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5. Something Wicked This Way Comes

Glyph had discovered that watching over a city was easier and safer in those times and places when the tallest building at the center of affairs was a cathedral. The roofline of the department stores and office buildings around this place, which—as he read in the minds of people passing below—was called “Union Square” at the center of “San Francisco,” contained no gargoyles. In fact, these buildings had no decoration at all. How boring and utilitarian!

Not that he needed to worry too much about camouflage and concealment. If any of the inhabitants below should happen to look up and notice him, he could be gone in the blink of an eye. Glyph was an oddity among his own kind—if he had a kind. While other beings like him could only see across the dimensions that separated the various Branching Universes by using sensitive instruments that drew gigawatts of power, Glyph could do it with just his mind. Sometimes, when he really concentrated, and when the stars were in their proper alignment, he could perceive things moving as in a vision. And sometimes, with a frightful expenditure of mental, emotional, and physical energy, he could cross. Briefly.

But as if in compensation for this remarkable talent, Glyph was effectively blind upon entering any new world. It swarmed and swirled around him as a confusion of objects, actions, interactions, and energies, all without purpose or meaning. He could only see and navigate through any new space by locking onto a guide, a mind that was already accustomed to the dimension’s intricacies and could show him meanings behind the shapes he perceived. And then, not every mind would work for him. He needed to find an affinity, the right kind of energy, a mind attuned to the same anger, spite, and malice that lay behind his own chaotic creation. A kindred mind could focus him in this dimension, as a beam of light threw up reflections and shadows against the darkness.

Glyph had only come to this boring, gray-toned place above the San Francisco streets because he had found and followed, not one, but three such minds. Small minds, to be sure, but locked in a triangular web of thoughts and emotions that caused them to blaze in his consciousness. Others of their kind—if they had a kind—called them the “Ramsays,” or sometimes the “Silent Three,” and thought of them as bizarre and dangerous beings. Among the three, however, they whispered the names “Genjifer” and “Gjordge” and “Giuffre,” and they thought themselves beautiful—but also dangerous. The strongest of the minds was the one that identified as female, and on her Glyph tended to focus his own thoughts. The two others—brothers? womb mates? some relationship accounting for their linked energies?—were less obvious and not always clear to him.

They had gone into the building across the street and not yet returned. As far as Glyph could see, there was only one entrance and, judging from the movement of people in and out, that was probably the only exit. So he waited patiently. Besides, just as their three minds had passed through the doorway and joined a crowd of other, dimmer lights inside, he had read images of chemical instability, of erupting gases, of fire and destruction. Random death and destruction were thoughts that pleased Glyph immensely, and he sensed these attributes habitually stalked Genjifer Ramsay and her brothers.

When they finally emerged and hurried off down the street, he still had seen no fire, no destruction. Glyph was torn between following them along their further path or waiting here for what might happen next. A sense of mutual expectation, mirrored in their departing minds, told him to wait.

Within a short time, as Glyph counted time, the roof of the building opposite rose up in a great rolling wave that progressed from back toward front. Walls and windows at the various levels along two sides of the building shattered and flew outward in pieces. Yes, there was fire in bright orange streamers. And there was death in many of the dim minds that were caught beneath that roof and the stages of the building as it collapsed. Glyph watched contentedly as the collapse crushed out tens, multiples of ten, more than a hundred of those little minds.

One of them, however, managed to escape. The survivor flew out of a window at mid-level, just ahead of an arching tongue of flame. She—for even in this streaking flight Glyph sensed a female in bodily form and mental structure—landed as a small bundle that continued rolling across the street. This mind was not small, however, like those that had been extinguished, and it was not malicious, like those who had foreshadowed the explosion. This mind was as bright as the Genjifer female’s but more orderly and with differently bound energies. Something of this one had been reflected in the minds of the three as they entered the building. Glyph sensed this person had been their target … and they had failed, so far, to kill it.

Glyph focused on this new female mind. He detected about her the shadows of many different dimension sets. He could sense them clinging to her like the various aromas wafting off the clothes of a person who had walked through many kitchens. His heart quickened then, because Glyph sensed she was a human traveler. He could use a traveler.

Strange as her mind was, he force-fit his thoughts into hers. But she was already fading—if not into death then into some lesser darkness. He exerted all his will to pull from that dying mind every image, every secret it might hold. He concentrated so hard that he lost his footing in this reality and … Blink!

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