As I tried to figure out where to begin, Amy pointed at me, “The Rocket’s been the most involved with all of that. You’ll want to ask him.”
“Right,” I said, “I’m trying to figure out where to start. Here’s the thing: when I just started to be the Rocket, Magnus called me on my personal cell phone—not as the Rocket. He wanted me to join him and convince my friends to do the same. So he’s known about me for years now and he’s been targeting me for some unknown reason.”
It wasn’t quite unknown since Magnus was trying to get Lee’s device, created by Kee in the Artificers’ civil war. Getting me on his side was his only chance to use it if he wasn’t part Artificer and if he was (more likely), he might want help running it.
Ruthie said, “Go on.”
“We think that he’s trying to find something. It’s a device that I’m assuming will give him power. I don’t know how long he’s been looking for it, but we read some cuneiform tablets and looked at a diagram that makes us wonder if people have been looking for this for thousands of years.”
I watched her face for some kind of hint of what she thought of what I was saying, but didn’t see one. Immortality gave someone time to develop their poker face and she hadn’t wasted it.
“That was the explosion in the mountains in Pennsylvania—the Poconos,” she said, watching me.
“Yes,” I said, now knowing that either she or the Wizards’ Council was watching what we’d been doing more closely than I’d thought.
Then Ruthie said a few words. I recognized none of them and from the expression on Amy’s face, neither did she. My implant, however, noted the similarity to words from Ascendancy, adding that if so, they were from an uncatalogued variant of that language.
Ruthie stared at the three of us for a moment and then said, “Good. You’re not Magnus’ creatures.”
She said a few more words and gestured at us and the glowing circle around us disappeared, leaving only a circular indentation in the wood laminate floor around us where the circle had been. Part of my mind registered that the wood laminate was thicker than I’d have expected, but the rest of me paid attention to Ruthie. She was talking.
“I don’t know what you know about us, but I know a little about you. I know the Heroes’ League. You’re not the first products of the Abominators’ tinkering that I’ve encountered. Ever since the first League appeared, I’ve been wondering if I knew any of their ancestors and I’m sure I do even if none of them are recent. There was a navigator that worked for the Dutch East India Company. He had a certain mechanical talent, but that was back in the 1600s. I never knew what happened to him. And you,” she looked at Haley, “you’re nearly straight Ascendancy soldier stock. I’d be surprised if your first ancestor on this planet were more than two generations away.”
Next to me, Haley shifted stance, bending her knees a little. It was subtle, but halfway to a fighting stance.
Ruthie smiled and turned to Amy, “By all rights, you should be the most surprising, but you’re not the first Bloodmaiden I’ve met.”
Those are the kind of statements that remind a person that talking to immortals is like a child talking to an adult only far worse. While I’d been spending time with immortals for my entire life, Lee and Kee were aliens. ‘Ruthie Shaw’ might have been directly created by the Abominators for all I knew but she was human.
I saw Amy smirk and say, “I’m aware,” followed by a number of words in a language I couldn’t place. It wasn’t Ascendancy at least. I looked over at Amy. She muttered, “I didn’t know until I saw her. The Bloodmaidens didn’t know her as Ruthie Shaw.”
“But,” the old woman said, “Ruthie Shaw is good enough for here and now. Let the other name rest for a time.”
“As long as it doesn’t become important,” Amy said.
I glanced in her direction to see if Amy if was changing into Bloodmaiden, but she continued to be nothing more than a 20-something red-haired woman. That argued that Ruthie had been friendly the last time they met.
I asked, “What do you know about Magnus?”
Ruthie stared at me without saying anything at first, but then said, “He came to us later. We’d formed what you call the Cabal. Urin came to lead us, but Magnus arrived after that—long after, but he had a plan. He never brought us in on it, but we knew that he was sending the soldiers to search for things that he never fully explained to either them or us.”
Haley asked, “What kind of things?”
Ruthie said, “He’d send them to places without explanation and order them to bring back what they found whether it was people or things. And it was rarely things. He most cared about questioning people. He wouldn’t tell us more. Over time, he took control of the Cabal. All of the original members left. We think that he’s had a few of us killed, but we can’t know it for sure. A few years ago, he was expelled from the Cabal. We haven’t had any trouble from him since.”
That was the beginning, but it felt like something was missing. I said the first thing that came into my head, “Do you know anything about his plan at all? Did he ever give any hint about why he was doing what he was doing?”
Ruthie nodded, “Early on he told us about a dream he’d had. He said he’d seen the Earth destroyed by ‘serpents’ that in his words, ‘crawled out of the heavens.’ It was strange, but nothing he did ever had anything to do with serpents. From what I remember though, he was serious. I think he was even scared.”