8FOLD: Mancers # 14, "The Price"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Jul 5 21:29:38 PDT 2020

Among us walk the MANCERS - humans gifted with mystical power by dread
Venus! Some serve the elder gods, and conspire to give them dominion
over mankind! Others fight in rebellion against Venus, seeking to end
magic itself! And in this midnight war - fought by spies and assassins
with secrets and mysteries - the fate of the Earth shall be decided!

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#     # NUMBER 14 - "THE PRICE" [8F-203][PW-48]

-------------DRAMATIS PERSONAE-------------

A band of mancers opposing the gods of Venus.

MAILE AKAKA, age 20. Aeromancer.
Once the top field agent of The Company, she orchestrated her own
abduction and memory wipe to defect to the circle. She now serves as
their leader.

LIEKE VAN RIJN, age 27. Doppelmancer.
Split into two autonomous bodies, madly in love with each other, now
separated and desperately alone. This Lieke is with the circle.

JUNE LASH, age 47. Ailuromancer.
Gourmet chef and spymaster, commanding dozens of feline agents around the globe.

TREVOR JEFFRIES, age 23? Robot head.
Thought to be a mekhanomancer, recently revealed to be a Company robot
constructed by Cradle Tech.

DAVID COLLINS, age 31. Mnemonomancer.
Married to Beth Collins, brother of Claire Belden, wielder of the
ancient blade Thirteen. He has accidentally remembered a forbidden
name locked in his dead father's memories, resurrecting a great and
unspeakable evil.

AZABETH "BETH" COLLINS, age 37. Oneiromancer.
Wife of David Collins, only recently awaken from a long slumber.

SARAH AVERY, age 25. Evocamancer.
Reluctantly allied with the secret circle, and even more reluctant to
use her demon-summoning magic, preferring to serve as an engineer.

Non-mystical human collector of magical artifacts and lore.

A shadow conglomerate in the service of dread Venus.

CLAIRE BELDEN, age 31. Metamancer.
Having framed and murdered her former boss and lover Lydia Black,
Claire is now the head of Human Resources for The Company. From
within, she pursues her own agenda, aiding the circle and The Company
in equal measure to maintain a mystical stalemate between the two
sides. Sister of David Collins, responsible for both his escape and
Maile's defection.

TRINITY "TRINI" TRAN, age 35. Haematomancer.
A fugitive, reluctantly working for The Company in return for their
protection, and allied with Claire. She carries David Collins's child,
and is now rooming with (and keeping an eye on) the mind-wiped

ANGEL, age 27. Doppelmancer.
The other Lieke van Rijn, amnesiac, depowered, and consumed by a
desperate emptiness. Held captive by The Company.


NOTE: This story takes place -after- MANCERS/DAYLIGHTERS: BRAVE NEW
WORLD but is best enjoyed when read before it.


Maile arrives at the entrance of the hedge maze at the appointed hour.
As agreed, she has come alone. If whoever is tattooing Lieke is as
good as their word, they'll be alone too, waiting for Maile at the
center of the labyrinth.
   It is lightly but thoroughly dusted with white; it's the sort of
snow that crunches underfoot. Hers are the only sounds she hears: her
feet, her breath, the soft squeak of sleeve against jacket. She
listens for other sounds, for birds, for wind, but everything is still
and dead.
   As near as she can tell, the maze works a bit like Shallow House
does, twisting itself around when she isn't looking, designed to make
her more and more lost. For as long as it feels that she's the enemy;
for as long as she's uncomfortable and unnerved. This is perhaps worse
because every bend looks like every other bend. There are no
discernable landmarks here, just aisles of white covering green.
   Except there are small red flowers, incongruous and delicate, that
peek out from the hedges. Not a single crumb of snow touches these
flowers; somehow the snow knew not to fall on them. Maile knows better
than to touch pretty flowers in a deadly maze - that's like fairy tale
magic one-oh-one - but is initially excited because they at least give
her a landmark. Only they don't, because she has never seen the same
red flower twice.
   At one point, she turns into a dead end. When she turns back to go
the way she came, she finds herself at the center of the maze.
   "I wasn't sure you'd come," says the woman. It's not Claire, at
least not how David described her. She's a Thai woman, in her
thirties, pregnant and showing.
   "Are you Trinity Tran?"
   "Trini." She sits on a metal chair and sweeps her hand across a
metal table, pointing to a second chair. Maile's pretty sure that the
chairs and the table weren't there before, but by this point she just
calls that Tuesday. She sits.
   "I'm Maile."
   "We've met before," says Trini. "I gather you wouldn't remember it, though."
   "No," says Maile. She's about to ask if they were close, but she
already knows they weren't just from looking at Trini's face and
posture. "I asked to meet Claire."
   "I know." She hesitates, then: "Claire is indisposed. I'm her
assistant, and I have authority to act on her behalf."
   "And on The Company's behalf?"
   Trini chews her lip for a moment. "In whatever capacity Claire could, yes."
   Maile reaches into her pocket and pulls out the flash drive. "You
know what this is."
   "I have an inkling."
   "I mean, you sent us to get it for you."
   "Yes," says Trini. "And you want something in return for it."
   "Oh, yes," smiles Maile. "Lady, I've got a whole list."
   Trini puts up her hands cautiously. "I can only give you so much.
My authority has limits."
   "Yeah, but once you have this," she wiggles the drive, "you and
Claire are going to have a lot more authority, aren't you? Enough
where she'll have a significant hand in driving Company policy."
   "But not a free hand," downplays Trini. "We still answer to Upper
Management, and they'd hardly appreciate us making major concessions
to the enemy." She takes a breath, closing her eyes. "And that's why,
uh, contrary to our previous agreement, I'm not quite alone."
   It's then that Maile feels its presence, scratching at the corners
of her brain. A sick feeling in her stomach, a bitter taste in her
mouth, and a red flush all over her skin. Maile wonders if this is the
first time she's been in the presence of Venus.
   "Listening to us," says Maile. So they can't speak freely; Maile
can't ask Trini if she is secretly working against The Company from
within. She's not even sure if she can think it.
   "Let me start small," says Maile. "I want Leek back."
   "With the tattoos?"
   "Oh," says Trini. "We've been calling her Angel."
   "Angelique. We call her Leek."
   "You want her back?"
   "That's what I said."
   "I'm just surprised, that's all," says Trini.
   "You're surprised I want one my operatives returned to the fold?"
   "Well, she's sort of a hotline, isn't she?" says Trini. "A sort of
back channel where our two sides can communicate with each other with
plausible deniability."
   "And your high mucky-mucks are okay with that?" Before she finishes
saying it, there's a sharp pain in her skull.
   "Careful," cautions Trini. "But yes. They are fundamentally patient
and pragmatic. And they will tolerate some slight measure of
cooperation and coordination when our short-term interests are
aligned. Angel allows us to keep that possibility open."
   "Sure, I get that," says Maile. "But what does Angel want?"
   "I don't know if that matters." It's a lie and Maile knows it;
Trini's a bad actress. David had said she was a good person, one who
cared deeply - too deeply - about others. Maile can use that against
her, tug on those overactive heartstrings.
   She presses the point. "Is she happy?"
   Trini hesitates long enough to give Maile her answer.
   "No," says Maile. "And neither is mine."
   Trini is legitimately perplexed. "Neither is your what?"
   "My Leek," says Maile slowly. "The other her."
   "There are two of them," says Trini.
   "You didn't know."
   "No," says Trini.
   Maile bets Claire knew, though. "They're connected," she tries to
explain. "That connection is how we've been talking. That connection
is, it's everything to them. It's who they are."
   Maile reaches into her jacket and pulls out her phone. A few taps
and swipes later, and she's showing Trini a photo of the two Liekes
together, mugging for the camera. Mugging for each other.
   "I knew she was missing someone," says Trini. "I knew she was
talking to someone. But I didn't know it was this. She didn't even
   "Because her memory was wiped," says Maile.
   "Yes," says Trini. "How'd you find out?"
   "I mean, that was the plan," says Maile. "A total wipe makes her
useless for interrogation. So that you would kill her."
   Trini flinches.
   "Then she'd wake up in her room with a new body and all her
memories," says Maile. "That's how her magic works. But she said you
stole it?"
   "Not me personally. But they cut off her mark." Trini reaches into
her own pocket, pulls out her own phone. Maile looks at the picture.
What shocks her the most isn't how different this other Lieke looks,
isn't the nasty scar on her cheek, but rather the ways in which she
looks exactly like Maile's Lieke, with the same sad eyes and
exhausted, lifeless expression.
   "It was John Maddocks," says Trini, "working with Lydia Black.
Lydia Black who was of course a double agent working for the circle."
   "Of course," Maile plays along. She hides a smile: so that's how
Claire covered her tracks. "If we were to get her mark back, could we
reattach it?"
   "I don't think so," says Trini. "Okay."
   "We'll release Angel to your custody," says Trini. "She's been
through enough."
   "Okay," says Maile. "That's thing one. Thing two is that Angel and
Leek have a little sister. Jo. She's, I don't know, fifteen or
   "I don't know if we have her," says Trini.
   "I don't think you do," says Maile. "Last year, when I, uh,
defected, and Samson came after me, he mentioned having info as to
Jo's whereabouts. Jo and some friends of hers?"
   "Oh," says Trini. "She must be one of the kids."
   "One of the kids?" says Maile.
   "We don't know where they are," says Trini flatly. "The Company
wants to find them as much as you do."
   "But you know something? You have leads?"
   "I can't give you that."
   "Then I can't give you this." Maile pockets the drive.
   "So, you're willing to walk away?" says Trini. "Leave Angel behind?
Keep the two of them apart?"
   Maile bursts out laughing. "You think you're calling my bluff?
That's cute." She laughs again, catches her breath. "Yeah, I will
absolutely leave her behind. You know that I will, because you knew me
way back when, and that is exactly what I would have done. Without
giving it a second thought. Without remorse. You, on the other hand?"
   "You don't know me," says Trini.
   "No, but I can read you like a book," says Maile. "I can walk out
of here with the drive and with Angel, and we both know it. If you
want the drive, if you want the proof you need to push out Maddocks, I
need leads on finding the kids."
   "And I'm telling you my hands are tied," says Trini. "There's no
way my bosses will let me do that. The kids are too important. Too
   Maile doesn't know anything about that, and neither did anyone else
at Shallow House.
   "If we let the circle get the kids," says Trini, "it would tip the balance."
   She leans into this last word, weighs it down with emphasis. David
had told Maile about the balance, about Claire's mission to maintain
parity and stalemate between the two sides. She's going to assume that
Trini is using the same playbook.
   "Well, what evens the scales?" says Maile.
   Trini stops for a moment, listening to a voice Maile can't hear.
She winces, then recovers. "There's you."
   "Come back to The Company? Fat chance."
   "Avery, then."
   "Sarah?" says Maile, taken aback.
   Trini barely contains her glee. She thinks she's found a weakness.
Maybe she has; Sarah is about the closest thing Maile has to a friend
these days, and just about the only person in the circle that she
legitimately and completely trusts. Not to mention the only person
that completely trusts her.
   "No," says Maile.
   "That's our price," says Trini firmly. "It is the only thing we
will accept in exchange for the children."
   "For leads on the children," says Maile. "Hardly a fair trade."
   "For the children," says Trini. "We give you the leads. If you
can't find them, we get nothing. If you do find them? You give us
Sarah Avery. Then we have parity. Balance."
   "How do you know I'd keep my end of that bargain?"
   "Because you're right," says Trini. "We know you. Maybe better than
you know yourself. You're a lot of things. Ruthless. Calculating. But
you'll keep your word. Even to an enemy."
   "If you think I'm going to keep my word to an enemy, what makes you
think I'd betray a friend?"
   "You have changed," says Trini. "It's not like you to have friends
in the first place."
   "The answer's no," says Maile.
   "No Avery, no kids," says Trini. "Are we still at no kids, no drive?"
   "I'll drop the demand for info on the kids," concedes Maile. "But I
have two more things on my wish list. Give me those, and I'll give you
the drive."
   "That depends on what they are," says Trini.
   "One small thing, one big thing," says Maile. "First is the crown
of the morning." Pill had mentioned it during their fight against the
robots; one of the artifacts she was after that The Company beat her
   "Sure," says Trini nonchalantly. "That's hardly anything at all.
What's the big thing?"
   "Peace," says Maile.
   "Well, more like a truce," says Maile. "A temporary stay of
hostilities. You don't mess with us, we don't mess with you."
   "The necromancer, right?"
   "You know about that?"
   Trini nods. "That might be an area where we can cooperate."
   "It might," says Maile. "I just don't want to get shivved by The
Company the minute we take the necromancer out. Maybe stop trying to
kill each other until, I don't know, the summer solstice? That sounds
appropriately portent-y."
   "Why on earth would they grant you that?" (Maile notices that Trini
says "they", and not "we". She takes that as a promising sign.)
"There's what, six of you? The Company is on the verge of winning the
midnight war. Really, it's already won. The Lullaby has already been
broken, and Venus is awake."
   "The Company has been on the verge of winning the midnight war for
a long time," says Maile. "But the circle is still kicking. And now
they've got Avery, which is a big deal. They've got me, and I'm not
too shabby." In fact, they had asked for Maile before Sarah, which
Maile finds very interesting. "Maybe the odds are tipping in the
circle's favor. Maybe you all will be busy cleaning house after you
oust Maddocks with the info we're giving you. Maybe Venus needs some
time to regroup and gather strength as much as we do."
   There's laughter, but Trini isn't laughing. Quite the opposite; she
finds it as unnerving as Maile does. Following the laughter, there are
words, words that Trini repeats in a haltering cadence.
   "What hope do you have, daughter of earth? We were gods before
gods, and will be gods after all is ruin and ash."
   "We have the sword of stories," says Maile.
   The laughter stops abruptly. She continues: "Thirteen. The blade of
Quasha One-Eye."
   Something unseen twists in the air around her. It makes a sound
like wind and thunder. "The red sword, the sword that was lost, the
bane of Venus."
   The world grows black and red, spinning in darkness and in light.
Maile closes her eyes, clenches her fists, stands her ground. "I am
not asking you for a truce," she says through gritted teeth. "I am
offering it."
   There's a rush of cold, and when Maile opens her eyes, she and
Trini are alone again. Trini's nose is bleeding. So is Maile's.
   Trini pulls two tissues from her pocket, and hands one to Maile
before dabbing at her own face. "Peace until the solstice."
   "Peace until the solstice," agrees Maile. "I get Angel and the
crown of morning, you get the dirt on Maddocks. We work together
against the necromancer. I think that's everything."
   "Not everything," says Trini, her voice wavering.
   "I'm listening."
   Trini looks like she's about to throw up. As before, Maile hears
the words in the back of her head before Trini repeats them. "They
want me to sweeten the deal. For Avery."
   "Sarah's not for sale."
   "The children, as promised," says Trini. "And one more." She starts
to say no, but the word gets stuck in her throat. She continues. "The
daughter of David Collins."
   "Your, your baby?"
   "Say no," says Trini suddenly and desperately. "Just say no.
Please. God, Maile, please."
   "No," says Maile firmly. Something compels her to reach across the
table, to touch Trini's hand with her own.
   "Thank you," Trini mouths through tears. "You know, when I first
heard that you had left, that they had wiped your memory and taken
you, everyone was worried about you, everyone was feeling sorry for
you. And I thought, good for her. She got out of this place. Even
better, she won't remember what it did to her."
   "Hey, maybe let's not talk about this."
   "Oh, don't worry," says Trini. "They know I hate them. That I hate
what I do for them. That I hate myself for doing it. I think they
prefer it that way. To hollow us out, and make us the worst and most
miserable versions of ourselves. Hopeless. Trapped. Suffering."
   Maile shouts at the air. "What's the price? For Trini Tran?"
   Trini wipes her eyes clean with a fresh tissue. "They say it's the
same price. The same price as my baby. Give them Sarah Avery, and
they'll give you almost anything."
   "I'm sorry," says Maile. "I really am. But I can't."
   Trini nods. "You're a good friend. I wish I had a friend like you."
   "You've got Claire."
   Trini's face goes cold and flat like a stone. "Claire is the one
that put me here in the first place. Claire is the worst of them."

There are a couple of other small things they sort out - some favors
for some new friends - but soon the negotiations are concluded. Maile
sits on a bench just outside the hedge maze, and waits for an hour.
Angel emerges, awkwardly carrying the crown of morning in her hands.
   "You're Mylay?" she says.
   "Close enough," says Maile. "I know you as Leek. But if you prefer,
I can call you Angel."
   She shrugs noncommittally.
   "What did Trini tell you?"
   "Not much. Only that you would be taking me back home. To her." She
smiles, all butterflies. "I don't even know what she's like."
   Maile smiles back. "You've actually got a lot in common."

Everyone is waiting for them when they return to Shallow House: David
and Beth on the couch, chatting amiably with Pill who pretends not to
be bored; June, human once more, attempting to entertain her cats who
don't even pretend not to be bored; Sarah hunched over the table
picking at Trevor's head with a screwdriver. And hiding in the back,
lingering in the shadows, is Lieke.
   But Lieke is the first thing Angel sees, the only thing Angel sees.
It wasn't even that she was looking; it was more that she knew that
Lieke was there, could feel her from across the room. Later, Lieke
would say it was the same for her, that she knew Angel was there even
before she saw her.
   They both run to one another, meeting in the middle and immediately
   "It's me," Angel whispers. "You're me."
   The other her nods. "Is that okay?"
   "Yes, I think so." She smiles, then frowns. "I don't remember you. Or me."
   "It is the same," says Lieke. "We are the same person. Or we were.
Maybe we will be different now."
   "Maybe. Is that okay?"
   "Yes, I think so," says Lieke. "So we will get to know each other
again. Take it slow, whatever you like."
   "I don't want slow," says Angel. "This is the first time anything
has felt right for as long as I can remember. Tell me everything about
   It's at that moment that they realize there are other people in the
world, let alone the room.
   "Sorry," says Lieke, mildly embarrassed. "If you'll all excuse us?"
They nod. Before they leave, Lieke hugs Maile. "Thank you for bringing
her back to me."
   "You're welcome."
   Angel doesn't know Maile well enough to hug her. She shakes her
hand. "Thank you from me as well. Oh! I am supposed to give you this."
She hands Maile a flash drive. "From Trini."
   David's ears prick up at the sound of the name, and Maile notices
he looks mildly seasick. "Sarah, give this a whirl?"
   Lieke and Angel leave, and a moment later Sarah is scanning over
the contents of the drive. "Status reports, mission logs. Looks like
they're tracking some people. Emma Lauth. Jo van Rijn. Maki Nakajima."
   "Jo," says Beth.
   "Lieke's sister," says Maile.
   "Should we call them back in?" says David.
   "No," says Maile. "We'll tell them later. Let's give them time
together. They've had enough apart."
   "Uh, boss?" says Sarah. "Here are some reports from last November.
I think it's the closest that The Company came to finding them? Check
out the byline."
   "Field Agent M. Akaka."
   "That's you," says David.
   "Thanks," says Maile sourly. "I wouldn't have figured that one
out." She quickly reads the report over Sarah's shoulder. She's
surprised by how much it sounds like her, how much it feels like
something she wrote. She had gotten used to compartmentalizing, to
putting Bad Maile in some other box, like she was some other person
that Good Maile only has some vague connection to. But it's her.
   Except for when it isn't? There are parts that don't quite flow,
parts that don't make sense. The writing there doesn't feel like Maile
so much as it feels like Maile trying to write a five page school
paper with only three and a half pages of things to say, like Maile
padding it with BS. Which isn't really like Maile at all.
   She snaps her fingers at no one in particular. "Paper. Pencil. Now."
   A moment later she has it, and has displaced Sarah at the computer.
She alternates scrolling through the report and writing: a letter
here, a letter there, letters scratched out and rewritten and
scratched out again.
   "It's a code," she says when she's finished. "A cipher. A message,
from me to me. I think I found the kids. Before. But I lied about it.
So The Company doesn't know where they are."
   "But you do?" says David.
   "Not exactly," says Maile. "They gave me a way to contact them. A
post office box. I snuck the address in via the cipher."
   "How do you know you cracked it properly? You wrote it, but you did
it before you were wiped."
   "Long before," says Maile. "It's literally the same cipher puzzle I
used in every D&D game I ran."

In her room, Maile helps herself to a celebratory glass of scotch.
Pill pokes her head in. "Are you old enough to drink?"
   "Not quite," says Maile. "I'm not old enough to be in charge,
either, but here I am." She swallows, wincing. "Got something for
   Maile grabs her jacket, reaches into the pocket, and pulls out the
crown of morning.
   "Oh," says Pill, beaming, "come to mama."
   Maile rests the circlet on Pill's head. Pill turns toward the
mirror, admiring her reflection. "This is a cute hat. You got this for
   "Because I know you wanted it."
   "That all it takes?" says Pill, grinning mischievously. She climbs
up on Maile's bed, leaning toward her. "I just want something, and you
give it to me?"
   "Maybe," Maile says, breathing huskily. "Or maybe I want something."
   "Maybe you should give it to me."
   "Maybe you should take it."
   Maile kisses her hard on the mouth. Pill kisses her back, then
breaks it off: "You don't really know me."
   "I don't really need to," says Maile. "Not for this. I literally
can't remember the last time I got laid."
   "Okay," says Pill. "Good to go."
   "Great," says Maile, grabbing Pill by the shoulders and tossing her
on her back. Her body slithers over Pill's like a snake, all hunger
and instinct.

They've already replaced Maddocks's name on the door with Trini's. As
she goes to put the key in the door, she's surprised to find it
   "Come in, dear," says a voice from the darkness. Trini opens the
door and flicks on the light.
   It's an older woman, sitting in Trini's new leather chair. White
suit, while hair, white gloves. White umbrella.
   The woman bursts out laughing. It's a croaky laugh, a smoker's
laugh. More than that, it's a genuine laugh - Claire's laughs were
always forced, a pretense. "No," says the woman after she catches her
breath. "Have you talked to my daughter lately?"
   "You're Claire's mother. Director Tatham."
   "I know my own name, dear. How disappointing; I was told you were
smart. And call me Cordelia. Now. Have you spoken with Claire?"
   "Not for some weeks," says Trini carefully. "I, I don't know where she is."
   "Lot of that going around lately," says Cordelia. "No one knows
where Claire is or what she's up to. She's made herself invisible even
to Upper Management. She's a clever girl. Are you clever, Trini?"
   "I do alright for myself."
   "More than alright, I think." She runs her hand along the smooth
surface of Trini's new desk. "Taking out Maddocks was no small feat.
I've been trying to do that for years. I never would have thought to
use the circle to do my dirty work for me."
   "It was Claire's plan. I only carried it out."
   "Claire's not here," says Cordelia. "Neither is Maddocks. You're
still running Claire's department in her absence, and now you've taken
the late Dr. Maddocks's job. A considerable amount of power. And by
making a truce with the circle, removing that nuisance for the time
being, you've given yourself time to consolidate that power,
strengthen your position within The Company."
   "I'm just giving us time to clean up Maddocks's mess. To
disentangle us from the obligations to foreign powers that he made on
our behalf. Obligations that are not in the interest of Venus."
   "But you hate Venus," says Cordelia. "Hate what you're doing for
them. That's what you told Maile in the maze. I was listening, of
   "Of course," says Trini. "And I was acting. Telling the circle what
they wanted to hear. Let them think I'm a helpless victim. Let them
want to rescue me, let them think I can be turned. I can use that."
   "Perhaps," says Cordelia. "And are you doing the same to me?
Telling me what I want to hear?"
   "If I was, I wouldn't tell you, would I?"
   "Smart girl." Cordelia stands. "I think the two of us will get
along splendidly. Well, I'll let you get settled in. And, Trini,
should Claire reach out to you?"
   "Let you know?"
   "No. Kill her." She smiles. "She'll know it's from me."


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