"I'm tempted to just drag you to bed," Marla said, "But can I interest you in a shower first?"
Daniel shuddered. "Water. Do you know how sick I am. Of water." His voice was a strange croak, his skin was pale as a pearl, his flesh was clammy, and he stank of seaweed and low tide... but he was still Daniel.
"Hot water, baby," she soothed. "That makes all the difference. And I'll be in there with you."
They sat on her futon – the same futon where they'd once made love – with Daniel wrapped in Marla's terrycloth robe, drinking hot lemon tea, and slowly nibbling some stale crackers that were all Marla had in the cupboard. "I'm ravenous," he said. "I'd tell you to order all the Chinese food in the world, but I'm afraid if I try to eat any faster than this, I'll puke it all up." He put his hand on her knee, and it didn't seem to weigh any more than a leaf. He was thinner than Marla remembered, but she supposed years at the bottom of the sea might do that to a person. "How long has it been?" he said. "For me, time, there was no time, except for the walking, and even then, I lost track. So..."
"Seven years. And about a year of that was spent walking here, I think."
"Seven..." he murmured. Then he smiled, and though it was watered-down and troubled, it was still a flash of the boy she'd loved. "Then we have a lot of catching up to do." He kissed her, tentatively, and she helped him out of his robe, and she was gentle. The first time.
The next morning – more properly early afternoon – she went out and got bagels and coffee, but almost ran on the way home for fear Daniel might... what? Disappear? Be driven by the geas to go kill immediately? Surely Artie's ghost, or the emotional recording that served that purpose, wasn't happy with the time they were spending on this reunion. But Daniel was there, sitting at her counter, listening to National Public Radio with a bemused look on his face. "He's president?" Daniel said.
"You know what they say: it's not who you are, it's who you know. Or who your daddy is, I guess," Marla said. "I brought food."
"Good. I want to eat. Subsisting on the life energy of a monstrous elder god might keep you alive, but it doesn't fill your belly." He sipped coffee, winced, and smiled. "Heat. I can't get used to heat. I think my core temperature is legally dead." He sighed. "Okay. So I know Artie's gone, because that's what woke me up, his voice in my ear. But... Jenny?"
Marla shook her head minutely. What could she say? "Jenny loved you, and so she torched herself when she thought you died?" She settled for, "She made it back, told us what happened, but we, ah, couldn't save her."
Daniel went paler than before, if that were possible, but finally just nodded. "Ernesto?"
"Oh, he's fine. Hell, he's on the sorcerer's council. Want to see him?"
"No," Daniel said quickly. "No, not like... not like this. Let me get myself put back together again. You, you're here, you're inside my heart, I don't mind if you see me like this, but nobody else. Wow. The council? Good for him."
"Oh, that's nothin'." Marla beamed at him. "There's a good chance that in two days' time I'll be named chief sorcerer."
Daniel just stared at her. "What. What do you mean?"
"My star is on the rise. I've performed great services to Felport, and the council's going to vote in a few days."
He put his hand to his forehead. "This... I don't know what to say. You have to understand, for me, it's like I just saw you a few weeks ago, maybe months, my head is so scrambled, it's so loud... How can you be chief sorcerer? We're just apprentices."
Marla bristled, and tried to stop herself from bristling. "Well, no. You've been asleep, I guess, but I've been busting my ass, getting to know people – I was Sauvage's right hand until he died."
"Sauvage is dead? But he was so..." Daniel made a vague gesture, then shook his head. "This is too much, Marla. I can't... I need some air. Can we go out? Somewhere high? Somewhere way the hell up above sea level?"
"My roof is awesome," Marla said, though in truth, she hadn't spent much time there, since Jenny immolated herself.
They sat on the roof, a cool breeze blowing by, and Daniel was silent; dour, even. Finally Marla said, "So what happened to you?"
Daniel shrugged, staring off at the towers of the financial district in the distance. "Jenny told you most of the story, right? When I was trying to swim out, one of the god's tentacles, filaments, whatever, grabbed me. It pulled me down, and there were... not even mouths. Like, vents. Gills. But they were lined with teeth. It wanted to eat me. But it was touching me, so..." He shrugged. "Sucking out life force is always easier when there's direct contact, so I tried to drain its life. But it was like drinking from a firehose. Just torrents of power flowing into me. Must have hurt the god a little, though, because it flung me away, down, and I don't know if it was because its life energy was so strange, or if it was because I was injured, or if I was too deep in the water for my brain to cope with the pressure, or what, but everything went dark. I thought I was dying, but I guess not. All that god-energy must have sustained me while I hibernated. Or whatever." He gave Marla a little smile. "I dreamed, though. I dreamed of you.
"I woke up with Artie yammering in my ear that he was dead and I better come fulfill my obligations, so I swam, and walked on the bottom of the sea, and swam some more. It was dark, cold, miserable, and I burned off whatever remained of the god-energy fast. I lived off the life energy of fish and sharks and plankton and stuff for most of the walk. And now... here I am. But I feel like a guy who's been in a coma. The world's passed me by."
"Don't say that," Marla said. "I'm here. I'm still here for you. I mean, you can work for me. Even if they don't make me chief sorcerer, I'm still a person of consequence now, they'll probably throw me a seat on the council at the very least, you can..." She trailed off, because Daniel didn't even seem to be listening, just stared, faraway. Marla tried to imagine what it must be like for him, going through all that, and coming back. She wasn't sure she possessed that level of empathy.
Finally she said, "The geas must be bothering you. If you want to, we can go kill the guy, and get Artie off your back."
Daniel turned his head to her slowly, frowning. "Kill... kill who?"
"The guy who murdered Artie."
"You haven't killed him yet? But... what? How?"
"It's a long story. My geas was broken. But – you must have known the murderer was still alive, I mean, if I'd killed him, you wouldn't be here, right?"
"Marla. My geas wasn't about avenging Artie."
"What do you mean?"
"Artie wanted to be immortal more than anything," Daniel said. "My geas is to bring Artie back to life."
"No fucking way. I just killed one back-from-the-dead abomination yesterday. You're not... you can't... are you crazy? He's been in the ground for a year, there's no way –"
"It's trivial," Daniel said. "We dig up his body. I fill him with life-force. It might not be Artie exactly like he was, but it'll have his mind, his memories, his powers –"
"Daniel, baby, you aren't listening. I can't allow this. Bringing people back from the dead... they become monsters. They bring back fragments of Hell."
He shrugged, not even interested in the discussion. "What can I tell you? It's the geas. It's not optional. Where's he buried?"
He stood up, staring down at her, and he was suddenly the petulant boy she'd first met, the one so quick to anger and take offense, the one who thought he knew more and better than anyone else. "You don't get to tell me no. You're not my chief sorcerer, gods, as if that's even... as if you could... You didn't even do your part, you didn't even avenge Artie? I have to bring him back to a world where his killer still walks around? Who are you? What are you? We were family."
"I'm what we dreamed of being, Daniel," she said, rising herself. "Successful, strong, powerful. And if this is going to be my city, I can't have the resurrected body of Artie Mann lurching through it like some kind of half-assed zombie demanding cigars instead of brains –"
He flinched back. "Artie saved you. He picked you up when you were just a piece of trash on the street, he – he's the reason you have anything! And you want to make a mockery of our promises to him, of our family? What's wrong with you?"
"Okay, yes, that wasn't cool, I'm sorry, but there are things we can do, ways we can try to break the geas on you..."
"I don't want to break it!" he screamed. He stormed across the roof, as far away from her as he could, all the way to the edge. "I want to fulfill my promises! That promise to Artie is the only reason I'm standing here! You, you left me on the bottom of the sea, you left me for dead, and it didn't slow you down at all, didn't even put a dent in your momentum, Miss chief-fucking-sorcerer! And now you want to stop me? No. No, I'm going to raise Artie, right now, I can find him, I can find the heat signature of the end of his life and –"
"You can't." Marla approached him, slowly, like he was a feral cat, thinking, Gods, he was in the ocean for a year, getting nibbled by fish, he's probably half crazy. "We can get you help, Daniel, you'll see, you'll understand." She put her hand on his shoulder.
And he began stealing her life.
She gasped and fell to her knees, but she was wearing her cloak, as always, and it fought him, kept her from dying, and she knew without it, she'd be dead already – he was draining her.
"Betrayed me," he snarled, "abandoned me, don't you understand, Artie is howling in MY HEAD, he's been screaming at me for a year, and you, you just got over it, you just broke your promises, you –"
The cloak couldn't keep up. Daniel was getting healthier before her eyes, his cheeks flushing with color, and she thought, He doesn't know what he's doing, thought about the way he'd stolen the life from his sister, thought about death, her impending death, how she might die, and Daniel might raise Artie, and there would be another monster... here... in her city.
Blackness began to shimmer before her eyes, and some deep self-preservation instinct kicked in, and the word whispered in her mind was
She was cloaked in the purple. She took Daniel by the arms. She twisted her hips.
She threw Daniel off the roof. And he fell.
It took him two days to die. She brought his broken but breathing body to her apartment, and draped the cloak over him, and waited for its healing work to begin. She stayed by his side, and wept over him, and begged his forgiveness, and offered to bring Artie's corpse and lay it at his feet, to help him do whatever he needed to do. The cloak made his body knit together, but he didn't open his eyes, not until early in the morning on the second day.
"I'm going to die," he said.
"No, Daniel, you can be healed, it's –"
"I want to." His voice a murmur, almost affectless. "I tried to hurt you. To kill you. I made you kill me."
"I just want it to be black and dark again. I just want to go back to sleep forever and dream of you. The way you used to be. The way we used to be." She could almost see the life leaving him, see him pushing it out of himself, opening a hole to let all the life drain out. Daniel closed his eyes.
He didn't open them again.
Marla couldn't stop shaking. Hamil was rubbing her shoulders, speaking in a soothing voice, saying, "We'll see he's given a good burial," saying, "It's a terrible loss, I'm so sorry," saying all the empty things you say.
"I killed him," she croaked at last, and stared down into the cup of tea he'd set before her at some point. The liquid was cold now.
"From what you said – what I was able to piece together from what you said – he let himself die. He chose it."
"I threw him. Off a roof. He's dead. It's my fault."
"Marla," he said after a moment. "You know the vote is tonight, but it's clear, you're in no state... Would you like to withdraw your name from consideration? No one will think less of you. If there's one thing sorcerers understand, it's tragedy."
She looked at Hamil, at his concerned face, another big man who was willing to let her lean on him, another man who was willing to take the weight and help her, and she ground her teeth together. "No," she said. "I want to be chief sorcerer. I deserve it." And I have nothing else left.
"Marla, you'll have to meet with the other sorcerers tonight, present yourself for the vote, and they'll be able to sense your... distress, your distraction, and the vote is already too close to call, I suspect. There's no way –"
"Forget-me-lots," she said suddenly.
He frowned. "What?"
"The potion we use when ordinaries see something they shouldn't, to wipe out their memories of whatever they witnessed, and mold new harmless memories to fill in the gaps. Yes. Do that to me. Make me forget... what happened to Daniel."
"What you're asking, it's not temporary, Marla, you understand? I can't make you forget just for tonight, and –"
"That's fine. Forever. Take it all away forever. I don't want the grief. I don't want the weakness. The past..." She slammed her hand down on the table hard, making the cup rattle and slosh. "Fuck the past. What did love ever do for me except make me weak? Take it all. Slice Daniel right out of my head." She was expressing anger to cover the black hole opening up inside her. She'd had Daniel; lost him; regained him... thrown him off a fucking building. He'd preferred to die rather than adjust to a new life with her. He'd called her a traitor. Her mind could go nowhere except to Daniel.
"This isn't a decision to make in haste, Marla. Our experiences shape us, make us who we are. A man died. You shouldn't just forget that. It –"
"So let me remember the killing, just not... who it was. Hamil. I don't have time to think and reflect. This is my chance to achieve what I've dreamed of. To have a real purpose. I'll dedicate my life to Felport, but this... you have to help me clear my head."
After a long moment he said, "It will have to be lethe water. Forget-me-lots isn't potent enough for the kind of forgetting you want."
"Fine, bring out the high-test, whatever, let's just do it."
"Who knows about your relationship with Daniel?"
"Nobody alive, except Ernesto. And he never mentions him to me. He knows it's a sore point. And I'm the only one who knows Daniel came back, except for you. Everyone thinks he's dead. Let him stay dead."
"All right," Hamil said. "If you really want this, I'll call Langford."
"I really want it." Because it's either forget, or be a failure, and hate myself, and die, and I'm not ready to die.
Marla yawned and sat up on the exam table, Langford and Hamil peering at her. "So, doc, did I check out? Am I physically fit to be Felport's big boss?"
"You seem to be in working order," Langford said. "We just need to test your mental acuity."
"Shoot." She was jazzed, full of adrenaline and energy, ready to stand before the council and convince any of them that needed convincing.
"Tell me," Langford said, "Did you kill a man this week?"
Marla stiffened. "Shit. I guess I should have known word would get around. It was just, it was stupid, we were tussling over this stupid magical item, some enchanted deck of cards wrapped in silk. I was working for some guy in the Honeyed Knots, the other guy was working for who knows who, and... things got out of hand. He fell off the roof."
"Fell?" Hamil said.
She shrugged. "Okay, so I pushed. I didn't mean to kill him, but I take responsibility. I guess I should visit his grave. Leave flowers or something."
"I'll find out where he's buried," Hamil said. "Tell me, do you remember a boy named Daniel?'
No bells rang whatsoever. "Huh. Can you give me some context? Sort of a generic name."
"He knew Artie Mann..."
Marla snapped her fingers. "Right! He was one of Artie's apprentices, wasn't he? Didn't he die out in the field, like, ten years ago?"
"Closer to seven," Hamil said.
Marla shrugged. "I didn't know him that well. I think Jenny said she had a crush on him." She looked at the ceiling for a moment. "Gods, Ernesto and me are the only ones who made it out of Artie's world alive, aren't we?"
"One last question, Marla," Hamil said. "Have you ever been in love?"
"Ha. Love? I love three things: this city, punching people, and I forget the third thing."
"All right, then," Hamil said. "Shall we go see the council?"
Marla was annoyed. She didn't get to make an opening statement or anything. She just had to sit there while Hamil took the vote.
"I call the question," Hamil said. "Do we accept Marla Mason as our new chief sorcerer, first among equals and protector of Felport?"
Almost everyone was there, arrayed in a semi-circle with Marla seated in the center, doing her best to look cool and worthy of command. Viscarro had refused to come out of his catacombs again, but he was on speakerphone. Even Granger and the Bay Witch were there, and they habitually abstained from everything, being perfectly obsessed with their domains of park and water to the exclusion of most everything else.
"I vote yes," Hamil said.
"No," the Chamberlain said.
"No," Susan Wellstone said.
"No," Gregor said.
This isn't going too well, Marla thought.
"I vote yes," Viscarro said, and Susan gasped, and Gregor shouted, "What?"
"I owe no explanation," Viscarro's tinny voice said. "But I will offer one. Miss Mason, I believe you will be a weak and ineffectual chief sorcerer, and that with you in charge, I will be able to do whatever I wish without fear of effective interference."
"You know I'm going to remember you said that," Marla said.
"I do," Viscarro replied. "But the point is I think you're going to be useless, so I don't care."
"The vote stands," Hamil said mildly. "Motivation is irrelevant."
"I vote yes, too," Ernesto said.
"Fine," Susan said. "Then it's a tie – three votes for Marla, three against. And, as our bylaws state, tie goes to the status-quo. Marla's candidacy fails –"
"I didn't vote yet," Granger said, looking up from the careful examination of something he'd found in his nose.
"And how do you vote?" Hamil said.
"I abstain," he said, and looked back down.
"Yes, well, since that's done," Susan said.
"I vote yes," the Bay Witch said. She stepped over to Marla and kissed her on both cheeks very solemnly, leaving briny wet spots, and said, "Congratulations, new boss lady."
"But you always abstain!" Gregor said, aghast.
"Not always. Marla. Thank you for helping me clean up the bay."
"Oh, I see, currying favor," Susan said, "sucking up to one of us to secure her vote, that's just –"
"Just the sort of diplomacy and alliance-building you believed Marla incapable of achieving," Hamil said. "Be gracious, Susan. The motion passes. Marla Mason is our new chief sorcerer."
Marla cleared her throat. She hadn't helped clean up the bay to curry favor, she'd done it because – because –
It was like there was a sudden drop-off in her mind, deep dark water with no bottom in sight. Well, who cared why. Maybe I'm just smarter than I thought. "Thank you for this opportunity. I love this city. I'll do everything in my power to defend it, and to ensure the prosperity of everyone in this room." She paused. "Even you assholes who voted against me."
"This opens what is sure to be a very interesting era in the history of Felport," Hamil said. "Your dagger, Marla." He passed her the dagger of office, the hilt now wrapped in bands of purple and white electrical tape. Not the ceremonial colors she'd have chosen, but she couldn't say they were inappropriate.
Gregor and Susan stormed off in a huff, Granger wandered vaguely away, Ernesto shook her hand vigorously and grinned, and the Chamberlain murmured something surprisingly gracious on her way out. Viscarro just hung up his phone without comment.
The Bay Witch paused at Marla's side. "I saw a boy in the water a few days ago."
"Um... okay?" Marla said. She was grateful to the woman, but the Bay Witch was odd.
"A little fish told me that boy is dead. I'm sorry for your loss."
"I'm sorry, too?"
The Bay Witch nodded seriously and departed.
Hamil smiled. "Well, Marla. Will you be taking over Sauvage's penthouse?"
"I don't think so. I've been pretty friendly with Rondeau this past year, I think maybe I'll set up shop in the empty office space above his club, you know? The shit I put that kid through, paying him some rent is the least I can do."
"I do support you making amends with him however you can," Hamil said. "It's important to learn from our mistakes."
"Better to never make mistakes in the first place." Marla grinned.
"Mmm. Do you think so? I wonder. Would you like a celebratory drink?"
"Why the hell not. I'm on top of the world."
While Hamil went to the bar, Marla walked out on his balcony, and looked down on the city, her city. From nothing, she thought. What was it Artie used to say? Magic is a foul rag and bone shop. Maybe so. But this is a foul rags to fabulous riches story if I ever heard one.
Hamil handed her a glass of bourbon and joined her at the railing. "To fallen friends," he said, raising his glass.
"To the future," Marla countered, and after a strangely long moment – what was that about? – Hamil nodded, and clinked his glass against hers.
Click here to see trivia and authorial blather about chapter 18.