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“Wait a second,” Yujin protested. “What’s she going to summon? When? Why are we worrying about this?”
Augustus still couldn’t in good conscience out Soren as being part of this without Soren confessing to it first, which made describing it more annoying. Felt like he was taking more sole responsibility than was fair. “It has to do with the memories I’ve been divining for. In the past, I was part of a small group of individuals who tried to summon this creature from in between planar space. The Beast Beyond. We were with it for a matter of minutes and it tore out my memory, shattered one of the participants’ minds, and absorbed the last of the participants. This final participant was a boy named Violin Spiders.”
“Violin Spiders,” Yujin repeated, incredulous. Then, “Wait, Spiders. So you think they’re related?”
“They were twins,” Augustus said. “I didn’t know it until, well, tonight, when we went searching for those memories. So I assume Olivia wants him back. I can’t blame them, exactly—I know he and I were close back then too, for all that my memories are still largely lost, and he didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
Soren finally spoke up, lifting his head very slightly. “Why are we going to stop her?”
It was like running straight into a wall, the way his mind, whirling with thoughts and worries and possibilities, was suddenly brought up short. “What?”
“Why are we stopping her?” Soren repeated. “Do we really want to? We want him back also. Maybe we should be helping Olivia.”
It was hard to find a reason when it was put so bluntly. Augustus scrubbed his hands through his hair. “I guess, for starters, I have no reason to believe Olivia’s done a more thorough job building protections than we had. It’s harder to protect against something that’s considered as being from the same planar space as you; otherwise I could ward against, well, Yujin. Not impossible, but harder; wards love a dichotomy. And I might have more faith in a ward being up that could hold if Olivia were actively working in Warding, but they’re in Contract Law. Contract Law obviously has very entity-specific binding abilities in general, but it requires something you can reason with that stops and agrees to do things set out in specific terms. That’s why when you deal with demons you both put up warding and write a contract. One holds before the other’s in place. Even if Olivia has come up with more specific protections, that’s betting a lot that the protections actually hold. Because if they don’t? By changing the definitions, it’ll be easier for it to stay here longer. Potentially indefinitely! It won’t get dragged back the way it was last time. It’d be easier to stay, easier to get loose, and harder for it to be banished. I know this because—” Because it’s what he’d been planning for Enmity. Making this world his. Not in terms of handing it to him to rule, but making planar space acknowledge him as belonging to it, and the impact that would have. “—it’s my specialty.”
“So what?” Soren asked. “What if she has figured it out, Augustus? Don’t we want Vii back, just like Olivia does?”
“So—it’s not just Vii coming back, Soren! It might not be Vii coming back at all, given the state he was last in and how long ago that was! It’d be the Beast Beyond, and you know what happened in the few minutes we were exposed to it! It could rake its claws through our reality and destroy all memories of how to stop it!”
“But what if there is some of Vii left? What if Vii managed to consume the Beast Beyond? Don’t you want to try to take this chance to get him back?” Soren demanded, half-rising from his seat. “Do you even want him back? Yes, Olivia’s been using dirty methods so far, but if it brings Vii’s back, can we blame her? Will you do this just to spite Olivia Spiders for blackmailing your assistant and stealing your work? Or is it that you don’t want Vii back now that you’ve found happiness and a husband?” Soren waved an arm wildly at Emmet. “Are you content in leaving him locked between the planes, leaving him forgotten? I’m not!”
Augustus was shocked into silence. It took him a few moments to find his tongue. “It’s not that! The risk is just so—”
“You’re making a lot of assumptions about what she has and hasn’t done! Why don’t we just ask her?” Soren said.
Slowly, Augustus put his head in his hands, pinching the spot in between his brows. Soren had a point. If Vii could be brought back—if Olivia, in all this planning and secretiveness, did have a good plan that could work—then why stop her? “You’re right. Not about my happiness, that’s not the point, I’ll be happy with Emmet whether or not an old flame from my past exists. But you’re right that we need to know more before we assume that we need to stop Olivia. From their point of view, we’re probably the weird cult who dragged their brother into trouble and would now be interfering with their attempts to get him back.”
Soren slowly sank into his seat again. “Yeah. Exactly. I’m not saying we don’t stop her if it comes to it. I’m saying that going ahead like that’s the only option is just sacrificing Vii a second time. He gave himself up to protect me. I owe him at least the chance to hear Olivia out.”
“Right. Well.” Augustus scrubbed his face again, then made himself sit upright. “One way or another, we still need to find her before we can come to that kind of decision. Maybe she’s got it under control and we can beg forgiveness for our actions of the past and see if we can help. And if we go and she hasn’t prepared for it—remember that we’ve seen what it can do and she hasn’t—we can talk her down, or mitigate things, or stop her. We won’t know until we’ve talked to her. Yujin.”
Yujin jumped; they’d clearly been attempting to vanish during this argument, and didn’t look happy to be remembered. “Yes?”
“You should go home and get some rest. You don’t need to be more involved in this, though even so, we might need your help.” Augustus pushed his plate back. “If we decide to stop Olivia, we need to put the brakes on their public sway on the definitions as soon as possible. We’ll need someone to publish about how they’re a lousy thief, and share evidence of it. You’re in the best position to do that. Just … wait for a signal of some kind before sending that out, because if we do want to help her we need to not interfere.”
Emmet spoke up, his tone still light, unaffected. “Give me something of yours, Yujin. I can contact you if I have something in hand.”
“Like—something personal?” Yujin seemed understandably dubious.
“Anything that you’ve owned,” Emmet said. “Knowledge-based magic is my specialty. I can communicate over vast distances, etc etc.” But he could only communicate so easily if he was on the same plane as the target, Augustus mentally added with only a little bitterness.
Yujin dug around in a pocket and pulled out a hair tie. “Okay. Here. I’ll go home and … uh, get that ready? Try to sleep? Rest up?”
“All of the above, I hope,” Augustus said. “Thank you for everything you’ve done so far. I appreciate you,” he added, in case he died before seeing Yujin again.
Yujin gave Augustus a spooked look and said, “Uh, well, great to meet all of you,” before quickly heading for the front door.
“Meanwhile,” Augustus said, rising himself, “the three of us don’t need to sleep, so we shouldn’t waste any more time. We should go see what Fitzfleming heard from the blackmailer, then go find Olivia. Not that we have any leads on the latter; I know where Fitzfleming lives, at least. We could always break into Olivia’s house or office to try to find something of theirs that we can use to track them by.”
Emmet laughed, soft. “No need, right? You have blackmail notes with her handwriting on it.”
“Brilliant! Yes. Okay. That’ll help. I was trying to figure out where she could be, but—it could be anywhere.”
“Their workshop or house are obvious choices, but maybe too obvious,” Soren said.
Emmet shook his head. “Just give me a few minutes with the paper to peel her handwriting off of it and we’re good to go. In the meantime, your other blackmail victim?”
“She lives a few doors down. Come on.”
They put on jackets and tried not to look overly suspicious as the three of them went to knock on Fitzfleming’s door. It was late enough now that she didn’t answer at once, and Augustus was starting to worry that she wasn’t at home by the time the door actually opened.
She was still dressed in day clothes, but clearly had been in the middle of a meal. “Fantastic,” she said, looking over the three of them. “What do you want?”
“Just a word and then I’ll be out of your hair,” Augustus said. She jerked her head to invite him in—just him, it seemed—and shut the door behind him. “The others are helping me.”
“I don’t care. I don’t want any more involvement in this than I have to have,” Fitzfleming said. “I assume you’re here to see how it went?”
He nodded. “Nothing more, I think.” He probably couldn’t convince her to decry Olivia, even if he revealed them as the blackmailer; she had too much at stake if Olivia shared her past. “We’ll be gone as soon as you say.”
Fitzfleming sighed, hugging her arms tight around herself, clutching her own elbows. Her gaze darted toward the front window, then back to Augustus. “I did receive another demand. This time it was to break into his office. Soren’s. I assume he’s involved in this mess too, given all this.”
“You could say that,” Augustus said, frowning. “How’d you get in? I know how you might have got hold of my keys, but…”
“The blackmailer had their own copy of the keys and left them for me. I let myself in, took the ambrotype, and left.”
Oh, yes, of course Liv would have a copy of Soren’s keys. That just made sense. Probably didn’t go herself to avoid being seen near the place. “Wait—another ambrotype?” Augustus asked.
“Yes. It was a school picture of him with his class as a young man.” She paused, considering. “Was that you with him, Pennywright?”
“It could have been,” Augustus said. “Anything else?”
“No. I left it where I was told to and haven’t been contacted since. So unless you need anything else, I’d like you to leave. I don’t want any chance of the blackmailer spotting you at my house, under the circumstances.”
Fair enough. “Good evening, then, Ivory. With any luck we’ll have this dealt with by tomorrow.”
He showed himself out, frowning more heavily. So Olivia had acquired an ambrotype that contained all three of them. It would surely provide some kind of focus for whatever she needed it for—to view the past and use it to finalize protections? For preparation? To help bring the creature through?
“I have the location,” Emmet said, as he emerged. “Talk and walk, darling. Olivia’s in a shop in town. Looks like a jewelry shop.”
“The sister’s jewelry shop!” Augustus said, startled. “I’d half convinced myself it wasn’t real! Let’s go, then.”
“Right, but,” Soren said, as they began to walk that way. “What should we do when we get there? They’re not likely to answer the door.”
“I can get us in,” Emmet murmured.
Soren glanced aside at him. “Is there anything you can’t do?”
“Oh, a thing or two, my dear. I’m lousy at bowing out of a situation with good grace, and I don’t know how to take no for an answer,” Emmet shot back with a grin.
But Soren had a point. Even if they broke in, their next step was to confront Olivia. What should they plan to do when they saw her? How should they even approach this whole thing?
[What should Augustus do?
Comment with details.]