‘Here, Emma,’ Ryan said as he quietly placed the shard on the desk beside her mouse. ‘This is the last shard that’s left.’
‘Really didn’t think you’d have the balls,’ she commented as she ran a long finger over it. ‘What’d you do with the body?’
‘I used another piece of the mirror to deal with it,’ he said – it was the truth after all. Or a truth at least. ‘That way, there’s no paper trail.’
‘Fine, now make this one disappear.’
He lifted it and hesitated for a moment – she’d seemed fine, but there was no way of knowing that the piece of mirror in his hand wasn’t all of her memories from before she was ten, her sense of taste, her ability to hack, or something as simple as being able to pronounce words with a double-t in them.
Mirrors were chaotic. Mirrors were of Chaos. He picked up the piece of mirror and crushed it in his hand. There was no way of knowing if it was a part of her, or which part of her it was.
‘Do it,’ Emma ordered, and he clutched the shard, the sharp edges digging into his palm, the magic pulsing against his skin, begging to be used. Hesitant and afraid, he still ordered it to destroy itself.
He buried his now-bleeding hand in his pocket and stared at her. ‘Where from here?’
She made a vague gesture near her cheek, and he remembered his own bleeding one. ‘Go see your tech,’ she said as she turned back to her monitor. ‘And we’ll put this whole bloody mess behind us.’
He shifted into Jones’ office, rather than walking the few metres down the hall – he didn’t like recruits seeing him bleed – it helped to maintain the illusion that they were indeed immortal and all-powerful. They were…except for the list of weaknesses longer than his arm.
‘Sorry for the intrusion,’ he said as he approached Jones’ desk.
‘We’re unfortunately used to that by now.’
He halted in his tracks, unused to Jones speaking to him like that.
‘Hearth out, you noob, and grab your tanking gear. Wiping here is what happens in PUGs. This is not a PUG. I thought you were just having a bad day, I didn’t notice that you were in your DPS gear.’
The tech agent jumped and pulled off his headphones. ‘Brb, boss aggro,’ he whispered before dropping them to his desk. ‘Sorry sir, what can I do for you?’
He waited for Jones to notice the open wound.
‘Fae weapon?’ Jones asked as he stood from his chair, walked to the wall and pulled a box of equipment from a tall shelf.
‘Mirror,’ he replied as he required away his jacket.
Jones placed the box on the empty bench, tapped his fingers on it for a moment, then opened it and began to retrieve small vials of brightly coloured liquids. ‘Where…did the mirror come from?’
‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘Was it adhered to a weapon? Do we have to issue a-’
‘The piece was destroyed, Jones, there’s nothing to worry about.’
‘As you say sir.’ Jones pulled a second box from the shelf and retrieved a helmet from it, then blew what dust he could from it before wiping it with his lab coat sleeve.
Jones handed him the see-through helmet and he cracked it open. He required a short stool and sat on it before wrapping the helmet around the back of his head pulled it closed across his face.
A grid of blue lights appeared in his vision and slowly cycled over his face, taking account of any and all damage.
‘Jonesy, are you still AFK?’ Merlin asked as he walked past.
He cycled through the last few seconds of memory – he hadn’t heard the door open, and so far as he knew, Merlin – unlike Magnolia – hadn’t learned to shift, fade or teleport. He dismissed the thought though – knowing he was distracted.
‘As I seriously doubt you’re going to continue without your main healer-’
‘Arty said he’d heal.’
‘Arty is a-’ Jones cut himself short as the scan appeared on the large screen above his desk. ‘Sir, there’s no damage but what we can see, so this’ll be a quick fix.’
‘I didn’t mean to interrupt your game.’
Merlin walked over to him, placed his hands on his knees and leaned down to stare through the helmet at him. ‘Our guild needs a prot pally.’
‘-protection paladin-’ Jones translated from his desk.
‘Cause I dun really see you as a mage.’
‘I’ll pass, thank you,’ he said stiffly as the boy continued to stare at him. It was strange to be stared at through goggles – and he half-expected the boy to start jumping around like an excited puppy at any moment, or go curl up in the cardboard box beneath Jones’ desk.
‘…pony?’ the boy questioned.
‘What?’ he demanded.
He almost asked the recruit what he was talking about – but a fear that the boy was actually reading his thoughts stopped him.
Thankfully, Jones spoke up. ‘Merlin, the unicorn idea was already vetoed, and you can’t be upset because it wasn’t your idea.’
The boy looked confused for a moment, then his shoulders slumped. ‘But I was gonna…Never mind.’
Jones stood from his desk and walked over to the brightly-coloured vials, selecting two, and loading one into a hypodermic needle. He gently pushed Merlin out of the way and removed the helmet. The small boy grabbed the tech agent’s arm. ‘Doesn’t he get a lollipop or something?’
‘You can’t perform medical procedures on someone without promising them something first!’ the boy screamed, almost hysterical.
[Please humour him, sir,] Jones begged over communication mode. [You know what his parents did to him.]
‘I’ve, er, been promised a- Um, big lollipop?’
‘Good, I’ll go get it!’ Merlin said, the fear gone his voice, as he scrambled towards the door.
‘Sorry for that,’ Jones said as he pushed his head to the side and poured the contents of the first vial over the wound. He then injected the contents of the hypodermic needle deep into his cheek.
He felt the liquid burning as it repaired the damage, and the familiar sensation of a wound closing over. After a moment, Jones retreated. ‘That’s one, sir.’
‘Thank you,’ he said as he required a handkerchief and wiped the remainder of the blue liquid from his face.
The hand was much easier, just a single injection and a gel patch. ‘Was that all of the injuries sir?’
‘Yes, Jones, I’ll let you get back to your game.’
‘Emma’s making them nervous,’ Jones said. ‘They’ve gotten over their infatuation with her accent, and they’ve realised what a dark cloud over us she is. Your recruits are quite a bit more resillient than mine. Mine want to fight monsters from a safe distance, and save the world, they don’t want to deal with officious bureaucracy. The only reason they can stand us as authority figures is because we’re “secret agents” and to them, that’s still a wonderful thing. It hasn’t became old hat.’
‘The idea of being a paladin never appealed to me,’ he said after a long moment.
‘Then you’re in the wrong profession, sir,’ Jones said. ‘We’re advocates of order, are we not?’
‘But to maintain that order to a point where a few black marks can tarnish a record? We really haven’t come that far, have we?’
‘At least we aren’t beheading each other over friendships with mortals anymore. I’ve become Merlin’s mentor and parental proxy, how long would I have lasted back then?’
‘Did Emma bring up Carol? Is this what it’s about?’
‘No, it’s really not about Carol.’
Jones didn’t look away. ‘Then what is it, sir? You’ve been distracted, ever since the mirrorfall. I was wrong, it’s not Emma. She can’t have had this much of an effect on you. You’ve argued with Enforcers, so one agent from London can’t have done this to you.’
‘It’s not Emma,’ he admitted.
‘Then what is it?’
‘The professional relationships we had to maintain back then…They’re still all I have. My recruits distance themselves from me. All of them. They’ll hear the filtered story about Carol, or something else will happen, then all I ever get is “yes sir” or “no sir”. I can rarely fault them for their performance, but…’
‘You wish more of them were like Stef?’
‘In so many words.’
‘I read her file, sir. Shouldn’t be too hard to repeat. Go rescue a few dozen children under five, then wait twenty years, then recruit them.’
‘If only it were that easy. Remember when that warlock attacked that orphanage? I rescued more than a dozen children then. Not even one badly-drawn or badly-spelt thank you note. We’re meant to be anonymous, to fade into the crowd. We serve the public, but we aren’t part of that world, and if you don’t have friends within the Agency, then all there is, is work.’
‘You are always welcome to join us when we have a movie night. Or day. Or afternoon. I stopped asking you ten years ago because you never said yes.’
‘I’ll consider it. I have some research to do.’
‘Can I be of assistance?’
‘No, it’s basic research on the Courts, and Court law. The situation with Prest raised a few questions.’
‘Yes sir. We’re screening Close Encounters tomorrow.’
‘I’ll consider it.’
‘That response is why I stopped asking.’
He smiled. ‘This time, I’m really considering it.’