8FOLD: Mancers # 1, "In Media Res"
joltcity at gmail.com
Mon Jul 9 09:54:05 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
' '`-`-' '`-`'-' -'
# 1 [8F-176] [PW-23]
"IN MEDIAS RES"
BY TOM RUSSELL
Maile's running. The rain's coming down in sheets, and she's running.
>From the ache in her legs and the pounding in her chest and the
blinding pain just behind her right eye she must have been running for
quite a while. Running faster than she's ever run before. Running from
something? From somebody?
She doesn't see anybody chasing her. But she's scared half to death
for some reason, maybe even three-quarters to death, so she doesn't
dare to stop. Not until she can get somewhere safe.
Of course, if she had any idea where the heck she was, she'd be
able to find that somewhere safe. She'd be able to run to that
somewhere. Running to is always better than running from. Running from
is reactive; running to is smart. And if Maile wants to stay alive,
she's going to need to be smart. She clutches at the cold metal
crucifix hanging around her neck. "Cross of Plus 2 Intelligence," she
So. Look around (still running). She's in a city. Signs in English.
American. Lots of closed businesses. Brick buildings. Bare trees
Suddenly she's pitching forward. Wet, loose shoelaces. They'll do
it every time. She scrambles to get back up, and as she does, she
happens to look over her shoulder.
Now, at long last, she sees them. Or, to be more precise, she sees
where they're supposed to be. The rain rolls off shoulders that aren't
there. There are human-shaped places where the rain refuses to go.
There are three of them? Four?
"Maile," says one of them. He reaches out with his hand, bending
the rain around it. "You need to come with us, now. For your own
"No!" she screams, throwing up her hands. At that instance, four
bolts of lightning rip from the sky, each one striking the same exact
place. Smoke rises up from chunks of flesh and bone. The rain pounds
it with impunity.
"Oh my God," says Maile. She starts to puke, but forces it back
down, burning her throat. She stares at her hands, and at the weird
little tattoo on the back of her left hand. It's glowing. Burning. Not
on the outside. On the inside. All over. "I did that."
She looks at the rain, and at the shapes gathering around the
corpse. They're talking amongst themselves, but it's muffled and hard
to make out. It's almost like she's not hearing them at all, but that
she's hearing the silences where they're supposed to be. Then, a few
words ring clear and clean: "No, Samson wants us to take her alive."
For some reason that scares her more than the alternative. "Like
heck you will," she growls. With surprising ease, like flexing a
muscle she didn't know she had, a half-dozen more bolts of lightning
come crashing down in split-second tandem. This time, she spreads them
out, apportioning them amongst the shapes she thinks she sees in the
She doesn't think that all of them make contact, but she doesn't
wait around to confirm it. The point of it wasn't to take them all
out, because she can't be sure how many there are, or even what they
are. The point is to cover her exit.
So, if she's controlling the thunder, she's probably the one making
it rain, right? She's feeling all agitated and panicky, so the sky is
all agitated and panicky. She calms down, maybe it calms down? She
takes a deep breath, and the rain starts to lighten up, reducing to a
manageable tinkling pitter-patter. Awesome.
Okay, so chances are, they've been using the rain to track her. If
she can turn it off, maybe she can give them the slip. Of course,
without the rain, she won't be able to "see" them to know if they're
"Can I move it?" she wonders aloud. Push the rain that-a-way while
she moseys on this-a-way? If they keep tracking the rain, it buys her
more time to figure out what's going on. Whereas if she just turns it
off, cold turkey, they'll liable to fan out to try and find her.
Better to send them on a wild goose chase, yes? Yes.
The question remains: can she even do it? And if she can, how the
heck does that work? The rain had to do with her emotional state, her
pulse and the chemicals in her brain; the lightning was something
instinctual, like knowing how to breath or swallow. So this isn't an
intellectual thing. It's not a matter of thinking it, or visualizing
it. So if she can do this thing, it's got to be grounded in something
physical, something real.
That's when she realizes that it's more than connected to her, but
that it's a part of her, the way her foot is a part of her, or her
heart. She could feel the lightning when it ripped through the sky,
and felt the shock of its impact. She can feel the clouds and the rain
now, she can feel herself pulsing into it. It's like stretching her
fingers, she realizes, only it's not her fingers, but her clouds and
her raindrops, and sure enough, they're gently rolling along,
stretching further and further out.
There's a strain there, like her body's being stretched too far.
It's probably worse because this is all brand new, like doing a
work-out without a warm-up. She's not sure how far she can push her
pretty little storm, or how far apart she can be from it, but even a
few minutes might buy her enough time to figure out what the heck is
going on, where the heck she is, where the heck she can go, what the
heck she's going to do, what the mother-flipping heck.
New clothes would be a good start. For one, they'd be less likely
to identify her by sight, and for another, thoroughly soaked as she
is, everyone can probably see her good bits. She slaps around her
pockets to look for her wallet (Maile never was a purson), but there's
nothing there. She doesn't have a phone on her, either, which of
course she doesn't. So where does that leave her? Walking up to random
people and asking them for clothes? Shoplifting? She hasn't stolen a
gee-dee thing since she was fourteen, and while her mom raised her
better than that, she'd definitely rather be a thief and alive than a
saint and dead. But, no, that's just going to bring more attention to
herself, and that's one thing she doesn't need.
There's charity, of course, but what are the chances of her finding
a place without a phone or any idea where she is? She spots some
graffiti in an alleyway as she passes it by. Maybe she'll get lucky
and they'll have sprayed something that will help orient her. She
ducks into the alleyway to take a closer look.
"So cold in the D." So, Detroit. Okay, that's a little scary,
considering she's never been further east than Texas.
"Maile," says a voice behind her.
Maile whirls around. "Get back!" she barks.
The woman rolls her eyes, crossing her arms against her chest.
She's taller than Maile, maybe even as tall as six feet without the
ridiculous heels she's wearing, older than Maile, definitely closer to
thirty than she is to twenty, and skinnier. "Easy, Maile. It's me."
"I don't know you."
"Aw, come on, Mal." She steps forward, hemming Maile in against the
wall. Maile figures a good kick to the stomach ought to do it, and so
out flies her foot.
The woman sees it coming. She catches the foot in her hands, and a
second later, Maile is flat on her back. Knocks the wind right out of
"You're not kidding," says the woman. Maile can't quite place the
accent. "You really don't remember me. The Company must have done a
job on you.
"So: I'm Lieke."
"Close enough. We're friends. You're pretty much my second best
friend in the world, after myself."
"Hilarious, actually," says Lieke. "It'll take a moment, but you'll
get the joke eventually. Do you want me to help you up?"
"No," says Maile. "And you need to step back. I don't know you, and
I don't trust you."
"Alright, Mal, alright," says Lieke. "Here. I'm giving you a big
huge bubble of personal space, okay?"
Maile slowly pushes herself up off the ground, bracing herself
against the wall, keeping her eyes on Lieke the entire time. When
she's finally standing, she says, "I'm going to go now."
"Um," says Lieke. "Okay, you could do that. Or, you could let me
help you. You could let me save your life."
"I'm going to go now."
Maile starts to back out of the alleyway.
Lieke pulls aside one flap of her red leather jacket. There's a
holster on her belt. Faster than Maile can react, Lieke pulls out the
gun and fires.
There's a groan behind Maile. She turns around and sees the little
drops of blood coming out of the thin air. Then the air turns into a
man, and crumples to the pavement. Lieke walks up to him, aims at the
head, and fires.
"How did you know he was there?" says Maile. "There's no rain here!"
Lieke eases the revolver back into its holster. "You taught me."
"Okay," says Maile slowly. "Okay."
"I can save you now?"
"You can save me now. But, I just want to be on record here, if
you're going to all this trouble so you can murder me, I'm going to be
"Okay," says Maile. "So, we're friends then."
"Yep," says Lieke. "But we gotta go. The anti-men can tell when one
of their own has been laid low, so they'll be swarming around us any
minute." She grabs Maile's hand, tugging her further down the
alleyway. When they get to the end of it, Lieke's pointing her keys at
a flashy red car.
"Is that... is that a Ferrari?"
"Yes, an Enzo," says Lieke.
"Well, that's inconspicuous," eyerolls Maile.
"You don't need to be inconspicuous if you're fast," says Lieke.
"Three-hundred sixty-five kilometers per hour. Same as days in the
year. (Two twenty-seven for the American in my audience.) Now, stop
gawking and get in."
Maile opens the door, and is surprised to see a second Lieke in
sunglasses reclining in the front passenger seat. The other Lieke sits
up, letting Maile squeeze into the back. As soon as she has, the seat
goes back down, and so does the other Lieke. "You're twins?" she says.
Lieke (the first Lieke) smiles. "No. We're the same person."
"What do you mean, you're the same person?"
"You make it rain," says Lieke. "And we're the same person."
Maile looks at the faintly glowing tattoo on the back of her hand,
then looks up at Lieke. That's when she notices Lieke's tattoo:
smaller, more symmetrical, on her right cheek.
Lieke slams on the accelerator. "So, you probably have questions.
Self, answer Maile's questions. Self? Self!"
The other Lieke appears startled. "Huh? What?"
"You were just conscious two seconds ago," says the driver. "I
don't know how you can fall asleep like that at the drop of a hat."
"Yes, you do."
"Yes, I do. Self, Maile has questions. Answer them."
The sleepy Lieke tilts her head toward Maile. "Well?"
"Um, I guess, to start..." She points at the back of her hand.
"Mancer's mark," says Lieke. "Lets you channel mystical energy from
Venus. Like, an innate magical talent. There used to be a lot of us.
I'm talking way back, in before history times. Do you want to know
"Great question," says Lieke, cracking a smile. "Venus was, and is,
some serious bad news. A bunch of folks got together and sealed Venus
off, cut off magic at its source. A little bit leaked in here and
there, and so there's always been some of us, but just a handful. Over
the centuries (and now we're moving rather nicely into history times),
they kept putting spells on top of spells, strengthening the Lullaby
that was keeping Venus asleep. But there are some dudes who would be
mancers if Venus was awake, and some mancers who would be more fierce,
and those a-holes have been working together the last four or five
hundred years to try to undo the Lullaby. The short version is, they
did that, and now magic is everywhere again. I got magic. You got
magic. A lot of folks have magic."
"So, why me? Why you?"
"Nobody knows," says Lieke. "The Company thinks it has to do with
birthrights and genetics, but I know there's people who were expecting
magic, and didn't get it."
"Those are the dudes who woke Venus back up," says Lieke.
The driver-Lieke chimes in. "Also the dudes who were chasing you;
the anti-men are theirs. Also the dudes who kidnapped you in the first
place, and I guess wiped your memory? Not nice dudes, obvi."
"I can't even remember what I can't remember," says Maile. "I don't
even know what year it is."
"Twenty-fourteen," chirps driver-Lieke.
"Well," says Lieke with the sunglasses, "you can't remember us (and
we're awesome and worth remembering, btw), and we met back in
September. Do you remember the Last Story?"
"So, you definitely don't remember August 25, then. How about a
couple of big airline crashes?"
"One of them got shot down, right?"
"Yep. So, you remember July. And we're now coming into December. So
that's five months of your life you'll never remember."
"But why?" says Maile. "What did I do?"
"Well, it's like this. Venus is still bad news. They're awake, but
they got dealt a whammy, and they're still kind of discombobulated.
The Company's looking for ways to snap them out of it, to usher in a
new Venusian Age. And there are folks who are looking to stop them.
Maybe even find a way to seal Venus off, permanently. Folks who are
fighting to save the world for mancers and humans alike. That's us.
That's the secret circle."
"And I'm a part of that," says Maile. She's never been part of
anything in her life.
"Maile," says Lieke gently. "You're not just a part of it. You're
the one who started it! And now, more than ever, we need you to lead
"But first," says the driver, pulling into a parking lot, "we need
to get you some new clothes. You two stay here. Keep a look-out. Me,
that means no sleeping." She gets out of the car.
The other Lieke grumbles as she whips off her glasses.
"I don't know how to lead people," says Maile glumly.
"Mal, trust me, you'll be fine."
"I actually really hate being called Mal," says Maile.
"I know. That's why we do it."
Lieke heads into a changing room, and then taps the six points of the mirror.
"I found her," says Lieke. "She's fine. Scared and confused. Looks
like David did his job. She's still sharp though. Resourceful.
"I still don't know about this, Beth. Every time I lay eyes on the
bitch, I just see Marcus. What she did to him. What she's going to do
to us if she finds out who she really is, what she's done, what we've
done to her.
"There's a reason she's The Company's best assassin."
TO BE CONTINUED
COPYRIGHT (C) 2018 TOM RUSSELL
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