Over to Emma...
In 2013 the marvellous Angry Robot books will be publishing three Split Worlds novels, the first is out in March and called "Between Two Thorns". This story is part of a crazy thing I decided to do before I got the book deal and was forging ahead with the project on my own: releasing a new story every week for a year and a day, hosted on a different site every time, all set in the Split Worlds. I wanted to give readers a taste of my kind of urban fantasy and have the opportunity to build in secrets and extra tit-bits for those people who, like me, love the tiny details. It's also been a major part of my world-building work alongside writing the novels.
This is the forty-third tale in the year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here. You can also sign up to get the stories delivered to your inbox, one per week for a year and a day.
This is the concluding part of a three part story: the first part can be read here, or listened to here, the second part can be read here, or listened to here.
A Fair Exchange, Part Three
Faulkner watched the crowd gather outside the house, taking pictures of the Ferrari poking out of the wall with their mobile phones. The inhabitants had fled by the time he'd been briefed and arrived in mundane London, leaving only the evidence of an appalling breach.
Three people lived at the property and the youngest, a six year old boy called Jack, was the most likely cause. When Faulkner arrived he'd wondered if the child had somehow got hold of a Charm to enlarge his toys, but when he broke into the house and surveyed the other contents of the room it was clear it was some other kind of magic gone awry. Up close, it was obvious that the car was a real one rather than a scaled-up toy Ferrari.
"Oh my God!"
A woman's voice cut through the crowd's murmur and he focused on her.
"What the bloody hell happened to my house?"
The mother: thirty-two years old, multiple convictions for petty crimes and soliciting. Reported to social services for suspected neglect but nothing had come of it. She wasn't acting like she had any knowledge of the breach her youngest child was embroiled in, but that wasn't unusual. Parents were often the last to know.
She stared at the damage and then shoved away a couple of people who got too close. A man was making his way through the crowd towards her, one that Faulkner had already spotted as a potential troublemaker.
The mother didn't push him away. Faulkner noted the fear in her eyes when she saw him, the way other people from the street backed away as he got to her. He rested a hand on the back of her neck in a way that suggested familiarity and the potential of violence. There was a brief exchange, the mother started to cry and the man leaned close to speak in her ear. After a tearful nod the mother led him away, hand still on her neck.
Faulkner followed them. There was nothing more to see at the house and the staff plugged into the local police would make sure it wasn't taken further. When it arrived on the internet – as it inevitably would – the Chapter staff would seed explanations to steer people from the truth. It was easy to make people believe in anything but magic in these days of Photoshop and corporate PR stunts.
The mother and her companion walked for less than ten minutes to a leafy gentrified area with expensive cars parked on the street. They stopped outside a house with a space in front of it, suggesting a car parked there overnight had left. The mother led the man to the back door and Faulkner waited until they were out of sight before crossing the street. He took a Listener out of his pocket and prepped it whilst he walked.
The device looked like a hat pin with tiny metal cylinders at one end instead of decorative beads. Once he'd finished winding the top cylinder he pushed the pin into the mortar between two bricks, the minute formulae etched into the metal making it as easy as pushing a pin into putty.
The mother had been banging on the back door. It was unlocked as he put in the corresponding earpiece and went back to the other side of the road.
"Mickey," the man said - presumably the nickname for the eldest daughter; Michaela. "What you been up to you little tart?"
The Listener also picked up a kitchen clock, the snivelling mother and the hum of the fridge freezer but the voice was clear enough.
"Get lost," the girl replied.
"How'd you get that car in your 'ouse?"
"It was the magic marbles!" a child yelled. "Let her go!"
There was the sound of something hard being bashed against a kitchen cupboard. From the way the child was squealing Faulkner theorised it was Mickey's head.
"What Jack said," she croaked.
Who would give an innocent such powerful wish magic? It sounded like Mickey was implicated in the breach too. There was a use for the boy, but the girl? If she showed no promise, he'd have to take the boy and -
"I'll get whatever you want," she sounded frightened now. "Just tell me what it is and I'll get it the same way as I did the car and the rest of the stuff. But I can only get one thing and it has to be something I can get close to."
"If you're lying…"
"I'm not, I swear it. Just tell me what you want and I'll get it."
The girl was definitely involved. Faulkner needed to see what she did before deciding her fate.
"Your Mum stays with me 'till I get what I want. Understand?" There was a pause and then the sound of paper tearing. "There's a cabinet in the main part of the shop with the most expensive stuff in it. I don't care how you do it, but get everything in the cabinet to me and I won't cut your mother."
"It'll take 24 hours."
"I'm sure we can fill the time," the man said. "We meet here same time tomorrow. Now get!"
After retrieving the Listener, Faulkner trailed the children to a jewellers. He watched Mickey carefully, looking for a hint that she could be useful. Having to remove her would involve a lot of paperwork and could make the boy's transition problematic.
Mickey pulled the marble from her pocket and looked down at Jack clinging to the hem of her coat. "This is wrong," she said, putting the marble away again. "There's gotta be another way." She steered Jack away from the shop.
That was all Faulkner needed. He'd take both of them in and the breach would be contained by lunchtime. There was nothing to be done for the mother, but at least he wouldn't have to justify the girl's death to the Chapter Master.
He stepped in front of them and flashed his ID. "My name's Faulkner. You're in possession of an illegal magical artefact. In accordance with the Split Worlds treaty and with the sanction of the Sorcerer Guardian of the Kingdom of Essex, I'm taking you both into custody."
Thanks for hosting, Vicky!
You're welcome Emma, and thanks for sharing your story! Can't wait for Between Two Thorns' release!