Book 2, Chapter 110

Sakura melted out of the shadows.  She openly gawked at Ean, who just looked back at her helplessly.

“What?” Ean asked.  “JD left them at my place in case another demon tried to possess something in my refrigerator.”

Sakura opened her mouth to reply, reconscidered, and then shut it.  Instead she daintily stepped through the empty space that had contained mystic wards just seconds ago — wards that had faded away when Michael stopped providing them energy, on account of his being dead — and started undoing Rachel’s bonds.

Rachel blinked repeatedly.  Even through her eyelids she’d seen the laser’s brief, searing light.  “What…” Rachel tried to ask.

“Don’t worry: you’re being rescued,” Sakura explained as she freed Rachel’s other wrist.  “We’re the good guys.”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 109

“Ha!” Michael sneered.  “What did you expect?  Only an amateur conducts magic without ensuring they won’t be interfered with.  Those wards will prevent all physical passage through them for as long as I provide them energy.”  He turned back to Rachel.  “Seriously: your boyfriend is a stupid loser and now I’m going to kill you both.”

On the ground, Ean groaned in pain.  The board he’d used to lead his charge had shattered on collision with the warded circle.  Shards had sliced his face, hands and jacket when they’d been blown backward into him.  A particularly large splinter had stabbed into his lower left side hard enough to scrape his ribs.  It stuck out like a lonely porcupine quill.

“Okay,” Ean admitted to me.  “Time for Plan E.”  Then he reached into his pocket and produced a compact, shiny pistol.

Michael, who had been curious enough to glance over at the mention of ‘Plan E’ started laughing.  It was not nice laughter.

“Last chance,” Ean said through clenched teeth.  “Let her go and we walk away.”

“Moron,” Michael threw back.  “‘All physical passage’ includes bullets, dumbass.”  He turned back to Rachel and raised his dagger once more.

Rachel squeezed her eyes shut in anticipation of the pain to come.  Tears forced their way out at the corners.

And then Ean pulled the trigger on his gun, and a beam of light snapped into existance.  It neatly intersected Michael’s head for a second before burning through and scorching the far wall.  Then it vanished.

Ean let his hand drop.  “And alien laser beams aren’t bullets,” he said.  “Or physical.  Science: Go figure.”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 108

Michael turned away from Ean and glared at Rachel. “Seriously?!” He demanded. He sounded genuinely aggrieved. “This loser gets a dinner date and I get a bowling alley?

Rachel strained to sit up, it could only lift her head a little — not enough to see. “Ean?” She sounded stunned. “Be careful! This guy is crazy!”

“Hey!” Michael snarled in protest — but not in protest of being called crazy. That was old hat, for him. “Don’t you ignore me when I’m murdering you! It’s rude!” He brandished his dagger. “Pay attention, or I swear I’ll…”

Michael didn’t get to finish his threat. As soon as the words ‘murdering you’ had crossed his lips, Ean had instinctively reacted to protect Rachel: proving she was a legitimately a romantic interest of his. So there.

Anyway: Ean had pulled his arm back and then whipped it forward, sending the crowbar hurtling at Michael. The chunk of metal flipped end over end toward the necromancer, with Ean charging in right behind it — his broken off floor board leveled in front of him like a spear.

But then the crowbar attempted to cross a circle of runes that hovered just an inch off the floor, glowing dimly enough to not be obvious in the room’s other lights. The crowbar was repulsed, bouncing off of empty air while the wards flared angrily. And then Ean, unable to stop himself in time, slammed into the air above the same magic circle and was blasted of his feet.

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapater 107

“Stop!” Ean shouted, throwing away the element of surprise in hopes of distracting Michael long enough to do something.

Michael stopped. Then he spun around in surprise. His eyes narrowed. “Who are you?” He demanded.

It was time for plan E. Of course, Ean just scowled at that suggestion and started with plan A, anyway.

“Um, I’m Rachel’s date for the evening,” Ean said. “So, if you don’t mind, I’ll just untie her and we’ll be on our way, okay?”

Michael stared at Ean in utter, uncomprehending disbelief.

“What.” That was all that the necromancer managed to vocalize.

“Yeah,” said Ean as he edged forward. Then, as though it might help his case, he added: “We’re already late for dinner.”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 106

Ean and Sakura crept into Michael’s ritual chamber unnoticed by its occupants. Sakura, because she’s a freaking master ninja. Ean, because the occupants were too busy with their own conversation to notice anyone failing to be successfully sneaky. In response to my observation, Ean gave me a quick scowl and a subtle middle finger, which he disguised as readjusting his grip on the crowbar he was still carrying.

“So,” the necromancer Michael said while pacing next to his ritual table. “The next date would be what?”

Rachel tugged at her bindings. She didn’t bother with subtlety because Michael didn’t seem to care, or even notice — but then, she was still securely tied to the table, so maybe it didn’t matter. Also, they were now up to their fifth theoretical alternative to murder date. “I don’t know,” Rachel mumbled distractedly. Usually the other person had some suggestions for at least some of the dates. “Do you like to go bowling?”

Michael scowled. He did not like to go bowling — his fingers got stuck in the holes of the ball, last time. Mortifying. But moreover, he didn’t like how the conversation was going in general. “Coffee, lunch at a new restaurant, an early movie, game night at that boardgames store, and now bowling?” He stopped pacing and scowled down at Rachel. “Those are all things you’d just do with friends,” he accused. “There’s no kissing or being invited over for the night or any of that crap in any of those things! You’re just trying to friendzone me!”

Rachel, who’s nerves had been fraying all evening, couldn’t take it. Her fingers curled into fists and she yelled in frustration, which made Michael and Ean both jump back a step — not that anyone noticed Ean except Sakura. No one noticed Sakura.

After venting inarticulately, Rachel blew out a breath and tried again. After all, she had a vested interest in Michael not choosing the alternative to the alternative-to-murder plan. At least until she found a way to get away from him and call the cops.

“For the love of…” Rachel started to say in exasperation — but she caught herself and started over again, more calmly. “I’m demisexual,” she told Michael. “I’m only attracted to people that I have a close emotional investment in.” With every word, a little more emotion leaked into her voice. Mostly anxiety subsumed into anger. “Like, you know, my friends.” Her voice practically dripped with caustic derision at this point. “So if your idea of a relationship is just the kissing, PDA and late night kinky fucking, then getting ‘friendzoned’ is, like, your ticket in.

Michale gawped at Rachel while he tried to process what she’d told him. For her part, she had closed her eyes and was breathing heavily from the stress — mortified that she’d been so bluntly personal with someone she thought of as a deranged, murderous psychopath with the emotional maturity of a spoiled teenager. And the personality of a spoiled ass wipe. And the morality of a murderous psychopath. Right. Because he was a murderous psychopath, and she was trying her damnedest to seduce him — something her relationship history proved she had no fucking idea how to do even with normal people — so he wouldn’t psychopathically murder her.

Rachel was extremely close to breaking down and crying from the stress.

Finally, Michael scowled and stepped back forward. “Demisexual?” He said, just as derisively. “That’s not even a word. Seriously, Rachel, we could’ve had something beautiful. But if you aren’t even going to take it seriously, I’m just going to go ahead with the ritual murder now. Okay?”

Rachel didn’t really reply. She was just doing her best not to sob from fear and stress and mortification and fear.

So Michael shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other for a moment, and then raised his curvy dagger to cut out Rachel’s soul.

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 105

Once they reached the lobby Hitomi decided she was done holding her tongue. She stopped. Hito Yon, Al, and JD all followed suit — with JD turning to face her. He raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“Not that I’m not grateful,” Hitomi said, “But who are you and why did you lie to get us past those cops?”

JD smiled. His eyebrow lowered. “I’m the duly appointed Champion of Earth,” he declared cheerfully.

Al scowled, but no one else noticed. If I still had the authority, she thought at me, I’d rescind that appointment soooo fast.

“And I didn’t lie,” JD continued. “I said you work for the government, which you do — just not our government. And that you’re working with me. Which you are, because you still have to get past the military cordon surrounding this theatre.”

Hitomi hesitated. Champion of Earth? she thought. Seriously? But it almost fit: he looked like the protagonist of a knock off shonenai, complete with spiky hair and goggles for sunglasses. “What makes you think…”

JD held up a hand. “Here’s the deal,” he said. “I know you aren’t USASSDA agents. But, you’re also accompanying an alien ex-patriot, and you both happen to be adept at martial arts. Maybe those are coincidences, but if you actually were civilians in over your head you probably wouldn’t have followed my lead back there with the cops — you want to avoid police attention. Or should I say: you want to avoid the attention of the authorities? So I’m going to assume you’re JSSDA operatives. And since you were here when a bunch of guys showed up to kidnap my best friend’s date, I’m going to assume whatever reason you had for being here are somehow related, based on the theory that there are no such things as coincidences when secret agents are involved.”

“That’s not actually a deal,” Hitomi pointed out without confirming or denying anything.

“Right,” JD said brightly. The lobby lights glinted off his expressionless goggles. “Then here’s what I want. I want to know what a couple of secret agents were doing in a place that got hit by wannabe kidnappers. I want to know why bad guys wanted to be kidnappers in the first place. I want to know who put them up to it — and I want you to use your espionage resources to get me answers to those questions, so I can kick the source of the matter’s ass for being a jerk to my friends. Deal?”

“Alright,” Hitomi said slowly. “Deal.”

“Cool,” JD said. “Then give me a minute to go out and distract those two USASSDA agents, and then walk out like you’re a bunch of civilians. I’ll catch up to you afterward for the debrief.” Then he pivoted and, whistling, marched out through the large front doors.

Hito Yon blinked a few times. “So… your brilliant plan was to let some kind of other agent — who happens to have influence with the USASSDA — get us out of there?” He asked in confusion. “How did you know he’d…” There were too many ways to end that question. Hito Yon tried again. “Who was that guy?”

“The duly appointed Champion of Earth,” Al answered glumly.

“Sure,” Hitomi said absently in response. “Sure, let’s go with that.” She was busy going over their options in light of recent events. Then she turned to Hito. “And,” she said, “this was really more one of those unlikely plans where you have to wrap around the alphabet and start labeling with more than one letter. Let’s call it plan ‘WTF.’ But hey: if it works roll with it, right?”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 104

Danny looked at the goggled man in front of him, then at the three people JD had singled out. “These three?” Danny asked for clarification. He looked specifically at his ex. “They’re working for the government?”

“Yep,” JD said cheerfully. “Undercover operatives. Just like me.” Agent Johnson had spun a story about JD being part of a deep cover task force working against organized crime in the city. Danny had been loathe to buy into it, but when the agents in question had shown up with a small army… well, even if the whole thing seemed off he wasn’t about to start a fuss with all those gunmen around.

Officers Danny and Marco exchanged glances. They weren’t telepaths, but they had been partners long enough that they could pretend they were.

Holy crap, Marco thought. So Hitomi wasn’t working for the syndicates like you thought — she was working undercover to try to bring them down?! You know, that sort of explains all the suspicious things about her. All the secrets she insisted on keeping and inconsistencies you uncovered about how she claimed to spend her free time.

Danny scowled. This is bullshit, he thought angrily.

Say, Marco thought as an idea struck him, Do you think maybe she was only dating you to try and find out if you were on the take? It was commonly known — and never talked about — that the big syndicates like The Family had ways of getting inside information from the precincts.

Danny’s scowl turned sour. Bullshit! He reiterated. Bull. Shit.

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 103

Behind his glasses, JD’s eyes darted around the room. Then he heaved a convincing sigh. “Look, Johnson,” he said. “Thanks for giving me the heads up about Richards.” He grimaced. “Will you let her know I’ll be out soon? I’d appreciate a moment to brace myself before I have to see her face to face again.”

Agent Johnson winced sympathetically. “Alright. We’ll be outside.”

JD smiled in gratitude, then waited a moment for Johnson to leave.. But once the agent had departed, JD’s smile vanished. He turned and strode to the police officers who were taking down contact information from the remaining theater patrons before letting them file out of the audience. He reached them just as Hitomi got to the front of the line.

Before she could say anything, JD stepped between her and officer Danny.

“Hi,” JD said. “You don’t need to talk to these three. They’re working with me.”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 102

While JD contemplated what he was going to say to his ex to explain his behaviour, Hitomi was doing the same. “<This is bad,>” she muttered.

“<It is?>” Hito Yon asked. “<It seems like this was a very prompt response time on the part of the authorities.>”

“<Yeah…,>” Hitomi drawled. “<About that: I know America likes to equip its police with surplus military gear, but this kind of response is still a little over the top, even for an oligarchic police state masquerading as a republic that thinks it’s a democracy. I think the USASSDA must’ve been watching our necromancer and intervened. The only real cops are those two interviewing the witnesses, and I do not want them bringing us to the USASSDA’s attention by asking too many pointed questions.>”

Hito looked uncomfortable at the prospect. “<Is that likely?>” He asked as they proceeded up the line. “<They seem to be processing people quickly, so everyone can get home. We should receive just as cursory an examination.>”

“<Right,>” Hitomi agreed. “<Except Al has no valid ID for them to put down, and that one is my ex. We broke up because he got paranoid suspicious that I was up to something nefarious, just because I was keeping my double life as an operative for a foreign secret agency hidden from him.>”

“<Oh,>” said Hito in the spirit of an understatement. “<Yes, that could get awkward, I guess. I suppose we could say she is my sister or something, and we’re visiting from Japan and that her paperwork is at the hotel?>”

Hitomi abruptly perked up. “<Hito, that’s brilliant!>”

Hito You snorted. “<So, we’re going to go with my plan first, this time?>”

“<What?>” Hitomi asked. “<No, they’ll never fall for that. But the idea you gave me: now that’s brilliant.>”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 101

JD stood at the front of the line of people filing out of the theatre. Well, at the front and slightly behind. Agent Johnson had pulled him aside for a slightly more private conversation while two police officers handled getting the contact information and statements if the rest of the patrons.

“So,” JD said. “Cops? Are those your guys in costume, then?” It wasn’t like the USASSDA to engage in interdisciplinary cooperation. There was too much chance for someone ‘normal’ to find out things they weren’t supposed to.

“No,” the agent answered. “They were already on the scene when we showed up.” But Johnson refused to fall for so blatant a conversational distraction. “JD, what were you thinking? We’re paying your way do you keep a low profile, not engage in heroics!”

JD scowled. “Hey, it’s not my fault!” He protested. “I just wanted to see the play, man. And now I’m never going to find out what happened to the traitor dude.”

Johnson winced and shook his head. “It’s not me you need to convince,” he said. “JD, agent Richards is outside.”

JD paled. “Agent Richards? The same agent Richards who told the president I should be buried down a six mile hole secretly dug in the depths of the Alaskan wilderness?”

Agent Johnson hesitated. “Um. It’s agent Richards. You know, the one who arranged for your deal with the government? Got you out of the USASSDA and has been monitoring your activity since then?” JD showed no sign of recognition — but then again: his eyes were hidden by his red goggles. “You used to date,” Johnson said with exasperation.

“Crap,” JD said. “Yeah, that’s the one.”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating