I groaned. My mouth was dry as sawdust. My skull was pounding. The funny thing is, I’ve almost never had a hangover that really made me feel wretched. This is at least partially because growing up, I would often wake up severely dehydrated. The experience of waking up, tongue like a piece of leather, head aching, body numb, is one that I went through on a regular basis. Having it induced by alcohol, rather than dry air, was not a major change. So I did what I always did, and groped for water by the side of my bed. My palm brushed the tabletop, and pain lanced through it, forcing my eyes open.
I was lying in a hotel room. It took me a moment to realize it was the same one where I had set up Alfred and Jenny the previous morning. I pulled myself up, my heart pounding as I checked the clock. 4 PM. I sagged with relief, and then felt another pang of panic, dragging me up again to search for my phone. There was no sign of it. “Hey. Hey, is anyone there?!” I shouted.
Jenny opened the bathroom door, stepping out, her hair plastered to her cheeks by water. “What’s the matter, Atina?”
“What day is it?” I asked, even as my brain did the math. “It’s… I didn’t miss the trial, did I?”
“Atina, I want you to know how much I appreciate everything you have done for me. And I admire your work ethic. But I think that the time has come for you to admit that you work yourself a bit too hard.”
I leaned back in the bed, feeling a little bit foolish. “Sorry. I had a long night.” I took a deep breath, closing my eyes. “The last thing I remember was the police arriving, and…”
“You passed out in the middle of questioning. They checked you out and didn’t find any head wounds, but you were bruised up a lot. Fang Fen was there, and convinced them to let her take you home. They said you were lucky to survive, with that tornado taking out the Shark Belly like that. What happened, Atina?”
I groaned, rubbing my head. “A lot. Chaac. Chaac! She’s-”
“She was taken into custody by Lady Ann Willing yesterday morning. Arthur too, though Roquette’s gone missing. Arthur’s recovering, they think. It might be a long time before he can walk again.” She winced. “The Strix left the city, but were caught by Edwin at the Binghamton Airport. He apprehended them, said they were badly injured. They barely even put up a fight. Everyone’s got their theories on what happened. Chaac and the Strix had a falling out, or Arthur turned on them, or the Half-Faced Man saved you- I even heard someone say that you were secretly an avatar of Law and Justice, and when they tried to find me and kill me, you took on your true form and humiliated them.” She gave me a curious look. “Uh, you wouldn’t happen to be willing to tell me, would you?”
I winced. “I was saved. Some guy. Nobody I really knew,” I knew it was a lie. And yet, there was enough truth there that Jenny seemed to accept it.
Roy. Roy was a dragon. That’s what he claimed, anyway. A demon, a powerful one, the first and the last, made by God, all of that shit. I didn’t know how much of it to believe, but I’d seen him beat the senses out of five people who had completely outclassed me and everyone I knew. It certainly added some weight to his claims. I ran my fingers down my forehead, and my stomach growled loudly. I slowly pulled myself to my feet, and Jenny approached, dressed up in the jacket and button-down shirt she’d gotten for the trial. “Someone left this for you at the front desk.” She placed a large Tupperware container down. ‘Soul Food’ was written on it in black sharpie. I opened it, and found a plastic fork sitting atop a rack of ribs. They were somehow still hot and fresh as though they’d just come off the grill. “You sure you can trust that?” Jenny asked, giving them a suspicious look.
“No, but I don’t have much choice.” Jenny gave me a bemused look as I tore into them hungrily, and washed my hands in the sink afterwards. I gulped down five or six glasses of water from the sink, gagging a little on the metallic taste, but forcing myself to drink anyway. When I’d finally chugged down the last of it, I sighed with relief, and slumped onto the bed again, my bones aching. “Polly. She’s-”
“She’s fine. Already recovering. Doctors thought it was botulism toxin, but her body flushed it out fast when she got her hair dye. She managed to call Alfred just a couple minutes after you went through the window. Half-paralyzed, she was calling everyone she could get her hands on, everyone in your address book, telling them you were in trouble. She was ready to start looking for you herself when Fang Fen called us.”
I slowly leaned back against the bed. It felt so good to lie down. How long had I been asleep? It certainly didn’t feel like enough time, but my body was back in panic mode after having woken up. The case, the defense, everything I needed to do, it all swirled in my head maddeningly, like blaring static on a radio. “Is she okay?”
“Yeah, Alfred’s getting her out of the hospital right now.”
“Let’s go pick them up.” I pulled myself out of bed, grunting a bit, feeling my chest where I’d fallen off the bike. It twinged a little bit. I’d have to be careful with myself. And I’d have to get a new bike. That would suck. I took a few deep breaths, steadying myself. The culprits revealed, the mysteries unveiled- But I had a serious problem on my hands. Hun-Came was dead. The only person who could’ve recognized Jenny, who could’ve saved her from the charge of being a wastrel, was gone. Chaac was the last of the Camazotz, and it didn’t seem like she wanted to preserve her own kind. I was in deep shit. If all I had to rely on was the court’s good graces… I closed my eyes, and got changed. A simple pull-over white shirt, my battered jacket, and a pair of loose sweat pants. I’d have to stop at home and hope that the vampires hadn’t torched my clothing while I was there.
The heavy storm had already begun to pass on, but the sky was still gray and overcast as the sun set, darkness falling over the city early. I stared up at the passing clouds. Last night I had watched a goddess conjure a storm, call down lightning, and still get defeated. I’d dipped my feet into the deep end, and nearly gotten them bitten off by a shark. I’d wanted to curl up in my office and hide away from the world when I’d run into something so simple, so prosaic, as a mere homicidal fairy countess.
We pulled up to the hospital just as the doors opened. Polly was sitting in a wheel-chair, being wheeled out by Alfred, Fang Fen following close behind. I waved to them, stepping out of the car. “Hey, you schmucks! C’mon, we’re having Sunday Dinner on me!”
Polly practically sprang out of the wheel chair, her arms going around my shoulders, tight enough to nearly knock me on my ass. Tears were running down her cheeks, and she didn’t say anything as she hugged me. I didn’t say anything either. I just let her hug it out, and rested a hand on the back of her head. After a few seconds, she released me, looking down at her feet. “I couldn’t protect you.”
“You did everything you could, Polly. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.” She didn’t answer. She just climbed into the back of the car. Fang Fen turned to leave, and I waved. “Hey! You too, Fang Fen! Get in here!” I gave her a grin, as she turned, looking embarrassed. “Just remember: I was the one who told you to go out and eat rather than hang around. No guilt trips for you, young lady.” I winked, and she gave a weak smile in return before climbing into the back of the car.
“So, where shall we go? Thai Time sound good to everyone?” I gave a grin towards the back seat. “No? Well, screw it, I’m paying, I get to choose where we go.”
“Before we do,” Fang Fen said, very softly, “I think that you need to talk with Lady Ann Willing.”
“Shit.” I sighed. “Fine. I’ll drop you four off at Thai Time, I’ll meet you there after I talk with the Lady Ann.”
A few minutes later, I was walking up the stone path again. I was starting to get a real complex about Lady Ann’s tea room, but this time, I was directed towards the library. Set in the basement of the fine mansion, the air was warmer than the streets above, a pleasant 68 degrees. LED lights cast stark white light and dark shadows through the room, giving it a strangely checkerboard appearance. Several large shelves stood lining the walls, packed to the gills with hundreds, maybe thousands of books. There was no order I could see in them. I stepped towards an alcove, where three chairs were set up, overstuffed and comfortable-looking. Then i nearly jumped out of my skin as I found Chaac sitting in one of them.
An elaborate harness was fitted around her chest, pulling her arms together like a straitjacket. She sat very still, almost statuesque, but I could see her breathing very shallowly. “Ah, Atina.” She gave me a weak smile. “I see that you have survived.” She shivered. “I heard that you were found alive. That you tamed the dragon.” Her eyes were wild. “How? How could you stand in the face of that thing? How could you-”
“Oh, come now, Chaac.” Lady Ann Willing was standing by my side, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. She gave me a polite smile. “Don’t worry. She’s quite harmless. Dean Morton helped me rig up that little harness. If she exerts herself too much, if she strains, if her arms pull apart, a spring will shove a sliver of wood directly into her heart. All nice and mechanical, foolproof, and guaranteed to render her harmless. He’s apparently been considering the concept for some time, but her little display last night… Well, that was what he needed to convince him of its use.”
I stared at it. “It seems… a little bit harsh.”
“She tore a building in my city apart,” growled Lady Ann. “Last night, your office was attacked. One of the Summer Kingdom fae was assaulted. She has confessed to numerous other crimes. Her lightning strike took out the power grid last night, and caused untold amounts of damage. The assault on your home two weeks ago, and your own person just before that. The murder of Hun-Came, and of nearly two dozen other ancient and powerful Camazotz. And she is responsible for the death of Anthony Jones.” She pointed towards Chaac. “That woman has brought violence and murder to my city. She is what I have feared, all of this time. Power without forbearance, strength without wisdom.” Chaac shivered. “And she tried to subvert the court. She tried to use the law of my city to murder an innocent.”
I swallowed. “What do you intend to do about that?”
“What do I intend to do?” Lady Ann stood straight, her arms crossed. “I will have them executed at the close of the trial. Your friend will be spared and allowed to be a citizen of the city; I feel confident that I can reasonably trust her. The questions have answered, the culprits have been found, and justice will be done.” She smiled at me. “And they will pay for what they have done to you, and Jenny. My subjects.”
“You’re just going to have them executed?” I asked, my head swirling.
Humans love vengeance. We love seeing wrongs righted, and the most direct and obvious way is violence being repaid by violence. But I had gotten my fill of that last night, watching as Roy tore them apart. I’d watched Chaac humiliated. I’d seen Arthur crippled and Sofia driven mad, and none of it had made me feel any better. There hadn’t been any righteous fervor in it. It had just been raw meat and brutality and horror. My stomach still turned at the memory of the fight. And the worst part was what Roy had said. The way he had ranted about the law and chaos.
The whole point of a lawyer is that everyone deserves one. One of the foundations of our concept of ethics is that when you are accused of a crime you get representation, no matter how loathsome the crime, no matter how loathsome the person. The devil himself needs an advocate. The whole point is not that they should be set free; not that nobody should be punished. The point is that everyone deserves to be defended by someone. There are people who corrupt this duty, who use it to justify breaking law and ethics and morality in order to help people who are going to commit crimes again, who will learn nothing from the experience. But that doesn’t mean that you give up.
Roy had talked about chaos. When Chaac had taken the law into her own hands, when she had violated the laws of this place and filled it with chaos, it had brought him forward. He had been enraged. He’d been ready to rise, to do something horrible. Could he do that to the whole world? I didn’t know. I didn’t much want to find out. And it may have been self-centered of me, narcissistic, arrogant, to believe that I might hold the fate of the world in my hands. I was a small-town lawyer with delusions of grandeur and a bizarre client list.
But why not act as though I was better than that? Who knows, maybe the lie would become truth. I didn’t tell Lady Ann Willing that I would defend them. I had to be sure, first. I had to talk with Jenny. I had to do quite a number of things. And the first was this. “Do you mind if I talk with her alone for a little while?”
“Please, feel free. I must go prepare myself for tonight.” Lady Ann gave a polite bow of her head, and stepped away. I waited as her footsteps died away, and faded from hearing. Then I turned to Chaac.
“Do you want to die?”
“What does it matter?” she asked, her voice dull. “We all die eventually, don’t we? You think you’re strong, that you can win, that there’s nothing you can’t handle, and then, and then-”
“Do you want to die?!” I asked, harsher this time, and slapped her face. She glared up at me, and her arms shifted slightly. Then she looked down at the harness, and her shoulders dropped.
“No. I saw oblivion last night. I saw the end of everything I remember. The destruction of my family, of my soul, of everything I valued.”
“Do you want to live?” She was silent for another second. “You say you don’t want to die. So do you want to live?”
“Yes.” She whispered. “I spent so much of my life thinking that any price would be worth paying to have vengeance. I thought Hun-Came would be the last, and then when I saw she’d already changed Jenny- I thought I was ready to murder the girl, too. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to kill an innocent. I thought that if I prepared myself, maybe-” She sobbed out. An ancient, powerful creature. One who had brought hell into my life, who had caused the death an innocent young man, who had gotten my friends hurt, who had tried to kill me, who had tried to kill Roy. And she was making me pity her.
“What would you give to live?” I asked, not letting any of that pity seep into my voice. She looked up at me, confusion on her face. “If you want to live, I have a contract for you. If I succeed, and save your life, you will spend the rest of your eternal existence helping people. You will not kill. You will not harm. You will not take revenge. You will seek to protect the lives of everyone you can. You will seek to help Jenny. You will spend the rest of your life making up for what you have done, and it will never be enough. You may never be forgiven. You may never be trusted again.”
“That’s a very harsh price for life,” she said softly, her eyes cast down. “Why would I take such an offer?”
“Hope. Because maybe, someday, people with more mercy than I will meet you, and learn of all the good you have done in the years since, and when they learn why, they will not turn away in disgust. Because maybe, someday, you will be forgiven. You’ll live forever. Do this long enough, and maybe you’ll have made up for it, someday. You’ll never deserve it, but people are stupid.” I stood up straight. She frowned up at me.
“Why offer me this? What do you want? Do you think to do this out of the good of your heart?”
“I think that you can still be useful. To my client, to Lady Ann Willing, to Binghamton. I think killing you now would be a waste of a useful asset. That, Chaac, is all you are to me at this point.”
“How did you stop the dragon?” she whispered softly.
“I made a contract with it.”
“What did you give up?”
“Give up? Chaac, you don’t seem to understand my position in this city.” I leaned very, very close, my eyes locked with hers. Her gaze slid to the side, afraid to meet mine. “You are supernatural. Contracts, bindings, laws, these things are what make you. They are your reality. When you break them, it costs you grievously. When I break the laws that bind me, do you know what happens?” I smiled. “Nothing. You thought you had all of the power you needed, Chaac. You thought that you could use violence to change the world. You thought that you were above the laws. But the laws were protecting you, this whole time. And mine will protect you, too. They will make you the kind of person who will never again find themselves sitting in a cold stone basement, wood nestled up against their heart, waiting to be thrown into the sunlight to die.”
She stared down at the harness. “I’m sorry.”
“Talk is cheap. That’s why there’s a contract. But for what it’s worth…” I took a deep breath through my nostrils. “If I didn’t think that you were sorry, I wouldn’t even be making this offer to you. I take it you’re going to accept the deal, then?” She nodded. “Fine. I’ll have a contract for you after we finish this trial.”
“So I become your slave,” she said. Her voice was dull, listless, her expression hard.
“No. I don’t do slaves. It’d be more trouble than it’s worth, and you’d just become a pain in someone else’s ass when I die. I’m going to give you a cause, whether you like it or not.” I looked at her, and my expression softened slightly. “I saw it, you know. The night your village was destroyed. When I performed the Dreamwalk, I saw you attack Hun-Came in the hotel, and then I saw your memories of that night. It’s been tearing you apart since you were young. I’m offering you a second chance. A chance to bury that memory in the past. A chance to move on to something new.” I took a deep breath. “This, too, shall pass.”
Half an hour later, I was in Thai Time again. My heart was pounding. My skull ached. I don’t like forcing people into a corner, you know? I don’t like manipulating them, I don’t like making them do things against their will. I wanted to save Chaac, but she would never believe me if I told her I was doing it from the good of my heart. Hell, I’d hardly believe it. And Jenny…
“Jenny, do you mind if we talk on the balcony?” I asked, giving her a quick smile. A few moments later, we were standing together on the cold balcony, leaning against the metal railing. The Chenango rolled past us slowly. It hadn’t frozen quite yet, but there was ice on the banks. The temperature had dropped substantially. “They have Chaac and the others at Lady Ann Willing’s. They’re going to be executed tomorrow night, at the end of the trial.” I tapped my fingers along the metal railing nervously. “I want to try to defend them.”
Jenny froze. “You want them to go free?”
“After what they did to me, to you! To Tony! They’re the reason he is dead! They caused all of this! If Chaac had not begun her little revenge, Tony and I would still be alive, I would not be drinking blood and unable to ever again look on the light of the sun! It is they who have taken everything from me! Why, why would you ever want them to survive?! Why would you want to see them not punished, for what they have tried to do to you! How can you forgive someone who hunted you like game, who tried to do what they threatened to do to you?!” She stared at me, and there were tears glistening in her eyes. “How could you?”
I turned towards the river, my shoulders hunched. “I offered them a chance to try to make things right. Not forgiveness, not redemption. I told them that if they-”
“I don’t care,” she hissed. “Nothing. There is no way I could forgive them. Not for what they’ve done. Not for what they’ve taken from me.” She took a deep breath. “Do you remember the last time you watched the sun set?” I shook my head. “I do. Two weeks ago. I remember watching it dip below the trees, the sky turning slowly orange, purple, black. I remember watching the last rays of light drift up the side of the building.” She stared out at the river. “I was standing with Tony, just on the school campus. They took both of those things away from me, forever. How could you ask me to forgive them?”
I was silent for a few moments, and then took a deep breath. “I understand.” I turned, and walked towards the door, making plans along the way to betray my client.
The court assembled. There were no tents today, and the crowd was three times the size it had been the night before. Fang Fen stood at the prosecutor’s lectern, lit by a gas lantern. I was lit by the same. The lanterns hung from trees, from poles, from every corner of the graveyard. My eyes drifted from side to side, trying to keep from panicking. Trying to keep myself together, in the face of what I was preparing to do. Could I betray Jenny? I’d fought so hard and so long to save her. I considered her a friend. I wasn’t even sure whether it was the right thing to do, to try to preserve these people. Didn’t I have the right to say that they deserved this? After the way they had wronged me, the things they had done to me, the things they had exposed me to, didn’t I deserve to say they should die?
“The court will rise,” said the judge spirit, sitting where Sofia had. Sofia, Donny, and Parsons sat together, in similar harnesses to the one Chaac wore, seated off to the side with them. Arthur was in a wheelchair, a blanket drawn up over his torso. His eyes were on the ground. He wasn’t in chains or anything. There was no sign of Roquette. Everyone save Arthur rose to their feet. “Be seated. In light of the unusual circumstances of the last few days, I will take the place as judge for this court until the next Night Court adjourns. Atina LeRoux. You have opening remarks?”
I swallowed slowly, and stood up. “Yes, your honor. Over the past day, I have asked for leniency for my client. I have cited her innocence, her good intentions, her unimpeachable character. This has been a difficult case in the face of uncertainty, and I have asked much of you. I think that it is safe to say that no one in the jury would convict Jenny after what has been revealed.” I looked over towards Lady Ann Willing, who sighed. Fang Fen turned towards me, frowning slightly. It was now or never. What would you give up to do what’s right, I sang in my own head, what would you do to salve your own conscience…
“Now I need to ask for something much harder.” I looked at Jenny, and closed my eyes tightly. “I wish to ask for leniency for the five who were responsible for the assault on me yesterday. For their actions-” The booing started. “For their actions against me, against my client, and against others, I-!”
Fang Fen was staring at me, shock and horror in her eyes. Jenny looked like she was about to burst into tears. Polly wouldn’t meet my eyes. Alfred was holding her, and a cold anger was visible on his face. Screams out outrage, a chorus of disgust, filled the air.
Then there was the sound of a tap. Then another tap. They were soft, and yet they seemed to silence the entire court. I turned, along with the rest of the court, as a figure made its way slowly down the hill.
Tadodaho strode down the hill, slowly, his eyes running across the many figures seated around the court. Eyes widened, mouths dropped, expressions grew shocked as the saw him, the few faces that were not already pallid became so. I could feel the power radiating off of him, as he strode down the hill. He gave me a smile, and nodded his head. His eyes turned towards the spirit of the judge. “I notice that you are missing an old native representative on the jury. I believe I will take that place.” He strode towards the jury, and smiled as he approached Lady Ann Willing. “Lady Ann. It has been a long time. Do you remember what I said to you, the last time that we met?”
The Lady Ann Willing shivered, her china-white expression going waxy and gray. “You said that one day, you would return, and what the Sullivan Expedition had done to your people, you would return a thousandfold.”
“Did I?” He laughed, a grating, harsh sound, like a knife running across a masochistic sharpening iron, rough and happy at the same time. “I do have a way with words, don’t I? Well, these are strange times that we live in. Times where old threats are given up.” He turned towards the group. “I have returned to this place, as is my right. This was the land of the Onondaga, once, long ago, before your ancestors shattered my people. I was born nine hundred years ago in this land. I am Tadodaho, the last of the chiefs to bend his knee to peace.” He smiled. “And I have been asked here to tell a story.”
He stood tall, and began to speak. He told a story I know well, but that you may have never heard. It was his story. He was a chief of the Onondaga, a crippled, yet fearsome and terrible man. When Hiawatha and the great Peace-Maker sought to bring together the five nations to form the Iroquois Confederacy, three times he opposed them. At each of the three peace conferences, he spoiled their work, and each time, one of Hiawatha’s daughters died, the work of Tadodaho’s vile eyes. He bent Hiawatha’s spirit near to breaking. He pushed the great man.
And on the shore of Lake Onondaga, Hiawatha and the peacemaker met him. They spoke of hymns of peace, and argued with him. They held him down and straightened the knots in his hair. They unwound his arm, and untwisted it, and made it whole again. They spoke to him of peace, and forgave him of the transgressions he had made against them. And he was made the chairman of the Iroquois Confederacy, its firekeeper, to keep its spirit alive forevermore.
He looked around the hall. “I have come here in the spirit of peace. In the spirit of laying old grudges to rest. It takes a greater soul than mine to forsake vengeance, to forgive the transgressions done to them. But I hope that there are still a few who would.” Then, his eyes, and those of everyone else in the hall turned towards Jenny.
She shot me a bitter, hateful look, as she stood up. “What does it matter what I think? What does it matter whether I forgive Chaac or not? Why place this blame on my shoulders? If all of you cannot make that decision…” She looked down. “Is it my weakness that is to free them from responsibility for those they have killed? Is it my softness, too afraid to make the decision, that you all count on? Do you lay this at my feet so you can blame me, regardless of what decision I make?”
“No,” said Dean Morton quite pleasantly as he drew a knife, giving me a quick look. I nodded. He stepped towards Chaac. “I think that there is another reason.” He drew the blade across Chaac’s unresisting fingers, blood dripping across them, black as tar and just as thick. He held the knife up to the air. And Hun-Came appeared.