All the plans were made; All allies enlisted, all preparations made. All the mysteries had been explicated, at least the ones we wanted explicated. All that remained for us to do was to wait patiently, and not give away those last little surprises until it was too late for the other side to recover and disarrange things.

The ladies met with Mrs. Hillary and Mr. Yates met, in public and properly social distanced in a local park so that they would not be over heard while they arranged how they might build the necessary fire inside the unused church without drawing unnecessary attention, succumbing to smoke inhalation, or burning the building down around their ears.

The meeting would have been far more comical if they did not all have to wear masks over nose and mouth just in case one or other might have the big ick running around the world at that time. Mrs. Hillary had trouble controlling her face while they made their plans, especially when anyone mentioned the possibility of starting a building fire, but the mask hid most of it. Mrs. Hillary kept her hands steady only by knotting the fingers together in a white knuckled grasp. An air hovered around the woman that at any moment she might go off like a bomb and start screaming and throwing things. The mild, cheerful home schooling, suburban soccer mom from the beginning of the month had vanished without a trace. Everyone (who did not know better) blamed the change on her husband’s sudden departure and the loss of her child, and gave her sympathy and a wide birth. Dennis Yates needled his soi dissent ally and enjoyed her helpless fury as her real nature paraded out in public for all to see.

Dennis Yates made a determined and surprisingly subtle effort to find out who had what game tools, without revealing he had none. At a signal from Marius, Jane let slip that the Curse Keeper had the Closing Wand, and let the others guess what they liked about what happened to it after the collapse. Janet (who can do subtle with the best of them, though she seldom bothers) managed to convince the others that the Icon might be buried in the collapsed remains of the Dark Fae’s home, and the Ring disappeared with John Feste, though she never actually said either. The lady blacksmith also left Mrs. Hillary and Mr. Yates suspecting the other had the Bowl and the Closing Wand even as they tried to come up with a way to dig out the Icon by the next evening, without drawing official sanctions.

My friends left them to it, glad to have given both something to occupy their minds and distract them from their frustrations.

It turned out that not all the mysteries had been explicated to everyone’s satisfaction. Technically, this occured mostly on the thirty-first, but all involved were still up rather than getting up, so I put it here.

Just before midnight, when the household was settling down in the living room for one, last confabulation before the conclusion, a gentle, polite knock came at the front door.

“I wonder who is coming to call at this hour,” Maximus said, rising to his feet.

Janet rose also, but she only said, “It seems like our clocks are running a little slow,” to indicate she understood.

At a nod from Maximus, Janet opened the portal part way, and if she had a heavy war hammer decorated with glowing sigils in the hand behind the door, one could hardly blame her. (Janet had it on loan from another of my friends for the duration. The ladies had several relics of the sort stashed about the place. It is all very well to invite your friends to help in such a dangerous escapade and ring them around with defenses and leap in to any breach you find. It is better to make certain that your friends can defend themselves, too, in case you are not around, or too vastly outnumbered.)

“Sorry to come calling at such an hour,” Special Agent Whitfield said from behind his purple mask, “but my information indicates that this is the only hour I might question some of you and expect an intelligible response.”

The man in the purple mask looked past Janet, down at Maximus and asked, “Could I have a few words with you and your two friends?”

Janet opened her mouth to make the sort of noises one might expect an ordinary human to make if an officer of the law stopped by and asked to interrogate her dog, but Maximus saw something that she did not. A small, furry, round eared head popped out of one of the Special Agent’s pockets for a quick wave, before disappearing again.

Maximus had been inclined to approve of the Special Agent to begin with, the Pocket Bear’s testimonial just bumped approval up to trust, so he said. “Let him in to the living room, plase, Janet.” Maximus turned to trot back to his spot by D/OG without waiting for a response.

Janet frowned and disappeared the hammer back into its hiding place, but she stepped back to allow the Special Agent to pass, anyway.

Jane and Jan both stood up to receive their visitor, faces blank yet thoughtful. Magnar settled more firmly into his bunny-loaf position, all paws tucked and ears alert, while Marius might be a particularly life-like statue on his perch, and D/OG sat as a canid sphynx, cool and untouched by the situation.

Special Agent Whitfield stood at one side of the door arch, looking at the two sisters…three after Janet slipped past him to stand with the younger two. “I do not want to be rude, but would you ladies mind leaving us alone for this little conversation? If I ask you these questions, or ask them in your presence, which some might interpret as the same thing under the circumstances, I shall have to take official note of this interview, and record the results in my case notes.

“If I am just having a conversation with a bunch of animals, those same people would begin questioning my sanity a bit more strenuously than usual if I were to take official notice of the results. “If you would not mind stepping across to the kitchen? You will be close enough to hear and intervene if I am up to anything, but far enough to qualify as not officially present.” He sounded a little embarrassed, to tell the truth, but still firm.

When the ladies hesitated, he explained a bit further. “I am an agent of the law, even though my particular position sometimes leads me into the gray areas that the legislative branch has not yet considered. What I am officially aware of, I have to act upon, even if I personally feel that the act is unjust in that particular circumstance because of factors that most sane judges and juries would never consider, please.” He bowed with one hand over his heart, and with the other, he waved towards the kitchen.

“Go on, ladies,” Maximus half laughed. “If you keep him standing there too long, our hour will run out, and we may never know what this was all about.”

Jan put her tongue at the dog and growled, “We get let out of all the good bits,” but they left, as required.

Rather than settling in any of the really rather comfy furniture, the Special Agent settled easily into a cross legged position by the door. “Just to verify my information, since we have not been formally introduced, on the mantelpiece is Marius, in the corner is Magnar, and in front of the fire sits Maximus, and the new resident is called D/OG, former associate of the individual known as the Good Doctor.

“I am particularly glad to see you here, as you may be able to settle some questions I have there with first hand information, which is always helpful.” SA Whitfield pronounced Maximus’s name properly, rather than the slightly adulterated version he had been using all month, which gained him some thoughtful looks, and Marius shifted around a bit, officially joining the conversation.

“Your information is very good,” Marius offered. “Please ask your questions. Things get more complicated if your time runs out.”

Wasting only a second to consider that statement, but not the additional minute or more that an explanation might take, the human did what he was told. “I need to know about the recent disappearances in the neighborhood, and I do not just mean the children. Several of the suspects in the initial kidnappings have departed to points unknown in the last few days, and I need to know that they are not absconding villains who need chasing. I may as well tell you now that contrary to the evidence most of my more ordinary colleagues have accepted, I am aware that there were no real human remains in either the collapsed mine, or the house in the sinkhole.”

Magnar looked at the others and shrugged. Marius stepped in to answer. “Mr. Feste left to set up a sanctuary for the simulacrum Mrs. Hillary made of her husband and his daughter who she intended to sacrifice tomorrow night. Mr. Talbot facilitated the escape of those two, and is staying out of the way so that she can not use him to track down her victims. Neither the man in the mine, nor the owner of the house in the sinkhole had anything to do with the vanishing children, and there should be no more of them, either.”

Special Agent Whitfield did not even blink at the word simulacrum, or sacrifice. He simply nodded. Even the news about the Curse Keeper and the Dark Fae’s innocence came as more of a confirmation of things he already suspected rather than new information.

“You would not have been able to prosecute the beings responsible for the missing children,” D/OG informed them. “Once the beings responsible were dealt with, my Master and his companions moved on to another task which required their urgent intervention while I stayed a little longer to make certain this world would not be destroyed tomorrow night. He shall come back for me when they finish what they were doing.”

With the orderly sort of mind that takes one thing at a time rather than latching on to the bigger thing and losing track of the smaller, the man asked, “Beings?’

“You might call them Crying Seraphim, though in this case, they were acting as tools for Discordia, or perhaps her tools were acting as Crying Seraphim. It can be difficult to tell with her,” Magnar offered.

The involvement of an ancient Roman goddess took a little swallowing, but the questioning went on, “Did you say that the world might be destroyed tomorrow night?”

“Well, not destroyed exactly,” Maximus clarified. “Changed beyond all recognition and plunged into chaos and madness is more accurate.”

“It is not very likely, now,” Marius soothed.

“We have it well in poof,” Magnar added.

The human’s eyes widened on the word ‘poof’, as if he knew just what it might imply about the beings he was talking to. It took Special Agent Whitfield almost half a minute, a very long time for him, to reassess and reinterpret everything that had been going on in the light of that new information.

“So the Great Game really is being played out in this area this year. I noticed the oddities and the unusual congregation of unusual individuals in this location, but I could find none of the strange killings and grave robbings that go along with it, though there were what appeared to be very clumsy attempts. With you involved, however…” His voice trailed off in another bit of heavy cogitation.

At last, he simply asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Well,” Maximus said, exchanging speaking glances with Magnar and Marius. “If you and perhaps a few friends could be available tomorrow night, around one AM to help deal with the aftermath, we would appreciate it.”

“What kind of friends?” the Special Agent asked.

“Preferably ones who are good with children,” Marius said, and his tone smiled, even if his face could not.


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