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The pounding noise was aggressive, with a frenetic rhythm that demanded my attention even from the depths of my dreamscape. It wouldn't have been quite so aggravating if my dreamscape hadn't included a harem of well-oiled men bringing me margaritas. I was so deep within my own dream that I first interpreted the sound as being that of a particularly obnoxious stereo playing far too loudly from a spot far too close to where I'd been lounging.
That pleasant fantasy lasted only until I fell from my bed and landed in a heap on the floor. I began to move without opening my eyes, trying to move myself in such a manner as to stop the pain in my shoulder while not actually having to move all that much. The frenetic pounding hadn't stopped, however, which caused me to finally pry my eyes open and push myself up to my feet. I considered grabbing a shirt, but chose instead to wrap myself in my bedsheet due to its availability.
By the time I'd gotten to the door, the pounding had stopped. I'd gone through all the trouble of getting up and putting on clothes, though, so I'd be damned if I didn't at least open the thing. I grabbed the knob, the cold metal sending a jolt through my skin. I ignored it, throwing the door open so I could demand answers to this bullshit.
What I found was nothing. Well, that's not entirely true. I saw the wall on the other side of the hallway, and a small trail of slime that came from the elevator, and stopped a few feet past my door. There were a number of questions, and an equal number of answers to those questions, but I saw only one end goal in asking any of them. Which meant there was really only one question I had to answer.
Since no one had actually paid me to take any cases, I shut the door and decided to go back to sleep.
By the time I'd woken up for real, the slime trail in the hallway had been cleaned. I had a number of questions involving my landlord's use of my rent money, but at least his cleaning people were on top of things. I pushed myself out of bed, and then shoved the bed back into the wall. It folded upwards, and slid into its wall socket with a click, leaving only the illusion of a set of drawers. I liked the illusion, because it let me pretend I didn't live in my office.
After throwing on the first night shirt I could find, I moved towards the kitchenette. I ignored the melted puddle of green plastic on my desk, deciding that something resembling breakfast was more important than yet another tussle with the telephone gnome. I ignored the feeling of cold tile on my feet, reached down to waist height to grab the handle of my small fridge, and swung it open with the hope of a full breakfast dawning within my stomach.
I should really know better than to hope for things. The depths of my fridge contained a half-empty jar of mayonnaise, left-overs from a meal I no longer remembered eating, and precisely three pieces of rotted celery. I poked the styrofoam container in which the left-overs sat, and after watching it wobble for thirty seconds longer than edible food should, I decided I'd find no such thing as breakfast within the cold, yawning depths. Enwrapped within my boundless sorrow at the lack of food, I paid only enough attention to the knock on the door to yell out that the person on the other side was allowed in.
“...Did I come at a bad time?” a male voice asked. I turned to see a tall man, maybe a head taller than me, with sandy blonde hair and a confused look in his light brown eyes. He stood in the doorway, and it was only then that I realized I hadn't so much as run a brush through my mass of brown curls.
“When most of your work is done naked, professional dress code becomes one of those 'cute story' things,” I responded, the lie rolling easily off my tongue as I shut my fridge door. He didn't seem convinced, but given I'd put on the night shirt with a picture of a teddy bear mooning a fairy, I thought the single arched eyebrow was a particularly diplomatic response. I attempted to run a hand through my hair, though my hair foiled the attempt by being knottier than an old tree. “Come in, sit down. What can I do for you?”
The man stepped into my office, shutting the door behind him with a gentle motion. He gazed about the place as he moved to the chair in front of my desk, his eyes resting for a moment on rune I'd scratched into my wood floor, before moving on to the ritual dagger I had hanging on my wall. He finally looked at the glob of melted plastic on my desk, and arched a thin eyebrow in curiosity.
“Problems with the telephone gnome?” He grabbed the back of the chair and pulled it out enough to make space to sit. At least he had some idea of what he was getting himself into. I moved around to my chair, wondering if it was too early for whiskey.
“I made a pay phone call without change.” I gave a casual shrug as I sat down. “Anyway, what can I do for you? Need someone or something found? Demon negotiation?” I decided that whiskey was probably a little much this time of the morning, but it was a very near thing.
“Person found,” the man said, reaching into his jacket pocket. “My daughter ran off, so I was hoping you could track her down.” He pulled out an envelope, which he then placed in front of me. I reached out and grabbed it, opening it and looking inside with a fluid motion. Inside sat eight strands of light brown hair.
“You want me to actually go and retrieve her, or...?” I trailed off, looking up at him expectantly. He shook his head in response.
“Just want to know where she is. I'm thinking she's probably at her aunt's house, that's usually where she is when she's run off. I tried calling her aunt, but she swears up and down she's not there.” He scowled, and then sighed. “Probably lying because she thinks I'm too strict with the girl.”
Family arguments. I tried my hardest to stay out of them, since in the end it wasn't my business. It did make me consider whether or not I wanted to take the job, but the rumbling of my stomach made that an easy decision. I had no other cases lined up, and since I wasn't the kind of person to go whining to my boyfriend about my grocery problems, the answer was obvious.
“Five hundred for a simple tracking, plus more if I run into any problems.” I set the envelope back down on my desk, maintaining eye contact. “You know, demonic entities trying to guard her ethereally, that sort of thing.”
“I don't really expect anything like that to happen,” he responded, reaching into his back pocket. He pulled out his wallet, and opened it in order to reach his cash. “Of course, what I expect and what happens are two different things, I suppose.” He pulled out several bills, and offered them out to me.
“I see you've dealt with this sort of thing before,” I chuckled, taking the money. I slid it into a desk drawer, before standing to my feet and grabbing the envelope. “Alright, then. Give me about an hour, swing back by, I should have your information for you. If something comes up, I'll discuss it further with you then. Sound good?” I extended a hand to shake, waiting for his agreement.
“Sounds good, ma'am. Thank you.” He stood, taking my hand and shaking with a firm grip before turning to leave. I watched him head out of the room, before yanking my nightshirt off. I tossed it into the corner, and moved to my cabinet of ritual supplies.
A simple tracking required little in the way of supplies, which my wallet always appreciated. The four candles that represented the eight elements, to keep me grounded in the physical while allowing my awareness to seep into the ethereal, a match to light them, and that was it. I set the candles around the rune on my floor, sat cross-legged in the middle, and proceeded to light them.
With each light, I chanted ancient words to remind the threads of the ancient contract. I'd translate them for you, but they defy translation, so you don't really get to know. I could smell the taste of fire, hear the feeling of earth under my feet, taste the wetness of the sea as it mingled into the air, and I knew the candles were doing their jobs. I shook the match, closed my eyes, and began to chant the rest of the words to connect myself to the threads.
I winced as I felt the burn of the threads snapping into my very soul. The tug-of-war between my soul and the ethereal planes began, but I ended it with the final words of the ritual. The burning died down to a mere heat, ever present but ignorable for those who've trained. I took a deep breath, and then a second, before I finally felt ready to get to work.
Work, in this case, being a relative term. I reached out for the hairs, feeling an odd magical resonance on them. I took a few moments to ensure the resonance was part of the girl's thread, and upon discovering it was, decided I wasn't being paid to look more deeply into the matter. I proceeded to follow the thread with a careful pace, taking my time in case I found anything else out of the ordinary. It was ultimately unnecessary, though it did make things easier when I found a knot.
I stopped, since a knot is the sort of thing that can ruin your entire day. With the gentlest of touches I could manage, I began to inspect the snarl for strength and intent. The way it had been looped around itself suggested intent, but it wasn't well tied. It was also lousy with resonance, which suggested a rookie threadworker rather than an untalented one. Once I'd deduced that much, I decided it wouldn't be much work to get around. I untied it quickly, keeping hold of the ends, and once I moved past the tangle I re-knotted it to leave it exactly the way I'd found it.
It was only a short tromp past the knot before I found the location of the girl. I'd braced myself for the worst...after all, it wouldn't be the first runaway teen that wound up dangling on the end of some Spellboy's threads. In this case, however, she appeared to be in Greenwood, one of the nicer residential suburbs. Not incredibly rich, but solidly middle class. That was a nice change of pace for me. I'd been almost certain this job would wind up annoying me and taking me to the south side some way or another.
I made my way back down the thread, taking the time to unknot and reknot the snarl so as to leave no evidence of my passing. I continued to follow the thread until I found the tastes and smells and feels of the physical, and then allowed my awareness to snap back into my body. I took several deep breaths, disengaging from the threads once I became aware of my office around me. My body took a few moments to recognize that it was no longer burning from the inside out, but that was normal.
Once I was physically functional, I got to my feet and swiftly to my desk. I fumbled about for a pen and a piece of paper, my hand trembling for a moment until I informed it that I would not put up with its shenanigans. I then quickly jotted down the area in which I'd found the girl, making a note of the various resonances in the area. While she could always move once I'd tracked her, I wasn't being paid to retrieve her. I was only being paid to give the guy a location.
I reached into my desk, and looked through my folders of maps. I sorted through the different folders, tracking down the one that went along with the section of the city to which I'd gone. I unfolded it on my desk, pursing my lips as I read over the hand-written notes on the area's resonances. I hadn't felt anything that suggested hunger and stress, so it probably wasn't near the crop of fast food joints. There had been a fairly strong feeling of static life, so possibly a park? I looked on the map near the parks, and shook my head. No, the static life wasn't strong enough to suggest that.
Finally, I grabbed a pencil and circled three areas. They were all residential areas, which may not have been as helpful as the client wanted, but it was the best I could do without putting in more work than he he'd contracted. I set down the pencil, checked the clock, and decided I had just enough time for a shower before he was supposed to show back up.
Turned out I was half-right, in that I had time for a quick shower. I had not, however, had time to put on clothes. At least a towel wrapped around me was classier than the night shirt I'd been wearing when he first walked in. When he knocked on the door, I simply told him to come in as I moved to sit down behind my desk. He did so, walking across my office and sitting himself down across from me. If the towel bothered him, he didn't mention it.
“Did you find anything?” He was hopeful, that much I could tell. His muscles were tense, and now that I was less concerned with my state of dress, I could see the puffiness under his eyes that suggested he hadn't slept well of late.
“I did,” I responded, giving him a professional smile. Never mind that my hair was wrapped up in a towel, I was a professional, and I could at least give a professional smile. I turned the map around, and pointed to the locations I'd circled. “She's in one of these three areas. I could get a clearer location, but not without doing more than a simple tracking.” I didn't say, nor did I allow my tone to imply, that I wanted him to pay for a more thorough tracking. Not only did I feel it unnecessary, but quite frankly I didn't want to go out in the field. Thankfully, he shook his head.
“No, I know where she's at. Her aunt lives here,” he gestured towards one of the circles, “so it looks like I was right about being lied to. Thank you, Ms. Berg. I appreciate your quick work.”
“My pleasure, sir.” I gave him another smile, before realizing I should likely let him know about the other things I'd found. “Oh, by the way. I found her thread knotted, and it had an inborn feel of magic. Are you aware of these things?” It could go either way, and if he wasn't aware, it was something he ought to know. It was possible his daughter was getting mixed up in something dangerous, after all. He responded with a conflicted look, before heaving a large sigh.
“Her mother ran off with a vampire,” he said finally. That would explain the inborn magical resonance, at least if there were certain questions about the girl's actual parentage. “Her aunt's something of a threadworker. Not a very good one, mind you. Usually just winds up burning herself. I'm surprised she managed to knot anything, honestly.”
“Alright. Then I guess there's nothing else I'm needed for?” He shook his head, and I extended a hand to shake. He gave me yet another firm handshake, and then turned and left my office, leaving me with only one loose end.
Thankfully, a quick trip to the grocery store would take care of that.
|Time Wars & other SciFi Tales|
Timothy O. Goyette
|The Dreaming Fire|