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In which Needle learns what a really bad day is, an old enemy turns up, and we make some new friends.



February 16, 1987

I feel sick still when I think about it, even now that it's all over, no permanent harm done. I should have thought of this. Should have guessed what might happen. It could have been so much worse, so easily.

    Concentrate, Sasha. This story might be ending soon; don't leave it half-told.
    The attacks had me pretty rattled, more so than I actually realized until well after the fact. I wandered anxiously around base, one eye on the ceiling, and finally decided that if I didn't get out of there I'd go nuts. I headed down to the basement and told Phoenix I was going out; I don't think he heard me over the music (at least, he calls it music). I thought about a movie, but sitting still in the dark for a couple of hours wasn't attractive. Eventually I made up my mind to follow through on an earlier decision, and got a tattoo at a place that seemed slightly less grungy than most of them. It's a miracle I didn't make him mess it up, the way I kept jumping at movements outside.
    Don't think I didn't consider a scrolled Arabic seven, but they tattoo ID numbers on animals. I decided on aesthetics over symbology. It's not very big, on my lower right arm where it won't normally be visible, a simple, abstract circular design, like Celtic knotwork. It didn't hurt much, and it's stopped bleeding already.
    At least now they'll be able to identify my body. I spent the rest of the night wandering the city; the weather's gotten better since we took care of Fimbulwinter, and the night has life to it again. I'd never felt so utterly alone and miserable in my entire life.
    At least not until yesterday.
    At dawn I went back to base. Phoenix got up a while later and started going through the papers for mention of himself. His aerial stunt was on the front page; none of the reporters seemed to really understand what had happened, but everyone was happy with the appearance that we were earning our pay.
    There was another article about a vigilante operating in the city, a man who's roughed up a number of criminals over the past few weeks. He's getting more violent with each attack; the previous night's victims had been seriously wounded, with what looked like a knife or claws.
    "You OK?" Talon asked eventually, glancing at me over the edge of the paper.
    "I'm all right," I muttered, staring at my coffee cup, which I noticed I was clutching rather tightly.
    "Get any sleep?"
    "Some." My tone wasn't as pleasant as it could have been; he gave up. I went and called Chandler. He said he didn't have anything planned, I could come right over.
    Dammit, how could I be so stupid.
    I was over the bay when Lucky called, I never did find out what she wanted, since it's not easy to juggle flight and a phone conversation. I told her where I was going and she said she'd meet me there, and a few minutes later I was knocking on that beautiful old door.
    "You look terrible," was the first thing he said. "Want some coffee?"
    "How many cups does this make?"
    "I've lost count."
    "You should try to relax a little."
    Ha. He gave it a good try; we had our coffee in the kitchen and talked for a while, and he told me a little bit about himself. Early on in life he was metaphorically seduced by a Coven recruiter named Luther Kensington and barely managed to get out of their grasp. He makes his living from the stock market these days—precognition comes in quite handy for that—does missing persons and the odd occult investigation.
    From there we went into his sanctum, a room I'd never seen before. The walls are lined with bookshelves full of leather-bound volumes, skulls, candles, stranger items I didn't have time to identify. In the center of a floor a complex magical sign of some sort had been drawn.
    "Sit down. I actually did this for a friend of yours yesterday."
    "Lucky?" It certainly hadn't been Phoenix. "Is she OK?" What sort of memory problems does she have, I wondered.
    "She seems to be," he said, and rummaged for a few minutes until he came up with a candle. I sat down in the middle of the sigil as instructed, and he placed the candle on the floor in front of me. "You can look away at any time, and the memories will stop. Look into the flame." It lit itself.
    I drew a breath and tried to settle myself, looked into the flame. It went out.
    Chandler frowned.

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© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson