Chapter eight

I was silent for a minute, thinkin’. It was too early to warn him—chances were he wouldn’t come right out and ask how I knew Eastwick was rotten, but Chrian was a smart kid. He’d wonder.

“Is that all,” I said. “Yeh don’t have to worry about that. I s’pose yeh’ve been hearin’ complaints about how he’s a harsh grader.” Chrian nodded. “He ain’t harsh—he just plays favourites, that’s all, and what he favours is power. Yeh’re pretty powerful, yes?”

“I suppose,” Chrian said uncomfortably.

“Yeh s’pose,” I repeated. “Yeh oughta know by now.”

“I’m a powerful enough magician,” Chrian said, “I just don’t see that that makes me, you know, powerful. If it came to a fight between the two of us, for example, I could destroy you, easily, but so what? It would be much wiser to listen to you, even if I don’t like what you’re saying—especially if I don’t like what you’re saying.”

I grinned.

“Smart kid. This is somethin’ Aris told me, and it’s worth hearin’, so pay attention.”

“Aris,” Chrian said awkwardly. “That was your roommate before me, right?” I nodded. “I was—I mean, I’m sorry. That he—that he died. I heard it was—hard.”

“Yeah?” I scoffed, thinkin’ a’ the way people looked at me when I went to class. “What did people tell you? No, never mind, I don’t want to know, I can imagine. Like they’d know anything about it.” I paused, then said more gently, cause he was lookin’ scared, “Aris was the most worthwhile person I’ve ever met, but I don’t think anyone realized it. He was so—and they never—” I stopped. What was there to say? I still missed him, every moment, and not just for my own sake. He deserved more a’ the world, and it made me angry to hear the way people talked about him, even when they talked sympathetically. “Yeh said nothin’ wrong, Chrian. I appreciate your sympathy,” and it was true.

“So what did he say to you?” Chrian asked timidly after a moment a’ silence.

“We were talkin’ about power,” I said. “Aris couldn’t scrap for his life, and if I’d wanted to I could a’ beaten him, almost as easily as yeh could beat me, only I couldn’t a’ actually raised a hand against him to save my own life, cause he was worth too much. I told him what I had meant nothin’, really, and he said, ‘Not nothing, Tam. People tend to think that mere physical power means nothing, especially after you see other kinds, but it isn’t true. It does means something, in you especially. It means something very important to me.’”

“What did he mean?” Chrian asked. I laughed.

“We were sixteen years old at the time and we’d just been waylaid by a bunch a’ roughs out in our old neighbourhood, and I won the scrap. At that particular moment it meant he weren’t in the hospital with broken bones.”

Chrian was lookin’ at me with the wide-eyed surprise a’ someone who’s never lived in a gang neighbourhood.

“Did that happen often?”

“Not so much after I got to be about seventeen,” I replied casually. “They learned it was better to have me fightin’ with them than against them.”

Chrian nodded, and didn’t ask any more questions.

“Come talk to me after yeh’ve seen Eastwick,” I told him a little later. “I read him pretty well—I can tell you whether yeh’re in trouble or not.”

Chrian nodded, and thanked me, and not long after that we went to bed.

Morning classes went to about a half hour before twelve, then there was an hour break, then lunch was served in the cafeteria at twelve thirty. Chrian’s magic theory class was his last class before lunch, and then he’d have his meeting, and I knew he weren’t the kind a’ person to hang around in the caf or the student room or anywhere else while he was waitin’ for lunch, so soon’s my class was done I headed back to our dorm room, and was waitin’ there about twenty minutes before he came in, lookin’ thoughtful and apprehensive. He dropped his books neatly onto his desk and leaned against the wall.

I slipped the book a’ runes, which I’d been studyin’ in the meantime, under my pillow and asked how it went.

“Well, it wasn’t bad,” he replied. “But I have no idea what to think, or what to do.”

Eastwick’s a bastard, I thought. Tryin’ to recruit a kid like Chrian, alone in a strange city, dependent on grades to keep his scholarship. If Eastwick had appeared in our room right then I woulda put his head through the wall.

“So tell me what he said,” I said. Tell me the lies he’s usin’ to recruit students.

“He said he was looking for students to do an extracurricular project with him,” Chrian replied. “He said it wouldn’t show up in our grades, as such, but—I forget how he put it, but basically that we’d get a better grade in his class for doing it.”

And afterwards he could explain what it was yeh’d done, and yeh could either do a hell of a lot a’ jail time and be ruined for life, or yeh could continue to help him.

“Akeinan,” I hissed. Chrian looked at me oddly.

“You speak elfish?”

“No,” I replied. “I just know a couple words.” A couple swears I’d picked up from Orseth and Marya. “Do yeh think yeh’ll do it?”

“I don’t know. It seems like cheating, somehow.”

“Yeh heard much about Eastwick?”

“Not much,” the boy said. “Just that he’s—that he has favourites and that he’s not a nice person. But, on the other hand,” he added slowly, “I don’t want—I mean, if others are going to be doing it—”

“Yeh don’t want to be the only one who refused,” I finished for him. “C’mon, it’s time for lunch.”

Chrian picked up his books for afternoon classes and paused at the door.

“You seem upset.”

“Don’t like Eastwick,” I replied shortly. “Hurry it up—I’m famished.”

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Chapter nine

We got our lunch and I pushed Chrian straight to the junior sparks’ table. He shied visibly when he saw where we were going, but I dragged him on. One thing about hangin’ out in the Caves—if yeh have the guts to walk into a vampire bar a little thing like sittin’ with upperclass sparks ain’t intimidating at all.

“Er, Dev, Kate,” I said, “this is Chrian.” There was a pause and I added, “my new roommate,” so no one else would have to say it. Er said hey, and Dev and Kate nodded—stuck up asses—and Chrian nodded back, too shy to say anything.

“He just got outta a meeting with Eastwick,” I said when we were all settled. “Any advice?”

“He asked you to join his project too?” Er asked. Chrian nodded, and asked:

“Are you going to do it?” Er shrugged.

“I haven’t decided yet. He wouldn’t tell me anything specific about it, and I have a lot of schoolwork already.”

“I was thinking it seems a little unfair,” Chrian said hesitantly. “It doesn’t seem right that a practical magic project should give me a better grade in theory.”

“Not like the two aren’t connected,” Dev said lazily.

“It’s favouritism,” I said. “Ain’t like I expect to get a decent grade in his class anyway, but Chrian’s right—this ain’t fair.”

Dev didn’t answer, just looked at me scornfully, and Er frowned.

“He’s always favoured the powerful sparks,” I continued, ignorin’ Dev. “He never gave Aris a decent mark either, and he knew more about magic theory than most a’ the sparks.”

I could see Dev not sayin’ somethin’ insulting only cause Aris was dead.

“Aris knew more about magic theory than even I did,” Er said. “Did Eastwick really mark him down that much? He can’t be that biased.”

“Nearly failed him one semester,” I replied.

“Well, I might do it, if I can find the time,” Dev said. “I don’t see that it’s that unfair.”

Dammit, I thought. Serve him right if he did get sucked in. But I couldn’t let it go without some kind a’ warning, even for someone like Dev.

“It ain’t just that it’s unfair,” I said. “Yeh’ve heard the rumours about Eastwick.”

There was a brief silence, then Er said, “What rumours?”

I stopped eatin’ and looked around the table.

“Really? Yeh ain’t heard?”

“Heard what?” Er said again, patiently. I put my fork down and leaned back.

“Y’know, the trouble with sparks is that yeh live too much in your own part a’ town. Bet yeh’ve never been to the southeast.”

“No one goes there,” Kate said scornfully.

“Bet yeh’ve never been to the Caves either.”

“No one goes there,” Dev repeated. “No one decent.”

I grinned, and Dev shifted uncomfortably.

“What have you heard?” Er asked for the third time.

“Eastwick ain’t clean,” I said briefly, and started eatin’ again. For a while no one said anything.

“What do you mean, he’s not clean?” Chrian asked finally.

“I can’t believe,” I said, between bites, “that yeh really haven’t heard that. Did anyone just come out and ask what the project was?”

“I did,” Er frowned. “Or at least, I tried to. He was really—really evasive about it.”

“Evasive enough to make yeh wonder why?” Er thought, carefully, and nodded. “So this is my advice—if yeh can find anyone who can tell yeh definitely what the project is, go ahead and take it. It ain’t fair, but it ain’t like he’s fair anyway and I don’t care about that. If yeh can’t, yeh probably want to leave it alone—less yeh don’t care about bein’ clean either.”

“I don’t believe it,” Dev said. “Where’d you hear it, anyway? Some jealous fashers? Druggies in the slums? Do you have a credible source?”

I thought a’ Sebas and Lawrence and Suora—especially Suora—and shrugged. I’d a’ liked to see Dev go up against Suora—that’d cut him down pretty quick.

“Is it the kind a’ thing yeh want to risk?”

“No,” Er said definitely. “I won’t risk it. You can do what you want, Dev,” he added, as Dev started to protest, “but I’m staying out.”

“I don’t care if you don’t care,” Chrian added, quietly, to me. “It’s not fair. I’m not doing it.”

Dev looked at Kate, and Kate said, with the same heavy scorn, “I don’t need some extra credit project and I don’t like Eastwick. I’m not doing it either.”

Dev didn’t say anything, and continued to not say anything through the rest a’ lunch, but I didn’t care that much. I had Er on my side, and I could tell by the thoughtful way he kept glancin’ at me that he’d spread the warning around and keep other people out too. If Dev chose to join up with Eastwick that was his lookout now.

I could almost see Aris shakin’ his head sadly at me.

If Dev chose to join up with Eastwick I’d have to see about gettin’ him out after he’d realized his mistake. If the GypCirc and the northsiders and I could take down the black market maybe we could get him out without ruinin’ him. Or killin’ him. If he’d let us.

Chapter ten

We broke up shortly after that and headed to class. Chrian told me on Wednesday that he’d said no to Eastwick, citin’ schoolwork as his reason, and Eastwick had accepted it without any trouble. I saw somethin’ else in class. Eastwick was angry, angry and noticeably scared, and I guessed Er had gotten to a lot a’ the others and stuck a wrench in his plans. I wanted to head down to the mansions right away and tell Sebas about it, but schoolwork was heavy and I was gettin’ the worst a’ Eastwick’s temper and I couldn’t find the time.

In fact things were so bad I couldn’t even get away that weekend. I managed to free up Saturday afternoon to go see my parents, and Dad told me that he and James between them had managed to mix the moonstone with Eastwick’s latest order a’ silver without anyone noticin’, which was good news but not enough for me. Another week went by and I heard that Eastwick had tried Mare and Ben and that they’d both said no, Mare cause a’ Er and Ben cause a’ Mare, and that no one knew whether or not Dev had said no which put me right on edge.

Another week went by and I still couldn’t get away. I spent the little spare time I had studyin’ the book a’ runes, cause it was never enough for me to do anything else, and wishin’ like hell that someone down by the river had a cell phone. Eastwick had eased up on me but that didn’t help much. Mostly it just made me nervous; I couldn’t help wonderin’ what it was that had made him happier, and whether it was really bad for us or just a little bad. I was havin’ trouble concentratin’—I talked to Chrian about Aris, a little, cause it was easier to talk to him than to anyone else. He’d never met him and didn’t have any misconceptions about him. But it made me miss him more. I heard one report a’ illegal werewolf huntin’—a wounded were had managed to drag himself home and when they dug the bullet out a’ his human body the next day it was a silver bullet with no maker’s mark on it. Manufacturers a’ silver bullets all have a trademark that gets stamped onto the bullet so it’s easier to trace in case a’ illegal huntin’, so a bullet with no mark was a cinch for an illegal hunter. One a’ Eastwick’s, I guessed. It put me right on edge that the report didn’t seem to bother him at all.

The second weekend came and went and took my temper with it. It got so bad that I started avoidin’ Chrian, cause I couldn’t be polite. I took to hangin’ round in a grove a’ trees on the edge a’ campus at night, smokin’ cigarette after cigarette and broodin’ about Aris and watchin’ for Eastwick to leave.

Then, one evenin’, when the third week was almost over, Eastwick came hurryin’ outta the faculty building earlier than usual, carryin’ a heavy black bag and lookin’ like death. He got into his car and peeled outta the parkin’ lot and took off down the road, not north toward his own house, but east toward the slums. I threw away my cigarette butt and sat for another five minutes, thinkin’.

When I went to bed that night I told Chrian I’d be out late the next evenin’, and he said he’d leave the light on for me if I wanted, he could sleep just fine.

Chapter eleven

So at nine o’clock Friday night I left campus and took a bus east, and an hour later I was hangin’ out in Nose’s favourite bar, drinkin’ bad beer and prayin’ to god that he showed. One a’ the Gentlemen came in and talked to a tall thin man I didn’t know, and they left together. Ten minutes later Whiskey staggered in, already drunk, and the barman threw him out. He collapsed when he hit the ground and lay where he fell for about five minutes before stumblin’ to his feet and disappearin’ into the darkness. Crick came in and nodded to me—he was a lieutenant in my neighbourhood gang and we’d fought side by side once or twice. It was enough to get a nod, but nothin’ else.

It was gone midnight before Nose came in, sober and a little shaky. He leaned on the bar and coughed, and put his hand in his pocket and pulled it out again, empty. He glanced around and saw me, and I waved him over.

“Cane,” he said, slidin’ into the seat opposite me. “Down in our neighbourhood again. Keep expectin’ yeh tae straighten yehrself oot an’ stop showin’.”

He looked expectantly at my beer and I ignored him.

“Tight-fisted,” he said, and coughed again. “Ain’t like yeh. What’s sailin’?”

“Information gets yeh beer, or anything else yeh want,” I said quietly. “Eastwick was down here last night, weren’t he?”

Nose was pale already, but when I said it he went dead white. I nodded.

“Good’s an answer,” I said, and ordered him a whiskey. “Don’t talk, Nose. Was he lookin’ for metal wranglers?” Lock pickers. Thieves. Nose hesitated, and gave the barest shake a’ his head. “Not a killin’ job, was it?” Shake. “Muscle?” Nod. I sat back and lit a thoughtful cigarette. What was he hirin’ muscle for? He was a spark. It musta been urgent, whatever it was. Lettin’ himself be seen and recognized was sloppy as hell.

“Yeh want anything besides the whiskey?”

“Yeah,” Nose said. “I want tae never ha’ seen yeh this night.”

I nodded, paid for my drinks, and left. I wanted desperately to get down to the river but I still didn’t have time. Next weekend was a long one, Monday bein’ a holiday, so I figured I could wait one more week and be down at the river next Friday. It was near two in the morning when I got back and Chrian, true to his word, had left the light on for me and was sleepin’ as soundly as if he were drunk. I switched the light off and went to bed, and he was gone by the time I got up next morning.

I got my temper back, that week, although I was impatient as hell. Chrian noticed, and so did Er, but they just thought it was me waitin’ for the day off a’ school, which in a way it was. Er had taken to tryin’ to find out, as subtly as he could, what I’d heard about Eastwick and where I’d heard it. He weren’t so subtle that I didn’t know what he was doing, but he weren’t so clumsy or insistent about it that it bothered me and I managed to avoid his questions without bein’ rude and to pick up some a’ what he’d heard about Eastwick and the other sparks in the government—stuff lower class fashers like me wouldn’t hear about. It didn’t give me any clear leads. Eastwick seemed to be the loner type, no close friends or associates among the other sparks, except Rastadan, and that, if the stories were to be believed, was over with long ago. I briefly considered tryin’ to get in touch with Rastadan about Eastwick, but I gave that idea up pretty quick. Never trust a spark.

The weekend came, finally. It was a light weekend for homework, too. I guess the teachers were as tired out as we were.

Chapter twelve

Friday evening I told Chrian I’d be gone all weekend, probably not back till sometime on Monday, or maybe late Sunday evening, and I left. I dropped in on my parents on the way to the river, since I had to go a fair ways west to hit the part a’ the river the GypCirc stayed at anyway, and after seein’ them and hearin’ what Dad had to report from the factory, which wasn’t much ‘cept that Eastwick had stopped orderin’ silver, I headed south. I left in time to get there about an hour before midnight.

I hit the north end a’ the warehouses about ten, and had gone on about a quarter of an hour after that when the curse hit me. I felt it settle between my shoulder blades, so cold it burned, and sink through my ribs into my heart. I stumbled, and fell to my hands and knees, and knelt there, gaspin’ for breath. The first thought that came into my head was, that bastard. He hit me in the back.

I was aware a’ someone comin’ up beside me, standin’ there, lookin’ down at me, then he knelt delicately beside me and leaned forward on one hand so he could whisper in my ear more conveniently.

“It’s no good, Thomas,” Eastwick hissed. His free hand strayed to my neck where the heat from his fingers burned like fire against skin like ice. He laughed softly. “It’s a pity you found Timothy’s soul before we did—what a powerful spell that would have made. But you shouldn’t have gone on meddling. You’ll never get to him. Even if you discover who it is, there’s nothing you can do about it.” He leaned closer, so close that the breath a’ his voice stirred the hair hangin’ down over my ear. I need a haircut, I thought. Needed a haircut. Now it’ll probably be the mortician who’ll give me one. “He’s protected by the most powerful force on earth. Human adoration.”

Then he was gone.

I stayed where I was on my hands and knees for another minute or so while the cold spread through my body and subsided, then struggled to my feet and stood there, swayin’, dizzy and sick to my stomach. For a few moments I seriously considered collapsin’ again and just layin’ there in the street, but a’ course there was always the possibility that if Eastwick knew I was after him the northsiders and Suora were in danger, and if he found out my dad worked at the factory he bought his silver from he might guess that one too. I put my hand against a warehouse wall to steady myself and staggered off.

Chapter thirteen

It was the longest and most uncomfortable walk a’ my entire life. I’d dressed for the cold when I left, but the bitter cold a’ winter was nothin’ compared to the deep, biting chill a’ the curse. I could feel it wrap around my heart and slow its beat. I could feel the blood drainin’ from my face and my hands and feet, leavin’ them numb and white. It hurt. It hurt worse than anything I’d ever experienced.

It was gone midnight before I reached the GypCirc camp, and that last, short walk across the field, with nothin’ to lean against and the snow slippery underfoot and a cold wind blowin’ down the river, was pure hell. I was spotted long before I reached the camp, and a’ course they saw right off that somethin’ was wrong and Laen and Marya rushed to help me, and it was a good thing they did or I wouldn’t a’ made it. Laen practically carried me to the fire and deposited me on a rug beside it. I could feel the heat a’ him even through my clothes.

The cold and the sick feeling were still subsidin’, little by little, but I knew better than to think that meant the curse weren’t killin’ me.

Suora appeared beside me.

“Eastwick,” I gasped. “He might go after my parents.”

“It’ll be taken care of,” Suora replied. “Lie still.”

I closed my eyes and lay perfectly still. A thought surfaced—they’ve been warned. I can die now if I want to.

I felt Suora’s fingers on my face, my neck, then, gently liftin’ me, touch my back between the shoulder blades, where the curse hit. Wherever her fingers went the cold fled.

I could go be with Aris.

“I can’t counter this,” Suora said softly. I opened my eyes and pushed myself up. Laen was still hoverin’ nearby and he immediately knelt and slipped his arm around me to support me.

“Better tell yeh what I found out, then,” I said.

“We have time,” Suora said. “We may still be able to do something.”

“I’m sure yeh’ll do your best,” I replied, “but let’s prepare for all possibilities. How much time do we have?”

“A week,” Suora replied. “Maybe less.”

“A week,” I repeated. Last time I was facin’ death I’d had a month. “It’s enough.”

Suora rose.

“Atir,” she said, “go to the mansions. Tell Sebas and his command to join us here tomorrow night.”

The mer-boy nodded and slipped away into the river. Suora knelt by me again.

“Are we in any immediate danger?” she asked. I remembered the things Eastwick had said, and shook my head.

“I don’t think he knows who’s after him,” I replied. “I think he thinks it’s just me. He knew about Aris—about Z. He knew I found his soul. I think he thinks I found out about the market while I was lookin’ for it.” Which was true. “And that now I’m tryin’ to destroy him by myself, cause a’ what I discovered—and experienced. And I was right about him not runnin’ the black market. There’s someone else.”

“You are sure he knows nothing about us,” Suora said. I paused and thought again.

“I ain’t sure he knows nothin’ about you,” I said finally. “I am sure he knows nothin’ about what yeh’re doing. Sebas and Cornelius he must know about, if he’s involved with—with—”

“Azare.”

“Him, yes. But he’d a’ known about them from way back and he’s done nothin’ about it so yeh needn’t worry. I am sure he knows nothin’ about the connection between me and the GypCirc.”

“Did he know you were coming to see us?”

I paused for thought again. He had ambushed me in the warehouses, but I figured he could a’ just been followin’ me. In fact it was more likely he was just followin’ me. If he’d known where I was going there were a hundred better places he could a’ picked for an ambush.

“No,” I said, “but he might guess when he stops to think about it.” To ask himself what I was doing in the warehouses in the first place. Suora nodded, and rose.

“We will stay here until tomorrow night,” she said, addressin’ the rest a’ the camp. “We will not move until Atir has returned with the others. Keep careful watch—Ayla, Anya, Aria,” she finished, and the mirror threes nodded and glided away into the darkness.

I heard a whimper, the tiniest little unhappy sound, and looked down to see that Aid had crawled onto the rug next to me and was sittin’ there, lookin’ up at me with sad eyes. He didn’t say anything—I could see that he’d heard what Suora had said, everything that Suora had said. He put a hand out and touched me, the lightest possible touch, and it burned.

“You’re so cold,” he whispered, and crawled closer to me. I flinched away from what to me was his almost unbearable heat, but Suora said:

“No, let him warm you. It may give you a little more time.”

Aid slept next to me that night, and it was torture. I could barely sleep for the heat, and I wanted nothin’ more than to shove him out a’ the makeshift bed and be cool, but I couldn’t. He knew how desperately uncomfortable it was for me too, and when I turned to be away from him he’d wake up, and wait for a minute or two, then crawl close to me again, tryin’ so hard, so desperately, desperately hard, to make me warm. I couldn’t feel how cold I was anymore, the way sometimes yeh can’t feel how hot yeh are when yeh have a fever. And a’ course the worst part was bein’ able to feel, through sleep and heat, how worried, how frightened, Aid was that I was going to die. I wanted to tell him I wouldn’t, but I had the same problem I’d had with Z—I might, and tellin’ him I wouldn’t would be no help to him if I did.

Chapter fourteen

I slept fitfully through the rest a’ the night and when I awoke found Suora waitin’ for me with just the barest hint a’ impatience in her attitude, which for a six hundred year old being is somethin’ worthy a’ remark. I awoke feelin’ fine—the only thing left to remind me a’ the curse was the way the others’ skin still burned when it touched mine. It was a sharp enough reminder that I was never tempted to think that perhaps his curse was failin’, though I would a’ dearly liked to, for Aid’s sake if for no other reason.

“We have been watching your parents,” Suora said soon’s I took a seat beside her. “Eastwick has given no indication that he even knows they live. My opinion is that they are safe, at least for now.” She paused, and I took advantage a’ the pause to secure breakfast from Pak, who happened to be makin’ the rounds with it. “We have made no attempt to communicate with them. Would you like us to?”

Of all the damned difficult questions, I thought. Either way I answer somethin’s going to break.

“No,” I said. “Don’t tell them.”

“You don’t trust them?” Suora asked. I was silent, tryin’ to sort out an answer. “Perhaps you just don’t want to hurt them,” Suora pressed, and I could hear scorn and disappointment, faint echoes behind a tone a’ mild concern.

“I’m no coward, and neither are they,” I replied shortly. “It ain’t that. I just don’t want them told yet—it’s simpler.”

“Yet,” Suora repeated.

“Well, obviously yeh’ll have to tell them if I die.”

“And before that?”

“They’re trustworthy,” was all I said. Suora nodded, and left me. Aid came to me again, as quiet and unhappy as he was durin’ the night. He leaned up against my legs and I had to grit my teeth and dig my nails into my palms to stop from pushin’ him away.

“Yeh all right?” I asked after a moment.

“No,” Aid replied.

“Yeh managed Z’s death,” I said as gently as I could. “Yeh’ll manage mine.”

“And eventually the pain will fade, from a sharp stab you don’t think you can live with to a pale ache that’s little more than a reminder,” Aid said dully. “Has the pain of Z faded for you yet?”

He sounded old and worn out.

“No,” I said. For a while we sat in silence, and watched the sun climb the pale blue sky a’ winter, givin’ only light. The fire burned a deep red with flashes a’ blue, hot as hell.

“There’s still hope,” I said suddenly, and cursed myself for my weakness. “Suora says there’s still hope.”

“You’re not making much of it,” Aid said.

“I’m a realist,” I replied. “I think it’s cowardly to hang onto a false or faint hope when chances ain’t good, but Suora’s powerful as hell and so is Cornelius, they say. It ain’t honest to pretend like things’ll get better when they probably won’t, but it’s just as bad to give up when there’s still a chance. And, yeh know, Aid,” I added, hesitantly, “I’m going to die someday, probably before you. One way or another. It can’t be helped.”

“But not killed by some kirn zolurl shakiney,” Aid spat. “Not by him. He’s not good enough.”

“To kill me?” I said, grinnin’. “Maybe yeh’re right. Ferdinand weren’t good enough to kill me and he was a damn sight rougher than Eastwick.”

“So what’re you going to do?” Aid asked.

“I’ve got about as much magic in me as a tea kettle,” I replied easily. “There’s nothin’ I can do about the curse, but if I do go down for this at least I’ll know I spoked his wheel before he got to me.”

I didn’t see Suora for the rest a’ the day. Orseth and Marya and the other mer-boy, Mapek, were also gone all day, and Paka told me they were keepin’ a discreet watch on my parents’ house. I almost asked her how discreet Mapek could be, since he was all blue, but I figured that might be rude and didn’t. Aid never left me, and Victor was never far from Aid, and Laen was always sort a’ in the background watchin’ out for me, but the others stayed away. The mer-elves in particular wouldn’t come anywhere near me. Ter did, once, to tell me that it was the smell a’ the curse that they couldn’t stand, and the feeling a’ cold radiatin’ off me, and I told him I didn’t take it personally and he and Atella and Orseki could stay right away on the other side a’ the camp if they wanted. Ter looked a little surprised. I weren’t sure if that’s cause he hadn’t expected me to be so calm about it or cause he hadn’t been tryin’ to apologize, or cause it made no difference to him whether I cared or not. None a’ the mer-elves had a grasp a’ courtesy.

Dusk fell, early at that time a’ year and earlier still for the clouds that had come with the evening. Paka made dinner in the dark and I found I had no appetite. Suora told me I should eat anyway and I did my level best, but it was rough going. It weren’t like I was sick, I just had less than no desire to eat.