"You let her what?"
Bonesaw lowered her head in supplication. "She grabbed ahold of Red before any of us could react. And then Red flew off with her, lightning everywhere--"
Voodoo Jones spoke a word. The sheer weight of its hate came crashing down atop of Bonesaw, flattening her to the floor. The tiles beneath her started to crack--even with her reinforced bone structure, she could feel her arms and legs trembling beneath the force.
Voodoo Jones released the spell. Bonesaw awkwardly rose to her knees, her breath coming out in heavy, thick rasps.
"I... apologize," Voodoo Jones said. "This situation has caused me much grief. But to lash out at you--one of my own children--do you forgive me, Bonesaw?" He cupped her jaw, angling her head back until she faced him.
Bonesaw shivered, then nodded. "I--yes, sir. Of course."
"Such an understanding, forgiving child," Voodoo Jones said, releasing Bonesaw's chin. He sat back in his throne. "I have been blessed with scores of forgiving children. Except, of course, for Red." He sighed. "She has fragmented my family, Bonesaw."
"She was never one of us," Bonesaw said, her own voice thick with buried rage.
"Of course she is," Voodoo Jones said, and then he smiled. "All the people of the Stix are my children."
"She's not a freak, like us," Bonesaw said. "Doesn't even belong here--"
"Hm." Voodoo Jones' smile grew. "An excellent point, actually."
"She is a castaway--thrown aside by her parents. Just like you, Bonesaw, and so many others who occupy the Stix. But why?" Voodoo Jones said. "Why would they throw her aside? Perhaps, in finding the answer, I may find what it is she needs... how I can bring her back into my fold."
"What should I do about Bruiser?" Bonesaw asked. "We could attack the Complex--try to get her out--"
"Frontal assaults are useless. Red's magic is too powerful," Voodoo Jones said. "No, I have something far more interesting in mind." He gestured; the shadows about him grew darker and longer. A tendril of darkness slithered out from beneath his throne and snaked around a box behind him. Inside of it was a bundle of dark, black curls. "I have a task for you."
Bonesaw rose to stand. "What is it, sir?"
"Some of Red's hair. Her protections are too vast and clever for me to use it directly against her," Voodoo Jones said, "but you have inspired in me another plan. I shall use it to forge a spell that will allow you to find her parents."
"Yes," Voodoo Jones said. "You will venture out of the Stix and track them down--and then you will discover precisely why she was cast aside."
"I--I don't know," Bonesaw said, stepping back. "I don't like leaving the Stix--people out there--my scars--"
"Shh," he said, and then he reached forward to touch her chin. "I know. But I need you to do this thing for me. Can you, my child? Will you?"
Bonesaw averted her eyes. "I--yes, sir. I will."
"So what happened to them? The kids that he couldn't find a use for," I said. "You kind of hinted at it, but..."
"He has woven a spell through the Stix that draws runaways and throwaways to him," she said. "They gravitate to this place, where he finds them, measures their worth, and then..."
"Those who he finds not worth his time are forgotten," she said, looking away.
"'Forgotten'?" I asked. "That--look. Gina hasn't been forgotten. I remember her. People are still looking for her."
"He likely performed the ritual only recently. In time, she will be forgotten. It starts slowly--friends and family begin to forget her face. Her photographs are lost. In time, her name becomes difficult to recall--paperwork that proved her existence disappears in a bureaucratic shuffle. And eventually... there is no evidence that any of them existed at all."
"Jesus," I said. "Why?"
"One of the spirits Voodoo Jones serves is the Gray," she said. "A vast and terrible creature of forgotten lore. He guards forbidden knowledge, lost secrets--he knows that which no one else knows. Every bit of knowledge he consumes is knowledge that disappears from the earth. In exchange for this nourishment, he grants his followers power."
"And Jones wants to give him the Stix?"
"Yes. The Stix already is a place people are likely to forget. Divination magic works poorly, here--people do not wish to acknowledge it exists. They wish to forget it. All Voodoo Jones must do is somehow isolate it, encircle it, and then..."
"Okay. So we stop him from doing that," I said.
"How?" she asked.
That's when I heard the crackle in my ear. A welcome voice hummed.
"Here, starling," Sumerset said.
I pressed my finger against the transmitter. "Thank God. I thought this thing was busted."
"It is. Range on it has gone to shit. You're only hearing me now because I'm on my way there," he said.
"Good. I think this is way more serious than I initially thought. I might need back-up," I told him. "Call in Epoch, maybe, or--"
"No can do. Epoch's busy with their own problems," Sumerset said. "For now, this is going to have to be our show."
"Okay," I said, and then I looked to Red--who was staring at me with puzzlement.
"Who are you talking to?" she asked.
"Backup," I replied. "Let's talk about ways to screw up this spell of his."