Jakeob Aldon squinted as The Janitor's Way collapsed behind her, nonlight from the being's personal space bathing her workshop in its ethereal unglow. She shivered, her shirt soaked with Everett. She gathered the hem in her hands and squeezed, wringing the ferret out of her clothing. It gathered in a puddle at her feet before morphing into its animal form.
The Janitor's filter rattled for a moment as if drawing a breath to speak, and on the exhale the pressure it exuded on the room began to dissipate. She heard the door into the living room open and then shut, and the presence was gone completely. Now that the room was properly lit, her attention was drawn to the statue she had been working on over a week ago. It remained untouched after all that time, the clay and the magic within dried out.
It wasn't all that bad, really. The hands might have been a little small, and the jawline was just a tad over-defined. But all in all it was a decent sculpt. Aldon nodded to herself, mentally doing away with the baggage she had almost entirely forgotten about.
She took a breath to say something, realized there was nobody to talk to, and simply let it out. It was an okay statue. She gave the okay statue a hug, resting her cheek on the flaky dome. She let out a half-satisfied sigh and inhaled clay dust. Perhaps it wasn't an okay statue. Maybe it was a stupid statue. She strengthened her grip on the stupid statue and lifted it.
The suplex she had planned quickly failed as she recalled that not only were statues heavy, this specific one was weighed down by concrete. So rather than shatter her spine she swung her hips, tossing the dumb behemoth to the side. Clay flayed itself from the concrete base, and the right arm broke just above the elbow.
Aldon stared at the mess she had made, guilt tearing at her stomach. No, wait, that was hunger. Probably. She paused at the door's threshold, wondering how long she had actually been gone. Probably a while. Everett nibbled at her ankle and she picked him up, then she opened the door.
The living/bed/dining room was, for once, actually clean. Why this caused Aldon to panic she wasn't entirely sure, but for a good three seconds she was too confused to register the two other people in the room. One of them one was Finnegan, obviously. He lived here, it made sense. The man he was talking to, however, made much less sense being within Aldon's home.
Daniel Navarro looked over at her and grinned his stupid, Foundation-employed grin.
"The fuck are you doing here?" Aldon blurted out.
"I live here," replied Finnegan.
"Not you, you dumb asshole. Him! He's Foundation!"
"Oh. Yeah, I know." Finnegan waved his hand at his roommate dismissively. Aldon stared at the metal gauntlet strapped to his wrist for a moment before glaring at Navarro some more.
Navarro gave a friendly little wave. The fucker. "It's good to see you too, Allie."
A comeback tried and failed to present itself. Aldon was finding it increasingly difficult to be angry with him, which only made her want to hate him more. The sentiment eventually collapsed in on itself, leaving only an empty sense of apathy that Aldon was all too familiar with.
"Yeah, hi," she sighed. "What's with the power glove?"
"What's with the polecat?"
Finnegan indicated Everett. "Your new friend."
Aldon's voice hitched up an octave. "The ferret?"
"I don't think that's a ferret."
"Whatever. It turns into water. Now what's with the glove?"
Finnegan stared at the creature for several seconds before shrugging. He held up his gloved hand, displaying his palm. He pulled at a cord sticking out of the back of the glove and spoke in a bad French accent.
"Slap my hand."
Aldon's hand rose slowly. Her eyes darted between the metal glove and Finnegan's face. A glance at Navarro only earned a stupid grin. She sighed and gave Finnegan a high-five.
Or tried to, at least. Her hand came several inches short, smacking directly into physical noise. Nerves in her hand flared with confusion as they were bombarded with notes from various instruments. Neurons bounced back and forth with the beat as it delivered the messages to her brain. Lyrics bounced on her tongue for a moment while her brain tried to adjust to the synesthesia. She drew her hand back to stare at her palm, her body still tingling with solid echoes.
"I think you just made me an audiophile. Do it again."
"I don't know if repeated exposure is all that safe," Finnegan said. He thrust his hand high into the air when Aldon tried slapping it regardless. "Allie, no. Bad Allie. Down, girl."
"Then at least tell me we have food," Aldon demanded, her arms entangled around his.
"There's some leftovers from Uncle Larry's in the fridge, if you want it."
Aldon extracted herself, clapping her hands quickly. She made a dash for the kitchen, and Everett sprang onto the counter.
"You guys have an Uncle Larry's near here?" Navarro asked.
Finnegan hesitantly lowered his hand. "Yeah, down on Sixth and… McClintock, I think. You know it?"
"Never been myself, but I heard it's good." Navarro withdrew a pen and notepad from one of his pockets and jotted down a note to himself. He flipped it shut as Aldon pried open the microwave. "So. Allie. How did it go?"
She set about nuking the food. "Pretty alright. Made a big statue for their dumb art cult."
Navarro paused mid-scratch of his stubbled chin. "Art cult?"
"Eh, they got a big church dealio going on," she said. She rested her elbow on the counter. "Nothing too fancy, some glowing glass and a bunch of pews."
"And you sculpted a big statue of… what, exactly?"
"Oh, dude, chill. I didn't make Cthulhu or some shit. Even if they lied and the clay was magic, the worst they're gonna have is a big faceless dude with shitty proportions."
Navarro nodded. He rubbed the back of his neck and nodded again. "Yeah, alright. Well, we have their location and they don't seem to be on the verge of anything too dangerous."
"Er, how-" The microwave started blaring before she could give voice to the question. She hit the stop button and popped open the door. "How do you know where they are?"
Navarro smiled a smile that was significantly less friendly and much more mischievous than his previous smiles. Aldon's left lower eyelid twitched, and she was fairly sure it wasn't from the heat of the plate. Navarro grinned.
"Goddamn wizards," Aldon muttered before slamming the microwave shut. "So, is that all? We good? Or do I need to infiltrate the CIA now?"
"I actually spoke with the FBI about you," he replied nonchalantly. He laughed at the look she gave him. "Don't worry, it's for your benefit."
It took a lot of concentration to not drop her plate. "Did- did you get clearance or whatever? Do I get magic thing?"
He winced. "Unfortunately, no. While you aren't able to use any anomalies the Foundation currently has under lock and key, they're willing to look the other way if you do it yourself. So if you do find yourself to suddenly be in possession of two X chromosomes, the UIU has you covered. Turns out altering US government records is much easier when you actually work for the US government."
"Oh." She set the plate on the counter. Her mouth danced left and right before she looked back up at him. "That's a start, right? More than I had. I guess that was always going to be an issue, it was just one of the issues that'd only come after I actually changed."
"Yeah. You should be receiving contact info in the mail fairly soon. Other than that, all I can really say is stay out of trouble. Wouldn't want to have to come after you. Until then. Heheh."
"What? Just like that, you're leaving?"
He slid over to the door. "Yeah, figured I'd get out of your hair. I'm sure Finnegan's hospitality is running dry after all these hours. I'll be around, though. See you two later."
Finnegan nodded and Aldon just waved dumbly as the agent left. Aldon stared at the door, the floor, at Finnegan, and then at her food. Maybe that was all there was to it. Mission Accomplished. She took a fork from the drawer and stabbed a piece of chicken. It tasted like victory.
And it had a distinct aftertaste of her cellphone ringing.
She dug into her pocket and brought it out, squinting at the tiny screen. It was Felix. Resisting the urge to growl at the device, she flicked it open and put one end to her ear.
"Allie! I need you to get to the Library ASAP, we have an issue- okay, an emergency and- holy fuck! Allie, hurry."
"God fucking dammit."
Aldon closed the phone and took a deep breath. She let it out, nice and slow. It would have been easy to just ignore it. Physically, at least. Ignoring the call required no actual effort on her body's part. Ignoring the look Finnegan was currently giving her, however, was much more difficult.
Finnegan sauntered over and plucked some food from the plate. "Let me guess. They lied about it being magic clay?"
"I don't know what the fuck they did, but they fucked it up. Par for the fucking course. Ugh. I'm too hungry and too tired for this." Aldon fingered her temples. "Our Way is fast, right?"
"And we should probably help, right?"
"As painful as I'm sure it will be, yes. Probably."
Aldon sighed. "Fine. Fuck it. Let's go."
Finnegan tilted his head. "Would you like to say fuck a few more times? Or have you gotten it out of your system?"
"Fuck you," she spat. A small pause before, "Okay, yeah, that was the end of it."
"Finish your food, I'll get the bottles of blood."
She stabbed another piece of chicken and shuffled over to where Everett had taken perch. The polecat/ferret sniffed at her food and hissed. Aldon shrugged and tore into the food. Meanwhile, Finnegan grabbed a pair of small glass bottles from the bathroom, both full of blood. Aldon eyed her blood for a few seconds before continuing to eat. Finnegan then gathered up various CD cases and books, dumping them into an old black backpack of Aldon's.
"Think that stuff will help?" Aldon asked. Finnegan shrugged. "Well, best to be prepared I guess. What about the golems? I could probably bludgeon Felix with those. And we should probably get something for a fight in general, I guess."
Finnegan chuckled and gathered up the little humanoids. Nine of them now. He lowered them into the backpack. After glancing around the apartment for anything else that might be of use, Finnegan slung the pack over one shoulder.
"We have surprisingly few weapons," he said.
"Yeah, cuz you know what artists are known for. Owning tons of combat-ready weapons."
"It was just an observation."
She cocked a grin. "A dumb one."
He cleared his throat. "…Yes."
"Were you hoping to buy some time for a comeback?" she asked, sliding over to him with the bottles in hand.
He tilted his head back and grimaced. "Maybe."
She offered him the bottle containing her blood, which he snatched without making eye contact. Still giggling, Aldon popped the glass stopper out and dabbed her friend's blood onto her fingertips sans the thumbs. She slid it back into place and set the container on the counter. Finnegan did the same with the bottle containing her blood. Then they stared at each other for a few seconds.
Finnegan glanced at her. "I hate you for this."
Aldon just smiled, partially for what was to come, and partially because Everett had just clambered into the half-open backpack.
They arranged themselves side by side with a few feet between them, both staring at the wall Finnegan's computer was situated against. Finnegan let out a sigh and Aldon bounced on her heels. He slid his arm through the second strap and pulled them both tight.
In unison, they lifted their arms and held them away from each other, parallel to the ground. Still as one, they side-stepped toward one another, sweeping their arms until their fingertips almost touched. They flung their arms away from each other, still parallel to the ground, but this time kicked their opposite knees toward each other. They stamped their feet out and leaned into each other, slamming their knuckles together with their fingers outstretched.
The blood on the fingertips sparked and twisted itself into runes neither of them really understood. Each of the sixteen symbols stabbed into the space around them, latching on and ripping it apart. The duo pulled at the fabric of reality, spinning in place and dragging it with them. They lost sight of more and more of their room as they surrounded themselves in the fold until they slapped their hands together. They dropped the torn fabric of spacetime and found themselves inside their Way.
While the usual laws that govern the way of existence said that the amount of space around them should match the space they tore away from their apartment, that was not their Way. Their Way was largely undefined, with fragments of ideas and personality strewn about, but it was largely empty. They had yet to truly find it, in a way, and so it had yet to anchor itself in any real way. Statues and floating music notes. A food catering truck with a blurry sign reading "Red Bear Bob's Food Truck" was parked outside a counselor's office.
And behind them was the exit, a set of mismatched double doors. One was a French door made from oak, a stylized A painted on the wooden panel below the windows. The other a flush door constructed from cedar, a simple F emblazoned in a position identical to the other door's A. The frame holding them was almost half a foot thick and carved from stained redwood.
"Ouch, that stung," Aldon said, waving the offending hand. "Why do you still have that glove on?"
"I forgot due to my disbelief of that ridiculous Way opening ceremony," Finnegan said, starting the march for his door.
"Shut up, you love it. It's fun!" Aldon trailed him, taking in the sights of their Way.
"Yes, I'm sure the ferret is making tons of fun of you in there."
Everett poked his head out of the backpack, as if he could tell he was the center of their conversation. "It's a polecat."
"What the hell is a polecat?"
"Is it like towercat, but smaller?"
Finnegan laughed despite himself. He grasped the knob to his door and Aldon did the same to his left. Together they twisted their wrists, the latch of each door disengaging from the other one's frame. They pushed them open and stepped out into one of the many lobbies of the Wanderer's Library, shutting the doors behind them. After a moment the doors wavered, then outright dissipated.
They had only the briefest of moments before Felix Cori stormed up to them. He was a flurry of panic and another weather metaphor of desperation. He paused for breath and then went right into it.
"Aldon we need to get back to the warehouse ASAP, the statue we used got enchanted and it went ape shit."
The flatness in her voice caught him off guard. "Why what?"
"Well." Aldon did her best to compose herself. "Why did you try enchanting the statue when you explicitly stated you were keeping the magic to a minimum? And. Why could that possibly be a problem? You said the clay wasn't magic, so unless you did something really stupid — not outside of the realm of possibility, obviously — then you shouldn't be in that much trouble. Why is it just you here, when there were dozens of anartists?"
Felix didn't say anything.
Aldon smiled. "So. Felix. No, sorry. Critic. Why."
She leaned in close and hissed through grinding teeth, "Why are you such a stupid fuckup?"
Felix continued saying nothing.
Bordering on hyperventilating, Aldon grabbed Felix by the shirt. "Just take us to the Way so we can fix your stupid problem."
It took a jog across the lobby, up and down and up and down and down several sets of stairs into another lobby, but it didn't take long. Felix frantically lifted the garage door embedded in the lobby wall, ducking under it when he had a little clearance. Aldon and Finnegan followed suit and the door fell down behind them.
"Is this seriously a one direction Way?" Aldon asked.
Felix still said nothing. The three of them dashed out into the main room of the warehouse, and were greeted by a strange sight. On the left was a series of sigils, runes, and symbols arranged in various patterns surrounding one spot. From that spot, splotches of clay led through the pews, which had been pushed together into rows much closer to the main platform than before. It was almost a full house, most of the anartists tied to their seats so they wouldn't miss a moment. The platform itself had since been converted into a stage, where the remaining anartists were performing a play. Which was quite an infamous play in certain circles.
And center stage was Cassandra Paulson, in the role of Alinda. In her hand was a bloodied dagger, and at her feet was a corpse with its throat slashed. She stood beside an animate clay being, molded to look as if it was wrapped in fabric from head to toe, with the toes also shoved into high-heels from the look of it.
"With this, our blood, it is the… The Sculptor's," she choked out.
And then the cast hung.
"Wow." Aldon said. "Wow. Holy shit, you guys fucked up."