122) Dinner

After they placed their order, Sedna shifted slightly in her chair. It wasn’t like she wasn’t used to wearing formal clothing–she’d gone to white-tie and black-tie events before, as the daughter of the First Seer. Her father had been important even before he’d become First Seer, so Sedna had gotten used to these kinds of things early in life.

But the evening gown she wore here seemed unusually… eye-catching, Sedna guessed. She couldn’t remember ever wearing something so tight around the chest–not that she would have been able to tell, she guessed. It was strapless, but the skirt fell all the way back to her ankles.

She’d tired her red hair back into a short tail, and Louise had handled putting makeup on her. Sedna had been glad of that, because she didn’t use makeup that often herself. Once everything had been done, Sedna had looked in the mirror and been surprised at just how good Lin could look, when she made an effort. Or when her parents did, anyway.

Despite that, Sedna had to wonder if Cara Mayer was a bit prettier than Lin. Than Louise, too… almost. That fight was closer.

Louise and Hector looked like they belonged in paintings. Cara looked that way, too, in an understated white dress. When Sedna had seen how dressed-up the Baker family got, she’d worried that they’d be overdressed for the restaurant. But everyone else in the place wore equally fancy clothing. Sedna hadn’t known before that there was a restaurant this expensive anywhere near Oakland Street.

She couldn’t stop glancing at Cara Mayer, the only one at the table she’d never seen before. Cara’s blonde hair and bright blue eyes stood out, and she wore a golden, knotted string, a kind of necklace. It seemed out of place with everything else.

It surprised Sedna that Cara was an angel. She didn’t have any of the saintliness that Sedna had expected, as beautiful as she looked. Cara kept looking off to the side. Sedna swore that she was about to spit, every time, but she stopped herself. Anyway, the conversation stayed pleasant enough, at first.

Louise, Hector, and Cara carried on most of it. Sedna talked only when she needed to, because she didn’t want any of them to notice that she wasn’t Lin. Instead, she focused on the restaurant. The way conversations hummed low, with classical music playing in the background. Sedna could smell the food at the table closest to theirs. She thought it might be good. She couldn’t help eating a few of the rolls, as hungry as she was, and they tasted very good. She stopped herself before she took too many, though.

It felt like Lin might have skipped breakfast, and Sedna hadn’t had any lunch. With all that, just three rolls didn’t come close to filling her. She’d have to wait until the food actually came to have more, though. Cara seemed like the kind of person who would comment if Sedna ate too much.

Sedna watched the waiters going about their business. She felt herself starting to relax. The lights were dim, here, and they played strangely on the ornate green-and-yellow carpet. Cara, Louise, and Hector were all drinking wine. Sedna was used to being the only one not getting drunk. She’d been to dinners like this quite a bit, before. The secret was, they always ended if you waited long enough.

“Lin?”

Sedna glanced over at Cara. She replayed the last bit of the conversation in her head, realized that Cara had just asked what she thought of the place.

“It seems nice,” Sedna said, giving a faint smile. It seemed better than she’d expected, like the food would be very good. It might even compare with some of the restaurants back in Greece. But to say all that would be a blunder. The right thing to do was almost always to understate. “Did you find it, all the way out here?”

Cara tilted her head, bright blue eyes half-closing to study Sedna. “No. I think your parents suggested it.”

“Ah,” Sedna said, shrugging. “Well, they know a lot.” She tilted her head, letting herself smile. “Don’t you wonder when our soup will be out?”

Cara looked even more unsure. Sedna didn’t know why. She was doing her best to be perfectly pleasant.

Cara said, showing her teeth, “Are you hungry, Lindsay?”

Sedna thought she understood the question. It might have been a barbed shot at how Lin hadn’t made herself feed on a human for a while. “Well, I suppose I am,” Sedna said. “Unusual as it is for dinner time…”

A veiled insult earned a veiled insult back. It wasn’t that hard to do. Cara’s smile suddenly looked a few shades more brittle.

Sedna considered poking at her plate to show how little she cared about the exchange. But it might have also looked like she was nervous, so she just sat back and waited. Louise and Hector very smoothly started the conversation rolling again. Sedna noticed Cara looking at her, a few times. It looked like she might want to have some kind of a fight.

Sedna wouldn’t, of course No matter how hard to suffer she got. It wasn’t what Lin would have wanted to do, at all. It was just that, if Cara kept insulting her, the night would drag on and on.

Sedna had somewhat bigger problems, now, of course. She reached out for her glass of water, took a sip. It tasted very clear. She set the glass back down, carefully on the tablecloth. A spill wasn’t the sort of opening she wanted to give Cara.

“…Lindsay’s examination?” Cara said. “The whole thing with the poltergeist…”

“Well,” Hector said, “I’m sure that–”

“It really was quite a blunder,” Cara said, grinning. “Wasn’t it, Lindsay? Not that it’s your fault–you can’t help the way you were raised. Sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far from the trees, you know?”

Sedna glanced up at her. She didn’t have any idea what the angel was talking about. But she knew for sure that it was another insult. Cara was smiling at her like she knew she’d won, this time.

Sedna took a deep breath. She had to. She clenched her hands on the edges of her chair, hidden by the tablecloth and pressed her lips together.

All of that, she had to do to keep from rolling her eyes. Instead, she just smiled, sunnily as she could. “That’s funny,” Sedna said. “My parents always speak so well of you. Just last week, my mother was telling me that you’re one of the best officers Himmel has.”

Cara blinked, the corners of her mouth slowly turning down. Looking closely, Sedna saw her cheeks color.

Insulting people who thought you were great never made you feel like a genius. Sedna had seen Koizumi, from the Amphictyonic Council, take someone down a peg that way at least ten or eleven times.

She had to fight to keep her eyes from rolling, again. She didn’t know how stupid Cara thought she was.

Over Cara’s shoulder, Sedna saw a waitress in a nice white blouse and skirt bringing their soup over. She looked over at it, giving a real smile this time. Maybe she’d actually get to fill her stomach on something solid. First time all day.

#

121) Practice

As George got back to his practice with Kay, he was still worried. They hadn’t gotten to actual sparring, yet, so instead George put Kay through his paces with slashes and parries again.

In swordfighting, the body was divided into four basic quadrants, with a number of different parries. To George, the sword seemed to fit him perfectly, and the parries came as easily as breathing. Or maybe sleeping. Because of years of experience, his muscles knew how to do it all perfectly.

It was a lucky thing. Because of how naturally George could move with a sword, his parries were divorced from the things he was worrying about. Also, he was able to spend most of his focus on Kay’s form, looking for problems, for things to correct.

There were dozens of them. Many of them were too subtle for George to start on now. Others were bigger problems, and more worrying. For one thing, it surprised George how quickly Kay’s arms seemed to get tired.

He’d have to have the boy start lifting weights, maybe. What had he done, during his training as a Knight? George remembered very well that he’d been squire to a man named Sir Petre. He’d insisted on spelling it that way, too. He could remember stories, but not the day-to-day practice. He’d lifted weights… hadn’t he? Maybe Petre had put weights on his sword while he practiced. That seemed more like the old man.

George wondered how Petre was doing today. Maybe he was even still alive.

“Kay,” he said, “angle…”

Kay adjusted it. The adjustment was wrong, so George had to reach out and fix Kay’s angle himself. As he did, one of Petre’s sayings came to him, from nowhere at all. Out of a clear blue sky, though there wasn’t much to be seen of the sky today.

Good bladework is a game of angles. But good living is a game of straight lines. …Petre had said that to remind George to always be honest with people.

It was something George had tried to do. The saying echoed again, through the dim room. George thought he should turn on a lamp. He held up a hand to halt Kay, groped around the room for one.

Kay smelled sweaty. At least he was getting a good workout from all this. Probably, after a few months of this, Kay would start to stand out in his gym class. If only that was how long it would take for his swordplay to develop…

It would be much longer than that. George was acutely aware of that, now, as he watched Kay make mistake after mistake.

Had George made a mistake, today? First, giving the urn to Therese. She’d asked for him to tell her about any magical items he heard about in the area, and this had seemed like a perfect chance to swing their bargain in his favor. Faeries negotiated hard, but they also remembered their debts. Annabel remembered her debt to him from years ago, and in the same way Therese would remember he’d given her the urn at some point in the future.

But it was something that the council… not just the council. It was something that any Knight Protector would condemn him for. The Faerie Court wasn’t an allied power. Giving the urn to a faery had been worse than just leaving it out on the street, for anyone to find. And it was that sort of thing that the council had sent it to him to avoid.

Second… George had lied about it. First to the Librarian, and then repeatedly to Sedna, just now.

He’d had to think a few times about the first lie, and he thought the Librarian might have noticed something strange in the pause. George turned on a light, and had to blink against how it suddenly flooded the room. He started Kay parrying again.

The Librarian hadn’t said anything, though. And then Sedna.

George couldn’t let anyone know what he’d done, giving the urn to Therese. That might be his first clue that he had made a mistake. There were things George could imagine himself doing that he’d have to hide, even from his friends like the Librarian. For instance, his plans. Things where knowing would put them at risk.

George’s practice sword sliced the air as he moved it through the parries. Kay’s sword wasn’t that fast. George watched it carefully, anyway. The fundamentals Kay learned now would build everything else up. A mistake that he made for one hour today might take a long time to fix, a few years from now. George really shouldn’t have been distracting himself.

He found he couldn’t help it, though.

Wasn’t this an acceptable situation? Knowing about Therese, that she had the urn, and about his bargain with her, would have put both the Librarian and Sedna at risk. The less anyone knew about faeries, the better for them.

George tried to think that, for a while. But it was like trying to wear clothes that didn’t fit. They felt uncomfortable, and after a while he had to take them off, switch them for other ones.

No. There wasn’t any point lying to himself now. He hadn’t been worried for the Librarian and Sedna. He’d been worried about how the Librarian would judge him, what the man would think.

And then with Sedna, and, yes, with the Librarian… he’d wondered who else they might tell.

The thought left a bitter taste in George’s mouth. But he knew, this time, that he was right. The clothes fit. And that worried him.

George felt a drop of sweat sliding down his side, underneath his shirt. It was one of the first one’s he’d shed today, though of course Kay smelled like he’d spent all day working on a farm or something.

George couldn’t hold it against him. It meant Kay was trying. George could remember when he’d used to sweat that much. Now, not much short of an actual fight got him to smell like that.

“Faster,” George said, pressing his lips together. He sped up himself, listening to the rapid-fire swish, swish, swish of his sword in the air. “Come on, Kay.”

He saw Kay flag for a second, taking a deep breath. Then Kay’s parried sped up. They smoothed out a bit, too, but the form became terrible. George grit his teeth, biting the edge of his tongue.

Maybe he should have said something to someone. Maybe he shouldn’t have given the urn to Therese. But he couldn’t take any of that back now. And he didn’t think he’d given the faery the urn for an of the wrong reasons.

Whatever Sedna wanted the urn for, it was probably better that she didn’t have it. George thought it would be better, anyway. He didn’t trust anything that she got up to–her or almost any other oracle. They all thought they knew better than they did. Every one George had met. And Sedna more than others.

He didn’t trust her. She had to have something to do with Therese Ruethilde. She was the one the faery had told him to try to push Kay toward. Luckily for George, that had failed.

He sped up his sword again. “Faster.”

He saw Kay sucking breath in through his teeth. Kay’s sword started to swish, too. There wasn’t anything like from to it anymore. He was parrying in generally the right directions. George knew that he should slow down again to fix the mistakes, but… he realized he was angry.

He needed to work it out, himself. And now that he wasn’t swinging the sword in slow motion, he felt himself starting to calm again.

How many people had he really lied to today? Maybe he should give himself one lie for every complete year he’d spent without lying. He had enough of those–fifteen or twenty, ever since he’d taken his oaths as a Knight.

And his streak had ended tonight. Of course. Thinking that, George made himself go even faster. He wanted to tell Kay to speed up, too. Instead, he took control of himself, swept the sword neatly to his side, and stopped. “Kay. Halt.”

Kay stopped, but the momentum of his arms threw him off-balance. He stumbled sideways. Watching him, George frowned. Kay was starting off better than even George had, God knew. But that didn’t mean he’d be ready.

Not for a long while. The problem was, it was starting to look like he needed to be ready now. But George had already promised himself that he wouldn’t let things move that fast.

However long it took, until Kay was ready to defend himself, George would look out for him. He’d promised both himself and Margaret, after all.

With that, as George took a few steps backward, shifting his practice sword around in his hands, he felt the weight slide all the way off his shoulders.

Compared to the oath he’d made, to himself and Margaret, the weight of a lie or two was nothing at all. He looked Kay up and down. He could tell the boy was too tired to go on, tonight. Probably his blood was pumping, after the last little exercise.

George had probably pushed him too hard. He heard rain starting outside, tasted a little bit of his own sweat.

“That’s all for tonight,” George said. He moved to place the practice sword in the corner. “Make sure you get the rest of your homework done before you go to bed.”

Kay sagged off to the side, stumbling over to sit down on the couch. He slumped against it, looking like he wanted to lie down. His eyes closed immediately.

George frowned. “Kay. You didn’t put your sword away. And you’re too sweaty to sit on the couch. Go get a shower, why don’t you?”

In response, Kay only groaned.

George looked at how limp his arms were. Kay rubbed at his right arm with his hand, grimacing with closed eyes. George thought that really might be a problem. What was the solution…?

He could remember more clearly how Petre had toughened him up. It had been a heavier blade. That made more sense to George, anyway. Weights it would be.

#

120) Going “home”

Sedna talked with Mr. Schwartz a bit more. But they didn’t come to any conclusions. All she found was that there were a few options. Maybe George was lying about the urn for Kay’s sake, or maybe the focus was something other than the urn. Maybe the urn wasn’t the one the Librarian thought it was, it didn’t belong to the man with the consonant-loaded name.

By the time she thought to check a clock, it was already two minutes past the time she’d agreed to meet Lin.

That was why Sedna was running through the fog, now. She’d have to apologize. As she went, Lin’s cell phone started to ring, the grainy version of ‘Always’ playing out into the night. Sedna didn’t mind the tune, although it certainly didn’t leave Lin any room to laugh about the song Sedna used for her cell phone. She took a breath at that, trying to calm herself down.

She held her umbrella toward the ground, since it wasn’t raining. It trailed against the concrete sometimes, with a scratching that Sedna could feel. She didn’t answer the phone, because she was almost there. She turned to fly up a driveway, and saw Lin resolving out of the fog.

Lin’s face was dead white. Sedna wished it was an expression she’d never seen on her own face, but the truth was she had seen it. More than a few times. Normally it had had to do with faeries, though. Christa had made her look at herself in a mirror, sometimes.

Lin held a cell phone, looking down at it. “Time?” she said.

Sedna blinked. “My phone should be right,” she said. “I mean–”

“Oh, God, no…” Lin said. She backed away, leaning against the Librarian’s garage door. She fell to sitting there, closing the cell phone. “Almost six o’clock.”

She looked bad, and all Sedna could smell was nervousness, fear. She wondered what Lin had learned from George. Whatever it was, it had to be bad. Maybe the pieces of the urn were scattered to the four corners of the Earth, or something. “What–’

“The dinner with Cara Mayer,” Lin said. “It’s at 6:30. You have to get to my house now, to get ready and make it there.”

Sedna blinked. “Oh. …That’s all?”

“What do you mean, that’s all? That’s a disaster!”

The wind kicked up behind them, harshly enough that Sedna heard the difference. It brought rain, and she brought up the umbrella without thinking. She felt a bit… annoyed, really.

Everything Lin worried about kept coming back to this stupid dinner. It was as if Lin had forgotten that they had a real problem. “What did George tell you, though?”

“The pieces of the urn are in the mail to Istanbul, and there’s no way he can get them back.”

Sedna blinked. This time, it felt like she would fall to her knees. And Lin, that stupid, cinnamon-roll looking idiot… why hadn’t she thought to say this first? Sedna’s mind worked. She tried to make it work faster. “Th-then… we’ll have to go through diplomatic channels. Contact my father in the Delphian Order, and get him to request the pieces of the urn from the Knights of the Shield. If we can get it that way, then we’ll be able to have Mr. Schwartz–or, what am I saying. We can bring in an expert, and–”

“I don’t care about that!” Lin said. “Th-the dinner…!”

Sedna paused. Lin looked honestly horrified of it. It really did seem to be a bigger problem for her than the consciousness bridge. It didn’t make any sense to Sedna. But it was something she’d have to calm Lin down about–otherwise things would just get harder from here.

She stepped forward, crouching down to look Lin in the face. Her eyes were closed, so Sedna couldn’t look there. “Lin,” she said, “I promise you, I’ll get you through the stupid dinner alive. Okay? I know table manners. Probably about as well as you do. I’ll take my cues from your parents, and I’ll try not to offend the stupid angel too much. It can’t possibly go that badly.”

Lin’s eyes opened. If there was any hope in it, it was just the faintest spark. Hard for Sedna to see. “You don’t know Cara Mayer,” she muttered.

Sedna held the umbrella up over both their heads. “No,” she agreed, “I don’t. Is there time for you to tell me anything? Or do I have to get going?”

“You’d… better…” Lin closed her eyes again, breathing in and out. “I suppose you’d better go.”

“Then you should get inside the Library and rest. Or take a walk, or something.” Sedna stood up. “You look like you’re going to drop over sideways, Lin. Just try your best to stay calm.”

“I’ll try. But…” Lin made a sound.

Sedna shrugged. She stood up, holding the umbrella and smoothing her skirt.

The backpack was a light weight behind her. It didn’t feel like much. Although Sedna happened to know that Lin had half her textbooks in there. Sedna started down the street, headed for the Baker house. Where Louise and Hector were probably waiting for her.

Sedna wasn’t looking forward to meeting them again. But the monster, the thing inside of her, was still hungry. It wondered what the odds were that it would get to eat this time, and it felt vaguely excited.

Sedna had never experienced a split like this before. It only added to her discomfort. She walked to Lin’s house through the rain, not looking back to see what Lin was doing. She’d get inside out of the rain eventually. Sedna was sure. She was at least smarter than a turkey.

Sedna smiled, resisting the urge to laugh. She shifted from a walk into a run, thinking there wouldn’t be any sense keeping the angel waiting. She was expecting the dinner to be extremely annoying. From what Lin had been saying, Sedna would be disappointed if everything turned out normally.

But Sedna had handled difficult people before. Cara Mayer couldn’t be that different.

#

119) Negotiation

Mr. Schwartz had said that, if the focus was broken, the spell should have been broken, too. He’d seemed sure of it. After that, Sedna hadn’t been able to help asking for a glass of water.

She drank it all at once. It tasted like dust had settled on the glass, but Sedna didn’t really care. She refilled it out of a pitcher Mr. Schwartz had had sitting somewhere in the back of the room. Probably, the pitcher had seen some use tonight already. Given how raspy his voice was, it would see more. The thing had sharp, crystalline edges, and it shone in the candlelight.

“George Franks was the one who said the urn was broken,” Sedna said, before she started on the second glass of water. “I doubt he was lying to us.”

“Then that wasn’t the real focus,” Mr. Schwartz said. “That’s all there is to it. If the focus were broken, the spell would be too.” He thumped his hand on the table, emphasizing the point.

As he did, some of Sedna’s water spilled onto her skirt. She pressed her lips together, frowning. Mr. Schwartz apologized, and she shook her head. “Nothing you did,” she said. “It’s just… the Librarian was the one who found out about this urn. So I think that’s reliable information.”

“You don’t think he was mistaken,” Mr. Schwartz said.

Sedna shook her head. Some of Lin’s red hair got into her eyes as she did, and it distracted her. Still, it seemed strange to her that she had red hair. That was hard to get around. “I don’t think so.”

“Well, it has to be one or the other, as far as I can see,” Mr. Schwartz said. “And I don’t believe George Franks would tell a lie.”

“How well do you know the Librarian?” Sedna asked.

“Not too well. I’ve gone to study there, but I don’t think anyone knows him too well.”

“Right. But have you ever seen him work?”

Mr. Schwartz shook his head.

“Then you wouldn’t know. The thing is… he doesn’t make that many mistakes.”

“Well…” Mr. Schwartz frowned. He stood up from his chair, crossing the room toward his rack of glasses. Sedna heard rain starting to strike the windows and the roof. “It’s possible that the urn George showed me really was a magic item that could make a consciousness bridge. In fact, its resonances don’t rule that out. But…”

Sedna watched him, nodding like she had any idea what that meant. She thought she understood magic better than a lot of people, but master wizards understood things on a different level.

Anyway, she knew what he was saying. “You think it might not be the same thing that switched us?”

“There’s that possibility,” Mr. Schwartz said, taking a glass down. “And we can’t rule it out.” He brought it back over and picked up the pitcher to fill it. He watched it, and Sedna did, too. The water seemed to swim in the glass. The glass was a fancy, squat thing. A few fingers of whisky, or some kind of alcohol, would have looked more at home in it. The water picked up particles of dust. He glanced at her. “What do you think?”

Sedna looked at her lap, took a sip of water. She didn’t know what to say. Wasn’t that why she’d come to Mr. Schwartz–so he could tell her what he thought? It was annoying that he was asking her, now. Still, she made herself try to think about it. The air of the room, with papers and books everywhere, and the smell of dust, distracted Sedna a bit. Then again, it did remind her of the Library. If the Library had been a miniature room.

“I don’t think the Librarian would make a mistake… and I only see a very narrow chance that George would lie,” Sedna said. “Like you said, I think it might be a third option. But do you really believe this urn of Krwyll, or whatever it’s called, doesn’t have anything to do with it?”

“Let’s stop there for a second,” Mr. Schwartz said. He stopped, gulped down some water that’d already been in his mouth. He raised a hand. “You’re saying there’s a narrow chance that George Franks would lie. I know George, and I’ll tell you that there’s no chance that he lied. Either to you, or to the Librarian. He wouldn’t do that. The urn is in pieces, now–we can be sure of that.”

“Sorry, sir,” Sedna said, “but I think that you’re wrong.” She sipped at her water. It tasted dusty again. Just like she’d thought.

“I’ve known George for longer than you’ve been alive.” Mr. Schwartz shook his head, clicking his glass down on the desk. “I’m telling you–he would not–”

“He would,” Sedna said, “if it were to protect his son from something.”

Mr. Schwartz paused, fingers still on the glass. A troubled look came over him. After a second, he nodded. “…Yes… you’re right.”

#

“Therese Ruethilde,” Lin said. Her hands were still folded in her lap. She clenched them together, trying to relieve some tension. It didn’t do much. It just hurt. “Wh-what do I have to do with…”

“Therese Ruethilde,” George said. “I hope I didn’t stutter. Are you her ally? Or servant? I hear it’s the fashion among faeries to keep strange kinds of pets, these days…”

Lin blinked. “I don’t…” She hesitated.

Lady Therese Ruethilde was the new faery on Oakland Street. Lin knew that much, though she’d only learned it recently. But that was all she knew. Whether Sedna had any connection to her, Lin didn’t know.

She certainly doubted it. One thing Lin had learned about Sedna was that she was terrified of faeries. Probably because of something that had happened in her past, but as far as Lin was concerned, she thought it was a reasonable attitude to have.

But she couldn’t be sure what Sedna knew about Therese, or what George had seen. The question had caught her unprepared. So she was at a disadvantage.

“What?” George said.

But the real question isn’t ‘what is the truth,’ Lin thought. The real question is ‘what would Sedna want to tell George?’ Thinking that, she knew what she had to say. “I don’t have any connection. I do know her name, though.” Lin took a shot in the dark. “Maybe I should be asking you what your connection with the faery is…?”

George looked away. “I don’t have one either.”

“That’s good,” Lin said, smiling across the table. “It looks like neither one of us has anything to do with Therese Ruethilde.”

George didn’t say anything. His eyes narrowed a bit. As she watched him, Lin wondered if this was the way Kay would grow up. George was gentlemanly, very brave. He was definitely honorable. But… Lin wouldn’t want that.

“So what does Therese Ruethilde have to do with the Urn?” Lin said. She glared at George, now, tilting her head to let her black hair fall back. She felt some of it against her neck. Her own hair fell past her neck, of course, but not as far as Sedna’s. In Lin’s own body, she’d considered dying her hair black, sometimes. But she hadn’t thought it would work too well with her eyes.

It was fine for Sedna. Lin hoped she looked threatening, but in Sedna’s body she wasn’t entirely sure how. She was probably doing well enough. She saw George closing his eyes, visibly composing himself.

It was raining outside. Lin could hear it, though she didn’t know exactly when it had started. Her ears weren’t too good as Sedna. Her ears were only one thing. It still made Lin uncomfortable that she couldn’t smell anything coming off of George.

Well, not completely uncomfortable. Lin couldn’t always smell people, after all. Only in the last few months had she really started to be able to all the time. It wasn’t like something she’d been getting used to for her entire life. It was much easier to ignore that than it was to ignore the fact that all her limbs were shorter now.

Since she couldn’t smell him, Lin kept an eye on George, waiting to see if he’d give anything away. He didn’t, though. When he opened his eyes, his face was calm again. If slightly tired-looking.

“I don’t believe the urn has anything to do with Lady Ruethilde,” George said. “It’s just something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“You did that.”

“…Yes, I suppose I did.”

“So can we talk about the pieces of the urn, now? You’re driving me crazy, Mr. Franks…”

“Sorry for that.” He smiled faintly.

Lin matched it, leaning back in her chair. She didn’t think she’d be able to just smile the pieces out of him–she didn’t think she could have done that, even back in her own body. George was strangely resistant to things like that. Still, she had the feeling that nothing could hurt. Her mouth tasted a bit dry. How long had it been since she’d had anything to drink, anyway?

Lin brought her folded hands up to lay them on the table. “So. The pieces of the urn. I need them–but, believe it or not, it’s fine for me if you just deliver them to Mr. Schwartz. They never even have to be in my hands.”

“Will?” George said. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “You’ve gotten Will in on… some scheme of yours? Tell me, what’s going on?”

“I can’t tell you that. It’s like you said, we’re not allies. Would you tell me every detail of a plan you were working on?”

“Would you give me a magical item?”

“Pieces of a magical item. Just give them to Mr. Schwartz. I believe you were considering doing that in the first place–isn’t that right?”

“Well…” George said. He looked down, at his lap. His voice came quieter than Lin expected, hard to hear above the rain as it started pounding harder. Lin glanced at the door to the kitchen, wondering if she’d see any sign of Kay listening in on the conversation.

Of course, she could have smelled it, if–Lin shook her head. She still had a lot to think about, she knew. What about the person her parents had brought home for her? It was sweet of them, but Lin still didn’t know if she could bring herself to eat. Of course, the longer she left it off the more dangerous it’d become.

She wondered if Cara would have passed her, if she’d known about this. Probably not, knowing Cara.

“I’m afraid I can’t do it,” George said, “even in that case. Tell Will that I don’t have the pieces anymore.”

“If you don’t have them,” Lin said, “where are they?”

“In the mail back to Istanbul,” George said. “There’s no way for me to get them now, I think.”

Lin suppressed the urge to swear. She didn’t think it was what Sedna would have done. Instead, she bit her lip. Hard enough that it hurt, though. That was something Sedna would have done, as far as Lin knew.

Dammit, she thought.

They couldn’t afford to have lost the urn. If it really was the focus, they would need it. “Is there any way you can get it back from them?”

“No,” George said. “Probably never. You’d better forget about it.”

Lin stood up from the table. “Then why did you waste my time with this conversation? Idiot.” That time, it felt satisfying. The word tasted strange in her mouth–it wasn’t something Lin was in the habit of saying. But now, having the pleasure of insulting George, she could kind of see what Sedna liked about it.

“Sorry to waste your time.” George leaned back. Closing his eyes, he looked even more tired. “I really am sorry. If I had known that anyone on Oakland Street could use the urn, I never would have sent it back to Istanbul.” He laughed quietly.

Lin shrugged her shoulders. She turned to look for a clock, and found one on the oven. It read: 5:45 p.m.

She blinked. She’d felt like only half that had passed, though she had been very focused on the talk with George. Maybe time had just flown. Now she had to get back to the meeting with Sedna, before Sedna got worried. She didn’t know if she could make it on time. “I have to go,” she said. “Bye.”

“Goodbye.” George stood up, chair creaking. Lin didn’t have time to see where he would go, though it was probably back to his lesson with Kay. She ran for the front hallway, saw that Kay hadn’t moved from his spot. Well, he had. He was leaning against the wall, now, instead of the practice sword. But it was the far wall from the kitchen. It didn’t look like he’d been trying to listen.

His eyes flicked open, and he looked toward Lin. He half-closed his eyes again, looking uncertain.

In the time Lin had spent talking to George, it looked like Kay had managed to catch his breath again. That was probably the only good thing that had come of it, in the end, though. Kay’s black hair was still matted with sweat, though, his t-shirt soaked.

Even though she was in Sedna’s body, Lin couldn’t help looking. She stared for a second before she was able to make herself turn around and put on her shoes.

Probably, that had been a big waste of time. From what she’d seen, Kay was still steeling himself for some kind of insult. It wasn’t something Lin could make herself deliver, though, so she’d have to let him go without one.

She managed to get both her shoes on. If she looked back at Kay, she’d probably wind up staring again. So she had to move on quickly. Lin started for the door.

“Sedna,” Kay said, “I actually had something to say–”

“No time,” Lin said. It was more terse than she ever would have considered being with Kay, normally. But she couldn’t let herself talk to him, now. He would notice something was wrong.

Lin unlocked the door, drew it open, and ran out into the fog. It made it hard to see where she was going, but she knew her way by instinct. The Librarian’s garage. They’d left it closed behind them, though.

#

118) Broken Urn

Mrs. Schwartz let Sedna into the house again. She didn’t seem to be working in the kitchen anymore. This time, she said that it might be a while before Mr. Schwartz could see her–he was teaching his apprentices.

Sedna had known he had apprentices. But hearing that really drove it home. Mr. Schwartz must be a master, as young as he was.

She asked Mrs. Schwartz to at least let Mr. Schwartz know she was there. Sedna thought that he would agree to see her. He knew how serious Lin’s and her situation was. She hoped he would be willing to take a break from teaching his apprentices to hear what she had to say.

Mrs. Schwartz left Sedna in the front hallway, with a cookie. Sedna nibbled at it, and it tasted good. But mostly, it just reminded her that she hadn’t had anything to eat all day. Real food, or… well. She didn’t want to think about the other thing. Except, she knew no amount of real food would have begun to touch that hunger.

Sedna leaned against the wall, took her shoes off. She sighed, rubbing at her forehead. She heard it starting to rain outside, again. She wondered if Lin had made it through the rain all right. Probably, she’d gotten soaked. Maybe Sedna should have offered her the umbrella.

She tapped her foot. The inside of the Schwartz house was nice and warm. But it did seem kind of… empty. Sedna knew that the Schwartzes lived with their child. Now that she thought about it, he was probably one of the apprentices. …Kevin Schwartz. Sedna hadn’t heard too much about him. Or, she didn’t know too much. She had math class with him, and he always seemed to know what he was doing. Of course, she understood that math was very important for wizards. Sedna had gotten the impression he was as bored with the class as she was.

She heard feet on the stairs as Mrs. Schwartz came back down. She met Sedna in the entrance. She looked as friendly as she had before, but she smelled a bit surprised.

“Will says you should come right up, Lindsay. He’s giving the boys a break.”

Sedna smiled. “Thank you, Mrs. Schwartz.” She walked past, headed for the stairs. As she left, she could feel Mrs. Schwartz’s eyes on her back, digging into the back of her head through her red hair. What she smelled surprised her. Still, Mrs. Schwartz was confused–with a hint of hostile suspicion.

Did Mrs. Schwartz think… well, Lin was a succubus, but… but, Mr. Schwartz was a wizard. There was no way a master wizard would fall under a succubus’s spell. Not easily.

Mrs. Schwartz probably knew that, too. She just couldn’t help being suspicious of Lin.

It must have been hard for Lin, Sedna guessed. People all over the supernatural world probably felt the same way. So Lin probably had trouble like this all the time. It would rarely amount to anything, but for instance, over time… it might make a relationship with Mrs. Schwartz strained.

From the outside, Sedna had thought that it might be a relatively easy life, being a succubus. But she wasn’t so sure, now.

She moved up the stairs, headed for Mr. Schwartz’s room. Whoever the apprentices were, she was glad that she’d be able to give them a break. As Sedna moved into the upstairs hallways, she saw two boys coming out and wandering across a hall. One of them she recognized immediately as Kevin Schwartz. The other one, though she knew his face… well, she was fairly sure his name was Mitchell something.

He turned to look at her, and he was immediately glaring. His hands clenched into fists. He had a notebook under his arm, Sedna saw, and a pen behind his ear. He smelled strange–soaked with sweat. It looked like he’d been having a hard time with his lesson, today.

Sedna glared back at him, wondering what his problem was. She remembered a second later that he always seemed to have a problem with Lin. Probably, he was another one of the ones who had a crush on her and didn’t want to admit it. It wasn’t a problem for Sedna, just for him. “Kevin,” she said with a nod. She turned to Mitchell. “Whatever-your-name-is. I didn’t have you pegged for a wizard.”

“I’m an apprentice,” Mitch said, his hands tightening as he made fists. “I’m going to be a wizard.”

“In twenty or thirty years,” Sedna said. “If that.”

“I-I’m making good progress!” Mitch said.

“So that means twenty years,” Sedna said. “Tell him, Kevin.” She started walking past him, clasping her hands behind her back. Honestly, twenty years was about as much time as she should have taken training to become an oracle. Instead, because of the Pythia’s decree, she’d been taken out of her training early and sent out on missions instead. The Pythia. Thinking that, for some reason, brought back the taste of the cookie. Sedna had thought it was good at the time. Now it seemed bitter.

She felt Mitch still glaring at her. He smelled much more openly hostile than Mrs. Schwartz had. That made Sedna reconsider, a bit. Maybe he didn’t have a crush on Lin, and he actually thought he could blame her for something. Whatever it was, it probably wasn’t actually Lin’s fault.

Not that Sedna knew anything about it–it was just that this Mitchell person rubbed her the wrong way. The carpeted floor in the hallway was soft against her socks, but Mitch kept glaring at her, as far as she could tell. She seemed to be attracting those today. Kevin Schwartz just smelled worried. Sedna couldn’t tell, but she thought he felt like he should apologize.

It looked like there were still some decent people around here. Sedna stepped into Mr. Schwartz’s study, the same room where she’d come with Lin earlier to talk about the consciousness bridge.

The room was as thick with dust as it had been before, so that even breathing the air felt heavy. It was dark in the fading light, except for a few candles Mr. Schwartz had lit. One of them dripped wax on his desk, standing tall in a candlestick. He sat next to it, lit up by it, the few streaks of black in his hair glittering with the light. His wrinkles were deep. “Lindsay Baker. Or should I say Sedna Holloway?”

Sedna winced. “Please, sir, at least let me close the door first.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry.”

His voice was as raspy as Sedna remembered it. More, even. Maybe the afternoon spent talking to his apprentices had worn it out. She turned around, closing the door behind her. It clicked gently into the frame. Sedna wouldn’t have put it past that Mitchell to try to listen in.

She turned to Mr. Schwartz. “The focus–”

“Have you found the focus?”

“Maybe,” Sedna said. “We think it might be something called the Urn of Krzygzy… umm… it’s an urn. Something George Franks had.”

Mr. Schwartz’s eyebrows rose. “Wh-why. How about–I mean, that was in my office earlier today! If that’s all it is, then we can–”

“We tried to get it from Mr. Franks,” Sedna said, “but he says that it’s broken.”

Mr. Schwartz looked like he didn’t believe it.

#

As Lin stepped past the living room, she saw what all the smell of sweat was from. Kay stood there, leaning on a practice sword, his face flushed. He looked like he’d been having a hard time. He was soaked with sweat, and George… George looked like he might have sweated. A few drops.

Lin stopped herself from looking at Kay for too long, and she brushed past him, following George into the house with an impassive look.

The Franks house always seemed homey to her. Though Kay and George lived alone, George kept the place very neat. Lin stepped out of Sedna’s shoes next to the door and followed George in, past the living room to the kitchen.

She thought she saw Kay stiffen as she passed. Maybe Kay was expecting some kind of joke. Well, Lin couldn’t go that far. But she would completely ignore him. And–and it was a good thing, anyway. Since her time was running out.

Watching George walk, Lin thought she saw a slight limp. Maybe he was still hurt from the werewolves, but there was a chance it was something else. He seemed like the type who got into a lot of fights, for justice and things like that. Lin couldn’t understand why.

She wished she could just tell him that she had had her body switch with Sedna because of the urn. If she could get him to believe that, she knew for certain that he would try to help them. But the problem was, of course, he was exactly the type of person who couldn’t help telling her parents about it.

There wouldn’t be anything Lin could do, then. So she needed to come up with another reason to want the urn, and she had to do it quickly enough that George wouldn’t notice something was wrong.

“I think I’ve said before,” Lin said, “but the Delphian Order and the Knights of the Shield are allies. You know that, right?”

“Yes. I am aware.” George lowered himself into a chair, heavily putting his weight on his hands. “That doesn’t mean you and I are allies, though. Which I believe I have said before.” He grunted a bit as he sat down. He sounded tired.

The training Maybe he had, to Sedna. Lin didn’t know. She’d heard Sedna saying the other thing to George. But he couldn’t seem to get it through his skull. They could have been friends, Lin thought.

She didn’t know anyone who George was too friendly with, really. She’d seen him with the Librarian, but he didn’t seem to be completely comfortable with the Librarian. He talked with him, but Lin couldn’t imagine him going somewhere to eat with the Librarian, or playing chess with the Librarian, or doing… anything, really, where they weren’t acting in their professional roles as a Knight and Librarian.

Lin could tell that George had mutual respect with a lot of people. Mutual respect didn’t equal friendship. From her perspective, it seemed like a sad life. She sat down in a chair, across from George. It was fairly comfortable. She folded her hands, trying to look the way Sedna would have done. In a strange echo from earlier in the day, Lin tasted mayonnaise. She shook her head, tracing the wood grain on the table with a finger.

George would probably speak first. Anyway, Lin needed more time to think.

George did start, though he didn’t give her the time she needed. “Tell me what you want with the urn,” he said, “and then we can talk. Although, to be frank with you, I don’t see very much possibility that I’m going to give the broken pieces to you.”

“I don’t see much possibility either,” Lin said, tilting her head back. “After all. From what you almost said earlier, I understand you don’t actually… have them.”

George’s poker face didn’t slip. Lin had almost expected it to. She knew him a bit too well, though. He rubbed at his chin, clean-shaven. Lin thought he’d had some kind of stubble there the last time she’d seen him.

“I may or may not have the pieces. But if you think I don’t, why are you talking to me?”

“Because even if you don’t have them, you know where they are.”

George frowned slightly. He leaned back, chair creaking softly underneath him. “I can see why you would think that, I suppose.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

That told Lin, for sure, that it was something. But she thought she’d probably have a hard time getting George to talk about it. She smelled the air, only picking up a hint of sweat from the living room and the clean, pleasant smell of the kitchen. She frowned, wondering if he wasn’t feeling anything at all.

Of course, she didn’t have her own sense of smell right now. As she remembered that, Lin felt herself trying to blush. She kept it under control without much trouble. As she did, she remembered seeing Sedna earlier. It had been funny to see that kind of uncontrolled blushing on her own face. It wasn’t something Lin often got to see in the mirror.

“Is something funny?” George said.

Lin blinked, forcing her face smooth. Back into her impression of Sedna. The only reason Sedna would have laughed, then, was if she was about to make fun of George. That meant this was a good time to press.

Lin couldn’t use Sedna’s third eye. Well… she couldn’t do it and stay sane. So she wasn’t going to try. But George didn’t know that, as far as Lin could tell. “It’s nothing. But I can tell you don’t have the pieces.”

She saw him frowning at her. His expression was more troubled than she’d expected. What she’d thought was, if he didn’t have the urn he would know that she knew, and if he did he would want to go check on it now that an oracle had said he didn’t. He might suspect it was stolen.

Either way, Lin would gain an advantage. But it looked like she might have gained more of one than she thought.

“…Look,” George said. The front legs of his chair hit the ground, and he crossed his arms, leaning slightly across the table. Behind his silver-rimmed glasses, his eyes were hard. And cold enough that Lin almost shivered.

What he said next did make her shiver.

“What do you have to do with Therese Ruethilde?”

#

117) Foot in the door

The focus. Had it really been that urn? Sedna didn’t remember touching any pots. Though, of course, the Librarian had found it. According to Lin, the Librarian’s books said this artifact could make consciousness bridges. Since the Knights had shipped it to George, here on Oakland Street, Sedna believed it had to have something to do with what’d happened to them.

It was too complicated for her to wrap her mind around. What little she’d read about things like this hadn’t mentioned anything about what would happen if the focus broke. She just had to trust that Mr. Schwartz would know.

Sedna had a bad feeling, though. She didn’t know why. But, ever since the first time she’d seen the future, through the hundreds of times she’d practiced it as a novice and apprentice, Sedna had developed a kind of intuition.

Though she couldn’t open her third eye anymore, the feelings hadn’t left her. Right now, for instance.

She felt like her hearing that the urn had broken was the first step on a road that was leading to some even bigger disasters. She felt a sense of foreboding, as if there were already stormclouds swirling above her head, and not just thick rain.

Despite all the smell of thunder, at least Sedna couldn’t hear any of it, or see lightning. She wouldn’t have wanted to walk through an actual storm.

She shivered a bit. Knock on wood, she thought, as she hurried toward Mr. Schwartz’s house. She just didn’t have any wood handy.

#

One hour. That was all Lin had given herself. In that time, she had to track down George Franks and talk to him about the urn. She had to get the pieces of it, either from him or from wherever he’d left them.

It wasn’t impossible to do in an hour, but she’d have to move. And Lin hoped she wouldn’t run into Kay on her way to talk with George. As Sedna, she’d have to pretend to hate Kay. That wasn’t something she was completely sure she could do.

Lin didn’t walk to the Franks house. She ran. Especially because Sedna didn’t have anything like an umbrella. For an oracle, Lin thought, she was sure underprepared for the weather. Before she made it all the way there, Lin felt water soaking through her long hair, matting it down. It also soaked through her blouse and skirt. Luckily for Sedna, she didn’t have any breasts to speak of, so she didn’t have as much to worry about.

Lin pressed her lips together. Sedna might not be that strong, but she was fit. Lin didn’t get tired, even after sprinting half the street. She had something like the taste of sweat in her mouth, though. She reached Kay’s doorstep, knowing he was probably inside the house.

What would she say to him? Now, as Sedna? It would probably be best if she ignored him and didn’t say anything at all.

She didn’t know what Kay had done to Sedna. She could understand that Sedna might not like him, but to actively push him away…

Lin shook her head. Now that she was at the door, she didn’t know what to do. Should she knock on the door? Or call in and try to get George to answer? The last time Lin had come here, Kay had been in and George hadn’t. That would be the worst-case scenario, right now.

Lin reached into her belt pouch, taking out Sedna’s cell phone to check the time. She saw that five or six minutes had passed. The cell phone said 4:55 p.m., now. She sighed, reaching up to ring the doorbell. She pressed the button.

“One second,” a voice said. A deeper voice than Kay’s. It was George. Lin settled back on her feet, relaxing a bit. It looked like she wouldn’t have to deal with Kay, this time. She stared at the door, hearing George moving around behind it.

In the couple of seconds she had, Lin slid into her Sedna impression. She forced a flat look onto her face, frowned at the door, set one hand on her belt pouch. She didn’t want George to find out that anything was wrong. Of course, she expected him to want to know why she needed the shards of the urn. She guessed she’d need to come up with some kind of plausible lie. What would he believe?

It was funny, but Lin didn’t know whether he would even believe the truth. He didn’t know what the urn did, personally, as far as she knew.

She still stared at the door as it swung open. On the other side, through a crack, she could see George Franks. His tall, solid frame and his black hair. He had one hand at his temple, holding his glasses on. His black hair sat neatly combed back. He wouldn’t look half bad, if he didn’t always seem like he was suspicious something evil was going on. His face was too hard to really be handsome.

Then again, maybe he only looked that suspicious when Lin was around. She had no way of knowing. Though she would after today. Sadly, most of the time he seemed as suspicious of Sedna as he was of Lin.

Lin had heard of fathers being overprotective of his daughter around men. The way George acted with Kay around girls was about the same thing.

He frowned. She saw a hint of surprise–he hadn’t expected to see Sedna on his step–but more than surprise, his frown and narrowed eyes showed worry. Worry? What could he be worried about?

“I don’t know what you’re here for,” George said, “but–”

“The Urn of… Krzygwyll,” Lin said, pronouncing it the way the Librarian had earlier. “I’m interested in what you know about that. The Librarian should have called you earlier, right…?” Lin spoke in the same even voice Sedna usually used. It didn’t hold up all the time, but it was how she would have talked to George. George seemed to buy it.

“That’s what that was about?” George frowned. “I believe I told the Librarian that the urn is broken. So–”

“Then I’m here about the pieces of it… idiot,” Lin said. “Honestly, can’t you guess–”

“I don’t h–” George shook his head. “What do you want the pieces for?”

The smell of sweat washed out of the house from behind him. It burned Lin’s nose a bit. It certainly wasn’t pleasant. “Can you use them for anything?” she asked. Opening her mouth, she tasted the fog and rain in the air.

“My use for them is keeping them away from people,” George said. “So–” The door started to swing shut.

Lin rolled her eyes, sticking a foot into the gap. “Mr. Franks,” she said. He slammed the door, and it squeezed her foot through Sedna’s mesh running shoe. It didn’t hurt, though. Lin didn’t do anything like sticking her hands into the gap. She stared through it until George stopped trying to close it.

“…What,” he said, looking off to the side. He didn’t look happy. Too bad for him.

“The rain’s stopped out here, but I bet you it’s going to start again. Can I come in and talk to you, at least?” Lin said. It was getting dark outside despite the time, telling her again that it was just about winter. Had Halloween passed yet? No, not quite.

George’s face darkened, wrinkling around the nose. He leaned back into the house, looking over his shoulder at something. It looked to Lin like Kay was in there. She could probably just ignore him on the way past. She might have to force herself not to look. The smell of sweat coming out of the room was surprisingly thick, though, making Lin wonder what was going on.

“…Fine,” George said. “Come in.” The door swung open. “You’re going to have to make a convincing argument. I don’t see why you need to know about the–why you need the shards. All right?”

Lin stepped into the house, frowning up at George. He stood much taller than her even normally, and Sedna was short. But… he seemed flustered today, for some reason.

He stepped out of the way, turned to lead Lin into the kitchen. She followed him.

#

116) Broken

Lin had thought she’d had the time to get used to being in a new body. But now that she was looking at her own from the outside again, she felt a lurch of discomfort. Sedna brushed some of her red hair back behind her shoulder. From the look on her face, lips pursed and blinking, it seemed to Lin like Sedna was feeling the same way.

They’d gotten used to being around themselves earlier today. They’d just have to do it again. Lin forced down the discomfort, stood up off the Librarian’s car. “Hello. How was school? Did you get me any As?”

“No tests today, sadly.” Sedna walked in, shifting to clasp her hands behind her back. She looked away from Lin. Lin took that as a cue to look away from Sedna. For now, it felt more comfortable looking anywhere else than at what should have been herself, moving independently.

The day was cold, and rain started up again outside. Lin saw Sedna tapping an umbrella against her leg. There wasn’t any need for it in the garage, though. The rain just pounded on the roof. Lin looked up.

“So. Is it all right for me to be here?” Sedna said. “Does the Librarian know?”

“He doesn’t. Can you smell him coming?”

“Who could smell anything over all this damn sawdust?”

Lin nodded. Even if she’d had her own nose, it probably would have been hard. She would at least be able to hear the Librarian coming, if he came, though. That was what she hoped.

“The Librarian knows we’re friends, right?” Lin said. “If he comes, he might tell us to leave. That would be all.”

“Mmm.” Sedna turned to look at her again. Lin saw the look on her face. It looked like Sedna was steeling herself. “So. About the focus–”

Lin told Sedna what she’d found out with the Librarian. George Franks, the urn. And how the Librarian would try to get it for them. Sedna nodded. She finally started to smile. And as they talked, Lin slowly started to feel more comfortable with how Sedna looked like her.

Sedna moved over to the bench, running her hand along the edge of it. Lin winced, afraid that she would give herself a splinter. It would be Lin’s splinter, later. It would make things even–Lin still felt a splinter prickling in her hand, where she hadn’t been able to draw it out. But Lin thought she probably hated them a lot more than Sedna did.

Sedna turned. “Does the Librarian understand that we need the urn fast?”

“I’m not sure. But I think he’ll talk to George as quickly as he can…”

Sedna nodded. “Thanks. It looks like you accomplished a lot. …I’d better tell you a few things, before I forget.”

#

It was hard for Sedna not to taste cinnamon rolls, when she was around Lin in her own body. It was strange, but she couldn’t quite get the thought out of her head. She saw Lin looking intently at her, as she summarized what’d happened. Lin looked like she was already comfortable with seeing herself talking. That meant she’d gotten used to it faster than Sedna had.

Sedna talked about the discussion with Mr. Kane and the teachers. Lin’s eyes widened a bit for that. Sedna hoped she’d handled it all right. She couldn’t feel too deeply about it, though. Not just then.

Since she’d come out of Lin’s house after passing up perfectly good food, on the long walk through the fog, Sedna hadn’t been able to escape a feeling of unreality. Partly, it felt like her entire body was still in disbelief, shocked that she’d had her teeth around something and hadn’t bitten it off. The feeling had spread to her mind, and Sedna almost wanted to laugh at the fact that their bodies were switched. Except, looking at Lin using her face made her so queasy it felt like she might throw up. Sedna could almost taste it.

She finished telling Lin about the meeting. As much as Sedna could remember. “I wasn’t sure what was going on. I hope I didn’t handle it badly…”

“Probably as well as you could have,” Lin said. She rubbed at her forehead, though. With her forehead slightly wrinkled, she looked worried. She smelled that way, too. “…I can tell you the whole story about those teachers another time. I feel like we should get back into the right bodies, first.”

Sedna was a bit disappointed she wouldn’t hear it now, but she agreed. The first thing they had to do was get back to being themselves. “There’s one more thing, though.” Sedna talked about the man Lin’s parents had brought home for her. She tried not to make it sound too dramatic. But it would have been wrong not to let Lin know what was going on.

As she spoke, Lin gradually looked tenser and tenser. “Did you eat?” she said. “Did you–”

“Almost,” Sedna said, “but no.”

Lin sagged back against the car, all the tension suddenly released. She sighed, the sound louder than the rain and wind outside. Sedna studied her for a second. She was surprised Lin was so relieved. “Your parents are going to bring him back later, from what I understand. After dinner tonight.”

“We know about the urn,” Lin said, “so we should be able to get back to our own bodies before then.”

Sedna nodded. “I was almost looking forward to going to dinner with the angel, though.”

“Be glad that you’re getting out of it,” Lin said.

Sedna shrugged. Lin seemed very afraid of this Cara Mayer, but Sedna had some doubts. How bad could she be? Especially considering that she was supposed to be an angel.

Anyway… the urn was big news. Against the rain and fog outside, Sedna felt good. Lin had really got it. If the Librarian thought this urn was behind the consciousness bridge, then Sedna didn’t have any doubt it was.

Earlier today, Sedna had hoped that they’d be able to switch themselves back before the weekend was out. But even she’d thought it was too much to hope that they would solve the problem before the day was out.

Now, she had the feeling they could do it. She turned to Lin. “You should call the Librarian, and see if he could find anything out about the urn. I doubt that I can go down, personally.”

“Right. I was never allowed,” Lin said. She reached into her pouch and pulled out a cell phone. she flipped it open, frowning. “Oh, right. What song do you use as your ringtone, Sedna?”

Sedna looked off to the side, lowering her head a bit. Of course, given that she’d called Lin on the cell phone, Lin would have heard it. But…

“What? It looks like something you’re embarrassed of.” Lin sounded happy. In the corner of her eye, Sedna saw her showing her teeth.

As if it were important, the song was “Tonight” from West Side Story. The Librarian had played some of those songs for Sedna, and she thought they were good music. She didn’t care what Lin thought, of course.

She muttered, “Just call the Librarian.” It was stupid, but she was starting to blush. The heat in her cheeks made her duck her head a bit further.

The sawdust smell, mixed with the smell of the metal of the car, filled the garage completely. Sedna couldn’t even smell the fog on the air outside. It made Sedna feel exposed, somehow.

Strange as it was, Sedna had gotten used to having a very good sense of smell. She could smell people coming toward her, and hear them long before they thought she could. It was actually very useful. Now that the smells had choked her nose up, Sedna felt like someone was sneaking up on her.

Of course, there wasn’t anyone. The feeling made Sedna more uncomfortable. She was already embarrassed. She shifted her feet, trying to keep her blush down. Lin started to laugh, which didn’t help… at all.

“I’ve n-never,” Lin said, “s-s-seen… ahahaha… you can’t st-stop yourself, can you?”

Sedna just stared at her feet. She noticed things abut Lin’s shoes she hadn’t seen before. For one thing, they were black. They weren’t tennis shoes–dressier than that. But they had seemed comfortable enough to run in during gym class. Maybe Sedna could ask her what type–

What was she thinking about? She pressed her lips together, making herself raise her head. “Come on, Lin. Let’s not waste time.”

Lin stopped laughing. She nodded. “I’ll call him now.” She flicked the telephone open. Sedna had to give Lin the number, but she called.

With a demon’s ears, it wasn’t that hard for Sedna to hear the entire telephone conversation. The Librarian picked up–it would be one of the landlines in the Library, probably in a shelving room. “Hello?” he said.

“Hi,” Lin said. “It’s me.”

“Sedna?”

“Have you managed to talk to George Franks yet?”

Sedna closed her eyes to listen more closely.

“Yes. But there’s some bad news.”

Bad news? Sedna turned, started pacing, before she could stop herself. She reached down to hook her thumbs through her belt–where her belt would have been–but all she felt was the edge of Lin’s skirt. Sedna shifted her thumbs for a second, trying to find the belt, before she realized she wasn’t wearing it.

“I talked to George,” the Librarian said, “but he says he doesn’t have the urn anymore. Says that it fell out of the back of his car and broke.” The Librarian’s voice sounded distracted. Sedna recognized it–it sounded like the Librarian was working on something else. “I don’t know where that leaves you. I’m sorry.”

Sedna looked Lin in the eye. She saw a reflection of her own fear. Over the sawdust, suddenly Sedna smelled how afraid Lin was. Probably, the same smell was coming off herself. If the urn was what had switched them, and that had broken… what did it mean?

Could it mean they would be stuck this way? Sedna didn’t want to believe it. She would rather believe it meant the spell on them was going to dissolve, make them both go back to normal. But… that hadn’t happened yet. When had the urn been broken? Recently? Or this morning…?

“Thank you,” Lin said. Her voice stayed admirably steady, and she didn’t show any sign that she’d gotten bad news. “I’ll see you later. Goodbye.” She closed the cell phone, not giving the Librarian a chance to say ‘goodbye’ back.

Sedna winced. She did that, normally, but she would have waited for the Librarian. A lot of the time, he forgot to say things. She had to make sure she’d actually heard everything he had to say before she hung up the phone with him.

Probably this time he would assume she’d been in a hurry. That was what Sedna hoped he’d think, anyway. Lin lowered the cell phone back to the pouch, frown spreading across her face. Sedna could see her thinking.

There wasn’t much to think about, though. Sedna moved to lean against a side of the garage and looked out. Another one of their flurries of rain started up, rain slashing across the driveway and road outside. It was hard to see much of it through the fog, but this rain seemed especially savage. Some of it drove into the garage, and a drop landed on Sedna’s lips. It tasted acidic, and she wiped her mouth on her sleeve.

Sedna forced herself not to be afraid. Now they needed a plan.

“We… need to figure out what’s going on,” Sedna said.

Lin nodded. She still looked distracted.

“Since the Librarian says so, I think that urn really was the focus of this spell. We need to find out what it means that it’s broken.”

Lin nodded again.

“So… we should talk to Mr. Schwartz about that. And we should find out where to get the pieces of the urn, from George Franks. In case we need them. Of course, there’s always chance that the actual focus is something else.”

“Yes…” Lin sounded worried.

Sedna closed her eyes. Honestly, she thought, do I feel any different than Lin?

She didn’t think so. Sedna felt the same almost-despair. The thing that had been supposed to solve their problem was broken. The thing that had probably put them in this situation, the magic item they needed… broken.

George Franks had said so. And Sedna doubted he had it in him to lie about anything. If he said the urn was broken, it was.

That meant they had to do something about it.

“I’m going to go to Mr. Schwartz,” Sedna said. “You look like me. And I think I have a slightly better relationship with George Franks than you. So you should go see what he has to say.”

Lin closed her eyes, straightened up. The light outside started to fade as the smell of thunder thickened in the air. Mostly, Sedna’s nose was packed with the smell of sawdust. But with every hair of her body, she could feel the storm gathering together.

“You’re right,” Lin said. “I’ll go to George Franks. But what time is it?”

Sedna blinked. Lin’s cell phone would still be in her backpack, the side pocket. Sedna reached awkwardly around her own arm to pull it out. She looked at the display. “It’s 4:49 p.m.”

“…All right,” Lin said. “Let’s meet up here in an hour. By then, if we don’t have the urn, you’ll have to go to the dinner with Cara in my place.”

“Oh,” Sedna said, “goodie.” Since they were on a time limit, now, she turned and started out of the garage. She brought Lin’s umbrella up and opened it over her head, feeling the raindrops pounding down. She walked out into the fog until it swallowed up the Librarian’s house and driveway, leaving only a thin strip of ground beneath her for her to walk on.

#

115) Meeting

Sedna heard a thump. The man slid back onto the table, unconscious. She could see he was still breathing. He slipped off onto the floor, his head thudding against the tiles. Sedna winced.

The hunger was still with her. If she’d eaten instead of letting him go, she probably would have been able to be done with it. But Sedna was glad she’d managed to stop. Even now, she had to fight to keep herself from tackling him and trying again. But the fight seemed to be shifting in her favor, instead of in her hunger’s.

She wouldn’t hurt this man, whatever anyone said. Lin’s parents could just put him back where they’d found him, for all Sedna cared. She turned to look at them.

As she did, she smelled disbelief in the air.

Louise, her light-brown eyes slightly widened, stared back at Sedna. The right corner of her lips twitched a bit. After a second, she smoothed her face into a worried frown. “Lindsay–”

“You can take him away for now,” Sedna said. She felt calm for the first time in a while, despite the fact that she’d been switched into Lin’s body. “I don’t think I’m that hungry, after all.”

“Lindsay,” Hector’s voice said. Sedna heard a dangerous rumble in it. “You have to–”

“Wait, dear,” Louise said.

He stopped.

Louise looked Sedna in the eye. Sedna looked back, not breaking eye contact. She smiled, doing her best to look pleasant. “Sorry you had to go to all the trouble… Mom.”

Even thinking about mothers didn’t break Sedna’s calm, this time. She kept her smile on. But she did have to make quite an effort not to look down at the sandy-haired man sprawled on the kitchen floor.

“Did you… finish your hunt today?” Louise asked.

She was sharp. Sedna hadn’t even remembered that. She shook her head. “No. I just realized I’m not that hungry.”

Louise pressed her knuckles against her lips, studying Sedna. That, more than anything else, made Sedna start to feel uncomfortable. Her smell was as hard to read as her face. Did she believe Sedna? Or didn’t she?

Louise looked away first, though. “…We’ll take him away.”

Sedna nodded. “Than–”

“For now,” Louise said firmly. “We’re going to talk about this again later, Lindsay.”

From her tone of voice, Sedna imagined they were. Hopefully, Sedna would be in her own body by then, and Lin would be able to have the talk. Now, Sedna wanted to leave the room. The smells in it were too much for her, and the lights. She had to get back outside so that she could breathe. So that she could talk to Lin and figure out how to get back into her own body.

Sedna would feel comfortable when she could see the future again, and she didn’t have to deal with this hunger every hour of the day.

Sedna turned to leave. The empty taste in her mouth seemed to mock her as she stepped back into the hallway. Why won’t you eat, Lindsay, why won’t you eat, Lindsay, why won’t you eat, Lindsay?

I’m not her, Sedna thought. She hoped Lin would eat, actually, as long as it honestly didn’t harm anyone. This kind of hunger wasn’t something anyone could bear for long.

“Where are you going, Lindsay?” Louise said.

“I need to talk to Sedna. I’m going to do some homework with her.”

“I don’t know how I feel about you hanging around with that little oracle,” Hector said. “I think that–”

“Give her a break, dear.” Louise’s voice sounded long-suffering. “At least it’s not Kay, right?”

“…Right…”

Their voices faded behind Sedna as she left. It didn’t sound like they would try to stop her. As Sedna opened the second door, the one to the dining room, Louise called after her. “Lin! Be back for dinner with Cara Mayer!”

Sedna paused on the threshold. She turned and called back, saying she would. Then she left, through the dining room with the big polished-oak table. She headed straight for the front hallway, along the path she remembered. She’d thought something earlier about trying to find warmer clothes. Sedna gulped. She couldn’t make herself spare time for that, now. Shivers of relief were running down her spine–she was relieved she’d gotten out at all.

Sedna picked up Lin’s backpack and umbrella from the front hallway, slipped her shoes back on. She had to sit against the wall to do it, and Lin’s legs were too long. Sedna’s arm pressed into one of them. She got her shoes on, trying her best to stay composed. She knew Louise and Hector could still show up here, now.

Sedna’s hunger whispered at her, laughing. Against it, all she could do was blush. The predatory part of Sedna knew that she’d made a mistake. She should have eaten then, and eaten her fill. Who knew when food would come again? Let alone prey that easy, already brought down by her parents…

Sedna tried to ignore the quiet voice. She ducked out of Lin’s house into the rain, opening the umbrella high overhead. It crackled, and then she could feel raindrops pounding against it.

#

Lin stood in the Librarian’s garage, just outside of the rain, with the door up. She held her hands on her hips, glancing down at her cell phone. She tried to stay calm and not to move, but she couldn’t help tapping one foot.

She imagined everything that could be going wrong at her house right now. Despite what Lin had said earlier, she knew exactly how observant her parents were. They had to be, to work as high-level agents for Himmel. Succubi and incubi were more observant than normal humans, anyway.

She stared out into the fog, tapping her foot a bit faster. The fog blotted the world out, so that anything could have been standing ten feet away or so. There was no way for Lin to tell.

She could have relied on her sense of smell. Even if she were full, she could smell well enough to tell when something was coming. But Sedna’s sense of smell was too weak to do that.

Lin felt like she didn’t really have any senses, anymore. The air tasted less wet, she couldn’t hear much other than the wind, and she couldn’t smell anything. It was nice to be free of her hunger, but Sedna’s body felt too strange to her. She stomped her foot down, grounding it in the garage. She had to control herself better, she thought.

But as soon as Lin stopped moving her foot, she reached for her pouch and started batting it side to side, feeling at her cell phone. She pressed her lips together. Shouldn’t Sedna have gotten out and called her by now? What was taking so long? Could this mean her parents had caught Sedna?

What would they have done, if they had? They’d probably be holding her, now, trying to find out who she really was. And they might not believe her about the consciousness bridge. Lin took a step out of the garage, deciding to go after Sedna. Then she pulled her foot back in. She had to wait. Patience.

But it was hard for Lin to do.

She was relieved when, finally, Sedna’s cell phone rang. The ring tone, which Lin had noticed the last time it had started ringing, was something that sounded vaguely Broadway-ish. The ringtone version didn’t have the lyrics, but it was the last thing Lin would have expected from Sedna.

She ignored it, now, raising the phone to her ear as she opened it. She tensed her shoulders. “…Hello? How did it–”

“I think it went all right,” Sedna said. “I got away, anyway.”

“Got away? Did they–”

“They didn’t seem to know it wasn’t you. It’s not like I can be sure.”

Lin sighed. The feeling of relaxation, as it swept over her, caught her almost unaware. Like she hadn’t known how tightly-wound she was before. She leaned back against the back bumper of the Librarian’s old car, ignoring the cold of the day for a second. “That’s good. They didn’t realize. If they had, they wouldn’t have let you leave.”

“…Okay. Where should I meet you?”

“I’m standing in the garage in front of the Library. Come meet me here.”

“Have you figured anything out?”

Lin smiled. In all the stress of having Sedna go to her house and talk to her parents, she’d forgotten about the good news. “We think we found the focus. I mean, the Librarian found it. That guy is…”

“I know. I live in the same building with him.”

“The building is the size of a small city, though.”

“…True,” Sedna said. “I’m coming to the Library. We’ll talk more there. ‘Bye.”

“Wait a minute–” Lin started to ask what the tune on Sedna’s ringtone was. But before she could, she heard a click, telling her Sedna had hung up. Probably before she’d heard Lin telling her to wait.

Lin sighed. The girl didn’t have any manners. She looked out into the fog, waiting to see Sedna. To see her own face, really. The fog swirled around, seeming agitated. The Librarian’s garage smelled of sawdust, and some of it coated a bench and part of the floor in the corner. Lin kept leaning back against the Librarian’s dinosaur of a car, crossing her arms.

It was harder than she’d thought, but it wasn’t that hard to pretend to be Sedna. She kept her mouth flat, eyes slightly narrowed. Anyone looking into the garage wouldn’t see anything strange, she thought.

Then again, no one was likely to look into the garage through all this fog. Lin sighed, letting her act drop. Pretending to be Sedna was tiring her out. Talking to the Librarian had been easy. But she still felt like she would go to sleep, after all the reading she’d done.

Lin yawned. It tasted like she’d swallowed quite a bit of dust. It didn’t matter that much–now that they knew what the focus was, it was something she could leave for Sedna to deal with later.

Lin was worried, though. Who knew what kind of habits Sedna had? When she got her body back, her lip and nails might be chewed-up. It might take days for her to get herself back to normal, if that happened.

Sedna seemed to take a very long time. It wasn’t that far from Lin’s house to the Library, was it? Lin tapped her foot, trying to count off the seconds in her head. She had a feeling she was going too fast. Finally, when she’d taken out the phone to look for some way to call Sedna back, Sedna resolved out of the fog in front of the garage.

She waved. “Hello.”

#

114) Meal

Sedna’s voice split the silence. It almost echoed in the empty house. ‘I’m home’ almost seemed to echo back at her. This place wasn’t big enough to have an echo, was it?

“Ah, Lindsay. We were just getting things ready.” Louise, Lin’s mother, stepped into the front hallway. Sedna saw her groping around on the wall until she found a light switch. Something clicked, and then the room lit up.

Sedna blinked against the sudden light. She got a clearer look at Lin’s mother, now, too.

“Come with me, dear,” Louise Baker said. She smiled.

Sedna had seen a few movies since she’d come to America. She’d seen more of the ads for them. Movies from Hollywood were probably the one thing this country had over the rest of the world. Sedna hadn’t gotten a chance to know much about Hollywood, when she’d lived in Delphi. She hadn’t watched TV or gone to a movie theater until very recently.

The point was, it had surprised her to see how good-looking the people in the movies were. She’d been impressed by people like Tom Cruise.¬†Scarlett Johansson. Anne Hathaway. Leonardo DiCaprio.

She felt the same way about Louise Baker, now. Louise probably could have gone to work with movie stars, if she’d wanted to. Her blonde hair and gold eyes made her face shine, and even wearing a plain white dress she looked better than almost anyone Sedna had seen.

As Louise turned and led the way further into the house, Sedna followed. The hunger inside her–Lin’s–reared up as the smell of the strange third person got closer. Sedna felt herself starting to wildly speculate about how he would taste. Would it be sweet? Or bitter? Would there be salt? Sedna felt disgusted at her own mind as the thoughts skimmed across the surface. There was nothing she could do about them.

Louise led Sedna through a formal dining room, then a small hallway, into a kitchen with a table in it. Sedna walked the whole way as if in a dream, keeping her eyes on Louise’s blonde hair as it swung gently in front of her. All the time, she could smell the man they’d brought for Lin to eat.

Sedna felt like that, as much as anything else, pulled her on through the halls. Though really, she wanted to run.

Her feet, in socks, could feel the cold tile floor of the kitchen. Hunger brought everything into sharper focus. Sedna saw Lin’s father sitting at the kitchen table, a tan man with glossy black hair, his face clean-shaven this time.

The last time, just the sight of him had been enough to make Sedna start blushing furiously. Now, she couldn’t make herself care about him. She focused in on the man sitting next to him, the one Mr. Baker was holding back.

He looked like he was maybe in his mid-twenties, older than both Lin and Sedna by enough to raise eyebrows. If anyone saw her kissing him. His sandy hair fell around his face in a bit of a mess, and his eyes were lost and glazed over. He wore a thick brown winter coat, unzipped, and though Mr. Baker held him back with a hand on his shoulder, the man held his hands peacefully in his lap, not showing any signs of moving.

Sedna might have thought he looked somewhat handsome, if he hadn’t been sitting next to Mr. Baker. Also, if she hadn’t been so hungry. He could looked completely ugly, and it wouldn’t have mattered. He could have been Tom Cruise, and it still wouldn’t have mattered. With one look at him, Sedna knew what he’d taste like. It was hard to find a real analogy for it, at first, but then she landed on one. Sweet at first, with salt underneath. Chocolate-covered pretzels.

It wasn’t fancy. It would be delicious, though. And Sedna would have eaten anything. Louise got out of her way, fading back toward one of the kitchen counters with her arms crossed. Sedna barely watched her go. She advanced on the man, her hunger taking over.

She didn’t like the fact that she hadn’t had the chance to hunt this prey on her own. But Sedna was hungry enough that she was willing to scavenge. Despite the dazed smell of him, it looked like he would taste good. Sedna felt her heartbeat slowing down as she moved closer to the man, and her breathing grew shallow in her throat. As the entire world took on a dreamlike quality, Sedna felt like she didn’t control herself anymore. Something else did–something that was a deeper part of her than her own mind.

The man looked up at her, looking her in the eyes. His eyes were incredibly docile. Not a wild animal–an animal prepared to be slaughtered. Sedna wished she could have brought him down on her own. She parted her lips slightly, prepared. She–

She blinked, halted mid-step.

Sedna hadn’t done anything like this in her life. Of course, she had kissed people before. There had been some boys, back in the Order. No one she really cared about anymore, but–

But this felt different.

“Keep yourself relaxed, Lindsay,” Louise said. “Keep yourself under control, and you’ll be able to stop before you kill him.”

Sedna realized, in a shocking moment of clarity, what was going on. She realized where she was, what she was about to do. As she stood frozen and horrified at herself, pinned by the man’s dulled eyes like a rabbit in headlights, Sedna felt Lin’s hunger raging inside her just under the surface. It was too close to being filled to give up now. It wouldn’t ask nicely, and it wouldn’t back down if she tried to push it away. Her hunger meant to satisfy itself.

She heard something humming, suddenly, a heating system in the walls. A rattling came as Hector, Mr. Baker, drummed his fingers on the kitchen table. The sandy-haired man didn’t shift.

Sedna opened her mouth. But she wasn’t the one who used her voice. Something else did. “Stand him up, please.”

The voice came out sounding like Lin’s had, once before. Back then, Sedna had been honestly terrified of Lin, the only time she’d ever felt that way. What was talking was just the part of her that wanted to eat.

“Stand up, please,” Louise said, strangely echoing Sedna.

The man stood up mechanically, with pauses in the motion as if he had to think about it. Still, he managed to get up to his feet. Sedna moved in, hunger pulling on her feet. Her arms tingled, her skin prickling all over. She stuck the tip of her tongue out the side of her mouth. The smell of the man intoxicated Sedna. She didn’t think she’d smelled anything so completely edible in her life.

She clenched her hands into tight fists, pulling her tongue back and gritting her teeth. She bit the edge of her tongue, feeling a sharp jolt of pain. Sedna tried to hold herself back.

Whatever Lin knew about how to do this, Sedna had no idea. Maybe it was possible to hold back and keep from killing this man. For all Sedna knew, maybe it was possible, and easy. But she didn’t know how to do it, personally.

If she did this, she would be playing with his soul. His life would be on the line. And Sedna didn’t have the experience to be sure she would do this right.

She couldn’t take the risk. Though her hunger screamed, trying to drive her forward to grab him, kiss him, and eat everything she could, Sedna slowly grounded herself. She got a solid footing, closed her eyes, and started breathing through her mouth. She couldn’t do this. It was too dangerous. She didn’t want to kill him.

I don’t want to hurt anyone, she thought. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to hurt anyone. She repeated the thought, over and over again, until it seemed to lose meaning.

Finally, Sedna opened her eyes, feeling relatively calm. She looked at the man’s face. It still filled her with hard-to-control pangs of hunger. Sedna opened her mouth, ready to ask Mr. and Mrs. Baker to take him away, for now.

Before she could say a word, she felt a hand, gently pressing against her back.

“Dear,” Louise said in a soft voice, “you’ve been hungry for too long. I won’t let you continue. Come on. You won’t hurt him.” The hand started to push, a gentle pressure forward.

Sedna had thought of it as one of Lin’s skills–to say the right thing in the right tone of voice to convince her. Apparently, Louise was much better at it.

Louise’s voice broke down Sedna’s resistance more effectively than any amount of hunger could have. Sedna stepped forward, not able to control herself any longer, and wrapped her arms around the man. She kissed him on the lips, tasting a hint of the chocolate on the outside. The taste was too much for her, and Sedna was too hungry.

While she had no idea how to reach for the man’s soul and eat it, the hunger that had been eating at her from the inside knew very well what it had to do. Sedna reached, and then she was there, somewhere she didn’t entirely understand. She saw the soul as a light, surrounded by dark. The light gently shone, growing steadily dimmer with each heartbeat. Sedna felt the man’s heartbeat, and tasted the air in his lungs. That was no problem for her.

Driven by hunger, Sedna began drawing the light into herself. As she started, as the barest fraction of it passed through her lips, the hunger didn’t feel the same anymore. It was more like thirst.

Sedna felt like she’d come out of a long desert, to her first drink of water in weeks. The need had been deeper, more urgent than an ordinary hunger. As Sedna started drawing the light in, she was free of it. She felt her entire body relaxing, and she would have given a satisfied sigh. But her lips were locked with the man’s. She kept it that way, holding her breath. There was so much of the light that it looked hard to shift. Surely it couldn’t hurt him to lose some of it. Sedna drew back, studying it all. She wanted to savor this, the moment just before she started. She’d finally be able to stop being hungry. She thought she was hungry enough to eat all of this.

A thought drifted through the air, seemingly a physical thing. It fluttered like a banner. Sedna barely had time to care, but as she checked it she realized that it said, I don’t want to hurt anyone.

At the rate she was going, she would kill him. But she didn’t know if she’d be able to stop herself. Sedna panicked.

She came closer and closer to taking an actual bite out of the soul. The part of her that knew what it was doing sunk its teeth in deep. Sedna closed her eyes, dropping into a concentration exercise she’d practiced as a novice until she cried from boredom. She took an iron hold on her mind, controlled herself, and made herself slow. Then she stopped.

Without chewing or swallowing, she carefully relaxed her “teeth” on the soul. Sedna felt her heartbeat slowing to almost nothing, her entire body shuddering with disbelief as it realized she really wasn’t going to swallow. She wasn’t going to eat.

Sedna withdrew from it, broke off the kiss, and stumbled away from the man. She let him go, started to back away faster. As she could breathe again, and see, the electric lights of the kitchen blinded her.

#

113) I’m Home

Sedna still wasn’t sure what to do next. She’d managed to get Kay to go home on his own, saying she had something to do with her parents today. But Lin didn’t answer her phone, so Sedna didn’t quite know where to go.

She’d made it to Oakland Street, where she couldn’t see much further than the tip of her nose through today’s fog. The air tasted like water when she breathed it in, and she felt like her clothes were starting to get wet despite the umbrella.

The rain only drizzled, and only occasionally. But Sedna hadn’t seen fog this thick here in a while. With Lin’s nose, she could still tell there was thunder in the air. It wouldn’t really come until tomorrow or the day after, though.

Sedna couldn’t do anything on Oakland Street but pace back and forth. Should she go back to Lin’s house? To Mr. Schwartz’s house? Somewhere else? She didn’t have the slightest idea. She hoped that Lin had already found out what the focus was, but Sedna wondered if they’d really be that lucky.

She tried calling again, bringing Lin’s cell phone up to her ear as she leaned the umbrella back against her shoulder. It wasn’t raining, just then, luckily. It was cold. Sedna’s throat itched, for some reason, and she could smell people and cars through the fog.

Sedna listened for three rings. She knew that Lin probably wouldn’t be able to get reception, if she was researching down in the Library. Hopefully, she would realize what time it was and come up.

Lin answered on the fourth ring. “Hello! Sedna?”

Sedna blinked. She’d tried to prepare herself for it, but it still felt surreal hearing her own voice coming from the other side of the phone.

“Is this Sedna? I–”

Sedna recovered. “Ah, no. This is Lin Baker. Who’s this?”

“…Don’t be funny. There’s no one around me, okay. Is there someone near you? Anyone who can overhear you?”

“I really can’t tell, in this fog.” It might as well have been opaque. Sedna saw the sidewalk, and small parts of the grass. The houses were silhouettes more than clearly-defined objects.

“Use your nose!” Lin said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Sedna did. She didn’t smell anyone nearby. “If there’s anyone around here, they don’t smell like anything. So–”

“Good. Where are you? On Oakland Street?”

“Where else is it too foggy to see?”

“…Good point.”

A sudden, light wind pulled on Sedna’s umbrella. She held onto it without much trouble. “What should I do? Can I come meet you?”

“No! My parents are going to be expecting you. You have to go to my house and meet them there.”

Actually… it didn’t really sound like Sedna’s voice, she was starting to realize. Partly, it felt like hearing a recording of herself–she didn’t believe she really sounded like that. Another part was probably the fact that Lin spoke differently. In a different rhythm, with different tones. She couldn’t sound exactly like Sedna.

There weren’t many people who could tell the difference. Sedna thought it would probably be the same way for her. Not many people could tell that she wasn’t talking like Lin.

Kay had seemed to notice something strange, but he hadn’t guessed about the consciousness bridge. Lin’s parents–they would probably realize something was wrong. If anyone would.

Sedna shifted her feet. “How am I going to make them think I’m you?”

“You can do it. Just stay calm. They’ll only see what they expect to see. And you managed to pretend to be me all day at school, right?”

Sedna had. But she’d feel better about what Lin was saying if Lin didn’t sound like she was trying to convince herself. Maybe Lin’s parents would think that anything strange was because of Lin’s hunger. If Sedna was lucky, that was how it would work. She’d have to get in and out as fast as she could, in the end.

“I’ll do the best I can. But–”

“You can do it!” Lin said. Rather than confident, she sounded worried. “I mean… I know you can, okay?”

Sedna felt the same way as Lin. She hoped she could do it, but she wasn’t sure if she believed it. “Fine. Goodbye…”

“All right. Good lu–”

Sedna thought of something. “Wait!”

“…What?” Lin sounded as worried as before. Sedna couldn’t blame her. She tried to imagine how she’d feel if she knew Lin was going to talk to her par…

…To her father. Carl would never be fooled for long.

Sedna lowered her head a bit. “I need to know your parents’ names,” she muttered into the phone. She couldn’t speak too loudly. A thought she’d wanted to shy away from had come and landed on top of her, like a thick blanket around her shoulders. With no way to get rid of it, all Sedna could do was let it oppress her mood. She frowned to herself.

“My father is Hector, and my mother is Louise. B-but… I call them Mom and Dad, so–”

“I know. That’s all I’ll call them, too.” There were probably a million more things Sedna could find out. So many that she couldn’t think of them all right away. In the end, once she got into the room, there would be things she’d have to wing her way through.

She could remember what she’d heard over the phone earlier. Lin’s parents had thought she was hunting, and they had… decided to prepare something for her themselves.

Would they have a human in there, bespelled until he was senseless and held prisoner? If they did, what would Sedna do? The yawning hunger inside her told her what it thought she could do. Sedna ground her right foot against the sidewalk, listening to it scratch on the wet pavement. She could shove that feeling away, for now, but how could she control it when she was stuck in a room with something for her to eat?

Just seeing food itself could remind her she was hungry. The smell or sight of one of her favorite types of foods–a crepe, or something, let’s say–might be enough to get her stomach growling. That had been happening all day, and she could ignore it.

But Sedna had found that Lin’s hunger went deep. Once she got into that house, and found someone who might as well be arranged tastefully on a plate, with her family ready to sit down to dinner with her, Sedna didn’t know if she’d be able to control it anymore.

“Is there anything else?” Lin said.

Did Lin know about the prisoner her parents probably had waiting in there? Sedna couldn’t quite remember if she’d told her.

Telling her wouldn’t change anything, though. It would just make Lin panic. And Sedna felt too listless to think about discussing a plan. She’d just go into the house and let the gods decide what would happen after that. “Nothing. I’ll do my best to keep them fooled. And this dinner with the angel–”

“Just meet up with me after you talk to my parents. There should be some time. In front of the Library, okay?” Lin still sounded worried.

“Okay. Bye.” Sedna hung up.

She knew where to find Lin’s house. It wasn’t far from her. Sedna started toward it, feeling a cold, clinical sense of anticipation. She knew she should have planned more. If she let Lin’s instincts get out of control, if she hurt someone, she wouldn’t be able to forgive herself later.

But as the rain started up around Sedna again, drumming noisily against the top of her umbrella, she found she couldn’t think of anything. And she didn’t have much energy to try.

#

Sedna paused in front of Lin’s door, on the front step. She could knock, or she could just open the door. What would Lin do?

What had Sedna done, back in Delphi? Of course, she’d opened the door to her room. But she’d knocked on the door to her father’s room. Would Lin just open this door? Probably, she would. It was her house after all.

Sedna could smell something coming off the front step. First, the smell of gasoline coming from the still-warm car told her Lin’s parents had just gotten home not too long ago. Second, in addition to both of their smells, Sedna smelled a third person. Well, she couldn’t tell for certain which smell belonged to who, but Sedna thought she had it sorted out.

Either way, there were three, and she was pretty sure she knew what that meant. The second man in the house, the one Sedna thought was the prey–not the prey, the human, she told herself–smelled like he was half-asleep, woozy or something.

That was who she was supposed to eat, probably. Sedna shifted her umbrella to one hand, and reached out for the doorknob. It felt uncomfortably cold against her hand. The entire day was too cold. Sedna would have to look through Lin’s clothes to see if she owned anything warmer.

Maybe she could get around to that after she killed a man in cold blood by sucking out his soul.

Sedna pulled the door open. She gulped. Now that she was here… she was more nervous than she’d thought she’d be. The door, unlocked, opened inward into the house. Sedna stepped inside and looked around.

Lin’s front hallway, dim and empty, greeted her. Sedna looked around, dropped the backpack in a corner. She folded up the umbrella and set it next to the backpack.

She could smell the three people in the house, somewhere further in on the first floor. Sedna had never even come inside Lin’s house before, so she didn’t know how to get around it too clearly. She hoped she would be able to follow her nose.

Sedna slipped off her shoes next to a closet, leaving them there with a few other pairs of shoes. Some of them looked like men’s, some like women’s. Maybe Lin had another pair there, but her mother and father had their shoes out, too.

Sedna studied the shoes for a second, feeling lost. Lin’s father’s shoes, dress shoes, shone a dull, flat black. Lin’s mother had a pair of tennis shoes: they sat, the right sloping down from on top of the left. Sedna bet there were more shoes around here, somewhere. Lin’s mother had to have at least a pair of high heels or something.

Sedna hesitated for a second, and then called out, “I’m home.”

#

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