Justinia clenched her fists tightly behind her back, the only outward sign of her emotions. Her face calm, she continued to study the map on the wall, and the manuscript on the table, asking the occasional question of the gentleman who showed it to her so eagerly.
He wouldn’t be so eager if he knew what she was really about, but she didn’t care about that. Or him. Or most of what he was saying. What she cared about was his obsessive tracing of what he thought to be a line of powerful witches, descending down a line directly from Irving Napier.
She wondered what he’d say if she told him they were all the same person. Just Irving, under different names, pretending. Forging papers, moving around each time he needed to disappear and reappear as his younger self – constant glamours letting him age up and down at will.
But for the occasional slip-up, he had made his way smoothly through the decades. It was those slip-ups, however, that this eager young man had begun to pick up on in his studies of magical families; or rather, families supposedly magical. He hadn’t believed either, until he began to dig deeper into the Napier line.
Now, this man had an entire museum in his attic, filled with investigations and information about the Napiers.
Just a slip, here and there. A name that connected him to something else. His presence in the immediate area of certain inexplicable events. The way every one of them looked like a twin to the others. This academic had come to believe in magic. It had gotten him blackballed from academic circles, lowered to a conspiracy blog nobody read, where he detailed everything he found.
His latest acquisition was this manuscript. It looked like a simple book of figures, a business accounting, but investigation – the man had gone to a witch and paid a small fortune for her services – revealed it was a glamoured grimoire.
It was his excited blog post that had finally caught her attention. Was her interminable search soon to be over? With a grimoire, she could track him down.
“Where did you find this again?” she asked, gently.
The man, Russell, she remembered now, stopped mid-sentence and squinted up at her through his smudged glasses. He seemed almost surprised to see her there for a moment, and then collected himself and smiled. His smile made him young again, she saw, removing the worry lines and the sad, defeated look in his eyes.
He drew both hands back and forth over his bald head and blew out air in a huff, “It was bricked up in a storage cellar, right here,” he indicated a spot on his map.
Justinia’s eyes blazed for a moment, her nostrils flaring as she struggled to maintain control over her glamour.
Russell slid his chair backwards, away from her, like an animal suddenly sensing danger. The adrenaline forced him partway out of the spell she had placed on him, and he shook his head slowly.
Justinia swore inwardly, and quickly cast a sleep spell on him, followed by a spell to forget she had ever been there.
She removed the map and tucked it and the manuscript under her arm, and left as quietly as she had come. Russell would have no recourse against this theft, and no memory of her visit. He might do whatever he liked about the missing items, nothing would connect her to him.
She reached her current home, still shaken from the encounter, and the place the grimoire had been found. She knew those old smuggling cellars had been collapsed, and rebuilt as warehouses in a docks district. It seemed Irving, or whatever his current name was, had found himself unable to let go entirely. His grimoire had been bricked up in the newly rebuilt cellar on the same land as the house where they had discovered the smuggled goods.
She stroked the grimoire, remembering the days and nights where they had studied, made love, slept, and repeated the same thing the next day. The happiness he gave her with his warmth, his smile, his love.
“Find me”, he’d said. And she had – or would, now she had this book. She scolded herself for a fool, for never thinking to check the walls themselves for cavities.
Oh, she had been there, had snuck around and looked for magically hidden doors and compartments. But never had she thought he might have concealed it in such a mundane way. She had failed him, and she hoped he would forgive her. Hoped that finally being reunited would wash all of the years away.
She sent the hulking guards to stand outside the house, and placed a shield around her room, anchoring it to the crystals placed and charged with her magic for this purpose – letting it draw from them, leaving her entirely free to work her magic.
She placed her phone on the table, open to an app she had built herself, which connected her powers to the tiny fragment of her essence she had placed within the phone. The grimoire she placed next to it, and around the fingers of her left hand, she wound the chain of a scrying crystal.
Closing her eyes, she placed her right hand on the book, holding her left out above the phone, the crystal dangling just above the map on the screen.
She began to chant. Pulling together her energies, then using them to extract Irving’s energy from his grimoire. She fed this through her, into the crystal, and felt it begin to thrum.
On the screen, the map began to whizz and zoom, each movement drawing closer to a final destination.
After a couple of minutes, the crystal’s thrum increased for a moment, then pulled Justinia’s hand down, clicking as it settled onto the phone.
Justinia opened her eyes, removing her hand from the grimoire and shaking the crystal from her hand to put away. There. He was there. He was…near!
Had he been seeking her? Had he figured out the area she was in and come, hoping to find her, or hoping she would find him? She felt excitement rise. Then fear.
What if he didn’t want her anymore? What if he’d given up on her, found someone else?
She breathed deeply. If he had strayed, she would bring him back to her. She would remind him. He would remember his love for her. All she needed was to get to him.
She glamoured herself to look like the Annie he would remember, and changed into something she hoped he would like. A flowing red velvet dress, with a festoon necklace of ruby and pearl. She brushed out her hair and gave it a simple plait. She forewent makeup – it was something Annie had never worn – and stepped into a pair of cream ballroom shoes, the small heels and straps feeling foreign, after so long spent in lives which didn’t involve prettiness and love.
For the moment, she glamoured again, concealing the nice clothes beneath her more usual robe, and set off out of the house, waving off the guards as they attempted to accompany her.
She drove to the location the grimoire and crystal had found for her, and drew up outside.
It was a modest house, sat on a corner apart from others, a large swathe of land running around it in a rough square, ensuring the neighbours were kept at a distance.
From the outside, it looked modest and well kept. The house of someone who kept to themselves, cared for their space, and was probably wealthier than their neighbours would ever guess.
She wondered how it looked inside. How he had arranged himself – his library, his kitchen, his bedroom…
Justinia…Annie again, she reminded herself, took a deep breath.
The voice of the body she lived in spoke up, “I’m going to go away for a bit. I don’t need to watch this. I guess I hope it goes well, and not just because you promised that together you’d be able to find a way for you to live without needing my body. You’ve…you’ve done terrible things with my hands and I don’t know how I’ll ever feel clean, but if you can sort this out and we can all be happy? Yeah. I guess…good luck.”
“Thanks,” Annie murmured, and got out of the car.
She bowed her head as she walked up the cement path to the door. She could smell grass and flowers, and recent woodstain on the door as she rang the bell. The faint chime reached her ears, and she stood, alert, waiting.
A sound from inside. Footsteps. Coming closer.
A deadbolt turned, the lock thunked as it opened, and the door swung inwards.
Annie steeled herself and looked up…
…into his eyes. Irving.
She gasped, forgetting all of the words she had practiced for so long, and stood, struck silent by his mere presence.
His eyes widened and his mouth opened, but no words emerged.
For a long moment they both simply stood, staring at each other in shock.
Irving was the first to recover.
“Annie…” he breathed, as if he were afraid the mere touch of his breath would blow her away. Then he stood back from the door and reached out for her, bringing her inside.
He closed the door and they stood, again, their eyes meeting then skilling away, fidgeting like awkward teenagers.
Annie dropped her eyes and muttered a word, dropping the glamour over her clothes.
Irving stopped breathing completely for a moment, then the moment broke, and he brought her into his arms, holding her tightly.
She held him back, feeling his hot tears spill onto her shoulders, accompanying them with her own on his.
“I never stopped looking. I swear it,” Annie whispered.
“I know. I looked, too, but you moved so much, and you left such awful things behind you…I lost hope. I thought my Annie was gone.”
“Never gone, my love, only buried, waiting for you. I’m sorry for the things I’ve done, in anger, to gain power, to look for you. Always to look for you. I was so blind I didn’t even consider you might have used a mundane method to hide your book. I’m so sorry it took so long.”
Irving pulled back and kissed her deeply, “Why don’t we talk later. Every part of me has missed you. And I might need a refresher course on how to use them all again…”
Annie smiled and dropped a hand to his crotch, “I see everything still works. I think we can brush up on our skills together,” she took his hand and allowed him to lead her to his bedroom.
The walls were hung with fabrics, richly decorated and billowing softly in a breeze from the window. The bed was huge, made of solid dark wood, the mattress soft and inviting.
Irving flung the covers away, “Now stand, dear heart. Let me rediscover every inch, and every taste, of you.”
Annie closed her eyes and tuned in to the sensations. She let herself get so lost in the grip of feeling him touch her again, that she didn’t notice when her guard dropped, taking down the ever-present shield that kept her from the view of the Lawkeepers.
Kyra swiped to end the call and immediately dialled out to Patterson.
“Kyra,” they answered the phone curtly, “We’re in the middle of something, is it important?”
“I’m assigning someone else. Put a report on the server for them to pick up. Our seers have found her. She’s dropped her cloak, and they caught her in their last sweep. You need to get there before she realises, puts it up again, and leaves. Sending the address now. Go.”
Patterson’s phone beeped a second after they hung up, and they showed the address to Shia, “Witch dropped her cloak, she’s here.”
Shia nodded and slid into the front of the van, leaving Patterson to do whatever they needed to do to pass the stakeout over and prepare to meet Justinia.
The location was, with Shia’s driving, only 20 minutes away.
She parked around the corner from the house, after a quick drive-by to take a look at it.
As they geared up, heavy on the magical protection and magic infused weaponry, Patterson told Shia some information they had been ordered to keep to themself until she needed to know.
“We know Irving lives here. Kyra and I managed to track him, years ago, and I spoke with him at length. He knows about all of the things she’s done. The power she’s taken, the people she’s killed – or had killed. The ones we know about, anyway, I am certain that there are more. He swore himself to secrecy, and asked to help us, if he could. So once we’d seen that she seemed to have settled here for a little longer than her usual flits around, we laid a trap. And I couldn’t tell you about it because the more who knew, the more likely something was to slip. Plus, if you don’t know a secret, they can’t pick it from your mind – a process which runs the risk of tearing it apart, if done to an unwilling participant. I am sorry for the secrecy, I hope you can understand.”
Shia mused as she checked the straps on her vest and reached for her offensive gear, “I understand. I’m a junior partner, after all, sometimes you can’t tell me everything until we’re right on top of it – like now. You’re not letting me go in blind to the situation, and that’s all I’d ever ask. One day I’ll be keeping secrets from my junior partner, and thus the wheel does turn,” she bared her fangs at Patterson.
They smiled, “You will, and it won’t be long, either. Now let’s sort this witch out. We neither want nor need her alive. She doesn’t have anything to offer us, and she’s far too dangerous. Understood?”
Shia’s face shifted into something much more grave, and she nodded, “Understood, boss.”
They checked each other’s loadout, each pronouncing the other ready, and cut across the grass at the side of the house, where there were no ground floor windows.
Silently, they reached the back door, and Patterson picked the lock in under a minute.
The door opened silently, and they crept inside, ears pricked for sound.
Hearing nothing, they crept further in, checking the hall, and the living room. Nothing.
At the foot of the stairs, they heard faint snoring, coming from above and behind. But that was only one person, and they had no way of knowing who that was. The place smelled heavily of Irving, faintly of Justinia, and also fairly strongly of sex.
Shia resisted the urge to subvocalise a joke to Patterson, and continued following their lead.
They moved silently up the stairs, without a single creak. Irving, it seemed, had done his best to make their progress easy.
They passed the bathroom – empty. Then what was probably once the master bedroom, now a library – also empty. That left only the smaller bedroom, at the end.
The door was partially closed, and Patterson nudged it open, keeping themself and Shia to one side.
A bed faced the door, and Irving sat, naked, beneath a sheet.
Justinia was asleep beside him, snoring a little.
Irving breathed a sigh of relief and motioned for them to enter, talking in a whisper, “I wasn’t sure exactly how you’d need things to be, so I managed to drug her drink. She’ll wake, but it’ll take some shaking or something, and she’ll be groggy. And I’ve already placed a bann on her magic. It won’t last forever, but it’ll be long enough.”
Patterson nodded, “You did well, more than we asked.”
Irving nodded sadly, “I made her. I turned her into this. The least thing I can do now is help end it. You’ve seen her now, yes? You see this is her?”
Shia scanned the sleeping woman for magic, detecting Irving’s spell, and removing the Annie glamour, “Yeah, it’s her, whoever she’s inside.”
“I can fix that,” Irving told them, moving as gently as he could off the bed, “I conjured her old body, back from its bones and into flesh – like I said I would. It lives now, it just needs her mind back in it.”
Patterson nodded, “Just as promised, thank you. Please place a proper sleep spell upon the woman, so she can awake at home, knowing nothing of what happens here. Then put Justinia – Annie – back where she belongs.”
Irving did as asked, the spell relaxing the body further, into deep sleep. She wouldn’t wake for hours now, not for anything.
Next, he opened a large standing wardrobe, and reached inside. Gently, he pulled out a body, naked as himself and the woman in his bed, that looked just like a living Annie. Except, though it moved when pulled, stopped when not, and seemed to breathe, it had nothing behind its eyes. No light, no drive, no personhood. Nothing.
Shia suppressed a shudder, and stood back, waiting.
“The transfer is quite easy, once you get the hang of how it works. This’ll only take a minute,” Irving spread his arms and made passes over first the sleeping body, then the new one. Sparks flashed from his fingers, turning into lines of coloured fire as he drew a complex rune pattern in the air. Finally, he brought both hands together, then reached one over to the sleeper, using the other to manipulate the stream of blue light that crackled and burned from the woman’s head, drawing it through the rune and into the empty vessel.
Eventually, the blue light flickered and dimmed, a last, smoky tendril sliding into the remade Annie. Irving closed the rune and turned to her, a light sheen of sweat covering his still-naked body.
“Wake, Annie,” he said softly, snapping his fingers near her ears.
The eyes brightened and the head looked at Irving, then down at its body, then up again, a smile beginning to draw across its face. Her face.
“You did it!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around him.
Irving pulled away and sat on the side of the bed, rummaging pointedly in the drawer of his bedside cabinet.
Annie’s eyes clouded in confusion, “Why is my magic not here? Irving? I can’t feel my magic!”
Irving nodded sadly, still not looking at her, fixed on something in the drawer.
Patterson raised his gun, filled with bullets he realised now were unneeded – she had no magic for them to pierce. But if the spells on them were pointless now, the rounds themselves were plenty capable of doing their job.
“Justinia. Annie, if you prefer. I arrest you in the name of the Lawkeepers. We are peacekeepers of the extranatural and protectors of the mundane. The peace, you have broken, repeatedly, with your crimes. We have more than enough proof to have pronounced your sentence. Death, with no appeal, no trial. If you have last words, my partner will record them, and the file will be placed in the archives as your final testament.”
Annie stared, suddenly lost. Irving, her Irving, had led her to her doom. All the things she’d done, terrible things, losing herself in causing pain and gaining power – both magical and not. Here they were at last, all laid out in her memory. Faces of the dead passed before her panicked eyes.
She looked at Irving, “My love? Help me. We can be together now. I can stop, now. Just get us out of here and we can live all the years we missed.”
Patterson cocked his weapon, “If you have no final words, then it is my duty to carry out the sentence given. Please make any final prayers to any diety you choose. You have ten seconds.”
Irving stood and cast out a hand, “No!”
Something hit Patterson and Shia, pushing them backwards – insistently, but not painfully – and holding them in place.
Annie smiled, “You are helping! Did you want to show these people that they failed? Was that it? You’ll explain it to me, won’t you? Why you brought them here?” her voice was turning desperate as she looked for understanding.
“I will,” Irving levelled a gun at Annie, “Kneel, and I’ll tell you exactly why.”
“Wh-Irving? I don’t understand!”
“Kneel!” Irving commanded, and there was magic in the word that pushed Annie to her knees, holding her there as he held the Lawkeepers off.
“Lawkeepers, record this.”
Shia raised her phone and started a video, “I’m recording.”
“I made you. I made you a witch, and I threw your mind into another person to save your life. What you became…the monster you are now… You try to excuse it. You were in pain. You needed power to look for me. Nothing you say means anything! Not against the things you’ve done. I made you. So it’s my job to unmake you. Lawkeepers, you’ve already given her sentence as death. I am merely your agent. Will you agree?”
Patterson nodded, “I agree. You have the right to carry out the sentence.”
Annie stared at the barrel of Irving’s gun, as she knelt before him, “You don’t have to do this,” she begged, tears falling to her thighs.
Irving looked back, blinking away the tears that stung his eyes. He breathed deeply, aiming the gun at her head, “I wish that were true.”
Irving pulled the trigger three times.
The eyes of the recreated body dimmed again as it slumped to the floor.
The barrier holding back the Lawkeepers dropped, and Patterson bent to Annie’s body. It was a formality that needed to be recorded, and he murmured the time and cause of death into his recording device, leaving Shia to comfort the weeping Irving.
He had searched for a long time. Not as long as she had searched for Irving, but for many years nonetheless. Now, it was over. Just like that. Patterson wasn’t sure what to feel, so they decided to feel nothing. At least, not yet. The mark was dead, the sentence carried out, but there was still the afterwork to be done.
Patterson got to their feet and walked away to call in the cleanup crew. They would give Shia some time to comfort Irving, before they left him to whatever he wanted to do next.
But it was over. After so long. It was done.
They wondered if they would sleep tonight without nightmares.
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