Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 20

I glanced around the room. One of the waiters wasn’t being very waiterly. Another man was loitering near the door. “Your Ladyship, are those your bodyguards?”

She narrowed her eyes slightly. “No. My bodyguards are at the next table.”

Casting my gaze around the room I saw them – two fit looking young women who were enjoying their own tea and sandwiches. Then I turned back to her. “So, are those two guys anything to worry about?”

“I don’t know.” She finished her sandwich. “Perhaps, then, we should cut this short. You have nothing to fear from me…right now.”

Which meant it might change at any moment, if the woman got more information. It was the best I could really expect from this situation, of course. “Maybe I can get the honor of a warning?”


All hell broke loose. I was almost expecting it. I dived under the table and collided quite forcefully with Kanesha, who had had the same idea.

I wasn’t sure who had fired the shot, but it hit the chandelier in the middle of the room. “Maybe they weren’t hers,” I whispered, but Kanesha was…busy helping Her Ladyship under the table with us.

A second shot was fired.

“Now that I have everyone’s attention.”

I growled. “If we’re being held up I might kill somebody.” I didn’t look to check on the two women Her Ladyship had identified as her bodyguards. I assumed they could look after themselves.

“Yes, this is a holdup. Yes, I realize you’re all thinking ‘oh, really.’ Money and jewelry. You can keep your credit cards.”

I tried not to laugh at that. Pros didn’t steal credit cards. Pros also didn’t do this sort of thing. “Watched too many movies,” I whispered.

Her Ladyship was murmuring in something that emphatically was not English. I knew she was a witch and was rather hoping for a useful spell. Invisibility might be nice right now. Or a mass sleep spell to knock everyone out.

Nah. I was pretty sure that was beyond the realms of possibility. Despite that, the hair on the back of my neck prickled. I glanced at her.

She was still chanting. Okay. Stay still. That didn’t work for long, of course. Somebody pulled the cloth off of the table.

“Money and jewelry,” the man demanded.

Kanesha handed over her necklace, which I knew was worth about ten bucks. He glared at it. “That all you have?”

I tensed. This was when the violence started. When they didn’t think you had anything worth stealing, sometimes they’d take it out of your hide.

He dragged Kanesha out from under the table, looking at her. “Maybe I’ll just take you. You’re pretty.”

At which point? I realized I’d only thought all hell had broken loose.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 19

The tension between us lasted. I even grabbed a sandwich, tasted it. Egg salad. Very good egg salad.

Finally, she sighed. “That’s the problem. I can’t. The prophecy says whatever happens will happen when you get your memories back. If I tell you the prophecy…”

“…it might help me get my memories back.” My eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. “Did you wipe my memories?”

“No, dear. No. Trust me when I say I couldn’t have done it.”

But somebody had. I knew that now. To delay this prophecy. Take away my memories while they worked out what to do about me…afraid to kill me and afraid to let me live?

Or was there more to it than that. I glanced at Kanesha. “What do you think?”

“I think she’s telling the truth. I also think she’s scared.”

Her Ladyship nodded. “I am scared. Not for myself…it hardly matters to me if Ragnarok is fought tomorrow.” Soft, that.

It probably didn’t. As old as she was, she wouldn’t lose much if the world ended. Not as much as I would or Kanesha would, but it was likely she had children and grandchildren. “I suppose it wouldn’t…” That was awkward.

“I’ve had a good life with very few regrets. Don’t be afraid to mention my age – I do.”

I laughed again. Despite everything, despite the fact that we were technically enemies, I liked this woman. I warmed to her. There was nothing I could do about it – I was bound to like her, I thought, from the start.

“Okay. So. I can’t get my memory back or it happens. But without knowing the prophecy, I can’t help. And I want to.”

“What if the help you have to give is dying?” Her tone was serious.

“I’d rather avoid that. But there might be a loophole. Or the prophecy might be false.”

Her Ladyship shook her head. “It’s unlikely to be fake. Not impossible, of course, but unlikely. I’ve called off as many of the dogs as I can, but as I said…”

“You don’t have full control.” I appreciated that. “Then you won’t mind if I send some of them back with their tails between their legs.”

“Please try not to kill more of them than you have to.” Her lips quirked. “Good men are hard to find. Ones loyal enough to ignore what I say to do what they think is right?”

I considered that. “They really think I’ll destroy the world as soon as I get my memories back.” Then a horrible thought hit me, one I didn’t voice.

There was an alternative. Put it off indefinitely. If I was in a drugged stupor somewhere I couldn’t do anything and, thus…no. That wouldn’t work, again, if I had to actively do something to save the world. “Here’s what I think. I think I have a choice to make, at some point, and I think I need my memories to make it properly. Or do I?”

I might not, depending on what that choice was. I might be able to do it blind. And I could see the fear in her eyes at that thought. “Would you intentionally destroy the world?”

‘He’d never hurt you. Intentionally.’ Those words echoed in my mind. “I would die first.”

“I do think you at least think you mean it. At your age, though, death is not a reality.”

Which was when Kanesha put her foot on mine. I glanced around. “I think some of your not-so-tame canines are here.”

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 18

It didn’t take long to get a reaction, like poking a bear. It wasn’t the reaction I expected.

I’d expected them to try to kill me again. I hadn’t expected an invitation to afternoon tea. Her Ladyship, apparently, was in town.

Maybe she didn’t have any more control over them than Ivory Cane did. That would certainly explain the peaceable approach. I wasn’t about to turn it down.

I wasn’t about to go alone, and the idea of taking Thea to afeternoon tea? I’d rather take Mr. Otter – he had that slight hint of refinement to him, despite everything else but, as usual when I actually wanted the guy to show up, he was nowhere to be found.

So I took Kanesha. The tea was at a high falutin hotel and we swung by the house to get the best clothes we had.

Which were still not great. Maybe I should go on a Goodwill hunt, try to find something better than a plain, but clean, set of slacks and a polo shirt. At least we found something to wear other than jeans – which would have undoubtedly got us thrown out of the place. Still, I felt very shabby as we climbed the steps into the lobby.

The dining room was already set up and a few groups had gathered. A string quartet was warming up at one end. I winced a bit at an off note – there was nothing uglier than an out of key violin, but it was corrected quickly.

A freaking string quartet. “This place is like a billion dollars,” I whispered to Kanesha.

“Just walk like we belong here. Pretend you’re the Queen of England.”

I laughed nervously but wasn’t surprised that she knew how to handle this, somehow. Or maybe she had to walk like she belonged there more than I did. I didn’t really know what it was like to be her or her me. Nobody did. Even a telepath wouldn’t, I thought.

Her Ladyship waited at a table. I was not surprised to see that she was old. Not frail needs a walker old, but that sort of lit from within old that comes from a life well and long lived. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d already hit triple digits.

“Jane,” she greeted. “And your friend?”
“Kanesha.” Not giving a last name, which I thought was smart of her.

I pulled out a chair and sat down, feeling very uncouth and barbarian and out of place.

“I’m glad you came to meet me. I thought it best to meet somewhere…that you might not believe I would let get shot up.” Her accent was upper class British. Maybe she was, quite literally, a lady.

“I appreciate it…” I glanced around. No, this would not be a place for random violence. The quartet had stopped tuning and started playing.

“Debussy, G Minor,” her Ladyship supplied. “It will do. So.” Her gaze fixed on me, blue eyes in parchment crinkled face.

I know the parchment thing is cliched, but that was really what it looked like in that moment. “So. What would it take to convince you to call off the hounds?”

She did not answer, but that might have had something to do with the tuxedoed waiter who poured our tea and then set out a variety of tiny sandwiches with the crust cut off. Had to be something British. I waited until he was gone, keeping an expectant gaze on her. Kanesha seemed to be watching the rest of the room.

For trouble, no doubt. Finally, she spoke, “Some of them have a habit of slipping their leashes.”

“I might point out that if you’re wrong about letting me live, you can always kill me later.”

She laughed at that, a tinkling laugh. “Maybe.”

I leaned across the table slightly. “Give me the prophecy. The actual wording. I want it.”

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 17

I had never felt so out of place in my life. The community center Kanesha took me to? Well, being the only white kid in the home had been one thing.

Being the only white kid in a room this size? That was intimidating. And brought with it an almost guilty feeling that revolved around certain things my ancestors might or might not have done. I was glad I didn’t know for sure I was descended from slave traders or plantation holders or something.

I suppose you just kept with it, but without knowing my ancestry I could at least fantasize they were innocent of direct involvement…although not, of course, of benefitting from black labor.

Yeah, there was guilt in there, but this isn’t a treatise on racism. It wasn’t important, anyway.

“Who’s the white chick?” That from a young man who looked very clean cut. His hair cut appeared to have been chosen from the limited repertoire of a military barber.

“Housemate of mine with a problem.”

I glanced at Kanesha. “Okay. Got a crazy cult gunning for me. Their leader’s got it into her pretty head that I’m the anti-Christ. Need to convince them to leave me alone.”

“And I assume you don’t just want them shot.” The man flickered a grin. “You’re wanting subtle.”

“I definitely am.” I let out a breath. “Kanesha said you could…give them something to think about.”

“Think a series of complicated…pranks,” he said after a long moment. “Their cell phones ringing at odd times. It all stops if they leave you alone.”

“Worth a try. I don’t want to hurt these people. They’re being used. But they’re competent enough to give problems. This won’t track back to you, right?”

“Heck no. I’ve fooled the FBI, I can handle some cult.”

I wished I felt as confident as he sounded. He sounded very confident indeed, very sure of himself. I’d never be that way.

Or would I? I was pretty good at fighting, but if you screwed that up you were dead. I knew I couldn’t afford to be that cocky. “And we’ll pay you as agreed.”

Nothing for nothing, that was the rule of the street. “Also, if you manage to find anything out about this Ladyship.”

Ultimately, I wanted to have words with her. Myself. Preferably face to face, but she wasn’t here. I was sure of that. Ivory Cane had given me the strong impression she wasn’t in the city, perhaps not even in the country, although I didn’t know for sure.

“I’ll keep my eyes open. That’s the only name you have?”

“Yes. The only one.” Ivory Cane hadn’t called her anything else any more than he’d given his own name. I’d rather have false names, I decided, than no names at all.

Then again, I was traveling under a false name myself, but until somebody saw fit to bother to tell me what my real name was, I had no choice. “And anything about this prophecy. Maybe they stored the actual wording somewhere.”

That would help. The actual words…then maybe I could work out for myself what it meant.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 16

We weren’t letting Kanesha out of our sight right now. I felt bad about it, but we genuinely felt she might get snatched again.

So, all three of us had found a booth at the Hard Times Cafe. I’d miss this eating out thing if everything was fixed and Thea left town.

This having money thing. This having money and not having to work for it, that is. I had some money from my job, but it mostly went towards clothes. Even if I had had it to spare to go out, I worked most evenings.

I’d seen that as being the way things were, but I had more resonance with affluence. Kanesha? She was enjoying her chili.

“So,” Thea said, finally, glancing around to check who was in earshot. “Their high priestess or whatever isn’t sure, this one higher up is trying to apply leashes, but the hounds won’t be recalled?”

“That’s about the face of it.” I fell silent to enjoy a couple more mouthfuls. “I don’t see an easy way to convince them to go home and leave me alone. They’d rather risk one way than the other.”

“Stupid. Pick the option they can’t fix.”

She didn’t say that can’t be fixed. “I think he’s already pointed that out to them. I’d rather have giant fairies than this.”

“Giant fairies?” Kanesha asked. “And set the cops on them?”

“You know the DC police. They’re only good at riot control and drug busts.” Thea, cynical, reaching for her beer.

“And shooting the mayor’s dog.” Kanesha’s eyes twinkled.

“That,” I pointed out, “was Prince George’s County. DC cops are incompetent, not utterly stupid. There’s a difference. But Thea’s point is…honestly, involving the cops is going to end up with dead cops. These people are a comedy of errors, but the cops are Keystonian.” I was proud of myself for that particular reference. Even though I wasn’t sure where it was from and wasn’t sure the person who had given it to me knew either.

“You’re right. But what about more competent cops. Anonymous tip to the FBI?”

I pursed my lips. “That’s not a bad idea. Or, worse, we could try and set them up to look like terrorists. I mean, they’re basically organized crime already.”

That might bring some competent people around.

“The terrorism gambit’s too risky. It could backfire and then we would be the ones arrested. Federal drugs charges would be safer.”

I nodded, glancing at Kanesha. “It’s a thought.” I realized I’d almost finished my chili, a huge portion. Probably all the running around I’d done lately. “I just want this resolved so I can go back to school. More importantly, so Kanesha can.”

I was heading towards dropping out. Kanesha was heading to a scholarship. And it wasn’t just memories. She really was a lot smarter than me, at least when it came to things like math and history. I felt even more regret about having dragged her into this.
“Maybe…wait. I think I do have an idea.”

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 15

I was tempted to ask Kanesha and Thea their opinions on gods. I didn’t. Ivory cane…next time I bumped into him I had to get a name…clearly had his.

I didn’t really have mine. Yet. It was something I needed to work on, this understanding of gods. Or dismissing them. I wasn’t sure which. Or maybe it was both. So, rather than going straight back from the waterfront, I lingered.

Putting everything together in my mind. The prophecy put everyone in a Catch-22 situation. Nobody knew what to do. I supposed I shouldn’t be surprised some people had overreacted.

And I couldn’t and wouldn’t kill all of them. That wasn’t a solution, no matter how much it looked like one.

Turn them into allies? I’d never be able to trust them. So, it boiled down to what Ivory Cane suggested. Convince them to step back and see what happened.

Convince them I had no intention of letting the world be destroyed. But I knew, or thought I knew, what they would say. That I should prove it by removing myself from the board. Which I couldn’t risk.

And then, maybe the entire thing was wrong and I wasn’t going to do anything. I was, after all, just a kid.

With no memories and entirely too many fighting skills. And magic. There was no forgetting the magic. The water, I knew, had its water-ness, it’s water self, the river flowing through the city and out into the Chesapeake Bay. It was a nice day. Some people were sailing, little boats out on the water. A small flotilla of them. I bet none of them had a problem more pressing than what flavor of ice cream to buy when they got back to shore.

I checked my wallet at that thought and found it ruefully empty. No ice cream for me, not now. I thought we had some in the freezer anyway. Ordinary store bought ice cream, but in DC summers you didn’t really care as long as it was cold.

Except I wasn’t as warm as I might have been. I felt threatened again. He’d dropped me off here. Dumped me in a populated place, although nobody here was looking at a girl who stood by the pier. They were mostly more interested in the guy playing acoustic guitar. He was good enough that I regretted my empty wallet again.

I could get more money out of Thea, but she wasn’t here.

Mr. Otter was. He winked at me as he dropped something in the busker’s guitar case, as if he was doing it entirely on my behalf.

As if he’d read my mind or just knew what I wanted to do.

Was he my father? Or maybe my crazy uncle? Or maybe…grandfather. He was something to me, I was sure of that, painfully so.

And now he was wandering over to join me. “Still got the horn?”

I nodded. “Safe and sound. You aren’t getting it.”

He laughed a bit. “I think it’s a side issue right now.”

“No. You left it there for me to find because you were hoping I’d remember something.”

He looked out across the water. “No. I left it there for you to find because I was afraid you’d forgotten so much you wouldn’t defend yourself when the time came.”

“I don’t know that I can. Forget how to fight, that is.”

“I wanted to be sure.”

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 14

I knew I should not trust him, but I found myself in a black towncar, driven by a uniformed chauffeur. “I am not leaving town again.”

“And calling her Ladyship?”

“Possibly. I hate to involve her directly, but things have gone too far. They drugged one friend of yours, they kidnapped another.”

“And who she is, is that another thing I’m not allowed to know?” I was irritated, but whoever this was, I needed to know if she was another dangerous individual I had to worry about.

“Just my boss.” A pause. “She’s not a supernatural entity, but she is an extremely powerful witch and diviner. She knows what she’s talking about.”

“And there’s a prophecy.”

“A prophecy. You will either start Ragnarok or stop it. It’s…ambiguous.”
Ragnarok. The winter of the gods. The very word made me shiver, far beyond all rational thought on the matter. And it fit somewhere, like a key into a lock somewhere in the depth of my mind. “I don’t know that you were supposed to tell me that.”

“The thing is, we don’t know which you’re going to do. Maybe the Norns do, but if so, they aren’t talking. Except maybe to Odin.”

I digested that. “And I guess…talking to gods isn’t going to happen, but maybe I’ll keep my eyes open for ravens.”

Had it actually been a crow that had warned me? I was suddenly not sure. Ravens were bigger, and that was pretty much the only difference.

“You never know about talking to gods. I’ve found they show up in the oddest places.”

I laughed nervously at that. “But your ladyship is only a witch.”

Only? There was probably not very much only about it at all, but next to gods? I knew I should be afraid of them showing up, but I was more afraid of Mr. Otter; and that only in a ‘What is he up to?’ sort of way.

The idea of gods didn’t scare me at all.

“She has a fair bit of power. But this prophecy scares her. Whichever way we jump is wrong.”

“And without knowing what it is I do, I can’t come up with a way to do it or not do it.” And if it was something to do with existing or not existing?

Would I kill myself if I found out that was how to save the world? Then again, there seemed little point in taking everyone else down with me.

No, there seemed little point in that at all. I looked at him again. “So. You aren’t the only one who wants to work out this prophecy. Didn’t it occur to you guys just to talk to me from the start?”

He lifted his hands. “It occurred to some of us. We got outvoted.”

I nodded. “Because you couldn’t trust a kid not to be…selfish, I suppose.” I won’t destroy the world. And I’d do what I had to do to save it.

Maybe that was part of it, though. Maybe what I had to do was make a choice, somewhere. “What if…what if it’s something I do and what I choose is what makes the difference?”

“That could easily be it, but that still brings us back to not knowing what. I’m going to drop you off here.”

Here was the Alexandria waterfront, and I hopped out then watched the towncar leave. Then I went to the edge of the pier and stared into the water.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 13

Stand off. If I headed anywhere with fewer witnesses and cameras, they’d shoot at me. They’d do so faster than I would, although I did have my gun. It was loaded.

Maybe if I timed it right – but then somebody might see me trying to kill another human being. Somebody might see me succeeding.

“So. What exactly is it that I do? And don’t give me that bull that it’s breathing.”

“You’re part of the end. You’re going to be on the wrong side, that’s all, because if you aren’t, you’ll…your honor’s going to require it.”

Finally something of an explanation. “My family honor.”

He nodded.

“Screw that. I have a choice. Everyone has a choice.” I believed that. Whatever my absent parents might demand of me…well. They weren’t here.

“Not the likes of you.”

“I’m a girl. Not a monster, not a demon. And I won’t destroy the world.”

“Even if not doing so means dying?”

I considered that. “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. But I…won’t be part of the world ending.”

But what if I really didn’t have the choice? Or what if I changed my mind once I got my memories back? Maybe I was one of the bad guys.

Maybe my parents were rat bastards and I loved them anyway. This wasn’t about magic, though. It was about relationships, and I knew relationships. “You could try trusting me.”

“How can I?”

“You could try telling me the truth?” I knew as soon as I asked that I wouldn’t get any of that. Truth was a precious commodity, and everyone, on all sides, seemed determined to protect me from it.

“The second I do that, you’ll know why you’re part of it.” He let out a breath.

“We’re at a stalemate. This isn’t a good place to sort this out. You could…you could give me a chance.”

Tap. Tap. A cane on the floor. Ivory cane.

“Stand down.”

“I’m not…”

Tap! The cane was brought down with force. “None of you want to listen to me. You will now. Or I will call her Ladyship.”

That brought silence.

“I will tell her that you aren’t considering any alternatives for dealing with the problem this girl represents other than main force. I will tell her that you’re jeopardizing everything in your determination to ensure she won’t be a problem…even though you have no true evidence that she will.”

“The prophecy…”

“Is ambiguous.” He offered me his arm. “Come on. I’ll escort you to safety.”

Not knowing quite what else to do, I acquiesced.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 12

I couldn’t risk leading them back to the safe house. I glanced over my shoulder. They were, indeed, following, and one of the two looked vaguely familiar.

I headed for the nearest mall. I might be able to lose them in the crowds, and they really wouldn’t try to kill me there.

Maybe I could even corner them for conversation. It wasn’t much of a mall – one of those small strip arcades – but it had cameras and security, and that was what I was looking for right at that moment.

Cameras. Security. Crowds. Not so much of the latter. I stopped, looking through the window of a beauty salon. Posters of sample hairstyles hung in the window, and I pretended to be considering one of them.

Nah. I’d look awful in it. I turned and then, and only then, met their eyes. One of them looked away. The other seemed quite determined to turn this into a staring match. I indulged him. Backing down would make me look like prey, and they were already hunting me. “Gentlemen.”

He stepped backwards.

“Come on. There are surveillance cameras. You aren’t going to try anything. I’m not going to try anything. We can talk.”

“There’s nothing to talk about. You know we don’t want to do this.”

“Then don’t. I don’t intend to destroy the world and maybe we can work out what I do and make sure I don’t do it.”

“You…don’t need to do anything. You’re a monster.”

My lips quirked. “I refuse to believe that. If I did, then I might as well kill myself, but I’m not going to.”

He came closer, presumably so as not to shout. His friend stayed back, covering him. I had no doubt but that they’d defend themselves if they had to.

We were at a stalemate, though, neither side willing to fire the first shot.

Episode Three: Her Ladyship: Scene 11

Barry Clark was, to my knowledge, still grounded. Seeking him out put him in danger, but part of me wanted to.

Instead, I had gone over to the school, looking through the fence at it. A normal life. Classes started up in two weeks.

I had to solve this in two weeks. If I dropped out, then I’d be in trouble with social services. More trouble than I likely was already.

A normal life. I didn’t even really want one of those, much less think I had a chance of getting one. I’d failed at it once already. Sucked at school, sucked at blending in.


I turned. I knew the two boys who stood there. One of whom was indeed attractive enough to remind me I liked boys. It took me a moment, though, to recall their names. “Hey.”

“…hey.” There was something abruptly awkward about him. “Uh…”

“If you’re trying to ask me out, don’t bother. You’re cute, but I would like to actually only be two years behind.”

Both of them laughed, the cute one even more awkwardly. “Alright, but…”

“But what?”

“But I still think you’re…really cute.” He abruptly fled. His buddy shot me an apologetic look and went after him.

I wondered how long he’d worked on the courage to ask me out. And thought that before all of this started, I might have said yes.

Before all of this started. Now? Now it was best to publicly push anyone who thought he wanted to date me away. As firmly as possible. I watched them go, glancing around for anyone else, then back at the school.

A peculiar feeling of tension suddenly came into me. Maybe it was some budding danger sense, developed by all the trouble I had been in lately, but I found myself on high alert and hurrying away from the scene, tugging out my cell phone to call Kanesha. It was easier to call her than Thea, I’d found already.

“What’s up?”

“Not sure, but last time I felt like this we had a magic-eating fairy wandering around.”

“A…I won’t ask.”

“Good. I’m heading back, before whatever this is…crap.” There were a couple of guys in my path, and these weren’t teenaged boys trying to pluck up the courage to ask a hot girl out.

More cultists? I moved to go around them, and they let me pass, but I could feel their eyes following me, then they themselves in pursuit.

More cultists. And it was broad daylight. Which I hoped meant they wouldn’t try anything as long as I could stay in public.