Mana of Mayhem: Magic School Blues
Isaac enters his room, carefully shutting the door behind him, and speaks. “Alright. What is it? You wanted to talk, now’s the time.”
The darkness in the room thickens, becomes almost tangible. “You are on the verge of acting recklessly again. Calm yourself.”
Isaac chuckles, a low, unpleasant sound devoid of any humor whatsoever. “Calm myself? I thought I was acting calmly enough.”
“A semblance of calm, but only that. A semblance, a front.”
Isaac shakes his head, striding over to the corner and grabbing a few of the razor discs, which he gingerly drops into his coat pocket… then grabs a few more for good measure. “I sincerely hope, old friend, that you didn’t so insistently demand that I return here just to critique my acting skills. I’m usually game for constructive criticism, but this really isn’t the time.”
“I asked you to come here because I was hoping to persuade you to stop for a moment and think about this situation before you did something reckless! Should you misstep here, Isaac, the consequences could be far worse than merely losing face with your current dalliance!”
Isaac’s face twists into a furious snarl. “Think about it? Thinking about this mess is not the sort of thing that will induce me to calm down! Those Merry Widow shits just abducted my current girlfriend!” He slashes angrily through the air with one hand.
The guardian is having none of it. “Wipe the blood from your eyes, Isaac, and think about this for a moment! Their stated goal is the cat—so why, then, are they going after someone who has little to no connection to it?”
Isaac opens his mouth to snap something back—and pauses as that question sinks in. His snarl of fury slowly subsides into a thoughtful frown as he ponders the question. “That… is a good question,” he admits, his frown deepening; a number of potential answers suggest themselves, and none of them are to his liking. Isaac lets out his breath slowly. “You think they’re baiting us.”
“I am pleased to see that you have not entirely forgotten how to think,” the shadow says acidly. “Acting recklessly in this situation would be akin to a bull charging at the wave of a matador’s cape—particularly given that Merry Widow seems to have designs on your life… and knows more of your affinities than you should be comfortable with, judging by that floodlight at the Olive Garden.”
Isaac takes a deep breath. “Alright. What do you suggest, then?”
“If you must involve yourself in this, tread carefully. Gather catspaws, employ them to hem your enemy in, then strike. There are places where even demons fear to tread, Isaac.”
Isaac considers that, but after a moment he shakes his head. “No. Can’t do it, not after this. They’ve attacked me in my own domain; that’s got to be retaliated against immediately. Otherwise they might get the idea that they can do this sort of thing with impunity and I might find myself with a bed full of spiders or something. They’ve got to be slapped down hard, now.”
The shadow sighs. “And they took the girl.”
“Yes, that too,” Isaac answers, raising a hand to his chin as he thinks. “Aside from the ‘blood in my eyes’, as you called it… there’s another good reason for not playing the long game on this one: we’re not the only ones she has value as a bargaining chip to. If the creepie-crawlies think that we’re not going to play ball, they might decide to see about pinning down purple-eyes or one of her allies and negotiating with them. We already know Merry Widow has designs on me; I would just as soon not have them acquiring any more resources with which to accomplish their ends.”
“A logical argument for timely intervention,” the shadow admits. “But personal intervention?”
“First of all, this is an indirect personal attack on me. If Merry Widow was able to infer that Chun-wu could be used as a lever to move Prof. Inkless, they had to know that taking her would affect me as well. Secondly… I’m sure you recall Professor Inkless’s ideas about tactics and strategy?” Isaac shudders. “I’d rather not rely on her having to go scooping souls out of the line, as it were, and I like Chun-wu better alive than dead.”
“…very well, then. But I ask you this, Isaac: how far are you willing to go tonight?” the shadow asks. “And how far is your Professor Inkless?”
“She mentioned using lethal force before; I’ll ask again en route.” Isaac is silent for a moment; the shadow waits patiently until Isaac speaks again. “As to the other half of that question… as far as it takes. Holding cards in the hole doesn’t do any good if you’re afraid to play them when you need them,” he says grimly. “Besides. I’ve kept her secret; hopefully she’ll keep mine.”
“You a place a great deal of trust in a ‘hope’, Isaac,” the shadow scoffs.
“I know,” Isaac sighs. “But as you’ve already pointed out—it seems my enemies already know something of what I’ve been holding back. My allies learning that as well won’t be the end of the world. And this isn’t a time for half-measures.” Isaac ponders for a moment. “Speaking of which… it might be a good time to call Kotomine. Given her apparent dislike of Merry Widow, she might not be averse to lending some aid… which could be useful, given her apparent prescience.”
“If you must,” the shadow growls reluctantly. “I have no great love of that woman, but I leave the decision in your hands.”
Isaac laughs. “How odd. Aren’t you normally the pragmatist?”
“I AM a pragmatist, so my hesitation should suggest caution to you!” the shadow exclaims. “Picking up a blade is fine and well, but have you never heard of the phrase ‘double-edged sword’? Some swords can be as dangerous to the wielder as the enemy. That woman is one such; tread warily with her.”
“You think she’s that dangerous?” Isaac asks.
Now it is the shadow’s turn to sigh. “You dabble in shadows; I dwell amongst them. That woman commands them; her power is strong enough for me to feel, as you would feel the heat of a bonfire burning. Should she wish, she could almost certainly overwhelm you in your area of strength in direct confrontation, and if the accounts of her prescience are not exaggerated, you would have a very difficult time slipping anything by her in an indirect confrontation. I will agree that this is not the time for half-measures; call for aid if you wish, but tread carefully. Drawing her ire could be a deadly mistake at this stage of the game.”
Isaac nods slowly. “I… see. Well, thank you for that.” Isaac pulls out his cellphone, staring at it for a long moment. “No half measures, though… and there’s not a lot of time,” he says, grimacing as he glances at the time. He hesitates for a moment longer, then punches in the number from the e-mail.
“Moshi moshi?” The greeting on the other end comes after a ring or two. It’s obviously a direct, or perhaps more startlingly, personal line. Marisa is awake, and aware. The greeting doesn’t sound slurred.
“Hi! No hablo Japanese, I’m afraid,” Isaac says brightly, his voice showing no trace of his actual state of mind. Then, almost as an afterthought, he adds, “Your sister’s not listening on the extension is she?” He chuckles as he asks, but there’s a second question hidden beneath the surface—is this line secure?
“No family listening on this line. Old habit however.” Marisa’s voice comes back after a moment, sounding a bit more tinny. “Sorry, speakerphone on this thing still isn’t the greatest. But so much improved over the original version.”
Isaac nods, taking Marisa’s response as an answer to both questions. “So noted.” He pauses a moment. “Anyway, this is Isaac; we met briefly awhile back. I know you’re probably pretty busy, so I won’t waste much of your time; first, thanks for the contact information, and secondly… your prediction was on the mark.” Isaac’s voice falls flat at the end; he’s a bit calmer now than he was earlier, but he’s still pretty furious at the nerve of these Merry Widow goons.
“Oh, you aren’t interrupting. I already blocked out time for the call. It’s pretty close to on schedule actually.” Marisa admits flatly. “So, you are wondering about the Merry Widow and Anansi.”
“Your famed prescience at work,” Isaac comments with a forced tone of dry amusement. “Yes, that’s the gist of it. We’re planning a trip to the Space Needle, you see.” Isaac says.
“… so that’s where they holed up.” Marisa finally sighs. “They are able to… somewhat escape me, I’m afraid. But I can help with what I know they aren’t up to. First of all, no, they aren’t after your family or anyone related to your professor. I can give you that much.”
My family? They’re welcome to them. One’s dead and the other might as well be, and the old man would probably beat their goons to death if they came after him. No, they’re after a bloody cat and they took my girlfriend to try to get at the fuzzball— Isaac bites down on his lip, hard, as Marisa continues. “I can also… let’s see… do you have an email address you trust?”
Isaac takes a deep breath, turning his thoughts back to the problem at hand. “Hm. I have a few I don’t use often, but… trustworthy? Security and anonymity tend to be fairly mutually exclusive.” Isaac hesitates for a moment, then switches over to the smartphone’s web browser, tapping keys fairly rapidly. “One moment… there. Brand new account, just for you. Try firstname.lastname@example.org.”
It only takes a few moments for an e-mail to arrive from an equally obscure e-mail account; opening it, Isaac finds a plethora of attached documents, including blueprints and a number of dossiers. One of the sets of blueprints is for an office building about a block from the space needle. “Hm… very nice. Very nice indeed,” Isaac admits, impressed despite himself. She probably already had the dossiers on hand, and the blueprints are matters of public record, but pulling it together so quickly is still pretty impressive. “Your reputation for prescience is, as expected, well deserved. So. Two more questions. First, anything else you’d like to offer in terms of advice?”
“Keep your wits about you. Be flexible with your planning. These people are not stupid, but they aren’t the brightest either.” Marisa pauses. “If you get into really hot water, give another call and I’ll try to see what I can field your way.”
“Hm. So noted. Second question,” Isaac says, his voice becoming wary. “What are we going to owe you for this?”
“Right now? Call it even. You are doing something I wish I could be doing, but I can’t. For reasons.”
Isaac nods. He’d been at least partially expecting that response, but he hadn’t been entirely sure; hearing it is a bit of a relief. “Excellent. Alright, then. Rest assured, I’ll do my best to be… thorough.” There’s a bit of weight on that last word; Isaac is still good and angry. He takes a deep breath, his voice becoming bright again. “In any case: my thanks, Miss Kotomine. Until next we meet.”
“Be careful,” she says; a moment later, the line goes dead.
Isaac waits a moment longer, then nods and tucks the phone into his pocket.
That went… better than it could have, the shadow whispers grudgingly, in the back of Isaac’s mind.
“A good start. Now it’s up to us to see it to a good finish,” Isaac says grimly. He glances around the room one last time, searching for anything else he might need… then, seeing nothing, he nods to himself and heads for the door. He still has a few more stops before he rendezvous with Thessa, and today time is of the essence.