“And your crew? How are they, now?”
“Gone, I suppose. Eriko passed into humanity…”
It sat in Cynara’s mind as the days creaked on. Dysmas was in her city. That was bad enough; he was here, walking around, free to do to anyone what he’d done to her…
…to try, at least. Boom Town looked badly on that sort of thing.
And that made her want to chew on nails and spit out bullets, as her father had been fond of saying, once upon a time. But his presence, his physical existence still on the same plane of being as her… that woke up other memories.
Zita’s Keepers – well, Eris had just been crazy, and Shiva was Gone. Howard’s Magnolia, they all knew where she was. Leo had Kept Gabi; they couldn’t lay that mess at anyone’s feet but their own.
Dysmas and Eriko were different, and now they knew where Dysmas was.
It didn’t take her long to Find the scent. It was what she did, and she’d honed her power on far trickier Finds than this (things like find me a plumber who can lay pipe for a whole city, will work for what I can pay, and is willing to move out here to do so). It took her a little longer to decide to follow the scent, and a little bit longer to actually get in the car and drive.
(She still had a car. It still ran, too, although what it burned for fuel was best not asked after.)
She went alone. She didn’t have a Kept right now, and she didn’t want Boom asking what she was doing until she was sure that she, at least, knew what to tell them. She wouldn’t trouble any of the other men in her life with this one, either – because, at the core of things, it was Boom business. And so she went alone, driving well over what had once been a speed limit down roads she Repaired as she went.
(It had not gone unremarked that roads to Boom Town, Cynapolis, were all in better shape than any road even pre-war. But since Boom was expected it to be “out there,” the remarks stayed quiet. All but the most virulently fae-hating fae-haters were wise enough to not take on that particular target.)
She drove east, which did not surprise her, and north, a day and another day. She drove just past the edges of the Web-Watcher’s Den, but did not stop in: They had worked together on occasion, but they never did so comfortably, and if she could avoid Aviv, she would.
The drive took her past the walls of a small town where she’d never been. Not in the town, then – at least, probably not, and even less likely to be in the WebWatcher’s reach. Good. She didn’t want to have to explain what she was doing to anyone, whether they’d been there or not. People had such narrow-minded viewpoints sometimes.
When she Found that she was stopping, it was at a small cottage, set up on the side of a hill. It would be hard to attack – if she was planning on attacking.
Cya wasn’t the take-things-on-headfirst member of Boom. She parked the car and murmured workings before she even set up the car’s wards, checked her weapons and her Mask twice each, even though the wards and workings would hide one and supersede the other, and leaned back to wait.
She didn’t, exactly, have a plan. It occurred to her, as she leaned the car seat back and sipped on something that resembled coffee, that possibly she might have wanted one.
She didn’t have a plan.
She let that sink in as she watched the pathway and as she let the small sense of Finding hold on to Eriko’s location. She had driven here – driven well over a day’s drive, without telling anyone in her crew or her city – without much more than a strong gut feeling.
She had a moment to wonder if this was what being sane felt like. Then her power sent alarms through her, and she slipped out of the car, no longer worrying about such trivial things as sanity.
The Workings on the car and on her kept her looking non-threatening, not-out-of-the-usual (the Workings for the car had gotten progressively stronger over the years, as cars became more and more of an unusual item). Cya leaned heavily on those Workings, murmuring repeats of the Words as she approached her target. Nothing to see here. Nobody unusual. This is normal. No threats here. No threats here.
The Workings felt like a comfortable old coat on her shoulders, well-used and well-known. They’d protected her before, on Finds far less personal than this one. This time…
This time, they served her as a tiger’s stripes. She was in front of Eriko – between the woman and her front gate – before her quarry even knew she was there.
Eriko had aged, had, probably, allowed herself to age. She looked like a woman in her late forties now, or maybe her late fifties – not that bad, when they both had children who were past that mark themselves, but noticeable, when Cya herself looked maybe twenty-five.
She’d liked twenty-five. It had been a good year.
If her power hadn’t been pushing at her, little alarm bells and Found It! signs blinking in her mind, Cya might have had trouble recognizing Eriko. The expression was the same, but with her Mask up, with the wrinkles and the grey in her hair, Eriko looked like so many other survivors of the war – she looked tired, she looked dirty, and she looked haggard.
Cya looked none of those things. She knew it; she had a mirror – she looked clean, almost too clean. She looked young, just young enough that some might still think she was prey until they actually tried it. She looked well-rested, the sign of affluence and strong, tall walls in this day and age. She looked, she knew, like a relic from a safer time.
Of course, for her, the world had never gotten all that dangerous. She’d considered feeling guilty about that, a time or two, but she knew the price that had been paid for that safety.
It still took Eriko a minute – even after she registered Cya’s presence – to recognize her. And then, she seemed to doubt it. “It can’t be. Dysmas’s girl?”
Cya bit back a snarl and smiled instead, but Eriko was still talking. “No. Maybe one of her children.”
“Only ever had sons, and they don’t look like this.” Cya shifted one hip. “And their daughters don’t particularly look like me, either, though one of my grandsons sort of does. Eriko. It’s been a while.”
“It is you.” Eriko’s wrinkled lips twisted in a frown. “I thought your little group settled in Wyoming.”
“We did. I’m on a field trip.”
“How nice. Enjoy yourself.” She shrugged one hip and one shoulder in clear dismissal. How much of her lack of concern was due to Cya’s Workings – and how much was just her own dismissal of a younger student, even if they were both long past student age?
“I plan to. That your property over there?” Cya gestured at the gate behind her.
“What? Yeah, that’s my house, and my yard. The gate is tougher than it… oh.” Eriko started spitting Workings the minute she noticed Cya’s lips moving, but by then it was too late. Cya threw a shield up to deflect the worst of the damage, sent some of it right back through the older woman, and in a moment had tossed her easiest sedation Working at her target.
Two more Workings followed close after, because you couldn’t trust a Working that was effective on 20-year-old boys to work properly on an 80-year-old adult fae. And then three more, because Cynara knew what protective Workings she had on, and assumed that any adult Fae living alone had at least that many, and maybe twice that.
When she was done, Eriko fell limply to the ground, entirely unconscious, not even dreaming, and completely paralyzed. It if were Cya, that would hold for maybe five minutes.
She worked even faster, then, adding the hawthorn bindings she and Magnolia had come up with, the absolutely nasty gag that stopped nine/tenths of fae they’d encountered from even thinking about doing Workings, and some good old fashioned rope, just in case.
She got the unconscious and very-well-trussed-up Eriko into the hawthorn-and-rowan box in the trunk before she stirred, locked the box twice, and was on the way before anyone noticed she’d been there (if her mind Workings checking the area were any indication).
Workings wouldn’t hold for long in the box, but, then again, in the box, they didn’t need to. Cya drove straight and fast, glad, once again, that speed traps and traffic cops were a thing of the past. (There weren’t many institutions from her childhood and early adulthood that she was glad to give up, but she and police had never really gotten along properly).
It wasn’t her plan – inasmuch as she had a plan – to kill the woman, so she stopped after six hours. By then, Eriko was awake, pissed, and, from the burn marks around her mouth, had discovered exactly what she was gagged with and why trying to do Workings was a bad idea.
“Water, food, stretch, pee, back in the car. Try anything at all remotely funny, and there won’t be another break until we get where we’re going.” Some part of Cya wished that she didn’t have this speech memorized. But they’d dealt with unsavory characters before.
“Why…?” Eriko asked the moment the gag was out, and then slammed her mouth shut, as if fearing that was too much.
“I’m cleaning up old scores, that’s all.” Cya passed her the water bottle.
“That was fifty years ago.“
“What can I say? Some wounds take a long time to heal.”
She took the water away, put the gag back in – Eriko barely fought; Cya thought she was in shock – and unwound enough of the restraints that Eriko could use the ancient gas station bathroom and stretch a little.
When she retrieved the woman – Cya would have tried to run, so there were precautions against that, but none of those had been triggered at all – she was waiting quietly, staring at the crumbled remains of a news paper.
The next rest stop was even quieter. Eriko asked no questions. It wasn’t until the fourth stop, home so close that Cya contemplated not stopping at all, that she showed any spark at all.
“I never did anything to you at all, you know. Not like it could have been. Not like it should have been. You were Kept, you got treated like a Kept, and I never understood why you couldn’t just accept that.”
“Why don’t I put a collar around your neck and see how you handle it?” The words snapped out from some old place, some wounded place that Cya had long forgotten about. “Why don’t I treat you like a non-being and see what you do with it? Why don’t I destroy your friends and see how you cope?”
“Do you think I wasn’t collared? Do you think your stupid Dysmas wasn’t collared? Do you think he didn’t suffer, under the collar, when his Change came in? You and your fluffy little friends had it easy.“
For a moment, for a brief moment, Cynara had begun to doubt her course of action.
The sneer on Eriko’s face as she spat out easy wiped that doubt away.
“Easy?” Cya shoved the gag back in place, headless of the way it banged against teeth. Teeth could be regrown. “Easy? I’ve got a ten by ten hawthorn cell to show you easy, bitch. We’ll see how long you last. We’ll see if you come out of it sane, when you’re done.”
The other woman made stifled noises against the gag, but Cya was done talking. “Easy.” The word tasted nasty in her mouth – not as nasty as the hawthorn gag probably tasted in Eriko’s, but sour with the residue of a lifetime of memories. “Easy.” She shoved her captive back in the box and slammed the lid and the trunk. “Easy.”
She found she was still muttering the word when she made it into her city. Easy. Decades of watching her friends, never quite knowing if Leo would come back from this hunting trip, never quite knowing if he’d remember a conversation the next day. Easy. Leo talking to Yoshi about Tethys, and the way his face just sort of shifted. Easy. Year after year after year after… She did not break the steering wheel, but it was a close thing.
Cya had built this city – Boom Town, Doom Town, Cynopolis, it didn’t have a name so much as a handwave and a “that place” – she had built it and thus it was prepared for nearly every eventuality. “People who used to collar us” wasn’t even a hard one – not in terms of planning, at least. For Eriko, Cya had a box.
You could have put Dysmas in a box.
It wasn’t Cynara’s way to second-guess herself… but there were times even she acted out of character.
“I could have.” There was nobody in her backroom garage to hear her except the woman in the box. “I could have put him in a box. I sill could.”
If her crew didn’t deal with him.
She took a couple long breaths.
She could have put Dysmas in a box.
She hadn’t put DYsmas in a box.
Maybe she’d sit down and have a long talk with someone about this… later.
Right now, she had a bitch in a coffin and a cell in the basement.
“Easy.” She dropped the box in the lift and cranked the lift into the sub-basement. “Have you ever seen the shattered remains of the mind you left behind? Easy.“
She took the stairs down – much easier than the jolting trip down the lift – and pulled the gun out before she opened the box. Bullets might not kill an Ellehemaei – not lead bullets, at least – but they hurt like hell and slowed anything down.
Cya remembered what that felt like. Some mornings she still woke up twitching in remembered pain.
Hopefully, Eriko had learned the same lesson. She opened the box with one hand, the gun aimed steadily with the other. “Out of the box and I’ll take the bindings off.”
The other woman moved stiffly, but she moved. Cya unbound her – gag first, that thing was inhumane, and then the rest – one-handed, watching as the room sank in. “It’s hawthorn.” Eriko licked her lips. “You panelled a room in hawthorn.”
“Several rooms, actually. I call it the box, but it’s more of a small apartment. Bedroom, this room, bathroom. You won’t starve, you won’t die.”
“I’ll go mad. Surrounded by this much poison…” For the first time, she really sounded scared. “It would drive anyone nuts.”
Cya found her lips curling upwards. “That was generally the idea, yes. But no hunger, no threats, no cold – it should be an easy life.”
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