When Brandon arrived at the house, he saw Will with a brune:e who looked like she was swooning over him. What in the world was he up to?
“There’s so much in these books,” Arthur said to Sabriel. “Shouldn’t there be some way to sum them up in just a few pages? Just so anyone who’s wondering what the Code is all about can look at those pages and say, that’s what it’s about.”
“There should,” Sabriel said. “How the law works in a thousand words or less, or something. Just so that if you’re not familiar with it, you can read it. And so if you have any quesJons about how a law works, you can go back to that statement and ﬁgure it out from there.”
Will had the same quesJon on his mind as he turned away from the crowd, holding baby Gemma. What li:le hair on her head was unmistakably brown, not red or blonde. How could that be possible? Was Gemma really his daughter?
Chris was going to spend some Jme with her granddaughters, but aMer picking up Meg and giving her a cuddle, she felt her Jme running out faster than she could make it to the family plot.
She set Meg down on the doorstep. Death’s scythe hung over Meg’s body, and the otherworldly black cloud that followed him around billowed around her.
Will took Gemma upstairs to her crib and let out a sob. There wasn’t anybody leM who could help him now. How was he supposed to deal with his kids having a diﬀerent father on top of everything else? He had to get away.
Meg sJll wasn’t a happy child, though. She cried long aMer Sabriel took her out of the crib, but she sJll had no words to communicate her fears.
“That’s enough. Break it up.” Kevin stepped between Sabriel and Will. “Will Stark, you’re under arrest for the murder of Sansa Stark. You need to come with us now.” “I didn’t—“ “Now.”
“So, you’re asking me to break Will out?” “Pre:y much. You and anyone else we can get.” Arthur paused. “Do you think it could work?”
“Well, the lack of a police force here means there’s not going to be much security. Which means that the real trick is going to be distracJng Piper.” Ursula paused. “What happens once I get Will out? He can’t go home again. Piper will be looking for him.” Arthur, Sabriel, and Bri:any looked at each other. “He’ll have to hide, I suppose,” Sabriel ﬁnally said. “And we can’t know where, can we?”
Darkness ﬂowed into the room. Will couldn’t see very well, but he could make out two masked redheads standing in the doorway to the interrogaJon room before the darkness swallowed them up. “Time to give Piper hell,” they both said at once.
“You’ll need to hide,” one of the twins explained to Will. “And nobody’s be?er at ﬁnding a place to hide than the simselves,” the other twin said.
SEll, Will couldn’t help remembering the last Eme he had come to this house.
When they rang, a blonde simself who Will didn’t recognize answered the door. “GeHng into trouble again, are we?” she asked the boys. “As always,” Mag answered. “And only with the right people,” Ferd told her.
“Of course.” She smiled. “I’m Pen. Come on in, Will. We’d be?er get you out of the open.” Will didn’t need a reminder.
He entered to ﬁnd the house changed from the last Eme he remembered it. The previously sedate wallpaper had been replaced with a pa?ern of blue boxes, and the large windows that had lined the far wall of the house had gone missing. A sense of dread arose from entering another windowless room before it gave way to relief. Marina and Rose sat at the eaEng table, while Lily checked something on the computer.
“Hi,” Will said. No one was asking any quesEons. The silence stretched out before him. Even without anyone prompEng him, he felt compelled to say something to ﬁll it up. “Where’s De?” The simselves exchanged glances. “She moved out,” Marina explained. “She went to live with Spencer.”
“Oh.” Will had hoped to see her. Then again, he hadn’t hoped for very much when he woke up that morning. He glanced at the blue couch. It looked so comfortable.
“Sit down,” Lily said, geHng up from the computer. “You need it. You can go upstairs and take a nap before we work out what to do next, if you want.”
If possible, the couch was even more comfortable than it looked. “Thanks, but I don’t think I can sleep,” Will said aXer a few minutes at rest. He had tried to close his eyes, but he couldn’t keep them shut for more than a few seconds at a Eme before he started to see the distorted reﬂecEons of the interrogaEon room again. “So, what’s the plan? Am I going to be staying here?”
“I wish we could have you stay with us,” Lily said, “but I don’t think that it’s going to work.” “Why not?”
"Brandons Code, like most codes of laws, had a provision for simself immunity,” she started to explain. Will tried to follow along. “Think of simselves as ambassadors for their individual universes. Most authoriEes want to encourage travel and communicaEon among the universes‐‐" "To a certain extent,” Rose reminded her. "Well, there is that order excluding Rhys Fitzhugh from this universe. In any event, simselves cant be criminally prosecuted, and they can only be sued in a few cases‐‐chief among which is the excepEon for any professional or commercial acEvity outside oﬃcial simself funcEons."
"What does that mean?" Will asked. Even true legalese didn’t mean anything to him. "I didnt think it meant much of anything. Almost everything is an oﬃcial simself funcEon, except for maybe running a business. I think even geHng married and having kids is an oﬃcial simself funcEon. But that term sounds a lot narrower than it actually is, you see? So, for example, a blatant refusal to comply with this universes law enforcement authoriEes could easily turn out to be outside simself immunity nowadays." "Oh."
"Yeah. As fun as it might be to start an inter‐universe incident, I dont think it would do you any good if they came to this house." If Will understood nothing that Lily had said before, which was altogether possible, he understood that with more clarity than anything he had heard all day. Locked away again. Never.
“So then what?” Will asked. “If you can’t help me, what are you going to do with me?” “We are going to help you,” Lily clariﬁed. “We’re going to ﬁnd the best possible place for you to hide. Somewhere Piper won’t even think about looking.”
That day, it was much colder than usual, and the snow fell so hard that the new EducaEon Minister decided it would be best to close the schools. AXer a brief celebraEon, though, Gemma and Meg learned that the snow day didn’t excuse them from having to learn skills that would be more useful to them than the ones they would learn in school.
“The world’s waiEng for you,” Sabriel explained to Gemma. “But there’s a lot that can hurt you out there. Once you get your body points, you can have any adventures you want.” “Like you?” Gemma asked, not taking her eyes oﬀ her book. “Like me.”
“Finished!” Gemma announced a few hours later. She closed her book and ran back to the shelf. “Meg? How are you doing on your body points?”
Meg wanted to keep up with Gemma, but her mind kept wandering. What was happening to her father? Why did it always snow? What was out there that could hurt her? So she tossed her book to the ﬂoor. “This is stupid!” she exclaimed. “I’d rather be studying anything but body! Where’s Daddy?”
“I’m sorry, Meg,” Sabriel explained again, “but he can’t come home. He has to hide. If he did, then the bad people who took him away would come back.” “But why did they have to take him?” Meg asked.
“Because they want to hurt us. We have to be strong.” Sabriel took Meg’s hands in hers, not knowing what else to do to calm her. “Dance with me. That’ll help.”
From her seat at the dining table, Gemma tried not to watch her aunt and Meg as she began studying another skill. She wanted her daddy, too, but she wasn’t going to be a crybaby about it. She would be strong.
The knock on the door came within minutes. “Police! Open up!” “Are those the bad people?” Meg asked. “Yes,” Sabriel said, looking out the window. “Go upstairs. I’ll deal with them.”
Considering that it looked like they were preparing to kick down the door, Sabriel opened it. “We have a warrant—“ Kevin started to say. “Didn’t I just tell you that the only way you’re searching this place is over my dead body?”
“—to arrest Will Stark and to arrest anyone who may be harboring him,” Ellen conEnued. “And in case you were thinking about going over our heads again, we have been given all authority from the Law to conduct this search and to take anyone who obstructs it into custody.”
Sabriel gri?ed her teeth and repeated to herself: The family comes ﬁrst. Arthur and I sJll have jobs to do. The family—
“What’s going on?” Jan asked, walking downstairs holding Lyra. “Gemma and Meg said some bad people are at the door.” “Jan, take the kids,” Sabriel ordered. “Take them to Uncle—to Bri?any’s—for a few hours. I’ll stay here and keep an eye on the babies while these two search the house to see if Will is hiding here.”
“You’ll be outside while we search,” Ellen corrected her. “With the weather this bad? And babies who might need something?” “We can’t have you interfering with the search.”
“Now, you should be nice to ValenEne,” Jan said to Gemma and Meg before they reached Bri?any’s house. “Her daddy just passed away.” “She should be nice to us,” Gemma answered. “Our daddy’s just plain gone.”
“I know.” Jan bent down and gave Gemma the hug that Gemma kept telling herself she didn’t need. Gemma noEced that her mom was crying. “So maybe you should all just be nice to each other.”
That reminder over, they walked up to the door and rang the bell. ValenEne answered. “Who are you?” she asked. “ValenEne, you shouldn’t open the door if it’s strangers,” Bri?any told her, walking over with a baby in her hands. “Jan! And you must be Gemma and Meg! What brings you here?”
As Jan tried to ﬁnd the right words, the children started talking. “Some bad people came to the house—“ “And even Aunt Sabriel couldn’t scare them oﬀ—“ “They were looking for Daddy.”
“And you need to spend some Eme here,” Bri?any said, ﬁlling in the gaps. “Of course. Come in. ValenEne, these are your cousins, Gemma and Meg.” This confused ValenEne. “I thought my cousins were a lot older than me.” “Your ﬁrst cousins are. These are your ﬁrst cousins once removed.”
“You have a baby sister?” Meg asked ValenEne. “Mom just had her today! Her name’s Carlo?a.”
“—but our sisters are bigger,” Gemma was informing ValenEne. What had Gemma just said? This wasn’t the ﬁrst Eme that Meg had seen a vision like this. Occasionally, the tangible world would drop out from around her, giving way to a jumble of images that ﬂashed by in seconds. Almost all of them seemed to have something to do with Meg and her family, but beyond that, she didn’t always understand the visions. She also hadn’t consciously realized that they would stop her from hearing in addiEon to seeing. It didn’t ma?er. She had seen her daddy, and he was back home with them!
“What are you thinking about, Meg?” ValenEne asked. Meg kept smiling. Somehow, she knew it would be dangerous to tell ValenEne about the vision. If Gemma didn’t know what she was talking about, then ValenEne probably didn’t know either. “Nothing,” she said. “Want to play cops and robbers?” “As long as I get to be the cop.”
“Good. I don’t want to be a cop,” Gemma said. “Cops are bad.” “Robbers are worse,” ValenEne insisted. “Has your house ever been robbed?” “No.” “Mine was. The thief took a bunch of chairs. It was awful. What about you, Meg? What are you going to be?”
“I’m gonna be a robber. Gemma’s right about cops.” “But then it’s two against one,” ValenEne complained. “That’s not fair.” “But it’s two against one if I’m a cop with you, too. And I don’t want to be a cop.”
“Maybe we should play something else,” ValenEne said. “I have dolls upstairs. We can play with them.” “Dolls! That’ll be fun!” Meg said. “We don’t have dolls. There’s nowhere to put them.” “Great! Let’s go to my room.”
But as they made their way up the stairs, Meg held the ﬁnal image that she had seen in her mind. Her daddy was coming back. It wouldn’t happen unEl she was big and tall, but it would happen. She tried to hold herself taller as if it would make herself grow so that her daddy would come home sooner.
“No.” Will shook his head. “I am not going back to college.”
“You see the way you’re refusing?” Lily asked. “That’s how we know Piper will never look for you there.” “Those were the worst years of my life. Except for—“ Really, which was worse? Life in a windowless, ﬂoor‐less box without anything he needed, or Piper?
“It won’t be like that. We’ll make sure you have enough money to correspond with the scholarships for skills you have now,” Rose said, ﬁnger‐gunning as she walked over to the computer to check the scholarships. “Even with that, it might be rough, but it won’t be as bad as it was your ﬁrst Eme around,” Lily added.
“But—“ Will searched for an objecEon. “There are going to be people there who know who I am.” “They know who Will Stark is. But they’ve never met Sean Cooper.”
“Know my face, I mean.” “Which will look enErely diﬀerent once we’re done with you. Not your basic features, of course, but you’ll have diﬀerent hair, and we’ll give you colored contacts for your eyes. And as for your features, they’re not all that uncommon. Ferd and Mag look kind of like you, don’t they?”
“Who are they?” “The ones who brought you to us,” Lily explained. “Right. Sorry, I’m sEll stuck on how you’re going to make my eyes diﬀerent colors. Is this legal?”
“Strictly speaking, no.” Lily clasped her hands, then quickly unclasped them. “But that’s the wrong quesEon to be asking.” “If you’re breaking the law now, then why can’t you just let me stay here?” “Well, it’s not the law exactly. There’s—there are the laws that Piper comes up with, but then there’s a broader scheme of things that aren’t supposed to happen unEl you and your family make them happen—“
“You know what? You don’t have to explain,” Will told her. Lily felt both relieved and disappointed about that: relieved because she didn’t have to go through the bother of explaining without breaking the fourth wall, and disappointed because she hadn’t been able to get her point across. “Maybe we should just go up to the styling chair,” she said.
“How did you come up with Sean Cooper, anyway?” he asked as they went upstairs. “Random,” Lily said. “Look for some common names and pick one that wasn’t too obvious. No variaEons on ‘William.’ No cutesy naming schemes that actually turn out to have the iniEals ‘W.S.’”
Will sat down. “I’m torn about what color to dye your hair,” Lily said.
“You’re changing my hair color?” “Well, it wouldn’t be much of a disguise if you were sEll a redhead. I’m tempted to use a neon color, because those are always fun, but you need to be inconspicuous. So, blond or black, then? No one in your family has ever had blond hair, but black is about as diﬀerent from red as you can get while sEll staying within the natural colors. Do you have a preference?” “Uh—no.” How could he have a preference when he didn’t even understand how you changed your hair color? Jan must have done it, but Will didn’t have any idea how.
“Black would be be?er. And short. Give you short hair, and your face looks totally diﬀerent. What about eyes?” Lily walked over to get a be?er look at Will’s eyes. “Was that a quesEon for me, or for you?” Will asked.
“I think dark blue.” Apparently, Lily had asked herself the quesEon. “No one in your family has ever had dark blue eyes, and they’ll be a big diﬀerence from gray. And we’ll get you some diﬀerent clothes, too. Be?er clothes, at least. Those red pants just do not look good on you. First, though, we’d be?er ﬁx your hair and eyes. Not that they need ﬁxing, but—for purposes of a disguise, they do.”
“I’m sorry I keep rambling.” She took out a pair of scissors. “I just love makeovers, even under circumstances like these.”
Luckily, the police leX and Jan could bring the kids home in Eme for Lyra and Lirael’s birthdays.
Lyra looked almost exactly like Will. Her personality is 5/10/2/8/4 (Leo).
On the other hand, Lirael took aXer Jan, with a personality of 9/5/7/7/6 (Cancer).
The older twins started a celebratory smustle, but they got Ered before long and went to bed. It had been a long day for them.
That didn’t stop Lirael from trying to join in on the smustle, though.
Once they discovered that nothing else had been taken, they returned to the grind of raising toddlers. Of course, it would have been easier if Lirael and Lyra had the same or even similar sleep schedules, but that was probably expecEng too much.
So Jan put Lirael to bed before turning to the other crib to get Lyra, thankful that she had enough Eme oﬀ from work that she could focus on the kids and give Arthur and Sabriel a chance to rest.
Lyra stopped crying and smiled at her mother once she had taken her out of her crib. Jan smiled back, but her own smile didn’t feel anywhere near as exuberant. Her daughters needed their father. They had already gone too long without him.
She tried to ignore her worries and set Lyra down, ready to begin on talking lessons, when something underneath the bed caught Jan’s eye. “Go play with your bunny,” Jan told Lyra, aware that her daughter probably didn’t understand her yet. She needed to check this out. There shouldn’t be anything under the beds.
Jan leaned under the bed and pulled out the object. It was a small microphone. The searchers must have placed it under the bed so that they could listen in on any conversaEons that happened in the house. Jan tried to remember what she had said since coming back to the house. Anyone listening to the recordings had probably only heard discussions about toddlers. Had there been anything else?
No Eme to go over that now. If the police had placed one listening device, they had probably installed others in the house, too. Jan bent down to give Lyra a kiss and tucked in Lirael, then began her search.
Will looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. Lily had deﬁnitely done a good job assembling his disguise. He sEll had the same face, but they had changed everything about him that they could feasibly change without the assistance of a creepy‐sounding device called a plasEc surgery machine.
“What do you think?” Lily asked as Will came out of the bathroom. “It’s weird,” he told her. “I look like me, but…I don’t.” “Because you look like Sean Cooper.” She smiled and nodded several Emes. “There’s just one thing that’s missing: Glasses.”
“What are those?” Will knew he had heard the word before, but couldn’t remember. “They help you see.” Lily mimed puHng a pair on.
“But I can see just ﬁne.” “They can help even if you can see without them. I use them to read, and you might want to do the same thing. I’d give you a pair, but De really wanted to do that for you. You need to see her before you leave town, anyway.”
Again with the weirdness about De. But the thought of leaving town gave him the chills. Will shouldn’t be running away and hiding under an assumed name. He should go back to whatever ba?le Arthur and Sabriel were ﬁghEng. He should go back to Jan and the children. “Tell me about the children,” Will said. “Are they okay?”
Lily thought about her answer for longer than might have been wise. “They are,” she said. “Your wife had two baby girls: Lyra and Lirael. Gemma and Meg do miss you. But they’re Starks. Gemma’s learning from her aunt’s example, and Meg—Meg has a special kind of spirit.
“Now, go.” Lily gave Will a hug. “A taxi’s waiEng. You’ll be ﬁne.”
Spencer Fitzhugh’s (and now De’s) house was just down the road from Lily’s, but Will sEll felt like it was too far away. They had to be looking for him out there. He wouldn’t be safe unEl he reached Oldtown again. Maybe he wouldn’t even be safe there, despite everything Lily had done.
Will told the taxi to wait and walked up to the doorstep. Again, he remembered the last Eme he had come to this house. Back then, he had been a confused kid looking for guidance and an escape from the nightmare that was college. Will couldn’t be that confused anymore.
De answered the door. “What are you doing here at this Eme of night?” “Um…” It was weird to see her again. “Glasses. Lily said you wanted to give me glasses.” She stared at him for a while, then ﬁnally said, “Come in.”
Once Will had closed the door behind him, De smiled. “Will? It must be you—I didn’t want to give anyone else glasses—but you almost don’t look like yourself.” “It’s me,” he said, smiling. “Lily and the others did a good job, then.” “They did! I don’t have one of those handy styling chairs around here, but if you want to take a look inside the mirrored cabinet in the bathroom, you should ﬁnd a pair that works for what you need.”
A few minutes later, Will emerged from the bathroom, wearing one of the pairs of glasses in the cabinet. “What do you think?” De asked. “They—it doesn’t look quite right, but I think I’m supposed to read with them.” “Then have a seat and read,” she told him.
Will picked up a book from the shelf and sat next to De in one of the living chairs. Sure enough, the words looked clearer. Maybe he could start to enjoy reading now that it was easier.
He set the book back in the case, pocketed the glasses, and looked back at De. “So, um…” Will wanted to talk to her. He wanted to regain his old friendship with De, and he also had to admit that he wanted to hang on to the familiar for as long as he could before the cab driver took him back to Oldtown. But every quesEon he wanted to ask was so awkward. Why are you living here now? When’s your baby due? Why did Lily want me to come over here so badly? Will didn’t want to drive oﬀ someone who wanted to help him. He heard a toddler crying from upstairs. It sounded so much like his own—
A toddler? Will found himself running up the stairs toward the child before he fully understood what was going on.
Oh, you should have thought of this, my friend
If you knew it was wrong, why did you do it? You don’t know, you didn’t mean to, it slipped your mind And it feels so good to feed a habit
The second door that Will opened was the door to the nursery, where he saw the crying toddler. Despite having De’s eyes and hair, her skin was the same color as Gemma’s.
Will backed away and let out a sob, thinking less of his guilt than for his longing to see Gemma and his other children again. But this child was also his own. She had been born from his own stupidity and mistrust of Jan. She memorialized one of the moments Will was least proud of. But she deserved no less love than his other children, and he couldn’t be with any of them.
“Her name is Nymeria,” he heard De say as if she spoke through a fog. “She’s the reason I’m living here now. The simself house…Eme doesn’t move the same way when you’re there. It’s not good for a child. And Spencer didn’t want me to be alone.” “He’ll be a be?er father than me,” Will said. He sobbed again, fully understanding everything Piper had taken from him.
“Do you want to hold her?” De asked. Will looked at her crib again. “If I do, will I be able to let go? I want to—but—“
De nodded, then gave him a quick hug. “Good luck.” He would need it.
Jan had discovered one of the listening devices in each room, even in the bathrooms. The searchers hadn’t been very creaEve about hiding them. In every room with a bedroom, they were under beds. In the bathrooms, the devices lurked behind toilets. In each of the other rooms, the searchers had put them into drawers. One by one, Jan disabled them.
“Are they all turned oﬀ?” Sabriel asked her over breakfast aXer Gemma and Meg had gone to school. Jan nodded. “Good. Because it’s Eme for us to have a coup of our own.”
Arthur smiled. “I don’t know how long I’ve been waiEng for you to say that.” “We have to stop trying to work with a system bound to work against us,” Sabriel explained. “Uncle Brandon didn’t try to work with the old order. He wrote a whole new code of laws and told everyone, ‘this is how it’s going to be from now on.’ We need to do the same thing.”
“That sounds good,” Jan said, “but just how is it going to work? And how is your code going to be any more lasEng than Brandon’s?”
AXer a long silence, Arthur was the one who answered the quesEon: “We’re going to give everyone a chance to decide. If everyone else gets invested in the system, then maybe they’ll join us to ﬁght for it.”
“People? Everyone who isn’t us seems to be perfectly ﬁne with Piper.” Sabriel rolled her eyes. “He starts talking about how other people will have a chance to ﬁx the way things are around here, and they go along with it despite the fact that nobody in that building is doing a damn thing but chasing us for ﬁxing things.”
“Remember that consEtuEon we were wriEng, Sabriel?” “ConsEtuEon?” “Statement of the principles in Brandon’s Code and a summary of the code.”
“I remember that now! I might sEll have it backed up somewhere. We’ll need to ﬁx it, though. It can’t be just a declaraEon of principles anymore.” “Right,” Arthur said. “We’ll have to use it to make our case.”
“It can’t be too obvious on the face of the document what you’re—what we’re doing,” Jan warned them. “Otherwise, it’ll just get knocked down.” “But obvious enough that people will know what we’re doing,” Arthur said.
“You’re talking like this needs to stand up to a judge, though,” Sabriel objected. “It doesn’t. There’s not going to be another fake trial. As long as people know what we’re doing and stand with us, and as long as we can keep it going long enough to get the word out, that’s all we need.”
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Jan asked. “It’s our best chance—“ Arthur began to say.
Next Eme on An Apocalypse of Ice: + The kids grow up and make friends—but they’ve all got daddy issues of one kind or another. + The Stark ghosts get to a point where they start endangering the family. + MOAR ARTHUR. (Sorry about the lack of Arthur in this update.) + But most importantly, the plan to take down Piper takes shape!
Guest starring: + Ferdinand Penguino (The Penguino Legacy) + Magellan Penguino (The Penguino Legacy) + Simselves! De, Marina, Pen, and Rose all appear in one way or another. Thanks parEcularly for De for allowing Will to knock up her Simself. Music credit: “White Light” – Vienna Teng
Nymeria gets to meet her Uncle Arthur behind the scenes! The comparison to Gemma wasn’t accidental, as the two have the same personality – 8/8/9/7/1 (Aries).
Sorry your makeover didn’t quite work out the ﬁrst Eme, Will. Happy Simming!