8FOLD: Mancers # 8, "Remember"
joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Aug 26 19:09:10 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
' '`-`-' '`-`'-' -'
# 8 [8F-182] [PW-30]
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, functionally immortal bodies. One of these
is with the secret circle.
ANGEL, age 26. Doppelmancer.
The other Lieke, mind-wiped and depowered, held by The Company.
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.
TREVOR JEFFRIES, age 22. Mekhanomancer.
A member of the secret circle; saboteur. Romantically interested in June.
DAVID COLLINS, age 30. Mnemonomancer.
A unwitting sleeper agent embedded within The Company by the secret
circle. His identity has been compromised, and he has been murdered by
TRINITY "TRINI" TRAN, age 34. Haematomancer.
A fugitive who works for The Company in return for their protection.
She is carrying David's child, and is serving as Angel's keeper at the
direction of Lydia Black.
CLAIRE BELDEN, age 29. Metamancer.
An agent of The Company, tasked with keeping their identity
clandestine, and with rescuing Maile from the secret circle. She is
also secretly responsible for Maile being captured by the circle,
unbeknownst to her superior, Lydia Black.
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. Swallowed by a demonic
mass and disappeared.
PINKY, age 22. Apparamancer.
Company teleporter. Swallowed by a demonic mass and disappeared.
SARAH AVERY, age 24. Evocamancer.
Engineer and demon-summoner, currently and reluctantly allied with the
It's raining in Maile's dream, raining hard. She tries to control it,
tries to slow it down, but she can't.
"Because it's a dream," she says to herself. "It's not real rain so
my magic can't touch it. Only dream magic can."
As if in response, there's a clap of thunder. Thick heavy drops
pelt her relentlessly, blinding and cold. She covers her face with her
arms, and the moment she does, she gets that rollercoaster feeling,
feet lifting from the floor as it barrels down from the summit.
Only she's going up. Her face is still covered, but she knows she's
going up. She can see herself ascending, becoming tiny, watching
herself eyelessly from the ground. Just before she disappears into the
charcoal-black clouds, she uncovers her eyes, and there's a hard cut
into the clouds, then through them, then into outer space.
Beth appears like an eclipse, obscuring the sun, backlit, light
around her edges. She smiles at Maile, and begins speaking.
Maile can't hear her. "You can talk to me," she says. "I'll listen.
I'm here. I'm one of you."
Beth keeps talking, but again, nothing. It then occurs to Maile
that there's no sound in outer space. "Maybe we can go down to earth?"
she suggests, but then she stops: there's no sound in space because
there's no air in space.
Maile gasps, trying to breathe, trying to speak. Beth pulls away,
snared by the gravity of the sun. Maile reaches for her, but cannot
reach far enough.
She's short of breath when she wakes. Short of breath, and
frustrated. This is the way all of the Beth-dreams have turned out,
though at least this time she didn't start vomiting up a third-rate
puzzle room immediately after. Lieke had said that the problem was
that Maile was resisting, that Maile wasn't letting her guard down
enough, wasn't letting Beth in.
"Well, that's a load of crock," she mutters to herself as she gets
dressed. "I'm practically begging her to talk to me. She's the one
It's barely four in the morning - why do these Beth-dreams always
wake her up before dawn? - so Maile doesn't expect anyone else to be
up, and certainly isn't expecting to see Lieke. But there she is,
sitting on the couch, headphones on, just the way she left before
midnight. Maile had offered to stay up with her, but Lieke wasn't
feeling sociable, and Maile thought it best to give her some space.
Now she's regretting that decision. "Have you been here all night?"
Lieke looks up, startled. She plucks one of the buds from her ear,
holding it delicately, like an olive, between her thumb and prime
"Have you been sitting here all night?" Maile asks again.
"Hard to sleep," says Lieke. She stops her music player, pulls out
the other bud, and lets the whole mess sit in her lap. "It's never
been this long before."
"The last time," says Maile, "with you, you were out for two or three days."
"But I was here," says Lieke. "I showed up in the room almost
immediately. It just took me a few days to wake up. That happens. When
"Maybe she just hasn't died yet," says Maile. "Maybe the plan's
taking longer than we expected. Maybe. Maybe something went wrong."
"That's just it, Maile," says Lieke. "If something goes wrong, it's
not hard for me to get out of the pickle. Knife in the throat,
drowning, throwing myself off a building. We have a long history of
gruesome suicides, me and me. Sometimes it's an expedient - the way
out of a botched mission. And sometimes it's more, what is the word?
She points to the mancer's mark on her cheek. "We were lucky, me
and me; we were kissed by Venus long before the sudden explosion in
our population. My parents were a little weirded out by the whole
thing, but they took it in stride, my mother more than my father. But
"Then we fell in love with ourselves. I used to hate myself. Used
to think I was ugly and worthless. But when I looked at her, she was
so beautiful, and so kind, and so good. And she saw the same in me.
Caught us by surprise.
"Surprised our parents, too. They could not accept it. My father
separated us. Sent one of us away. I don't remember if it was me or
her; we've died so many times, shared so many memories and so many
lives. Neither of us could stand the pain. The one that was away
committed suicide, and the next morning we woke up together, alive and
"And it's easy to look back and to say that we were young, and when
you're young, everything's the end of the world, everything hurts more
than it ever has for anyone in the history of everything. But. Even
today. Even now. When we're apart, it still hurts that much." She
"You need to get some sleep," says Maile.
"I know," says Lieke derisively. "But I can't stand to be in that
room without her."
Maile wants to say something, something useful, something that
isn't trite, something that isn't "it's going to be okay". Anything
would be better than "it's going to be okay". But that's all she has,
so that's what she says.
Angel has the mirror dream again. It's the only dream she's ever had -
that she can remember, anyway. But her memory only goes back four
days. She wonders if she had the dream before then, or if it's new.
It's not much of a dream. She's in a bathroom - a bathroom that
feels familiar, that feels like home, but one of course that she
doesn't really remember - and she looks in the mirror. She has no
reflection. Sometimes that's it; that's the whole dream. And sometimes
she gets a reflection, but when she does, that's all she is; she's the
backwards image in the glass, and when she looks out into the real
world, there's no one there.
When she wakes up, her cheeks are wet. (She cries every time she
has the dream.) It's still dark out. Trini is still asleep beside her.
Angel had tried sleeping on the old couch in the living room on the
first night, and she could barely move the next day. Trini offered to
take the couch, but Angel wouldn't hear of it. She was a guest, after
all, and she wasn't about to force a pregnant woman to sleep on that
Besides, it helps Angel sleep when there's someone in the room. She
gets the sense that it also helps Trini.
Angel is careful not to wake her. (Trini is a light sleeper, and
once she wakes up, she can't get back to sleep.) Angel goes to the
bathroom, this bathroom that's quite unlike the one in her dream, this
bathroom that doesn't feel like home. But it has a mirror, and when
she looks into it, she has a reflection. There are two of her again,
and two feels right.
She looks at her own face. And it creates a warmth in her that she
can't explain. An outpouring of affection for the face in the mirror.
That's kind of embarrassing and gross; was she some kind of
narcissist? The warmth is replaced by shame, and the shame by a
Angel flicks off the light switch and heads into the living room.
There's a large shelf loaded with books. There's a lot of nonfiction.
The bottom shelf is completely made up of anatomy and medical books.
Those are Trini's; as far as Angel can figure, she went to medical
school. Angel's not sure what happened about that. Trini doesn't like
to talk about it. The top shelf is filled with science fiction and
fantasy novels. Those were David's. Trini doesn't like to talk about
The other night she tried to read one of David's books - a
ridiculously thick paperback, red with a white raven on the cover, its
binding broken a few hundred pages in. But she couldn't get into it.
Whether it was the style of the writing, or the subject matter, Angel
couldn't tell. It could be that she didn't like to read fantasy
novels. She wonders what it is that she liked to read, or if she even
liked to read at all.
And not for the first time, she catches herself using past tense.
Maybe that's natural. After all, she's trying to piece together who
she used to be. But somehow it feels morbid. Like she's describing
someone who has died. Like she died, and now she's come back to life,
only she's broken and empty.
"Well, that's cheerful," she whispers to herself.
She pulls out the little music player that Trini got her, and puts
in the ear buds. She might not know from books, and she might not know
what kind of food she likes. But music? Music she likes, all music,
and what's more, she knows the words to almost all the songs. That
much she remembers.
She closes her eyes, and listens, and because her eyes are closed,
she doesn't see the tiny, split-second flash of light in the living
room, though she can smell the lingering scent of jasmine.
It's early in the morning on the last day of December when Maile
gathers everyone (well, everyone but Beth) in the common room. Lieke
is on the sofa; Maile's not sure if she's moved since this morning.
Next to her is Trevor, who is getting awfully cozy with June, who has
one cat on her lap, one on her shoulder, and one on the armrest. Oh,
and one rubbing up against her legs, so that's four. If not for Sarah
hovering around behind the sofa, the secret circle would be fifty
percent cats, and June probably wouldn't have a problem with that.
Maile sits down across from them, carrying a carton of salt. She
pops it open and holds one hand over the glass coffee table. Then she
It's not a lot. Just a sprinkle. Just enough for her flesh to
sizzle and pop and steam. Just enough that she'll be feeling that for
days. Just enough to get their attention.
"Six months ago, that wouldn't have hurt me," says Maile. "And
that's because of this." She holds up her other hand, showing her
mancer's mark. "This changed who I am. Just like it's changed who you
"Sometimes the change is drastic. That was the case with you, Leek.
Other cases, not so much. I don't know what you were like before,
June, but I get the sense that you preferred cats to people long
before you could talk to them. Rather than change you, it made you
more yourself. June plus."
"That's fair," says June.
"I don't want it to change me," says Sarah. "I'm trying to be
myself despite this thing on my arm."
"And we respect that," says Maile.
"What about me?" says Trevor. "Do me next."
"We'll get to you in a bit," says Maile. "Right now, let's talk
about me." She smiles, putting on a mock display of vanity and
self-absorption, then continues: "Sometime in August this thing
appeared on my hand, and for the life of me I can't remember it. I
can't remember anything until Leek found me in Detroit earlier this
"And in between those two points, I was a different person. The
magic brought out the worse in me. I did terrible things when I was at
The Company. And before one of you breaks in and tells me that I
wasn't responsible, don't. Because guys? I know. I've known for a long
time. I figured it out like two days in. All of you are terrible at
They look terrified, but also relieved. They've been waiting for
this other shoe to drop since the beginning.
"Relax," says Maile. "Like I said, I figured this out super-quick,
and I'm still here, and you're still alive. That doesn't mean that I'm
chill about it, because I'm not. There are some days when I look at
you all, and I get so angry. Because what you did was awful. And I
don't think I will ever forgive you for that. Don't expect that from
me, because you won't get it.
"But I don't expect to be forgiven either. The things I did, I own
those. I made those choices. I wish I hadn't. And I don't understand
how I became that person. Did I become that monster overnight? Did I
resist? Did I justify it to myself? How much did I know? I don't have
answers for any of that. You took those answers away from me. You took
part of me away. It's a part I don't like, but I feel like it's
important that I understand that part of me. You've made me less of a
person and, like I said, I'm gonna be raw about that for a good long
"But however I got here, here is where I want to be. However I
became this person, this is who I want to be. If the choice is between
the end of the world and the end of magic, well, I'm in favor of the
world not ending. We're on the same side. But for us to be on the same
side, we have to trust each other."
"But can you trust us?" says June. "After what we did?"
"I think it's worth trying to find out," says Maile. "The bigger
question is, can you trust me? Enough to be honest with me? Because I
can't lead this group, we can't win this war, if I don't know what the
heck is going on.
"I mean, this is why I'm telling you this. Because we can't work
together if you're constantly worried I'm going to find out the truth
and murder everybody. You couldn't ever trust me if you were worried
about that. So I'm taking a chance and I'm telling you. So, June, can
you trust me?"
"Right now, I trust you more than the rest of them."
June winces. "That's fair."
"I trust you, Maile," says Trevor.
"And that's a problem," says Maile. "Because I can't trust you, Trevor."
"I'm not following."
"You told me something once about my mother," says Maile.
"Something you could only know if we worked together before. Something
you could only know if you were working for The Company."
"There's an explanation," says Trevor slowly.
Maile doesn't give him the time. She tosses the salt in his face.
Nothing happens; he seems as surprised as the rest of them.
"You're not even a mancer," says Maile. "You used your 'magic' to
shut off the weird gun that Samson's brother was using. But if you
were close enough to do that, then you wouldn't have been able to use
your magic at all. So. Who or what are you?"
Trevor leaps up from the couch. Before he can make a run for it,
Sarah brains him with a frying pan. (There's a reason Maile had her
standing behind the couch!) He falls face-first onto the floor. The
back of his head is crushed, and from inside his skull, Maile can hear
a weird hissing noise.
She turns him over. His right eye dangles out of its socket, the
Maile stares at it. "I. I did not have 'robot' on my list."
"Top of mine," says Sarah. "Though that was more of a wish list."
"I didn't really like him, anyway," says Lieke.
"I did," says June, quietly. Maile pats her hand.
Sarah pulls a pair of tweezers out of her pocket and gently prods
the eyeball. It pulses, excreting a white goo that covers the eye. It
sloughs off, along with the outer coating, revealing a complicated
nest of tiny pins and doodads.
"I think I recognize this," says Sarah. "This is hush-hush
proprietary stuff." (Maile thinks it's better not to ask how Sarah
found out about it.) "Only one company in the world makes these
eyeballs. This is Cradle Tech. Why would Cradle be working with The
"That's not surprising," says June. "Through some of their
investment firms, The Company owns the majority of Cradle's stock.
They have ever since Ray Cradle's kid took it over."
"So," says Maile, "I guess the question now is, what the heck does
The Company need flipping robots for?"
Claire doesn't bother to knock before entering Lydia's office.
"What do you think you're doing here?" says Lydia. "I put you on
leave. Garland's head of security now."
"He was," says Claire. "Briefly. I've since relieved him of his
duties, and of his life."
"Garland was compromised," says Claire. "He was the one that placed
David Collins into our organization in the first place. While
investigating the Collins matter, I also investigated Garland. Whereas
David was an unwitting asset, Garland was fully in the employ of the
"That's awfully convenient for you," says Lydia. "Your replacement
just happens to be compromised. Of course, Garland is no longer around
to contradict this. So I'm just supposed to take your word for it?"
"I've already filed my report with Upper Management," says Claire.
"I got the go-ahead for Garland's termination from Mr. C personally."
"All terminations go through HR," says Lydia. "I would have been
looped in. Mr. C wouldn't have done anything without consulting me
I DO AS I PLEASE, says the chorus bleeding at the edges of their
brains. The room grows black, and cold, and wet.
Lydia immediately sinks to her knees, averting her eyes. "My dread
lord," she says, trembling in terror and ecstasy.
Claire continues. "Upper Management suspected that Garland and the
circle had additional help, someone who facilitated and oversaw Maile
Akaka's escape, while hindering efforts to recapture her. They tasked
me with conducting this investigation in secret."
The maggots start to crawl out of Lydia's mouth. Claire waits until
Lydia finishes gagging before she goes on. "You were kept out of the
loop in case you might be responsible." She pauses. "I determined that
"No!" says Lydia. "You're lying! She's lying! Traitor!"
ENOUGH, says the voice as Lydia's body is squeezed and twisted like
a rag. YOU HAVE SERVED YOUR PURPOSE.
"Venus, destroy us," Lydia whispers in gratitude.
Claire steps over the pile of loose, ragged skin that remains, and
sits in Lydia's chair. In her chair. She picks up her phone, and dials
"This is Claire Belden, head of Human Resources," says Claire. "My
predecessor has received the Gift of Venus. I need someone to clean up
Before he opens his eyes, before he takes a breath, before he thinks a
single solitary thought, he feels something in his mouth. The thin,
flat disc tastes like blood, metallic and sickening. He tries to spit
it out. Something presses against his mouth. A hand. He opens his
"Swallow it," says the woman. "You have to swallow." With her other
hand, she pinches his nose. He tries to flail, tries to protest, but
it's no use, and then, at last, he tries to swallow it. It's
impossible. It's too big. It can't ever go down.
But it does, folding and melting down his throat. After a moment,
she lets go. He breathes, deep frantic gulps. It takes a moment for it
to slow down. Once it does, David sits up from the bed and peers
through the darkness at the woman.
"I was dead," he says. "You killed me."
"I killed one of your bodies, yes," says Claire. (How does he know
her name?) "The circle made you a spare before you went undercover. It
was the spare that was destroyed; this is the original. I don't know
if that kind of thing is important to you." She shrugs. "It's never
something that mattered much to me, but I'm on my third body. I know
people can be weird about that kind of thing."
"Beth," he says quietly. "The woman from my dreams. I can remember
her now. She's my wife."
"Yes, yes," Claire says impatiently. "All your memories are there,
David. You can remember everything. You just don't know what you know.
Think of your memories as being in a drawer. It's all there, it's all
accessible. But you have to rummage through it a bit - you have to try
and actively remember it, like 'what's the name of that actress in
that movie', and then it's, 'oh, it's so-and-so'. You'll get the hang
of it eventually, I'm sure."
"I don't remember you, though," says David. "Not well."
"Yes, well, a girl has to have her secrets," says Claire.
"Are you part of the circle?"
"What? No, of course not."
"No," says Claire. "I serve the blue lady. I serve the balance. The
midnight war has been fought for millennia. It started long before you
and I came into this world, and it must continue long after we're
dead. If the Company wins, that's the end of everything. If the circle
wins, that's the end of magic."
"That'd be preferable," says David.
"Spoken like a member of the circle," says Claire derisively. "But
now, more than ever, the earth needs magic if it is to survive what is
to come. We can't permit either side to win. When the balance seems
ready to tip, the blue lady sends her agents to lean on the scales.
The Company's running the board, lately, and so: this is me leaning.
"It's why I helped Maile. She hated what she was doing, what she
had become. She wanted to defect to the circle, but she knew the
circle would never trust her if she came to them openly."
"It was Maile's plan," realizes David.
"Of course it was," says Claire. "We just had to convince the
circle to come up with the idea. I hope you won't take offense, but
Beth was quite susceptible to my little bread crumbs. Clever girl,
Maile Akaka. I think the circle will do quite well under her
leadership. Between her and the evocamancer, it about evens the odds.
Of course then we throw you in the mix and things will be so lopsided
in the circle's favor, I just might need to lean back in the other
"Me?" says David. "All I can do is make people forget things."
"Oh, sweet, stupid David," says Claire. "You can do more than
forget. You also have the ability to remember. Pretty soon, you'll be
remembering things that happened long before you were born. You'll
remember secrets that no one living has ever heard. You'll open doors
that everyone else has forgotten existed. The Company is freaking out
about Sarah Avery, but you're the one they should be scared of. Plus,
you'll have this."
She hands David her umbrella. He holds it up in disbelief: "Is it
going to rain?"
The darkness starts to dance before his eyes. It hurts to look at
it. He closes his eyes, and when he opens them, it's not an umbrella
he's holding. It's a sword. But it's unlike any sword that David had
ever seen. It's red, deep red, red as rust, red as blood. He can't
recognize the material; it shines like new steel but has grain like
old wood. The blade isn't quite straight but it isn't quite curved;
its teeth are many but irregular. It doesn't look like a blade that
was made, but one that grew, natural and organic.
"This is Thirteen, the sword of stories," says Claire. "The only
weapon to ever taste the blood of Venus. In time before time, before
the Lullaby, before men walked the earth, one of the gods of Venus was
slain with this blade by Quasha One-Eye."
"I'm not sure you've got the right guy here," says David. "Outside
of some ill-advised cosplay, I've never held a sword in my," and he
stops. Because now he remembers. He knows he's never held it; it's not
his hand that he sees around its pommel in his mind's eye. But he
remembers the weight of it, he remembers the way it grows hot and
burns, he remembers the blood that streaked its blade.
"I know this sword," he says softly.
"Of course you do," says Claire.
He looks up; he's alone in the darkness. But he still hears her
voice: "David, David, David. My dear, stupid brother. It's been in our
family for generations."
COPYRIGHT (C) 2018 TOM RUSSELL.
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