11. The Dead, Walking on the Beach

Marla found Arachne seated on a broad, flat stone beside a pool of water fed by a stream that plummeted off a higher cliff, and could have been called a waterfall by someone feeling sufficiently generous. The kahuna was weaving together a mat of vines and leaves and grasses. That was how she worked her magic, apparently, though Marla didn’t know the details – she’d never been much of a maker, so it wasn’t a discipline she favored. “Aloha,” she said, leaning against a tree, after making sure there weren’t any bugs or lizards on the trunk. Hawai’i was too damned fecund by half.

Arachne ignored Marla until she’d finished plaiting together a few more bits of plant fiber, then looked up. She was in her forties, probably, with long black hair woven into intricate (and, doubtless, magically significant) braids, dressed in a skirt of ti leaves. She was topless, apart from a cascade of shell necklaces, which was actually more modest than the swimsuits a lot of the tourists wore on beaches. She looked at Marla, her face expressionless. “Aloha,” she said after a long moment. “What can I do for you, Marla Mason?”

“I was wondering if you know anything about a pack of surfers, led by a guy named Glyph?”

“They have no ‘leader,'” Arachne said. “They are a collective. Glyph is more connected to the secular world than some of the others, so he is often their spokesman. I suppose they showed a certain deference to their eldest member, Ronin. He has, sadly, passed away.”

“I know. He was murdered, and they’ve hired me to find out who did it. Any ideas?”

“Why ask me?” Arachne said.

Marla thought about that, and decided she might as well go with honesty. “I don’t know anybody to ask. The locals haven’t gone out of their way to make me feel welcome..”

Arachne half-smiled. “All right. You did me a good turn, and you have been discreet about our dealings, so I am willing to help. I fear I cannot offer much: the wave-mages have no enemies, as far as I know. They spend most of their time in the water, drawing their power from the sea – its motion, its depths, the life that teems within it, the deaths that sink down. They use their power to help the very sea that gives them that power. They have no goals – they just want to be connected to the ocean, which they know is their mother, and their father, and their confessor, and their grave. How can people with no goals make enemies?”

“Good question.” Marla crouched down and leaned her back against the tree. “I guess that’s been my problem all along – too many goals. What can you tell me about Ronin?”

“He was old. Older than I am, and I am older than I seem. He came from Japan, originally, though he has lived here for a long time. Do you know what the name he chose means?”

“Ronin? It’s some kind of samurai, right? My friend Rondeau made me watch a movie called Ronin once, but it was just some crime thing.”

“A Ronin is a masterless samurai,” Arachne said. “It means ‘wave man,’ which is appropriate for a sorcerer devoted to the sea, but more specifically it means someone carried by the waves. Someone given over to the waves, and taken wherever those waves take him. I met him a few times. I gather he had a dark past, that he had performed terrible acts, and that he had chosen to give up his own personal agency in favor of letting the sea guide his actions.” She shrugged, and began weaving again. “How can a man who makes no decisions make an enemy? A mystery.”

“It couldn’t have been a random attack, though. Whoever did this has big magic, and used it to cover their tracks.”

“Perhaps a dark sorcerer hoped to steal his power?” Arachne said. “We’ve had experience with such people before, as you know. Everyone who comes to Hawai’i wants something, it seems. Our fish. Our soil. To own the beauty of our islands, and make them ugly in the process.”

“Right. So it must have been an out-of-towner, then.” Marla had read enough mystery novels to know that people always wanted to blame atrocities on outsiders.

“I suppose it’s more likely it was someone close to him,” she said. “Aren’t most murders committed by those who know the victim? Though I hate to think so. One of the others in the collective, perhaps? It is hard to imagine any of them striking against Ronin, but they are certainly powerful, and probably capable of hiding the signs of such a crime. As I said, they aren’t hierarchical, so there couldn’t have been much of an advantage in killing Ronin… but there may be currents and schisms and conflicts in their group that are unknown to me. It’s hard to know how close they are, truly – if they’re more like a family, or more like a nest of ants.”

“Families kill each other all the time,” Marla said, thinking of her brother.

“This is true,” Arachne said. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Her tone said she hoped not.

Marla brushed a many-legged, winged thing away from her face. “You ever heard of a guy named Reva? Claims to be a god of the lost and the exiled?”

Arachne frowned. “I sensed the arrival of a minor power, and heard rumors, but I have not encountered this being myself. You have?”

“He introduced himself, yeah. He thinks I’m primed to become one of his worshippers, I guess.”

Arachne grunted. “Serving a god is a tricky business.”

“I don’t serve anyone,” Marla said. Or anyplace. Not anymore. “Anyway, thanks. Sorry to bother you.” She stood up.

“Wait,” Arachne said. “I doubt it is important, but… the wave-mages, they occasionally recruit, and they have been grooming a new member, a boy named… John? Luke? Something like that. He shows some natural aptitude for magic, and has the appropriate reverence for the sea, but he is not… hmmm… ‘assimilated’ yet? He may be able to give you a more informed perspective on the group than I can, since he knows them, but is not yet fully of them.”

“Hey, a lead’s a lead,” Marla said. “I’ll talk to him. Do you know where I can find him?”

“He works at a dive shop called Handsome Bob’s, in Napili,” she said. “Beyond that, I do not know – he is often out on the water.”

“Thanks – uh, mahalo, Arachne. I owe you one.”

Arachne bowed her head in acknowledgment. “I shall keep you in mind if I need future assistance. I wish you luck in your investigations. Ronin was… a good man, or at least, a man trying to be good.”

“That’s all any of us can do,” Marla said. “Though some people don’t even bother. Aloha.”


Marla found Pelham looking down at one of the seven sacred pools. “What, you don’t want to go for a dip?”

“It looks enticing,” he admitted, “but I thought it would be ill-advised to be submerged in water, in case you had need of my assistance.”

“My visit went off without a hitch, though I don’t know if I accomplished much. Arachne did suggest someone I could talk to, though. You up for the drive back around the island?”

“Of course. But, may I suggest you stop for a meal along the way? I fear you don’t take proper care of yourself.”

Marla sighed. “I’ve always been better at taking care of other people, and by ‘taking care of,’ I guess I mean ‘beating up.’ Sure, let’s eat. I bet you have a place in mind, right?”

Pelham drove her to Mama’s Fish House, a restaurant on the North shore, about halfway back to Lahaina. At first, she objected because it was too fancy, but Pelham started going on about how she was married to a god, her worth exceeded those of diamonds and gold, and she agreed to eat there just to get him to shut up. The restaurant was nestled in a gorgeous cove and surrounded by palm trees, the walls of the building mostly windows, and thus largely open to the air. The place was decorated with tiki sculptures and outrigger canoes and oversized bird cages – it might have been kitschy anywhere else, but this was Hawai’i, and they were probably actual local antiques. The hostess led them to a table near a window, and a delicious sea breeze wafted through, cooling them as Marla read the menu. “Wait,” she said, “this thing tells you the name of the guy who caught the fish.”

“Let’s hope it tastes good, then,” Pelham said. “Or you’ll know the man to whom you should complain.”

“Ha.” Marla was a long way from being a foodie – she tended to think of food as fuel, and got by on jerky, peanut butter, power bars, and boiled eggs most of the time. Really enjoying food seemed like an indulgence, and indulgences were for the weak… but what was the pressing reason to be strong? Sure, Nicolette and Jason were apparently coming to try and kill her, but Nicolette had never been half as good as she thought she was, and Jason… well, she still had hope she could talk to him, and talk him out of whatever he was doing, and anyway, he wasn’t going to get the drop on her. Whatever chance they’d had to kill her had been blown as soon as Death told her about it, as far as she was concerned. Forewarned was forearmed and all that. Eating something opulent wasn’t going to put her in mortal danger.

They ordered lobster guacamole to share – so that’s what heaven tasted like, good to know – and she got the stuffed mahi mahi. Pelham ordered prawns, and welcome to them. Marla thought the things were too rubbery by half, though Pelly said she’d just never had a good one. They chatted, and it was pleasant. He was a lot less deferential than he used to be. Traveling the world for a few months had been good for him. He actually told her some jokes, though his delivery could’ve used a little work, and –

Marla dropped her fork, and it hit her plate with a clatter. She half rose from her chair, craning her head to look out the nearest window. Pelham looked at her with alarm until she shook her head and sat back down. “Can’t be,” she muttered.

“What’s wrong?” Pelham twisted in his chair to look out the window. “Did you see something?”

“Someone. Someone who’s supposed to be dead – damn it, who is dead, she must be. Probably just someone with a resemblance… . Listen, I’ll be right back, okay?” Marla tossed her napkin onto the table and rose from her chair again, winding her way through the tables toward the walkway that led out of the restaurant. She caught a glimpse of a woman with short blonde hair, in a white silk blouse and flowy white pants, disappearing around a stand of trees.

Marla followed her, soon reaching a small but gorgeous stretch of beach, a miniature cove adjacent to the restaurant. A family was posing on an outrigger canoe (or a prop recreation of one) on the sand while the mother took photos, and a few other tourists were wandering around, but the woman was down by the water, alone. It was hard to tell from the back, and from this distance, but the way she carried herself…

The woman turned, looked at Marla, and raised her hand to wave.

Marla hissed in a sharp breath, the same sound she might make if she’d inadvertently burned herself. Even thirty feet away, there was no mistaking the angular beauty of Susan Wellstone, Marla’s onetime rival for the rulership of Felport. Susan had dropped her plans to assassinate Marla and seized the opportunity to become chief sorcerer of San Francisco instead, but that hadn’t made the two of them any friendlier, so seeing her was never a pleasure.

But this time was worse, because Susan was dead, murdered many weeks ago on the West Coast. So what was this? A ghost? Ghosts tended to haunt specific people or places related to their deaths, so what would Susan’s shade be doing outside Mama’s Fish House? More likely it was someone wearing an illusion to fuck with Marla’s head.

As Marla approached, she let her goddess-vision rise, dispelling all illusions… but the woman by the water’s edge didn’t change at all. “You’re not a ghost,” Marla said, stepping beside Susan. “You’re not wearing a glamour of bent light and twisted perception, either. So what the fuck are you? Evil twin? Or, ha, good twin? A clone? Did Susan make herself a backup body and download her consciousness?”

The couldn’t-be-Susan looked at Marla, her gaze disconcerting as always because of her heterochromia: one eye was green, the other blue. “You’re going to die,” she said. “Your past is catching up with you – and your future is catching up with you, too, and isn’t that so much scarier? I don’t know why I’m not dead anymore – I was, they tell me I was – but I’m glad to be back, so I can see your suffering, followed by your end.”

“Threatening me never worked out that well for you when you were alive,” Marla said.

“Ah, but you had friends then, Marla. You had power, and influence, and artifacts.” Susan – no, not Susan, don’t buy the bullshit – knelt and reached into the sea, cupping her hands and lifting up a measure of glistening water. “But you let all that go, didn’t you?” Susan opened her hands, and the water poured out onto the sand. Marla gasped, doubling over and vomiting up all the water she’d drunk at lunch, and pretty much everything else in her stomach, too. A simple but nasty bit of sympathetic magic, entangling the handful of sea water with the water in Marla’s belly – pouring one out had caused the other to come pouring out as well. Marla straightened, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, the surge of nausea thankfully passed. She looked around, but Susan’s double was nowhere to be seen, and the family by the outrigger canoe was staring at her with horror.

“Stay away from the prawns,” Marla called, and they turned away, talking amongst themselves. No one showed any gratitude anymore. Kneeling – not too close to her puke – Marla scanned the ground and tried to find a trace of Susan’s footprints, but this was a popular restaurant, and a lot of customers had come down this way, so the sand was pretty well crisscrossed. With her goddess-vision still active, Marla scanned the beach, in case Susan had draped herself in a glamour, but there was no one here but ordinaries. She trudged back up the beach toward the restaurant.

Pelham was still at the table, fretfully twisting a napkin. Marla sat across from him and took a long sip of ice water to clear out her mouth. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“I think those old enemies Death mentioned have made their first move,” Marla said. “They’ve got better tricks than I expected, I’ll give them that. Way beyond what Nicolette or my brother could come up with alone. Makes me wonder who else is in on this little vendetta.”

“What should we do?” Pelham asked.

Marla shrugged. “Lay traps. Get prepared. But first, we’ve got a murder to solve.”

“Surely the case can wait, if your enemies are attacking – ”

“That wasn’t an attack. It was a taunt. And I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of changing my plans just because they did a little something like raising the dead.”


“Are you Handsome Bob?”

The grizzled, white-bearded, sun-roughened man behind the counter grinned, showing incongruously white and shiny teeth. “Look at this face. You’re telling me that ain’t self-evident? Yeah, I’m Bob. What can I do you for?”

“You’ve got a kid working for you,” Marla said. “His name’s John, or Luke, or – ”

“Jon-Luc,” Bob said. “His parents are French, or from French Polynesia, hell, I forget which. He mess up a transaction or something?”

“Not at all,” Marla said. “He recommended a great snorkeling spot on the road to Hana, and I just wanted to thank him, and see if he had any other tips.”

Bob grunted. “Normally I’d be offended you aren’t asking me, but I have to admit, even though I’ve lived here twenty years, that boy knows more good hidden spots than I do. He’s out back hosing off some equipment.”

Marla and Pelham went where he directed, down an aisle full of dangling snorkels and facemasks in assorted styles, and out the back door to a little concrete slab where a boy of perhaps nineteen with a shaggy blond mop of hair stood, washing sand off a row of brightly colored body boards.

“Jon-Luc?” Marla said, and the boy turned off the water and looked over, his face open and guileless.

“Can I help you ma’am?”

“I think we have a mutual friend,” Marla said. “Glyph? My name’s Marla. I’m… helping Glyph out with something. You know what I’m talking about?”

The boy swallowed, and nodded.

“Great,” Marla said. “Want to take a break? I’ll buy you a soda.”


Jon-Luc cleared it with his boss, then walked with Marla across the parking lot to a little restaurant that specialized in mixed plates, that uniquely Hawai’ian collision of Pacific and Asian cuisine, and secretly one of Marla’s favorite things about life on the island. The three of them took seats around a metal table under an umbrella in one corner of the wooden deck, just a few steps from the beach and a few yards from the ocean. Marla was hungry, having lost most of the lunch she’d eaten at Mama’s Fish House, so she ordered the kalua pig and cabbage plate, which came with the traditional one scoop of macaroni salad and two scoops of rice. Jon-Luc and Pelham made do with iced tea, and once they were all settled, Marla gave Jon-Luc her best friendly smile and said, “So, which one of your friends murdered Ronin, anyway?”

The kid went all wide-eyed, mouth falling open, but Marla kept smiling. He looked at Pelham, who nodded encouragingly. “Uh,” Jon-Luc said. “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think it was any of my friends.”

Marla leaned across the table toward him. “Here’s the thing. Somebody cut Ronin’s throat, which means he had an enemy. Except he didn’t, because as far as I can tell he spent literally all his time out paddling around in the waves with his buddies. So if I’m looking for suspects, I have to look first at his friends. You get it?”

Jon-Luc pushed some hair out of his face, sighed, and shook his head. “I get it. But I don’t think you do. Glyph and them… they’re like one person. They have to remind themselves to talk out loud when I’m around. None of them would try to kill Ronin – that would be like trying to kill your, I don’t know, your lungs or heart or something.”

“Come on,” Marla said. “There’s no conflict in the group? No disagreements on philosophy – some who want to save the whales, and some who want to kill the whalers? Anything?”

Jon-Luc shook his head. “No way, they’re in perfect harmony, with nature and with one another, they – ”

“They tell all the newcomers that,” a kindly voice said. “But it’s not true, oh no, not true at all, how could they be all one mind when even one mind is all full of contradictions and conflicts and inner voices shouting, shouting over everyone and each other and everything?”

Marla twisted around in her chair, grinning at the woman in a dripping wetsuit standing on the steps down to the beach. “Well, this is really turning into a reunion show. Nice to see you.”

“True true, I am very nice to see,” the Bay Witch agreed.

  • Coleman

    March 7th, 2012


    Marla…. really needs to get her position in Felport back or something, or just needs some plain our revenge of her own she hasn’t really had good satisfying vengeance in a while i think.

    i hope she kills Susan herself, she never got to do that and i think that’d maybe be pretty… satisfying for her perhaps.

    she really needs a girlfriend… or a boyfriend, but boyfriends are so… out of season least for me.

    eh i think a good girlfriend would be just what she needs. eh she’s failed with 2 men horribly at least, first Daniel sorta, then uhhh… who was that other guy? guy… incubus no not that… guy with incubus seduction thing.

    eh anyway, too many heroines getting together with heroes or villains or ex villains, she really oughta get together with a woman. male love interests are just sooo last season… for me at least.

    • admin

      March 7th, 2012


      Eh… Marla doesn’t really do romance. One of the important things to me about her is that she never defines herself at all in terms of romantic relationships.

      I also think she’d be terrible in a real relationship. She’s barely capable of having functional friendships.

      Besides, then she might be happy, and happy characters make for boring novels. :)

      • Coleman

        March 7th, 2012


        hmm true i guess.

        still kinda sad to see her all alone almost… could give her a friend to have some great benefits with.

        she still has that other dagger right? which is it the dagger the walking death gave her, or the other one the one the alternate Marla had? eh just curious.

        • admin

          March 7th, 2012


          She might have another fling in the future. And she *is* married — I’ve been a bit ambiguous about her *exact* relationship with Death, or where it might go.

          She kept the one Death gave her, since it was a gift, and left the Mason’s daughter in Felport as their “dagger of office.”

      • Coleman

        March 7th, 2012


        heh ever watch Oz?, eh if not well its a great prison show, full of fun facts, and is one of the most accurate prison shows ever created possibly.

        heh, just wondering cause, i think it’d be funny to see Marla end up in prison, and then see her end up quickly taking it over or something.

        eh, Oz, is just the sorta show Marla’d love i think. or you if these books are any indication of your tastes in stuff.

        dark, dramatic, anyone can die pretty much, full of all sorts of graphic horrors, and just all sorts of awesome stuff.

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