You check the address. Yes, this is the speculomancer's house, tall and narrow, an elegant town house, part of a strip, on a street of quiet wealth. What kind of neighbor does he make?
Your knock is answered by a man-servant in black suit and white shirt and tie. You take him in quickly. He looks perfectly undistinguished – normally so, not a nebbish – but he's shiny. Clothes gleam silkily, shoes are polished bright, hair is slicked back, and even skin gleams as if wet or oily. "Yes?" he says.
Experimentally, you smile hard, seize his hand with immense cordiality, and shake. "Hello! I'm here to see Mr. Sylverglass."
Your contact knocks him back. He is weightless, like a balloon, like so much air. His hands are gloved in silky white, or it looks like white silk, but they feel cold, smooth, and hard. He withdraws hastily and, through a reproving look, says, "Come in, please. Mr. Sylverglass is expecting you." His voice is normal, but when he speaks there is a faint ringing noise, as of a wet finger on the rim of a wineglass, or the tones of a glass harmonica.
You follow the servant-thing into an entrance hall. There is a full-length mirror opposite the door. Hardly surprising. You check if the servant reflects normally. It does.
It leads you into a study and leaves you there to fetch Sylverglass. You are not alone; a maid-thing is wiping a dustcloth over some chairs. She is just as shiny as the manservant. Where does he get them? It would not only be interesting to find out, it might be prudent.
The room gleams, high-ceilinged and white and, of course, full of mirrors, on the walls and scattered about on tables in frames. The furniture is all black and highly polished. The floor is polished black tile. Silver whatnots shine on the mantlepiece and shelves. The few flecks of color around are mostly blue.
You force yourself to relax and feel around. Not only are there plenty of signatures of past magic, the place breathes of stored power. This is both workroom and treasure vault.
Looking around more carefully, you note that the room has several tall windows, but is still more brightly lit than the daylight accounts for. And there are no lights on. At length, you decide that the extra light is coming from two big mirrors, one over the fireplace, another on the opposite wall, of the same size and shape.
So the room is the one actual bead on an infinite necklace of apparent ones, bored through by the unending tunnel created in the two mirrors. In light of what you have to tell Sylverglass, this strikes you as a risky proposition.
The mirrors are too high to see where their light is coming from. You drag a chair over to the fireplace, take off your shoes, glance at the maid (who is staring at you but says nothing), and climb up. In the second reflection, you see the fireplace with a pure white fire in it. Presumably, the same white mirror-fire burns in the first reflection, immediately below you, where you cannot see – where Alice found the chess pieces cavorting when she passed through the looking-glass. There is certainly no such fire in the hearth at your feet.
Cute. The room is lit by unreal mirror-fires. You wonder if they heat the place in winter. You get down, resume your shoes, and replace the chair. You smile at the maid, who does not smile back.
The middle of the room holds a small dining table being used as a desk. It is cluttered with papers. No right-thinking person of an investigative persuasion could forego looking at them. Anyway, it's not like you're doing anything sneaky; you're working right in front of the maid, who is still watching you as if waiting for the fullness of your sins to be accomplished.
The most conspicuous object on the table is a shallow glass dish full of mercury. Next to it are two wine goblets of mercury. All three have glass covers over them, to contain fumes.
There is also a typewritten letter, without address or signature, asking Sylverglass for a series of documents, giving their titles and probable locations, mostly in various government offices. There is a notebook, lying open but not immediately readable because all the handwriting is mirror-reversed. There are a number of pieces of paper bearing notes in mirror-writing, in at least two hands. There is a document bearing the stamp of the Smithsonian Institution's Office of Anomalistics. Not many people know about that office, though you do of course. A quick glance shows the stamp and the whole document are mirror-reversed. Being typewritten, it is much easier to read.
As you start to puzzle it out, a door opens, but it is not Sylverglass. It is another shiny servant, though this one wears a pale gray business suit and tie. It moves with noiseless tread up to the table, says, "Excuse me," in a voice with that telltale ring in it, leans over, and writes. It writes quickly, left-handed, in mirror. "Mr. Sylverglass will be with you shortly," it says, straightening. It departs. The maid resumes polishing furniture.
You have just noticed a mirror-copy of some document belonging to the British Museum's Curator of Eschatology when the door opens again and this time it is Sylverglass.
Oh dear, oh dear. Is this habitual eccentricity or is he showing off for you? Hard to tell. Magicians do a lot of both, and it might even be functional working clothes. Sylverglass is short and stocky, with a square face and receding hair. He's wearing a white shirt and light gray vest. The vest has big silvery buttons, and things go on from there:
He's wearing mirror shades. His surviving hair is bleached platinum blond, even the eyebrows. Each finger bears a broad silver ring and each nail has a mylar appliqué. Each wrist has a broad silver bracelet. Mirror hands. This jewelry might well be tools. A dentist's speculum is stuck in his pocket, like a mirror boutonnière.
As he comes through the door, he turns his head to stare into a mirror that hangs on the adjacent wall, looking through mirror shades into a mirror. He must see little tunnels into infinity driving into his eyesockets. He's charging up; you can feel it, apparently a habitual pick-me-up.
"Good morning," he says, smiling and shaking hands. His hands and voice are normal; his feet tread with normal sounds. His teeth, on the other hand, are silvered. "What can I do for the Kerdeans today?" he asks.
"Actually," you tell him, "I'm here to make a partial payment of our bill."
"Ah." He looks pleased in an official way, but you feel he would rather have sold you his services again. Perhaps he likes being owed more than paid. That way, he might get to pick his own form of payment.
You produce a large envelope. Inside, you know, are various other envelopes and documents, a piece of cloth with a spot of blood on it, some knotted strings, a sealed plastic test tube, an incense stick, a little muffled bell, four wafers, and two pieces of eye-watering origami – all various forms of "cash" or "bearer bonds" in the magical economy. As you think about that, the envelope looks brighter lit, then seems to tingle to your touch, then smells like hot iron. Sylverglass eyes it, probably experiencing his own perceptions of stored power. Maybe it looks shiny to him.
"By my Name," you say with formal clarity, giving him plenty of chance to feel the geas click in, "I guarantee that this envelope contains between 100 and 103 nights," using a widely accepted unit for measuring power (prana, mana, chi, whatever) – the amount possessed at the end of the night by a normal sleeper. "The Kerdeans value this at one hundred nights against our debt to you."
"Thank you very much," he says cheerfully. "By my Name, I accept." He takes the envelope from you as his own geas clicks. He then hands the envelope to the maid-thing and tells it, "Give this to Duplesis and tell him to put it away." She nods and leaves. You wonder briefly what his Name really is. Not "Sylverglass," surely; that must be a nom d'oeuvre or Taken Name.
"May I offer you some coffee or tea?" he asks pleasantly.
"Thank you, no. We are also offering additional part payment in the form of information."
"Oh?" The affability vanishes. "What sort of information? How much?"
"A warning, valued at fifty nights. Do you accept? By my Name, I promise you I think the price an honest one."
"No." He sits. Uninvited, you do the same. "Not until I hear it. I– I give ten nights of payment to hear it. By my Name." The geas slides limply into place.
This, of course, had been one of the anticipated responses. You follow the script decided on by the Kerdean branches involved. "Very well. Have you heard of the taotie?"
"The what? No."
"TAH-oh-TEE-eh. The name is Chinese. It is represented in Chinese art by a stylized face of some dragon-like or dog-like monster. It's real appearance, we think, is a swarm of red and yellow rings moving over surfaces. It haunts mirrors."
He still looks surly. "I see. I have never encountered anything that could have been a ... taotie."
"Clearly. On the whole, the taotie is a beneficent monster. It guards our world against the Mirror People. Have you heard of them?"
"No." An autodidact. Lots of magicians were. He didn't even seem to consider the possibility that his servants might be Mirror People. You hope he is right.
"They invaded our world through mirrors, in China, during the reign of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor. Founder of Chinese civilization." He picks up a pen and begins to make notes (left-handed, in mirror script). Good. "At the end of the Mirror War, Huangdi either conjured up the taotie or was given it, to guard the borders between us and the realm of the Mirror People. To guard mirrors."
"Who would have given it to him, if it was given? And is there only one, or is it a, ah, species of monster?"
"That information is speculative. It would cost only five nights."
"Never mind. If the taotie is a beneficent monster, why do I need to be warned?"
"It doesn't just attack Mirror People. It attacks anyone working through mirrors who seems to be using mirror magic aggressively."
"I see. And how does it attack?"
"We don't have many details. They will cost you a dozen nights. Mostly people simply vanish. And it is powerful enough that some classes of glamour-using vampires are afraid to cast reflections, for fear of it."
He gives a little snort of laughter. "So you're telling me to be a good little speculomancer and make no attacks through mirrors. And for that you want to charge me forty more nights. Have already charged me ten. Well, forget it."
"By my Name, I have been telling you the truth."
"I don't care! It's not going to affect me! I don't make attacks through mirrors anyway. I believe our business is done. I will have to consider carefully before I do business with the Kerdeans in the future."
You nod gravely, rise, and head for the door. Sylverglass comes with you. As he opens the door opposite the full-length mirror, you feel the spell – suddenly, you are exhausted. He's just pulled most of a night out of you. Trying to disguise your reaction, on general principles, you turn to him and say, as if nothing has happened, "At least you have been warned. Please heed it. Warning you is actually more important to us than the payment. The Kerdeans are not a charity, but monster attacks help no one." At least, they will not help Sylverglass or you and your friends, though you know some people who are quite fond of such events.
"Very kind of you," he says drily. "Goodbye."
You step outside. The door closes behind you and you think about what you have just seen, carefully not panicking. While you spoke and he replied, your reflection stood in the full-length mirror, not moving, watching Sylverglass.
You go to a nearby car and wave your hand before its side mirror. You reflect normally. Good. So then... He has probably just pulled a ka off you. That's probably what his mirror-servants are, ka'u pulled off of various callers and put to work. He must have put a lot of work into that hall mirror.
But this ka, yours, has a head full of information copied from your own, not only information from the Kerdeans that he has effectively stolen, but personal information that you do not want any stranger to know, much less an ill-disposed one. Well, you did not come calling on a speculomancer unprepared.
You pull out a glass-cutter, then a shim for jimmying latches, and a set of skeleton keys. Front door or back? Your goal is still at the front door, you hope, but so is Sylverglass. On the other hand, if you go through the back door, what mirror-servants or other magic might you meet? Front door, then. The hard part is not picking the lock, but doing it silently.
You burst in. Sylverglass jumps back from the mirror, where he was talking to your reflection; you sometimes heard him while easing the lock open. Your reflection is still in the mirror. Good. That makes it much simpler. You forget your exhaustion long enough to drive one heel kick into the mirror.
It shatters. Sylverglass yelps and reaches convulsively for his ruined mirror. Your many reflections follow your motions properly in the fragments. You are no longer exhausted. You are brimming with adrenalized energy.
You turn on Sylverglass, who flinches away from you. "Idiot. Did you think pirating ka'u through your mirrors didn't count as an attack? I don't know how much of your spying depends on your ka-slaves, but you need to end it all, now."
He stares at you, then begins to yell. "Duplesis! Silverio! Help!" He backs away, then turns and runs.
Carefully, you pick up a large piece of mirror, then exit, closing the door. No one pursues you. You wrap the shard in your handkerchief and put it away. It will make interesting study to other Kerdeans. Pleasantly, you consider that its absence will worry Sylverglass when he notices, and you are sure he will.
Two weeks later, through routine news monitoring, you learn that Sylverglass has gone missing. There's no mention made of servants. The local Kerdeans decide they should send someone to investigate, loot, and help cover up if necessary. (It generally pays to help the Sundering along. The help it gives you evading the prosaic world spills over into luck evading other esoterics.)
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2010