Archive for April, 2012

19. There’s Always Someone Better Than You

The ghost of Captain Cook shouted and fired his pistols at Jarrow, billowing clouds of white smoke rising from the barrels of his guns. Jarrow looked down and patted her chest. “Ghost bullets! Nice, very nice. They would have ripped my soul right out of my body, if I didn’t have supernatural kevlar, but of course, I do.”

The ghost of Cook was trying to reload his pistols, but it was apparently a very involved project. The ghosts of the kahunas rushed toward Jarrow, weapons at the ready. Jarrow took a folded bit of tissue from her pocket, dabbed at the corners of her eyes, and then blew her nose – a great, ferocious, honking blow. The ghosts stopped running and leaned back, as if being pushed by a great wind, and then burst into flower petals, blowing through the City of Refuge and scenting the air with heavy perfumes. The ghost of Captain Cook scattered as well, the last look on his face outraged and disbelieving. He’d probably worn that expression a lot in his last moments of life.

“Shit,” Rondeau said, wobbling a little on his feet, and putting his hand on Marla’s shoulder to steady himself. “Listen, their spirits are still here, but they’re scattered, really tenuous, it’ll take me a while to get them back, but when I do, they’re going to be pissed, they’re going to start calling on shark gods and the god of sorcerers and – ”

“Oh, this will be over before the ghosts and ghoulies pull themselves back together,” Jarrow said. “Are you two done with opening ceremonies yet? Can I start my guest of honor address? Thanks. I’d like you to meet my friend Christian Decomain.” She gestured, and a small, dark-haired man with chunky hipster glasses stepped forward. His clothes were torn, there was a bruise forming on his cheek, and overall, he didn’t look too happy. “Your ghost guards smacked him around a little. Not exactly what I was expecting! Those spectral shark’s tooth clubs pack a pretty good wallop, if you stand around and let them hit you. I think poor Christian lost a tooth.”

“Christian Decomain. That name rings a bell,” Marla said. She turned to Rondeau. “Wasn’t he – ”

Rondeau nodded. “He was one of the freedom fighters in San Francisco – one of Sanford Cole’s men. He got killed in a raid on the Jaguar, we never even met him.”

“What are they talking about?” Christian said, alarmed.

“She’s crazy,” Jarrow said breezily. “Probably just one of her delusions.”

“Wasn’t he some kind of master of counter-magic?” Marla said. “An – ”

“Anti-mancer,” Jarrow said. She frowned. “Christian, you should have turned on your anti-magic shell when I said that, the light from the torches would have gone off, it would have been very dramatic.”

“Ah. Right.” Christian snapped his fingers, and the torches went dark. Marla drew her club. Shit. No magic, which meant her club was just a heavy stick again. The ghosts wouldn’t be coming back while Christian was working his mojo, either. All Marla’s fancy traps and preparations had just been made useless, their enchantments blocked. On the bright side, her enemies couldn’t cast spells, either. Her dagger would probably still work – artifacts were a lot tougher to neutralize than ordinary bits of magic. It was the same difference the honu oracle had mentioned: the difference between something being wet, and something being water.

“Thanks for that, Jarrow.” Marla’s night vision was screwed up from the torches, but the others probably weren’t much better off. “You’ve turned this into a fistfight, and that’s kind of my forte.”

“Ms. Mason, there’s no need for violence.” Christian’s voice was absurdly soothing. “I know it’s hard to believe, but we’re not your enemies. You’re sick, and we want to help you.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Rondeau said, from somewhere off to the left. “You’re here for an assassination, not an intervention.”

“That’s just paranoia talking,” Christian said. “We’re here for your own good.”

“Is that you, Rondeau?” Jarrow said. “I’ve been wanting to meet you! But the grown-ups are busy now, so behave, would you?”

Rondeau squawked, and a moment later, a voice much like his, but rougher, said, “I’ve got the little fucker, boss.” Marla closed her eyes. Crapsey had evaded the ghosts, it seemed, and found Rondeau. “The chloroform worked like a dream. He won’t be stealing anyone’s body for a while.”

“Oh, good,” Jarrow said. “I was worried. Not for myself – nobody could steal my body – but for my associates here. All right, Talion, get in there. Subdue Ms. Mason before she can do any harm to herself. Or others.”

Marla’s vision had adjusted enough to recognize the man who approached from the gloom on her right. “Talion,” she said. “The werewolf-hunter, yeah? I knew you – a version of you – in another universe. He had a lot more facial piercings, though. Glad to see you’ve got better taste in this dimension. I see you’ve got all your fingers, too. A lot of those got chopped off when I met the other you, on the other side.” She drew her dagger. “This is the knife that lopped those naughty digits off. And the funny thing is? We were actually on the same side in that universe, united against a common enemy. Imagine what I could do to you now, when you’re on the wrong side?” Talion’s expression was a furious snarl, but Marla had the weirdest feeling his anger wasn’t directed at her. “You can walk away from this,” Marla said, and Jarrow made a loud raspberry.

“No, he can’t. Sic her, boy!”

Talion lowered his head, a mixture of shame and rage flickering across his face, and launched himself toward Marla, knives appearing in his hands.

He was fast, absolutely, but Marla had his number instantly. He was used to fighting werewolves, creatures a lot bigger and stronger than he was, and he expected speed to carry the day. But he had a problem: she was at least as fast as he was. He darted in with a knife, and she dove to one side, aiming a kick at his knee, intending to drop him quickly. But he turned in time, and she just ended up kicking him in the shin. He sucked in a breath but didn’t stop moving, spinning toward her and weaving a net with the points of his knives. Fighting a duel by moonlight. What a bitch this was.

Christian Decomain was yelling something about how this wasn’t right, what were they trying to do, kill her? But Marla couldn’t pay any attention to that. She was too busy trying to figure out what a werewolf would do in this situation so she could do something else. Too bad she’d never actually met a werewolf – they were all but extinct in North America.

She brought up the war club to block one of Talion’s knife strikes, and then bulled toward him, lashing out with her dagger, going for his belly. He managed to parry, but her dagger did its job, slicing cleanly through his blade, leaving an inch of steel sticking up pointlessly just above the hilt. Talion danced back and threw the broken weapon toward her face. Marla had to lift her club to block, and there was Talion, spinning with a kick to sweep her leg. She jumped like a girl skipping rope, but his kick caught her on the instep, sending her stumbling forward into him, both of them piling together on the ground. They rolled, and Talion ended up on top. Marla’d lost the war club, and though she still had the dagger, Talion had her wrist pinned to the ground with one hand, and a knife in the other. Marla tried to get her free thumb in his eye, or to fishhook his cheek, but he hit punched her right in the armpit with a vicious knuckled nerve strike that left her arm numb and unresponsive. She tried to knee him, but he was straddling her too tightly, and her attempts to roll failed – she couldn’t get any leverage on the loose sand. “I’m sorry,” he said, sweat dripping from his nose into her face. “I don’t want to do this.” He closed his free hand around her throat.

“Stop!” Christian screamed, and suddenly the torches flared into life as his anti-magic shell was deactivated. “You’re supposed to be capturing her, I’ve got tranquilizers right here – ”

Marla still had a little breath in her lungs, and Talion loosened his grip on her throat in surprise when the lights came on. She spat, and shouted “Conditus!” as the wad of spittle and phlegm struck Talion in the face. Latin trigger words were silly, but she’d been amusing herself by using them ever since she read the first Harry Potter book. Maybe she should have used “Expelliarmus for a spell that involved hacking up a wad of spit. Next time.

Talion shrieked and fell back as the wad of slime expanded, covering his eyes and mouth, crawling around to encase his head. It wouldn’t suffocate him – the mobile phlegm avoided the nostrils – but he’d be busy trying to peel it off for a while. She got to her feet, one arm still numb.

Crapsey came rushing in from the left, and Nicolette from the right – the latter was wielding a hatchet that glinted with its own inner light, and that couldn’t be good. Before Marla needed to act, they both blundered into traps she’d scattered around the area, covered in loose sand. Crapsey stepped on a ring of shattered pocketwatches and got stuck in a moment of slowed time, his headlong forward movement changed into the merely incremental, an expression of comical surprise and outrage passing over his face in slow motion. Nicolette cracked some vials containing a few select elements – noble gases, mainly – and her body became insubstantial, turned into a misty outline of itself. The hatchet fell through her hand, still shining, and landed in the dirt. Nicolette started to curse furiously, but the words wisped away into nothingness, and she soon faded entirely from sight. She wasn’t dead, or even truly transmuted, just temporarily locked into a sympathetic bond with the gases, and made immaterial. She was essentially another invisible ghost. She would precipitate out of the atmosphere again, whole and unharmed, in an hour or so. By then, whatever was going to happen here would be done.

Jarrow had knocked Christian to the ground, and had one of her feet on his throat; she was wearing golden strappy sandals. In Marla’s vision, she’d been strangling the man, but any view of the future was necessarily subject to change.

“He really thought this was a mission of mercy,” Elsie said as Christian writhed beneath her. She looked at Marla. “I knew I’d have to kill him eventually, but I’d heard you were a good fighter, and I wanted to see for myself, no magic involved, so I figured I’d keep him around long enough to sic my dog on you. I have to say, I’m disappointed – Talion was better than you.”

“There’s always someone better than you.”

“Not that I’ve noticed,” Jarrow said. “Nighty-night, Christian.” She sang, just a snatch of a schoolyard verse, something about five little pumpkins sitting on a gate, and Christian Decomain screamed for an instant. His clothing collapsed, and scores of tiny golden frogs hopped away from the pile of clothes in all directions.

“You turned him. Into frogs.” Marla stared.

“What? Turning people into frogs is very traditional for witches. You turned Nicolette into gas, although not permanently, I notice. You old softie. I was tempted to turn Christian into a hundred big hairy carnivorous millipedes instead, but I feel like the bug thing is so expected, you know? And you can’t say I killed him! This is just a little transformation, though not as temporary as what you cast on my associates. Nice traps, by the way. Kind of creative.”

“Can he be saved?” Marla said. “Can he be put back together, made human again?”

“Oh, sure, if you could gather all the little froglets – ” She stomped down, hard, squishing a golden poison dart frog beneath her heel, then did a series of tap dance steps across the clothing, doubtless squashing dozens more. “Oops, there went his kidney. Ack, there goes his spleen. Oh, dear, I think I just stomped on his sense of right and wrong, if only he hadn’t been cursed with that thing to begin with! You have a history with frogs, right? You fought a guy who used frogs like these to assassinate people? I researched you, in a kind of a half-assed way, I mean, I asked a few questions, just to get a sense.” She put a finger to her lips. “Hmm. These things are really going to play hell with the local ecosystem, aren’t they?”

Marla backed away from the frogs hopping in her direction. “What are you waiting for, anyway? Why don’t you come for me?” Without Rondeau’s ghosts or Pelham in a sniper position, her only remaining hope against Jarrow was luring her into the field of traps, many of which were designed specifically to combat a chaos witch, and getting in a lucky strike with her dagger. But having seen Crapsey and Nicolette felled by Marla’s magics, she didn’t show any inclination to go charging blindly in. Besides, this was Marrowbones; she didn’t need to be close to Marla to kill her.

Jarrow pouted, but didn’t make any move to approach. “You don’t enjoy my company, Marla? You just want me to turn you into a hundred hairy millipedes? Where’s the fun in that? I haven’t even brought your brother into this yet. Oh, don’t worry, the night is young. We’ll get to the killing-you part.”

“Is there even any point to asking you why you’re doing this?”

Jarrow shrugged. “Actually it’s very rational. I wanted a new body, and I wanted to get out of prison. Dr. Husch said I could have both if I just killed you.” She covered her mouth in mock horror. “Oops! I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that, huh? You’ve got even fewer friends than you thought!”

“I sort of figured she was behind it. But where did she find you a body? Is it a homunculus?” Marla was curious, but more importantly, she wanted to keep Jarrow talking. Marla didn’t think she had much of a chance in a straight fight against Jarrow, especially with one of her arms all fucked up. Jarrow was a whole order of magnitude beyond Marla in power, someone who’d stripped away all the sensible safeguards, who’d gone way past the back of beyond in her quest for knowledge, so who knew what she might be capable of? Marla had to stall her long enough for Rondeau to wake up from his chloroform funk, or for Pelham to come back from wherever he’d run to, or for Reva to pop on by, or for something to happen. It was like that old joke, about the man sentenced to death, who convinced the king to spare his life by promising to teach his majesty’s pet monkey to speak within a year. After all, a lot could happen in a year – the sultan could die. The man could die. Or the monkey could learn to speak.

Marla wasn’t thrilled about staking her life on a talking-monkey longshot, but it was the only chance she had left.

“Look at Talion wriggling around.” Jarrow didn’t sound amused, or contemptuous – Marla hated to even think it, but the woman sounded aroused. The werewolf-hunter was crawling on all fours, shaking his head back and forth, his senses of sight and hearing neutralized by Marla’s enchanted spit. “He’s a bad dog, isn’t he?” Jarrow took a small brass whistle from her pocket and blew on it, though no audible note sounded. Talion collapsed to the ground and began to twist and howl, fur sprouting on his face through the slime, legs twisting, knees bending in reverse, ears lengthening, clothes shredding as his musculature shifted. After a few moments, the man he’d been was gone, replaced by a dirt-brown mutt of a dog, big as a Great Dane but without that breed’s sense of nobility. The spit on its face blackened and glistened, oozing and changing consistency from gluey paste to something more like congealed gelatin. The dog that had been Talion ran baying across the sand and into the trees.

“Woof, woof,” Jarrow said. “Don’t worry, he won’t suffer long. I gave him that crazy virulent face cancer that Tasmanian Devils get. Did you know those tumors are actually contagious? To catch them you pretty much have to bite someone who’s infected straight up on the face, which isn’t something most species do, except for Tasmanian Devils. Cancer can evolve in all sorts of interesting ways. The contagiousness isn’t even that weird a development – it’s just, most cancers are inside people, so it’s not an adaptation that sees much use. Nobody ever goes gnawing on a guy’s cancerous prostate, right?” The chaos witch sauntered over to the not-quite-freeze-framed Crapsey and thumped him on the side of the head. “Cancer’s kind of hobby of mine.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that. Why did you do that to Talion? Because he failed you?”

Jarrow sighed. “I thought you were smarter than that. I expected him to fail me. He actually did better than I anticipated. I did it because I felt like it. That’s the only reason I do anything, usually. Admittedly, this whole hunt-and-kill-Marla-Mason thing doesn’t interest me particularly. I’m sure you have lots of epic enemies, grr, sworn to see you destroyed and ground into dust, but I’m not one of them. Still, if it’s what I have to do to get Doctor Husch to fulfill her end of the bargain – ”

“I don’t think Husch is going to be in a position to fulfill any bargains.” Marla saw an opportunity to stall – maybe even survive – and seized it. “We called the authorities in Felport once we found out you were involved in this, and told them our suspicions.”

Jarrow picked up a handful of sand and tossed it toward Crapsey’s face. The grains slowed and hung almost motionless as they entered his field of slow time. “I noticed you weren’t all that surprised to see me. I know I’m famous, but I like to think I’m unexpected. You’re in a codependent relationship with a psychic, though, which gives you an unfair advantage when it comes to intelligence gathering. So the jig is up for Dr. Husch, huh?”

“Once the Chamberlain and Hamil get their hands on her, they’ll put her away forever. Whatever she promised you, she won’t be able to deliver.”

“Mmmm. And you don’t think I’m honor-bound to fulfill my contract, even if I lose my employer?” Jarrow grinned. “Ha. Kidding, kidding. It does make things more interesting, though, doesn’t it? Tell you what, I’m going to go check on the Doc, I’ll be back in a little while.” Jarrow touched Crapsey on the shoulder, and he was pulled back into normal time. He stumbled forward a step or two, then turned his head to blink and spit out the sand Jarrow had thrown in his face.

Fuck. Marla was chilled at how easily the woman had broken her spell. Then again, there was a lot of chaos swirling around here tonight. Things going badly for Jarrow could actually make her stronger. “Say good night, Crapsey,” she said.

“What? What are you – ”

Jarrow drew a circle in the air, and a black hole opened in space, the edges curling and appearing to smoke and burn. Marla turned her face away, because looking into the space behind reality was never a good idea. Jarrow stepped backward through the portal, dragging Crapsey with her, and the hole closed after them.

Marla sank to her knees, exhaling hard. That was a close one. What was Jarrow going to do? What if she attacked Hamil, tried to protect Husch? What if –

“You bitch!” Nicolette screamed, solidifying a couple of feet off the ground and landing with a thump in a crouch.

18. Places of Refuge

“The closest hotel is, let’s see.” Jason squinted at the guidebook in his lap and compared it to the sheet of names he’d scribbled down at Marla’s office. He was in the passenger seat, next to Christian, who drove along the dark highway. “A bed-and-breakfast called the Rainbow Plantation. Doesn’t sound much like Marla does it?” He yawned. “Are we really going to try to hit all these hotels tonight? Maybe you people don’t need to sleep, but I do. I’ve been teleported, flown on a plane, and ridden on a stolen boat. I’m exhausted.”

“You can sleep when you’re dead,” Elsie said from the first row of seats in the back, where she sat next to Crapsey, one hand resting companionably on his knee. “Are you sure you’re that sleepy?”

Nicolette’s phone rang, loud in the rented SUV.

“No personal calls!” Elsie snapped, turning to glare at Talion and Nicolette, or “the bad kids,” as she’d started calling them for reasons of her own. Lupo was back there too, still looking like Dr. Husch, all glares and snarls.

“It’s for you,” Nicolette said. “It’s Dr. Husch.” That just made Lupo glare even more ferociously, and bare her teeth. It must really suck, Crapsey thought, to know you aren’t even really real.

Elsie took the phone and put it to her ear. “Doctor Prettyface! Don’t you inhuman homunculi ever take an evening off? Listen, we’re on the case, don’t worry – ” She paused. “Oh, really?” She covered the mouthpiece with one hand and grinned at Crapsey. “Our friend Rondeau called Dr. Husch with another tale of woe.” Back to the call: “Did he tell you anything useful, or just whine some more? Or both? Hmmm. Really? That could be fun. How long ago was this? Thanks, Doc. We’re on it.” She pushed a button on the phone and tossed it over her shoulder, eliciting an “Ow” from Lupo. “Christian!” she shouted. “Fire up that fancy GPS and tell it we’re going to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.”

“Uh,” Christian said, “I’m going to need you to spell that.”

“Jason, look it up in the book, would you? Starts with a P, as in Place of Refuge, which is what it’s also called. According to Rondeau, Marla’s taking that name literally, and she’s going to hole up there. Let’s go pry her out of that hole, what do you say?”

“What is this place?” Crapsey said.

“You’re right to ask me, since I know everything,” Elsie said. “You know about taboos? They didn’t have those in old Hawai’i, or rather, they did, but they called them kapu – the old Hawai’ian laws. If you commited some terrible crime – like, say, touching a chief’s fingernail clippings, or wearing red and yellow feathers, or casting a shadow on the grounds of the palace, or letting a woman eat a banana – you were breaking a kapu. The punishment was usually, poof, instant death. If only we had a legal system like that now – so simple! But, just like in that great Disney cartoon The Hunchback of Notre Dame, there are places of sanctuary where the authorities can’t get you. If you broke a kapu, you could flee to a place of refuge and throw yourself on the mercy of the priests who lived inside. They could absolve you and set you free, sometimes, or other times they’d just put you to work. People who wanted to avoid battle, or losers in a war who didn’t want to get their brains bashed in, could come take refuge in a pu’uhonua too. The place of refuge was inviolate, nobody was allowed to take anybody out against their will, because the ground is sacred. Isn’t religion grand? You can build stronger walls out of faith than you ever could with steel and concrete. So it makes a certain amount of sense for Marla to go to ground there – I bet there’s still some magic in that place, even though the bones of the chieftains buried there were all stolen or scattered or hidden away, and the snarling tiki statues are all reproductions.”

“You don’t think it’s a bit convenient that one of Marla’s friends told Dr. Husch where she was hiding?” Christian said. “You said her psychic friend Rondeau predicted Marla would be captured – couldn’t she be lucid enough to realize that Dr. Husch is the one coming after her? Or paranoid enough to suspect so?”

Elsie beamed. “You deserve a lollipop! And by ‘lollipop’ I mean ‘head of an enemy on a stick.’ Yes, it’s almost certainly a trap. That makes it more fun. But I’m not a complete maniac. Just a partial one. We’ll deploy our resources strategically and blah, blah, blah.” She clapped her hands together and bounced on the seat. “Finally! Two days I’ve spent planning to catch Marla, and the time has come! I’m so glad. I was getting bored. And when I get bored, Talion could tell you, I get cranky.”


“Using yourself as bait is a bad idea,” Rondeau said. “Using me as bait is even worse.” They sat together in a grove of palm trees, the ocean at their backs. The night was that rich quality of dark you only get some distance away from cities and their halos of light pollution, the skies clear, the air cool. They were well within the ten-foot-high L-shaped wall of ancient unmortared stone that divided the inside of the Place of Refuge from the old royal grounds and the rest of the national park. The area was guarded by fierce tiki statues, and nominally patrolled by park rangers to keep people out of the historic area after hours, but Marla had cast a little misperception loop that would keep the rangers distracted elsewhere until morning. “I feel way too exposed here.” There were reproductions of traditional Hawai’ian huts on the other side of the wall, but within the sanctuary, there was no shelter of any kind – the closest thing to a structure was a massive platform of stones that had probably once been a foundation for houses.

“Nah, this is a great defensive position,” Marla said. “Anybody who wants to get to us has to pass through the visitor’s center, walk along the trail, either circle around the wall or come through the one opening, and then make their way across all those vicious volcanic rocks without falling in a royal fish pond or falling and getting shredded by cold lava. We’ve got great sightlines. I like it.”

“What if they come in by canoe?”

Marla shrugged. “There’s a plain of black rock between us and the water. There’s no cover there at all – anyone walking in would be totally exposed. It’s a good position.”

“If it’s so good, what do you need me for?”

“Please. Without you, this place is just a historical curiosity. With you, it’s actually a refuge. You’re telling me you can’t sense the ghosts? Even I can.”

Rondeau sighed. “Yeah, there are ghosts. Priests who spent most of their lives here, and some chiefs, but they’re a little more faded – their bones were kept here for a while, but they got moved at some point, so the spirits are sort of doing a time-share thing between locations. There’s one incredibly pissed-off old white dude in some kind of military jacket. I think he’s Captain Cook, the guy who discovered Hawai’i – well, you know, ‘discovered,’ the way white dudes discover all kinds of places that plenty of brown people already know about. When Cook first showed up, the Hawai’ians thought he was their long-lost god Lono. He got a longer welcome than he would have otherwise, but he eventually wore it out. The locals kept some of his bones here like he was a chief, showing him respect even though they killed him themselves. I don’t know how much help Cook’s ghost will be, but the priests seem to accept us as legitimate sanctuary-seekers. They know they’re dead, but they don’t seem to mind much. They should be some help.”

Marla nodded. “Good. We’ve got Pelham out beyond the wall, watching the road, so we should get some advance warning before the bad guys arrive.”

If they arrive,” Rondeau said. “I’m still hoping we sit out here and nothing happens. We don’t know if Dr. Husch is involved at all. Maybe Nicolette just helped Jarrow escape –” His cell phone vibrated, and Rondeau picked it up, listened, and grimaced. “Thanks, Pelly.” He put the phone away. “There’s an SUV coming down the road, no headlights. Pelham looked through those binoculars you gave him, the ones with the night-vision enchantment, and he says there are at least five people in the thing, and they look enough like the people in the video that he’s ninety-nine percent sure they’re our villains. Do you want him to proceed?”

“I think the odds that they’re just tourists who didn’t check the park’s operating hours are pretty low,” Marla said. “But tell him to stick with the strictly non-lethal measures, just in case. And call Hamil, now, I don’t care if it’s going to wake him up. Tell him… shit. Don’t tell him what we suspect about Dr. Husch, I guess. We could still be wrong. Just tell him that Elsie Jarrow is loose, and that he might want to check on Leda, and make sure the other patients at Blackwing are secure. He’s smart enough to go in on his guard.”

“Fuck,” Rondeau said. “Leda. I liked her. I always did.” He made the call, keeping it short and simple, and disconnecting quickly. “He says he’ll get some of his people and head to Blackwing right away.”

“Good. I helped put some of those people in Blackwing. Somebody needs to make sure the patients stay locked up, if Leda can’t be trusted to do it anymore.” She ran a hand through her hair. “I wish I could be there. I should be there. But instead, I’m here. There’s nothing I can do about what’s happening in Felport. So I’d better be here all the way.” Marla looked around the grove of palm trees. She’d laid out a certain number of weapons, enough to level the playing field, but the only thing that had a chance of hurting Jarrow was the dagger Death had forged for her. The problem would be getting close enough to strike. “I wish Reva hadn’t wandered off,” she said. “He’s a presumptuous annoying little shit, but we could use some god-powers here.” After their plane landed the god had promised to catch up with them later, saying he had errands to run, but he hadn’t been in touch yet. “I also wish to hell this ring did something useful.”

“The oracle said wearing it wouldn’t do anything,” Rondeau said. “But maybe you have to wear it and say a magic word or something? Or twist it around three times? Or stick it on your toe? Maybe there’s an inscription on the inside, like people get for their wedding rings. Something useful like, ‘One ring to bind them all.’ Even ‘insert finger here’ would be helpful at this point.”

Marla grunted, wishing she’d thought of the possibility of an inscription. She held the ring up to the moonlight, squinting. Was that something incised in the metal, or just a glint? She brought the ring close to one eye, closing the other and squinting –

A red-haired woman on the sand raised her arms, mouth moving in silent screams or laughter, and a flock of burning parrots appeared in the air, rushing toward Marla. She leapt to one side, diving and rolling, then bounced up to her feet –

Nothing. No Jarrow, no birds. She looked at the ring, still clutched in her hands, and lifted it to her eye again. Looking through the ring, the empty beach became crowded: there was Crapsey, holding onto Rondeau’s lapels with one hand and punching him in the face with the other, and Jarrow again, now strangling a man Marla had never even seen before. The chaos witch didn’t look exactly as she had the one time Marla had met Jarrow, but she did looked vaguely familiar – Marla couldn’t quite place her. She put the ring down and frowned. “Shit,” she said. “Rondeau. This ring lets you see the future.”

Rondeau leaned in the doorway of the house. “Really? That’s handy.”

“You look through it,” she said. “Gods, it never occurred to me… but that’s one of Death’s powers, to see possible futures, it’s how he knows when people are going to die. Rondeau, stuff’s going to get ugly here, and I’m not sure when, I don’t know what kind of a delay we’re talking about with this ring, how far it can see, but we’d better get ready, we –”

The phone buzzed again, and Rondeau picked it up. “Yeah, Pelly, do you – oh. Uh. Just… just a minute.” He took the phone away from his ear and looked at Marla, eyes wide. “It’s for you. It’s not Pelham. It’s…”

“Jarrow,” she said, taking the phone.

“Crapsey, actually,” Crapsey said. He sounded almost exactly like Rondeau, voice perhaps a bit rougher from decades inhaling the atmosphere of the Mason’s version of North America, polluted as it was by the output of her vile magical engines. “How’s it going, Marla?”

“I’ve been better. How’s Pelham?”

“Little shit got away, actually. He scattered something on the road to pop all our tires, nearly rolled the SUV, but Jarrow kept us upright, and we managed to grab hold of your boy. I had him by the scruff of the neck, and we got the phone off him, but then he did some kind of crazy kung-fu shit and ran off into the dark. He’s going to get himself killed on those black rocks. We could’ve caught him, but Jarrow said leaving him loose was an ‘interesting variable,’ adding some uncertainty to the situation, so we let him go. It’s a chaos witch thing.”

“Makes sense. So what’s the big idea? Kick me while I’m down?”

“Kill you while you’re weak, yeah. I mean, personally, I don’t have a real grudge against you. Rondeau’s the one who tricked me into drinking that potion, and trapped me in this body. He’s the one I’ve got a beef with. Jarrow says she can settle that score for me along the way – she’ll either trap Rondeau the way I’m trapped, or make him suffer some other way.”

“You’re an idiot, Jabberjaw. Rondeau was acting under my orders. If you want to hate someone, hate me.”

“Oh, duly noted, but I was a henchman for a long time, and I believe in taking personal responsibility for your actions, even if your boss told you to do it. I want Rondeau to hurt, and Nicolette wants you to hurt, and since the two of you are hanging out together, hey, we joined forces.”

“And got Elsie Jarrow out of the hospital to use as a weapon. Well, I must say, at least you two morons know your own limitations. If you’d attacked me on your own, I’d be picking bits of you out of my teeth right now. But Jarrow’s a nuke. She’s weaponized anthrax. She’s not a weapon you can unleash without consequences.”

“Eh, it’s all under control.”

“You’ve got Doctor Husch helping you, right?”

Crapsey laughed. “Why should I tell you that?”

“Why shouldn’t you? You’re pretty sure I’ll be dead in a few minutes anyway. Besides, you’re supposed to keep me on the phone and distracted as long as you can so the rest of the idiot patrol can surround me. So answer my question, and truthfully, or I’ll hang up and start loading my rocket launchers.”

“You’re a pisser, Marla, I’ll give you that. You remind me of my old boss, only not as pretty, of course. Sure, Husch was in on it. You’re the reason she got torn to pieces, you know – me and the Mason wouldn’t have come to this universe if you hadn’t gone messing around with the fabric of reality. Husch is the one who let Jarrow out, and she’s holding the leash, keeping Elsie on task. Otherwise she’d just wander off and turn the Eiffel Tower into an anthill or something. The truth is, this is Dr. Husch’s operation. Me and Nicolette are just riding on her coattails.” He lowered his voice to a stage whisper. “Though to be totally honest, it’s Elsie’s show, now. And she’s a scary one. At least with the Mason, you knew what you were in for: she was going to try to kill you. With Jarrow? She could make you a palace out of emeralds or turn your liver into a swarm of fire ants, either or both for no particular reason. She’s going to kill you, I guess, but I’m pretty sure she’s going to play with you first, and the only reason is, she likes it.”

“You sure have a way of picking bad company, Crapsey.” Marla was walking around the site now, checking the traps she’d set up earlier, and content that all were primed, she returned to the tree where Rondeau sat cross-legged and muttered to ghosts, an enchanted lei around his neck. “Did you ever think about getting a job working for someone who wasn’t crazy and prone to acts of senseless violence?”

“I’m not sure I’m qualified for a gig like that. Why, are you looking for another guy in your entourage? I’d make a great replacement for Rondeau.”

“I have this policy against employing mass-murderers – sorry. And since you’ve actually lost count of all the people you’ve killed…”

“True. You’ve only killed, what, ten?”

“Seven,” Marla said. “And I regret them all. Every one represents a failure on my part – a failure of diplomacy, or imagination, or preparation, or nerve.”

“Only seven! You’re an amateur.”

“Hey, the night’s young. I could have a few more failures of imagination before the sun comes up. But I never killed on a whim, Crapsey.”

“It’s not like I enjoy killing people – ”

“I know. You just don’t care if you do. And honestly? I think that’s even worse. Okay, Trapjaw, are you people waiting for dawn? Where’s the attack?”

“Be patient, will you? We’ve got a way of doing things – ”

Someone screamed from off to the east, and Marla grinned. “You hear that screaming? Somebody just met one of our defenses.”

“What. The. Fuck,” Crapsey said. “Who are all these – ”

“They’re the ghosts of the priests who protected this place,” Marla said. “I’ve formally claimed sanctuary. And since you guys are marauders, trampling through a sacred space… let’s just say you’re on the wrong side of some big kahunas.”

“Fuck!” Crapsey shouted, and then there was a crackling sound, and nothing more.

Marla handed the phone back to Rondeau. “I think he dropped the phone, in the course of running away from some pissed-off priests.”

The ghosts were becoming visible now. Rondeau’s psychic field had a way of drawing latent supernatural manifestations into active status – faint ghosts became visible and capable of poltergeist activity, while presences that were more powerful to begin with could become corporeal enough to fuck or fight or drive motorcycles. The kahunas here were pretty faint, all things considered – they were from a long time ago, adhering to customs renounced by the later kings of Hawai’i, and some of them were miles and miles away from whatever remained of their mortal remains. Still, there was an impressive array: translucent kahunas in ceremonial feathers, drained of color and rendered white and gray, and furious chiefs with skeletal limbs armed with shark’s-tooth war clubs. Marla had her dagger hanging from her belt, and the massive Samoan war club she’d received from Arachne was in her hand, the latter all tricked out with vicious inertial magics. A love tap from that could cave in a rib cage, and might even knock Elsie Jarrow back a step or two.

And there, stalking up the path from the direction of a reproduction of a traditional temple, dressed in the ragged remnants of a naval jacket, wig askew, was the ghost of Captain James Cook, the accidental reincarnation of the long-lost god Lono, now looking around suspiciously with pistols in each hand, obviously spoiling for a fight.

Suddenly the torches she’d placed around the area to serve as an early-warning intrusion system burst into simultaneous flame. They burned bright green: that meant four people had broken the perimeter.

Marla hefted the war club. She grinned. She still had a lot of personal, philosophical, and existential problems, true, but right now, she also had the one kind of problem she knew exactly how to solve: people who needed a beating.

A red-haired woman dressed in a pale yellow summer dress stepped into the light cast by the torches. “Marla Mason, I presume?” the woman said, then winced. “Shit, that line’s from Africa, isn’t it? All these hot savage places look the same to me.”

“Elsie Jarrow,” Marla said. “Welcome to paradise.”

17. Proverbs of the Obvious

Using some arcane system of her own – or perhaps just acting on information from her spy Gustavus Lupo – Elsie led them to the building that housed Marla’s office. “See, there’s a little bit of folded space here. Plus a few safeguards against unlawful entry, but nothing I can’t unpick… .” A brick wall flickered and revealed a door with a glass window decorated with flaking gold paint. “It’s a used bookstore. How cozy.”

“A store no shopper can find,” Talion said. “It is like a Zen koan.”

“Nobody said ‘speak,’ Talion.” Elsie peered through the window – they could see shelves, and a counter, and a curtained alcove beyond that. “Hmm. It seems like someone’s home – I’m getting a definite sense of habitation – but something’s off. It’s like cherry flavoring instead of actual cherry, if you know what I mean. Christian, why don’t you work your mojo, create a nice…”

“Anti-magic shell,” Nicolette said. At Elsie’s raised eyebrow, Nicolette shrugged. “That’s what they call it in this fantasy computer game I play sometimes.”

Christian muttered, and moved his hands, and, even though nothing seemed to happen, Elsie grunted. “Yes. Nobody’s home. It was a false impression of a person in there, a fake Marla, which means – probably a trap. Clever girl! Nicolette, care to lead the way?”

“So I’m a human mine detector now?” she said.

“Oh, any booby traps are sure to be magical in nature, and Christian has suppressed those. So unless there’s a shotgun pointed at the door, with a string tied to the trigger at one end and the doorknob at the other, you should be fine.”

“It’s not beyond Marla to do something like that.” Nicolette looked through the glass, sighed, and put her hand on the knob. “Uh. It’s locked. And I can pop a lock with magic, but – no magic.”

“Talion?” Elsie said sweetly, and they all jostled around to give him a clear look at the door. He drew a knife almost as long as his forearm from the depths of his leather jacket – good thing Elsie had been able to glamour them past airport security, or that pigsticker would belong to the TSA now, and Talion would probably still be in a holding room – and jammed it between the door and the frame, then twisted, grunted, and shoved. The door popped open with a crack, and he moved aside to let Nicolette in.

She moved fast, checking all the corners, ducking behind the counter, and looking beyond the curtain. She eyed a steep flight of stairs, sighed, and went up, returning a moment later and calling out, “Clear!”

The rest of them entered, and Nicolette walked around the room, picking things up from bookshelves, chairs, and the floor, then dumped the handful of collected objects on the counter: a nail, the skull of a bird, several black jellybeans, a fly strip, and a small glass vial. “Let’s see,” she said. “We’ve got impalement, murderous spirit birds, two kinds of immobilization traps, and, yep, straight-up poison.” She shook her head. “Marla’s a pretty good enchanter, you’ve gotta give her that. We would’ve been inconvenienced to death if Christian hadn’t deactivated all these things.”

“She knew we were coming,” Husch – no, Crapsey reminded himself, Lupo – said. “Or that someone was coming, anyway. According to Rondeau, Death gave her a prophecy, that she would… be captured… on a Maui beach. It seems that, sensibly enough, she has chosen to remove herself from the vicinity of Maui’s beaches.”

“Hmm,” Elsie said. “I’m sure she had the good sense to cover her tracks and frustrate divination. Is it like her, to run away from a fight?”

“Not usually,” Nicolette said. She glanced at Christian. “But she’s never been, ah, in the midst of a nervous breakdown before, so who knows? If I had to guess, I’d say she’s just pulling back to a defensive position.”

Elsie twisted a lock of red hair in her fingers. “I could just ask her where she went, I suppose, but making Lupo turn into Marla could backfire, couldn’t it? Still, it’s tempting, it’s certainly unexpected – ”

“There’s a computer back here.” Jason stepped out from behind the curtain. “Password protected, but they’re idiots when it comes to security. I found the password list taped to the bottom of the keyboard. They cleared the browser history, but they didn’t delete their cookies or their temporary internet files.” Elsie frowned at him, and Crapsey didn’t really follow him either, and Jason sighed. “What I mean is, I can tell what websites they were looking at recently. They booked a flight to the Big Island, and they visited a few websites for hotels on the west coast, but it doesn’t look like they made reservations online, so I can’t be sure which one they picked. But all the hotels are along the same stretch of highway, so we can check them out one by one, or split up and do a bunch at once.” They all stared at him. “What? Not all of us have magic, you freaks. Some of us have to think our way out of problems and into opportunities.”

“You’re more useful than I thought,” Elsie announced. “Though with this bunch, the bar is set pretty low. Who’s up for another plane trip? Ooh, or maybe this time we can steal a boat!”


After their room service breakfast, Marla, Rondeau, and Pelham all crowded around Rondeau’s laptop, trying to make sense of the milling figures that filled the thirteen-inch screen. “It would be nice if the store was wired for sound,” Marla complained, watching the silent inches-high figures, filmed from a high angle, wander and gesticulate around her office.

“There’s a mike set up behind some books on one of the shelves, but it’s shittier than I thought, and they’re not very close to it.” Rondeau cranked up the volume on his laptop, and they could indeed hear some indistinct murmuring, but nothing of much use. “I didn’t have time to hit a high-end spy shop, you know. I had to make do with the crappy webcam and podcasting equipment I was able to find at the strip mall. But from the tattletale keylogger software I installed, it looks like you were right – Jason went straight to the computer in the office and started rummaging through our internet history. He should be able to figure out where we are, roughly, and they’ll probably expect to surprise us. So we can be ready.”

“I love it when people assume I’m stupid,” Marla said. “That makes it so much easier to get them to follow the trail I want.”

“Like I would use that computer for anything real,” Rondeau said. “It came with the office. It’s like a decade old. Total virus bait.”

“Never underestimate an enemy’s ability to underestimate your intelligence. I wish they were a little stupider themselves, though. It would have solved a lot if they’d just wandered in and set off all those nasty tricks I left them.” She leaned closer, crowding Rondeau and Pelham aside, her nose almost touching the screen, but all that did was make blurry things blurrier. “Who the hell are all those people? Isn’t there some way you can enlarge or enhance this?”

Rondeau snorted. “It doesn’t work the way it does in the movies. I can’t infinitely zoom in – we’ve got a crappy webcam here. This is as good as it gets. Still, that’s obviously Nicolette, and that’s Jason, and that’s Crapsey – I guess he just latched on to Nicolette at some point? But the other three…” He pointed. “That looks almost like Dr. Husch.”

“Insofar as she’s blonde and has big pixellated breasts, I guess,” Marla said. “That’s not how Leda looks now, anyway, not since the Mason tore her to pieces. That one there… could it be Talion?”

Rondeau whistled. “That guy we met in the other universe? Wasn’t he one of the good guys?”

“With ‘good guys’ defined as ‘somebody who hates people we hate’? In that dimension, sure, but if he’s the Talion from this universe, then who knows? I can’t imagine how he got mixed up in this, but I think he was some kind of mercenary on the other side – maybe he’s just hired muscle. That little guy with the hipster glasses, I don’t have a clue who he could be. And that redhead, doesn’t it seem like she‘s the one calling the shots? They all keep looking at her. I’d assumed this was Nicolette’s gig – but what if somebody else is in charge? If so, why? If I mortally offended her, you’d think I’d at least recognize her. My kingdom for a room full of obedient clairvoyants…”

“Maybe we know enough to ask the right questions now,” Rondeau said. “Like, ‘Who the hell are these people?’ We could see about scaring up an oracle.”

“Not a bad idea,” Marla said. “But does that mean you want me to walk around in this ridiculous giant hotel some more?”

Following Rondeau’s peculiar inner compass, they made their way through the hotel, to the artificial lagoon. There was no one else around, just water lapping at fake white sand, the waters populated by real sea creatures. Rondeau, who wore cargo shorts and sandals, strode out into the water, and Marla took off her boots and rolled up her white cotton pants to the knees and followed. Pelham, who was wearing clothing more appropriate for a day’s work in a cubicle farm than a tropical paradise, chose to stay in the sand.

Rondeau went out about waist deep, and Marla sighed and followed. She hated wading in the surf in Hawai’i, especially in the dark, and even this fake lagoon was connected to the real ocean. Compared to, say, Australia, the waters of Hawai’i were fairly benign, but there were jellyfish, venomous cone snails, poisonous anemones, scorpion fish, barracudas, sharks, Portuguese-man-of-wars (men-of-war?), and –

The water frothed, and a green sea turtle with a shell roughly the diameter of a patio table rose from the water, its nose no more than two feet away. Its head was pure white, its eyes dark and strangely compassionate, and it nodded at them in a disturbingly anthropomorphic way.

“Welcome, oracle.” Rondeau’s voice was strained – summoning this creature had clearly cost him more effort than usual. “We seek your counsel.”

The turtle spoke, the voice feminine and soothing, though its beak of a mouth didn’t move. “I am Honu-po’o-kea, mother of Kailua the turtle-maiden. I will aid you if I can.”

“An enemy is coming for us,” Rondeau said. “She has red hair, and she comes with an army of warriors. Can you tell us her name and her nature?”

The honu bobbed in the water, her flippers moving lazily, creating little wavelets that broke against Marla and Rondeau’s bodies. “She is broken shells and spoiled yolks, that one. She is water that sickens you to drink. Her name is Elsie Jarrow, and she is the fire that cracks the stones.”

Marla closed her eyes. Marrowbones? But Jarrow was supposed to be locked up in the Blackwing Institute. She didn’t even have a body anymore. If she was free… what was she doing here? Marla had seen her once, before becoming chief sorcerer, when Jarrow escaped her prison for one afternoon. The sight of her bloody smile had made a powerful impression on Marla, but it wasn’t like they had history. Though Nicolette worshipped Jarrow the way Rondeau worshipped rum, and the younger chaos witch had tried to break her heroine out of Blackwing at least once before, so it sort of made sense.

“And the others?” Rondeau said. “Can you tell us who she brought with her?”

The turtle lowered her head into the water for a moment, as if thinking, then nodded again. “A one-armed witch, armed with a shard of the moon. My summoner’s false brother, with a jaw of wood and stone and magic, his soul trapped in a bottle of flesh. A killer of wolves, and men who become wolves. A man who soaks up magic as the sand soaks up water. This woman’s true brother, a conniver and a liar, reeking of fear and calculation. And another, a blur, not nameless, but possessed of an ever-changing name.”

“That’s seven,” Marla muttered. “Jarrow, Nicolette, Crapsey, Jason, and we were right about it being Talion. I don’t know who the guy who slurps up magic can be, and this nameless blur, that’s not a lot to go on, but they must be the other two we saw, the little guy and the blonde woman.”

“Do you have any advice for us?” Rondeau said to the honu.

“Do not trust brothers,” the honu replied. “Either false brothers, or true.”

“Thanks.” Marla tried hard to keep the sarcasm out of her voice, because even a seemingly benevolent oracle like this one could be dangerous if treated with disrespect. But really. Telling her not to trust Jason or Crapsey was right up there with other proverbs of the obvious, like “Don’t eat the rat poison” and “Don’t gargle with gasoline.”

“The sea calls me,” the white-headed honu said, only a trifle impatiently. “Is there anything more?”

“Yes, if you can – this.” Marla took the ring from her pocket and held it out to the honu. “This ring, it’s supposed to be enchanted.”

“It is not enchanted,” the honu said. “It is magic.”

Marla frowned. “What’s the distinction?”

“The difference between something that is enchanted, and something that is magic, is the difference between something that is wet, and something that is water.”

Marla nodded. “So it’s an artifact. My boyfriend’s a generous guy… can you tell me what it does? What happens if I wear it, I mean?”

“If you wear it?” The turtle didn’t quite smile – Marla wasn’t sure turtles could smile – but it somehow contrived to look amused. “It will be very pretty, and sparkle, and make you feel loved, if you are the sort to feel loved. But that is all.”

“No power to shoot fireballs from my fingertips then? Oh well. I mean, I can do that anyway, it’s just hell on my fingernails.” She sighed. A ring that was magical, but wouldn’t allow her to do any magic, struck her as an especially useless ornament.

“We thank you for your wisdom,” Rondeau said. “What can we offer you in return?”

“The world is dangerous for my children,” the honu said. “We lay our eggs in the sand, and the young hatch and make their way to the surf, but death is all around them: cats, rats, birds, the hated mongoose. Even a hole in the sand, or a bit of wood in the path, can delay their rush to the safety of the waves, and the false lights of humankind confuse them, and send them crawling to their deaths in the streets instead of their lives in the sea. You will go to a certain beach on a certain day next summer – I will send you a dream – and you will see to it that none of the children are lost, and that all reach the water.” The honu bobbed her head again. “This you will do.”

“I will,” Rondeau said solemnly, and the honu vanished beneath the waves. Rondeau let out a long shuddering breath. Then he smacked Marla on the arm. “I have to go save a thousand baby sea turtles from being eaten by rats? That’s a hell of a price to have to pay – it’s because you ask so many questions. And what if one of the turtles gets snatched up by a seagull or whatever?”

“What, you’re afraid of a turtle god now?”

“That wasn’t a turtle god. That was the mother of a turtle god. That’s even worse. You’re not allowed to die in this fight, Marla. I’m making you go with me to that beach.”

“It’s a date.”

As they waded back out, Rondeau said, “So, uh… now what? We know who, but, shit, Marrowbones is after us? How do we fight someone like her?”

“That’s a good question. If she’s here, it means she escaped from Blackwing, and somehow found a body that won’t die of cancer – maybe it’s a robot or something. I’m worried about what she did to Dr. Husch…”

Rondeau stopped walking. “Marla… . I just talked to Dr. Husch. Like, a day ago. I called her, I mean, we were friends, I stayed with her for a while, and… .” He shook his head. “She sounded fine.” His expression became thoughtful. “Better than fine, actually. She sounded like she always does, and I didn’t think about it, but I thought when she got put back together…”

“Her voice was ruined,” Marla said. “That’s what Hamil said, right?”

Rondeau nodded. “Maybe she… got better?”

“Maybe somebody made her better. Maybe somebody made her a deal. And maybe getting torn to pieces tore apart something in her mind, too.”

“Do you really think Dr. Husch is part of this?”

“I don’t want to think so, but she went through a lot… getting ripped into little pieces probably leads to a certain amount of posttraumatic stress disorder, even if you are a homunculus.”

Rondeau closed his eyes. “Shit. Marla, I told her things. I told her about what the eel oracle said, and about Pelham coming back, I don’t remember what all I told her – what if she’s working with Jarrow? What if I told her stuff that’s going to hurt us?”Marla considered. “Well… call her again. If she doesn’t answer, we’ll assume she’s a victim in all this, too. Then we’ll get in touch with Hamil, and tell him Jarrow is loose, and that he might want to send somebody to make sure Dr. Husch is okay, and that the other patients at Blackwing are secure.”

“And if she does answer?”

“Then you tell her more. Give her some juicy disinformation. And if Jarrow and company act on that bad information, we’ll know they got it from Dr. Husch, and… we’ll take appropriate action.”

Rondeau nodded. “Okay. Leda. I can’t believe she’d turn on us. I don’t want to believe it.” They continued on toward the shore. “What should I say to her?”

“Isn’t the Place of Refuge like fifty miles south of here? I’ve got an idea…”

16. Things Are Never So Bad They Can’t Be Made Worse

“We have walked a mile. Literally a mile. Where are our rooms?” Marla paused by a piece of ornamental sculpture to tighten her shoelaces.

“Well, yeah,” Rondeau said. “It’s like a sixty-acre resort. We’re in the tower farthest from the lobby, unfortunately. If we hadn’t gotten here so late, we’d be able to take the train, or a boat, but since we had late check-in they’ve stopped – ”

Marla stood up, scowled, and continued walking. “This is a hotel with its own train line. It’s a hotel with canals. What am I doing here?”

“It’s big, there are a lot of people, it’s on the coast, and it’s exactly what you asked for.” Rondeau was cheerful. “Plus, I know you love complaining, and I figured this place would give you lots to complain about.”

“It’s very beautifully landscaped,” Pelham offered. “And some of the artwork is quite exquisite. But, yes, it has a certain…”

“Disneyland vastness,” Rondeau said. “There actually is a Disney resort on Oahu, but I figured that might be pushing Marla a tad too far. But basically this is a family-friendly place, you can come here, stay a week, and never even leave the hotel grounds. It’s got like ten pools, and entertainment, and there’s a lagoon where they truck in fresh sand every morning – ”

“A fake beach,” Marla said. “In Hawai’i.”

“The coast right around here’s really rocky,” Rondeau said, reasonably. “I mean, you’d have to walk half a mile to get a nice sandy beach. I’m pretty sure the sea turtles and fish in the snorkeling area aren’t actually animatronic, if that makes you feel any better.”

“I’m not a big fan of the rustic experience,” Marla said. “You know that. The whole ancient Polynesian culture thing doesn’t excite me too much either, though I like their war clubs.” Her Samoan club was nestled in one of the suitcases even now. “But a grass shack on the beach, even though that would be depressingly close to nature, would be preferable to this manufactured, artificial… extruded hospitality product. It’s too neat, too clean, too fake, too orderly – ”

“Ah ha!” Rondeau said. “What’s that last word?”

“Orderly?” Marla said. She paused, then said, more thoughtfully, “Orderly. Really? You did that on purpose?”

Rondeau stopped to sketch out a little bow. “I do sometimes have reasons for the decisions I make, you know. Not always, but. We’re going to fight a chaos magician, and this place is all about the orderliness, the schedules, the cleanliness, the high gloss. All stuff that will salt Nicolette’s game.”

“All right,” Marla said grudgingly. “That’s pretty good.”

“There are also service tunnels,” Rondeau said. “Running all underneath the resort, so the guests never have to see the thousand employees it takes to keep this place in operation.”

“Okay,” Marla said. “Tunnels, I like.”

“They’ve also got a dolphin lagoon,” Rondeau said. “I fucking love dolphins. And it’s only two hundred bucks to swim with one, you believe that? A steal.”


“Ah, there’s our antimancer,” Elsie said.

“Good,” Nicolette muttered. “Maybe he can carry some fucking bags.”

For reasons known only to herself – maybe for the same reasons God was such a dick to his loyal servant Job – Elsie was heaping ever more abuse on Nicolette. Besides taking an apparent shine to Crapsey, which was the surest route to annoying the younger chaos witch, she’d also ordered Nicolette to carry everyone’s luggage, and as a result, she was heaped with two partially-overlapping backpacks, a messenger bag slung across her front, and the handle of a rolling suitcase in her one hand. With her buzzed hair and paint-spattered jeans and t-shirt, she looked like a furious art-school sherpa. They made an odd group overall: Jarrow in the lead, head held high, long red hair streaming behind her, heels clicking on the smooth airport floor; Crapsey in his increasingly rumpled pin-striped suit following at her heels and having unpleasant flashbacks to accompanying the Mason in similar fashion; Talion in his black leather, looking even more ridiculous given the morning heat and humidity here; Nicolette stumbling and snarling and dragging her burdens after him; and Jason bringing up the rear, no doubt thinking about making a break for it, but never quite mustering the courage to try. They all paused to allow a greeter, presumably from the Hawai’ian tourist board or something, to drape them all with sweet-smelling leis and say, “Aloha, welcome to Maui.” Talion took it with exceptionally bad grace, and Nicolette groaned, presumably because even the weight of a couple dozen flowers on a string was an unwanted addition to her considerable burdens. The necklace fit in nicely with the half a dozen other chains she wore strung around her neck, all festooned with beads and charms in various sizes, shapes, and colors – since she couldn’t wear enchanted items in her hair anymore, she’d resorted to wearing them around her neck, and she clattered like a dice cup when she walked. Elsie kept joking that Nicolette must have flashed her breasts a lot at Mardi Gras to get so many necklaces.

Christian Decomain leaned against a pillar by the curb, dark eyes watching them approach from behind his chunky Clark Kent glasses. He was a small, compact man, with short dark hair, dressed in a studiedly nondescript black-jeans-black-button-down-shirt way that actually made him stand out amid the crowds in their vacation-wear casuals. He held up a sign that said “Jarrow & Co,” and Elsie waved at him jauntily. “You must be Leda’s friend!” she said, voice warm and welcoming as an old friend’s embrace.

Christian folded up the sign and tucked it into his back pocket, looking them over with a frown. “And you’re the famous Elsie Jarrow. Dr. Husch told me you’re… no longer ill.”

Jarrow beamed. “I am entirely cured, Christian – may I call you Christian? My antisocial tendencies have been eradicated utterly, and I’ve dedicated myself to making amends for all the nasty little things I did. Starting with the capture of that dangerous renegade Marla Mason.”

Christian nodded. “I’ve heard of her, of course, even up in Portland – she was the youngest chief sorcerer ever, apart from the boy-king Jack Shaffly, but he was a conscious reincarnation, so he doesn’t count.”

Elsie wagged a finger. “You’re forgetting the Bellingham triplets!”

“They were a tripartite soul,” Christian pointed out. “Three life experiences, one mind, so really, you have to combine their ages – they were really forty-eight when they took over.”

“You’re such a bright one!” Elsie patted his cheek, and Christian flinched away – no surprise, Crapsey thought. This was the woman they’d called Marrowbones, after all, ostensibly cured of her bad craziness or not. “Do you have a car for us?”

Christian gestured to a dark blue van parked at the curb. “Minivans aren’t really my thing, but I thought for such a large group… I got one that can seat eight, if we don’t mind getting cozy, and there’s a roof rack for the luggage.” He paused. “I figured we might want to keep the back storage area free for, ah…”

“Bundling Marla up in a sack? Good thinking.” Elsie turned. “Nicolette! Get the bags up on top. Oh, fine, you’d think I was making you eat whole lemons from the look on your face. Jason, you help her, hup hup. You can drive, too, Jason.” She leaned in toward Christian, conspiratorially. “Jason here isn’t a sorcerer. He’s not much good for anything, really, but he’s Marla’s brother, so we thought he might be able to work some of that old family magic, talk her down from her manic arc of destruction, calm her enough for us to scoop her up and get her back to the Blackwing Institute for therapy without a struggle.”

“It’s a shame. From what I heard, she was so promising.” Christian shook his head. “But I guess it was too much pressure for her, and she couldn’t handle it. She really lost it, huh?”

“They say she was turning people into sharks.” Elsie tapped her temple with one finger. “And just letting them drown in the air! That doesn’t sound like a rational actor, does it? Paranoia, schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder, who knows? Dr. Husch will handle the diagnosis. We’re just in charge of bringing her in.”

“This is… quite a crew for a simple apprehension,” Christian said. “Who are the others?”

“Oh, just my entourage,” Elsie said. “Talion does security, don’t you, my good boy? And Crapsey here is an all-purpose lackey.”

“And Rondeau’s brother,” Crapsey offered.

Elsie snapped her fingers. “Ah, that’s right! You see, Marla has some misguided friends who don’t want to see her committed. They’re in denial, you know, poor dears, classic enablers – especially her old right-hand-man Rondeau. We’re hoping his long-lost brother Crapsey can talk some sense into him. Though Marla also has a loyal-beyond-all-reason manservant named Pelham, and maybe a wayward god or two.”

Christian widened his eyes but didn’t say anything, and Elsie went on blithely. “So having Nicolette – that’s the one-armed one, you can’t miss her – around to throw some trinkets, and Talion to bite people, grr, and so on, is just us being on the safe side. Can you suppress all the magic in a given area?”

“Mostly, but it depends on how many sources are involved,” Christian said. “And the force of the will directing the magic. I can dampen or dispel or counter pretty much anything a mortal sorcerer throws at me, at least for a few minutes, but it’s like pressing against a door with a horde trying to force their way in – it takes effort and energy on my part, too. But I should be able to render Marla inert long enough to tranquilize her.”

Elsie stepped close to him, so close his face was practically tucked up against the hollow of her throat, and appeared to smell his hair. “Do you think you could stop my powers from working?”

“I could,” Christian said. “Not for long, but, yes. I’ve made a study of your powers, Ms. Jarrow. Dr. Husch consulted me when your cell was constructed.”

The chaos witch stepped back, all smiles again. She was looking less and less like the Mason, Crapsey realized. It wasn’t just the red hair and lipstick, or the fact that she smiled a lot – the structure of her face was actually changing, the cheeks rounding, the nose becoming more snub, and, yeah, her boobs were getting bigger, too. Elsie was making this body into a replacement for her own. Crapsey wondered if she was even conscious of the transformation. “All loaded?” she called.

Nicolette, huffing, tied down a last bit of rope, pulling the knot tight with her teeth. “All set.”

“Then I’ve got shotgun,” Elsie said. “Who knows the way to Lahaina?”

“There’s a GPS in the car,” Christian said. At her blank look, he cleared his throat. “Ah, global positioning satellite? Basically a computer that communicates with a satellite, so it knows where we are all times, and can give us turn-by-turn directions to get wherever we’re going.”

Elsie looked up, as if she might be able to see one of those satellites – and who knew? Maybe she could. “The world is getting so small, isn’t it?” she murmured to Crapsey. “Where are the wild places anymore? I really must do something about all this when we’re finished with Marla.”

Before Crapsey could come up with an answer, Elsie was climbing into the minivan, so he got in the back. Christian and Talion sat together in the very rear, so he had to sit next to Nicolette in the next row of seats. She looked at him with eyes so filled with hate she’d probably weep cobra venom if she started to cry.

Jason, who hadn’t said a word since they deplaned, drove away from the airport, following the soothing directions of the GPS as Elsie chattered at him happily about the first time she’d come to Hawai’i, which had apparently involved a horrible fire at a luau, and how she’d lived in a place down by the beach for a while. “You know, a lot of people think a sorcerer named Felix invented the spell commonly known as the Scream of Felix. Not so! That was me! Felix Garcia was my roommate. But, yes, it was his scream. You could have swept up what was left of him in a dustpan, poor dear, but he never left wet towels on the bathroom floor again…”

Nicolette leaned toward Crapsey, close enough he was afraid she’d bite his neck. “Why the fuck does she like you?” Nicolette hissed in his ear.

“I think it’s this body,” Elsie said, turning around in her seat and staring. Nicolette squirmed uncomfortably under the gaze. “I hear everything, you should know that. I hear things you haven’t even said yet. Crapsey was the most trusted companion of the last inhabitant of this body, and you have to understand, even though I’ve taken over, I’m still dealing with a lot of the original architecture. The brain locked up in this skull has certain ingrained pathways, and I just feel comfortable with Crapsey.”

“But the Mason was friends with me, too,” Nicolette objected. “Or, okay, not me, exactly, but the version of me that existed in her universe.”

“Yeah, but she never liked you – or your counterpart,” Crapsey said. “She said you were first on the list of people she expected to betray her. Now, everybody in the world was on that list somewhere, even me, but you were right at the top. That’s why she kept you close – you knew about chaos magic, which was actually kind of a danger to her, since she was so rigid and order-obsessed.”

“So I’m working with those same mental grooves,” Elsie said cheerfully. “I look at you and think: venomous bitch. What can I do?”

“But I worship you,” Nicolette said miserably.

“Yes!” Elsie nodded rapidly. “It’s super pathetic!” She turned around and began playing with the radio.

“Just… maybe don’t try so hard.” Crapsey kept his voice low, even though he knew it didn’t matter. “I think she respects people who are, you know. Tough.”

“But you’re totally spineless,” Nicolette said, glum and slumped. “And she likes you.”

“Yeah, okay, but I’m naturally spineless,” Crapsey said. “I’m not faking it. The whole adoration thing – it doesn’t exactly fit naturally on you. You’re a badass, Nicolette. You nearly killed Marla yourself once or twiceif she hadn’t had the cloak, she would have died, and now, she doesn’t have the cloak.” It was weird trying to reassure Nicolette, but it was even weirder seeing her depressed and sulky. He wouldn’t have been able to imagine her this way a few days ago – it would have been like imagining a brooding bonfire, or a depressed avalanche.

She perked up. “Yeah, that’s right. I could totally kill Marla now. That would probably impress the shit out of Jarrow – ”

Christian cleared his throat behind them. “Ah, but we’re not going to kill her, I mean, we’re here to get her help. Right?”

“Naturally,” Crapsey said. “We’re just, you know… trying to be prepared. Obviously you try to cure the rabid dog first, but you have to be prepared to put it down if it’s a matter of self-defense – ”

“There is no cure for rabies,” Talion said, voice dripping with scorn. “Not after symptoms begin to appear.”

“You would know, wouldn’t you, dog-boy?” Nicolette said.

Crapsey smiled. Nicolette was defending him. That was something. “Huh,” he said. “I didn’t know that. I mean, where I’m from, there’s not really a cure for anything. If you step on a rusty nail you pretty much just die. Measles, whooping cough, whatever. I thought you guys had cures for everything.”

“Where are you from?” Christian asked, bewildered.

“Never mind that,” Elsie called from the front seat. “Nicolette, you should call Talion dog-boy again. Or Rover, things in that vein. That’s the sort of behavior that could rewire my brain’s pathways in your favor.”

After a few more miles of banter, snippiness, complaining, and sniping, Jason finally spoke: “This is Lahaina.” Crapsey looked out the window. Cute little touristy town, right down by the water, the main street lined by buildings with wooden facades housing gift shops and restaurants and tiny art galleries. There were lots of slow-moving cars and tourists, the latter ambling aimlessly across the paths of the former with impunity. Their van crawled past a park dominated by a majestically sprawling banyan tree, and Jarrow hmmmed. “Pull into this next lot. Our contact is here.”

Jason managed to find a spot only halfway back in the packed public lot, and they all piled out of the vehicle. “Is it okay to just leave the luggage up top – ” Crapsey began, but Elsie just waved her hand, and all the luggage vanished, instantly transported inside the van.

“If you could load the van with the wave of your hand,” Nicolette said through gritted teeth, “why did you make me climb up on the fucking roof?”

“Hard work builds character,” Elsie said absently, then brightened. “There he is! Oh, Sam! Here we are!”

A man with sad hound-dog eyes, wearing a gray suit, emerged from the shadow at the side of a two-story building. He looked around, frowning, and twisted a fedora in his hands. “Who’s Sam? I don’t understand any of this.” The man’s eyes darted from side to side. “Who are you people? And what’s with all the funny-looking cars? Is this one of those futuristic pictures, a Flash Gordon sort of thing? I think I need to talk to the director.”

Crapsey looked around at his fellows, who were staring at the newcomer, all of them wearing expressions of confusion or disbelief. “What? Do we know him?”

“That’s… he looks exactly like Humphrey Bogart,” Christian said. “The way he looked in the ’40s, in all those movies…”

“Oh,” Crapsey said. “Right. Where I’m from, we didn’t really have much in the way of movies. There were a lot of electromagnetic pulses, so most of the players were fried, and electricity was spotty anyway.”

“Remind me to never visit wherever it is you’re from,” Christian said. He raised his voice. “Ms. Jarrow, what is this?”

Elsie stamped her foot. “Disappointing, is what this is.” She gestured at Bogart, who looked torn between running away or throwing a punch. “This is our skinshifter, Gustavus Lupo. He can imitate anyone, perfectly. I thought maybe I could tweak him a bit, mess around with his mind and make it possible for him to imitate fictional characters. How wonderful would that be, if he could turn into, oh, I don’t know, Willy Wonka, or Conan the Barbarian, or Hannibal Lector? Fictional characters have so many more obvious applications than real people do. I thought it would work – fictional creations are naturally simpler than actual real people.” She looked around. “Except maybe for you, Nicolette, and you, Talion. But I thought the premise was sound! I was hoping to get Sam Spade, the private eye, but instead, I got the actor who used to play him… . Oh well.” She took a deep breath. “Mr. Bogart, I presume?”

“Sure, that’s right, and who are you?”

“You know how to whistle, right, Bogey?” Elsie said. “Just put your lips together, and…” She puckered her lips, but she didn’t whistle: it was more like blowing out a candle flame, and when she did, Bogart shimmered, fedora vanishing, and the figure before them became somehow… undifferentiated, like they were looking at him from behind a pane of distorting shower glass. “This is the closest thing to a ‘neutral’ form he’s got,” Elsie said. “Kind of calls attention to itself, though, doesn’t it? We can do better. I sort of miss Dr. Husch though, so…” She snapped her fingers, and the figure trembled, then became the good doctor – but with her dark blonde hair worn loose, and dressed in dark sunglasses, a clinging yellow-tank top, extremely brief denim shorts, and strappy sandals. She looked around in alarm.

Elsie jabbed Crapsey in the rib with her elbow. “You like her outfit? I did that for you.”

“You’re a generous soul,” Crapsey said.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Lupo snapped, crossing her arms and scowling. “Jarrow, how dare you teleport me against my will? For that matter, how did you manage to – ”

“I didn’t,” she said. “Come on, Doctor. If I could pry you out of Blackwing, you know I would have done so first thing. You’re not you. You’re Lupo, imitating you.”

Lupo took off her sunglasses, narrowed her eyes to glare at Elsie, then sighed. “Oh, wonderful. Not only do I have to be here with you, I also have to live with the knowledge that my entire sense of self is false, and that even this provisional consciousness could cease to exist at any moment. That’s just grand.”

“I totally missed you too,” Elsie said, linking arms with Lupo, much to her apparent dismay. “Let’s go break into Marla’s office and put her in a straitjacket for her own protection, what do you say?”

15. In Flight

“It’s time to get ready for war.” Marla leaned against the counter in the bookshop and surveyed her troops, such as they were: Pelham, nervous because of his little betrayal; Rondeau, who was more-or-less paying attention; and Reva, who was here only because he wouldn’t go away. The wave-mages had promised to lend their support when it came to actually apprehending Nicolette, so that was something. Normally, Marla wouldn’t have worried. She could beat Nicolette with one arm tied behind her back (which, given Nicolette’s recent loss of limb, would be only fair), and her brother wouldn’t exactly be able to con her again – she was wise to his deceit now. But Death had seen a likely future where she was dead, so it might be best to proceed with caution. Once upon a time she’d had sufficient self-confidence to believe she could defeat any challenge, but that was before Bradley Bowman got killed, and she got exiled. She was still going to fight… but maybe she wouldn’t charge in with nothing but her knives and a well-honed sense of outrage anymore.

“What do you propose?” Reva said.

“Step one is to get the hell off this island. Death saw me being killed on a beach on Maui – so I might as well change that first. I’m going to stay in Hawai’i – just on a different island. I want to deal with my enemies, not run away, but I’d rather choose my own ground.”

“So you want someplace nice and secluded?” Rondeau said. “Away from the ordinaries? There are some islands that are pretty much uninhabited, actually, we could dig in and – ”

Marla shook her head. “Nope. Flip that 180 degrees. If I’m in some isolated bit of tropical paradise and Nicolette and Jason and some hired thugs come to kill me, nobody local is going to care – it’s just a bunch of haoles killing each other. But if I’m in a nice populated area, and some nasty magic users show up and start behaving in a way that’s threatening to civilians, then the local kahunas are going to take an interest. Just like when I was running Felport – if people came into the city itself and started making noise, I shut that shit down quick. But if people wanted to run wild in the hinterlands outside my area of interest, what did I care? I don’t have the kind of support system I used to have, but if possible, I’m going to piggyback on the local system. I’ll sneak inside the local beehive and let their drones protect me.”

“So… we’re talking about human shields, basically,” Rondeau said.

Marla scowled. “That’s not the way I’d put it. I don’t think Nicolette is going to start lobbing fireballs through a hotel lobby – I know she likes chaos, but there’s a lot of big old magic and tough badass kahunas in these islands, and she knows she wouldn’t get away with that kind of assault, not without dying herself. Besides, I’ll let you pick a nice resort for us to hole up in – how’s that sound?”

“In that case, might I suggest the big island?” Reva said. “The most powerful sorcerers in Hawai’i live there, and the place has certain other properties that might prove useful.”

Marla pointed a finger at him. “Listen, godlet. Just because you’re helping me doesn’t mean I’m going to join up with the Church of You once this is all over. Understood?”

“You are already one of my people, Marla. I don’t demand that you become a follower explicitly. I’m a god who takes care of you even if you’ve never heard of me.”

“I wish I hadn’t,” she muttered. “Rondeau, hop on the computer and make some arrangements, the way we talked about. Someplace on the Big Island, near the water in case we need help from the surfers on short notice, ideally not too close to volcanic activity just to be on the safe side – chaos magicians are fans of fire – but otherwise, please yourself. Pelham, come with me. We’re going shopping.” She cracked her knuckles. “It’s been ages since I did any enchanting. I had people to do that sort of thing for me back in Felport. It’ll be good to get my hands dirty again.”

Rondeau snorted. “Yeah, that was always your problem – your hands were too clean.”


The Marla Mason Revenge Squad breezed them through security with ease, Elsie providing fake IDs made of scrap paper and dead leaves, and cloaking them in an illusion of normalcy so thorough that none of them even got pulled aside for secondary screening. Nicolette, who was pretty good at tricking computers into doing her bidding, had gotten them all first-class tickets on a direct flight to Oahu, so they were the first ones on board, stowing their carry-ons and sinking into the luxurious seats. A couple of other people tried to get seated in the section, but Elsie made them hallucinate emergency phone calls, and they went running off the plane, leaving the whole front cabin to her own people.

Nicolette had booked herself the seat next to Elsie in the left-hand front row, but the older witch shook her head and told her to change places with Crapsey. Nicolette sullenly sat down beside Jason, who did his best to appear engrossed in a SkyMall catalog. Talion sat by himself, obsessively touching the places on his face where his piercings had been. Crapsey sat down beside Elsie – she got the window seat, naturally – and tried not to think about whether she was actively carcinogenic at the moment.

Elsie put a hand on his knee. “Cheer up, evil twin. I have a surprise for you. The Mason enchanted your prosthetic jaw, isn’t that right? So you could bite through steel and eat hot lava and things like that? And there were other spells, too, laid on the jaw, things that could affect your whole body, transform you in various ways.”

Crapsey massaged his chin. The Mason had ripped his jaw off when he was just a little kid, and later fitted him with a magical carved wooden prosthesis, decorated with intricate runes, though just now the jaw was glamoured to look like ordinary flesh. “Yeah, but she was the one who controlled the spells, not me.”

Elsie tapped the side of her head. “The host body still has some memories rolling around in here, and guess what: I made a list for you.” She passed him a slip of paper with a dozen seemingly random words jotted down. “All the controls were attached to this body, too, so: I hereby give you ownership of your own face. Those are the trigger words. Just be careful not to use one of them in casual conversation, or you might end up biting someone’s head off. Literally.”

Crapsey blinked. “That’s… thank you, Elsie, this means a lot. But which keyword does what? There’s no guide here.”

Elsie nodded. “I know! Trial and error is so entertaining! But don’t worry, I didn’t include the keyword that makes your jaw self-destruct, so don’t worry about stumbling across that one. Unless you accidentally just say it, like in the course of ordinary conversation, but it’s a pretty obscure word, I wouldn’t worry. Just don’t go reading the entire dictionary aloud, and maybe refrain from taking up metallurgy as a hobby, or at least talking about the field too much.”

Crapsey winced, nodded, and folded up the paper, slipping it into his pocket. He’d never much liked it when the Mason invoked his jaw’s powers – it just reminded him of how he was damaged and weird and altered – so he was content to put the note away for now.

The flight attendants came by and checked their seat belts, and the plane took off soon after, more or less on time. Soon after they were airborne and settled in for the twelve-hour flight, the attendants took requests, and everyone asked for and received booze.

Crapsey poured his tiny bottle of Scotch over the two ice cubes in his plastic cup. He sighed. “Look, it’s none of my business, but Nicolette made me promise I’d ask you – why don’t you just get rid of Doctor Husch and be on your merry way?”

“I can’t say I like having strings attached to me.” Elsie tipped her head back and loudly gargled the contents of a miniature vodka bottle before continuing. “But it’s not that easy. Husch, while she’s inside the Blackwing Institute, is pretty much unassailable. She’s wrapped in all the same defenses the building is. She’s not an extension of the place, exactly, but she’s definitely sheltering in its protection. A lot of that protection was designed especially to thwart little old me. Now, give me a couple of years to raise hell and get my power levels up – or hand me the right lever to pry Husch out of her fortress, where she’s exposed and vulnerable – and it’ll be a different story, but for now, every chain in the place leads to Husch, and I’m on one of her leashes. Besides, you wouldn’t want me to be free – you want me to kill Marla, right? And I wouldn’t have any reason to bother with some exiled sorcerer if Husch wasn’t making it a condition of my parole.”

“I don’t really mind Marla,” Crapsey admitted. “It’s her friend Rondeau I hate, mostly.”

“Differing agendas are so delicious. I eat them up like tasty tasty cake. There’s nothing I love more than cross-purposes and conflicts of interests, except maybe tornadoes made of screaming glass.” She patted Crapsey’s knee. “You know, you only hate Rondeau because you wish you had his life.”

“And here I thought I hated him because I used to be able to take over anybody at will, until he trapped me in this one body like a bug in a bottle.”

“Nope, it’s that thing I said. But don’t worry, we’ll hurt Rondeau too, I don’t mind. I can do a two-for-one special.”

Crapsey gestured toward Talion. “If you don’t mind me asking, why’d you bring him onto the team? Just to increase complexity? More of those agendas and cross-purposes?”

“Having someone who hates me and will betray me at the first opportunity is nice, of course, but there are practical considerations, too. We’ve got yours truly, a master imposter, a confidence man with a personal connection to Marla, a born lackey with a magical jaw and the power to Curse – that’s cute, by the way, little primal burps of chaos, I like it – and a one-armed wannabe chaos magician with an axe she doesn’t know how to use. What we don’t have, or rather didn’t have, is a straight-up fighter, someone who can take the kind of punishment I hear Marla likes to dish out, and give as good as he gets. Magic’s all well and good, but Marla’s a face-puncher, a nose-breaker, a hamstring-cutter, and an ass-kicker by all accounts, so it might come to fisticuffs. Especially since I have another recruit waiting for us in Oahu.”

“Another old friend of yours?” Crapsey said.

Elsie shook her head. “No, actually. Dr. Husch knows him. His name’s Christian Decomain, and he’s an anti-mancer.”

“Which means… what?”

“He negates magic. He’s a counterspell expert with an suppressive aura. Get close to him and spells fizzle, psychics lose their special insight, and levitators fall out of the sky. He’ll be fun to have around. Of course, he thinks of himself as a good guy, so Dr. Husch had to tell him that Marla was having a psychotic break and threatening to destroy the Hawai’ian islands. He thinks we’re just going to take her into custody, for her own good. It’ll be fun to put him next to Marla, then let Talion try to beat the crap out of her.”

“But when this Decomain guy realizes that we’re not just trying to capture Marla…”

Elsie nodded. “Fun, right? He’ll be super pissed. I’m not sure how that’s all going to work out, since I can’t mind-control him, but we’ll improvise. You’ve got a knife, right?”

Crapsey nodded.

“Good. If Christian gets out of line, I’ll need you to stab him in the neck. Negating magic means he can’t use magic to protect himself, so unless he’s wearing a suit of armor, he should be vulnerable to a direct attack.” She reclined her seat and closed her eyes. “Don’t let anyone disturb me, Crapsey dear.”

“I thought you didn’t sleep?”

“I don’t. I’m going astral projecting. Who needs an in-flight movie when you can travel invisibly anywhere on Earth?”

“What are you planning on going to see?”

“I’ve been locked in a magical cube for years,” she said. “What do you think? I’m going to go watch famous people have sex.”

Crapsey had no idea whether she was telling the truth or not, and wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He called for another drink.


“I think that’s everything.” Marla slipped Death’s bell into her pocket, careful not to let it ring. “The other things we need we can pick up on the Big Island.” She looked around the suite Rondeau had rented for her, trying to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything, though she was less concerned about leaving a hairbrush than leaving, say, a jar of cursed seawater or an enchanted nene feather.

Pelham had emptied his steamer trunk, the glamoured bedsheet now an ordinary piece of fabric again, and Marla had filled the space with those magical and practical supplies she’d managed to scrounge up that afternoon: glass vials full of rarefied airs, a box of precisely shattered pocketwatches, hatpins with blood crusted on the points, and other nice things.

Rondeau let himself in – there was no way to keep him from having a key, despite Marla’s best efforts. “You guys almost ready? I booked us in at a resort on the west coast of the Big Island, and I got us on a plane tonight. It’s only about a twenty-minute flight, and we’re good for late check-in.”

“Three rooms, right?” Marla said.

“Two connecting, one across the hall, though they all have two double beds. I like to have one bed just for jumping up and down on, so – ”

“Not this time. You and Pelham can share a room.”

Rondeau raised an eyebrow. “You need two rooms?”

“I do,” Marla said.

“Then why didn’t you tell me to book four rooms – ”

Marla shook her head. “Three rooms, three people, it makes sense. When Nicolette and company come looking for us, I want them to see exactly what they expect to see. If we had four rooms, they’d wonder what the other one was for. Trust me on this, Rondeau. We’re about to get into a fight. I’m good at those.”

Rondeau raised his hands in mock surrender. “Fine, you’re the boss. Oh, wait, no you’re not, you’re, like, my ward – ”

Marla put her hand on his shoulder. “I know. And I’m sorry if I’m still acting like I have a right to tell you what to do without explanation. So: that extra room is going to be filled with traces of me, my clothes, bits of my hair, a little bit of my blood. I’m going to disguise my presence in the other room, and that fake room is also going to have some really nasty magical traps primed, so if anyone comes in unannounced, following a divination and looking to grab me, they’ll get something more unpleasant instead. Which reminds me, we’d better keep the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on that door at all times. I’d hate to spring a nest of shadow snakes on housekeeping. Okay?”

“That kinda makes sense,” Rondeau said. “But I still don’t see why you get your own room and I have to share.”

“Boys in one room, girls in the other. It’s traditional. Plus, I’m probably going to be doing a lot of enchanting, and that means weird smells and sounds and lights. You don’t want to be in there with me. You’re here as my friend, Rondeau, not a guy on my payroll. I know that, and if I ask too much of you, I’m sorry. I hope you know I’d do the same for you, if you needed it. ”

He sighed. “I know. Just be ready. I’m going to get myself into some hellaciously big trouble and make you bail me out of it pretty soon, just to keep the balance right in our relationship.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Marla said. “Now help Pelham carry that trunk, would you?”


Reva sat next to Marla on the flight to the Big Island, unpleasantly close due to the narrow seats on the little puddle-jumper aircraft. “I love the windowseat,” Reva said, once they were airborne.

Marla, who was the one actually sitting in the windowseat, grunted. She didn’t offer to switch places. She was over the wing anyway, so it wasn’t like the view was that great, but it was the principle of the thing.

“Looking down on the world, seeing the shape of the land, it’s like being a god.” He chuckled in an extremely annoying fashion. “Trust me. I should know.”

“Water looks like water whether you’re ten feet above it or ten thousand.” Marla looked out at the wing, wishing for a gremlin to appear, “Terror at Forty-Thousand Feet”-style, because hitting something would do her good, and dealing with a supernatural incursion at high-altitude posed some interesting tactical problems. Then again, she shouldn’t make wishes like that – with Pelham on board, there was a non-trivial chance the admittedly gremlin-like Nuno could appear at any moment. With all the chaos of solving a murder and preparing for war, they hadn’t had time to try a ritual cleansing to get rid of his infestation yet.

After a too-brief interval of silence, Reva started up again: “I hope you won’t hold Pelham’s little lie against him. He was just doing what he thought was best – ”

“I don’t hold it against him,” Marla said. “I hold it against you. The whole stupid plan to give me a fake murder investigation was your idea, and I know gods can be convincing. Pelham’s not the most worldly guy, despite all his traveling – he still has a bad habit of taking people at face value and thinking the best of them.”

“I do mean well, Marla – I want to help you find a new home, or adjust to the lack of a home, and at the very least I want to keep your enemies from killing you.”

“That’s why I’m not kicking up a fuss about your company – because I could use some extra firepower. Though I’m wondering what you can do exactly. Why are you even on this plane? Shouldn’t you be able to fly to the Big Island or something?”

“And miss the pleasure of your company?” His quirked smile was almost cute, but only almost. “When I take on a human form, like this one, I take on certain human limitations. Like the inability to fly. I could give up the body, and regain greater powers, but I find it easiest to deal with people when I’m being people. It makes me… think more like a human. When I’m fully a god, not using a human brain to do my thinking, not subject to the glandular passions that govern humankind, everything is a bit… cold. Abstract. Impersonal. The difference between being in the water, or thousands of feet above it. I don’t like that feeling. This is better. Besides, I’m not without resources – I have a certain degree of magical ability, and as Pelham told you, I have the power to… interact at a primal level with the mind of anyone who considers herself out-of-place or away from home. Your assassins aren’t likely to be local, so that could be useful.”

“Mind control, huh? How… godly.”

A flash of irritation crossed his face. “Again. It’s not. Mind control. It just makes people receptive to bargains, and I’m always careful to give more than I get. You have a history of meddling in people’s lives, too.”

“Yeah, but I’m a person, so it’s different.” She yawned. “Anyway, you’re going to have to get your own hotel room. I didn’t book one for you.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I don’t expect you to give me accommodations. All it takes is one clerk or concierge who isn’t a native Hawai’ian, and I’ll be staying in a better room than you are.”

“Sounds like mind control to me,” she said, and put on a pair of headphones before he could object again.



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