A mother and child are at the graveyard, visiting the memorial of a beloved family member. On their way back to the car, the child asks his mother, “Mom? Do they ever bury two people in the same grave?”
“Of course not, honey. Why do you ask?”
“Because that tombstone read ‘A lawyer and an honest woman'”.
The four of us sat around the desk, as I went over the schedule. “Alfred. You and Jenny drive into town at 11:30 PM. You should arrive just in time for the beginning of the trial. You’ll be coming in through Vestal, which should make sure that nobody will know where the hotel is that didn’t already. Polly and I will drive into town today with the rental car.” I tapped the map. “Our first stop is the Inebriate’s Asylum, where I’ll be meeting with the Half-Faced Man. I sent a letter ahead to him, so he should be waiting for us. Our next stop… Well, I’m not sure about that one. We’re going to have to drive north, most likely. Third stop is at the house of Lady Ann Willing.”
“And how are we going to handle that? How do you know who you can trust?” asked Alfred. The concern in his voice grew a little thicker as his eyes flicked to Polly.
“We don’t. So we’re going to spread this around. Chaac, Lady Ann Willing, and Edwin Link. I’ll ask each one of them to provide protection over the course of the trial. Two bodyguards each, for eight hour shifts. Polly will be with me the entire time, so I at least stand a chance if one of them tries something. If I wind up dying suspiciously, it’ll reflect poorly on whoever was in charge of my protection at the time.”
“Isn’t that usually the job of the judge?” Jenny asked, frowning.
“It is. I’m going to play on their paranoia. Lady Ann Willing and Link don’t trust the judge one bit, and if Chaac’s any judge of character, she won’t either. I think they’ll go through with it. If they don’t, then, well, I may be hosed. Speaking of which, Alfred; I’ll keep my phone on me at all times. I’ll call you at 11:30 to confirm all of this. If I don’t, you and Jenny get out of town, go on the run wherever you need to. I’ll give you a password to make sure you know it’s me.”
“What’s the password going to be?”
Alfred groaned softly, and grabbed one of the donuts off of the table. Donuts and coffee. Every lawyer function I’ve ever gone to, donuts and coffee are a constant. Sugar and caffeine, meant to hype you up and borrow from the future to give you energy in the now. But I loved french crullers, even if I rarely got them. I grabbed the only one in the box, and nibbled at the edges. “I know it seems silly to you, but it’s simple and easy to remember, and nobody’s going to guess it. If you think that things seem suspicious, if you’re worried about anything, if you think you or Jenny are in danger, you get out of here.”
“What if someone impersonates you? Or steals the knowledge from your head? Or-” Jenny began, and I held up a hand.
“There’s only so much paranoia can do for us, here. We have an idea of the players in this game. We’ve put into place what plans we can to make it costly for them to take us out. From there…” I took a deep breath. “I think Alfred is as capable as anyone of telling if I get turned or controlled or whatever other horrible things might happen to me. I’m going to set things up so that our enemy can’t act overtly against me without revealing themselves, I hope. Whoever’s really behind this, they’ve been acting subtly. That suggests that they wouldn’t succeed if they were overt in what they were doing.”
Polly picked up her cup of coffee, and slurped at it noisily for a few seconds, examining the squiggling line across the map. “And who’s this you’re visiting at the end?” she asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Nobody. Just a friend.” I tapped at the map. “I should arrive at the graveyard shortly before Alfred and Jenny. Court should last anywhere from two to six hours. Fang Fen will present her arguments, I’ll make counterarguments. I suspect that we’ll mostly be focused on the charge of Gluttony today. If I can make a solid argument for leniency on that charge, I think we’ve got an even shot on the charge of being a Wastrel. We’ll figure that out, okay?” I ran my fingers through my hair. “After the court closes, we’ll have some food at my office. I’ll make sure we’re prepared for Sunday, and we’ll destress a bit.”
It was raining outside. The thick, driving rain had begun pouring down on our drive into Binghamton, and hadn’t let up since. It was a snowstorm thirty miles south, a blizzard of Roland Emmerichian proportions. But by some bizarre trick of the El Nino systems thousands of miles to the west, Binghamton was balmy and damp, and getting pounded by the rain. I pulled the drapes aside, peering out the window. Jenny flinched, and looked embarrassed, but none of us drew attention to it. The hotel window faced out west, and it was probably too damp and dark out for the sun to do her any real harm, though I’d hate to test that on her.
Sunlight is something of a universal danger for the undead. With the exception of a very few, very weak creatures, it can do some grievous damage to all of them in very short order. Don’t ask me why, or why the reflected sunlight of the moon or the UV lights you find in certain places don’t kill them. Maybe it’s all a metaphor. But if I failed, sunlight would be the most likely method of execution for Jenny, leaving her out in the graveyard to be burned alive, nothing remaining but a pile of ashes for the rain to wash away. So I was just as glad for the rain.
The thought lasted the time it took me to get out to the small blue four-door in the parking lot with Polly, by which point my outfit and I were both soaked to the bone. We piled in, and I turned the heat up, luxuriating in the instant relief as the car’s engine started. I may not have needed a car, but I could damn well enjoy the hell out of one when I got the chance. Polly gave me a sideways glance. “Do you trust the Half-Faced Man?”
“Generally speaking, yes. He’s suspicious as all hell, but he’s generally been helpful, and while he’s been involved a lot in this case, he’s been more helpful than hindrance.” I pulled out into traffic, listening as the phone read out the instructions, peering through the thick rain to try to make out the road twenty feet ahead of us. “You think he might be the one hunting the Camazotz?”
“Well, not really. But I’d like to know why you think he isn’t.”
“I’ll confess, I considered him for it. He’s mysterious, he’s a good fighter, he couldn’t kill Parsons but that might just have been an act. He’s seemed to know a lot about this case before it even started, and he’s been directing me in dangerous ways the whole time. He’s tried to keep out of everything a lot.”
Polly frowned. “Sounds like awful good reasons to suspect him.”
“Yes, but what’s the point of getting me involved in all of this? I don’t think he wants me dead, or he would’ve done it himself a long time ago. Or at least kept it in the Fae courts. And it doesn’t fit with anything anyone knows about his personality. He came to this city years ago, long before the Camazotz started dying, he doesn’t have any kind of appreciable connections to the New World vampires. No, everything he’s done is consistent with what I know of his personality: He likes to help people where he can, and he likes to find out secrets. This is all in character for him. The people who are acting against what I know of their natures are the ones that make me suspicious.”
“Lady Ann Willing, then?”
“It’s hard to not notice. Binghamton was chosen as a place of refuge for the Camazotz because she’s considered very fair-minded. But this whole thing is bringing out a very ugly side of her.” I stared into the falling rain. A brief flash illuminated the night, and the car shook as a powerful peal of thunder rolled over it. I shivered. “I really hope it’s not her. Not only because she’s a powerful and dangerous foe, but because I idolize the damn woman. It would be awful if she was just…”
“I was going to say flawed, but same difference.” I peered up as we approached the asylum. A figure stood in the doorway of the asylum, and vanished within as the car approached. “He does this shit, you know. Predicts what I’m going to do, what I need. I suspect it’s an actual supernatural ability, but I might just be predictable.”
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“No. Stay with the car, make sure nobody’s following us or tries to plant a bomb in the car or something. You’ve got my cellphone number.” I slipped out, and ran up the hill, trying to shield my head with my hands until I made it into the welcoming embrace of the inebriate’s asylum.
“How was Atlantic City?” asked the Half-Faced Man with a smile.
“Infested with Strix. Did you know that the woman I was looking for was a Godmother for the Notte Nostra?”
He turned, and began walking down the hallway, tiles clicking beneath his feet, bent forwards with his arms behind his back. His fingers laced together and then pulled apart like an octopus shaking hands. “I knew that you going there would help you to solve your problems, and that you would survive the trip. That was about it. The Notte Nostra are notorious for living in New Jersey, and with the amount of money you needed…” He shrugged. “Did you find out anything useful?”
“Yes. Did you know that there are gods?” He looked over his shoulder at me, head tilted curiously. “Powerful, terrible things, and they’re coming back, so I was told. An apocalypse is coming down on all of us. You ever think about that? About the end of the world, the end to all of your little games?”
“Endings are good. They’re a wonderful time for secrets to be revealed, among other things. Nobody wants to carry a dark secret to their grave. But an ending to something does not mean the end of everything, you know. Sometimes, it means a beautiful new beginning.”
“I got the impression this wasn’t that kind of end.” I frowned. “Ever heard of a town called Zion?”
“Yes, a lovely little place in the Middle East. Or was it the Midwest?” He tilted his head. “Is all of this strictly relevant to the case, or are we just meeting up to have a little gossip session?”
“I’ve discovered a lot of strange things behind this case. A genocide attempt on the Camazotz. A bunch of stray Strix. A grudge on the part of Lady Ann Willing. And they keep telling me about something here, Half-Faced Man. Something ancient and terrible.” I looked him in the eyes of the mask, trying to keep my voice steady. “Are they talking about you?”
“I doubt it. I’m not quite ancient, and not powerful enough to be terrible. But this world is littered with secrets like that.” He tapped his fingers together, turning back towards me. “I knew this case would bring up some interesting secrets. Now, what do you need?”
“Have you heard of the legend of the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy?”
“I have. A rousing tale full of good moral lessons.”
“I need to find Tadodaho.”
The Half-Faced Man paused, and looked as though his tongue was waging a fierce war against the rest of him. After several long seconds of silence, he sighed. “Do you need that?”
“I have a way to defend Jenny. An argument. I have precedent. But I need him to speak.”
“You realize that you are white, don’t you? And the nature of your name.”
“You know that he can kill with a glance.” I shivered slightly. I did know that, but being reminded of it wasn’t helping matters any.
“Look. I need someone who can argue, decisively, for burying the hatchet. And I need someone whose laws predate Lady Ann Willing’s. So, can you help me?”
He stopped, at the entrance to one of the doors. “I do not know the man personally, you understand. I have never met him, and do not know where his bones are buried. However, I do know of a story. A man who lived in this asylum was committed, at one point. After drinking long into the night, he had made claims of seeing an Indian man, wild-eyed and horrible, in the waters of Lake Onondaga. The Indian’s eyes glowed like fire, and his heart had felt like it stopped, until he fell out of the figure’s view.”
“Sounds like our man. Where did he say he saw this figure?”
“Ah, a good question-”
“And is there a short version?”
The Half-Faced Man sighed. “You’re no fun anymore. On the northwest shore, along Restoration Way, at Sawmill Creek.” He leaned back against the wall, in an expression that seemed almost sulky. “But I really don’t know if he’ll help you. You’re a bit French.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, I know. But I still have to try. He’s my best chance at this.”
“Very well.” He sighed. “I read your file about heroes.”
“The password was ‘Guest’. You can be slightly predictable.”
“Great, way to make me feel like an idiot before I go into one of the biggest cases of my admittedly unremarkable career. What about it?”
“Atina… Do you want power?”
“Not from you,” I said, just a little too quickly. “I’m sorry. But you know how I feel about the whole pact thing.”
“Yes, a hook in your soul. A connection someone has to you that cannot be denied. Power they have over you. You realize that in all of this world, there are so many relationships that sound like that, don’t you? Family, love, friends, all of these are give and take relationships. They cost us, but they profit us as well, and when they have been made wisely, we gain what we need most, and give up what we value least. So it is with pacts. They are not always a way for someone else to control you. Sometimes, they are a way for others to help you.” He smiled, showing every one of his teeth. “Not that I would give you a pact. What I can do would be nightmarish in your hands.”
“The thing is…” I rubbed my face, trying to figure out the right words. “The power would never be mine, if I made a pact with someone. You know? It would feel like mine, I might come to think of it as mine, but it would always belong to someone else. Everything I do could just be taken away from me in an instant. If I started relying on that kind of power, it would make me dependent on it. It would be like an addiction.” I shook my head. “No. There’s a power in being a free agent, too. There’s power in having nobody pulling your strings. And that’s the rarest power of all, from what I’ve seen.”
“Atina, there is always someone pulling your strings. If you are aware of it, you can at least correct for it.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thanks for the help, Half-Faced Man. And one more thing. Is Roy some kind of freaky supernatural… thing?”
The Half-Faced Man let out a bark of laughter. “That boy? No, I’m afraid not, Atina. I know how you crave the touch of the denizens of the night, but he’s as unremarkable an individual as I’ve ever seen.” His expression became pensive. “I think you know that you’d grow bored with such an individual, in time. Perhaps not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but do you think he could support you in your chosen endeavors?”
“He can cook. Ultimately, that’s all I could ask of a man.” I gave a smile. “I’m going to err on the side of kindness and pretend you’re not blatantly hitting on me today.”
“That is very kind of you,” he said solemnly, inclining his head. I couldn’t tell whether he was being sarcastic or sincere. But I was used to that confusion.
The drive up to Syracuse took the better part of an hour and a half, the highway empty of all sane people. Most of our companions on the drive were cranky, strung-out Quebecois truckers, who seemed to take a particular delight in slowing down just as they were passing, and kicking gigantic waves of surf into my windshield. Polly and I passed the time by hurling oaths at their mothers, their purely hypothetical fathers, and the quality of man with which they spent their time. During one long stretch where our car was not being inundated with spray, Polly looked over at me. “So who exactly are we trying to get to help us, here? You mentioned something about the Iroquois Confederacy to Alfred, but…”
“Right. When the Iroquois Confederacy was founded, it was by two men; One known generally as The Peacemaker, and the other as Hiawatha. The last holdout against peace was a chief known as Tadodaho. He was said to have the powers of a sorceror, and could kill with a glance. His body was twisted and fearsome, his hair tangled in knots. At each of the peace conferences Hiawatha tried to hold, one of Hiawatha’s three daughters died after Tadodaho quashed the attempts at peace.”
“Scary-sounding bloke. So, what, did Hiawatha end up killing him?”
I tapped the steering wheel with two fingers. “Not exactly.”
We came to a halt in front of the gate leading into the park. I parked the car in the small, empty parking lot, and the two of us walked around the gate. Up this far north, the rain had slackened off a lot, becoming just a misty drizzle. It was still miserably cold as we walked along the lakeside, though. It was perhaps a five minute walk down to Sawmill Creek. The two of us stood at the edge of the lake, on either side of the creek, and peered out. The lake had frozen during the colder parts of the winter. Now, a thin coating of rain lay atop the ice, transparent, but giving it a strange and incredibly smooth appearance. It was almost like a mirror. “Now what?” Polly asked.
I took a deep breath, and blew it out. “Tadodaho! Chief of Onondaga and Iroquois!” The lake was silent. “You were the one who stood in the way of peace, the one who killed children, the one who slew men! You were the one who was twisted and broken! You were the one who was foul and evil! You were-”
“Alright, alright,” hissed a voice. And from out of the river emerged a man. Mostly transparent. He stood, his arms crossed, his hair hanging in smooth sheets around his head. He was tall, and his eyes glowed as he pulled himself out of the water. His voice carried a strong accent, but he was understandable enough. Ghosts had plenty of time to brush up on their languages. “What the hell do you want, European?” he asked, his eyes narrowed.
“I thought you said he was deformed,” whispered Polly.
“I can hear you,” Tadodaho said, eyes narrowing. “What suicidal urge could have possibly driven you to call me from my slumber, European? Do you wish to die?”
“I thought you didn’t do that anymore,” I said very softly. This seemed to startle him. Then he regained his composure.
“I chose peace because it seemed the right way. See what it got me?”
“Six hundred years of peace, in round numbers, and a stable nation which still exists today.”
“Hah! Exists! Look at the lake!” He swept his hand forward. “For a century, I’ve watched it be polluted, filled with the blood of the earth and the bones of the gods. My nation lies in ruins, destroyed and debased.”
“This too shall pass,” I said softly. He turned towards me, his eyes narrowed, and I felt my heart pound against my ribs, fear gripping me like a knife. But then his eyes softened.
“We had a pretty good run of it, didn’t we? And we’re not dead yet. I’m proof of that.” He saw Polly’s expression, and sighed. “Metaphorically speaking. Now what do you want?”
“Do you know of the Camazotz?”
“Someone is trying to wipe them out, and they have set up a trial. I believe the purpose of the trial is to lure them into the open and wipe them out, or else to set a bone of contention between them and the court of Lady Ann Willing.”
“And why should I care? I knew of the Camazotz as distant beasts from a strange land. They are not my people. They are not of my kind. Why on earth would I want to save them?”
“Because they are about to be destroyed. Their nation is gone, their families destroyed, and they are on the verge of dying forever. Surely you can empathize. Suffering makes brothers of us all.”
He snorted. “And what would you offer in return for this?”
“What do you ask of me?”
He frowned. “Your life.”
“My life, or my death?”
He stared into my eyes. “You’re actually considering it, aren’t you? You’ve already put your life into hock for this.” He clucked his tongue. “Who is the subject of this trial?”
“A young woman from Japan. She is accused of crimes that are not crimes. Her life is at stake.” I took a deep breath. “I’m willing to do what it takes to save her. I don’t want to die, I’ll do anything I can not to die, but I’ve accepted that I might.”
“What a foul waste,” he snorted. “What do you need me to do, exactly?”
“I want you to testify at her trial. Testify to your life. Please tell me that the stories are true.”
“Then tell the story.”
The two of us stood for a very long time in the rain, staring at one another, arms crossed. “Oh, what the hell. It’s not as if I have much to do in the meantime until the permits go through for the restoration equipment. In exchange…” He grinned. “I think I’ll begin to attend the meetings of the Binghamton Night Court.”
I blanched. “I… I don’t think I have permission to-”
“Oh, I don’t intend to ask permission, and I don’t think I need your say-so. I am very old, and of course, have more of a claim to living there than most. Yes, this shall be fun, I think. I will be there tomorrow night.” He gave me a broad, toothy grin. “Do let the Lady Ann Willing know I look forward to seeing her again. We can talk over all those amusing old treaties.” I swallowed. I’d been hoping to get off with just another favor owed. This was going to make life a lot more complicated in Binghamton. Still, I had gotten what I needed.
“I’ll be sure to let them know.” I bowed my head. “Thank you.” I turned to go, when he cleared his throat.
“Do you know, there was a time when my people could have destroyed your settlers. Even with the disease, even with the suffering… We could have crushed you underfoot, without a second thought.” I frowned, turning back towards him. “Have you heard of the Beaver Wars?”
“The name sounds vaguely familiar.”
“They were foolish wars. Fought for greed. We took the weapons of Europeans, of Dutch traders. We moved against our ancient rivals and feudmates in these lands, spread out, and killed them. We fought a bloody swath through Northeast America. Cut them to ribbons, and incorporated them into our tribes. Many of them moved away, left this place. They left the river valleys fallow, and a hearty crop of European weeds sprung up to take their place. When something earthshaking and new entered the world, we thought it was an advantage in our old wars. We thought the old wars still had meaning. We never realized that we were simply caught up in an entirely new war.” He stared at me, hard. “Something new is stirring in the world. And old grudges will only lead to new tragedies. Tell that to Lady Ann Willing.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
“Well, we all have to bury the hatchet at some point, don’t we.”
The drive back was quiet. Polly looked across the divider at me, a frown on her face. “You were ready to offer him free and open favors. Anything he might have asked of you.”
“That’s an awfully dangerous practice.”
“For Fae, it’s dangerous. For Undead, it’s dangerous. For Demons, it’s dangerous. For a human, it’s only as good as my word. I can’t be compelled to follow through with my word. Not the way supernatural creatures can. The worst that can happen to me is that someone tries to murder me or I can never practice the law again. That’s the difference between a pact, and a favor. A pact lets them put their hooks into me. It’s power, but it makes me vulnerable. A favor… Well, a favor’s only as strong as I allow it to be.”
She frowned at me. “That’s a kind of scary thing to hear from you, Atina.”
“It’s the only advantage I’ve got in the world of the supernatural, Polly. The ability to lie, to break faith, to betray my oaths with nothing but social consequences. That’s where my strength is.” I sighed softly. “It’s kind of a comforting thing for me to remember. I can always say damn the world and all the consequences if I think it’s important enough. The same thing is true of being a lawyer. I can always break every oath, every ethical hold on my behavior. The consequence would be not being a lawyer anymore.” I stared into space. “Giving up the career I put so much into, and any hope of being a lawyer again. But what’s life without a little risk, huh?”
“And you told me that getting married was a big commitment.”
“I’m still writing up that prenuptial for you.”
“‘For sale: Prenuptial, never used.'” Polly paused for a moment, considering the words. Then she grinned at me. “Somehow, it’s just not as melancholy, is it?”
The drive back to Binghamton was a quiet ride through increasingly fierce rain. The traffic and rain were heavier and slower than I expected, and it was past sunset when we finally crossed back into town. Roy’s shift would have already started. I wouldn’t have time to visit him privately. I sighed. It would have been nice to get to see him, to apologize for leaving town so suddenly, to tell him how glad I was to see him, to do- something- but there wasn’t time for that. I needed to get to Lady Ann Willing.
We stopped in front of the long walk up to Lady Ann Willing’s mansion, and I left the car idling. Polly moved to unbuckle her seat-belt until I rested a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t know if I can trust Lady Ann Willing. When I walk in there, she might kill me. I’d like to think she’s not that kind of person, but I don’t know. So I’m using you as my insurance, here. If I don’t text you to tell you everything’s alright every fifteen minutes or so, I want you to get out of here, find Alfred and Jenny, and go have a fun life as fugitives together.”
She frowned at me. “I promised to keep you safe, Atina.”
“Right now, I want you to keep the things I care about safe. That’s you three. Don’t worry.” I looked up at the building, ominous in the gray rain and mist. “I’ll probably be fine.”