don't. Won't do you any good."

But he pressed it anyway and when no Secret Service people burst in
from four directions, he edged back from the desk, and I could tell he
was scared.

I was, after all, an assassin. So that reaction wasn't exactly

"Who are you?" he asked.

"Look, President Carter," I began, "or can I call you Jeffrey? Jeff?
Yes, let's go with Jeff. Mind if I sit down?"

When he nodded, I complied, and dragged a chair to face his desk. For
a few long seconds I just looked at him, sitting there in his dark
suit with the eagle pin on his left lapel.

"So..." I offered. "Iraq. Again. Actually scraped together a
multi-national force , I see."

He looked at me, eyes narrowed, and I could actually see the moment he
said to himself, "Fuck it. I'll go ahead and humor this guy." Balls
like that had got him elected three years ago against a popular

"Yes," he said. "Charlie Winters and I got together and headed up the
coalition this time."

"Winters. He's pretty old, isn't he?"

Carter smirked. "A bit, but he's still got what counts up here." And
Jeffrey tapped the side of his head.

"What about you? Made any bad decisions lately?"

"Not that I can think of, no."

"I'm here to try and continue that trend."



"Who do you work for?"




"You expect me to believe that?"

"Believe what you want. I'm here, telling you that I'm a servant of
God and that He sent me here for a very important reason."

"Get out."


"You did something to my alarm," he said, standing up and moving to
the door. "Maybe some kind of electronic dampener, but I can --" and
he stopped as he grasped the knob of the door and pulled, then pushed.
He hammered on it and yelled at the top of his lungs, but nothing
happened. No answer, no frantic return pounding to find out what was
wrong. Nothing.

"Have a seat, Jeffrey," I said again. 

The President looked at me and stalked towards his desk and sat back
down in his overstuffed leather-upholstered chair.

"Look, it really doesn't matter if you believe me or not, but I can
tell you that very bad things are going to happen if you don't heed
what I'm about to tell you. Ready?"

He nodded.

"Get out of Iraq. Get out now, and don't go back. Ever."

He laughed. "What? I can't do that. We've been there for two weeks,
ten days of which were around-the-clock aerial bombardments. Hell, the
ground war just kicked off and we're a hundred miles from Baghdad."


"Again," he said, his tone falling in remembrance of past operations
in that same country.

"What was the reason this time? Weapons of mass destruction? Failure
to heed the UN? Rampant human rights abuses?"

"The last one," he said. "The regime has had a terrible track record,
and it is the responsibility of the world to put right its past

"I know," I said, and I did. The last time the UA conquered Iraq, they
had military rule, then rule by civilian committee, then rule by
election. The UA-backed candidate lost. The UA and its allies took the
hint and left, and the legally elected President of Iraq abolished
democratic parties and set himself up as a crackpot dictator. Seems to
run in the blood down there.

So President Carter got with PM Charles Winters of England and they
came up with a plan. They were backed by the Premier of China, and
Premier Fong's endorsement gave the invasion a green light. This time,
the coalition armies were led by a not-American general named Manly,
an Australian (though it's a terrible name for a General. Absolutely

With his leadership, the whole shebang was going very well, but I knew
something that the rest of the world didn't.

I'll tell you at the end of this, after things have come to their own
inevitable conclusion.

"But," I continued, "you have to. There's no other way."

"That simple? Get out? What if I say no."

"Then I'll be the only one leaving this room."

"Is that a threat? Policy at the point of a gun?"

I shrugged. "Look, it's nothing personal. Just my job."

"Oh, right, you work for God." He pursed his lips. "I forgot." He
paused. "Why?"

"Why do I work for God, or why should you get out of Iraq?"

"Both, truly, but I'd settle for the second one right now."

"Can't tell you."

"You can't be serious."

"I am."

"You tell me, the most powerful leader in the world, to reverse a
decision that has cost my country billions of dollars and the lives of
twelve servicemen? Just like that? Just because you say so?"

I nodded. It really did sound ridiculous, once somebody put it into

"Ridiculous. Downright dumb. I'm not going to listen to this anymore."

"You'll have to," I said, "or I'll kill you. Out of respect for the
good you've done, and you have done good, by the way, I'll make it
quick. Painless. You'll feel nothing, nothing at all."

He stared at me then, and whether it was fear or belief or what, he
stood up and walked around his desk to be closer to me. It was from a
seated position on his desk that he continued our discussion. "You
won't tell me why you want me to do this?"

"I told you, telling you would be a death sentence. Pick up the phone
and tell that Australian to stop where he is."



"No. I'm not going back on this decision. I'd look like a fool, we all
would look like fools, giving in and stopping when we're this close,"
and here he held up his thumb and forefinger a hair's breadth apart,
"to that little dusty-assed maggot."

I stood. The tug had been pulling at my insides ever since I'd stepped
foot in his office. "I'm sorry," I said, my eyes on the verge of
tearing. I grasped his arm, and he could feel it immediately.

"Oh God," he said, horrified and immediately conscious of his own
mortality. The first jolt soothed nerves and he could feel himself
growing weaker, like falling into a deep sleep. "Don't do this," he
said, his Presidential voice fading to a plea, a whisper.

The tears came from both of us.

"You were too soon," I told him, whispering as well, voice thick with
emotion. "Too damn soon."

He was very nearly there, and I eased him into it. Someone could have
shot him, he wouldn't have felt a thing. But still, his eyes were
locked with mine, and I grasped his other shoulder, guided him to his
overstuffed chair. In the face of what I was being forced to do, I
leaned forward to his ear.

"You would have found Eden," I told him. "And it would have enthralled
and horrified you. You would have torn yourselves apart."

I pulled back to lock eyes with him, and I saw realization break into
understanding. He closed his eyes, nodded slowly, and opened them
again. With only the eyes, he forgave me. When he closed his eyes
again, they never opened.

Once he was in the deepest, most debilitating sleep possible, I
adjusted him the last little bit. He deserved to be found in a
position suitable for a man of his station. When he was set, I placed
my hand on his chest.

Power snaked out, did what I bade it.

I wrapped it around his heart, beating less than once every second
now, and slowly brought that muscle to a stop, forever.

* * *

Instead of oil or even his own power, the Iraqi dictator had
discovered something that he wanted to keep from the rest of the
world. Something very destabilizing that would rip the world apart.

He'd found Eden.

Not just the place where everyone thought it would be, but the actual
place. Rather, in the strictest of terms, he found the dimensional
tear that led to Eden.

Yes, yes, that silly little book that everyone puts so much stock in
is actually true in parts. There was an Eden, and if you must know it
was the first place, the first laboratory, if you will, where the
whole thing got kicked off. Even a universe with trillions of
continuities has to have a start, and the branching began right off
the bat.

No Eve.
Eve chose well and never ate of the Tree of Knowledge.
Cain didn't slay Abel.
Cain did slay Abel and killed himself in guilt.

But he'd found Eden, and when the Coalition Army found it, as they
were bound to do, they'd arrive with their cameras and pretty soon the
world would fracture among the lines of those who believe and those
who don't. Even the small religious nucleus shifting their power about
would cause political movement, and the world would be ripped apart as
everyone tried to get a piece of something, try to be number one when
everything shook out.

These people weren't ready for what was inside, because those trees
were still there, those Trees of Life and Knowledge. They couldn't be
found. Not yet.

President Jeffrey Carter was about to lead the world into Armageddon,
and he didn't have the slightest idea why. He was doing a good thing,
and I mean good in the best sense of the term. He was using the vast
economic-industrial complex of his nation to do a good thing for the

I had to kill him for it.

Now you know why I felt queasy, and why it's a blessing to only
remember general things, no specifics. The lack of memory that I
thought was a curse is a blessing. I couldn't do what I do if I had to
live with that knowledge. That's why the Power came with its price.

But my eyes still stung as I walked down the Mall, amongst the massive
constructs of limestone and marble. I heard the sirens as the Chief
Executive's body was found. I knew that the Vice President, a lapdog
former Congressman who was chosen for his party loyalties instead of
his abilities, would pull UA support, and the Coalition would founder,
then come to terms with Iraq.

Eden was safe, but I hated the price. As the ethereal cord that
dominated my soul pulled me towards the next portal, I stared up at
the sky.

"Damn yourself," I muttered. And I knew he heard me. If he was
listening to anyone, he was listening to me.

As for me, I went on my way. 

* * *


The blue light surrounded me again, and I stepped through the portal.

A wrought-iron gate stood closed before me, the only access in the
eight-foot high brick wall surrounding a large, Victorian style home.
Scratch that, a HUGE Victorian style home.

Quite a mansion. I put my hands on the brick of the wall, starting to
get a feel for the place, and as it began to enter my consciousness, I
nearly fell backwards because of the huge rush. There was a whole hell
of a lot of things going on in this dimension, on this Earth.

And I knew I'd been here before. Twice. Weird. Either this place was
really screwed up, or the wave that was building up here was too big
to take care of in one fell swoop. As I thought on it, I decided the

Something told me I'd be coming back here, and as I fully realized the
vast information of this dimension, I felt old shades of memory, not
fully realized, but the moment I saw something or someone, I was sure
to remember it.

My target was in the huge mansion, and oddly enough, my mission was
simply to see what was going on. Omniscience be damned, I was going
into this one half-blind.

Something very big was happening here, and I wanted to see what it
was, very badly.

I reached out and the Power warped the iron bars of the gate wide
enough to let me through. They bent back to their original state, and
I walked the two hundred yards or so towards the house.

Local time, 1:02 AM. Location, Pacific City, Australia.

I rang the doorbell, but I was certain that they knew where I was the
whole time I'd been walking up the drive.

A rather stately-looking gentleman answered the door, and I smiled at

"Hi. Is Victoria here?"

He looked at me, the head to toe and back again look. The tuxedo-clad
butler took in my leather jacket, the shirt, the jeans, the hiking
boots. "No," he said dryly, and he moved to close the door.

I jammed my foot into the door.

"Don't make me smite you, Alfonse."

His eyes narrowed, and he opened the door as his other hand moved to
grab me. I let him, and was dumped on the floor. He turned to get
closer, fading from sight as he did so.

My eyes flared, and the door slammed shut as his invisible body forced
it closed. I stood up and took off my jacket. "Now, be a good man and
hang this up."

He faded into view and stood, rubbing the back of his head. I smiled
apologetically. "I warned you about the smiting."

Alfonse's hand moved towards my jacket and I pulled it back slightly.
"I know you, my friend. You can't win. Stop trying."

His fingers closed on the leather and we had a brief war of wills.
Being God's agent, I won.


"Miss Burke is upstairs," he said, moving towards a hall closet. 

"Thanks," I said, then trotted up the stairs, two at a time, and
headed for her room.

Rather, her suite of rooms.

Victoria Burke was a beautiful woman, and several of the pictures
along the hall had a common subject. I knew the Henry Burke of this
Earth. Knew that he was a first class bastard. But, being who I was,
and he being who he was, we were forced to work together.

Being polite, I knocked, and was delighted to see her face to face,
clad in a lovely black silk robe. She'd just had a shower, despite the
hour, and the smell of fruit-based facial scrubs and shampoos and
soaps scented like heather and daffodil and rose and cucumber
assaulted me all at once.


"Alf--" she had started to say as she opened the door, obviously not
expecting anyone different. She stopped when her eyes hit me. "Who are
you?" Suspicious.

"Hi. I need to talk to you, or rather, someone you've got inside."


"Let me in, we'll talk, and I'll explain everything."

Her eyes narrowed, and I could sense her about to do something

"Don't," I said, extending a hand towards her. "Alfonse already tried,
and I think he's got a killer headache right now. I know that you're
Mysteria, know what you can do..." I paused for effect, "and I know
about the scarab. What it holds."

Her mouth formed an 'o' of surprise, and she recovered quickly,
opening the door. I followed her to a comfortable settee, took a chair
opposite of it.

"Now, who are you?" she asked, prim and serious as she took up a
hairbrush and tended to her locks, trying to maintain a facade of

"Do you believe in--wait...guess you really don't have a choice, do
you?" I smiled. "See, I'm, well, I'm an agent of a higher power."

"Are you an alien? Do you take the form of an angel and wield amazing
powers?" She peered at me through her eyelashes. She was suspicious,
naturally, and a little dour.

"Sort of, no, and yes."

She frowned.

"Sort of, in that I'm an alien to this dimension, but originally of
Earth. No, in that I don't take the form of an angel, like you do," I
said, sneaking in that last bit and getting the appropriate
eye-widening of surprise, "and yes, in that I wield amazing powers."

"You don't look it."

"Neither do you. To think that a woman who can turn invisible now
holds the power of the scarab that was entrusted to Magenta..."

"You know him?"

"Sure," I said. "Worked with him before. A true magician. I'm sorry
he's dead."

She paused, the hairbrush stopping in mid stroke. "So am I." She
stood. "I don't know who...or what you are, but I can assure you that
I don't want to speak to you. End of story."

I sighed, then clapped my hands on my legs and stood up quickly, and
grabbed the side of her face with my right hand. Her leg flicked out
as soon as I made contact, and a flare of white light at the zipper of
my jeans saved me from pain, because I could still feel that when it
happened. The shield almost hadn't popped into existence in time.

"Come on," I murmured, "you're in there somewhere," and Victoria
wrapped both her slim hands around my wrist, trying and failing to
pull my hand from her face. She didn't speak, because I was trying to
contact the essence within, and realized that the scarab was in the
pocket of her robe.

My free hand moved there, and I felt her body stiffen as my knuckles
grazed her belly through the silk. It's not like I was really enjoying

As soon as my hand found the cool metal shape, I winced as if kicked
in the shin. This...this was Power. Wow. No other word for it, really,
and I regretted that Victoria Burke had gotten to taste of it. No cure
for her ills, I think.

Palming the scarab, I twisted my right hand out of her double grasp
and pressed the scarab into her hand.

The beginning was immediate. Her lovely eyes began to fade as the iris
began to white itself out. The pupil was next, and it was the eeriest
thing I'd ever seen. The luster of her skin, beautiful after her
shower, faded as well, nearing the purest shade of white imaginable.
My hand went to her face again while the other kept her fist tight
about the little beetle.

I knew the white aura was around both of us, hers from her
transformation, mine brightening as I tried to arrest that process,
stop it cold so I could do my job and get out of here.

She started to speak, then, and I took in a sharp, deep breath. 

"YOU!" she said, and it sounded like a roar. The hair began to go
next, and that's when the shape tackled us. A man-shape in a dark
suit, knocking us apart, jarring the scarab from Victoria's hand, her
transformation reversing almost instantaneously. I went back over the
chair I'd been sitting in, and turned over to stand as I saw the man
pull himself from the wreckage of the small end table that completed
the cozy little conversation pit.

He vaulted the chair smoothly and landed on his left foot, pistoning
his right around and striking me squarely.

The bastard kicked me in the nuts. 

I went down hard, and he threw both arms skyward, pumping the right in
a gesture of victory. "Hell YES!" he crowed, then paused to put his
hands on his hips for a moment before moving to see to Miss Burke. She
was out, and after allowing himself a shameless ogle at an upper thigh
revealed by her robe, he plucked at the fabric to cover her a bit more

By the time he remembered me, I was on my feet again and pissed.

"You got up? Impressive. A patented Bush Nut-Kick usually puts them
down for the count."

"Do you always interrupt people?"

"When they're getting ready to do bad things to glorious examples of
womanliness like Miss Burke, yeah. Then I kick them in the nuts."

"So what comes next, Jeff?"

His witty rejoinder died on his lips at the mention of his name, but
he lapsed into a rant instead. "JESUS!" he cried, "does everybody
know? What the hell kind of city is this, anyway?"

"Relax," I told him, "I'm an interdimensional agent of God, and I'm
pretty much omniscient."

"Oh. But I think I still have to kick your ass, anyway. You got a
stupid name? Lord Boy, or something like that?"

"No. I don't remember my name. Couldn't be any worse than Bush,
though. A rubber mask? Please."

And he jumped over the chair again to come at me. I've never been much
of a fighter when things get close-in and dirty, but the Power always
gave me the edge. After his first two swings, I could see that this
Jeffrey Carter wasn't much better. He'd had someone teach him to bob
and weave, stuff like that, but I'd been fighting for I don't know how
long, again and again, ad infinitum, for all I knew.

So we were pretty much equal for the first minute or so. Any
choreographed fight degenerated into a tumble-down ad hoc wrestling
match, and he got on top first, kicking me in the knee and punching me
twice in the face. Like I said, I could feel pain, and this kid was
invulnerable. Hopefully he could feel pain too.

White energy came from my eyes and he was blasted up and back,
blinking in surprise from his new position on his back, some six feet
away. I sat up, rubbing my jaw. "Why don't you--"

I didn't finish my sentence because he was trying to feed me his shoe.
This kid moved fast when he wanted to. After the kick, he leapt up,
either trying to stomp on my chest or my jewels. Neither was a good
prospect, so I swept his legs with an arm sweep while he was in
midair. He crashed to the floor on his back once more, and I was up
beside him, punching him in the face for a change.

He got his arms up over his face and snuck a left into my ribs. I hit
him again and he came right back at me, putting me flat.

This was kind of fun.

I rolled backwards and he stood. I was pleased to see him shake his
head like a dog, snapping himself back to reality, it seemed. He took
a step forward, and I put my hand up.

Bush was stopped by a shimmering white wall of light, and he slammed
both fists against it before I curved it around and brought it up
tight against his back, forcing his hands to his sides and his head to
turn sideways so that his cheek flattened, like he was up against a

I kept my hand out, and walked closer to him, now held in his
invisible little clamshell of my own creation. "Okay," he said with
some difficulty, talking out of one side of his mouth. "I'll let you
surrender now. Promise. Just leave."

"I can't leave yet," I said, feeling a tickle on my face and surprised
to see crimson on my hand. I ran my tongue experimentally along the
front of my bottom teeth, tasted iron, and smiled. "I can't remember
the last time somebody made me bleed, though. Congratulations."

I think he smiled too, and I relaxed the clamshell, letting him
straighten his head, get enough room to move his arms a bit, but not
enough room for him to turn around. "So what now?" he asked, clearly a
bit embarrassed at his present position. "How can I be all smooth and
save the day when I'm in some kind of invisible phone booth?"

I smirked, then looked towards the conversation pit where the kid had
left Victoria.

She was gone, and I could no longer feel the radiating presence of the

Knowledge hit me like a slap, and I half-turned as I brought my left
arm up over my face in an intrinsic gesture of protection. Long
experience with the Power saved my life, and my shield, I'm certain,
saved Jeffrey Carter's life as well.

The blast hit my hasty self-protection shield squarely, and I was
thrown through the exterior masonry of the Burke mansion after passing
through three interior walls.

Amongst the rubble and detritus from that violent explosion, I lay,
battered and bruised, and more than upset at myself. She came to
alight before me, then, Power given form.

I almost couldn't stand to look at her, she was so radiant. Her voice
was low and threatening, though it still struck with the odd
oscillating quality of a choir. "You wished to speak to Yehovah
Vehaya, messenger? Speak your message and remove yourself from this
plane. It is mine."

Standing, I brushed myself off, again amazed at the power I'd been
given, amazed I'd just survived that blast. "Hail, Angel," I began. "I
have no message for you. I come as a seeker. You know my duty, know
who and what I represent. Your awakening has caused ripples, Yehovah.
You were chosen to watch over this, a central thread among millions,
and I was sent as the threat became noticed."

"I am given form anew. Already there are those who have challenged me,
already I have dealt with them."

"Yes. The knowledge of Sebaoth's hubris still clings to this world.
Leave her to those of my station. Her time will come, you know that."

The beautiful angel-form smiled, and it was cruel. "Leave her to the
manlings, the frail human forms given the might of the divine? The
pup, Carter, made you feel your vulnerability, did he not?"

"He did, and well, too." I'd fallen into the habit of speaking like
old English kings when talking to angels. They so rarely used the
vernacular, and I might spare the next angel I was sent to kill if it
would just sit down with me over a beer and ask me what was up. But I
digress. "But you yourself must manifest through a frail human shell,
it is you who are bound to an artifact of men, a fragment of the woman
Victoria. I am free to travel, while you will always be called to your

Her voice hardened, became slightly louder with her dismay. "You are a
dog on a leash, led by your master from one world and the next, cursed
with endless travel and the inability to retain any memory of your
journey. My onus is a light burden compared to yours."

"And so I'm the weaker for it? Come on," said I, tired of the verbal
sparring. "I have only one task, and then I'll be gone on another
errand, and you'll be rid of me...for a time. We both know that
Sebaoth will return. We know her nature, you and I. I say this only
once, so heed me, mistress of the choir: Leave Akathriel Yan Yehod
Sebaoth to those like me. A second match between you will find her
more prepared than the last, and you'll scour the planet dead with
your battle. I will not allow that to happen."

She was silent for a time, a time in which I counted to one hundred in
my head, very slowly. That's a long time to be faced with an angel in
stark, naked silence. She nodded, slowly and carefully. "I have heard
your message, agent. I cannot predict the future."

So that was it. I hear you but no promises. I felt the tug again,
realized that the mission was accomplished, however sloppily.

Yehovah Vehaya stood and watched me leave, watched me blink out of
existence as I stepped into the portal that I was certain she could

Seventy yards away, Jeffrey Carter came awake to the face of Alfonse. 

"Get the number of that freight train?" he asked weakly. 

"Do get up, Jeffrey," said Alfonse tersely. "We have a great deal of
cleaning up to do."

In the fraction of time before stepping into the portal, I realized
that my jacket still hung in the Burke mansion's hall closet. I'd wait
for it to find me. Nothing I left behind ever stayed behind. I just
hoped the next place I ended up wasn't cold.

As for me, I'll be on my way.

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