CHAPTER 17: THE MIRROR ROOM
The kitchen was cramped as the nine temporals and one half-angel gathered around the table to plan their next move.
“What do we know about this man Darrach?” Carlos asked.
“From what Donal’s told us he’s a Sí.” said Kathy.
“Fine, what do we know about this woman, Darrach?” Carlos asked.
“No. He’s a Sí. The Sí are a race of angels who were expelled to earth because they refused to take sides in the war between heaven and hell. They live amongst humans now. This Darrach is apparently a genius at combining divine power with human technology. So if, for example, you wanted a bomb that could destroy the human soul…”
“He’d be the guy to talk to.” Eamonn nodded.
“Right.” said Kathy “So we’re going to go and have a talk with him.”
“Just a talk.” Donal growled “The Sí are under my protection and from what I see you don’t have any proof against him yet. You’ll need to convince me before I’ll hand him over to you.”
“Fair enough.” said Kathy, pointedly ignoring the growl that emanated from the direction of Junko Imai.
Magnus gently shouldered his way through Eloi and Carlos and set a tea-tray on the table and began to quietly pour cups for everyone.
“Is this going to be dangerous?” Baako asked, and instantly felt like a coward for saying it.
“Good question.” said Kathy “We’re hoping (I’ll take coffee, Magnus, thanks) that he won’t be expecting us. It depends how much he knows. Mabus might just have showed up, asked for the bomb, took it and went. But if Darrach knows that his bomb was used to kill Temporals, he might have taken precautions.”
“Let him.” said Junko hoaresly.
“So, just so we know, what are we expecting? (two sugars, thanks) Booby traps?” Eamonn asked.
“Probably not.” Mariana said “I can’t imagine someone booby trapping their own home (yes, a little milk, Magnus, thank you kindly) on the off chance that we showed up. But he might have a safe room. A hidden passge, an escape route. Something like that.”
“Maybe it would…thanks…” Aoife took a mug of tea off Magnus and took a swig “Maybe it would be a good idea if I went and scouted around first? Get the lay of the land?”
A silence descended on the table. Aoife realised that everyone was looking at her.
“Yes.” said Mariana, very quietly “I think that’s a very good idea.”
“Well.” said Aoife, suddenly feeling very nervous “I guess…I’ll go do that. Then.”
Aoife collapsed on the table with a thud, spilling her tea.
Magnus calmly pried her mug from her fingers and soaked up the spill with a piece of kitchen towel.
Mariana stared at Aoife’s prone body for a few seconds.
“Tie her to a chair.” she said coldly.
Aoife’s eyes opened slowly, like the capstone of a tomb. She felt like her heart was pumping cement through her veins. Every limb weighed a ton, every sound took an hour to reach her ears and was as long and deep as whale song.
Her vision was blurry, and she could make out a bare light bulb hanging over her head, and a tall dark figure lurking in the corner of the room, but not much else.
“Aoife? Are you awake?”
She tried to talk, but her tongue was a numb slab of flesh and could only mumble.
“It’ll wear off in a few minutes. It should, anyway. I think Magnus erred on the side of caution with the dose and decided too much was better than too little.”
Her mind was starting to clear a little now. She tried again.
“Whaaa….wha’ the…what the hell was in that tea?” she asked with no little difficulty.
“You know, I’m not entirely sure. Magnus just seemed so sure of himself so we all just trusted that he knew what he was doing.”
Aoife tried to stand up and felt ropes cutting into her wrists and ankles. She looked down to see herself tied to a solid pine kitchen chair. She looked around, taking in the grim bleakness of Eamonn’s basement, and the grimmer bleakness of Mariana’s face as she stood over her. And realisation hit her like a sandbag to the gut.
“Oh noooooooo….” she groaned.
“Knew this was going to happen. I knew it.”
“While we’re alone, we need to talk.”
“You think it’s me. You think I’m the traitor. The spy. Of course you do. I knew this was going to happen. Because your life is just one long disaster and everyone who even goes near you gets chewed up…”
Mariana’s hand shot out and Aoife felt fingers as strong as steel digging into her cheekbones. Mariana’s eyes were black with rage.
“Before you say another word.” Mariana hissed “Think of the many, many ways that I can kill you. Think how I could break every bone in your body in the same instant. Think how I could age you to the last second of your life and keep you there for fifty years. Think how I could obliterate every atom of your body from space and time and then think of everything that I have lost at your hands. My girls are dead. And the only thing that is restraining me now is that there are others with an equal claim to vengence. And they will have justice, as will I.”
Mariana released her and Aoife gasped for breath, her face aching and tears stinging her eyes.
Tentatively, she reached out with her mind and tried to shift time around her. Instantly she felt the seconds freeze like droplets of water. Mariana was holding her in place. No surprise there. Without such a measure, the rope and chair would have been about as effective a restraint as a crepe paper chain. She relaxed. If she tried any harder, Mariana would sense it and strengthen her hold.
So what now? Keep her talking.
“Where are the others?”
Mariana glanced at her.
“Well I’m surprised they’re not here. If you all think I’m the spy, shouldn’t Junko be tearing my throat out right now?”
“Oh she tried.”
“What stopped her?”
“Guess I owe him one.”
“He convinced her that she should wait until you were fully conscious. That way you wouldn’t miss anything.”
Aoife shuddered. She really could not bring herself to believe that Mariana was joking.
Her mind was fully cleared now. Fear and time had worked together to wash the last effects of the drugged coffee away. Her mind was now sharp, and jumpy as a fox. She could feel her heartbeat banging in her ears. She felt like she was going to be sick.
She forced her breathing back into some kind of normal rhythm, fighting for every inch.
She closed her eyes. Think. You’ve got to convince her. Now, while she’s alone. If you can swing Mariana then the rest will listen to her. But no one was ever able to convince a mob to think rationally. When the rest of them come back, that’s it. Time is up. Think.
Go on the attack.
This can’t be easy for her. Don’t let it be. Go on the attack.
“You’re going to kill me.” she said simply.
“Yes.” said Mariana.
Cold. But no, there was something there. A little hoarsness. A little catch. Good. Use it.
“Well then.” said Aoife indifferently “I guess we don’t have anything to talk about.”
That’s it. Keep silent. Make her want to say something. She has to. You won’t be around much longer. Anything she wants to say to you she’ll have to say quick.
Mariana lasted three minutes.
“There’s something I must ask you.” she said.
Aoife gazed at her coldly.
“You are going to die very soon.” said Mariana “Some would take this chance to atone.”
“I’m not ‘some’. I will take this chance to tell you to stick your head in an oven.”
“He’s not going to save you. Whatever he told you.” said Mariana.
He? Mabus. That’s right. She thinks you’re working for Mabus.
“Mariana. You’ve already told me I’m going to die. So you really don’t have a lot of leverage over me. You want me to answer your questions, you’re going to have to answer mine.”
“I could make you talk.”
“Ha. Say it again. Like you mean it this time.”
Stone cold bluff. Mariana would break you in a heartbeat if she had to. She doesn’t want to, but anyone can do something they don’t want to.
“What can you possibly want to know?” Mariana asked.
“Why the mirror?” Aoife asked.
This caught Mariana off guard.
“What do you mean?”
“You gave me the mirror. You told me that if Donal tried anything I could point the mirror at him and he’d back off. What? Is he self conscious?”
Mariana said nothing for a few seconds.
“Mabus already knows why.”
“Mabus isn’t asking. I am.”
“Many years ago, Donal saved the soul of a young girl. She had rather stupidly traded it to a very powerful demon in exchange for eternal youth.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes. Donal tricked the demon by offering his soul in her place.”
“Doesn’t sound like much of a trick.”
“Ah. But you see Donal has no soul. Not in the same way you or I do. And so the demon was unable to collect his prize.”
“So why the mirror?”
“Certain demons, specifically those that traffic in human vanity, can reach you through mirrors. When your eyes meet the gaze of your reflection, they touch Hell. If Donal stayed too long in front of a mirror, he could be pulled in.”
“Yes. But Mabus knows this.”
“But I didn’t. I could have killed him.”
“No. Donal is far too fast. But he would have had to keep his distance from you.”
“Yeah. So why would you give me such a powerful weapon if you thought I was the traitor? Because you didn’t think I was. Not then. Something changed. It was Donal. Donal told you I was working for Mabus.”
Aoife studied Mariana’s face like a hawk over a corn field. One twitch was enough.
“It was him.” Aoife breathed “Oh my God. He set me up.”
Mariana actually laughed. A bitter, ugly, hacking affair.
“If your plan is to try and convince me that Donal lied to me, I would like to remind you of three things. One, he is my son. Two, he has never met you and has no reason to frame you. And three, he is half angel and unable to lie.”
Those, Aoife thought to herself, were all very good points.
“What about that vanity demon? He wasn’t exactly truthful with him, was he?”
“He can be selective with the truth. But he cannot lie.”
Not knowingly, Aoife thought. But could he just be wrong?
“Mariana. Tell me what he said.”
“Don’t I at least deserve to hear the evidence against me?”
“If you wanted a fair trial you should have left enough of us alive to form a jury.” said Mariana.
Okay that’s it, Aoife thought, all or nothing. What you’re going to say next could very well get you killed.
“Don’t you want to know why I did it?” Aoife asked.
Mariana stopped breathing and for a second Aoife actually felt time halt.
“Don’t you want to know what he offered me?” Aoife asked “What he could possibly have to offer me to make me betray you all?”
Mariana still said nothing, and Aoife wondered if she was contemplating whether she should just kill her now.
Aoife knew that despite what everyone said, Mariana was not insane. But she was so close…
“No.” said Mariana eventually “I don’t need to know. Because it was my fault. I did this to you. And I am sorry.”
Wait a minute, what? Aoife thought.
“Wait a minute, what?” Aoife asked.
“You see, I made the mistake of loving you.” said Mariana “And that made you a target. Once I allowed myself to care about you, you were doomed. Because sooner or later he destroys everyone close to me. Jeda, Marie, Isabella. The list goes on and on and on…”
She closed her eyes.
“But he only killed them. He’s done something so much worse to you. He’s made you into a monster. And I am sorry. I am so sorry.”
Everything that he’s done she blames herself for, Aoife thought. Okay. Yes. That would make me crazy too.
“Well if that’s true. If it is your fault? Then you owe me this. What did he tell you?”
She felt awful exploiting Mariana’s guilt, but the others would be back soon and she really didn’t want to die.
“He said” said Mariana “that your soul was rotten with treason. That he could smell the stink of it off you the moment he encountered you on the roof. That you had betrayed someone and that it was killing you inside. ”
With those words, Aoife felt like she had been punched in the stomach. Tears rose to her eyes.
“Oh…oh boy.” she wheezed.
Mariana seemed taken aback by the sudden change.
“Are you alright?” she asked, and then felt stupid for asking that to someone who was essentially on death row.
“Okay…” said Aoife, struggling to regain control “Okay, well that explains that.”
“Explains what?” Mariana asked, curious in spite of her self.
“Well, I did betray you. Didn’t I?”
“You…you’re not talking about the hotel, are you?”
“No.” said Aoife, a bitter laugh breaking through the tears “No Mariana, I am not. I am talking about the other thing.”
“I’m talking about me killing an innocent man and getting thrown off the Nine. That’s the thing I am talking about.”
“That was years ago.”
“We’re time travelers. Every crummy mistake we ever made is just one trip away. Kind of makes it hard to live anything down.”
“You didn’t betray anyone.”
“I betrayed you. I failed you.”
“You made a mistake. You can’t blame yourself.”
“Hey. You’ve just basically told me you blame yourself for everyone Mabus has ever killed. You’re one to talk.”
“You’ve carried that kind of guilt around with you? Everyday since?”
“Yeah. I guess I did.”
“But if the guilt that Donal sensed was not from you helping Mabus bomb the hotel, why didn’t he sense it from any of the others?”
“Maybe you’re wrong? Maybe there is no spy? Maybe Mabus didn’t need any help?” said Aoife, barely able to speak with relief.
“Or maybe I was hopelessly naive in thinking that such a person would be capable of something as human as guilt.” said Mariana darkly.
“So whoever it is is with the others now?”
“Yes. They’ve gone with Donal to confront Darrach.”
“Well if he or she is planning on making a move, it’s going to be now. Now that everyone thinks they’ve got the spy, they won’t be expecting it.”
“We should go.”
“You gonna untie me?”
Mariana took a hold of her shoulder. There was a rush of air and they were gone.
It was four o’clock in the morning, and the screech of the last night’s fireworks had long since died away, leaving only a perfect pre-dawn stillness.
The bookshop was dark, and viewing from across the street Kathy had to admit it looked like the kind of place she would like to go browse a few hours away in. It was an old redstone building, with a beautiful Victorian-style shop front, all green paint and frosted windows. It looked so cosy, in fact, that it seemed strange to be getting ready to storm the place commando-style.
“Well?” she asked as she sensed Eamonn and Baako materialising in the space beside her.
“Everyone’s clear on what we’re doing.” said Eamonn “Magnus and Eloi take the back entrance. Junko, Donal and Carlos take the upstairs bedrooms. You, me and the kid take the front door. Easy peasy.”
“Everyone’s clear on the rules? No killing. We’re just here to talk to him.”
“Why do you think I put Donal with Junko and Carlos?”
“Clever boy.” said Kathy with a smile. “Baako, stay close to me.”
Baako nodded silently, and shuddered. He wasn’t used to this kind of cold.
From a rooftop across the street a small white light flashed, answered by another from under the elm trees in a garden to the south. Kathy took out a torch from her jacket pocket and flashed it in answer.
“Let’s go.” she said.
Mariana and Aoife materialised into the street just in time to see Eamonn, Kathy and Baako teleport through the front door of Darrach’s bookshop.
“Kathy wait!” Mariana shouted, and willed herself through the door.
For a Temporal, moving through space and time is a lot like walking through a darkened room that you know every inch of. You can see nothing while in transit, but you know exactly what will greet your eyes once you have crossed the room and flicked on the light switch.
When Mariana rematerialised, she had expected to find herself in Darrach’s bookshop, possibly between the new fiction shelf and a stack of terrible ghost-written celebrity autobiographies.
Instead, she found herself in a coffin.
A ceiling was pressing down hard on her head and her nose was pressed against a wall. In a sudden claustrophobic panic she threw out her arms and they banged against two more walls on either side of her, only a few feet out. She was trapped.
Then she felt a rush of air on the back of her neck and remembered that Aoife had been right behind her…
Aoife materialised behind Mariana squashed her flat against the wall.
Mariana made a sound not unlike that of an accordion being put in a car crusher.
“Mariana? Is that you?”
“It is indeed.” Mariana wheezed.
“Where are we?” Aoife asked.
“Well that depends. Are you in a small, cramped space with absolutely no light?”
“Congratulations. You now know exactly as much as I do.”
“Don’t get snippy.”
“I’m sorry. It’s a side effect of being a six foot tall woman in a five foot tall box.”
“How did we end up here?”
“And where is here?”
“Are we in a coffin? This is all wood.”
“I don’t think so. We’re standing up. Coffins are horizontal, as a rule.”
“Do you feel something there?”
“Digging into my back.”
“Yes I can feel it.”
“What is it?”
“Feels like a pole.”
“Yes. Like a handle for a rake or a broom.”
“Broom closet.” they said, in unison.
The door of the broom closet exploded open and Aoife and Mariana collapsed onto the tiled floor, gasping for air.
“Here’s an idea.” Aoife gasped “How about we never tell anyone about that?”
Mariana has already gotten to her feet.
“That’s not right.” she said.
She took Aoife’s hand and pulled her up.
“What’s not?” Aoife asked.
“We should be in the bookshop on the ground floor.” said Mariana “We ended up in a broom closet on the second.”
“Ah.” said Aoife “That’s not right.”
“It is not.” said Mariana.
“How do you think that happened?”
“I have absolutely no idea.” said Mariana “But what concerns me more right now is that I can’t see any of the others and we were right behind them.”
“Maybe they’re in other broom closets?”
“Perhaps.” said Mariana “Keep close to me.”
They slowly advanced down the hallway. The floor was tiled, and every step Aoife took sounded like a hammer-blow to her ears. The house was so silent she almost imagined she could hear not only her own heartbeat but Mariana’s as well. And then there was the smell. All homes invariably pick up the scent to the people who live in them. Darach’s scent was everywhere, and it was not human. It smelled like lead paint, dull and harshly inorganic.
By now they had reached the end of the hallway and stood before two doors, one bright green and one red.
“Which one?” Aoife asked.
“The one with the beautiful princess.” Said Mariana.
“What?” said Aoife.
“It’s an old joke. A prisoner is brought before the king. The king says; “there are two doors in front of you. Behind one is a beautiful princess. Behind the other is a ferocious tiger. Which do you choose?” And the prisoner says…”
“The one with the beautiful princess.” Aoife finished “Yeah, I think I heard that one. You think this is the same kind of deal?”
“Darach was able to design this place so that anyone trying to teleport in would end up somewhere else in the house. Why stop there?”
“He was clearly expecting us. I think we should assume he took precautions.”
The uneasy feeling in Aoife’s stomach thickened.
“So…” she said with forced lightness “Red or green?”
“Green would seem obvious.”
“A little too obvious.”
“Maybe he’s counting on you thinking that?”
“Maybe he’s counting on you thinking that?”
“Maybe the colours aren’t for us. Maybe they’re for him to remember.”
“If you were going to booby trap your own home, would you forget which door was which? Really?”
“I might. If I was crazy enough to booby trap my house in the first place.”
“But you’re not that crazy.” Said Aoife.
“Not quite, though I won’t deny the thought has never crossed my mind.”
“You really think he colour coded the doors so that he’d remember which one would kill him?”
“I’m just saying it’s a possibility.”
“Good thing we’re not colour blind.”
They stood staring at the door for another few minutes.
“It could just be the bathroom and the hot press.” Said Aoife.
Mariana reached out and took the handle of the green door. Both women instinctively slid into slow time to prepare for whatever came through. The door was locked.
“We could just shift through?” Aoife suggested.
Mariana shook her head. Not without knowing what was on the other side. They’d made that mistake once already.
“Okay.” Said Aoife “My turn.”
She placed her hand on the red door’s handle. She tried to push out of her head all the things that red was associated with. Blood, danger, fire, burning, violence, pain. For God’s sake it’s just a door. Get a hold of yourself. She took a deep breath.
And behind door number two, show her what she’s won…
The door opened easily, a weight pushing it outwards.
That weight collapsed to the floor, flopping out through the red door and slamming onto the tiled floor. Where it bled.
Aoife and Mariana screamed.
Carlos, lying on the floor with every bone in his body twisted and broken, said nothing.
Ahh man, gotta love your style. The semi-expositional conversation permeated with denotation of beverage preferences was just great. Also, wait, it was Aoife who was the traitor? I wonder who it was who said to fork over Marie then, because it couldn’t have been her, could it? Though then again, I guess it wouldn’t be at all hard to disguise as an Unknown Man. In any case, I love Eloi’s way of convincing Junko not to slaughter Aoife then and there. That and Mariana’s description of Donal. “Can be selective with the truth, but can’t lie”, gotta love technicalities.
Ahh, poor Baako. I know the feeling of being in the wrong climate. And I haven’t even lived in the tropics for most of my life. Also, loved the ol’ Vizzini-style gambit-layer-picking. Never gets old. But poor Carlos though! Yikes!!
You’re not originally Canadian, Honky?
Not if you consider that I’m from Tulgey Wood! 😉
(I am originally Canadian, but my mother wasn’t)