“These trends transcend culture, and suggests that such metaphysical concepts are ingrained in the human… psyche, said Ben, reading off of the research paper Ix had taken an interest in. He slouched into the couch cushion, head resting on the palm of his maimed hand. “Any idea what the fuck that means?”
Olivia frowned. “Metaphysical?” she asked from the opposite end of the couch.
“That’s what I thought.” Ben grimaced and tossed his copy of the paper back onto the coffee table in front of them. “Amanda’s the only one of us with one of those fancy college degrees, ain’t she?”
“I think so. But she’s probably really busy right now.” I hope she’s having a better time than we are.
“I know, I know,” said Ben. He got up and stretched his legs. “We need to take a step back. We don’t give a damn about the nitty gritty nonsense. What’s the broad stroke of this thing?”
Oh, it had a pretty good summary at the beginning. I think it lulled us into a false sense of security. Olivia turned her copy back to the front page and skimmed it to refresh her memory. “I think… I think it’s saying that magic can be used to influence people’s minds. Unconsciously, through dreams.”
“OK, an’ later he’s saying there’s a human mental web thing, an’ that magic can fuck with it.”
“Yes,” she said hesitantly. Right there in the title. The The Effects of Magic on the Human Experience of Dreams.
“And there ain’t any mention of souls or demons or shit like that.”
“Why did Ix want this? This don’t got shit to do with what she’s doin’. Why this?”
A half remembered memory tugged at the back of Olivia’s mind. “Taauth.”
“What about him?”
“She’s trying to hurt Taauth,” explained Olivia, the memory slipping from her grasp every time she tried to focus on it.
Ben snapped his fingers. “She’s tryin’ to get at Taauth with this. How?” He shook his head. “Never mind, don’t care. Point is, she wasn’t puttin’ all her eggs in one demon-y basket.”
“He can’t really get hurt physically,” said Olivia. “Like Cyrus.”
“So she was thinkin’ about goin’ after his mind. I gotcha. Who wrote this thing?” asked Ben.
“Jonathan Gizenga,” said Olivia, reading off the top of the page. The half memory faded from her mind once again.
“Got your tablet with you? Wanna see what else he’s written about.”
She grabbed her tablet form her room upstairs and set it on the table. One quick search later, she said, “A lot of dream stuff.” She skimmed further down the screen. “He has Ph.Ds in psychology and applied magical theory.”
“Applied? So he can actually use the stuff he’s talkin’ about.”
“It sounds like it.”
They settled back in silence for a few minutes, each reading Dr. Gizenga’s publication history.
Ben grunted and said, “This seems a lot less evil than demons an’ human sacrifice an’ shit. Let’s send this on to Cyrus, see if he can do somethin’ with it. I think this is a dead end for figuring out Ix, though.”
“We haven’t seen any mental magic stuff from her, have we?” asked Olivia.
“No,” replied Ben.
“Would we remember?” She’d better not have messed with our memories.
Ben grimaced. “Not somethin’ I wanna think about. Let’s see what Amanda pulled from her computer before we go further with that shit.”
“I give up,” announced Miya, cutting off Olivia as she was about to respond. She stomped into the living room and flung herself on the couch between Olivia and Ben. The papers she’d been given hit the coffee table a moment later.
“That bad?” asked Olivia. She kept her wings spread out behind them, keeping herself cool. The air conditioning of Quarrel’s house seemed to struggle with six extra people, along with the hundred degrees of mid July Arizona heat outside.
Miya flipped a couple pages with unnecessary force, coming just shy of slapping it and her hand into the table. “I don’t know all magic. Whatever Ix is doing, how she’s doing it, it’s miles above me.”
“Really?” asked Ben. Yeah. You always seemed to know before.
“I do simple stuff. Bones want to heal, I speed it up. Ix sent a stream of biological magic through nonbiological air to make a self sustaining acid in a person’s bloodstream. She’s fucking around with the fabric of existence with this,” Miya replied.
“Don’t got any guesses?” asked Ben. “That’s quitter talk.”
“Fuck off. I’ve got nothing. I know she’s doing the soul severing thing. That’s it. That’s my guess. I couldn’t tell you if it takes five minutes or five days. I couldn’t tell you if the person needs to be conscious or not. I couldn’t tell you where all the power for this comes from.”
But don’t you mess with existence too? “You do impossible stuff none of us can do, too,” Olivia pointed out.
“You can fly. If I showed you blueprints for an airplane, would you know what the hell is going on?” Olivia shook her head. Miya offered her the papers. “Here’s my thing. Take a look at it.” She stared in confusion at technical magical diagrams that seemed to be portraying a human body. Beyond that, the complex, color coded lines had no meaning to her.
“But you still do magic. It’s still amazing.”
“Thanks,” said Miya, sticking her tongue out at Ben.
“Maybe we all take a quick break for a little bit?” said Olivia, standing and uncurling her tail from around her legs. “It’s not going anywhere.”
“That sounds great.”
Ben shrugged. “I ain’t gonna tell you no, but I wanna spend a bit more time on this. Mind if I take this for a bit?” He held up Olivia’s tablet and wiggled it in his hands.
Olivia had discovered Quarrel kept a large supply of ice cream in the back of her freezer. She and Miya helped themselves to a bowl each. She found herself reaching to scratch the thin scars on her forearms before stopping herself as they leaned against the kitchen counter. It hasn’t gotten any better.
“I have a question.,” said Olivia, halfway through a scoop of chocolate ice cream.
“Well, Ix hit me with the same stuff she hit Roach with. Maybe it’s sticking around with me.”
“Let me check.” Miya lay her hand on Olivia’s forearm, her eyes turning a deep red. “It’s at about the same level as Roach’s right now. Your body is just stomping on it, while his has to take the burn and then heal. You should be fine, but let me know if you feel anything change.”
“OK. Thank you!”
They chatted about nothing in particular as they finished their ice cream. Olivia squinted as the setting sun passed in front of her, beaming between the shades of the window in the kitchen.
“Want to go check on the others?” asked Miya as they set their bowl in the sink.
Olivia heard several sets of footsteps approaching. “No. They’re coming.”
“We all hit a wall at the same time,” Miya murmured to herself.
“They might have had better luck,” Olivia pointed out. Come on. Try and stay positive.
The whole team assembled in the living room with various levels of energy. Amanda nearly bowled Miya over as she rushed over to the center, Ix’s old laptop in hand. Miya and Olivia, meanwhile, simply slumped back into their old seats.
“Everyone ready?” asked Amanda, once they were all settled.
“I’ve got nothing,” barked Miya, undercutting her.
Amanda bit back what she was about to say, though she shot a surprised look at her.
Miya recapped for the other what she’d told Ben and Olivia. “I will say this,” she said at the end of her spiel. “Ix’s plans don’t really matter anymore. She failed. She wanted to save Mexico, but Taauth beat her to the punch.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Olivia saw Roach nod in agreement.
“I know Cuauhtemoc was the king, but will it really be that bad?” asked Amanda. “Don’t they have a chain of command?”
“Oh, Mexico is fucked now,” said Miya, her tone of voice giving no room for doubt. “I give it two months for the whole thing to collapse. There’s a hundred different groups the Aztecs oppressed that only Cuauhtemoc kept a lid on. Without a walking god on the Aztec goernment’s side, they’re going to have rebellions everywhere. The Mayans will be having a field day.”
“Mayans?” asked Olivia.
“Yeah, durin’ the first Mexican-American war we learned real quick to not fight Cuauhtemoc out in the open,” explained Rob. “Whenever he got uppity south of the border we’d just ship boats of guns an’ ammo to the Yucatan. Mayans would take ‘em an’ keep doin’ that guerilla war they do so well. Cuauhtemoc would have to turn more of his attention there. Repeat as necessary.”
How did you know that? You never know history stuff? Ben nodded along to Rob’s mini lesson, looking unsurprised. Just me?
“She’s got a tiny window to get back to Mexico before they pass the point of no return,” said Ben. “Not sure if she can stop it, but she’ll try.”
Olivia leaned back and stretched, turning from side to side as Ben talked. When Quarrel thought no one else was looking, she shot a disgruntled glare at the back of Ben’s head. Did he ever apologize for leaving Roach unprotected? Olivia averted her gaze before Quarrel could notice.
“So,” said Quarrel, tearing her eyes away from Ben. “We’ve also got a small window to bring her to justice.”
“She might not go back,” said Amanda. “The Aztec government kicked her out, remember? She’ll need something to show them before she even has a chance.”
“Talked with a friend. Was part of temple,” rasped Roach. “About demons.” He grimaced and sat forward, a hand moving to his throat as he spoke. “Once we knew more, demons became sacred. People sacrificed were taken to gods. Demons take the dead. Therefor, demons do gods’ work.”
“So she’s basically fuckin’ around with the messengers of the gods?” asked Rob.
“She’s committed sacrilege. She can’t go back,” said Miya. “But she’ll want revenge and power. She’ll stick around here.”
Roach nodded as he cleared his throat. He’s sitting upright more, I guess he’s feeling better. After the group processed this new information, with and no one chipping in more information, Amanda asked, “Ben, Olivia, did you find anything?”
Ben shook his head and said, “It was interestin’, not relevant. Ix was lookin’ at fuckin’ with Taauth’s mind, but unless you found somethin’ in that laptop that says otherwise, she didn’t go further. It was an interestin’ idea, I sent it on to Cyrus.”
“I didn’t find anything about that,” replied Amanda. “But I have found a couple people she’s been emailing. One was the owner of that taco restaurant.”
“Anyone else interesting?” asked Quarrel.
“Absolutely. There’s one woman who’s an executive at some local company. But the thing is, she owns the deed to that house we found, as well as two others. There’s about three or four other people like that. Some she was talking with before she got here.”
“So we got a list of targets,” summarized Ben.
Amanda nodded. “And that’s not all. I found a bunch more magical plan things. You can take a look if you want to, Miya, but they looked just as complicated to me.”
“No. It would just be a waste of time,” grumbled Miya.
“It wouldn’t hurt, would it?” asked Olivia. “You might figure something out. You don’t have to beat your head against it.” I think that’s the right saying. Right?
Miya gave Olivia a long, hard stare before her shoulders slumped. “Fine. I guess I’ll take a look at them.”
“Roach? Quarrel? What did you guys find?” asked Amanda.
“Not much we didn’t already know,” said Quarrel. “This Chinese girl can make fire out of anything that can burn. She regenerates incredibly quickly. The Chinese military facility nearly ran out of sedatives on her while testing her. But other than that, she’s a normal human, and so I guess is Taauth.” And Cyrus.
Rob leaned forward and added, “They kinda brainwashed her. Make her kill Siberians day in day out. When things were quiet on the border they planned on usin’ her on their own people. Dunno if they have or not, those documents are old fuckin’ things. She could be at the center of the earth now.”
“Cyrus seemed to think she was still around,” said Amanda. “If anyone can get her out of there, he can, and the sooner the better.”
“Yeah,” agreed Quarrel. “They didn’t… they didn’t hold back on her.”
Amanda nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll keep digging into her laptop. I’ll see if I can find anything for you, Miya, because it sounds like the rest of us have hit dead ends for the moment.”
Miya gave a weary nod.
“But I think that can wait until we get a proper night’s rest. Roach, how are you holding up?” asked Amanda.
Roach grunted. “Better. Not best.”
“We could all use some rest, than. Oh, and Quarrel, our little project could use some fine tuning.”
Quarrel cracked a smile. “I’ll get started right away.”
The group dispersed. Olivia tapped Rob on the shoulder with the back of her finger as he passed. “How did you know that stuff about Mexico?” she asked.
“What? I ain’t allowed to know things?” asked Rob with a grin.
“It’s not that. You just never say anything about, you know, history stuff.”
“My dad had a ton of history books about US military history. Me an’ my brothers read all that shit when we were kids.”
“Oh, OK.” An awkward pause filled the air. I should say something. Anything.
“I gotta get our armor fixed up,” said Rob, his grin having gone nowhere.
Olivia nodded wordlessly as he passed. Don’t mind me, I’m just being stupid. Everyone else had scattered, with equipment to check on and old wounds to bandage. She flexed her wings in the now empty living room. They don’t feel sore. I can still fly, that’s all I really need. Where is Ben?
Olivia found Ben hunched over his sniper rifle. “Hey. What’s up?” he asked without looking up. Part of the casing of the rifle near the trigger lay on the table beside him.
“Ben, have you apologized to Quarrel yet?”
He stopped and shot her a confused look. “For what?”
“You know, abandoning Roach?” Please tell me you didn’t forget that.
Ben shrugged and turned back to his rifle. “I didn’t do anythin’ wrong to her. I talked with Roach already, we’re good. As far as I see it I got nothin’ else to apologize for.”
“But you kind of did do something. You weren’t being mean or anything, but you left him there and they’re close. But you just messed up is all. She’s really not happy with you.”
“Hey, if she don’t wanna say somethin’ to my face, so far as I care we’re good.”
“Things may be good for you, but not for her. Just talk to her. That’s all I ask,” pleaded Olivia.
Ben sighed and massaged his forehead with his full hand. “Alright, alright. Let me just finish this up.”
“You’re not going to forget or something, are you?”
He laughed. “I ain’t gonna do that, don’t worry.”
“Bad news,” yelled Quarrel. “Ix has kidnapped more people.”
“I guess that talk will have to wait,” said Ben as he and Olivia followed the urgent sound of Quarrel’s voice downstairs. Quarrel had her phone in hand. “A friend in the MHU just told me,” she added as the other rushed in. “Three people were abducted, so we all know what that means.”
“Three?” rasped Roach, eyebrows arching upwards.
“She’s never taken that many before,” said Quarrel.
“Why would she need three people?” asked Olivia.
“She could be in a hurry, whatever she’s trying could need more people” replied Amanda. “No matter what, it’s a bad sign.”
“So what are we gonna do about it?” asked Ben, standing up and heading for the gun cases.
“Do the same thing we did last time,” said Rob. “Scan for demons with Miya, search the area when we get a hit.”
“They were just captured. We won’t find her with a demon until too late,” said Quarrel.
“We’ve got a list of possible places, remember?” pointed out Amanda.
“I’ll map out where we need to go, than we’ll find those people. Any questions?” Amanda asked the group at large. After everyone shook their heads, she said, “Then let’s get ready. We’ll move out after sundown.”
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