by Stewart Wilson
Dawn light over the streets of Edinburgh, a three-dimensional maze played out in ancient stone and tarmac. Jack didn't see the blues and golds that painted the city, he was too busy running. One foot in front of the other, again and again. Down one street then another, he made his way haphazardly away from the Palace without daring to touch the main roads. He had hit the pain barrier sometime in the early hours of the morning, running through the Mirrorworld. He'd hoped to avoid pursuit by using the reflection to put some serious distance between his last known location in Manchester and his exit point in Scotland.
Back in the physical world, the manticores would already be on him. It was a calculated risk Jack had to take. Conceptual hunters that inhabited the Mirrorworld but could only see the physical, Manticores could see through the eyes of any human they linked into. Because of that, he avoided crowds and shopping areas. They would be on his psychic trail already; it was just a matter of time. There was no other option. He could go to ground with the assistance he had in Edinburgh's collective unconsciousness. The dark window of a kebab shop caught a few rays of the morning light, reflecting the street onto which it faced. Jack ran on, aiming square at his own reflection. He reached down within himself, wadding up all of the loneliness, the fear and the insecurities into a core of energy. He jumped at the window and ran on, leaving only a ripple in the glass like a stone dropped in a pond.
The Mirrorworld is the collection of conceptual space formed by the human unconsciousness. The name comes from the only sure-fire way to enter with more than just a mind, the enactment of a very fast spell which allows one to use any reflection as a gateway. The name also represents the best way to think of the Mirrorworld: All those fragments of rooms that people see in mirrors have to exist somewhere. They are, after all, three dimensional. Yet the mirror that reflects them is (effectively) two-dimensional. The 3D space is a construct of the human unconsciousness, an illusion of the mind which remains when we do not think about it. To walk the Mirrorworld is to step into this space, to physically journey into the mental reflection of reality. Without implants and modification to unlock psionic potential—such as that which created the Manticores—this is the only means of access, and it is a well-guarded secret.
Jack landed. His Otherself, his reflection when he was in the real world, wrapped around him, making him whole again. He staggered on, out of the sight of mirrors and into the really weird. The cathedral's dark spires loomed over his head, impossibly tall, inviting him to seek what answers he could within them. The cathedral was a distraction, a mind-maze created by an enterprising nineteenth century thinker from all the contradictions in religion. Jack's accomplices had a safe-house two streets away, in the reflection of a nightclub. Only once he was inside did Jack stop running and allow himself to collapse, chest heaving as he gave in to his need for air.
The others filtered back to the safe house soon enough. Eric was the first back, sporting a new tattoo over part of his shaved scalp. He grunted what could have passed for a "Hello", before heading to another room. Grace and Nicole were maybe fifteen minutes behind him, talking animatedly as they entered. They exchanged strained pleasantries with Jack before Grace went to look for Eric.
Nicole didn't waste any more time. "Why are you back here so soon, Jack?"
He shrugged, taking a thick wrap of fabric from inside his jacket. Open, it let slip the bright red of the Liverpool football shirt he wore underneath the leather. "Jewels. Ten of the bastard things, pure crystal the lot. You know I wouldn't be back this soon unless I had to be, love."
"Your kind of 'had to be's include being desperate for sex, as I recall. No way you have ten crystals, there's no way you could have got your hands on that kind of power."
The wrap opened revealing nine flawless crystal figures, each perhaps two inches high, which refracted the lights of the room in alien patterns. A tenth was duller than the others, a small figurine of a running man.
Jack shrugged, gesturing to the faded figure. "I had to use that to get the fuck away from Manchester. There's no chance I can show myself there on either side for a year at least, unless I fake my death. But I'm offering them to you, all of them. You've had to put up with my gate-crashing enough, and I know how you feel about those of us that are bonded coming to you for sanctuary."
Nicole's eyes widened at the sight. Just about everyone who could cross to the Mirrorworld knew that certain figures would refract the light of the world in small but important ways, a kind of magic. But to have ten of the finest examples was to suddenly gain a lot of power, in a lot of ways. Jack would never be able to access that power in full. The piercings and scars which bonded him to his Otherself and gave him his extraordinary abilities made it harder to channel the refractive energy. The flight from Manchester to Edinburgh had been hard enough on the travel jewel and had dumped him rather unceremoniously on the grounds of the palace, dulling the cut.
"All ten of them... It's a deal. I want to know where you got them, though. We need to know who is going to be looking for their missing jewels. And if you're going to do us the pleasure of staying around, be bloody careful, Jack. The manticores here are sharp to traces of anyone who's bonded to their Otherself, and we can't afford to compromise here."
Jack kicked back in his chair with the beginnings of a grin on his face. "I'll tell all, I promise. Just... after I've recovered? I may have the stamina of a young werewolf, but even I'm fucked after running as far as I did."