8FOLD: Mancers # 5, "Signs and Whispers"
joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Aug 5 21:47:38 PDT 2018
Theirs is the midnight war - theirs, the twilight destiny! Kissed by
Venus, conduits for eldritch forces beyond mortal understanding, are
they the last best hope for the Earth, or the instruments of its
' '`-`-' '`-`'-' -'
# 5 [8F-179] [PW-27]
"SIGNS AND WHISPERS"
BY TOM RUSSELL
MAILE AKAKA, age 19. Aeromancer.
Abducted and memory-wiped by the secret circle, she now knows that she
is in fact The Company's top field agent and assassin.
LIEKE VAN RIJN, age 26. Doppelmancer.
Split into two autonomous bodies. Members of the secret circle tasked
with gaining Maile's trust.
AZABETH "BETH" COLLINS, age 36. Oneiromancer.
A member of the secret circle, and its true leader. Comatose.
JUNE LASH, age 46. Ailuromancer.
Gourmet chef and spymaster of the secret circle.
DAVID COLLINS, age 30. Mnemonomancer.
An agent of The Company. Unbeknownst to him, he is in actuality a
member of the secret circle working deep undercover, and the husband
of Beth Collins.
TRINITY "TRINI" TRAN, age 34. Haematomancer.
A fugitive who works for The Company in return for their protection.
David's live-in girlfriend, unaware of his true history, spying on him
at the behest of Claire Belden.
CLAIRE BELDEN, age 29. Metamancer.
An agent of The Company, tasked with keeping their identity
clandestine, and with rescuing Maile from the secret circle.
LYDIA BLACK, age 45. Paralymancer.
Head of Human Resources for The Company. Claire's lover.
SAMSON DRAKE, age 28. Sciomancer.
Company assassin, and formerly Maile's lover. Recovering from injuries
inflicted by the brainwashed Maile and one of the Liekes.
Maile points the gun at Trevor's back and pulls the trigger six times
in rapid succession. Nothing happens.
He turns around, smiles, aims, and shoots her right in the chest.
Her vest lights up and buzzes.
"Is yours not on?" she says.
"More like your gun malfunctioned," says Trevor smugly. "Smug" is
just about the best word to describe him, she decides. Of course the
only guy in the circle is someone smug and obnoxious. That's
definitely something she'll need to rectify; she has literally no idea
how long it's been since she got some. Unfortunately, and for reasons
no one quite understands, mancers are apparently more likely to be
women than men. Only about one out of five are guys.
"More like you made my gun malfunction," says Maile.
"Guilty as charged," he grins.
"Is that going to work in the field?" she says. "With a real gun
pointed at you?"
"Shouldn't be a problem," he says. "If it's a machine, I can make
it not work. A real gun's just as much of a machine as a laser tag
"What if it's not a gun?" she says. "What if it's a lightning bolt,
or some kind of, I don't know, mystical energy blast. That's probably
a thing, right?"
"Probably," says Trevor. "But it wasn't. It was a gun. So I dealt
with it as a gun. If it was something else, I'd have to do something
She tries not to sound exasperated. "The point of the exercise
isn't how to handle a gun specifically. Turning my gun off with your
magic is against the rules."
"There aren't any rules," says Trevor, walking closer to her. "Not
when someone's trying to kill you. You do whatever you can, whenever
you can. You use what's there, in that specific situation." He's a few
inches from her now. "And when you see an opening, you take it." He
fires his gun into her stomach, point blank, sending the blinkers
blinking and the buzzers buzzing. "You taught me that."
"Did I?" It certainly sounds like something she'd say.
"You did," says Trevor. "You also taught me how to control my
magic. When we first met, I couldn't do that," he lazily taps the
muzzle of her gun with his prime finger. "It was more like anything
around me would just randomly malfunction. Now I can be as precise or
as broad as I want. I can stop a watch, or I can take down the power
grid for a whole city."
"What did I do, specifically, to teach you that?" she says. That
sounds too much like what it is, like calling him out on his lies, so
she quickly puts on the lost little girl act. "I'm supposed to be some
great leader, but I don't know the first thing about what I'm doing.
Everyone tells me I've taught them all these things, but I've got no
specifics. I can't be good at it if I don't know what I did before,
what worked, what didn't..." She sighs.
"Okay, sure," says Trevor. "You told me to think of it as a part of
my body. So to control it, first I needed to control my body. My
breathing. My balance. Everybody before who tried to help me, they
made it a mental thing, and that works for some people, but for me, it
needed to be something physical, tangible. You had me do all sorts of
muscle stuff, which, your mum was a therapist? A physical therapist?
So you drew on stuff she told you, I think."
"Yeah," says Maile, blinking. "Yeah, she was. I told you that?"
He nods. "Anyway, that worked for me. I don't know about the
others. I mean, not to say you didn't teach them anything, because you
did, but they didn't need your help the way I did, their powers
weren't out of control the way mine were. I... it's good to have you
back, Maile. I missed you something fierce."
"Don't get all weepy on me," says Maile. It takes all she has not
to roll her eyes.
Lunch is a "composed salad" of beets, cheese, and egg. One thing's for
sure, decides Maile: her kidnappers certainly put out a nice spread.
She's been eating better the last two weeks than she has for maybe the
last two years. Doesn't mean that she doesn't still hear the clarion
call of a simple and unhealthy burger.
"Thank you, June," says Trevor. "Delicious as always."
"Yeah," says one of the Liekes, "the beets don't even taste that
much like dirt. Ow! What? Me, why did you elbow me? Yes, you did!"
"Well, it's nothing fancy," says June. "I can only do so much with
two hands. And yes, Goliath, my precious," she coos to the large cat
sitting at the window, "one of those hands is reserved for scratching
you. So, one hand."
Trevor shrugs. "I'd be happy to help. Let me know where you want my
hands, and I'll gladly put them there."
One of the Liekes snickers, then stops. "Ow! Stop it, me! What gives?"
Trini shuts the stall door, then cups her hands around her mouth and
nose. She breathes through her mouth. She can feel the warmth of her
breath crashing against her palms. After three such breaths, she feels
something sharp drag itself delicately along her thighs, like a
fingernail. That's how she knows the magic is working; that's how she
knows Claire is listening.
"It's strange," she whispers. "When you first asked me to watch
him, I was scared that I'd have nothing to report. Just normal things.
What we had for dinner. What we argued about. Mundane things, boring
things. We're boring people. Things that... that wouldn't have value.
I'd come to you empty-handed, and you'd think I was lying, or holding
things back. That's silly, of course. I can't lie to you. I couldn't
keep a secret from you if I tried. If I wanted to. And I do want to. I
know that. I knew it. Knew it all along.
"So, really, I think I was scared that there'd be nothing there,
and you'd rescind your end of the bargain. How screwed up is that?
That I wanted something to be wrong with David. Well, I got what I
"The second I started to watch him, I saw through him, and the love
died. Worse than that, I can see through him in reverse, I can look
back over all our time together, and can see the way it really was all
along. I don't even have memories to fall back on. It's all poisoned.
"And yet, there's no smoking gun; it's all little things. Like the
book he reads. The entire time I've known him, he's read one book. He
finishes it, gets to the last page, and then starts reading it again
with the first page. This is the fifth time he's started over. It's a
thick paperback, and the binding's broken, the pages are falling out
the middle. I bought him a new copy, a hardcover, but he keeps going
back to the old one. He keeps forgetting that I bought him a new copy.
Not forgetting that it was there. But forgetting it altogether. He's
genuinely surprised when I tell him the other copy exists!
"There are other things, other threads, where he'll remember it,
but only up to a point. It's hard to explain. We've been binging this
show. Well, two or three episodes a night, for us, that's binging. And
he's constantly getting confused by what's happening. He's remembering
what was going on with the characters in the first two seasons, but
it's like he skipped season three.
"And, like I said, this kind of thing has happened all along. I
knew it was happening, but I couldn't see it, not until you told me to
look. And he... he's wiping his own memory. He has to be. And so I
asked him about it. (I didn't tell him about you. I knew not to do
that.) But I asked him last night, and he got really freaked out. He
doesn't remember wiping himself (of course he doesn't), but there's
these blocks of time he can't account for. He's worried that he's
losing his mind. We made love after. I want to say that we took
comfort in one another's arms, that it was love-making as a form of
solace. But I can't lie to you, can I, Claire? He was so terrified. So
fragile. And I don't know what it says about me, but seeing him like
that, it really turned me on. It was maybe the best sex we ever had.
"But here's the kicker. This morning, he didn't remember any of it.
The sex, his confession, the question, all of it, just gone."
When she enters Lydia's office, Claire is surprised to see Samson
there. She doesn't quite trust him, and regrets the necessity of
bringing him in on the plan to let the circle abduct Maile. He takes
too many risks, is too likely to color outside the lines. (Useful in
the field, less so in the shadows - ironic for a sciomancer.) She
worries he just might blab everything to Lydia, and the fact that he's
waiting there with that cat-got-the-canary grin when she's been called
down to the principal's office doesn't given her much comfort.
Claire can't hide her surprise at Samson's presence, but she can
play it off like a champ. "I didn't think you'd be up and about yet,
Samson. Thought you were still recovering."
"I'm well enough to sit in a chair. Especially since Lydia asked me so nice."
Lydia doesn't ask anybody anything. Even when she asks, she doesn't
ask. "I think Samson's recovered sufficiently that he can once again
take an active role in bringing Maile back to us. Since your efforts
have not been satisfactory."
"I'm sorry to have displeased you, Miss Black," says Claire,
pretending to be flustered. In response, something delicious flickers
behind Lydia's eyes. "But I do believe I've made some real progress."
"Oh, so Maile's back, then?" says Samson.
Claire ignores him. "Early on, we suspected that the mnemonomancer
had been compromised. Close observation has continued to lend credence
to that assumption, but furthermore..."
"What does that matter?" barks Samson. "You've continued to confirm
what we already know. Just let me ace the scumbag and be done with it.
You're working this whole thing sideways when we should just come
right at it."
"Furthermore," continues Claire, "I believe I've determined how he
is receiving his instructions from the enemy, and further, how he
might be relaying intelligence to them."
"And that is?"
"An oneiromancer. Our first step is to confirm this. I propose that
we give them some intelligence. Something Maile can't resist.
Effectively, we lay a trap."
"I like it," says Samson.
"It's workable," says Lydia, begrudgingly. "But what is it that
Maile can't resist?"
"Let's assume the mind-wipe impacted her memory, but not the way
that Maile thinks or solves problems," says Claire. "After all, what
would be the point of all this if, somewhere deep down, she wasn't
"If she's still Maile, she's going to immediately recognize that
the enemy lacks combat troops. Thanks to your aggressive head-hunting,
Miss Black, they've been left with the dregs. The enemy has been
trying to work around this. To, ah, work it sideways. But like you,
Samson, Maile prefers to come right at it, head-on. If the problem is
they don't have any big guns, she's going to be looking for some big
guns. So, let's help her out."
"We leak a name through the mnemonomancer," says Lydia. "Maile goes
to get them, a team waits in ambush, brings her in. I don't see Maile
falling for this, though. And they're going to question why David has
this kind of information."
"Sarah Avery," says Claire.
Samson whistles. "Maile couldn't resist that."
"And conceivably, David could have heard about it," says Claire.
"Especially if he gets that promotion he's been horny for from day
"I'll push it through immediately," says Lydia. "But he won't be
there for long. Because once we've done this, the circle will know
that we know."
"Not necessarily," says Claire. "If they're told we're looking for
so-and-so, when they go looking for so-and-so they can't be surprised
when they bump into us. They're expecting us. That's why we're giving
them valid intel; when it goes pear-shaped, they have no way of
knowing it was a trap, or that we're wise. The mnemonomancer remains a
useable asset for the long game. That line of communication remains
open. We manage the vulnerability on our end, and exploit it on
"Here's the other thing that worries me," says Lydia. "Avery's good
bait, for sure, but we can't afford to let the circle grab hold of
her. If it looks like that's even a remote possibility, kill her."
"My pleasure," says Samson.
"I'm sure it is," says Lydia.
They meet an hour later.
"So," says Samson, "I got my marching orders from Lydia. I take it
Upper Management has something else in mind?"
"Maile gets away," says Claire. "But make it look convincing."
"Lydia won't like that."
"No, she won't. But there's a reason they're keeping her in the dark."
"Just what Lydia told you. Alive if you can. Dead if you can't."
Maile is in her room, her real room, back home, in Kailua. That's how
she knows it's a dream, even before she starts to sink into the
wine-red sheets, drowning in an airless, waterless sea. Floating in
the distance, growing nearer, is a woman, naked and brown, her eyes
closed, her fingers outstretched, her arms cruciform. Beth.
Her mancer's mark sits upon her left breast, centered on her
nipple. Beth's fingers close around the back of Maile's head, and
gives suck. At first it is sweet and hot like milk, then it becomes
bitter and metallic. Her mouth fills up with blood; she chokes on it.
She struggles and twists, but even when she manages to free herself,
even when Beth is a tiny distant dot, she still feels it filling up
her stomach, her throat, her legs and arms, bloating her with
Maile kicks her legs, rushing to the surface, and suddenly she's in
her own room - that is, the bare little room where the circle keeps
her. She's awake now, in the real world, but the bloated feeling is
still there; the revulsion still lingers.
...And now she's throwing up, worse than she's thrown up in many a
moon. The kind of puking where your nose gets into the act: where
she's well and truly blowing chunks. As it starts to spew out, she
scrambles to get to her feet, but the act of standing makes her even
sicker. And so she collapses, her hands slick with mucus and bile,
bits of composed salad all over her lap, all over the floor.
And the worse thing is, it just keeps going. Maile's pretty sure
she's never eaten this much in her life, let alone in one day. "Geez,
I'm turning into Mr. Creosote here", is what Maile would say if she
wasn't currently vomiting.
Something gets stuck in her throat, something disturbingly solid,
and that's when Maile starts to really freak out. She can't breathe.
She balls up her fists and pumps them hard against her stomach, two
times, three, four... and there we go, it's coming out now, at least
part way. She has to reach into her mouth and grab hold of one end of
it, pulling it up her throat.
It's a wishbone, about six inches long, with about two inches
distance between the two ends. How the heck it passed through her
throat, she has no idea, let alone how the heck it got in her stomach.
She's only able to stare at it for a moment before more comes up. A
small lever-lock key; an egg; a silver dollar.
Apparently retching for the last six minutes non-stop has attracted
the attention of the others, because both Liekes are there in a flash.
"I think I'm dying, Leeks," says Maile, half-joking.
"You're not dying," says one of them. "Me, get her some water, would you?"
"Of course, me," says the other.
The remaining Lieke crouches down, balancing on the balls of her
feet. "You had a dream, Beth made you to drink, and then you threw
"Emetomancy," says Lieke. "Divination by vomit."
"More like communication. It is Beth speaking to you."
"Then we need to find a new way to communicate," says Maile,
"because this was awful."
"It is only because you are resisting," says Lieke. "Beth is trying
to talk to you in the dream, but you fight it. It's like the house;
once you let down your guard, it will become easy. You gotta trust us,
The other Lieke is back is a glass of water, and a book on the
interpretation of dreams. "Which thing came first?"
"Lunch," says Maile, her throat burning between gulps of water.
"After that," says Lieke-with-a-book.
Maile points at the wishbone.
"Wishbone. Wishbone. It's not in here."
"Is there another name for it, me?"
"Like, a Latin name?"
Lieke taps at her phone. "Furcula."
"No, that's not here either."
"It's a wishbone, dummies," says Maile. "You pull it, you get your wish."
"Okay, so your wish comes true," says Lieke-with-a-book. "Next?"
Maile points to the key.
"It's a phallic symbol," says Lieke-with-a-book. "It means sex.
Also unlocking. Revealing secrets. Next?"
Maile points to the egg.
"Egg means sex," says Lieke-with-a-book.
"It does not," says Maile.
"Also means birth," shrugs Lieke-with-a-book. "Anything else?"
Maile points to the silver dollar.
"Money means sex," says Lieke-with-a-book.
"Not everything means sex," says Maile. "You guys are kinda
perverts, do you know that?"
The other Lieke shrugs. "I mean, every time me and me have sex,
it's technically masturbation."
"Also means power, confidence, success?"
"Well, that's helpful," says Maile. She wipes off the coin on her
pant leg and stares at it. Then it clicks. She holds up the coin: "The
Company?" She holds up the key: "Getting secrets from The Company? Her
husband's there, right? Spying for us?"
"And she's passing the intel on to you," says Lieke. "But what's the intel?"
Maile grabs the egg, fighting her gag reflex as her fingers close
around its slippery, vomit-covered casing, and cracks it against the
floor. There's a piece of paper inside.
"What does it say?"
"I think it's a twitter handle?" says Maile.
It doesn't take long to confirm this, nor to find a matching Facebook
profile. "Sarah Avery, born 1990, originally from Corpus Christi,
attending John Hopkins. From the memes on her page, I'm going to
assume she's an engineering major. And, bingo, that looks like a
mancer's mark to me."
"Where?" says one of the Liekes. "I don't see it."
"And she doesn't want you to," says Maile. "Look at her, and look
at her friends. It's summer in Texas, super-hot, and everyone's
dressed for the weather, except for her. She has long sleeves down to
her wrists, like she's a cutter or something. But she's not a cutter.
(Probably not a cutter?) But there, on her left wrist, under her
shirt: it's glowing. Mancer's mark."
"You're right," says Lieke. "But I can't make it out."
"Well," says Maile, "it looks like she's been in a few thousand
photos. Maybe there's another one that makes it more obvious what kind
of mancer we're dealing with." She kicks at the floor, letting the
chair roll away from the computer desk, and stands up. "I'm sure with
the two of you looking through them, you'll find it in half the time."
"The two of us?"
"I'm the leader," says Maile. "Leaders delegate. So, I'm delegating."
"It seems like you only delegate things that you don't want to do."
"It does seem that way, doesn't it?" smiles Maile. "But rest
assured, it's not that at all, and I'm actually playing to your unique
skill-set as I perceive it."
Maile helps June with dinner. She likes June. She trusts June, and she
knows how weird that is, thank you very much. She shouldn't trust any
of them. They're all lying to her, they're all in on it. Maybe it's
that June seems uneasy about the whole thing in a way that the Liekes
and Trevor aren't; either she's bad at lying or she has a conscience
"Can I put the onion in with the garlic?"
"Yeah, they're going in at the same time."
Maile uses the flat of the knife to push the onion in the bowl, and
then uses the flat of her hand to rub at the water welling up in her
eyes. "What's next?"
"You can grind up the spices."
Maile takes the mortar and pestle and gets to work. "So, you and
"What?" says June.
"Oh, come on. 'Let me know where you want my hands'?"
"He didn't mean it like that."
"Oh," says Maile sadly. "Oh, honey. Oh, honey, no. When a guy like
that says something like that? He meant it like that."
"Well," says June. "I'm, uh, certainly open to the possibilities."
"Speak of the devil," says Maile under her breath as Trevor comes
into the room.
"Here," says Maile, handing Trevor the pestle. "I'll let you do
some grinding for June."
"I'd be happy to grind for June."
Maile shoots June a look. They both start cracking up.
"What am I missing?" says Trevor.
"I'm going to check on the Leeks," says Maile.
"Not required," says one of the Liekes as the two of them saunter
into the kitchen. "We found the girl's mark."
"And?" says Maile.
"She's an evocamancer."
June drops her spoon, letting out a gasp. Trevor stops grinding the spices.
"I'm guessing that's a big deal," says Maile, "But since I have no
idea what an evocamancer is...?"
"Right, sorry," says Lieke. "I keep forgetting about your memory
wipe." (Uh-huh.) "An evocamancer is a summoner. They summon... well,
not demons, exactly, but..."
Trevor mansplains. "Sentient concentrations of extra-dimensional energy."
Lieke nods. "Heavy-hitters don't get heavier or hittier than this."
"It's exactly what I've been looking for," says Maile. She chooses
her next words very carefully. "Let's assume that The Company knows
how I think, and that's why they took me and wiped me, tried to
recruit me. Is that a fair assumption?"
"Um, yeah," says Lieke nervously.
"So they know I'd be looking to recruit someone like this. And it
just so happens that David stumbles upon this kind of intel? Has he
ever given us these kinds of tips before?"
"Not about assets, no," says Lieke. "Do you, do you think it's a trap?"
"It's like four-alarm Admiral Ackbar," says Maile. They stare at
her. "Seriously, I also need to work on recruiting some
Yes, it's a trap," says Maile.
"But we can't let The Company get their hands on an evocamancer,"
says Trevor. "They're not just super-powerful. They're also
super-rare. Like, I was pretty sure that they didn't actually exist,
is how rare they are."
"Marcus was the expert on that sort of thing," says June. "But I
think he said there hadn't been one since before the Lullaby. Since
before recorded human history. So. There's that."
"Marcus?" says Maile.
Lieke shoots June a dirty look. "He was one of ours. Before The
Company killed him." She tries to look at Maile, but can't. Chances
are that means that Maile's the one that killed him.
That doesn't sit well with her. Not just that she has blood on her
hands; she figured she must have, having been an agent on The Company.
It was a lot easier to deal with that in abstract, though. But it also
makes her uneasy. What is their plan, here? What's their end-game? Is
vengeance on the menu?
"Okay," says Maile. "So, we need to try to get the girl. But here's
my concern. If it is a trap, and I think it is, then David is
compromised. Or they gave David this information to try and see if
he's compromised. Which means it's time to get him out of there. I'm
going to hope that we have some kind of extract plan in place?"
"We do," says one of the Liekes with a sigh. She turns to herself.
"My turn this time, right?"
"Yes," says the other one sadly. "But I can go instead. I don't mind."
"No, that's okay," says Lieke. "June? Last meal for the condemned?"
TO BE CONTINUED
COPYRIGHT (C) 2018 TOM RUSSELL.
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