<Previous <First>

People were laughing upstairs when I got back.

On one level I was extremely grateful that the boss had cleared off the portal and I wasn't spliced to any chairs or anything. But that gratitude was buried by all the other levels in my head that were wondering who the fuck was upstairs and why were they so happy.

I recognized Faust's raspy, out-of-practice laugh, and I had a reasonable guess as to whom the high pitched, childish giggle belonged to, but I didn't recognize the two ostensibly female voices.

Dammit! I thought, heading up the study's stairs. He was supposed to get rid of strange people in our house, not invite more.

I crept down the hall and crouched down in the doorway, hoping nobody was looking my way. Bossman, the kid, and two ladies were in the living room. Bossman and a dark haired lady sat on opposite sides of the couch while Mathew and the dog rolled around on the floor. Sitting in the loveseat, in direct view of my doorway, was a familiar plump, upper-middle-aged woman reeking of city sorcery that I recognized as Mathew's grandmother.

I scrambled backwards. She hadn't seen me, had she? She wasn't hurling spells at me and screaming about demons in the house, so probably not. Or maybe she had and was being polite. She wouldn't try anything here in bossman's house, would she? Wouldn't that be some sort of sorcerous faux pas? Oh hell, what if she’d seen me? What if she knew I was there-?

No, came the calm, sensible voice of reason. Don’t be stupid.

I relaxed slightly.

She totally knows I’m here.

Of course she knew I was there. If she was half the witch I thought she was, she’dve known I was there the second I popped through the portal.

All the same, basic self-preservation insisted I didn’t intentionally draw attention to myself. I crept to the doorway again and peered out. Boss and the lady were still talking, but Mathew and his granny were both gushing over the dog. The dog had gone up to her feet and was making himself charming. She bent over to scratch his belly, and I made a run for the stairs, going for speed, not stealth.

“What was that?” said who I could only assume was Mathew's mom.

“What was what?” said bossman.

“I thought I saw something run upstairs.”

"Just the cat."

"You have a cat now too?" said Mathew. I could hear him all the way from the end of the second story hallway. He had that kind of squawky voice that goes through walls.

I tore into my lab, checked my list, scribbled the namesign of somebody named Bezaliel over my hacked up summoning spell, and then got the hell out of there before someone wanted to try and pet the kitty.

* * * * *

The world returned in a blur of road, cars, skyscrapers. Car horns blared, breaks squealed. I shielded my head as best I could from the chaos, picked a direction and bolted before something with wheels and engines could hurt me.

I tumbled and rolled my way to the sidewalk where hordes of legs immediately started trying to either step on me or kick me out of the way. This all sent the gouge in my arm from earlier searing into the forefront of my brain again. A scooter whizzed out of nowhere and ran over my hand. I yelped and scrambled to my feet, loudly vowing revenge on anything and everything from the scooter’s operator to the retailer to the manufacturer, and then to the manufacturers of all scooters in general. I retreated into the enclave of a store’s entrance, where I extended my list all the way to whoever set the city ordinance that scooters were sidewalk safe, and then to the logical conclusions of Bezaliel for being in this stupid city and Shemyaza for making me go find him.

People who’d been all too happy to step on or over me while I was on the ground gave me wide berth and worried looks. By the time I finished screaming out my vengeance list, the pain in my hand had died down from fiery shots of ohfuckinghellouch to a calm throb. I leaned back against the cool concrete wall, closed my eyes, and breathed.

Wherever I was, Bezaliel had to be somewhere nearby. Within a couple miles. So that was a couple miles of crowded as hell city to sift through.

I groaned.

“Something wrong?” said someone right the hell in front of me. I opened my eyes and saw three brightly colored, spiky haired twenty-somethings watching me and smiling. Never in the history of existence has this been a good thing.

Two girls and a guy, all decked out in chains, fishnets, black leather and eye-searing rave-wear despite the daylight and the distinct lack of moshpits. One girl was covered in tattoos that twined up her arms, legs, and neck and presumably met somewhere in the middle. The other girl lacked ink at all but made up for it in bits of metal. The guy just had green spiky hair probably as tall as I was.

I glanced to the street and the horde of pedestrians. Despite the fact that the kids looked like they'd been dropped out of a neon-punk-Rocky Horror rave, nobody noticed them. I wasn't sure if this was because they were doing anything to ensure that, of if it was because all these suits walking around were too jaded to care.

They also reeked. Under the layers of hairspray, perfumes, lotions and aftershaves was the smell of something much more animal. I tentatively closed my eyes and took a peek from the ethereal side of things. The kids were still there, but now, shadowed over them, were the specters of three large foxes, all of which had more than one tail.

"Ah." I said, opening my eyes. "So. Kitsune, I'm guessing?"

The green haired boy grinned, and regular, human teeth sprouted out into sharper, more dog-like ones. "Close. Wrong, but close."

My stomach sank. "Ah," I said again. "Right." I didn't move. Didn't even blink. If I moved, they'd jump me.

Think think think think! I thought.

Kumiho. Kinda like kitsune, only batshit insane. Unseelie court if they were anything. Mean as fuck, and they liked playing with their food first.

"You know, for what it's worth, I'm actually on fairly good terms with the Unseelie Court."

"Perhaps. But Lady Titania has made it abundantly clear-"

"Titania? Why do you care what she thinks? You‘re Unseelie-" I remembered what Leighriel had said about Mab joining up Titania's war on hell and winced. The one time those two agreed on something. . .

Aww fucknuggets.

"Ah. Right. Well, about that-"

I darted into the store, hoping they wouldn't try anything in a crowded building. The place was, as I'd hoped, even more crowded than the street.

I ran passed dry foods, through the kids section, through women's lingerie, past housewares and into cookware. Two kumiho were behind me, but they were taking their time. Kumiho are like cats that way. Same sadistic streak, same love of making dinner a show. I'm pretty sure if you took the fox and human out of a kumiho, you'd wind up with a little leftover lump of something cat-like.

Cookware consisted of boxes of goods stacked underneath a display shelf lined with examples of the stuff in the boxes. Meaning I walked into an aisle of whisks, spoons, spatulas, knives, and most importantly, a whole heaping section of pots, pans, and skillets at the end. I went up to the wall display where half a dozen likely looking pans were strapped onto the aisle wall.

The green haired guy strolled casually around the aisle I was in, blocking off the end. The other two came up the other end.

"Oh come on," I said, my back against the wall display. I tried discreetly as hell to pry a heavy black frying pan off the wall. "You're not going to do this in public, are you? There are cameras all over the place! You'll be seen-"

"Do you really think we care?"

The two girls giggled. They pounced, all three at once. I was hoping for the old solitary-fox hunting instincts to kick in, but I guess if hopes were horses then beggars would eat. I tore the pan off and hoped for the best.

They were probably used to their food putting up a fight. What they weren't expecting was a frying pan to the face. Something cracked. It wasn't the pan. To my surprise, one actually fell down. As did another, once I gave her a faceful of pan too. Spikes was the third to go, and almost went without a fight.

Gosh, I thought, looking at the pan. I knew they didn't like iron, but yeesh.

I scanned the wall for something with better swing than the frying pan. Like a skillet.

Then Spikes jumped to his feet, Tattoos and Jangles following suit.

"Nah,” he said. “We're just fuckin' with you."

"But it's iron!" I said, backing away from him.

"It's steel you idiot. Nobody makes pans from iron anymore."

He started towards me, so I hit him in the face again and made a run for it.

They got me all of three steps away, but I wasn't going to make it easy on them. The next few seconds were a blur of teeth and claws and frying pans and me desperately trying to think of a plague I had that would be of any use. Several sharp things raked across my arms and back and everything else. In the middle of it all, I conjured up the only thing I could think of: a yellowish, gloopy ball of yuck. I slapped it onto the closest patch of uncovered skin I could reach. An easy task, as they were all on top of me. After a second and a half that took forever to end, Tattoos threw herself from the fray, screaming.

I smeared some onto Jangles while she and Spikes were gawking at Tattoos. They had reason to gawk. Presumably they couldn't see the patch of gunk slowly seeping into Tattoos' arm. They didn't see the yellow plague turning a fleshy-red color the same shade of irritated skin. All they saw were the tattoos on her arm stretching and warping as the skin beneath them broke out in boils.

"What is this?" she screeched, trying to scrape the boils off.

I wheezed and laughed. "Good luck," I said. "Shit's worse than bleach."

The boils traveled up her arm and to her neck and shoulders, looking like fleshed colored soap bubbles. The biggest ones clocked in the sizes of half dollars, the smallest, dimes.

"What did it do to us?" shrieked Tattoos. Spikes' grip loosened while he marveled at his own growing body modification. I slipped the glamour off my mouth and bit down on his arm. Decidedly inhuman teeth bit into the flesh, all the way to the bone. He pulled me off and threw me aside. I made a break for it.

They howled. I had all of an aisle's worth of a head start before they started chasing me for realsies.

I led them on a merry run through appliances and past housewares. In cleaning products, I grabbed a broom. In beauty products, I ran the broom along the shelves and smashing as many perfume bottles as possible.

Come on, come on. . .

Ladies screamed. The salon clerk started throwing still-packaged hairbrushes at me while one of the stockers tried getting me with a hair dryer before security finally arrived. The kumiho ran into us in the cross ways of pet supplies and vacuum supplies, so I let the two groups run into eachother while I made for the exit.

There was a lot of yelling behind me, but I didn't worry too much about it. Security guards had tasers 'n stuff, didn't they? They probably did. I'm sure of it. They'd be fine.

There was stack of water bottles by the side entrance. Ones in twenty four packs and covered in super thin plastic. I went up to them and let the glamour around my hands slide off. The flesh around my fingers suddenly remembered that they were supposed to be claws and hardened appropriately. I slashed at the bottles, shredding the plastic to ribbons. Water poured out.

The kumiho had finally gotten away from security and were running my way, tossing aside lucky shoppers and taking chunks out of the unlucky ones. I quickly conjured up another little plague. It manifested as a small, red flame, which I then hurled against the still pouring bottles.

All the exposed water began thickening and changing to a rich red color. Something crashed behind me. Two of the kumiho were still running, but Tattoos had tripped over a display pyramid of boxes. Her mouth was open for a split second, the hungry looking face of a fox superimposed over her own. All of their eyes were saucer-wide.

"All yours, guys!"

I darted out the exit.

* * * * *

It was slightly less crowded outside when I left the store, but that may have been just wishful thinking on my part.

I weaved through the herd for about half a block. It was all I could take before I thought I had to either get some elbow room or kill something. I side-stepped into a particularly filthy alley, hoping the stink of garbage would drown out the smell of me. It looked like most alleys I'd seen before: cramped. Dark from the tall buildings around. This one was full of trash bags and loose debris that had escaped them. There was a large dumpster someone had kindly put out for me, so I obliged it by hiding behind it, next to a pile of full trashbags. I waited.

And waited.

After a good ten minutes of kumiho-free waiting, I started to untense. After fifteen minutes, I started to actually relax. Then something banged around in the dumpster and I shot up three feet into the air. Something was digging around the dumpster. Something that seemed to be having a muffled argument with itself.

I approached with all due caution.

"Hey," I said. "Anyone in there?"

A head popped out. It looked like a perfectly normal, if scruffy, human head. So the dead rat in its mouth looked a tad out of place.

"Uh. Hi," I said.

The man to whom the head belonged crawled out of the dumpster and sat on the edge in a way that was probably excruciatingly uncomfortable. He didn't seem to mind. He peered down at me curiously, rat still in his mouth.

Then he spat it into his hand and held it out. "Want some?"

"No thanks," I said.

"Sure? It’s good." He took a big ole bite out of the rats’ side, like he was eating an apple. "See?" he said, blood dripping from his mouth.

"I'll take a pass, thanks.” It hit me then that if I wasn’t going to be torn apart by angry fox people that day, then I might as well get started on my actual job. “I'm actually looking for someone-"

He tucked the rat into the pocket of his shirt, where the blood immediately began to seep out. Then, in one fluid motion, he leapt off the bin and landed with a spin on the ground a few feet away.

"Hey," I said. "Listen, I was wondering if you could tell me what city this is, or maybe the country?"

He ignored me and started rooting around through the trash bags piled on the side of the dumpster. Thirty-five seconds worth of rummaging later revealed a shopping cart I hadn't noticed before piled high with more garbage. It was laden down full of trash bags, and what couldn't fit into the basket proper was tied to the sides, meaning it had blended into the heap of trash perfectly.

The man started pulling out bits of garbage, inspecting each piece before shaking his head and tossing it away in lieu of another. "The thousand and one faces of all shall implode upon a large fish."

Huh?

"Huh?"

He grinned, displaying a row of pearly whites. "It's okay, the fish grows back."

And with that, he plodded off deeper into the alley, humming tunelessly to himself.
I followed him. I couldn't help it. It was like watching a train crash. Into a plane.

"Hey, wait!" I caught up with him. I didn’t have to go far: he had made a U-turn and was coming back around to the dumpster. "Who are you?"

"I am a little world," he said, singsong. "Made cunningly of elements and angelic sprite."

A hole opened up in my stomach and dropped into my shoes. "What?"

He jumped back into the dumpster, all in one go. "You got something in your nose. I think it's your brain."

I was about to ask what he meant by the sprite comment when something big and pissed off tackled me. We rolled, and rammed me into the wall.

“Did you think you could lose us?” Spikes hissed.

He looked terrible. They both did. Both covered in massive boils growing on one another in a way reminiscent of grape bunches. Most of Jangle’s metal was gone now, and the piercings that weren’t were hooked into continuously oozing pustules of icky.

“Hiya Spikes,” I said. “Lookin’ good. Where’s Tattoos? Still at the store?”

“Shut up.” he said. Behind him, Jangles was eying the crazy old man warily. Like he was an- oh, I don’t know. A crazy old man or something.

“Jin?” she said, sounding worried. “I don’t think we-“

She screamed. Spikes turned to see what she was screaming at, making sure to still hold on to me. The crazy old guy was frowning at them. Around the base of the dumpster, inky black stuff was pooling. From the pool came noodley pitch-black arms that strained to get out. It took me a second to notice they were completely flat, hanging onto the ground like shadows. The pool of shadow grew wider and wider, and the arms grew longer and longer until they could crawl along the sides of the building and the trash bags and anything else in their way. Whatever they crept over lost all color, lost all definition. It just joined the pool of darkness, completely indistinguishable from the black.

The old guy looked mildly confused about the whole ordeal.

“You smell like foxes,” he said.

Spikes let go of me and backed up. Jangles was already halfway to the street.

“I don’t like foxes,” said the old guy. He sounded like he’d just decided something. Like he’d been uncertain before, but now, having said it, he was confident in his decision. He said it again, “I don’t like foxes.”

The shadow arms shot out. They ignored me, but honed in on the kumiho. Spectral fingers wrapped around the kumiho’s own faint shadows and dragged them down. They both fell down and were pulled towards the now expansive pool. They screamed, only to be silenced a second later as they were dragged into the black. Once they were gone, the darkness retreated. It slunk along the ground, back to its spot beneath the bin, until it was once again just part of the ambiance.

I stared, slack jawed.

"You're gonna catch flies," he said.

"Did you just- what did- you-"

"Foxes are trouble," he said.

“You killed them!”

He nodded sagely. "I heard they attack cats." The head disappeared into the dumpster.

I took a deep breath, held it for half a minute, then let it out. And then repeated the whole process five more times until my heart rate dropped from frightened rabbit to normal. I doubted anyone would mourn the loss of some cannibalistic fox monsters (especially me), but it had looked like a crappy way to go. While I was doing that, the old guy had crawled out of the dumpster- again- and was checking his cart.

"Is your name Bezaliel?" I said.

He didn't stop fiddling with his bags.

"Hey," I said again, tugging on his jacket. "Is your name Bezaliel?"

He stopped suddenly and peered at me, leaning in close.

"What?" I said, backing up.

"That." He pointed to all the scrapes and cuts I'd gotten from the tussle earlier. "And that." He pointed at the bandage on my arm bossman had given me earlier.

"Uh, yeah?"

"Let me see."

Of course I immediately twisted so he couldn't get at it. "Why?"

"Let me see, small fry."

It was perhaps the most lucid thing I'd heard him say all day. Tentatively, I showed him my arm.

He peeled off the bandage and inspected the gouge. Then he raised his hand and proceeded to stare at it as though he'd forgotten who it belonged to. It was just starting to hit awkward mark when he snapped his fingers a few times. Silver-white sparks flew with each snap, like a flint striker.

He poked the nick in my arm with a still-sparking finger. It didn't hurt. When I looked at it, the cut was gone. He then started poking the other cuts I'd gotten that day. Just the ones visible, and just the ones big enough to be troublesome, including the ones on my face. When he was done, he blew out his finger, like those guys in old westerns blow the smoke from their guns after firing. The sparks went out.

"Thank you," I said, examining my now mostly injury-free arms.

He made that wordless "I dunno" noise and went back to rummaging. Apparently the cart was now up to par, because he started off down the alley again, this time towards the street. I followed.

He turned onto the sidewalk. To my surprise, instead of upsetting the flow of pedestrians and getting jostled around, everyone gave us several feet of space. Meaning pretty soon behind us we had a group of people walking super-super slow, matching our pace. None of them looked at us. Not in the anxious, 'don't look at the crazies', but like they actually didn't notice us.

"Are you Bezaliel?" I said again. "This is kind of important."

Something in the gutter caught his eye. He gasped and opened his mouth in an open mouthed smile.

"What?" I said, looking where he was looking. "There's nothing there."

Still thoroughly ignoring me, he parked his cart and went to go pick whatever it was up. Half a dozen pedestrians broke loose and sidled by us, clinging to the side of the building. There was a break in the automotive traffic just then, but he either didn't care or notice. He kept on walking and made like he was about to go into the street.

I grabbed him by the shirt collar and pulled him back just as a car unstuck itself from the road and whizzed by, right where he would have been.

We both toppled backwards before he could be hit, and the flow of escaping pedestrians ebbed. He didn't resist, or get upset. While I got to my feet, he just sat there with this painfully confused look on his face. And I do mean painfully: it looked like the mere effort of thought was physically hurting him.

"You were going to get run over," I said. The look didn't go away. "You know, cars?" No change. I closed on hand into a fist and turned the other into a person.

"See?" I said, hitting the person with my car-fist.

He stared off into space for a good thirty seconds before the circuits in his head sparked, fizzled, and died. He gave me a lopsided grin and shrugged before going to retrieve his cart.

I rubbed my temples. This day was going on forever.

We wandered around the block, causing a huge traffic backup on the sidewalks that nobody but me seemed to notice. We turned the corner. He parked to cart and stood in front of a blank expanse of wall. The position of the sun meant that he cast his shadow directly in front of him, a slightly shorter silhouette of himself.

"What are you doing?"

He put his hand up to his shadow's chest. The shadow grew bigger and darker, until it looked like there was a roughly door-sized hole in the wall. He smiled and grabbed the cart. Before I could say anything, he walked into the blackness and was gone.

I would've taken a minute to process what had just happened, but the edges of the hole were fading away. I grit my teeth and followed him through the shadow before it vanished.

* * * * *

The dark wasn't cold. I hadn't known I was expecting it to be until I found myself surprised by its absence. He was only a little ways ahead of me: I could see him silhouetted by the light at the end of the not-really-a-tunnel. I tried running after, but stopped once it became apparent that walking was faster. It was like trying to run in water. Lukewarm water.

We stepped out into the light together, him still pushing his cart and me trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. The first thing I noticed before my eyes adjusted to the new light was the change in smell. Smog. Dust. Smoke. Air pollution thick enough to climb around it, with a smell so strong I could practically taste it. And it was arid here. Dry. Every inch of me suddenly felt oily and dirty.

"Where are we?" I said, looking around. Another city, full of tall buildings and people and cars, but the architecture here was different than the other place. Less curves, more squares. And the car horns off in the distance were lower pitched than the other place.

Bez ignored me and went on his merry way, stopping to go through a trash bin someone had put out.

"Yo!" I said, tugging on his sleeve. "Come on, where are we?"

"Sorry," he said absently. "I'm busy and the fish are getting impatient."

* * * * *

I don’t know how many different cities we went through. Some places were all dark, dinge and murk, some were bright and full of people in colorful clothes and tall, shiny buildings. Other places were all styled with fancy architecture and carefully cultivated charm, others were just full of big cement blocks with windows. At just about every place, he spent some time rifling through trash bins and dumpsters and piles of junk just lying on the sidewalk before moving on. Each time, I tried hopelessly to get some straight answers from him- any straight answers- and was treated to more nonsense about fishes and talking rocks and shit.

The worst one was probably the place with the snow. I hate the cold. So of course that was the place where he spent a good half hour making snowmen come to life and fight one another.

My favorite would probably have to be the one tropical place with the wild iguanas. I thought the first one I saw sun bathing on the top of a short wooden fence must've been someone's pet, but then I noticed a couple more hanging out in the trees. I would have liked to stay there longer, but Bez only stopped there to swipe a fancy drink off the bar and was already going off without me.

I sighed and followed him through the next shadow. Maybe if I got lucky, we'd come out somewhere close to home and I could let Shem deal with this madness on his own.

* * * * *

To my surprise, the next place was not a city. Not even close. We tumbled out of the side of a shed. I tumbled, that is. Bez just carted along, through the wet grass like it was nothing.

We were on top of a hill, by a small cottage, and smack dab in the middle of a field of flowers. The only place free of flowers was the space immediately around the shed, cottage, and the clothesline nearby. Instead, those areas were instead covered in slippery grass cut with wheel tracks. Apparently, Bez came here a lot.

"Bez," I said tiredly. “Where are we now?”

I needn't have bothered wasting my breath: he wasn't paying attention. He’d pulled out one of his trash bags and was dumping its contents onto the grass.

I decided to try one last exercise in futility before giving up for the day. "Does the name Shemyaza mean anything to you? Do you remember who that is?”

He didn’t answer and sat down beside the pile of garbage. He started crumpling up all papers into a big lump. I took that as a no.

“And the Grigori?” I added, just to make sure. “That ring a bell?”

He finished balling up the lump and threw it a few feet away. The trash ball shuddered and morphed in midair. It sprouted four paper legs just in time to land. A tail came after, followed by a defined head and two small ears. It shivered once, got onto its hind quarters to have a look around, then ran back to Bez and I.

"Isn't it pretty?" he said.

The creature looked at me. I looked back.

"Bez, it's a ferret made of newspaper."

He nodded, eyes wide and smile looking more than a little deranged. The ferret tilted its head, like even it didn't know what the hell was wrong with its creator. Bez broke out into mad cackling.

"You'll have to pardon him," said someone behind us. "We're not exactly at our best, at the moment."

The speaker had apparently just come out of the house proper. He was the cleaner twin sibling of the old man. His clothes were worn, but clean. His beard was trimmed. Unlike his counterpart, he had actually washed sometime in the past month. In his arms, he had a large basket of damp laundry.

"Uh. Bez?"

The dirtier version I'd been following stopped chasing the ferret.

"Yes?" he said.

"Yes?" said the new guy at the same time.

"Uh. Just checking."

The new guy apparently didn’t mind that I was there, or that there was a ferret made of trash crawling all over his dirty twin. He hefted up the basket and went over to the clothesline.

“Excuse me?” I said. “Does the name Bezaliel mean anything to you?”

He set the basket down and started hanging things to dry. “Yes,” he said. “It’s our name.”

“Our? The both of you are Bezes? Bezii? How is that-?”

“It's complicated. Could you hand me the clothespins?” he said. “They’re beneath that sheet.”

“Uh, yeah. Here.” I handed them to him and our eyes met.

His eyes weren't all there, and I couldn't look away. They were pits. Voids. Absences. Someone had taken a knife and cut two holes in the universe, only instead of them leading anywhere, they only served as two windows into nothing at all. I won't say the void was black, though that's all I could process it as. It was something else entirely, beyond nonsense like the reflection of light. And it was sucking me in. I could feel myself slipping away from my body, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Then he blinked and looked away, and things were back to normal.

“Thank you,” he said.

“What are you?” I said, backing up.

“I am Bezaliel.”

“And that other guy?”

Is also Bezaliel.”

“Okeedokee then. How does that work?”

“It's complicated," he said again. "Help me with these, won’t you?” He gestured to the basket. I grabbed a few clips and started hanging up pillowcases.

“Shemyaza’s looking for you guys.”

“I gathered as much when you mentioned him earlier.”

“But I didn’t-“

You told the other Bez, I thought.

“Okay, then,” I said. “He sent me to find you guys. All of you. The ones I can, anyways. He wants to get the grigori back together. He’s got big plans and needs help-“

"Why are you here? Why are you doing this- any of this. I'm not the first you've visited, I can smell them on you. So why?"

"Well, if you were paying attention to me a second ago, I mentioned Shem wanting to-"

"No, not that part. Why are you here? What has Shem got on you?"

"Eh?"

Unlike Shem, Bezaliel didn't bother being sneaky about reading my mind. He tore right through and shoved away everything irrelevant to the question. Images of bossman and Riley flickered past my eyes.

“I see,” he said. That was all he said. The whole time, he never stopped hanging laundry.

“Are you going to come?”

“No.” He sounded almost serene. “I’ve too much to do here as it is.”

“Like?”

He nodded his head towards the other Bez. “Keeping an eye on him, for one.”

“He killed a couple of kumiho today,” I said, remembering. “Sucked them up with his shadow.”

Bezaliel sighed. “Yeah, he does that sometimes. I’ve been trying to teach him out of it, but he still slips up occasionally.”

“This happens? This is a regular thing?’

“I wouldn’t say regular, but it happens a little too much for comfort, yes. But he’s much better about it now.”

I suddenly wondered what would have happened if Bez had decided that I was trouble back in the alley and felt a little ill.

“So I can’t convince you?”

“No. I’m sorry, but no.”

I strung up another pillowcase. “Because it's complicated."

"Yes."

"I guess I should probably go, then.”

“If you like.”

I left him to it.

The other Bez was still rolling around on the grass, playing with the ferret. The paper was getting really damp from the grass. I wondered how long it would last until the creature fell apart, and when it did, how Bez would take it. Would he be upset? Make a new one? Or would he just wander off, forgetting it?

“Bez,” I said. “Hey, look at me for a sec.”

He stopped playing long enough for me to catch a glimpse of his eyes. They looked human enough at first. I hadn’t noticed anything weird about them earlier, after all. But the longer the gaze held, the more intense they got until soon I had the same weird feeling as with the other Bez, only this time instead of me being sucked in, it was like something was trying to get out.

Then the ferret ran by and he shot up to chase after it. It was no use trying to convince that one to come with me to Shem’s place. He probably wouldn't be of any use, anyway.

I sighed, pulled out one of bossman’s return charms, and then went home.

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