8FOLD: Mancers # 3, "Salt and Roses"
joltcity at gmail.com
Mon Jul 23 09:47:52 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
' '`-`-' '`-`'-' -'
# 3 [8F-178] [PW-24]
"SALT AND ROSES"
BY TOM RUSSELL
MAILE AKAKA, age 19. Aeromancer.
The Company's top field agent and assassin, her memory has been wiped,
and she now believes herself to be the leader of an anti-Company group
of mancers called the secret circle.
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 to whom Lieke reports her progress.
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.
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.
Lieke looks at herself and falls in love all over again. The tight
little lines that swallow up her eyes when she laughs. The smile that
seems to stretch the corners of her lips almost to her ears. The
faint, eerie glow of her mancer's mark.
Lieke never used to think that she was beautiful. Quite the
opposite. She hated the face in her mirror. But then she turned
seventeen, and that changed. The face in the mirror became a real
face, another person, a second her that understood her like no one
else ever could before, that knew where to touch her, that knew the
words she needed to hear and when she needed to hear them.
Lieke hated herself until she fell in love with herself. There were
consequences, of course. Her parents wouldn't stand for it, and so the
two of her had to run away, sloughing off her family like old skin.
She hasn't seen or talked to her father since. Her mother has tried to
reconcile a couple of times, but it's always been a pretext for an
intervention they don't need. Jo was still in diapers when Lieke left,
but emailed her a few years ago, and the three of them have met once a
year ever since. Until this year, anyway. Until Jo disappeared.
Her better half yawns, and Lieke knows that yawn, knows the way her
hands are resting on the steering wheel.
"You've been driving for hours," says Lieke. "Let me take over so
you can get some rest."
"I'm hungry more than anything." The other her flicks her eyes to
the rearview mirror. "Maile, you hungry?"
"A little," says the monster. "I literally don't remember the last
time I ate."
"We'll stop and get a bite, stretch the legs a little, then me and
me will switch off."
They stop at a greasy spoon in Indiana just off the interstate.
Briefly they considered a McDonald's a couple of blocks down, but
Maile puts the kibosh on that. "The only thing I eat there is spam,
eggs, and rice, which they don't have on the mainland, just back
The other Lieke smiles. "Our little sister Jo only eats the Chicken
Egg McMuffin. One time we met her while she was visiting the states,
and she threw a fit when they didn't have it. Do you remember, me?"
"I remember," says Lieke. She knows it's their job to talk to
Maile, be friendly with her, but it irks her to see the other her
"I'm surprised you guys didn't know that, Leek and Leek. I'm pretty
adamant about it, it's a whole thing."
"Well, it just didn't come up," says the other her. "June's a great
cook, so we don't really do the whole fast food thing in the circle."
Lieke knows she should keep quiet, but she can't. "Plus, we had
more important things to talk about, what with the whole 'ours is the
midnight war' and everything."
The greasy spoon is almost quintessentially American and tacky.
There's way too many tables, each of which is too small and has too
many chairs crowded around it, with almost no room to move. Each table
has a bottle of ketchup and a bottle of mustard, tiny shakers of salt
and pepper, and of course there are little self-serve packets of jam,
butter, sugar, and cream. Lieke doesn't like to think of herself as a
snob, but she hasn't been to a restaurant in months, and she was
hoping it'd be some place a little fancier, where a side of vegetables
meant roasted parsnips and three colors of beets, not frozen carrots
and peas. This is the kind of place where a caper is just a fancy word
for adventure. She'd rather have bobotie than eat here, and she hates
The two Liekes sit next to each other on one side of the table, and
Maile on the other. Their table is right next to a big window. The
setting sun splashes upon the other Lieke's face; she looks gorgeous.
The waitress comes to the table with plastic glasses of grimy tap
water and three menus. Lieke accepts the water with a grimace, but
waves away the menu.
"You not eating, honey?"
(Oh, she called her "honey". Oh, joy.) "I'm just going to have
whatever she's having." She points to herself.
"You girls twins or something?"
It doesn't take long to place the order, and it doesn't take much
longer for it all to arrive, piping lukewarm.
"So, I gotta ask," says the monster between bites. "Is there, like,
some kind of psychic link?" She points at one and then the other with
"Between us?" answers the other Lieke. "No. We're two different
bodies, two different minds. Two independent versions of the same
"Which of you is the..."
"What, the real one?" says Lieke sharply.
The other Lieke pinches her leg: be nice. "We're both real."
"I was going to say, the original."
"Neither of us."
"Is it a yin and yang thing? One is one aspect of your personality,
one is the other?"
"Why, because she's grumpy?" says the other Lieke with a smile.
"No, we're not two halves. We're both whole. And yet, we're not whole
without each other."
"Do we really need to talk about all this right now?" says Lieke.
"She's just curious."
"Yes; and it's making me feel like we're weird or something."
"Well, we are weird or something. It's weird. That's okay."
"I don't feel okay," says Lieke.
"We'll drop it," says the monster. She clumsily grabs the salt,
almost knocking it over. Both Liekes hold their breath until Maile
puts the shaker back down on the table.
"So, okay, more important question. Where are we going, exactly?"
"Classified," says Lieke.
Maile scoffs. "Wait, what? I'm your leader, Leek. How is that classified?"
"You'll know when we get there," says the other Lieke. "We can't
say it out loud. Not here. Not now."
"Is it some kind of magic thing? Like a curse?" (A curse. What an idiot.)
"Then, what?" demands the monster. "There's no one listening."
"No one you can see," says the other Lieke.
Maile mouths the word: "Anti-men?"
The Liekes nod without nodding.
The other Lieke looks pointedly at herself, and then at Maile.
"So, what do we do?"
"You eat your food before it gets cold," says Lieke. "Well, colder."
The monster takes another bite. Slowly, automatically, like a
machine warming up. She swallows. "They're not going to make a move on
us," she says in a low whisper. "Because it's too public? Will draw
too much attention?"
Lieke's surprised; she had started to get used to her asking
stupid, pointless, obvious newbie questions.
"That's why the car. That's why you, and not someone else. The two
of you. Twins. Twins in a Ferrari. All that's unusual. Invites
scrutiny. Makes it harder for them to cover up something big and
A man clears his throat. "That's one way to look at it, Maile."
"Samson," says Lieke. She's never seen him, but he fits Beth's
description: the broad frame, the angular face, the black eyes, the
colorless lips. The Company's other top assassin, Maile's rival and,
if the rumors Beth gleaned from David's dreams are to be believed,
Samson sits down at their table, close to Lieke, his face pointed
toward the window and the encroaching night. "You have me at a
disadvantage, miss. I don't believe I've had the pleasure. Maile,
won't you introduce me?"
So, thinks Lieke, this is the part where they find out if David's
wipe really took. It starts to rain.
"Don't talk to him, Maile," says the other Lieke. "He's one of them."
"One of them," echoes Samson, bemused. He flicks his black eyes to
the Liekes. "I know who you are now." He reaches out with his index
finger and touches Lieke's mancer's mark. His finger is cold.
"Doppelmancer." He draws his hand back, and steeples his fingers. "And
that accent: Afrikaners? Any relation to little Johanna van Rijn? You
have the same eyes. Yes, I can tell from the way the color just left
your pretty little cheeks that you are. Sister, then? We know the
circle has been looking for her. That you've been looking for her.
Maybe that's why you're with the circle?" He lets that hang there,
like an invitation. Then: "Ask me if I know where she is."
"Do you?" It's Maile who asks.
"No," says Samson. "We've been spending considerable time and
resources trying to find Johanna, too. But we have leads. Leads that
I'd wager your little group of rag-tags don't have."
"And why would you give them to us, Samson?" says the other Lieke.
"You wouldn't want us to find her any more than we want you to find
Lieke adds, "I'd rather Jo be dead than have you scumbags get hold of her."
"I don't know if she'd feel quite the same way," says Samson. "Yes,
we want to find them. It's important to our aims that we do. But
Maile's more important. We'd be prepared to take the risk of you
finding those kids if it means we get Maile back."
"I'm not some pawn to be passed around," says Maile pointedly.
"No, you're not," says Samson softly. "But you're not yourself,
either. The Maile I know wouldn't be sitting here, and these two would
be dead already." He reaches for her hand.
"You don't know me," says Maile, withdrawing her hand. There's a
clap of thunder outside. "And I don't know you, especially not after
your sick little band of secret shock-troopers wiped my memories."
"Oh," says Samson, laughing. "Is that what they told you?"
"No deal," says the other Lieke.
"Plan B, then," says Samson. "Not counting the four of us, there
were nineteen people when I walked in here." He rubs the little green
ring on his right hand, and looks at Lieke. "You know what this is?"
"Then you know that my anti-men can slaughter them all one-by-one,
and the sheep won't even stop grazing. You know me, even if only by
reputation. You know that it will take me about two minutes to make my
run around the room. Now, you're right: that will be big, and messy,
and it will draw a lot of unwelcome attention. It will eat up valuable
time and resources for The Company to paper over all the wrinkles."
"Paper over all the wrinkles?" says Maile.
"Compassion's a new look for you, Maile," he says. "Not sure if I'm
into it." He turns his attention back to the Liekes. "Keeping our
business secret is a priority for us, of course, just as it is for you
and your little band of half-baked mystical terrorists. But again,
Maile is important enough to us and our interests that we're prepared
to make that trade-off. The question is, are you? Maile and I walk out
of here together, and there's nineteen humans that get to be miserable
for at least one more day. And I'll let both of you live. Well?" He
looks at Maile. "I'm asking you, Maile, since you're suddenly all
cuddles and rainbows and tugged heartstrings."
"I'm not going to let you hurt anyone," says Maile.
He smiles like he's indulging a child. "We'll have you back to your
old self in," but the rest of what he says is drowned out by the wind
and rain that crashes through the big picture window and right into
Samson. He is flung across the room, shards of glass lodging in his
chest and face. The mancer's mark on his chest glows, exposed.
He starts to stagger up, and that's when a bolt of lightning
uncoils through the window like a snake and buries its fangs into his
chest. Probably to Maile's surprise, this doesn't reduce Samson to a
greasy smear, though it does make him think twice about getting up
"Come on," says Maile, already half way out the window. "Let's go!
Everyone! Get out of here! It's not safe!" Predictably the humans
start pouring out the doors in a panic.
The other Lieke grabs herself by the hand. "He won't stay down for long."
"I know," says Lieke. "So, I'll buy you some time."
"Are you sure?"
Lieke nods. "I think it's my turn, anyway." She kisses herself on
the mouth, and then grabs the salt shaker from their table. She scoops
up a couple others for good measure.
"This won't kill you, you bastard," says Lieke. "But it's going to
hurt." She empties the salt shakers over his mancer's mark. Smoke
bubbles up from his boiling flesh, and he screams. It's the last,
beautiful thing she hears before one of the anti-men slits her throat.
Trinity Tran exits the stall. The bathroom is empty. By the time
she starts washing her hands, Claire is sitting on the sofa, her
ever-present umbrella standing upright, both wrists resting on the
"I didn't hear you come in," says Trini.
"I didn't," says Claire. She pats Trini affectionately on the knee.
Trini doesn't remember walking over to the sofa, let alone sitting
down next to Claire.
"What do you want, Claire?"
"That's what I like about you, Trini. That's what I've always liked
about you, from the first time we met, all those years ago. So
focused, so driven, so direct and blunt. You don't let anything
distract you from the point."
Trini stares at her, blinks, then stares again.
"You're not one to stop and smell the roses," continues Claire.
"You say, yes, yes, that's a rose, that's fine, but I need to get back
to what's important."
"I do have work to do," says Trini.
"Stop," says Claire. Suddenly her face is right next to Trini's,
her lips trembling next to her nose. "Smell." She exhales. Her breath
smells of incense. But not just any incense.
"My mother," says Trini.
Claire runs her fingernails along Trini's arm: she feels her cat
kneading it with her front paws. Trini smiles, but it is a sad smile.
Claire kisses Trini on the mouth, and she tastes of her father's
curry, which tasted like no one else's. Even when Trini followed the
recipe, it tasted nothing like her father's. He died back in
twenty-ten, and she thought she would never taste it again.
Trini is not a sentimental woman, and so is as surprised as Claire
when she starts to cry.
"You miss them?" It sounds like a genuine question.
"Of course I do."
Claire crinkles her nose. "I've never really understood people who
love their families. It just seems like a weakness that could be very
easily exploited. Of course, that just makes my job easier, doesn't
Claire points her umbrella back at the mirror over the sinks. It no
longer reflects The Company's washroom. Instead, it's Trini's house.
She sees her mother sitting in the easy-chair. She's sobbing.
Something calls her attention (maybe the phone rings?), and her mother
leaves the room. Trini and Claire stare at the empty living room for a
moment, and then the spell starts to fade.
Claire puts her arm around Trini's back. "You can't contact them.
That would risk the police finding you. That would risk them finding
out about The Company." She doesn't need to tell Trini that that, in
turn, would risk the lives of her family.
"I know that," says Trini.
"But I can," says Claire. "I can take messages to your mother and
brother, as often as you like. Let them know that you're okay, that
they don't need to worry. And I can bring messages back. Let you know
what's going on in their lives." She whispers in her ear: "Let you
hear the sounds of their voices," and then, for a fleeting moment,
"And what do you want in return?"
Claire smiles. "Every morning at ten, Monday through Friday, you
will come here and sit in one of the stalls. Cup your hands over your
mouth, and whisper: I'll hear it, wherever I am. I need you to tell me
everything and anything that's going on with David."
"David?" says Trini. Her stomach churns. "Is he in trouble?"
"That depends on what you tell me," says Claire. "And you will tell
me everything, won't you? And, it goes without saying, you'll tell him
nothing of this." Claire's fingers run up Trini's thighs, under her
skirt, resting on the mancer's mark just above her mound of Venus. In
that moment, Trini feels it again: the pinch, the pain, the rush, the
blood pulsing in all the bodies around her, the hospital, the panic,
like the first time, when she had no control over any of it. She feels
her old life come crashing to an end all over again. Everything goes
red, and then black.
She's in her office now, hunched over, struggling to catch her
breath. The pain takes its sweet time fading. There's a knock at her
"Hey, you okay?"
"I'm fine," she lies. "Is it that time already?"
"Yup. Ready for lunch?"
Lieke wakes up in her room. The first thing she sees is herself.
"Hey," says the other her, touching her face.
"How long was I out?"
"All weekend. It's Monday. You just missed dinner. I'm sure June
will heat a plate up for you."
"So you both got here okay?"
She nods. "You're pretty much her favorite person now."
"We're her favorite person."
"No, you," she says. "She's convinced you sacrificed yourself to
save her. Like, I'm okay," she holds one hand at eye level, "but you,"
she holds the other hand above her head. "You've got a new bestie."
"Ugh. I'd ask you to kill me again, but it's your turn next time."
"How was it this time?"
"Cold," says Lieke. "Dark. I missed me."
She gets a smile in return. "I missed me too."
TO BE CONTINUED
COPYRIGHT (C) 2018 TOM RUSSELL.
More information about the racc