Chapter two

I hadn’t told the strict truth when I said I had homework. Missin’ Aris was the worst mornings and evenings, ‘specially wakin’ up in my dorm room with Chrian. I didn’t have anything against my new roommate, ‘cept that he weren’t Aris, and he couldn’t help that, but it still hurt to wake up and see him. Most mornings I woke up with a sick feeling in my stomach, my eyes sore from unshed tears, and just lay in bed tryin’ not to cry so that I could get up and go to class. Most evenings I went to bed feelin’ sick and dreadin’ the dreams that would come.  The best remedy I’d found was to be exhausted to the point a’ death when I went to bed, and to wake up still tired. Weren’t healthy, I know, but I weren’t sleepin’ well anyway and it made it easier to get outta bed in the morning if I was mostly thinkin’ about how tired I was instead a’ how much I missed him and how—I don’t know how to put it—how he was still dead. How I was going to get up and go to class and face Eastwick and he wouldn’t be there.

And it helped me be nice to Chrian. I was too tired to resent him.

One a’ the things the placer had mentioned about Chrian while I weren’t listenin’ was that he was a spark, a truly powerful one, and a scholarship kid, and that he’d had to put off comin’ for a semester cause his parents didn’t have the money to get him here. He was quiet, and he didn’t have the pride most sparks had cause he was so poor, and he had a sensitivity to him that made it real important that I never showed how much his presence hurt me. We didn’t talk much. He was too shy and I was too busy with other stuff. I didn’t know if he’d get less shy after a couple weeks. I didn’t think so, and the thought didn’t bother me at all.

One thing I had learned from havin’ a spark for a roommate though, and that was that it was a lot easier to get a grasp on magic theory if yeh had some knowledge a’ the practical side a’ things too. I couldn’t get an insider’s knowledge, obviously, so instead I’d taken to stayin’ at the library as late as I could readin’ accounts a’ spark scraps, and the few spark diaries that had been published. From what I gathered, havin’ magic was a little like havin’ another body. Practical magic was a lot more like learnin’ to fight than anything else. Yeh learned to see and hear and move with magic, rather than with eyes and ears and arms and legs, and to react with magic.

Chrian and I had had a brief conversation about Eastwick the second day a’ the semester, and he’d said a’ couple things that put me on to studying practical magic, and since then I spent the evenings at the library doing all the homework and all the extra work I could do to wear myself out.

So, as I say, it weren’t exactly homework, but it was pretty close. Close enough, anyway.

Chrian was in the library when I walked in, and so was Cor, the other fasher from my magic theory class. Cor ignored me, which he’d been doing all week, mostly I think cause he had no idea what to say to me. He weren’t a very pleasant person—he was shy, but the sorta shy that comes from feelin’ inferior, and he’d never made any particular effort to be nice in spite a’ himself, ‘specially to me and Aris. Chrian nodded at me, and managed a tiny, shy smile, and in a burst a’ self-sacrificing friendliness I joined him at his table. I could tell he appreciated the gesture, and that he had no idea how to show it, and the result was that we studied together in complete silence for about half an hour till he said he was headin’ back to the dorm and he’d leave the light on for me, he didn’t mind. That was the difference between Chrian and Cor. Chrian was cripplingly shy but at least he tried.

So I said thanks, but I was stayin’ somewhere else that night and I’d probably not be back till Sunday, and he whispered an embarrassed goodbye and left.

Aris would a’ liked him, I thought. Poor kid. I hope Eastwick doesn’t get to him.

That was why the first week was miserable. School reminded me too sharply a’ Aris, and I wanted to be doing somethin’—I really wanted to lay into Eastwick—and I hadn’t heard anything from Sebas or Lawrence since I’d seen Lawrence last full moon, two weeks ago, and I hadn’t seen or heard anything from the GypCirc either. I knew enough a’ Eastwick’s moods to know when he was what passed as happy for him, and when he was pissed off, and he’d been nothin’ but pissed off whenever I saw him, so I guessed that the battle of Ferdinand’s heart had interrupted business somewhat, but that weren’t satisfying. I knew Mund was takin’ his Stars out every night, and that they were attackin’ the southside vamps, and I wanted to scrap with them and I couldn’t. A part a’ me still wanted to find however had done that to Aris and rip into them with everything I’d got. I was angry and grievin’ and above all helpless. So I studied as hard as I could and looked forward to the every trip to the river like it was my birthday.

This time I was ostensibly going to tell Aid that he was comin’ to my house tomorrow, but really the whole occasion was an excuse to go down again, and this time, with the awful week only just behind me, I wanted to talk. I wanted to know that somethin’ was bein’ done about Eastwick.

I left shortly after it got dark. Cor had been fidgetin’ for a good hour, and I knew what that was about. For some reason he’d always tried to be a better student than Aris, but he didn’t have the brains for it, and now that it was just me he was determined to be a better student than me. If we ended up in the library at the same time he hung round till I left, whether he had anything to do or no. It was startin’ to get real annoyin’.

I headed down the street and paused on the corner to look back. Sure enough, two minutes later I saw Cor leavin’. My instinct was to be angry but he weren’t doing anything that actually affected me, ‘cept by annoyance, so I just shrugged moodily to myself and walked on. Two hours later I was crossin’ the field by the light a’ the waxin’ moon.

Aid hailed me joyfully. He didn’t usually get to see me more than once a month and the surprise made him even more twitchy and jumpy than he was usually. He clawed his way onto my back and I had to shove him off to keep the skin on my shoulder. I told him about comin’ to my house the next afternoon and he showed no apprehension. I asked Victor and Paka if they’d come to, and Paka said she’d love to and Victor said he wouldn’t take responsibility for Aid if he broke something.

I went to the mer-elves next. Whenever I got to the GypCirc I always spent a few minutes alone with the mer-elves. Atella, Orseki and Terian each had a memory a’ Aris, a memory that they’d gotten along with a piece a’ my soul, and I made them tell me the memory every time. It was odd, feelin’ them slide into place in the holes in my own memory. They had my pain, too, or a piece a’ it. They could say, with more truth than anyone else, that they knew what I was going through.

They’d been soulless till I’d given them part a’ my soul, and it was comfortin’ to me in a way to teach them how to mourn. They had their own pain as well as mine, their own memories a’ Aris, and we talked about that too. They didn’t even know how to cry.

I didn’t talk much with the others about him. They hadn’t known him long, just long enough that each a’ them said, in their own half-veiled way, that they wished they’d known him longer. New moon, the first time I went back, Riair sang an ancient mourning song for him and Suora lit candles a’ passing, and Ella, Sek and Ter learned how to cry, really cry, and I was teachin’ by example. That was the one time I’d seen Sebas and his command since I’d left the mansion after Aris died the second time. Lydia was the only one cryin’, but it was easy to see that she weren’t the only one grievin’.

Chapter three

When I’d finished talkin’ to the mer-elves I pulled together what I had a’ courage and went lookin’ for Suora. Suora was pretty terrifyin’—she was a messenger, she’d defeated the necromancer and been in the battle a’ nightmares, which accordin’ to rumour had driven those unlucky enough to witness it mad, and the second time I’d been there she’d invited Death to her campsite and he’d come. Searchin’ for her, however, was safe enough I reasoned, cause if she didn’t want to be found she could probably make it impossible for anyone to find her, ‘specially someone ordinary like me. So it was a bit unnerving when I did find her, sittin’ by her wagon just outside the circle a’ firelight, smokin’ her short-stemmed pipe. She beckoned to me.

On an impulse I sat down beside her, facin’ a little away from her and on her left side. Aris had told me once that when a king was entertainin’ a sorcerer or prophet whose power was so great that they could be considered above even the king, tradition dictated that the king surrender his own throne to the guest and sit on the left side, facin’ a little away. It was a symbol a’ submission before a superior power. It was also the way knights and warriors sat in the presence a’ the king, the idea bein’ that while the warrior may have been able to take the king out with one swing, he wouldn’t do it cause he’d surrendered that power.

She almost smiled. Suora was old enough that she’d been around when the custom was still in practice. She was probably the oldest being to walk the earth with a body, and as a messenger she was a lot older than that.

“Do you come as a king or a warrior?” she asked.

“I’m nothin’ much at the moment,” I replied, sighin’. “It’s been two months and I ain’t heard anything to tell. I’m not complainin’,” I added, hurriedly and untruthfully. “I’m just restless.”

“You are still mourning,” she replied. “For you the grief is still too great. You must be restless a while longer, and learn to control your grief.”

I’d seen what had happened to fighters who acted outta emotion in a street fight. Hell, I’d seen what happened to vamps who let their version a’ emotion, which was bloodlust, take over. It didn’t end well for them. Mostly in ended on the point a’ my silver stick.

“Right,” I said, and it was clear that I agreed with her however much I didn’t want to. “Can yeh give me a quick update, then?”

She sighed.

“We are not keeping things from you, se hela kiram. We have told you nothing because there is nothing to tell. The vampires are hunting, that is all. We are watching Azare, and your professor as much as we can, but the battle of the heart has thrown everyone’s plans into disarray. Perhaps you can tell me something.”

I pulled out a cigarette and lit it.

“Eastwick’s angry,” I said. “I can tell things aren’t going well for him, and I’m guessin’ that it’s cause a’ the battle, but a’ course I can’t be sure. D’yeh know how the black market business is going?”

“Badly,” she said, and smiled.

“That’d be it, then,” I said. “I’ve been down to the southeast slum bars and everyone there is a little on edge. They know somethin’s up, but whatever it is doesn’t concern them, so I guessed it was the black market business again. One other thing,” I added, and paused to think. Suora smoked her pipe in silence and waited. “I don’t think Eastwick’s runnin’ the business. I may be wrong, but I think there’s an edge a’ fear to his temper. And I think he’s been tryin’ to recruit outta our class. I heard about a couple students havin’ private meetings with him that weren’t about grades, or at least, not only about grades.”

Suora drew her breath in.

“We missed that,” she said. “He is well protected at home and at the college, and we can only watch his movements and not always those. Can you counteract it?”

“I can try,” I said doubtfully. “I know he’s got no chance with Er and Mare, and I can get at Ben through Mare, but I ain’t sure about Dev and Kate. I don’t think he’s tried Ara or Pearl or Lisa yet, and I ain’t sure he’s tried Ben, although Ben would be an easy play. He’s going after power, now, if I’m any judge. If he takes a shot at Chris that’ll be tricky cause I’ve never spoken to the guy, and if he goes after the underclassmen or the seniors I don’t think I’ll be able to do anything, but…sure. I can try.” I paused for thought again, breathin’ smoke. “I’ll get in with Er as much as I can. The others tend to look up to him. Even Dev. Even some a’ the seniors.”

Suora nodded.

“And you wish to take Aiden with you tomorrow. How are your parents doing?”

“Gettin’ better all the time,” I said. “I ain’t told them about Eastwick yet, but give it another day or two, a week at the most, and I think I’ll be able to. They don’t like him much more than I do, so that ain’t a problem, but it would be nice if I could tell them somethin’ that would stop them worryin’ about me. Fashers don’t take on sparks,” I added, “and I ain’t told them about se hela kiram either, and even if I did I doubt they’d find it any comfort. I don’t.”

Suora nodded, slowly.

“I have something for you,” she said. She stood up, and went into her wagon, and came out again a moment later with a book. It was a small book, one that I could easily fit into my pocket. She handed it to me.

It was a book of runes. I remembered the first time I’d seen the Gamblers. Lawrence had asked after a fourth soul, and one a’ the Gamblers had scratched a rune into the dirt.

“Learn the language of Death,” she said, handin’ it to me. “Be ready when he chooses to meet you.”

“More homework,” I said and sighed. “I wish Z were here. He would a’ loved this.”

Suora put her hand under my chin and lifted my eyes to hers.

“Never forget the price that was paid to set him free,” she said. “Learn to seek truth without him to guide you.” She paused, and looked like she was tryin’ to remember a word or a phrase she’d heard once. “Make him proud of you.”

It was such a human phrase for a messenger to use that it was almost quaint. I nodded, and put my hand over my eyes for a moment till I stopped cryin’.

“There is one final thing I must tell you,” she said, when I looked up again. “The scarred elf has been across the river. We think he was looking for you.”

“What?” I exclaimed. “Even with Death and all? I thought the elves would be stayin’ the hell away.”

“Korata’s bravery is legendary among the elves, and even we have heard of it,” Suora said solemnly, “but in your actions he has seen a bravery to match his own. You are most likely in no danger from him, so long as you stay out of the elf wood. But watch for him, and be cautious. We do not know what his intentions are.”

I nodded. And to think that when I’d arrived an hour ago I’d been wantin’ somethin’ to happen.

“Now go,” she said abruptly, and added, under her breath, “before Aiden falls into the fire from impatience.”

I went, and spent the next couple a’ hours tryin’ to wear Aid down to the point where he’d let me sleep. I managed to drag him to bed eventually, and got a couple hours sleep.

I woke up at dawn when I felt him crawl outta bed. For a few minutes I lay still, fuzzy with sleep and wonderin’ whether it was worth the effort a’ crawlin’ outta bed to find out where he’d gone and why. Eventually I did, and found him sittin’ by last night’s fire starin’ at the east with a look of concentration on his face. I walked over to him and sat down. Frost covered everything, and it was so cold my fingers were numb after five minutes, but he never moved, except to glance up at me and return to starin’ eastwards.

“Tell me,” I said softly after a moment.

“You and Z used to sit out here sometimes watching the sunrise,” he said. “I thought maybe he’d be here still, at least a little bit.”

I gazed at the sunrise too, and lit myself a cigarette. Aid glanced up at me again and smiled.

“He is here, now,” he said.

“How d’yeh know?” I asked.

“Isn’t he with you still, at least a little bit?”

Aid was a funny little creature, even for a halver werewolf. His notion a’ reality was a little different from most people’s and not strictly wrong either, just confused. He confused the symbol a’ somethin’ for the thing itself. He sometimes called bones and weapons Death or a hug a love and didn’t seem to fully understand why that wasn’t quite right. It was probably because he’d been a were since he was very young. To animals, the symbol and the thing often are the same, cause their minds can’t separate them, can’t form notions like Death separate from the simple fact a’ dyin’.

Sometimes, though, I wished he was right. I wished yeh could hand someone Death or Love the way yeh could hand them a spoon and that would be the end a’ it.

“If yeh come out here rememberin’ how he used to come out here, isn’t he with you a little bit too?” I asked. Aid crawled on my lap, a habit he picked up from bein’ a wolf one night a month, and leaned his head on my shoulder and I could feel a little patch a damp startin’. It didn’t last long. He got warm with my arm around him and fell back asleep, and I threw my cigarette butt away and carried him back into the tent and got a few more hours myself.

Chapter six

Victor perked up a little when he said it and I could see surprise formin’ in his mind though his face didn’t change at all. My Dad was little more than a lower middle class factory hand, according to society, but he had a moral code yeh could bend iron around and an innate sense a’ good and evil that wavered for nothin’, not even the life a’ his son. Aris had taught me to see good and evil, true good and evil, but before that Dad had taught me to be good at any cost. His prejudices against halvers and vamps and weres didn’t come into it, not really. There were a lot a’ reasons why I was glad he and Mom hadn’t made me choose between them and the darkworld, mostly cause I loved them and didn’t want to lose them, but also cause I couldn’t have a better ally than Dad.

“Eastwick,” he said again. “I’ve been sellin’ silver to him for years. He’s been buyin’ more recently.”

“Akeinan,” Victor hissed. I recognized the elfish insult. “He’s hunting werewolves.”

“Huntin’ weres?” Dad frowned. “What for?”

“Were souls are easier to steal, especially in the moments after a were’s killed, and the wolf part tries to disentangle itself from the immortal human soul,” Victor said. “Damn. We didn’t notice—how did we not notice?”

“How can yeh be sure that’s what he’s doing?” Dad asked. “Surely the government would notice.”

Victor looked at me, and I said, “He’s huntin’ the wanderers.”

The first time a were doesn’t come home he’s reported by friends or family, assumin’ he has any left. The silver slingers will keep an eye out for him, but they ain’t lookin’ for him specifically. They’re lookin’ to make sure he doesn’t start attackin’ other people. After about a month, if there’s no reports of attacks or rise in the number a’ weres, which they keep a pretty close eye on, he’s written off. No missing persons file, no one lookin’ for him—he’s just gone. He might as well be dead. Eastwick could hunt and kill every wolf south a’ the river and no one would notice.

“We can’t let this go on,” I said. “If he’s orderin’ a lot a’ silver he must be huntin’ a lot, and not by himself, either. He must be hirin’ hunters. If we knew who he was hirin’—”

“We could what?” Victor asked. “Appeal to their humanity? Have them arrested?”

“Maybe I can do somethin’,” Dad said.

“Charles,” Mom said softly.

“Eastwick’s dangerous,” I said. “Don’t think I don’t realize how dangerous this is just cause I’m doing it anyway.”

“Don’t think I don’t realize just cause I offered to help,” Dad retorted. “My overseer had a brother who was a were, years ago. He was killed for bein’ a were and for nothin’ else, and I know James is still hurt about it. He’ll help me and be glad to do it, and he’s got no family left either, so I won’t feel bad about askin’. Is it true,” he continued, adressin’ Victor, “that moonstone mixed with silver stops the effect?”

Victor nodded.

“There yeh go, then. It’ll still be a bullet, I can’t do anything about that, but at least it won’t be silver. James and I can mix the moonstone in without anyone else knowin’ what we’re doing, but there’ll be at least twenty other people who coulda done it, so it ain’t as dangerous as it sounds,” he added to Mom.

“Won’t he complain to the company?” Pak asked.

“He’ll have to explain how he knows it’s been diluted,” Dad replied. “The company’ll insist he produce proof, cause diluting silver’s a serious accusation to a factory like ours. Chances are he’ll keep it quiet so no one suspects he’s huntin’ illegally.”

“Would a suspicion like that really matter to someone like him?” Victor asked doubtfully. Dad looked at him, and read in that look twenty years a’ bitterness and pain.

“It ain’t like that all over,” he said quietly. “There’s more people out there like James than you know—people who lost loved ones to illegal huntin’, people who’re still lookin’ for their were even after years, people who still look after them and love them cause it’s still their brother or sister or son or daughter. If it came out that Eastwick was huntin’ the lost weres there’d be a hell of a row, cause all those people would be thinkin’, maybe he killed someone I loved. He’ll try to keep it quiet.”

“He’ll try to find out who’s sabotaging him and stop them,” I said seriously. “He’ll be lookin’ for you.”

“Then yeh’d better get him quick, before he figures it out,” Dad replied. “I said I’d help you if I could and I ain’t going back on that now. Lilly?”

Mom put her arms around Aid a little tighter and nodded.

“We’re in it together, then,” I grinned. “Yeh see anything even a little suspicious, call me.”

“And if he comes here, if he attacks your home,” Paka added, “come straight down to the river, straight through the warehouses. We’ll be watching.”

“Let it not come to that,” Mom said.

“It won’t,” Aid replied confidently. “Tam is se hela kiram. But you should come down anyway. Suora can make the fire burn all different colors, and the stags are very friendly.”

Someday soon, I thought, I’m going to have to have a talk with Aid about when to keep his mouth firmly closed.

“He’s what?” Dad asked.

“You didn’t tell them?” Paka asked.

“Would you?” I replied. “No, don’t answer, it’s a rhetorical question, and yes, I learned that word from Aris. We ain’t elves, Paka, or mermaids—maybe it means somethin’ to Terian, and to Marya, and to you, but not to me—not to us. I’m just human.”

“There’s no just about you,” Pak started to say, but I cut her off.

“We ain’t talkin’ about it.” I looked round the room, and met everyone’s eyes but Aid’s. “Not now. Maybe not ever. It ain’t important,” I added to my parents. “I do what’s gotta be done. That’s all.”

Chapter seven

And that more or less ended the serious conversation for the afternoon. Tor and Pak and Aid stayed through the afternoon and to dinner, and into the night, eatin’ and drinkin’ and helpin’ with the cooking and washin’ dishes and even, as the night wore on and we all got more comfortable, laughin’ a little. Aid settled in so comfortably that by the end a’ the night he’d practically disappeared, ears and tail and all. Pak and Mom got on well, as expected, and, somewhat to my surprise, Tor and Dad got along almost as well. A weird thing happened, where Dad’s prejudice and Tor’s bitterness sorta cancelled each other out and they were left talkin’ about silver slingers and werewolf legislation like it was the weather. It was so odd I mostly didn’t join in, just listened.

There was an awkward moment when the party broke up, when Mom and Dad made the assumption that I was stayin’ the night with them and the other three assumed I was going back down to the river, and I had to say I was going back to the river without sayin’ that it was to make sure no one attacked them on the way, but it was, as I say, only a moment, then my parents realized and said good-night and we left. Walkin’ in the dark was easier and we got back without anything happenin’ and stayed up into the morning, and went to bed with only a few dark hours to spare. I left early on Sunday, early for stayin’ up most a’ the night, I mean, so about two o’clock in the afternoon, and headed back to the library.

Chrian weren’t there but Cor was—he was usually in the library. Fortunately I saw him first and slipped behind a bookshelf before he saw me, and managed to find a hidden corner. I didn’t want him fiddlin’ around all afternoon, checkin’ to see whether I was gone yet, specially since I weren’t studyin’ for class.

I’d been carryin’ the book a’ runes around in my pocket since Suora gave it to me, but I hadn’t had a chance to look at it yet, what with work and school and hatin’ my life. I pulled it out now and laid it out, lookin’ only slightly worse for bein’ crammed into my coat all the time, and started studyin’. It was rough goin’. It weren’t like studyin’ a written language—this was a language that was clearly never meant to be spoken at all, and the meanings of the runes were written in the old high tongue which made it harder. Not the ancient tongue—that I wouldn’t a’ been able to read at all.

There were thousands a’ basic runes, and hundreds a’ thousands a’ variations on them, but the book only covered what it called the founding four hundred and seventy-seven, and a ream a’ variations. A dot could change the meaning of a word, a pen stroke in the right place could make a word a sentence, and a second stroke could negate the sentence or, if reversed, reinforce it. I tried to remember the rune the Gambler had written, and decipher it, but either I couldn’t remember it right or I was missin’ somethin’ in the rules a’ translation cause nothin’ I came up with made any sense. I kept at it, though, till well past dinner time, till I got a sense a’ how it was organized, then headed back to the dorm, still avoiding Cor, called my parents—strictly a courtesy call; I never let them demand that I call them to tell them I was safe—and went up to my room.

Chrian was there, sittin’ upright and cross-legged on his bed, readin’ a letter from home. He folded it up and dropped it on his desk when I came in.

“Don’t let me interrupt,” I said.

“You’re not,” he replied quickly. “I was done.”

I threw my coat over my chair and myself onto my bed.

“What’s up?” I asked. “Somethin’s botherin’ you.”

“How can you tell?” Chrian blurted, startled. I grinned.

“It’s a talent I have,” I replied. “Yeh don’t have to tell me if yeh don’t want to, a’ course.”

Chrian shrugged, hesitant and uncomfortable, and asked if I’d eaten.

“Ain’t hungry,” I replied. “You?”

He shook his head.

“Not hungry either.”

“Must be pretty serious,” I remarked and sat up. “It ain’t somethin’ from home, is it? Your parents ain’t in trouble or anything.”

“No,” Chrian replied. “They’re fine—they’re doing better, actually, now that—”

“Now that yeh’re outta the house and they only have to feed two,” I finished for him. “Yeah, it was like that for my parents too. Course they never said it, and I’ve been pullin’ my own weight in the family much as I could since I was old enough to work, but still, it makes a difference. So, it’s a school thing, then.”

“Eastwick wants to see me,” he said. “After class, tomorrow.”

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.”

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.