“Back up, try again, begin from the beginning,” I commanded.  “You did what?”

“There’s a war going on, E,” she said. “Did you think for a moment I wouldn’t attempt to subvert the propaganda?”

I didn’t even have to think about it.  I knew my sister.  “There’s a bit of difference between that and ordering your own hit squad… on your head.”

She raised her eyebrow. “Says the fellow who disappeared for an entire year to chase some fairy tail.”  She emphasized the last word so I got the homonym.

“Ha ha,” I didn’t laugh. “Go ahead, push it harder into the kidneys before you twist.”

“While you were gone there was a war, E.” She shook her head. “A war.  With casualties.  Take some stats: how many unexplained heart attacks? Accidents? How much cancer is because of magic misuse?”

She must have seen my confused-skeptical look because she sighed.

“Teacher mode on,” she said. “Most witches are connected from initiation or study.  That’s where the majority of the power comes from; tapping some source, usually an old god, or a place of power, some kind of sacrifice, or there are various vows and stuff to bind a battery.”

“`Vows and stuff.’ Very teacher, much technical,” I teased. “I kind of know all that. I mean, I did date Maggie and she told me a little about it.”  Yeah, our love for talking shop did not help the relationship one bit.

“Shut up.”  She rolled her eyes. “Pollute the source, or add noise to the network, and that entropy can manifest in all sorts of physical ailments.  The disability rate in older witches is disturbingly high.”

“Correlation?” I offered.  “People looking for magical ways to solve their issues?”

“I thought that, too, but no, turns out most witches are more practical than that.  For one thing, pulling that kind of transformation energy from a source can also pollute it or give you feedback errors.  For another, finding the cure from the disease is like that infinite engine thing, isn’t it?”

“Improbability drive?” I asked.

“She means the perpetual motion machine, I think,” Roberto suggested.

“Yeah. That.” she picked it up.

“You said most witches?” I prompted.

“So, a lot of eclectics are self-taught, but they still end up connecting on shoddy can-and-string calls to the same sources because they think the same way as the more traditional ones.  Some, though, are founders of their own sources, or they work on different principles.  Rare, but I thought science was a better source than, say, Aphrodite.”

“Although,” Robert started.

She poked his shoulder with her finger.  “Shush, you.”

They grinned at each other in this comfortable, familiar way.  I thought for a moment that Roberto had stayed with my sister (or more accurately, vice versa) much longer than any of the others.  I gave her a significant expression, hoping she’d catch it, but I think she just figured it was brotherly disappointment of personal displays of affection.  I went back to the conversation.

“Science? Isn’t that a little like using GLaDOS as some kind of god form?” I was teasing.

“The pudding isn’t a lie,” she said.  “Bob?” she asked, plaintively.

Roberto got up and got more pudding for her.

I waited.

“He worries about me.” She shrugs. “Oh, and I know there are much better quotes from the series, but everyone references the cake.”

“Yeah, someday we’ll remember this and laugh. And laugh,” I responded.

“Look at me still talking when there’s science to do,” she sighed.

“Someone booted up the wrong side of the BIOS this morning?” I offered.  I wasn’t as sure of the LEGO Dimensions quotes.

She looked iffy, moving directly in front of me.  “Anyway, before Mr. New-to-mancy, as opposed to Newtonmancy gets back, I’ve got it covered. Yes, I’ve got some ties from Grandma, but they’re carefully vetted.  I’m not attached to any of the local hubs, and the only reason I appear to be targeted is to blend in… because if I don’t sound like I’m being gunned for, everyone assumes I have the guns.”

I made a motion as if to show off my arm muscles, and she rolled her eyes, scooting back a little to let Roberto back in with a careful mix of rice pudding with just a perfect dollop of the mango custard.  No, really, it tastes good together.  He handed her the spoon with a flourish.

“So, now that she has revealed to you her secret plan,” Roberto said, “have you reconsidered demons?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting my sister to be…” I trailed off.

“No. She is purely an angel,” he said.

She stuck out her tongue at him. “Anyway, I haven’t told him my secret plan.  It wouldn’t be a secret anymore.”

He nodded. “Sage and true.  So, we find this demon of yours and we take your sister as attractive but unreasonable bait?” he pointed his thumb at her while she was busy with a spoon of pudding and couldn’t hit him on the shoulder again.  Well, at least for a moment.

“Well, except for the bit about Eve, sure, that’s the…erm, plan.  Not a secret.  You will reveal to me your ancient methods for finding them, and I will, um… direct things.  And make the hard decisions.”

“Someone has to,” he said, and I suddenly rued my wording.

He looked at my expression and chuckled. “You are responsible, you know.”

“Responsible for what?” I said, possibly a bit defensively.

“No, just, you insist on taking responsibility for things.”  He made a circular gesture with his spoon as if to take in the world around.  “You care about putting things right.”

“Well, doesn’t everybody?” it seemed a weird observation.  “I mean, sure, I’m lazy sometimes and I’m not one of those people who totally needs to give to charities for tragedies half a world away.  Really, I’m a pretty awful person if you start making judgments on such things. I don’t even tithe to the lottery.”

“You may be guilty, but you are also responsible. There is a difference.”  He sighed. “Demons just love responsible people.”