Keeping Sharp

Shannon Harrison was one of the most terrifying people Ashton had ever met.

As someone who had spent months in the Australian Outback, fought in the biggest weaver’s war the continent have ever seen and eventually been sworn into the Order of the Round Table before being sent to North America to endure his Trial, being scared at all took some doing. You wouldn’t think a fiftysomething housewife would be on anyone’s list of scary things, particularly when they answered the door with a half-finished blanket for grandchild number two slung over one shoulder wearing a short sleeved blouse and battered jeans that had seen better days. But, although he had not practiced the art as long some, Ashton could still see deeper than most.

He did not, for example, miss the fact that the entire building seemed to loom over him as if it was ready to topple onto and crush anyone who displeased its lady. Nor was he oblivious to the way Shannon was at the center of the house, at least in the pattern of things if not the physical center of the building, with everything that was there, everything that happened there, sooner or later tying back to her. As she stood in the doorway looking him over he understood how the knights of old could have so readily admired and served women who they had no romantic interests in at all.

They just wanted to stay out of trouble.

That and they recognized a kind of power they would probably never really understand fully. Ashton cleared his throat nervously. “Good morning, ma’am. I’m Ashton ap Percival. I’m here to see Janus?”

“Oh, you’re the grail knight?” She smiled and the whole building seemed to relax. “Come in. I’m not sure where he is at the moment but I’ll see if we can’t dig him up.”

Ashton quickly hurried through the door, not wanting to see how the house would react if he didn’t obey. He knew the Harrisons descended from a long, long line of Templars, weavers who had a special understanding of the power of place. Many people thought Templars settled in places of power but one thing he’d learned in the last few months was that it was the other way around. Templars found a place they thought was important and, in a very short time, made it powerful. He’d been to several of their meeting places – he’d even been to this house once before – but he’d never really appreciated just how much power Templars packed into their strongholds.

“You can wait there in the kitchen if you want,” Shannon said, waving through the door on the right of the entry hall. “I think he’s in the new addition. I’ll just pop through and check. Help yourself to something from the fridge if you’re hungry.”

He nodded and cautiously let himself into the kitchen. It was a big room with a small island in the center and a heavy wooden table at one end opposite the usual cupboards, counters and appliances at the other. The table in particular drew his attention for a minute. It was battered and worn, but so tightly woven into the house around it that it seemed like you could drop a nuke on the city of Fort Wayne and still find this table here afterwards, waiting for the family to sit down to dinner.

It was creepy.

The more Ashton looked around the more he saw the patterns of family life ingrained into the world around him. For someone who had pretty much grown up alone in a fifth story apartment with a family that was more like occasional roommates it was a little disconcerting. He didn’t feel unwelcome… but he wasn’t quite sure what he was being welcomed into.

“Hi, Ashton. Did Gary send you in for something?”

He snapped out of his reverie as Angie Harrison, the family’s only daughter, came into the kitchen with an empty cup in one hand and headed towards the sink. Ashton smiled reflexively, Angie’s three older brothers had made it quite clear that he was to Be Polite, or else. “Hello, ma’am. I’m sorry, Gary…?”

It took a second for it to click. Janus was a title, referring to the marshal or field commander of the local Templar order.  Gerald Harrison, or Gary to most people who knew him outside of weaver circles, was the person Ashton was there to see currently held the position. “No, actually he didn’t,” Ashton said after he worked out the question. “I just got here, in fact. Your mother thought he was in one of the additions.”

The Harrison house was over two hundred years old and, while Janus had once recited every addition and renovation in chronological order, Ashton had never made it a point to try and learn them. Knights of the Round who followed Percival we’re, by nature, knights errant, not knights who stayed in place.

Angie finished pouring herself a glass off orange juice and held up the container with a meaningful shake, raising an eyebrow. Ashton shook his head, declining the offer, and she put the juice away, saying, “Well I’ll take you out there, then. Just a sec.”

She let the fridge door swing closed behind her as she went to the doorway he’d entered through and yelled, “Mom, I’m taking Ashton out to Gary in the barn!”

A moment’s pause then Shannon’s voice drifted back from the other side of the house. “Thanks, honey. Come right back.”

The kitchen let out into the house’s massive garage, which was so close to being a barn on it’s own that Ashton wondered why the family might need another one. It was two stories and held a beat up pickup, an full size van and a four door sedan on top of a very serviceable looking tractor. With four people living in the house, and the house sitting on the grounds of a working apple orchard, he supposed they might really need all that space.

What he wasn’t sure they needed was the complex, many layered tapestries that ensured, among other things, that the vehicles would come back safe and sound every time they left. For one thing, if something ever did happen to one of those cars the resulting shift in the metaphysical threads surrounding the household could tear it apart. On the other hand, he hadn’t seen anything around the Harrison household that said “half measures” so maybe the setup shouldn’t surprise him.

Angie didn’t seem uncomfortable around all the heavy defensive weavings, stepping through the intangible web of protections without a second glance and leaving Ashton doing his best to keep up. He did have enough time to notice that the house didn’t defer to Angie the same way it did for her mother. Maybe just because she hadn’t lived there as long, maybe because it only had enough room for one lady of the manor. He wasn’t sure.

It wasn’t until they were out of the garage and crossing the stick infested expanse of crab grass that doubled as a lawn and a shrine to the orchard’s planter than he noticed Angie was watching him almost as closely. “Is something off?”

“I was just thinking you don’t move like any of the other Templars I know, that’s all,” she said with a shrug. “Dad mentioned there was a new guy in the order and I’ve seen you with Gary around Timeslip once or twice so I figured it was you.”

“Well, you’re not exactly wrong. Ashton, son of Percival, Order of the Round Table at your service.” He stopped long enough to sketch a formal bow.

Angie laughed and said, “Angela Harrison, hedge weaver. No need for formalities on my account.”

“Hedge weaver? You’re not affiliated with an Order?” Ashton took a closer look at the girl as she led him up a low hill towards the barn. Plenty of people didn’t like the more structured approaches to teaching, studying and regulating magic weaving that the Orders advocated and the Arbiter’s Councils legitimized, but most of them were long term outsiders. The Harrisons had been around Fort Wayne long enough there was a formal term for their patriarch – Third of the Five.

“Even the Five Families have their black sheep,” Angie said, apparently guessing what he’d been thinking. “If I did put in the time to make the physical baselines and weaver theory I still wouldn’t want to join the Templars. Staying in one place all my life just doesn’t appeal. And the rest of the local Orders don’t really feel like the right fit either.”

“There’s no rule saying you must stay in a given Order all your life, you know.” Ashton gave an depreciating smile. “You don’t think I started with the Round Table, do you?”

Angie’s answering smile was all mischief. “No, not if you’re a Percy. Percival was a grail knight, a knight errant, and people who wind up under his banner never sit still for long. They wouldn’t be true to his spirit if they did.”

“You find something funny about that?”

She shrugged. “Not really, but it does explain the Australian accent. You’re a long way from home, Ashton. What brings you to an apple farm in northern Indiana?”

“One of the best war weavers in the state asked me to drop by.” He paused with one hand on the door the barn. “Are you coming?”

Angie had already started back towards the house but she called over her shoulder, “My guess is this is strictly Templar stuff. Good luck!”

“Good luck?” Ashton shook his head, not sure what to make of that, and pulled the door open.

The Pattern of the Weave is always shifting subtly. Things are always changing and the Weave reflects reality in real time – or perhaps it is the other way around. Weavers study the pattern in its broad nature, its subtle variations and the many impacts humanity has on it. In short, weavers are simply people more attuned to the connections between things than is normal. And when patterns of those connections change, whether from natural causes or deliberate interference, weavers are the first to notice.

As Ashton pulled the door open he caught the barest tremors in the Weave that signaled such a change in the offing. That could have meant anything but, with all the heavy defenses around the Harrison house and a certain level of natural skittishness mixed in, it was enough to have him on high alert.

So when the man with the broadsword popped into existence two steps in front of him Ashton didn’t just duck out of the way, he reacted fast enough to get inside the swing and try to throw the other man to the ground.

He might as well have tried to uproot Ayers Rock. His assailant was more than just heavy, he was somehow rooted to the very fabric of the building and moving him against his will was going to be hard. Before Ashton could come up with a change in tactics his assailant drove a knee into his side.

Rolling with the hit, Ashton took a quick stock of his surroundings. He was just barely inside the barn door, in a room totally devoid of any of the boxes, tools, bales of hay or other farming junk you might expect. The ground was dirt, the walls were wooden and the glint of metal came from the wall to his left. Naturally, that was on the other side of broadsword guy.

Also missing were the complex networks of Templar defenses that made the rest of the property look so dangerous. Ashton had just enough time to smile before the ground brought him to an abrupt stop.

Teleporting wasn’t hard, just messy. All a weaver really had to do was find something connected to where they wanted to go and keep pulling until they had a hold of their destination, then let go of what kept them at their starting place. The Weave, which all that pulling would bend all out of shape, would quickly snap back to its original shape dragging the weaver along with it. The letting go was the hardest part and really all that kept normal people from doing it. The problem for most weavers was all the random stuff that wound up tangled around them in the process. That kind of mess could tie you up entirely, keep you from weaving any magic at all for a long time.

But in a clean environment like the barn Ashton had no trouble yanking himself across the room. Even when his assailant tried to stop him with a hastily woven net stretched between the ground and the rafters Ashton made it past with only a few stray threads wrapped around one arm. He found himself beside a long wall holding a half a dozen heavy swords just like the one his opponent was using. Each was about two feet long and a good six inches wide with no sissy weight reducing gutter running down the middle. One side of each blade had the brilliant gleam of silver, the other the dull matte black of cold iron.

They were stupidly heavy, incredibly sharp and only mildly magical. Also, much heavier than Ashton would have preferred, but any port in a storm. Whatever had been woven into the sword it didn’t look like it would be dangerous if a stranger tried to use the thing so Ashton snatched up the nearest and immediately whipped around to parry an incoming attack whistling down towards his left shoulder.

He countered with a waist high cross cut which drove his attacker back a step, letting Ashton get away from the barn wall for a bit more maneuvering room. He settled into a two handed stance, wishing he could swing the blade one handed like his opponent did, and said, “I hate to point this out but you invited me here, Janus. I wasn’t expecting to get jumped in the doorway.”

Janus, who had the advantages of two years of age, more in experience, at least ten pounds of muscle and an inch of reach, gave a cocky smile. “What does the title mean?”

Ashton groaned. “Roman god of doorways. So of course you attack me at the door.”

“See? I knew you’d work it out.” Janus casually waved the point of his sword at the door. “It was as good an ambush point as any. And, in case you’re wondering, yes this is how the Templars greet guests. At least, so long as those guests are interested in sharing field work with us. We do cross-training with the Hospitallers on a regular basis as well.”

“Oh? So this is just a bit of sparring, is it?” Ashton grinned wickedly. “My good luck then.”

Janus gave a curious tilt of his head. “How’s that?”

“You see, mate, this is the one place I’ve been comfortable since I got here today.”

Ashton immediately stepped in to press the combat again. And just like that, he was back at home.

Fiction Index

Shadow and Brightmoor (Part Two)

It was dark, and many of the streetlights were burnt out. That was just one of many basic services that Brightmoor had to learn to live without. The people in the part of the neighborhood that called itself the Farmway typically pestered the city enough to get them replaced in a reasonable timeframe, but out here the streets were poorly lit after night fell. On the other hand, even in the dark the cheery sounds of small farm animals, chickens and the occasional goat, could be heard bringing a little cheer to the night. Technically that was against some city ordinances, but with the loosened city presence had come a sort of tacit permission to ignore some city zoning laws, as well.

On his pass through the block earlier that afternoon, Marcus had taken note of the six houses that he guessed belonged to the man Xayvion called “old Freddie”. From the sound of things, Freddie was one of the people who had come to, or lived in, Detroit when the economy tanked and still had enough resources to grab up suddenly cheap real estate. Most of them had done creative things with it. The Farmway got it’s name because there was a lot of urban farming going on there. It wasn’t making a whole lot of money yet, but the people living there were in no danger of starving. More than a few people bought or “borrowed” abandoned lots for farm space. From the looks of things, Freddie had been one of the people who had caught the vision.

Poking around the property that afternoon he’d found a small pile of rotting lumber and signs that someone had started building a raised bed behind the house at one end of street. A look inside the house had shown that most of the furnishings and doors had been pulled out, either by the property owner or by scrappers it was impossible to tell.

He’s also seen signs that bothered him, and gotten the feeling he was being watched, which confirmed the suspicions he’d had when Xayvion had described Freddie’s behavior. That was what had taken him out to see Lord Caledonensis. And that was what led him to attempt something profoundly unwise that evening.

The string of houses Marcus had identified as of interest were a mess. Not just in the literal sense of being run down and partly overgrown with weeds, although they were that, too. But on top of that they were a tangled mess of criss-crossed, misaligned threads that tangled up the greater Weave around them. Half the street was quivering with the tension the threads were creating. Marcus ran a finger across one particularly bad tangle of threads as he approached the house at the center of the snarl. Untangling the mess was the kind of thing that could take days for a skilled weaver, or months if he allowed it to unravel naturally. In the mean time, it could cause all kinds of problems. And that was assuming no one was actively making it worse.

Marcus pulled out his phone and made a quick call, then slapped his thighs lightly and let himself in the house, carefully reaching back and drawing his sword. It was a three foot long, broad bladed weapon forged out of silver and cold iron that was itself a knot of carefully woven magic that represented the great Weave and the Pattern it tried to follow. It was the only weaver related thing he had taken with him when he left Fort Wayne and he was glad to have it with him now. He made a mental promise to himself that he would stop using it against thugs and scrappers. Not only did it get the neighbors upset with him, not only was it a disgrace to the purposes that the sword embodied, it drastically raised the odds he could get arrested or see it confiscated. And then he’d be up a creek for real, especially if he intended to do something this harebrained again.

The inside of Freddie’s house was littered with the corpses of the kind of small rodents you saw a lot in urban and suburban areas. Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, even a raccoon or two. They all looked like they had been caught and strangled. Where they weren’t rotting it looked they had been gutted in a very messy way. Marcus suspected that knives hadn’t been involved so much as teeth. Foul smelling gunk caked the floor in the entrance hall and the rooms on either side. It didn’t really bear thinking about what it might be.

With sword in one hand and the other dipping in and out of his pocket, Marcus proceeded deeper into the tangle of out of place threads that ran towards the back of the house. He found himself wishing that he had come in through the back window or something. The whole back wall of the house turned out to be full of paraphernalia – the kinds of stuff popular culture had come to associate with magic and that still got used in a lot of the rituals many who tinkered with it performed.

If Marcus had any doubts that old Freddie had Invoked something before, they were gone as soon as the “magic” rubbish started popping up. The first piece he found was a large, wrought iron candlestick, a perennial favorite. It was at one point of a pentagram drawn in chalk on the floor. Marcus snorted. If Invoking didn’t drive the people who did it insane, the clichés involved would be almost funny.

With a few quick strokes of his sword he split the candlestick in half and carved a pair of parallel lines through the pentagram, the blade effortlessly severing both the objects and breaking the mess of tangled threads that had been anchored to them. The Weave convulsed slightly as the anchors that were holding the snarled threads in place disappeared and the Weave began to repair itself.

There was enough paraphernalia in the house to make Marcus think that it might have been as long as a year since Freddie Invoked whatever nonsense was now stuck in his head. He went through two rooms with at least a dozen items each, before he felt the impact. Something was trying to go out the back door.

He glanced back, intending to send one of the other Templars to check it out. But he was alone on this run, really he’d been alone since he left home. There was nothing to do but fish a pair of quarters out of his pocket and follow it up himself.

He found a dirty, unkempt man still trying to force his hand through the back door to pick up the small, silvery disk sitting on the step. “You must be Freddie,” Marcus said. “Or should I call you Fredrick?”

Freddie spun around, a snarl crossing his face. “Who are you?” He snapped. “This is private property.”

“No use playing dumb, Freddie Ruin,” Marcus said, holding up the quarters in his off hand and twirling them so the other man could see that they were just like those on the step, with George Washington’s head visible on both sides. “These doors are mine. One way or another, you’re not leaving this room until I’m done with you.”

Something intangible changed about the man and he suddenly seemed less human and more alien. He jerked to his feet as if pulled up by puppet strings, banging one shoulder on the doorframe in the process but giving no signs of actually feeling the impact. “So you’re supposed to be a Janus of some kind?” Freddie slammed his fist into the wall and the whole building shook slightly. “That name is ours!”

Marcus grinned. “Sorry, but your kind have misused it, just like you misuse pretty much anything you set your hand to. And once you mistreat something you forfeit any right to claim it – that makes it mine now.”

He let the two quarters fall to the ground and, instead of bouncing the stuck fast there, completing a web of threads that wouldn’t let anyone pass through the door until he removed them. Then he took the hilt of his broadsword in both hands and waded in.

Practically since the Round Table was organized, back in the misty days of yore, one of the responsibilities of those weavers who were trained in arms was to find and do battle with people who had Invoked sinister creatures. The records called them different things and mentioned various abilities, but they all agreed that no two were alike and, whatever they might be, they took over the mind and body of whoever had called on them and drove them mad.

Even if Freddie hadn’t recognized the two-headed symbol for the Greek god of doors, or left his home scattered with the usual dead animals and asorted paraphrenalia, the dense knot of distorted reality that was tied to him would have tipped Marcus to the fact that he had Invoked something. Time and space weren’t functioning in quite the normal way around old Fred, and that meant pretty much anything was possible.

But still, Freddie grabbing the wall and flinging himself up to the ceiling, which he dangled from using nothing but his fingertips, was way outside Marcus’ normal experience. He barely had time to turn to the side for a decent shoulder block before Freddie’s swinging feet caught him and sent him staggering back to the door.

Freddie dropped to the ground, ripping the ceiling joist he’d been clinging too down along with him. It made for a classic board-and-nail bludgeon and he came after Marcus swinging. The most prudent thing to do was step back through the door and let Freddie slam to a stop when he tried to cross the threshold.

This time it wasn’t a casual step or an exploratory poke, Freddie was out for blood and he slammed into Marcus’ weaving with all the weight of the Invoked presence riding his back. When he hit the threshold the entire doorframe seemed to flex and the pair of quarters that anchored the ward to the door actually skipped back an inch or two. Marcus ignored that and swung his sword in a diagonal cut, sheering through the joist Freddie held, leaving hims with about six inchest of board in one hand, and a good part of the door frame as well. Then he flipped his blade so the silver edge faced out and pressed the attack.

Whatever it was in the old man’s body, and by the dim light of the back windows Marcus could see that “old Freddie” was at least in his late fifties, thus truly ancient by Brightmoor standards, knew better than to let that sword too close to it. So it took the two by four end and flung it at Marcus and backedpedaled. Marcus followed at a brisk walk, point of his sword aimed down and across his body. They came to a stop when Freddie ran out of room to back up through.

With a sudden twist of the hips, Freddie dove low and to Marcus’ left, taking advantage of the fact that Marcus’ current stance made it hard to connect with anything other than a jab. Whatever was in Freddie knew that he would try not to hurt Freddie if at all possible and that meant cutting with the silver edge of the blade and nothing else, certainly no stabbing.

Marcus hissed and kicked his foot out to try and stomp the old man to the ground, but Freddie suddenly planted a hand and skidded to a stop, grabbed Marcus’ leg and tossed him onto his backside. Freddie reared up over him, his hands clasped together to make an all natural club that nearly smashed his head in. Marcus managed to roll out of the way just in time and Freddie left a small dent in the floor instead. The sound of breaking bone followed, but like most Invokers he seemed immune to the pain.

That didn’t mean Marcus could relax, though. The old man might be empowered by a supernatural force but that didn’t mean he stopped being an old man. The shock from the broken bones could very well be shorting out his nervous system, all the activity was a strain on his heart that it might not be able to take, there were a dozen other problems healthy Invokers could run into, and Freddie didn’t look like he’d been healthy back when he first Invoked – he certainly wasn’t after months under the influence.

Under normal circumstances, Marcus reflected grimly, this would have been over already. As soon as an Invoker focused on one Knight he was generally toast, because the Knight’s friends would hack the Invoked power off it’s host before it quite understood the situation. Group tactics wasn’t something they seemed to grasp very well. Without backup, things would take longer.

Marcus kicked his legs up and scissored them around Freddie’s waist, then threw his weight to one side and rolled his opponent down to the ground. Freddie grunted and started to push himself back up but Marcus lost no time chopping his sword down onto the other man’s back. The silver half of the sword chopped into his shoulders and slid back out like a knife through butter.

Freddie convulsed as the silver edge cut the ties the Invoked presence maintained with it’s host, sending it spinning back into wherever it came from, and forcing it to spend long minutes or even hours pulling itself back along the anchor lines it had created in the various pieces of magic junk Freddie had been creating for the last who knows how long. Of course, Marcus didn’t plan on giving it that time. Just like the silver edge could cut through any kind of magic bond he’d encountered in his life, he’d never found anything the iron side couldn’t cut either.

It looked like most of the paraphernalia in the house was gone, he didn’t see that many stray threads left in the house and most of them tied back  to him, not Freddie. But every Invoker had at least one prime object, something that was a part of the original Invocation and that was the nexus of the anchor lines that kept the presumptive magician chained to the thing that rode him. Nine times out of ten, it was a book of some sort and Janus hadn’t found anything like that so far.

A quick check of old Fred himself didn’t reveal anything like that, so Marcus figured it must be in the room somewhere. As he looked around he spotted a dark, squarish lump sitting by the door where he’d first found Freddie. Of course that made sense, neither Freddie or his ride-along would want to leave that behind. Marcus took a step in the book’s direction only to stop short when Freddie’s hand grabbed him around the ankle.

He lacked the manic, supernatural strength he’d had a moment ago. This was the old man, not the supernatural malevolence he’d summoned. Marcus tried to pull free but Freddie was surprisingly determined. “Stop…” He coughed once. “This is… best shot. Not going…”

With a growl, Marcus knelt down and pried Fred’s hand off his ankle and shook his head. “You’ve caused enough mischief already, friend.”

Freddie made another frantic grab but with only one hand and the strength of a man in his late fifties to work with, Marcus was able to get out of his reach easily. Unlike most of the paraphernalia, the book had to be handled carefully. It took a few minutes to strip off most of the out of place threads and pull a little slack into them so there wouldn’t be a backlash when he destroyed their anchor point. That could lead to all sorts of problems.

Then he set fire to the pages and left it to burn itself out on the concrete back step of the house. Then he slung Freddie over one shoulder and carried him to the front door. His cargo made little noises as he bounced along but Marcus wasn’t feeling particularly charitable. It was true, Freddie’s Invocation hadn’t run loose and killed anyone, but the sheer negligence involved in doing such a thing certainly biased Marcus against the man. There were hundreds of cautionary legends about deals with otherworldly forces for a reason – it was almost always a bad idea.

On reaching the door Freddie panicked. It appeared that Marcus’ earlier diagnosis had been right. Destroying his environment, killing most small animals he found and now agoraphobia, all symptoms of what was commonly known as the “Ruin” type of Invocation. While Invoked powers didn’t have any pattern in what they could do, what the did to people did fit into broad categories. Other than his new found dread of open places Freddie would probably recover mentally. Physically, it was another story.

Marcus left him just inside the door and took a post on the front step where he could watch the street and Freddie at the same time. Other than the quiet sounds of Freddie Ruin muttering to himself it was a quiet night. Marcus smiled slightly to himself, wondering how he had managed to find himself doing this kind of thing again. He had left home thinking he wanted to get away from his work as a Templar. Apparently he was wrong.

On the other hand, Templars were dedicated to the defense and growth of a particular place. Maybe he just hadn’t been in the right place back in Fort Wayne. He’d originally planned to leave town after Freddie was taken care of. But winter was coming on and at least he had a place to stay here. In the doorway Freddie moaned softly, almost but not quite enough to cover the sound of ambulance sirens drawing closer, finally responding to the call he’d placed before heading into the house. “Relax, Fred,” Marcus said. “Nights’ almost over.”

Part One
Fiction Index

Author’s Note:

Shadow and Brightmoor is a work of fiction and, like most works of fiction, most of the people and places are a not real. But, while the most of the specifics I’ve mentioned in this story are not real, Brightmoor is an actual part of the city of Detroit and the Farmway is likewise an unofficial subset of the neighborhood where people are taking new and innovative steps to fight urban blight and experiment with new urban lifestyles.

The people there are fighting a real, difficult battle against forces just as oppressive, if not more so, as what Marcus faces in this story. If you wish to know more about Neighbors Building Brightmoor (the neighborhood association Marcus mentions in Part One) and the Farmway, there’s an excellent article about them here.

Shadow and Brightmoor (Part One)

“Okay, so now we got apple trees.” Xayvion gave one of them a rap with his knuckles. “And you spent the last six weeks harping on this why? They don’t look like much.”

“Apple trees have been doing good for the American people for centuries. Since before we even counted as a country. Besides, these are Harrison apple trees, express delivered by my cousin as a personal favor.” Marcus Harrison handed his shovel to the eight year old boy who had been helping him plant the last tree on Benton Harbor Boulevard. He used the motion to hide his other hand as it looped an invisible pair of half hitches around the trunk of the tree, weaving it into the larger pattern connecting the two dozen apple trees he’d managed to convince his cousin to send him on short notice. The connection sent the tree and it’s branches swaying lightly, as if a wind  was blowing in it’s branches. Marcus smiled. “See? They’re special.”

Xayvion snorted. “More like I’m strong enough to have ’em shaking scared.

Marcus’ attempt to think up a good comeback stalled out when he noticed a beat up old truck slowly rolling down the street. It wouldn’t have looked out of place most places in America, in fact, he’d owned one a lot like it once. It was a dingy green, with a heavy steel toolbox across the back bed. Two men sat in the cab, pretending to pay no attention to anything around them. One of them saw Marcus had noticed them and gave him a hard look.

“We’ve got scrappers,” Marcus said under his breath.

“Yeah, well most of them know better than to hang around Brightmoor,” Xayvion said with a grin. “And after last time? Word will get around. You can go anywhere you want in Detroit and steal scrap out of houses. Only here does someone pull a sword on you for it.”

“He had it coming,” Marcus pointed out, his feet taking him slowly after the truck. “Get on your phone and call your mother. We may have to run them off.” He’d learned much to his chagrin that the police rarely showed up in time to deal with minor vandals in Brightmoor – when they came at all. But he’d also gotten a stern lecture about letting the locals deal with it their own way, and while they didn’t shy away form confrontation, the threat of violence was not an accepted part of their modus operandi. Not that he would have actually bothered to cut them with his sword.

Well, maybe a little.

“It’s okay,” Xayvion said. “They’re probably just headed to old Freddy’s empty houses.” He waved vaguely in the direction of St. Joe, the cross street about a half a block away. “He’s always tearing stuff out of there and tossing it by the road. The scrappers come by and pick through it about once a week, take whatever and leave.”

“And you put up with that?” Marcus asked. In his experience, the people left in Brightmoor didn’t really like it when their neighborhood got messed up.

“They’re his houses,” Xayvion said with a shrug. “We can’t make him not mess them up. Mom says he’s got more right to do that than some.”

Marcus gave him a sly look out of the corner of his eye. “She wouldn’t be referring to a band of mischievous vandals who leave murals on abandoned houses, would she?”

“I don’t even know what you just said,” Xayvion said. “She’s talking about the way we paint the run down shacks so the place doesn’t look like crap.”

“Praise the Lord and pass the paintbrush.” Marcus snorted and shook his head. He’d been to one of those church outreaches and it had to be one of the ten strangest thing’s he’d ever lived through. Still, he didn’t think that the borders of the part of Brightmoor unofficially known as the Farmway extended along St. Joe in that direction. “This Freddie guy a part of the NBB?”

“I don’t think so,” Xayvion said slowly. “He moved in a couple years ago, I know he talked about tearing down some houses and putting in something there. But people just stopped talking about him much last fall and the scrappers started coming.”

Marcus walked back to the place where they’d planted the apple trees. Finding buyers for them and getting them delivered had been his first contribution to Brightmoor, and of all the different aspects of the family business he had expected to find a use for in Brightmoor, orchard keeper had not been high on the list. In fact, avoiding the family business entirely had been the major reason he had come to Detroit in the first place. Ironically, he was about to put his hand back into yet another aspect of it.

He hefted his backpack and dug his phone out of it, pausing long enough to check that his sword was still tucked along one side, the hilt poking out of the top for easy access. It always paid to be careful.

“You’re not planning on looking for trouble, are you?” Xayvion asked.

“Just going to make sure they really leave,” Janus said, slinging the pack onto his back and thumbing his phone to life. “You’d better go and let your mom know there were scrappers in the area, so she can get the word out. If they come back and want to top off their load, people can be on the lookout.”

“All right,” Xayvion said doubtfully. “But don’t go starting nothing. Monique says you got a temper and we can’t have you running loose and scaring people. The city ignores us right now, we don’t want them to change their mind.”

“No swordplay, I promise.” Marcus started down the street, then paused and glanced back at Xayvion. “By the way, is there a bank around here?”

“A bank?” The kid asked, clearly thrown by the sudden change in subject.

“Yeah, you know, places full of suits and money? I need to get a roll of quarters…”

——–

Marcus had met a lot of different kinds of weavers in his life, but Detroit’s Lord Caledonensis was the first one who managed to claim leadership of the local Order of Merlin and run an art gallery. There were similarities between art and weaving, he supposed, but he’d never expected a person who specialized in highly theoretical magic weaving to take an interest in those aspects of it.

Then again, it was the nature of research and development to prize creativity, so maybe it wasn’t so surprising.

Either way, he felt a bit like a bull in a china shop as he walked in, his jeans and T-shirt still dirty from the morning’s work, and loomed over the saleswoman. Looming wasn’t what he intended, of course, but he’d inherited the famous Harrison build that had made his family natural farmers since time immemorial. He did his best to slouch in a non-threatening fashion and asked for the owner. It took twenty minutes of wheedling before he finally got her to page the weaver Lord and tell him it was Council business. From the way the woman acted when he’d first told her that it was clear she wasn’t a part of any local weaver’s Order, so Marcus was just grateful she’d passed the message on and he settled in to wait.

It turned out he didn’t have to wait long. About five minutes after his message was passed, a short, round man with paint on his fingers made his way out of the back of the gallery and shook hands. Marcus couldn’t help studying the man with a critical eye. He’d only known two other men who had held the title Caledonensis in his life but they had both been somewhat more, well, wizardly. He wasn’t sure exactly what he had been expecting from Detroit’s leading theoretical weaver, but it hadn’t been someone who looked like he taught middle school art classes.

Not that there was anything wrong with middle school art classes, or teaching them.

“Well, this is something of a surprise,” the weaver lord said, pumping Marcus’ hand up and down enthusiastically. “I haven’t met an out-of-towner in some time.”

“Pleasure is likewise, m’lord,” Marcus said quietly, old habits slipping back into place almost, but not quite, without any effort at all. “A little business in town I was hoping you could help me with.”

“Of course.” Lord Caledonensis glanced at his receptionist then said, “Well, business is best conducted in the office. If you’d follow me?”

The shorter man escorted Marcus back into a room that qualified as an office only in that it did contain a desk and was probably the place Caledonensis managed his business from. But the desk and pair of guest chairs by it were mostly a sideshow, the bulk of the room was dedicated to hanging canvases and a large easel set up in the center of the floor. The other man had apparently been working on one of those lovely abstract art things before Marcus had called him away.

Rather than giving him a chair, Lord Caledonensis took Marcus on a slow but purposeful tour of the canvases on the walls. Most of it was the kind of thing that didn’t make much sense to a man who hadn’t taken art classes for half his life, so Marcus kept most of his attention on the conversation, although he tried to be rude about it. After introductions, the Merlinite got straight down to business.

“I have to confess I wasn’t sure I was going to see a new weaver come into Detroit in my lifetime,” the portly weaver said. “I am a bit curious as to what brought you to us.”

“Personal business, actually,” Marcus said with a shrug. “I left the Anthony Wayne chapter of the Knights Templar a couple of years ago and wandered into Detroit. It was my intention not to show my face before an Arbiter’s Council ever again.”

“A wandering Templar?” The other man looked honestly confused. “A bit of a contradiction, isn’t it?”

“As I said, m’lord, I resigned. It’s strictly coincidence I’m here, and I was only able to find you by pestering my cousin until he pulled in some favors and found out your name.”

“Well.” Caledonensis peered at him with an evaluating squint. It was a bit unnerving. “I’m afraid your stated intention of never appearing before a Council again will not be broken, at least not yet. You see, there is no Council in Detroit. At least, not any more.”

“What?” Marcus felt a little wind go out of his sails. “Why not?”

“Not enough membership,” Caledonensis said. “There are only three Orders left functioning in the city these days. The Order of Merlin, of course, along with The Order of the White Ash and the Watchers in the Howling Dark. That’s not enough for quorum, even if we had an aware non-weaver who was willing to sit on the Council with us, which we don’t. The local Council was officially dissolved ten months ago.”

“The Knight’s Hospitaller aren’t here any longer?” Marcus asked, a growing feeling of unease gnawing in his gut.

“No. The membership of the Motor City branch had been declining for the last four years. They officially disbanded and merged with the Crossroads of America chapter, which was actually what led to the Council folding.” Caledonensis’ voice took on a dissatisfied tone. “Tom Cross arranged for it.”

“That’s Tom,” Marcus murmured. “Expanding the borders by any means available.”

“Regardless, there’s no Council left in Detroit,” Caledonensis said, a bitter not creeping into his voice. “The Order of Merlin is also looking at the possibility of combining our section with-”

“Lord Caledonensis, forgive me but I’m not interested in the political details. Even in Fort Wayne I wasn’t seneschal.” Marcus waved his hand vaguely in the direction of Brightmoor. “What bothers me is I think I’ve found an Invoker and I’m trying to find enough war weavers to safely contain it.”

The shorter man sighed. “That’s very noble of you, Marcus, but there’s nothing I can do to help you. Sam Cross wants all Hospitaller activities routed through the Allen County Council in Fort Wayne. I don’t understand how he expects to manage a Knight chapter than covers four states from there but there’s not much I can do from here to change his mind.”

“That’s true.” Marcus rubbed his forehead. Like Lord Caledonensis, Samaritan Cross was the title given to the leader of a branch Order, in his case a chapter of the Knight’s Hospitaller. He’d worked with them in Fort Wayne but not Sam Cross directly. “Okay, I’ll try and work through some people I know, but Invokers just get worse as time goes by. Is there any chance that you-”

“No.” It was the Merlinite’s turn to cut him off. “Marcus, people are abandoning this city in record numbers and not even weavers have found a way to unravel that pattern yet. Until some kind of agreement can be restored about how to best serve both the weavers and the city as a whole, each Order must look to it’s own. I have no one I can spare to help you.”

Marcus felt his temper surge but firmly tamped it down. “Very well, m’lord.” He absently put one hand in his coat pocket and finered the roll of quarters there. “I figured that this was a possibility, though it’s upsetting. I’ve found creative solutions for this kind of thing in the past, I’ll do it again. I can find my own way out.”

“Wait a minute, Marcus,” Caledonensis called. “Don’t be rash. Even Mad Anthony’s Templars wouldn’t try and take on an Invoker alone!”

But the only person who could hear him was the receptionist. Marcus was long gone.