Katherine looked up at him. “So what now?”
“You did ruin my jacket.”
“I’ll buy you a new one. I have a lot of money, I think.” It seemed like an odd thing to say, but that seemed to be par for the course with Katherine.
“Money from horribly murdering people, or something?” Stirling guessed
“No, it was left to me.”
“I guess that’s alright then. Well, since I’m not exactly turning people away who want to join me in the fight against the forces of evil, I guess we can work together. Welcome to the team. You walk in front though.”
There was a long beat as they looked at each other.
“So you want to pack that thing away?” she asked, nodding at the shadow whip still in his hand. “Your algere is showing.”
“You’re creeping me out,” she clarified, “and between us, I’ve got enough baggage to deal with without adding more stress,” she said tapping her temple.
“Oh, right. Shields up.” He began the mental process of hemming in his deathly aura.
“What was it you called it, Algeersomething?”
“Algere. It’s an old term.”
“What does it mean?”
“The original word meant, to feel cold. It ended up being used to describe the aura around a necromancer. I don’t remember it being so strong. It has been a long time since I’ve been around any of your kind though, and my memories aren’t exactly reliable. Why, what do you call it.”
“No, it’s a step past freak to frakey. You know, like Johnathan.”
“I’m superfrakaey,” he said doing his best Rick James imitation.
“And you’re not a fan of Rick James or Star Trek.”
“Whatever. We should move,” she said, beginning to walk through the gravel lot toward the broken fence. After last night, the Guild will know there’s a necromancer in Vancouver. Their diviners will be on the lookout for you. It takes some effort, but they can track you by your algere.”
“They did it during The Dust Wars and nothing has changed that would make me think they can’t do it still.”
“You could just say, yes.”
“Did you know about that?” he asked Magnon as he trotted over to the bent gate in Katherine’s wake, making sure to keep her in front.
“There was suspicion during the war, but we were never completely sure. I’m curious how she knows such an important Guild secret though. If we can find a way to get the information out of her it could be really important. Sharing Guild secrets is beyond dangerous. Just happening to hear them can get you a death mark. We’ll have to be subtle when we question her though.”
“Hey, so, how do you know so much about the Alchemist Guild?”
“Smooth, Stirling, ”
“That friend who Knox killed was an alchemist. I picked up a lot from her.”
“Ouch, didn’t mean to open up fresh wounds. Sorry.”
“Ask her who it was.”
“Who was your friend, by the way?”
“Elanor of the Red.”
Magnon emitted an abbreviated squawk from his spot on the fence and Katherine cocked an eye at him.
“Looks like your crow knows who that was,” she said with a bitter grin. It was the first smile Stirling had seen her make and it wasn’t a pleasant one.
“Elanor of the Red was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of necromancers up and down the west coast of North America and all across the Aether. She was a certified nightmare. She was on the Guild’s version of a ruling council. I’m not sad to hear she’s dead, but it brings up a problem.”
Magnon hesitated a long moment before responding. “If I tell you this, you can never repeat it. This is a secret that literally thousands of people have died for.”
“No.” As before with the crow, the mental link carried more than just simple meaning. Accompanying the word was a sense of loss, pain, and deep, deep, rage. It was so strong that when only the barest edge of it brushed at his mind and Stirling lost all sense of himself. When he became aware again, he was face-down in a tuft of frost-wilted crabgrass on the side of the road.
He looked up to see Katherine looking down at him with a raised eyebrow. She offered him a hand up, and he was so rattled that he took it without thinking.
“Sorry, still a bit clumsy,” he mumbled at her. His jaw felt like it had been hit with a lead brick.
“What the fuck was that for?!” he sent to the crow who was resting on a roof ledge ahead of them.
“This is a topic where I won’t, I can’t, accept a flippant answer, this is beyond serious.” grated back Magnon’s mental voice. “You think that what you’re facing right now is bad? It’s not. Your pain and suffering up to this point amounts to a fart in a tempest—less than that. You are one single person who has lately had their life slightly inconvenienced.” Stirling considered arguing that a sucking chest wound was a bit past inconvenient, but decided to let it pass. The crow appeared to be upset. “Imagine the lives and dreams of literally thousands of people just like you. Now imagine all of them murdered because there was the slightest possibility that they might be aware of this powerful secret. If you can’t treat this with the seriousness and reverence it deserves, I’ll wish you well and leave you to your own devices.”
It didn’t take Stirling long to decide. “I won’t say I understand in the way you do, because I don’t, but I’ll give you my word that I’ll treat this as though my life depends on it though.” He tried to push his sincerity along the connection to the crow. He wasn’t sure how well he managed since sincerity had never really been a thing he'd been all that good at, but it seemed to do the trick because Magnon’s voice began speaking in his head again.
“The bodies of Alchemists at her level are so heavily saturated with Panacea that, for all intents and purposes, they’re immortal. The fact she’s dead means Knox knows that, given the right circumstances, necromantic magic can undo Panacea.”
“So, that secret is the main reason the Dust War was ever even fought to begin with.” Magnon took the mental equivalent of a deep breath before going on. “You have to understand, the Alchemists have built their power and influence by selling health and long life. It’s the ultimate currency in the arcane community across all the worlds of the Aether. Money, precious metals, gems, none of it means anything next to the ability to extend life. If it was ever known that the effects of Panacea could be nullified, there would be doubt and panic all across the Aether.”
Stirling mulled through the implications of what Magnon had said as he walked.
“Did your crow fill you in?” Katherine called over her shoulder.
Stirling had fallen a few paces behind as he thought and he jogged to catch up. “He recognizes the name,” Stirling told her casually.
“But you don’t?”
“I’m new to this, I still have my junior necromancer training wheels on.”
“So, it looks like you already know about my talents, what’s your knack?”
“Good question,” she said but didn’t elaborate.
“Well, I’m glad you’re not being vague or anything. I’d hate for there to be a lack of trust and understanding between us. You might hurt my feelings.”
“Out of curiously, which of the Thirteen is he?” she asked out of the blue, pointing a finger at Magnon.
“Huh?” was the best rejoinder he could come up with at the sudden shift in conversation.
“I mean since it looks like we’re trading personal information.”
A sense of profound shock tinged with fear cut through the mental connection he shared with the crow. It wasn’t as strong as the emotional feedback he’d felt at the news of Elanor’s death and Stirling barely missed a step. When the crow did speak, the voice in Stirling’s mind was thready and weak. “Be very careful here, knowledge of the Thirteen is something that is only held a tiny handful of people. This woman either knows more than she should or…”
“Or What?” Stirling asked silently.
“Or she’s someone who shouldn’t be slumming it with a fledgling necromancer, that’s for sure. What’s really concerning is that she’s not afraid to let us know she knows.”
“I’m going to say that being rational isn’t her strong suit.”
“That doesn’t make this situation better.”
“So, what? Think I should run?”
“Are you kidding? Did you see her bend that pole? Besides, I believe her when she says she’s got a grudge to settle with Knox of the White. As long as she keeps that in mind we’ll probably be alright.”
“So what should I tell her, then?”
“Tell her the name you gave me. I don’t think there’s anything she could gain from knowing who I was, but I didn’t think she could know about the Thirteen either. Let’s play this smarter than we have so far.”
Stirling gave her what he thought was his best clueless expression, but in reality, it made him look like something in his fridge smelled off. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. His name’s Magnon though.”
“Maybe now it is.”
Stirling shrugged in reply. “If he decides to share his personal information with you that’s going to be up to him, I’m not Mark Zuckerberg here.”