“I’m keeping you around,” I announced, generously.  “Not only do you have my back, but you make my muddling around sound good.”

“Muddling?” he asked.  He seemed pleased, though.

“Yeah. I was just trying to figure everything out, you know, get one step ahead of the competition.  You made me sound like a fast food meal described by a gourmet restaurant.  You know, instead of, ‘Meatballs with red sauce and cheap overcooked noodles,’ I’m ‘prime Kobe sirloin ground rounds nestled in a savory sauce made of fire roasted tomatoes, sauteed garlic, with a hint of organic basil on a platter of angelhair pasta served al dente.’  Or something like that.”

“I guess it’s better than `acerbic beefcake with dreads.'”

“Totally not my type,” I said, amused.  It was an immediate retort but I was reminded of my gold star. I sighed, getting up from the table and putting the rest of the pizza in the refrigerator.

“You continue to overthink it,” Wrecks said. “And that much garlic will give you bad dreams.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Nah.” He made a noise.  “Would you categorize this as part of the Lovecraftian mythos?” he waved Foucault’s Pendulum towards me.

I shook my head. “Not without a spoiler alert. I always think of Templars as anti-magic warriors.”

“You’re ruined by popular culture,” he sniffed.

“Or made by it into a god,” I said, majestically raising my arms as if filled with inner power. I laughed, after a moment.  “Alright.  I have things to do.  Answers to seek.”

“Quests to conquer?” he asked.  “Fair maidens to rescue?”

“The next line is likely ‘Dragons to slay,’ and I’m out of that business,” I said.

“Really?” he repeated my question back at me.

I did not slam the bedroom door, but only because it would mean he won.

I slept fine, although I spent extra time with the toothbrush getting the garlic out. Even without girls to impress, maiden or not.  I did not dream.

I woke up once in the night, as I heard a loud warbling noise, like a nearby siren.  I listened to see if it would continue, but the doppler faded, and so did my consciousness.

In the morning, I did most of my ablutions, decided to skip shaving, and got dressed.  I made some calls, re-activating myself at the temporary agency, some odds and ends.  The things of life.  The bits of the adventures that aren’t played through in the games unless that one guy is there insisting on telling everyone how he makes a toothbrush out of an aromatic root, and how he’s making sure to eat the rations that give him regular bowel movements.  It’s always a guy.  I did play once with a lady who discussed breastfeeding at the table, but she was playing a character who made it work, especially with the demigod baby strapped to her back.  Good times.

Wrecks was passed out on top of the books.  I growled when I noted he was bending the cover of my signed copy of Imajica.  I guessed he wasn’t the useful kind of fey who cleaned up after himself.  I gently moved his leg and pulled the novel out from under his knee.   I took some time to pick things up.  “Some bodyguard you are,” I muttered under my breath.

I suddenly felt like a thousand little eyes were staring at me.  This is an uncomfortable feeling.  It’s like paranoia that makes itself known with electricity.  I looked around slowly.  Nothing seemed to be there, but the feeling continued long enough for me to decide it wasn’t born of guilt.  I heard the sounds of things moving, bits of paper, the crinkling of a plastic bag, all like you’re just about to fall asleep and something in your room moves… despite there being no wind.  The feeling receded.

Wrecks opened one eye at me, lazily.  “I have to rest sometime, man,” he said.

“What was that?” I asked.  “It was really disturbing.”

“Friend of mine.  Poltergeist… kind of.  They don’t like anything mortal …and sane.”

“Guess we’re all good friends, here.”

Wrecks snickered.  “You said it, not me.”

“You can tell by the company I keep,” I added.  I sat at the computer chair and wrote a message to my sister.  It was a variant on the requests she’d made for me to call, but a lot less demanding, if you asked me.  I had manners and she was never a genteel lady. I probably could have left out the, “Still with…what was the disposable’s name? Roberto?” comment.

I kept bringing up pictures of the fires. Waldo Canyon. High Park. Flagstaff. More than five hundred homes.  Families.  I looked around my apartment.  All my stuff was here.  My comfort.  My activities.  My small reminders of things that had happened in my life.  Trinkets and bits.  The promise ring I never gave Maggie.  Ten years of anchoring the topsoil before mudslides would stop being a problem.  Those were just the big ones in my state; there were plenty of lightning strikes and large fires all over the country.

“What’s a derecho?” I asked aloud.

“It sounds like a reminder that you haven’t had breakfast,” Wrecks said.

“Thanks, mom.  I wasn’t hungry yet, but now that you mention it,” I went and heated up the last of the pizza.  I spent the morning looking at scientific explanations for the fires, while Wrecks ate his share and started in on the Wild Cards series.

The phone went off in my bedroom on one of my generic ringtones.  I didn’t recognize the number, and I didn’t catch it in time.  It was a local number, not one of those Caribbean Cruise folks who would fill up my voicemail if I let them.  I kept meaning to take down the “remove me from your call list” number, and eventually I’d be mad enough to do it.  After a moment, the phone rang again.

I answered it.

“E, we have to talk.”

“Maggie.”  I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.  “No, we don’t,” I said.

“I disagree.”

“No surprise there,” I retorted quickly.

“Do you even want to know what it’s about?” she asked.

“Not really.  I know if you’re involved, it’s not good.”

“It’s about your sister.”

I banged my knee against the desk and spent the next 15 seconds in an agony that really deserved all the words that came spilling out.  I took another deep breath.  “Fine.  You have thirty seconds.  Don’t think I’m not staring at a clock.”

“Gossip has it that there’s something big and bad looking for her.  I can’t help you.  I’m trying to keep my people out of the line of fire, as it were, but I thought you ought to know.”

“I thought you were wrapped up tight with the Shadow King,” I said.  I hadn’t meant to say anything, but it kind of came out.

“You never trusted me enough, E.  Do you think we wanted this?”

“Your name comes up on a list of significant beings with power that are arrayed against me,” I said.

“And you trust the… the keeper of these names?”

I thought about it, and then laughed.  “I guess I believed you when you said you were all that.  So hearing someone else say you were all that and a bunch of evil dips, I was willing to believe.”

“Your confidence in me is astounding. You are an idiot.”  She hung up.

I glanced wryly at Wrecks.  “Well?  Ready to slap some arcane wisdom on me that doesn’t actually help?”

“I can’t help you with your women problems, Door-closer.”

I looked him up and down.  “I can’t imagine that you could,” I said, with a grin.  “But is the use of my title a hint?”

“Why haven’t you shut the door on your relationship with her?” he asked, seriously.

“Because I’m an idiot,” I said.  “Can I do that?”

“She’s a witch.  Look up on yon magic internetty box and find a thousand spells to cut a relationship clean.  You’ve got to know how to use your power, wizard-friend.  Secret-caller.” He looked amused.

I considered it.  “What do you know about my power?”

He sat back, and his expression changed.  “Now you’re talking.  I’m your bodyguard, not your tutor.  You need to utilize your resources, and get a better teacher.”

“What am I looking for?  A wizard?”

“You could,” he said.  “A wizard, however, would teach you to be a wizard.  And you, no need to repeat yourself, do not want that.”

I nodded.  “So I need to find another door-closer?”

“Take baby steps.  Is your magic an inherent power or is it a result of ritual, opening yourself to other forces?”

“Huh,” I grunted. “I expect a Closer doesn’t open himself.  So it’s inherent.”

“Where does it come from?” he asked.

“Do you mean, is it like genetic?  Am I a mutant and I’m looking for a Professor X?”

“Where does your power come from?” he asked again, sounding each word out as if he was looking for something.

“My soul? My experiences? My good looks?  My folks?  My having my fingers slammed by a radioactive door when I was but a wee lad?”  I growled.  “I don’t know what you’re looking for.  Give me a hint.”

He sighed.  “I am what I am.  You are not.”  He went back to his book.

“This isn’t helping.  I’d rather find out what Dragon is responsible and what it means to the war effort, and what is going on with my sister.  Why my sister?” I asked aloud.  “I mean, better than my mom,” I pointed out.

“Flame-bright, power-spark, she lights the path of what is dark. Secret-keeper, Closer’s blood, she sprouts the seeds of the flood,” he said, turning a page somewhat…flippingly.

“Is that her song?”

“Mayhap.”  He sounded grumbly.

“I didn’t know that maybe was an option.  Could I add a chorus and maybe a snappy bridge to mine?”

“No.”  He brought his knees up to hold the book there.  “And it doesn’t need a guitar solo.”

“Bummer.”  I sighed.  “Seeds of the flood?  Do floods come from storm seeds?  Is this the Biblical kind of flood, or like a woman’s thing?”

He ignored me, so I went back to my research.  Now that I understood the science more, it was time to look up the magical side.

After about an hour, I gave up.  “I can’t do this without real fuel.  You want anything from the store?” I asked.

“I must attend you,” he said, sliding a Tattered Cover bookmark between the pages.

“Do you need a booster seat?  Should I put you up front in the cart, or maybe get one of those ones with the plastic cars attached?” I asked.

He rolled his eyes.  “I am not of this world. I do not need to be coddled as if I were the visage I have taken.”  He frowned.  “Get your shoes on.”

I did as he asked only because it was my next stop, anyway.  I tied the laces, wondering about the frown.  When I came out of my room, I didn’t see him.  The room was also, somewhat, more picked up.  The dishes were put away in the sink.  There was a pillow on the couch I didn’t recognize.  The TV screen had been dusted.

“Wrecks?” I asked.  I felt silly using that name, and it sounded weird in the silence.  “I mean, Nen?”

I kept bracing myself for the creepy sensation, the thousand eyes making the hairs on my arms and neck rise with a lightning prickle.  It wasn’t there.  “Nen?” I asked again.

The door made a noise, opening slightly.  I crept up behind it, and then grabbed a ruler from the various gaming supplies I kept on the shelf beneath my octopus cup.  I propped the door open, backing up with it as it swept towards me.  I heard the yowling of a neighborhood cat, but other than that it was silent.  Too silent.

Wrecks had his hand around Peredur’s neck, and they weren’t moving.  Smoke drifted from Peredur’s nostrils.  Wreck seemed to strain, while the Dragon didn’t seem too uncomfortable.

I let the door close with a sigh.