The basement of the house of the de Surdevilles was whitewashed, streaked with grime and old stains as basements tend to go. Likewise as basements of such houses tend to go, it was filled with instruments, devices, and structures that the people living upstairs knew little about and never use – washbasins, washboards, ironing boards, kitchen equipment, fireplaces with spits turned by rising hot air, and so on. The outside of the house gleamed white because the servants cleaned it thoroughly, but the people living upstairs did not care to ask how the servants did this; it was enough to know that the work was done. The inside of the house was spic and span, and the people living upstairs barely wondered how this happened; it simply happened. Why, if one employed the proper head servants, with impeccable character and references, then the work seemed to do itself! From the perspective of upstairs. Such was the shape of any house in Les Gens Biens.

    From the perspective of downstairs there was always something to be done, and if the work ever got done it was never before long after supper. Most basements in the district of Les Gens Biens were full of people running about, here and there, hauling water, chopping vegetables, bringing mops up and down stairs, scrubbing pans. 

    Save for this basement. The hand that broke through the brick floor entered a basement whose devices lay without hands to work them. The washroom stood empty, the kitchen was dark and cold, the band saw was silent. There was but a young woman, of tawny skin, aquiline nose and green eyes, dressed in a maid’s garb, sitting at a pedal-powered sewing machine.

    When she saw the metal-clawed hand burst through the floor, she screamed, and jumped up from the sewing machine, backing towards the door. Had Alejandra been any slower to pull herself out of the ground, the woman at the door might have had time to open it and dash up stairs to raise the alarm. Instead, the woman’s panicked screams fell silent as she beheld the woman breaking in – the woman of powerful arms, pale skin and fair hair, unmistakable even under the caked dirt. "Alejandra," said the woman wryly, "you do realize this house has a front door?"

"Let’s just say I had to test my strength." Alejandra crawled away from the hole and rose shakily to her feet, standing doubled over with exhaustion, soaked with sweat and breathing heavily. "It was a bit of a workout."

"What exactly happened?" said the woman. "Did you try to rob a bank and miss?"

"You and I both know the best way to rob those is with a pen and paper," gasped Alejandra.

Maggie pulled herself up out of the hole. "Hello? I am Maggie. Alejandra, who is this that you seem to know well?"

Alejandra looked apprehensive. She glanced at the woman standing before the door, who shook her head slowly. "This is...Mademoiselle le Chiffre."

Maggie looked the young woman up and down. Something about her appearance did not seem to fit the idea of being French. But whatever it was, it might not be wise to comment on a such a thing to the face of a person who could instantly drop the maid act and be familiar with the heiress of a wealthy house.

"It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen you in this part of town," said the Mademoiselle. "I would have thought you had finally given up simply slumming it and moved to Los Hijos permanently. Have you changed your mind? Given up the fight? Gone back to a place where taking girls home will escape the notice of Los Ojos?"

"Knock it off," growled Alejandra. "I was underground and I didn’t have a clue which way I was going."

"It’s almost like an incredibly convenient narrative contrivance," said Maggie.

"Hello?" said the voice of an older woman from the other side of the door. "Mademoiselle, what were you screaming about? What’s going on in there? Open this door at once."

"Scratch that," said Maggie. "It’s incredibly inconvenient. Back underground, come on." She dropped down the hole just as the door was opening.

There in the dark she heard the woman gasp. "Alejandra?"

"Mother," growled Alejandra.

"You disgrace our family name," said the woman, "with your lascivious lusts and your shameful straying – people tell me you cross Division Road daily! They talk about you, I am humiliated, and you – you just show up in the basement after months – how did you even get in? Through the earth? Are you some manner of mole? Come upstairs and get yourself cleaned up and we’ll have tea and discuss your future. I am sick of this nonsense."

"I already know my future," said Alejandra, "and I honestly have no desire to remain here."

"That was not a request, Alejandra de Surdeville."

"Hey," called Maggie up from the hole, "can I have some tea too?"

A silhouette of an old woman appeared to block the basement light. "What on earth? What in earth? Who is that? Alejandra, who is down there? Do not lie to me."

"Hi," said Maggie. "I’m Maggie Noyr, and Alejandra is – I mean I am – oh dear, I shouldn’t declare anything carelessly. Um...I made the things that let Alejandra dig this hole. We were escaping from the police."

The silhouette tilted its head. "You are refreshingly honest. Bracing, even. Mademoiselle, I think we will need the full tea service, toute suite."

Alejandra had an amazing technique of sipping tea through pursed lips. She clearly inherited it from her mother. Here in the sunny sunlit tea parlor, made even brighter by the universally white upholstery and décor, silence reigned – even Mademoiselle Le Chiffre was pouring the tea without a single sound.

It fell to Maggie to break the ice. She turned to the maid, trying to catch her eye. "My apologies for ruining the basement floor, Mademoiselle, and for giving you a fright. I am gratified that you are willing to serve us after such an unkindness."

Far from breaking the ice, this seemed to lower the temperature in the room by a degree. Mademoiselle le Chiffre briefly glanced at Maggie without betraying a hint of emotion, and Alejandra’s mother, whom Maggie could only think of as Madame de Surdeville, looked at Maggie and raised her eyebrow, while Alejandra set her tea down and let her hands sit in her lap.

Mademoiselle le Chiffre finished arranging the jam and cream on the tray and bustled out of the room. Thus was Maggie left alone to bear the tension emanating from the two sitting with her around the tea table. She cleared her throat. "I supposed I must apologize once more, for speaking out of turn, though I will admit I am ignorant as to how I have done so. Let me change the subject, then. The downstairs area, where the servants work, it seemed to be empty. Are they all on vacation somewhere? How do you get on?"

This time Madame de Surdeville’s expression became stern. She fixed her eyes upon Maggie and did not look away. "You certainly are ignorant."

"I suppose you could say I was born yesterday," said Maggie. "Ha, ha, ha."

Alejandra’s face finally cracked a faint smile.

Madame de Surdeville turned to Alejandra. "Dear daughter, now that you have at last returned home from your wayward wandering, let me ask you: at what point are you going to bear a child to carry on the family name?"

Alejandra scowled. "I should not come home again, if that is the only question you will be asking me, Mother."

"Whoa," said Maggie. "I thought this tea party was going to be a lot of subtle insults hidden behind high-society etiquette. Looks like the claws are all out now."

"You set the tone," said Madame de Surdeville. "We might as well cut the bullshit and get straight to the important matters. Let me ask you, mysterious woman who digs tunnels under people’s houses: why exactly were you escaping from the police? What sort of disturbance did you cause?"

"Smashed Senor San Obispo in the face with a huge fish," said Maggie.

"Socked a cop for trying to cop a feel," said Alejandra.

"Accidentaly mind-controlled someone," said Maggie. "It's been a rough first morning here."

Madame de Surdeville looked amused, much to Maggie’s surprise. "I see my daughter is putting her sporting training to use, then. She should be a fitting match to the strongest of men, and bear many powerful sons. As for you, are brave. Bold, even. Monsieur San Obispo is not a man to lightly cross. You will see him again. If my daughter is your friend, I daresay she will have to put her training to use in your defense – especially if you are as honest outside these walls as you have been within them."

"You are an odd woman," said Maggie.

"I am wealthy and well-connected," said Madame de Surdeville. "Thus I am called eccentric, instead of insane. You, on the other hand, seem to have taken things a step further, into realms where the wealthy would be called tricksters and geniuses, and the poor would be called rebels and subversives. What else am I to think of a woman whose first thought of escaping a police station is to dig a tunnel, instead of just breaking a window?"

Maggie binked. "Uh...heat of the moment?"

"I didn’t even consider it either," murmured Alejandra.

Madame de Surdeville’s gaze shifted back and forth between Alejandra and Maggie. "You two seem to be on the same wavelength. If Maggie puts her mad genius towards devising some manner of producing children with you using her genetic material, I would have no objections to you two being wed."

Maggie’s cheeks grew warm, and Alejandra’s face turned red. "Mother! Would you please leave off that topic!"

"In terms of more immediate subjects," said Maggie, "Now that we are being terribly frank about things, I would like to return to the quesiton you did not answer before. Where are all your servants? Have you never had many, or have you simply lost all but one? Or is everyone having a party on the rooftop?"

Madame de Surdeville sipped her tea and waited a moment before speaking. "I cannot say precisely where everyone has gone...even if I have a good idea why." She looked up from her tea, as Maggie leaned forward to listen more closely. "It is not that they have gone to other households. I have asked, I have taken tea literally everywhere, and no one in the neighborhood has seen them."

"Then where?" said Maggie.

"You haven’t seen much of Los Hijos yet," murmured Alejandra. "It would be easier to explain if – "

"Did they get vanished by Los Ojos?" said Maggie.

"They disappeared all at once," said Madame de Surdeville. "Perhaps they were having a party on some rooftop, and simply were vanished all together. Any other way, they would have been vanished one at a I do not know."

Maggie glanced at Alejandra, whose pensive, downcast gaze betrayed her knowledge of the situation. "Maybe one of us knows?"

"And does not wish to comment on the matter," murmured Alejandra, "until she can show her odd and otherworldly friend the aftermath of an earthly matter."

"Friend," said Maggie. "After what I’ve put you through today, when it is only noon? You are most generous and patient. Anyway, I do believe I have the ability to solve your problem. But let me demonstrate with a friend whose disappearance was my doing. I declare that Luis Alvarez, friend of Alejandra de Surdeville and Rafael Santos the Tour Guide, is before me."

For an instant, just a brief moment, no more than a blink, Luis stood atop the table, upsetting tray and spilling the tea pot. Maggie began to rise in her chair. But Luis was already gone, with nothing more than a slight rush of air, before Maggie could get any farther.

Madame de Surdeville’s calm countenance finally broke. She looked at Maggie with a mix of wonder and trepidation. "You are not the mundane sort of trickster." She seemed to be pressing herself back in her seat, as if trying to move away as far as she possibly could. "You are the mythological sort of trickster."

"I lead a curious existence," murmured Maggie, shrinking from the gaze of Madame de Surdeville. "For what it is worth, I made the choice to be only a creative force, which role I am now held to. I will not accidentally vanish anyone or anything again, as I did to Luis."

"But Luis vanished again," said Alejandra. "Which means...something is contradicting you? Oh no." She began to shiver. "Los Ojos are working indoors now. There is no safe place from them."

“Oh, I doubt that,” said Madame de Surdeville. She pointed to a window, which was open. “Look, we’ve been letting the wind in this whole time.”

Maggie rose, but Alejandra rose with haste and had the window shut before Maggie could even get halfway there. “Call for Luis again,” she said. “Call for Luis again and bring him back, and let me believe that we have some sort of shelter.”

“Very well,” said Maggie. “Luis Alvarez is standing before us.”

And so he appeared again. He did not look perplexed, as Maggie would have expected a man to appear after blinking into existence. He looked frustrated, and apologetic. “I am very sorry,” he said, “But I am being held captive.” And then he vanished.

“God dammit!” said Alejandra. “God fucking dammit!” She grabbed the pull cord for the window blind and quickly cut off light from the window, then ran to the next one.

“Really,” said Madame de Surdeville. “Let the maid do that for you, daughter.” She rose and pulled a thin cord on the wall. While Alejandra was busy ignoring the advice of her mother, her mother was waiting at the door.

But Mademoiselle le Chiffre came. “That is very strange,” said Madame de Surdeville. “Where is the help?”

“Perhaps nowhere,” said Alejandra. “Maggie, call Luis back again.”

“Luis Alvarez stands before us,” said Maggie. And lo, he stood before them once more.

I cannot stay,” said Luis. “I am a captive.”

“Is a young green-eyed woman with you?” said Alejandra. “Dressed in a maid’s outfit?”

Luis looked confused. “I haven’t even seen anyone with green eyes around here.”

“But where?” said Maggie. “Where on earth are you held?"

“Where the stinging sands blow,” said Luis, “At the ends of the earth, where I fear I must be, captive or no.”

“But why?” said Maggie. “Here in the shadows, you should surely be able to hide from the cruel eyes.”

“Hide?” said Luis. “Like a frightened cat, like a weak little mouse? Where I am held, there are so many others. Dare I abandon them? Our captors have no interest in keeping us alive. I share my fish with these poor people, and thus we survive, perhaps to break free someday. I cannot return the easy way.”

“But your Rafael,” said Alejandra. “What of Rafael?”

Luis looked pained. “I…have my responsibilities.”

“And who even are all these people who you care for so much more than for Rafael?” said Maggie. “Where did they come from?”

“They said they all came from Los –” but then he vanished.

“Oh no you don’t,” said Maggie. “Luis Alvarez stands before me.” Luis flickered into view and then immediately flickered out. “I said, Luis Alvarez –” But then there was a pale hand upon her arm, and a worried look from Alejandra. “What is it?”

“You might hurt yourself. If you keep trying.”

Maggie sighed. "I appreciate your concern for me. Am I forgiven for how I treated you this morning?”

Alejandra’s face turned red.

“Is that a yes?”

 Madame de Surdeville coughed. “Forgive me for sounding conniving in this troubled moment, but though you may be frustrated by the demonstrable limits of your ability, I am relieved to see that you have limits.”

Maggie let out a long sigh. “I am as well, Madame. I am as well.”

“I wish your limits prevented you from messing with my head,” muttered Alejandra.

I…can’t guarantee that they do,” said Maggie. “But I can promise you that I would never again attempt to directly alter the will or thoughts of another human being.”

“Then make the promise,” said Alejandra.

“I just –”

“No.” Alejandra glared up at Maggie. “Don’t equivocate. Declare it. Speak it into reality with your power. I want a guarantee. I deserve it. Everyone does.”

Maggie held Alejandra’s gaze. “I will never again attempt to directly alter the will or thoughts of another human being.” She glanced up at where a stray ray of sunlight beamed through a gap in a blind. It seemed brighter than before. “Not I nor anyone in this world has that authority.” The sunlight grew brighter still, and Maggie thought she could hear something in the wind that kicked up outside – a fierce hissing, just for a moment. She looked back to Alejandra, whose expression had changed to shock. “Something the matter? Did you require more?”

Alejandra shook her head rapidly. “I couldn’t ask for more. I mean, I could, just not on that subject, um…” Her voice trailed off as her face turned red once more. 

“I understand you are unwilling to suffer the authority of Los Ojos. I have been instructed to oppose them. Do you believe we have common cause?”

Alejandra nodded.

“Capital,” said Maggie. “Let us go and find a critical ally, then, and some answers. Oh, and Madame -- if you are seeking new servants, might I kindly suggest you pay them a great deal more than the usual wages? Just on general principles, you know, fair day's wage for a fair day's work and all thaaaaaa...uh...I should have realized who I was talking to."

Madame de Surdeville's mask was on once more. "Kindly get the fuck out of my house and never darken my door again, dear."

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